Upload wrapped up its third season with its biggest cliffhanger yet as the fate of both Nathans (Robbie Amell) hang in the balance, with one possibly gone forever, and while we’ll have to wait to find out what comes next, we were recently able to catch up with director Sarah Boyd (The Boys; The Flash) to break down the finale’s most explosive moments.
She walks us through a number of key decisions that went behind crafting the two-part finale that saw Nathan (Robbie Amell) and Nora (Andy Allo) get some much-needed good news, before their moment was snatched away from them. We also delve into the final installment, where both Download and Upload Nathan found themselves in a deadly predicament that we likely won’t learn the resolution of until season four!
Watch and/or read on for our full interview with director Sarah Boyd below, and please remember to SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel for more exclusive content!
ROHAN: I have to get started with the big question on everyone’s mind – do you know what happened to the two Nathans at the end of the finale?
SARAH: *laughs* I do not.
ROHAN: When you’re coming in to direct the finale of a season, which you also did for the last season of The Boys, and you’re tasked with bringing all of the season’s threads to a satisfying conclusion.
SARAH: Well, it’s always important to watch as much material that comes before you, as possible. I do that on any episode that I dive into, but it’s particularly important on the finale episodes that you have a very clear understanding of not just reading the scripts, but watching as much of the footage as you can to see what’s come before you. That helps, of course, and then, the biggest challenge is that because the buck stops with you, the production is literally going to shut down, everything has to be firing on all cylinders, and work out great, because there’s no opportunity for people to come back and get a pickup or do something differently. Oops, we miss something, you know, there’s a bit more pressure because you’ve got to get it all in the can before everyone shuts down and goes home.
ROHAN: What’s your relationship with the actors and your approach in giving them notes, especially for a show like this where they’ve been in these characters for three years? Are you telling them different things? Or, is it more just on the page and you trust their instincts?
SARAH: That’s a good question. I think that anytime you’re working on anything other than a pilot, the actors always know their characters better than you do, and that’s okay, that’s wonderful. So, we approach each scene with whatever’s needed for that scene, but with that said, especially in comedy, you want to get different colors, you want to get different shades of gray, so that in the editing room, you can figure out, is this a moment that should be really big, or is this a moment that should be more sincere. And so, I always like to try to ask the actors to play with me and to exercise those muscles, and give us lots of options. I think that’s the most satisfying thing to do on set, actually, because it’s so much fun. We have a sense of what the scenes should be, but even within that, there’s lots of variety that each of these actors can bring to it, and then, there’s some ad libs too, which are really fun.
ROHAN: There’s a great scene in episode seven, where Ingrid is pretending to be Nora and you get to see Andy and Allegra in each other’s shoes. Can you break down that back and forth sequence?
SARAH: We were really aware of the likelihood that it would be intercut, almost within a sentence, you know, that one word wouldn’t possibly be spoken by one of them and then, the next word by the other because that had happened a couple of times before, and so, Andy was there on the day that we filmed Allegra in the bathroom, and she was watching very carefully to know just how Ingrid would say something, and then, when we were there, in the Lakeview scenes, she had a sense of what had happened and therefore, what she should be imitating, even to some physicality as well, like whether they lifted one hand or the other, but we tried to avoid those exact parallels because they don’t necessarily apply between real life and the virtual avatars. But anyway, yeah, so they really had a lot of fun with trying to imagine each other doing it, and particularly, Andy trying to imitate what Allegra would probably sound like as she was dressing them down.
ROHAN: This show seamlessly blends together so many different genres, and then ends almost every episode on a big cliffhanger, including both of your episodes. Is there any sort of art to nailing a good cliffhanger or is it all in the writing?
SARAH: Yeah, Episode Seven had a very complicated ending, not only because of all the moving parts from things happening down in the plaza to things happening up in the lawyer room, but also because of the tone, right? It’s a very difficult juxtaposition. Nathan and Nora are super happy, they’ve just found out that Nathan is going to be okay, and so they’re elated and yet what’s about to happen downstairs is this carnage, and it’s a comedy in the end, so we didn’t want to show guts and grossness too much because that becomes a little less funny, but the script did ask for that juxtaposition of these two very different tones, and so, we talked about it in advance a lot. I had some concerns about it, and then, we tried to deal with that by being very particular about what we showed, or didn’t show, downstairs, outside. For example, we don’t see the explosion, that wasn’t just a practical budgetary decision, although it helped our budget, but it was purposeful, because we don’t really need to see a giant explosion. We just need to feel it and recognize that it happened and let the tone change from happiness to uh oh.
ROHAN: What kind of challenge does it present to you, as a director, when the show can transform from a fun comedy to a completely different show in the same episode? For example, one of your episodes basically turns into a courtroom drama for most of the runtime.
SARAH: Yeah, well, so I was a fan of the show before coming to it this season, and one of the things I really liked about it was not only the intelligent satire, but the combination of pathos and humor. So, my scripts were super exciting when I read them, because I knew that I had all of these different opportunities, all these different balls in the air, in terms of what you’re saying tone and and just the style, the genre almost switches from scene to scene. So, I don’t know that I approached them any differently, each thing exists on its own and has to be done to tell the story, and to further the story. So, the courtroom scenes are slightly bizarre courtroom scenes, because you have something as, you know, you have heightened reality where Ingrid, when she doesn’t like being questioned, she gets up and walks away. That’s both absurd and hilarious, so there’s a comedy in the show that walks a fine line between something that’s realistic, and something that’s surreal, and those are really fun to do on the day. We were laughing on set all the time. It’s just a lot of fun.
