The rap and startup scenes in Durham have a way of aligning so as to complement one another. And while each carry their own sets of required savvy and skill, they overlap in many ways. Characteristics like creativity, forward-thinking, determination, hustle and grind, and a hunger for action are prevalent in both communities.
In the Triangle, the parties are increasingly collaborating on projects and ideas like Hopscotch Music Festival, The Art of Cool and Moogfest.
And now, a fresh take on this collaboration will be presented in a locally-produced, crowdfunded web series, which just wrapped up filming its first season. It offers a stylistic twist, showing how the two communities intertwine through a narrative lens.
The series, called “Hype,” starts with a young man who’s working to buy back a house his adolescent girlfriend grew up in, so she can move back to her home city and they could be together. In the process, he finds his own home among local rap artists and is introduced to the world of entrepreneurship.
Hype’s presenting sponsor is the local fashion startup, Runaway. And since the business is based in American Underground, shots of the startup campus appear throughout the series. One particular setting is the office of Lucid Dream, an American Underground-based startup that develops immersive AR/VR technology.
Characters are played by actors around the Triangle. Local rapper Well$ is featured as a lead character, and he’s one of the main artists to score the soundtrack.
The architect of the story is its director, Holland Gallagher, a UNC alum and Runaway employee who has been pursuing various creative projects since he graduated last year.
A longtime fan of television and multimedia storytelling, Gallagher had always wanted to make a film of his own. What he felt was most within his means as a young filmmaker was to start out with a webseries, a smaller version of a network TV show that’s usually published on an online streaming platform.
Piecing together a plot line & bringing in local talent
What inspired Gallagher to launch his own web series was The RUNAWAYS, a series of documentary shorts profiling locals exhibiting talent in multiple domains.
That series was produced by his friend Ned Phillips of Cozmik Productions. Gallagher hoped to expound on the framework, but as a scripted production.
Gallagher is already deeply rooted in the local rap scene as a beatmaker. And his connection with Runaway made writing the script easy—it’s boosted by his personal experience working at a startup and in a startup hub.
So he wrote the whole first season, and met with a photographer and friend to shoot a test version of the pilot episode. Instead of pitching Hype to producers, which Gallagher notes is an exhausting process, he ran the idea by a few people in his immediate circle of friends.
“I sent the script to people whose thoughts I wanted, people with life experience,” Gallagher recalls. He then used the feedback to inform the narrative direction for the series, and to launch a crowdsourced campaign to fund production.
During this time, Gallagher also lined up people he knew from around Durham and other outside contacts to bring together a cast.
Local artist, entrepreneur, musician, activist and UNC professor Pierce Freelon introduced Gallagher (his former student at UNC) to two interns to help produce the series. The interns were connected through Blackspace, a downtown Durham creative hub Freelon founded.
Runaway became involved from the very beginning of this process, mostly helping out with promotion and marketing for Hype’s Kickstarter campaign, launched in early April.
The campaign attracted 144 backers to contribute a total $10,846. The page indicates most supporters are from Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Charlotte, with a few outliers like New Orleans (where Gallagher grew up before moving to the Triangle in 2005), Atlanta and Austin.
Filming began in late June and wrapped up nearly a month later.
Plot builds on Durham’s entrepreneurial and creative energy
In the 10-episode plot, two of the lead characters are starting a business together, in the beginning stages of seeking seed funding.
Their startup focuses on livestreaming concerts in virtual reality. The choice to feature VR was part of a larger picture for the series’ visual appeal. Gallagher says, “I wanted to do a technology that was kind of in the future, but not quite here yet.”
VR, he adds, thematically plays into the slight delusions and inner filters people come across when they’re forming their own identity. It evokes the inevitable tendency people have to internalize an outside perspective of someone else’s experience, and incorporate it into their own.
This theme appears throughout the series, and it’s one that can resonate with both communities Hype is representing, as well as anyone who’s had an idea they’ve wanted to pursue but faced twists and turns in order to get there.
Another theme is contained in the very title of the series, explained in a message on Hype’s Kickstarter page:
“Much of a new rap artist or startup’s success is due to the hype surrounding it, and thematically, this is what the show is about; how we maneuver our personal perceptions and realities.”
Larger motive in mind to spark a narrative documentary scene
Gallagher admits he is drawn to the idea of moving his business to filmmaking hubs like New York or Los Angeles. But he decided to stay in the Triangle simply because of the lack of a narrative filmmaking community here.
In contrast, the area has a strong documentary filmmaking presence, along with a wealth of resources and opportunities surrounding the genre. But, Gallagher notes, “There’s a huge gap between that and the amount of fervor for narrative filmmaking.”
Gallagher sees this as an opportunity to push a new scene—which takes us back to the very theme dominating his series. Startups often begin when innovative thinkers see a lack of products or services in a certain category, and decide to make their own solutions.
The same concept is relevant in rap, where artists are driven to incorporate their own narrative voice and original beats into their work, creating a unique sound that sets them apart from other artists in a competitive industry.
What Gallagher is doing is no different. He hopes to grow a narrative filmmaking community in Durham, and believes his web series could mark the start.
In terms of where the series will debut or how it’ll be distributed, Gallagher is staying mum for now until he’s able to line up official plans. He’s expecting an early 2018 premiere.
Outside of his ambition that the series will resonate with locals involved in the rap and startup cultures, Gallagher hopes the show might draw new filmmakers to the Triangle, so they too can infuse the area’s creative and entrepreneurial energy into filmmaking.