Lee Trull’s THE SERVICE ELEVATOR delivers the known laughs on the simplest of comic premises. Two people get on an elevator – one – quiet, reserved, listening to her self help recording and maybe sneaking a quick drink when no one is watching, and the other – a talkative, overly-friendly, over-sharing, and not at all in control of the huge backpack she is wearing. And then the elevator stops. It’s stuck and so are they – with each other. That’s about as tried and true as it gets when looking for the basics to launch the funny. But this particular version of that stuck in the elevator scenario gets an additional boost because it was written, developed, and stars two women who might as we’ll bring back vaudeville, they’ve got their “act” together so honed – Sarah Adams and Maggie Rieth Austin. Veterans of the vaunted Dallas Comedy House improvisation scene, they are increasingly bringing their talents to film. And as the just concluded Women Texas Film festival discovered, during it’s comedy shorts block – we are all going to reap the laughs from that decision.
1. Routinely, we interview the directors for these, but since THE SERVICE ELEVATOR is such a collaboration between the two of you, and since Lee Trull is male we thought it would be fun and appropriate to get your thoughts on the film and other things. With that in mind, how did the creative partnership develop between you which led to making this film (and others)?
SARAH: Maggie and I were both taking classes at the Dallas Comedy House around the same time. However, we didn’t meet until we both auditioned and were both put on the house troupe, Photobomb. For me, it was one of those magical moments, I was like, “Wow, this chick is so cool and really funny, I hope she wants to be my friend.” We loved performing together so much and we wanted to keep creating so we started filming our own YouTube content in 2013. Since then we’ve written and preformed a one-act play (“Magic By Death”), started our own two person improv troupe, filmed and written several sketches, and a few shorts which all lead to THE SERVICE ELEVATOR. Maggie and I have this great/dangerous thing, where if one of us suggests something like, “Hey want to do a Magic show?,” the other will automatically say, “Yes” without any hesitation.
MAGGIE: We immediately hit it off. In fact, we were cast in two improv troupes together – Photobomb and Richard Rope. And I was also, like, “Wow, this lady is really funny and I want to be her friend.”
2. How was the decision made regarding who would play which role? Was it obvious or was there a coin flip?
MAGGIE: We wrote the whole thing, and then figured it out. I think Sarah is able to play the role of Claire so well – it’s such a subtle role that carries the film, and she made it so fun to play opposite her (as always).
SARAH: Yeah, we wrote the script without casting in mind, and then, once it was done we both sat down and figured it out. They are both such fun characters to play, but Maggie does a heck of a job with the role of Michelle – her dang fall. Gets me every time.
3. Have either of you actually been stuck in an elevator before or was this all just a comic nightmarish vision you both had simultaneously.
SARAH: There’s been those close “OMG! IS THIS ELEVATOR NOT MOVING?!” moments, but, no, I’ve never been stuck on one before. I believe Maggie has been stuck before..
MAGGIE: Yes, I’ve definitely been stuck in an elevator before. Or, more frequently, stuck in an awkward conversation with a stranger. You know, like, when someone corners you at Home Depot and talks to you for fifteen minutes about their daughter’s new apartment and which flowers grow best in shade and also how they don’t believe the Earth is round? And you just want to get out of the conversation, but you’re backed up against a sink? That happens to everyone, right? That’s the kind of nightmare we wanted to portray in THE SERVICE ELEVATOR.
4. What is more difficult and filled with anxiety – trying to get laughs live and on stage or on the screen?
MAGGIE: Before a screening, I’m always more nervous. I sink down in my seat and try to stare straight ahead and not look at anyone’s reaction. On stage, you have to feel confident because it’s all happening live. Anxiety turns to excitement and energy. But, when you’re sitting down in a theater and there’s nothing you can do to change the product everyone’s about to watch, it’s a little anxiety producing.
SARAH: Before a screening I always get a little nervous, especially before the first one. It’s always so much fun though once it starts to play and you hear the audience react, assuming they will. They will, right? The audience will laugh? It’s funny, isn’t it?? For stage, when I first started doing improv I was a mess, always anxious before a show. I still get a little nervous from time to time, but it’s more of an excitement. When I get to perform with Maggie on stage, it’s always a blast, with or without an audience. The best show we ever did was in front of an empty theater.
5. Since this was written and performed by you both, can you describe how you worked with Lee and what he brought to the project that you couldn’t provide for yourselves?
SARAH: Lee is amazing. He’s such a strong creative force. He provided such great feedback on the script, challenged us to think in different ways, and always worked hard to make it the best it could possibly be. On set it was great to have someone there to provide direction and feedback. It’s difficult to give notes to yourself, or to your best friend, so it was amazing having someone on set who was looking out for us and the project.
MAGGIE: Yes, Lee is a phenomenal director/coach/mentor/creative force. We would send him drafts of the script and he’d send back questions and ideas that helped us push the characters and plot. On set, he was able to watch our performance and give us notes to make it stronger and better than the previous takes. Sarah and I are so in sync sometimes that we just get building and creating. It was so important for this first real short film of ours to have Lee there to say, “But, why this?” and “How about this?” It helped us find our voice and has made us better writers.
6. Can you both name your favorite self-help gurus and choice of alcohol and why?
SARAH: Self help…. hum …. I really liked Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I gave it to Maggie to read, and I remember I underlined a lot of things in it. And for alcohol, probably a great glass or rosé #basic.
MAGGIE: yeah, Sarah lent me her copy of Year of Yes, and I thought it was great. Alcohol wise, probably a good red wine.
7. Popcorn or Candy?
SARAH: Both. Popcorn with Reese’s Pieces in it.
THE SERVICE ELEVATOR just screened at the 2017 Women Texas Film Festival in Dallas, Texas.