ROHAN: Since it takes a lot of tiem to produce one of these episodes, especially with the visual effects, is there much room for the actors to improv or alt takes, or do you all try to stay on the page as much as possible?
SARAH: It’s not a heavily improv show. It’s definitely written very carefully, there’s writers on set that will pitch alternative lines, if they think something could be funnier, or if they think something may or may not be the best, may not be working, but, by and large, it’s scripted, for sure, and that’s partially because it has to be for all the visual effects. You can’t have people completely throwing a curveball if you’ve planned for things to happen a certain way, but there are certainly opportunities for the actors to ad lib things, often at the end of a scene, and they’re really wonderful actors, both in terms of their comedic chops and their ability to improv in character with things that resonate from scenes prior, like they’re very thoughtful about it. They don’t just do it for a cheap laugh. They do it with an effort to be in character and to really augment what was already written. It’s fun when it works, but they don’t always do it. It’s often exactly what was written.
ROHAN: Your episodes do feature a few scenes with characters that don’t always get too much time in the spotlight, like we see a great scene between AI Guy and Ingrid. Since you’re also a fan of the show, how did you want to approach those scenes with characters that we don’t typically get too many moments together?
SARAH: I love the scenes where the AI Guy is showing his humanity and this season, that arc of the AI Guy trying to be more human, and having, you know, Zainab’s character, coach them on how to be more human. So, yeah, to me, that was a really significant pay off, the scene in the elevator, where you see him legitimately moved that she treats him like a friend, you know, and that he actually might have a friend. Those are earnest moments that are very sweet, and I think the pathos of those moments are one of the reasons why people love the show.
ROHAN: You’ve worked on Upload and The Boys, which are both streaming shows, but you’ve also worked The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which were both on networks. Have you noticed a difference in how the shows are received or consumed or has your experience differed on either? Or, is it all relatively similar?
SARAH: I mean, each of those shows is really different. I would say that the streaming shows will often just give you more time to make them, and they don’t have a strict running time that you have to hit. So, you can let certain things breathe a little bit longer, and not be so tied to hitting an exact running time and feeling like you’re going to be pressured to cut the air out of every moment. It can be really rewarding to work on the streaming shows for a lot of those reasons, but yeah, I mean, there are other network shows that are very successful at bringing really satisfying, entertaining stuff to life with their time and budget as well. So, it just depends on how well written and how well acted and produced they all are. So, I’ve been lucky to work on those kind of shows.
ROHAN: When you’re working on a show like Upload, which is set in the future, how much room do you have to include stuff that you, yourself, feel like where the world might be heading? Even just a subtle visual cue or running gag where you’re trying to bring your own perspective of the future into your already super futuristic episode?
SARAH: The features of specifically the Beta commercial was a pretty loose idea, and most of that was created in post with stock footage, a few specific shots were filmed for it, but both because we just had a massive schedule, a massively full amount to film in our schedule, and also because it was, as I said, the finale, and the end and everything was wrapping up. So, it was clear that was going to have to be made largely with very stock footage and with some decisions made after the fact, but we knew the basic – and Greg has ideas, obviously already about where the next season is going. So, he did have a few specific desires, which I can’t really go into because that does somewhat affect next season, but yeah, so there was both some some loose marching orders, and then our understanding was that it was going to be made in post, so we just had sort of placeholders, knowing that we would cut away and cut back, cut away and cut back, which allowed us to do the big action stuff at Lakeview with a bit more of a freehand, you know, knowing we could cut away at anytime.
ROHAN: Robbie has a lot on his plate this season, especially playing two versions of Nathan. What kind of conversations were you having with him about playing either Upload or Download Nathan?
SARAH: In my episodes, Download Nathan and Backup Nathan were in scenes only in the handphone way, right, they weren’t in physically the same place, but they were in scenes together, and it was really something that we talked about. Robbie is very aware of which character he is portraying, in that moment, and they do lead different – they go down different paths and so, they are different people, and that’s I think a really fun sliding doors kind of exercise for him, and he really had two nice sets of roles to dig his teeth into. Yeah, because I think it’s really neat to imagine, like if you didn’t have this experience, you know, you would be a different person, and now that you have this experience and that experience, you’re going to live life a different way. So, they are really different people actually by the end.
ROHAN: Building on that, with the two different Nathans, they both also have two very different relationships with Nora and Ingrid. There’s a great scene where you’re cutting between Download Nathan and Nora in the bedroom versus Upload Nathan and Ingrid – was there anything specific you were trying to do to differentiate the pairings or to show how the characters have evolved since we first met them?
SARAH: Well, it was a really fun opportunity to sort of show instead of it being a love triangle, which was Season Two, now in Season Three, we have this love rectangle, or love rhombus, or whatever, whatever quadrilateral shape you want to pick. *laughs* So, yeah, that allows for a lot more complexity and some jealousy some competition, some comparisons, but it also allowed, I think this season, you to be more sympathetic to Ingrid because she really grew as a character, in a nice way. I mean, she still has her Ingrid ways, but the direction that she and Backup Nathan could go really, I think, changed their relationship for the better and made that more authentic or more sincere or whatever in a way that was very moving.
Upload season three is now streaming on Prime Video!