It sounds like it could be a metaphor for what women in the film industry are fighting against – sexism, stereotypes, exclusion, a seat at the decision-making table, better representation and visibility, and peer recognition at awards shows. A new webseries based out of Los Angeles touches some of the well talked-about Hollywood gender problem, and wraps that around the story of 4 millennial women trying to stay ambitious and achieve their dreams.
‘Or Die Trying’ is created by the badass team of executive producers Sarah Hawkins and Myah Hollis (who also wrote the series), and director Camila Martins. Set to be released on Youtube starting June 9, the production team said they want to empower their audience to know their dreams and ambitions are worth fighting for, and felt Youtube was the ideal outlet to get this message across.
Over each episode we follow the stories of TV writer Raegan Thomas, actress Ellie Hansen, comedian Bailey Rosenberg, and journalist Amelia Tinsley who has put her career on hold to focus on her relationship. While the specific subject matter or choice of careers may be different, for anyone watching ODT, there are easily a number of themes they can identify with, especially if they are a millennial women.
The series began as a crowd-funded project, raising a total of $23,000 in donations as well as production goods and services from their Seed & Spark campaign in 2016. The female-driven focus of ODT isn’t just on camera either. Behind the scenes, over 85% of the crew were female and this was an intentional move to counteract the gender problem Hollywood has behind the camera.
“OR DIE TRYING is a testament to the countless women in film. We, the creators, are active women in the film industry not just on screen, but in our real lives as well… [It] represents all of the resilient women who are judged not only by their talent, but also by their age, race, gender, “look,” and social following. We represent the women who hustle for what they want, because they don’t believe in a plan b. We represent the women who collaborate and create, hoping to build something bigger than themselves,” says a description on the website.
For us, it fills the gap and more left by HBO’s ‘Girls’ after it ended. In anticipation of the series release, we spoke with Sarah Hawkins and Myah Hollis to get their take on what it’s like to produce a female-driven, female-created series, and how they are using their talents to be a solution to the gender issue in film.
How did the idea for this web series come about?
Myah Hollis: The concept for Or Die Trying 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 on board to play Bailey.
What can viewers expect to see in this first season in the way of story?
MH: The first season is all about the girls realizing that how they’ve been doing things isn’t working for them anymore. They’re learning how to balance the personal and professional, and are coming to terms with the fact that their priorities aren’t really in order. Amelia Tinsley is a journalist, struggling with her identity and her sense of purpose, and trying to get herself back on track after losing herself for a while.
Bailey Rosenberg is a comedian who is totally in tune with who she is and what she wants, but is having opposing expectations forced on her by her mother who wants her to live more traditionally. Ellie Hansen is an indie actress who is disinterested in the idea of fame at the expense of art, even though she’s constantly being pressured to “sell out.” Raegan Thomas is the creator and co-showrunner of a TV show who, although she’s doing very well professionally, is dealing with things in her personal life, and she doesn’t really have the ability to compartmentalize the two. Each woman is trying to find that harmony between two dueling sides of their lives.
Tell us about the process of running a crowdfunding campaign and which platform you chose?
Sarah Hawkins: Seed&Spark was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences. Crowdfunding is never easy, but the folks at Seed&Spark vet you and prepare you on a level that is incredibly empowering. It’s a major factor in why we chose to raise on the platform. Not only did we feel supported, we were raising on a platform that also caters to our audience: driven and creative women in film. Really cool filmmakers came out of the woodwork to support us, not only financially but with loans of goods, services, promotions, etc.
With so many female filmmakers still not getting the same types of opportunities in Hollywood as men, how do you think crowdfunding platforms and online video platform like Youtube and Vimeo have opened the playing field for content to be made?
SH: Crowdfunding and DIY distribution plays a vital part in moving the needle on the gender gap in Hollywood. It’s given women like us an outlet and it proves women don’t need to wait for permission from a studio, a producer, or that rare Hollywood-Dream-like discovery moment, to not only create work for ourselves, but to create work for other women as well.
While the series is about 4 millennial women and the various things they are trying to do with their lives, the title ‘Or Die Trying’ seems to be a metaphor for what women are pushing for in Hollywood. Could you speak about this parallel a little?
MH: Everyone feels unsettled or restless at some point in their lives, and for these characters, they’re also in the very transitional period of being in their mid-twenties. Because of who our characters are and what they do for a living, the title definitely becomes a metaphor for women in film and the ambition that you have to have to make it in this industry.
You have funded and produced the series, what is the next main goal for you both as filmmakers in terms of increasing awareness about the show?
SH: We want to empower our audience that their voices and dreams are valid and worth fighting for. That means ensuring everyone has access to the series. We feel YouTube is the ideal outlet for our debut season. We’re excited to announce that we will be releasing Season 1 of OR DIE TRYING on YouTube June 9th!
How does ‘Or Die Trying’ get away from some of the typical female character tropes we’re so used to seeing in mainstream Hollywood?
MH: I always give my characters free will to make their own choices, which aren’t dependent on what the audience wants or even what I want. I think tropes come from imposing what you want or what you think the audience wants on your characters, which comes across as inauthentic. With this series, we wanted to give the characters and their stories justice; and to do that, you have to embrace the fact that people, whether they’re fictional or not, are multidimensional.
Why is it important for audiences to see female characters that are messy, complex, unlikeable and outside the “norms”?
MH: People are messy, complex and unlikable. The idea of that being outside of the norm is kind of ridiculous, and that’s why it’s so important to show characters that we can see ourselves in. Film should be an honest reflection of life and, regardless of the genre, it properly portray human nature. The female perspective has always been underrepresented–if not missing entirely–from film; and I think the industry is starting to realize that it’s just as necessary and valuable as the male perspective.
There is an increase in knowledge about the need to have more women in key creative and decision-making positions behind the camera in Hollywood. Tell us about the amount of women working on your series?
SH: The number continues to grow as we progress! To date, we’ve had 24 women involved in the creation Season 1; from our director, Camila Martins, to PAs, to our YouTube Channel Manager, to Wardrobe, to Art Department, to our Script Supervisor. This is not including some of wonderful female musicians and wardrobe sponsors who have contributed to our project as well. Bringing more women into the project has definitely been one of the most rewarding parts of producing OR DIE TRYING.