Twitterverse brought our attention to another gem! Or Die Trying. We were honored to interview Mayah Hollis and Sarah Hawkins about their influences, their message, and what this project is about. Women producers, writers, directors, and all around bringing attention to WOMEN IN FILM! Basically fierce women being awesome and real! Here is the scoop! Enjoy!
L21L: What brought you to this project?
SH: OR DIE TRYING evolved from a minimal dialogue, split-screen concept short that Myah and I were developing, following the highs and lows of a day in the life of an actor and a writer in Los Angeles. A few weeks later, Jenny Austin (who plays “Amelia” in ODT) and I were also discussing wanting to get a project off the ground. I brought the three of us together and we restructured the short into a series, looping in Chelsea London Lloyd to play “Bailey”.
What is your favorite part of producing, acting, writing?
SH: I love seeing the big picture amidst the little details. Producing is like a game of chess meets professional matchmaking; seeing how different personalities, skill sets, and details fit into a larger whole.
Acting-wise, there’s nothing quite like being vulnerable onscreen. It’s magic.
MH: With writing, you’re creating real, complex people with thoughts and feelings and problems out of thin air, and then building a whole world around them. Producing is an extension of that. It’s creating this alternate universe to the one on the page, because now you have other actors and filmmakers working together to lend their visions to your story, which develops the story into something that, as the writer, you couldn’t have conceptualized by yourself.
Acting for me means forgetting everything that I know as a writer and producer and letting go of that sense of omnipresence that comes with having created a world, and forcing myself to see things through the narrow and limited vision of that character. That to me is probably the hardest.
L21L: Since OR DIE TRYING is a female-driven project, how does it differ from other projects you have been a part of?
SH: There was a deep level of camaraderie from hiring a predominantly female crew. I’ve felt camaraderie on other sets, but being that the series is about our peers, I think everyone took more ownership of their role to ensure their story was as authentic as possible.
L21L: Here at Lost21Losers we are against bullying and we always ask, what adversities have you had face and how have you overcome them to be where you are today?
SH: Moving to Los Angeles initially to pursue acting, I’ve heard the word “no” more times than I can remember. The moment I realized that it wasn’t about me (or something I did or didn’t do), I felt an immense amount of freedom, not only in auditions, but to start producing my own projects like ODT.
MH: I’m a black female in an industry dominated by white dudes, so you name the adversity and if I haven’t faced it yet, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Since I have been both black and female my whole life, and that isn’t likely to change, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin when it comes to being told what I can and can’t do. I’ve learned that the key to being happy is knowing what you want, working for it, and not letting anyone stand in the way of getting what you’ve earned.
L21L: Who are some of your influences?
SH: Amy Sherman Palladino, Judd Apatow, the Coen Brothers, and coffee.
MH: Shonda. Shonda Lynn Rhimes. Queen.
L21L: What types of subject matter can we look forward to seeing in ODT series?
MH: Career drama. Relationship drama. Parental drama. Financial drama. Existential drama. Drama, drama, drama.
L21L: I am in love with the concept of ODT, and wonder if there are any parallels between the characters and the actors who portray them?
MH: Well, I’ve accidentally been writing the future, so there are way more parallels at this point than were initially intended. But, yes, the four leads were written with the actors portraying them in mind, so there are a lot of similarities in voice and personality. We also each have the same or similar careers as our characters. Other than that, Ellie, Amelia, Raegan and Bailey are definitely their own people, and often make choices that even baffle me. So the similarities kind of stop there.
L21L: Do you have any advice for those who are trying to follow a similar path?
SH: Be confident in what you’re building.
MH: Surround yourself with talented people who share your vision. You can achieve your goals on your own, but you don’t have to.
L21L: How has the Seed & Spark campaign helped and would you recommend it to others?
SH: Seed&Spark was absolutely pivotal in our success. Through Seed&Spark we were able craft a solid message and build a distinct and powerful audience: our fellow women in entertainment. Seed&Spark also has some great tools for emerging filmmakers such as how-to videos, twitter chats, a “loan” function, etc. Would highly recommend it to anyone looking to crowdfund for a film project.
L21L: Where can we watch and is there an ultimate dream place you would like to see the ODT series ending up?
SH: We’re still wrapping up post production, but we’ll be looking to start pitching soon. We’d love to be on a highly accessible platform (name your favorite, we’ve likely dream of it!), but in the meantime, stay tuned to our progress at odtseries.com and on Instagram & Twitter @ODT_series.
L21L: What is your favorite all time movie?
SH: Tough call! It’d have to be a tie between Amelie & Little Miss Sunshine.
MH: Girl, Interrupted. But, like, ask me again tomorrow.
We were introduced to the Hard-ish Bodies project through Twitter. We love the concept! Own your body no matter what! Mike Carreon was gracious enough to answer some of our questions! Be inspired!! I know after this interview I couldn't help but be! Thank you Mike and to all your team!
So without further adieu here we go!
L21L: What was the inspiration for Hard-ish Bodies?
