OR DIE TRYING: Series to Advance Women in Film, On & Off-screen

Busted Buggy Entertainment interviewed the women behind the upcoming female-driven series titled Or Die Trying, about the highs and lows of the industry and breaking the celluloid ceiling with their production.

Novelist and screenwriter Myah Hollis is the showrunner and executive producer of Or Die Trying and is currently developing a television pilot. Hollis also works with Film Independent to produce the LA Film Fest and Spirit Awards. Actor and executive producer of Or Die Trying, Sarah Hawkins is currently developing a TV series, producing a short film, and is also producing the second annual Moonfaze Feminist Film Festival.

Co-producer Jenny Austin is an actor and film-critic journalist, interviewing many Hollywood A-Listers. She is also currently writing/developing a comedy series. Chelsea London Lloyd is a co-producer and actor who stars in Defy Media/Verizon's new series Clevver Now. Recent credits include a pilot for Adult Swim, a commercial for the film Joy and a national billboard campaign for WAG.

Busted Buggy Entertainment: How did the four of you join forces?

Myah Hollis: The concept for the show developed from an idea for a short film that Sarah and I were working on. We wanted to create a natural depiction of the lives of a writer and an actress living in L.A. in the beginning stages of their careers, and show some of the trials and tribulations that they may face in a given day.

Sarah mentioned to me that Jenny, her coworker at The Academy, wanted to collaborate with her in some capacity, so the three of us came together and adapted our original concept into Or Die Trying. Of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without Chelsea, who at the time was also working at The Academy, so we brought her on board as well.

BBE: Tell us about the women in the series. Who are they are what are they all about?

Myah Hollis: 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 those two sides of their lives.

BBE: What makes these women so relatable and would you say they are similar or different than yourselves as actual women in the industry?

Myah Hollis: My focus has always been to tell each woman’s story honestly. They’re all at different stages of their personal lives and careers, but what unites them is that all of the things that drive them, motivate them and even hinder them are very ordinary. They are things that are part of the average human experience. These characters are strong in their own ways, but they’re not invincible, and that duality is what helps me relate to them so well.

That being said, while there are a lot of similarities between our characters and ourselves in real life, their experiences are definitely uniquely their own. There is a very clear line drawn to keep those worlds separate.

BBE: From our understanding you did things backwards from most other filmmakers. You shot a trailer first and are now shooting your series. Can you tell us why you decided to do this? How has this helped or hurt the series?

Sarah Hawkins: Yes! We decided to produce a trailer first to set the tone and level of quality we are looking to achieve with the series, as funding the entire series independently (at the level we want) was financially unrealistic starting out the gate. It’s been a great calling card for us, for the series, and for what we’re capable of; so much so that a ton of people ask us daily when it’s coming out because they think the series is already finished. We head into production in just a few weeks!

BBE: Audience is a big focus for us as a company. How were you able to identify, quantify, and target your niche audience and build out from it?

Sarah Hawkins: Being that Or Die Trying is about women in the entertainment industry, and more often than not, the series is compared tone-wise to Girls meets Entourage, we wanted to zero in on the millennial women in film crowd here in Los Angeles. We are all very active in these circles, but beyond L.A., there are so many creative millennial females in the industry or other creative fields living and working in metropolitan areas. We took the microcosm that is our “tribe” here in L.A.; passionate, creative, ambitious women in film, crafted a message that was universal to the cause of progressing the narrative on women in film, and expanded it to fighting for your dreams.

Every dream is worth fighting for. For us, it’s chipping away at the celluloid ceiling, for others it may be something entirely different. We don’t want to limit ourselves to just one sex, just one industry, just one perspective, just one dream, because we believe Or Die Trying is much more than that.

BBE: Not only are you portraying women in the entertainment industry in ODT, but in real life, you are all filmmakers in the trenches, not just actors. What do all of you do outside of ODT ?

Jenny Austin: We all have different jobs and participate in an array of activities, but the common thread is that we all engage in creative fields. Myah is a writer; she writes inspiring blog articles and in addition to writing ODT, she’s working on developing another television pilot. Sarah is a full-time producer’s assistant and on the side is producing ODT as well as her own short film. Chelsea is an actress and full-time host on the entertainment and celebrity news show, Clevver Now, which ranks in the top 10 Youtube channels. As for me, I’m pursuing hosting and have been lucky enough to interview many of my favorite actors and directors through the press junket circuit.

