It’s mid-spring, and the Wizard World Comic Con at the Las Vegas Convention Center has attracted a bevy of international TV stars and comic book icons. Among the conventioneers are two local celebrities who very well may be anonymous to you. Hilly and Hannah Hindi—creators of the popular web series, The Hillywood Show—are hosting a Q&A session that has attracted an audience of about 60 eager fans (still a fraction of their more than 850,000 YouTube subscribers). Later in the afternoon, the Hindi sisters will greet more fans and sign autographs for free. But for now, they’re onstage fielding queries—mostly about their “biggest video yet,” which they’ll release in a few weeks.
Hilly (short for Hillary), 25, and Hannah, 29, have been writing, directing, producing and acting in The Hillywood Show since 2006, when they gained fans entering an AOL video contest for teens. The self-taught duo was born, raised and home-schooled in Las Vegas, and their videos are the sort of hybrid entertainment that only the Internet could birth—parodies of nerdy phenomenon set to a soundtrack of pop tunes. (See their Lord of the Rings/“Let It Go” video as an example.)
Their quirky and catchy parody clips (20 in all) have brought the sisters undeniable online fame, but they desire more. For now, the web series is a time-consuming passion project. And while they generate enough money to sustain the series, they still must work day jobs to pay the bills. The ultimate goal: to land on television, and they’re hopeful that their latest video—a star-studded song and dance ode to the CW’s Supernatural, mixed with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”—has the power to bring them closer to your cable box …
One day after the video is released, Hannah and Hilly are giddy. The clip is about to reach 1 million views in a matter of hours—a milestone their other videos have taken weeks or months to reach.
An influx of tweets and text messages Hannah receives in response to the video clog her cellphone. “I can’t keep up with anything!” she says while speaking on her mom (and manager) Emily’s phone. “My phone died about six times today. Twelve times yesterday!”
This Supernatural parody has been a long time coming for Hilly and Hannah. They decided to take on the long-running sci-fi drama after tackling Lord of the Rings in December. And luckily, they just happened to know a Supernatural cast member who could help them. Hilly and Hannah met Osric Chau (Supernatural’s Kevin Tran) last year while greeting their respective fandoms at Spain’s WizardCon. (And he later appeared in their The Walking Dead/“Another One Bites the Dust” video.) “We asked him how we could get other [Supernatural] cast members involved,” Hilly says. “And he said, ‘Let me handle it!’”
Around the same time, Hilly and Hannah spent two-and-a-half weeks drafting the script. In addition to stage direction and dialogue, this script required the re-writing of Taylor Swift’s lyrics to recap several seasons of Supernatural action. (Demons gonna hate!) The sisters reached out to Twenty One Twenty to record the cover song, and enlisted voiceover actor Elliot Crossley (who also worked on their Doctor Who video) to record the right accent for a British character.
While the Hindi sisters won’t reveal the costs of production (which was executive produced by Nerdist Industries), Hannah says the budget did require some economizing. Outdoor scenes were shot in Oregon (Las Vegas doesn’t have the forests and historic buildings they needed), but interior sets were constructed and filmed locally. Costumes were purchased from thrift stores and Ebay. And with the magic of hair and makeup, the sisters played two of Supernatural’s male characters.
After 13 days of shooting and another two weeks of editing, Hilly and Hannah released the Supernatural parody May 21, one day after the show’s Season 10 finale. The end result is a hilarious mashed-up re-creation of Swift’s ornately choreographed music video, fan-favorite scenes from the TV show and, yep, surprise cameos by the Supernatural cast. Chau and fellow cast member Richard Speight Jr. came through and convinced 16 of the show’s actors to participate (read: shimmy and shake) in the video, including leads Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.
Ackles was one of several cast members (along with the official Supernatural social media accounts) who shared the seven-minute video and helped it reach 600,000 views in one day. As the parody spread, it caught the attention of national media outlets such as People, Entertainment Weekly and Buzzfeed, the latter describing it as “glorious.” In just a couple of weeks, the clip surpassed 3 million views.
Now that the sisters have had time to catch their breath (and charge their phones), they’re playing catch-up on social media, spending as much as six to eight hours a day hosting live Q&As and replying to fans on Twitter and Facebook, etc. Social media gives them a platform to also promote their web store (featuring #SupernaturalParody merchandise!). A portion of the sales goes to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and the rest funds their ongoing production costs, from costume storage to equipment rental.
The next item on their to-do list is a fan meet-up at Meltdown Comics and Collectibles in L.A. on June 13. “We have more fans there than in Vegas, and it’s easy to make the drive,” Hannah says. “We have a lot of East Coast fans, too, but we can’t afford the flights.”
So far, the Supernatural parody has at least brought the Hindi sisters more invitations to appear at fan conventions. They plan to spend their summer hitting as many as possible—including the International Comic Con in San Diego (July 9-12)—to increase awareness for their web show, and hopefully bring about new opportunities.
It’s a strategy common to 21st-century artists: work hard and wait. And it’s always panned out for Hilly and Hannah in the past. For instance, their production deal with Nerdist happened last year after its founder Chris Hardwick saw and loved their elaborate Doctor Who video (which featured sets almost as impressive as the BBC’s). Their 2009 breakout video, a parody of Twilight, was intended to be their last—until Twihards got ahold of it, shared it and more than doubled three-years’ worth of Hillywood views in 24 hours. Sure, these successes have all been online-only, but with web-to-TV triumphs such as Comedy Central’s Broad City (plucked from the Internet by fairy godmother, Amy Poehler), it’s not difficult to see the same happening someday for hometown girls Hilly and Hannah.
Or it won’t. And that’s OK, too. “Maybe it’s not TV,” Hannah says. “Maybe God is preparing us for Hilly to have a career as an actress, or me to have a career as a director. For now, he’s just telling us to keep going.”
See all episodes of The Hillywood Show plus behind-the-scenes videos at TheHillywoodShow.com.