Or Die Trying: Bridging the Gender Gap

Interview by Gillian Finklea

Sadly, the issue of gender inequality in film and television is still a problem which haunts the industry. But, thanks to projects like ‘Or Die Trying’, the issue is becoming more and more readily discussed and action is being taken to give women in film a much louder voice, slowly but surely. We caught up with Sarah Hawkins and Myah Hollis, two of the brilliant women behind this project, to learn more about their work and get their opinions on the gender gap in Hollywood.


GF: One of the great things that ‘Or Die Trying’ boasts is that the entire production team is made up of no less than 85% females. On average, what is the usual percentage of women in these roles on a given television show or movie?

MH: According to the 2015-16 Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film report, women comprise just 26% of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working on broadcast network, cable, and streaming programs. Women make up 39% of producers, 29% of writers, 24% of executive producers, 22% of creators, 20% of editors, 12% of directors and 3% of directors of photography. That doesn’t even get into the statistics on all of the other various crew positions that are very largely dominated by men. However, when you have female creators and executive producers, which is the case with ‘Or Die Trying’, the percentages of women in major roles on screen and behind-the-scenes are drastically higher. It’s important that women continue to make their own content.
 

GF: Here’s hoping more and more women follow suit and create their own content! Has your background always been in film and the entertainment industry?

SH: I studied Broadcasting & Media Studies in college, as I wanted to meld fashion and media working for places like the Style Network, but I “caught the bug” for acting soon after. I loved the subtle nature of film both in front of the camera, as well as the collaborative environment it provided behind the camera. It wasn’t really until moving to Los Angeles that I discovered just how much I loved the film industry itself; giving opportunity to new talent and new perspectives.

MH: I actually come from a literary background. My mom is a writer, and in high school I started writing my first book and assumed I would be a novelist. My dream was to write something that could be adapted into a film or TV show. I didn’t grow up in a place where screenwriting was something that people pursued as a career, so I never saw that as a legitimate option for me. I didn’t realise until college that, with my love for writing and my obsession with TV and film, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.

GF: Luckily for us all, you guys found what you were meant to do! I like that the characters in the show all have different roles in the entertainment industry, from actresses to entertainment reporters. Is that something you set out to portray, or did it come about organically as many of the actors on the show share similar professions to their characters.

MH: It was definitely an organic thing. There’s a very intentional duality that we’re exploring between the actors and the characters that we portray. The characters were inspired by our lives and the things that we have experienced, but we’ve still managed to depict four unique individuals that are very distinct from who we are off-screen. I think the fact that we each come from different backgrounds in the industry helps paint a really inclusive picture of what it’s like to be a creative in LA.

GF: The vibe I get from the preview is that this is similar to the show ‘Girls’, only in that it focuses on four women of a similar age, but with the entertainment industry playing a connecting role. Is that a fair assessment? What other film or television show do you look at for inspiration?

MH: That’s a completely fair assessment. Stylistically, we’ve kind of landed somewhere between the slice-of-life vibe of ‘Girls’ and the industry realism of ‘Entourage’. That’s not to say that we were specifically inspired by those two shows, because I watch an obscene amount of TV and can find inspiration pretty much anywhere, but I think there are very obvious comparisons to be made. Whenever you have a show about women in their 20s these days, it’s inevitable that it’s going to be compared to ‘Girls’ and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It just goes to show the type of cultural impact a female-driven show can have.

GF: Absolutely! Hopefully ‘Or Die Trying’ can have a similar impact. Sarah, I’ve noticed that you have listed Amy Sherman-Palladino as your favourite woman in film. What is it about her story speaks to you? And how excited are you for ‘Gilmore Girls’ to return?

SH: I love how well she knew and fought for her audience. So many criticised how dialogue-heavy the series is with pop culture quips that might be speaking above people, but she never sacrificed her characters or the tone of the show to reach a broader audience. If she did, it wouldn’t be the same quippy feminist show that became a cult classic. And yes, I am dying for the revival and am already regretting how quickly it’s going to go by. Can’t. Wait.

GF: Me too, it’ll be great to see them back on the screen! Each of the women in your show are described as a “millennial in Hollywood.” Has the term millennial ever been used in a way to discredit you?

MH: In general, millennials have this reputation of being lazy, aimless and entitled, and I’m never unaware of that stereotype or of the fact that being young means that you have to work harder to be taken seriously. At the same time, I can’t recall an instance where someone has ever openly used that term to discredit me. If anything, it’s empowering, because I understand millennials to be a generation of creative and innovative people, who are determined to create the future that they want for themselves.

SH: I would have to echo Myah’s answer, as there is definitely a stigma attached to millennials which suggests they are aimless. On the contrary though, I believe millennials in Hollywood are extremely driven. It’s why so many of us move to Los Angeles in the first place; to take risks, and work hard to bring dreams into fruition.

GF: Who are the top female creators, directors and cinematographers that people should seek out?

SH: Where do I begin? I’m a huge fan of Eve Cohen, a cinematographer who not only has a great eye, but has been a pioneer in the virtual reality space. Directing-wise, I really love Christine Yuan’s work. She reminds me of a David Lynch of our generation.

GF: Thanks for the heads up, we’ll be sure to check them out! Now, the prevailing advice offered to people who want to work in the entertainment industry is — “Just start creating!” Do you know of any companies or websites that can help people “Just start creating”?

SH: There’s plenty of avenues to pursue, but No Film School, Seed&Spark and Indie Film Hustle Podcast with Ale Ferrari come readily to mind. They all set out to empower new filmmakers to create sustainable careers in the film industry. Slated is also great if you’re into some of the more strategic business aspects of filmmaking.

GF: And finally, one last plug – how can people watch Or Die Trying?

SH: Stay tuned! We’re currently in post production, but you can keep up to date on our progress along with behind the scenes content at: odtseries.com, on Instagram & Twitter at @ODT_series, and on Facebook here.

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