MC: I initially created Hard-ish Bodies as a live theater show. It came from my own struggles with body image and trying to find moments where I felt sexy.
My dream is to be the lead in a romcom feature film. Growing up with four girls, I grew up falling in and out of love with this dream because of the countless hours of romcoms we all binged. I’m a big guy and always have been. Coming in at around 285lbs, there were no romcom leads that looked like me…and were also taken seriously. You look at Chris Farley or Kevin James and the majority of the time the comedy in those movies is essentially “fatty falls down.” Basically, the comedy was to watch the big guy do this thing big guys aren’t supposed to do, but in a way where their bodies and what they did with them was the joke. I could be wrong, but I saw it as people weren’t laughing with them as much as they were laughing at them. I’m definitely not discounting their work as it’s instrumental in who I’ve become, but I’ve always wanted to too see someone like me be sexy without it being an origin story or fish-out-of water story. I found it on Halloween 2014 when I dressed up as Chris Farley from the SNL Chippendales sketch. It started as a joke, but by the end of the night I was actually feeling sexy. From that moment, I knew I wanted to share this moment and help others feel this way too. It took a while to fully form, but before I knew what was happening we put up the first live Hard-ish Bodies shows in early 2016. During the live show, I found that not only were we, as cast members, owning our bodies in a way we never had before, but audiences were connecting with these vulnerable stories in a way that took Austin by storm. After winning the B. Iden Payne Award for Outstanding Production of an Improv Show, both the cast and audiences wanted more so we brought it back to the theater. For the first time in my life, I felt like a project was a pure reflection of what I envisioned for my voice as an artist. So, after two sell out runs of the live show, Hard-ish Bodies was ready to bring it's message of body positivity to film.
L21L: Can you tell us a bit about the plot?
MC: Sure. Set in present day Austin, Hard-ish Bodies is a comedy that follows the chubby and charming, Mitch "The Midnight Train" who struggles to believe in himself as a lead dancer at a strip club called Stoney’s Rock Hard Palace. While the owner of the place, Stoney "Tex Longride” (played by James C. Leary from Buffy), must come clean and tell the dancers that club will be torn town to make way for condos...like every other good thing in Austin. With some strong supporting female characters, both men find themselves struggling to keep it together during a busy Friday night.
L21L: Is this a pure comedy, or does it help address the negative self-image that many people face on a daily basis?
MC: I’m hoping it’s both. The film is rooted in comedy and I’d be heartbroken if no one laughs while watching it, but it is also about body-positivity. The way that we’re addressing body-positivity an self-image is by not mentioning it at all. I know that sounds a little backwards, but hear me out. I believe that if a film has a character doing something that they normally wouldn’t be doing (according to societal norms), it’s very easy to fall into the trap of making it an origin story and explaining the “how” rather than the telling a good story. Instead of saying here is a big guy and here’s why it makes sense that he’s considered a sexy stripper, we’re going straight to the story of what makes this day different for this sexy stripper.
Also, I don’t want to toot our horn, but we have a sexy cast. They range from size and shape, but that’s perfect. My hope is that by seeing different types of bodies owning their sexiness without calling unnecessary attention to it, audiences will not need to find a reason for themselves to feel sexy. They will feel empowered to be be sexy just as they are.
L21L: Where are you looking to showcase this short?
MC: While our primary audience is women, I’d really love to showcase a new wave of body-positivity messaging geared towards men. It’s something few guys bring up, but men experience body-image insecurities too. I 100% understand there are systematic difference that separate a man’s experience with body-image compared to a woman’s experience. Having said that, I know that I’ve felt similarly shamed for my body because of how media portrays “sexy” men. I’m not looking to change the world with this project, but if one guy sees this and cuts himself some slack for how he looks (and maybe even starts to think positively about himself) this project will have made a difference.
This film also takes a stab at condos ruining all of the originality and the local places that make Austin, Austin. I’m a firm believer that change is almost always good, but it’s been disheartening to see a few of my favorite places close their doors or have to relocate because of greedy developers and city counselors that see dollar signs from people moving here more than they do a community. That said, I’m a transplant to Austin as of 2 years ago and because of that I am definitely part of the problem…that’ll be our little secret though. Ha.
L21L: Are you considering the Film Festival circuit? And if so which ones?
MC: Yes, our hope is made the rounds in the Film Festival circuit. It sounds goofy, but I’m a little superstitious to say some of them. I will say though that one of our big goals would be to get into one of our top local festivals (SXSW or Austin Film Fest). Of course, we also have our sights set on a a couple other top tier festivals and a bunch of national and international ones. Right now, if a festival is known for giving great feedback for submissions, leans towards comedy and/or social movements then they’re on our list. Ha.
L21L: What kind of budget does Hard-ish Bodies have?
MC: Right now, we are crowdfunding on Seed&Spark for a budget of $8,500. As I write this, we’re on Day 4 and we’re closing in on 60% of our $8,500 goal met with another 26 days of the campaign to go. My hope is that we reach out goal and are able to add a stretch goal to the $12k so that we can add an extra day of production and get the coverage we need on our dances.
