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Sarah Hawkins & Myah Hollis | Or Die Trying

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Sarah Hawkins and Myah Hollis, creators and actors of the original series Or Die Trying (ODT), teamed up to create a series about women in film, by women in film. The series focuses on the realities of struggles and successes, while being a millennial trying to make it in Hollywood. The creators spoke with netTVnow to discuss the representation of women in the industry, and what to look forward within the upcoming series.

netTVnow: How did the idea start to create a series like Or Die Trying?

Myah Hollis: The concept for Or Die Trying actually evolved from a concept for a short that Sarah and I were developing. We were working on a split-screen, minimal dialogue peek into a day in the life of a writer and actress living in LA, and the ups and downs of pursuing that kind of lifestyle. A few weeks later, Jenny Austin (who plays Amelia in ODT) and Sarah were discussing potentially doing some type of project together. We decided to restructure the concept for the short into a series and brought Chelsea London Lloyd onboard to play Bailey. Things progressed pretty quickly from there.

netTVnow: As an audience member—why should this series interest me?

MH: I think there’s something in this show for everyone. You don’t need to have an interest in the entertainment industry, or even an understanding of it, to relate to these characters. At its core, this show is about people. It’s about figuring out what you want in life, going after it, and learning to deal with your personal obstacles along the way. We’ve had so many people tell us how much they see themselves in these characters, and all we’ve released so far are a few teaser trailers. I believe that when you focus on telling real, authentic, and complex human stories, people are drawn to that.

netTVnow: The characters’ relationships, especially between Raegan, Ellie, Amelia, and Bailey seem very authentic and relatable. Can you talk about creating those character relationships and how you plan to approach it within the series? 

MH: I used the relationships and dynamics between Sarah, Chelsea, Jenny and I as a baseline to develop the relationships between the characters that we portray on the show. I wrote toward each girl's voice and personality, and I think that's where a lot of the authenticity comes from. When you're honest and you depict people with their natural array of emotions, reactions and idiosyncrasies, then they become relatable. I definitely plan to test those relationships a bit throughout the series, but that's just part of the natural ebb and flow of friendships.

netTVnow: The production was crowdfunded through Seed&Spark. Do you think this type of funding helped to create another group of viewers as opposed to some traditional funding outlets?

Sarah Hawkins: We really can’t sing our praises of Seed&Spark enough. For us, and I imagine every filmmaker, it’s really about knowing your audience. For ODT, it was the women in film community. We chose to raise our funding on Seed&Spark because it is the epitome of all things indie film especially with its collaborative spirit and set-up. So many amazing, inspiring filmmakers came out of the woodwork to be a part of this project, and we truly owe that to Seed&Spark for providing a unique platform to connect with our audience.

netTVnow: After gaining the green light for this production, did the series receive any feedback about the narrative you are trying to tell?

SH: Generally speaking, everyone is just really excited to see us go into production. We can’t wait! Now is the part where we get the rest of our ducks in row and do this right. We’re grateful for the support and excitement.

MH: To kind of piggyback off of what Sarah said, we’ve gotten so much positive feedback that it’s been pretty overwhelming in the best way. Of course, when you’re telling a story about women, you always get the occasional misogynistic comment. To me, all that does is reinforce the fact that we need more stories about women, told by women.

netTVnow: Within a small production, you end up wearing a lot of hats. How did you find it to be juggling these different roles?

SH: It can definitely be difficult at times (especially since we all have lives and other projects outside of ODT) but building a team that is dedicated, free of ego, and in it for the right reasons, creates an environment that is stronger than what we could have imagined as individuals. We are still building that village, but with every new addition to our team, I feel giddy knowing that our baby will be made that much better because of our hiring decision.

nettvnow: Are there any organizations that you admire that are helping to empower and provide resources for women in the industry?

SH: I really could go on and on about the amazing team at Seed&Spark. If you think it’s just a crowdfunding platform, you’d be sorely mistaken. Emily Best and the entire team has been pivotal in supplying indie filmmakers with free resources. They have online classes and travel across the country hosting seminars to empower filmmakers. They even host a weekly Twitter chat called #FilmCurious where you can connect with other filmmakers about different industry topics.

netTVnow: What is an important question that you think audience members should ask themselves and others to help spark conversations about women in film?

MH: I actually have a few questions that I think people should consider. The first is, what would the landscape of this industry look like if we had more women behind the camera telling stories from a perspective that’s unique to women? How would that impact the types of stories we’re seeing on screen and the depth of the female characters being portrayed? Honestly, maybe we should start with the simple question of why aren’t there more female writers, directors, producers and crew members? What is the logical explanation for the lack of diversity? Don’t think too hard about that last one. It’s a trick question.

netTVnow: What do you think needs to happen to help create an environment that allows equal opportunities for women — both in front and behind the camera?

SH: Systemic problems need systemic change. There’s such great talent out there! The industry has enough competition in it without us. Support each other.

MH: I think women are becoming very comfortable with the idea of taking things into our own hands and creating our own opportunities. The diversity issue in Hollywood is rooted deep in the foundation of the industry and, unfortunately, it’s going to take some time to see real, substantial change. In the meantime, women will continue producing amazing, innovative, award-winning work, because I mean that’s just what we do.

netTVnow: The series focuses on four millennial women trying to make it in Hollywood and achieve their own versions of success. How do you define success for yourself? Do you think you have achieved it in some shape or form yet?  

MH: Everything is so uncertain in our industry, that it’s almost better to just focus on small, immediate goals to keep yourself from going crazy. The reality is one day you can be at the peak of your career, and the next day you can be struggling to pay your rent. Success for me is just finishing a project and executing it in the way that I see it in my head. I don’t look any further than that. If I’ve completed something that I feel good about, that’s success. To be able to have a lifetime of those small successes is the goal.

SH: I think success is finding like-minded, passionate people to surround yourself with, who get you on an innate level. I think we are starting to build that network, especially with ODT, and I'm extremely grateful for that.

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Jessica ToscanoComment