BBE: How has this informed your social media strategy?

Jenny Austin: It’s been helpful that we have other interests in the film world (besides acting) and can wear other hats, because that not only gives us more of an edge, but it’s caused us to connect with many more inspiring industry women through social media. We make sure to post pictures of our daily lives on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in order to increase our breadth of types of people with whom we interact. We post pictures from our lives outside of ODT so that people are able to see our other ventures. We make sure that all of our posts and photos truly stick to our specific brand.

BBE: As women in the entertainment industry, what are some of the challenges you face daily and how do you overcome them?

Chelsea London Lloyd: As a young women pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, I sometimes find it challenging to be taken as seriously I would like to be. I’ve met with a lot of people who have told me, “You’re a beautiful girl. Why not own it?” or “You look so much better when your hair is blown out.” I’m like, yo, sometimes I want to look done-up and sometimes I want to wear no makeup with a bun on top of my head. It’s an odd balance to strike when you have to present yourself as professional, polished, attractive, etc. for meetings and auditions. I think dressing up is fun. But one day I hope to establish myself so I can be taken seriously whether or not I’ve been to Dry Bar that morning. You know?

I overcome these challenges by staying true to myself. Everyone who knows me will tell you that that sometimes I look awful. I’m kinda proud of it. I never want to be that girl who you see without makeup on and are like, oof.

As for being taken seriously in other facets — I continue to create my own content. Sketches, shorts, or even shorter videos for social media — you just have to keep creating and putting yourself out there. The best advice I ever received starting out was when I was told that not everything you make is going to be as good as you want it to be, or as high as your taste level. But you have to still create. And create and create and create. Eventually, your taste level, work ethic, reputation, and opportunities will line up.

BBE: Your team has found a unique way to connect with and rally around other filmmakers through your Women in Film Spotlights. Can you tell us a little bit about this process?

Chelsea London Lloyd: Or Die Trying has been such a gift in that it has really championed females filmmakers, creators, artists, and more — all over L.A. and beyond. Through our Seed&Spark campaign and social media presence we have slowly but surely been building our brand, along the way letting others know what we’re all about. From this process has stemmed so many rad chicks who have reached out and been like, hey, we love what you’re doing! We decided we had so many cool women in our database that we had to do something about it. We wanted their stories told, too. So for our Women in Film Spotlights, we choose inspiring women who have in turn inspired us. We reach out to friends in the biz, or to those who have reached out to us, it’s really a combo. We look forward to spotlighting as many wonderful women in the business as we can. Each person has an incredible story to tell, and we hope to expose these unique, hardworking, badass women one story at a time.

BBE: As you gear up to shoot the series this October, what are you most looking forward to?

Myah Hollis: I’m just excited to see everything come together. There has been so much work and so many moving pieces leading up to this, I can’t wait to see what we create. Also, having everyone together on set again, both our old crew and our new, will be amazing.

Sarah Hawkins: I can’t wait to see the village we’ve been building come together. We’ve met so many amazing filmmakers throughout this past year and so many more are coming out to support it. There’s nothing quite like being on set with people who are in it for the right reasons; to create something powerful and bigger than themselves.

Jenny Austin: I’m excited to see how all of Myah’s amazing character creations come to life and finally living as my character, Amelia. I look forward to being a part of someone else’s soul-searching; to play someone other than myself serves me comfort in certain parts of myself. It’s thrilling to pull out aspects of yourself that you’re not usually allowed to show.

Chelsea London Lloyd: Oh, gosh. Everything! I am itching to shoot this baby! Not like that! ‘Shoot a baby,’ that sounds so awful, oh my god! But on the real, bringing these characters to life on screen is going to be such a thrill. The camaraderie, friendship, angst, stress, passion, hard work, ambition, success, failure, confusion … it’s all going to finally come together into one perfect explosion of artsy fartsy magic. I have so much respect for our team. When they asked me to join forces — I was like yes, yes, yes, so much yes. They had been meeting, and then all four of us have been meeting … for well over a year and a half. It’s crazy. I look forward to being on set and just reveling in this artistic, juicy, female-centric experience. Gosh this sounds like an orgy or something that’s really not what I mean, ha! I’m going to shut up now. Who knows where this journey will go. The ride has been crazy … and I never want it to end. <3

Follow Or Die Trying on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and at odtseries.com.

Watch the trailer:

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