If you’re a regular watcher of things on the Internet, then you know Alison Haislip. From her time at G4 as a host of the geek-friendly “Attack of the Show” and the sports competition “American Ninja Warrior,” she’s come to symbolize social media-savvy talent in the digital age. It’s not a stretch, then, to see her as Ali Laurents, the social media coordinator for an underdog state senate campaign followed in the Hulu original “Battleground.” The site’s first scripted full-length series, “Battleground” is executive produced by “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb and had its season finale on Tuesday. Indiewire caught up with Haislip via email while she was in London and asked her about the emerging landscape for online distribution, what she brought to the character of Ali and how far down the politico rabbit hole she went for research.
You’ve clearly got the social media background down, but did you look into how political campaigns work? Whether it’s dealing with competing bloggers, the far-right media of Breitbart or watching how poll data can be as interpretative as tea leaves?
I didn’t do much political research because my character, Ali, doesn’t really care about politics herself. She’s only working on the campaign because she digs the job… it doesn’t matter who it’s for. Quite frankly, I don’t believe Ali even votes!
What goes into the mixing of an actual social media guru versus a fictional politico social media manager?
Being able to improvise believably within your character was huge on the “Battleground” set. Our director, J.D. Walsh, would often yell lines at us while filming that just popped into his head and would even spontaneously ask us to make up lines ourselves.
So when he’d say to me, “Have Ali say something ‘internet savvy’ here,” I knew exactly what to do. Most of the time, I’d throw out sites and lingo that most of our crew hadn’t heard of. Plus, when I was tweeting or writing emails in the show, I was actually tweeting or emailing. That iPad Ali always has in her hands is my actual iPad.
How much creative input did you have with Ali, who shifted from being a male-oriented character into what you brought to “Battleground”?
I knew how I wanted to play Ali before I even walked into my first audition. Since the role was written for a guy to play, there was no love interest written in, and I knew I had to make a believable choice as to why none of the guys in the office hit on her (like they do with the other women in the show). My solution was to make her very tomboyish and very stand offish, to the point where her male coworkers were perhaps a bit intimidated by her. It was never how the character was intended to be, but between myself and J.D,, I think we created something pretty real and awesome.
This recently evolving online distribution model seems like it could eventually rival TV upfronts. Do you find pitching or creating for an online distribution model different from other shows on spec?
I don’t know anything about the pitching or creating side of things, but I do know that if “Battleground” had been on any sort of traditional outlet, it wouldn’t be the show it is today, most likely to its detriment. Because Hulu doesn’t have particular “air time” to fill like most television networks do — taking over a certain time slot or needing to appeal to a certain demographic — Battleground could be exactly what is was created to be.
There were no restrictions while shooting, and no executives saying it had to be is or it had to do that. And in the end, we got a pretty damn good show. I think other creators and producers will catch on to this soon, and we’ll start seeing a gradual bend towards television becoming an online media.
How do you feel as someone that works in segment production about these emerging online channels like Nerdist (which you’re a contributor) and Geek &Sundry? Is it the same, or easier compared to duties at G4 and NBC?
The actual work is exactly the same. The only thing that could possibly be considered “easier” is the fewer restrictions we have to deal with in an online world. I’m really excited to see where all these online outlets will be in a few years. I think the combination of less restrictions and more accessibility will help produce more creative content for viewers. And as long as the trend for getting your media in any format (not just television) continues, I believe we’re going to start getting the same quality content no matter where we look for it.
Since Google plans to invest in the YouTube channel Machinima, do you see a possibility they could evolve into the next major studio?
It’s definitely possible, but I think it depends on what you mean by major studio. Do I think they could be a leader for creating top quality online content that is comparable to television? Absolutely. Do I think they’re going to start making blockbuster feature films? Probably not. Google and Machinima are forerunners in the online field, and I have a feeling they’re going to stick to what they’re good at.
What else are you working on/showing up in as “Battleground” wraps up this week?
I’m focusing on more acting gigs at this time. People know I can host, but after the success of “Battleground,” I’m hoping they see that I can act too. It’s time to find more roles like Ali that I can bring to life.
And finally, for the sake of the format, at least one question should be answered with a single word response. So, what web-only show do people need to subscribe to?