L21L: How can we help spread the word?
MC: My crowdfunding manager, Elena Weinberg, gave me some things you can do that will make a huge impact - two of the three are free to do.
1. Log into www.seedandspark.com, make a profile and FOLLOW our campaign. We’re on the front page and if we keep going like we are, we’ll stay there until the end of our 30 days. You then get us one step closer to our 500 followers goal. Once we reach 500 followers, we gain access to a free "Filmmaker Gift Box" from Seed & Spark which contains $8,000 worth of filmmaking tools that we can use for post-production and marketing the film.
2. SHARE our campaign. Here's something quick and to the point that you can just copy and paste.
“Real men. Real dancing. Real Sexy. Support @HardishBodies's @seedandspark campaign http://bit.ly/FundHB #crowdfunding"
3. If you do have some funds, consider making a contribution. Anything small or big helps us get closer to our goal.
We know you're looking at this huge number and thinking "All I can do is $5 right now - how is that even going to make a difference??" Trust me: it does. Every dollar helps the momentum propel forwards and people don't like donating to a stagnant campaign. They like donating to a flourishing campaign. So, even a couple bucks from you will probably generate a couple more from a stranger.
L21L: Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
MC: I have a couple other short films in the works. One’s a dramedy that’ll hit on LGBT family dynamics called “Last Night” that’s a glimpse into my own relationship with my mother and her wife. There’s also a goofy web-series that James C. Leary and I are writing called, “Texas Zombie Removal.” It’ll be Reno 911 meets Billy The Exterminator, but for zombies. Ha.
L21L: Please tell us a bit about you, and your team!
MC: …where to start?
I grew up on a goat ranch in Lytle, Texas. I was young, maybe 4 or 5, but I remember wanting to get involved in movies because of Jim Carrey in “The Mask”. I would hop on our vacuum and do my best impressions of him - complete with “telling Scotty I do give a darn.” It wasn’t until my first year out of college when I attended SXSW. I learned that people just like me were taking a risk and living their dream. It wasn’t until a 48hr Film Project that I realized my passion for writing and directing. Out of necessity, our small crew held multiple positions and I was writer/co-director/producer/actor. It was a lot of work, but so much fun. We ended up winning the festival and that launched me into directing, writing, and starring in everything from commercials to music videos to shorts. From then on everything has been leading me to Hard-ish Bodies.
My team is amazing!!! A lot of people say that out of necessity, but I 100% mean that. They’re funny and charming and so freaking talented. I truly don’t know how to talk them up without writing way too much, so I’ll let you know that on both our Hard-ish Bodies website and our Seed&Spark campaign page, we have everyone listed out with a bunch of really cool stories and write ups.
I will also point you to my love letter to the women of HB. After marching for Austin Women’s March, I put down my thoughts about the women that have made this project what it is today. You can check it out here.
L21L: And last but not least, were you ever bullied, or dealt with negativity? How did you overcome it?
MC: Damn…good question. Yes, I was bullied quiet a bit in school - for being overweight, for living with my grandparents, for not really knowing where I belonged, and for a bunch of other stuff. It got to the point where I started to believe them. For years, I would just go along with their “jokes” because I didn’t understand how damaging it was for me. Of course that lead into a need to be a people-pleaser because if they only wanted to hang around me when I was making them laugh, then I would find a way to do it all the time - even if it was at my own expense. Later, I would do the exact opposite and close myself off to the world because I didn’t want to give them a reason to make fun of me. I would do anything to make sure that no one saw my shortcomings or saw me fail. Until about 3 years ago, that meant not being brave enough to even try most times.
It’s taken me years of therapy and physical/emotional struggles to know that I am enough. It wasn’t until this realization that I needed to start living life for me and no one else, did I start to move away from that mentality of self-humiliation and self-doubt. Knowing I needed self-care, but not knowing how to find it I asked for help. It was extremely vulnerable and terrifying, but I went to a therapist. Coming from a hispanic family, therapy is seen as a negative thing or as my grandma would say “something white people do for pills”, but I can 100% tell you that seeking help saved my life. There’s never going to be a “right time” for you, but there might be a time when it’s too late. If you are thinking about going to seek help, please go! If you don’t know where to go or who to see, that’s ok - neither did I. I asked. It was someone in this cast and crew that pointed me towards my first therapist and I will be eternally grateful.
On another note, meditation has been a huge help for me. If you’re like me, my mind has 1000 different thoughts all at the same time and all of them worrying about the future. Meditation has helped keep me present. I know that sounds super cliché, but being present cascades into a new understanding of the world around you. A classic example for me is failing. (Yes, even though I go to therapy I still fear failure. Ha.) Normally, I think “what’s going to happen if I fail” or “I know it’s going to fail because of (insert any excuse)”. But when I meditate, it helps me realize that the process that gets me to either failure or success is what’s really important. Where I am I am right now and what I am doing right now are neither good nor bad, they are part of the process. Don’t know where to get started? Do what I did, type “meditation” into any podcast service and find a guided mediation that works best for you. I love me some Deepak Chopra.