This article originally appeared on VICE US.
If you ever head to Wilmington, North Carolina, the real-life location for the cozy town featured on One Tree Hill, you’ll stumble on an ever-growing shrine for the hit drama series. The riverside bench where Hayley and Nathan first did homework together is covered in Sharpie messages from fans. Sweatshirts for “Keith Scott Body Shop” hang in stores. A stream of visitors snap pictures in front of Lucas’s yellow, two-story house.
The show has been off the air since 2012, but its fandom is still thriving and eternally devoted. For One Tree Hill stars James Lafferty and Stephen Colletti, the years that followed the finale have been a rocky journey, wracked with painful auditions and an ongoing struggle to find their footing in the industry again.
Lafferty played Nathan Scott: basketball superstar, husband to Hayley, and— based on the aforementioned Sharpie messages and many, many YouTube tribute videos— everybody’s perpetual crush for nine seasons. Colletti joined the cast in 2007 as Chase Adams, a member of the high school abstinence club who later becomes a bartender at Tree Hill’s popular nightclub Tric.
After the series ended, the two actors moved back to California and dove straight into auditioning for TV pilot season. They quickly discovered that they had a long, frustrating road ahead of them.
“It took me at least a year to know what I was doing in an audition room again. I had to shake the nerves off and stop bombing,” Lafferty recalled.
He added, “Iʼm grateful for every day I got on One Tree Hill, but I stayed in the same lane for a long time and that has real consequences in this industry.”
Meanwhile, Colletti was feeling pressure to land another role as a series regular. Auditions were endless, he wasn’t booking parts, and he once overheard a casting director refer to him as a “One Tree Hill whore” right before he walked into the room. Also, he was having trouble getting people in the industry to take him seriously after starring on the reality series Laguna Beach when he was a teenager.
“Eventually, you need to write about it or invest in a therapist,” he said.
Lafferty and Colletti decided to do the former. They teamed up to create Everyone Is Doing Great, a sharp, dry series about two actors who hit a career standstill after their successful teen series comes to an end. Filming for the first season wrapped in December and the guys are headed to the ATX Festival in June to premiere their second episode.
The two self-financed the pilot, which nabbed spots in four festivals, including a recent win for Best TV Episodic at the Mammoth Film Festival. During their first public screening, Colletti stood in the hallway, sweating and drinking a beer, his anxiety only subsiding when he heard laughter come out of the theatre.
It was those same fans that Lafferty and Colletti appealed to in an Indiegogo campaign last June, hoping to raise money for the remaining five episodes. They packed the page with all kinds of goodies, including OTH viewing parties (featuring appearances from Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz), Twitter follows, and private video chats. Basically, a veritable feast for diehards who have kept up with the Tree Hill gang long after the finale aired.
“[Crowdfunding] can be really effective but it’s also the most public way to fail,” Lafferty said. “It was really, really terrifying because you’re putting yourself out there.”
The two actors set a $225,000 fundraising goal—and fans came through big time, donating $267,422. As soon as the campaign ended, Lafferty and Colletti went straight into pre-production.
Last November, I arrived at Solidarity, the Santa Monica eatery being used as an episode location, and met a handful of the biggest prize winners from the crowdfunding campaign (being an extra went for $600 while a set visit cost $3,000). They had flown in from Canada, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Virginia and sat in the background of shots, pretending to be restaurant patrons while the camera rolled. Between takes, Colletti cracked jokes with one of the women. Lafferty headed over to another and asked if she was feeling jet lagged. During downtime, the fans and I talked about all things One Tree Hill.
Many of them had made frequent pilgrimages to Wilmington, where they diligently tracked down locations from the show (including Karen’s rooftop and the road where Peyton met Lucas, which they agreed were the trickiest to find).
Aleeshya Broome came to the shoot with her mom April. They used to set aside time every week to watch One Tree Hill together and are already planning their next trip to Wilmington.
“I can’t say that the show was relatable because it wasn’t, that’s not what high school was like for me,” Broome said. “But I can say that I felt that heartbreak, felt that frustration, lost that person.” She added that she sees herself the most in Hayley, with a dash of Brooke.
Each episode of Everyone Is Doing Great has an outline, and certain moments need to be hit, but otherwise actors are allowed to play with their dialogue. Neither Lafferty nor Colletti have professional improvisation experience and the two prepped together, meeting on weekends to drink wine, roll a camera, and do improv exercises.
That DIY ethos is present on set. There’s a scrappy, all-hands-on-deck atmosphere. The series’s publicist doubles as co-producer (and has a bit role on-screen). A production assistant excitedly told me that he had been hired as an extra and then got offered a gig working behind the camera. And, when the show needed an SUV for a scene, Colletti’s dad drove up from Laguna Beach to lend his own. Then, he stuck around and filled in as a production assistant and an extra.
The day’s shoot lasted about twelve hours and we all gathered together outside for the last shot, shivering in the dark. Afterwards, the prize winners—still in impressively bright spirits—filed in line to snap individual pictures with the actors.
One month later, the crew officially wrapped production. Now, Lafferty and Colletti are editing the remaining episodes, mapping out their second season, and gearing up to head to ATX. They're not quite sure where Everyone is Doing Great will land, but their keeping hopes high a network or streaming service will see its potential.
Even with that uncertainty, for the first time the two are getting to do everything on their own terms. One of the best parts, Lafferty said, comes when all the mania of the shooting day is over and they get to sit together alone in the editing room, going over footage.
“It’s such a no-pressure environment. On set, you’re experimenting with people’s time and money. But in the editing room, it’s just me and Stephen and the computer. We can try anything we want and no one will ever see how bad we fail,” he said. “That’s true freedom.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.