© 2016 Sarah O'Connell. Get in touch!
As co-writer of Her Story, what was the initial inspiration for the show?
Jen and I met a couple of years ago on the set of a series called "#Hashtag" and really hit it off. We had the kind of immediate friend chemistry where you want to spend all sorts of time together. This mutual interest was in part informed by how much we had in common, but we were also intrigued by learning more about one another's backgrounds and perspectives. She was the first trans woman I'd spent significant time around, and she told me she'd actively avoided queer women in the past, due to a few instances in which she and other trans women friends had received a negative reception from lesbians. We wondered out loud what a love story could look like between two women with these identities, coming from these perspectives. I've always been intrigued with the self-imposed dictates of one's identity, and here was an opportunity to play with what happens when life presents you with a person you are drawn to, who may not fit the image you had in mind of who you were looking for. Neither of us was aware of this story being told before in popular media, so from a writerly perspective, the opportunity to be one of the first to do so was irresistible. At the time, Jen was roommates with Angelica Ross in Chicago, and so wrote the third main character as Paige- a successful, black, trans woman, who has given up on the hope of finding a good man, inspired by Angelica.
How long did it take to write the episodes with Jen Richards?
We work quickly together! The script went through many evolutions and edits between the first version that we shared with potential directors and the shooting script, but wrote the first draft in under a month.
What was the collaborate process like? Did you work on each episode together or alternate?
She took the first stab at scenes written from the trans perspective, while I spent time fleshing out the characters of Allie and her friends. Then, we swapped scenes and edited and re-wrote one another's pages. Now when we watch the episodes, with some obvious exceptions, it's hard for either of us to identify which of us wrote which lines. We've inhabited the universe of these characters together for so long that somewhat of a mind-meld occurred. Naturally, there's the occasional thing we disagree on, but we seem to have a shared vision when it comes to this project. Even when working on production-related work, Jen and I will often send an email to our producer Kate Fisher with the same answer to one of her questions, within seconds of one another.
What can you tell us about your character Allie?
When we meet Allie, she's definitely someone who thinks of herself as open-minded and liberal. She has nothing against trans people- in fact she's known a couple of queer women who transitioned to male- but when she begins a friendship with Violet, it is striking to her that trans women have been completely absent from her social spheres, even though she's assumed her corner of the LGBTQ community to be inclusive. She doesn't think anything bad of trans women, but she's also just not thought about them at all, before this moment. She's also an ambitious journalist, who enjoys becoming a mini-expert on every topic she tackles in her writing. Her friends like to tease her because she has a tendency to get too involved personally with her subjects; Allie can be un-boundaried when it comes to immersing herself in the worlds about which she's writing, so her friends' skepticism about her burgeoning feelings for Violet are partly informed by this trend of her behavior.
Violet and Allie have wonderful chemistry. Was it always the intention of pairing your character with Jen’s?
Yes, since the core relationship was inspired by our real life friendship, it was always our plan to play these roles as well as write them. The comfort we have with each other ended up being a godsend, especially given how much energy some of the more emotional scenes took to perform. Our director Sydney Freeland worked with our producer Kate to build space into our shoots to allow for lots of takes. Once she got what she felt she wanted from her performers, she'd usually say "have fun!", and allow one more take for the performers to really make it their own. This allowed us to relax, improvise, and play inside the scene. Since Sydney is even-keeled, off-set as well as on, it became a goal among the actors to inspire a reaction in her. Those moments when it worked- when she'd end the scene by giving one of us a high-five or a hug, or simply stating "I've got nothing" with a grin, we knew we'd done something right.
This on-screen/off-screen chemistry was also true for Jen and Angelica. They got to sit across the table from one another and have an authentic conversation with one of their best friends- the only new element were the cameras!
How do you think the media can improve when reporting on trans and LGBTQ related stories in general?
In the narrative/fictional realm, we simply need more stories and representation, and more written by people who actually belong to those communities. Since the representation of trans and queer women remains so poor in mainstream media, there is this enormous pressure on portrayals that do emerge to be everything, for all people, in the community. But LGBTQ people are just as diverse and varied in their life experiences and opinions as anyone else, so it's important to have a plethora of these stories out there. Historically, trans women have showed up in the media as dead or dying sex workers, or punchlines- a trans woman supposedly "tricks" a man into kissing her or sleeping with her, and then the man becomes disgusted, or is shamed by his friends when he finds out "the truth." We all remember that scene in "Ace Ventura." We wanted to zoom in on the life of a woman like that, and show what her side of the story may be. Paige had a line in the original "Her Story" script that referred to the men she and other trans women date: "We are a threat to their egos, they are a threat to our lives."
There’s a fantastic line where Allie says “It’s less that the world has changed for trans people and simply that we are seeing them as people.” It’s refreshing to see trans characters shown as real people with real lives. Do you hope that Her Story will inspire more of these authentic portrayals?
Yes, we absolutely hope for that. We hope that as authentic portrayals become more prevalent, the bar will be raised on how shows portray trans and queer people, moving forward. The more popular that truthful portrayals become, the harder it will be for uninformed/non-diverse writers' rooms to get away with relying on lazy stereotypes.
By Sarah O'Connell on 25th January 2016
Watch all 6 episodes of Her Story for FREE below now!
Once playing, click on the box in the bottom right to view Full Screen.
HER STORY: S1, Episode 1 HER STORY: S1, Episode 2
HER STORY: S1, Episode 3 HER STORY: S1, Episode 4
HER STORY: S1, Episode 5 HER STORY: S1, Episode 6
The drama, humour and romance are perfectly balanced. Was this difficult to achieve and were there drafts of the script that leaned more in one direction than another?
Thank you! I think that blend emerged quite organically, but there were certainly versions of the script that aired on the polemic side. Sydney, Kate, and our editor Bryan Darling helped guide us to let plot, story, and characters drive the series more than politics, which I believe ultimately increases the impact of the political messages the show contains.
Have you got any fun anecdotes or memories from the production that you’d like to share?
So many! Our cast and crew really fell in love with one another; it felt like most people on set sensed we were creating something groundbreaking and special together- it was more than just a job. Two people came out of the closet during shooting- one as bisexual, and one as a trans woman. We will be releasing more behind-the-scenes videos and a blooper reel that capture the warmth and playfulness of our sets. I don't consider this a "fun" memory, but it was a meaningful, and important experience: One day, I was shooting a scene with Fawzia Mirza (who plays Kat), when Fawzia received a phone call and learned that her dear friend Sabeen Mahmud had just been murdered outside of the bookstore and progressive community center that she ran in Pakistan. Sabeen was an incredible, fearless, activist for women in her country, and was killed for her work. Fawzia put it most beautifully in a recent post about that day: "The shock, the pain, the sadness, was totally indescribable. All I can remember is being held, supported, loved by every woman on that set and the makers of this beautiful show. They all cocooned me." We all bonded together with Fawzia in her grief, and it really snapped into perspective for us the importance of the work we were creating together.
Would you like to make a 2nd season of Her Story, and have you had any ideas of what might happen next?
Actually, we want to make a full, first season of the show. Jen and I have written more episodes and a highly-detailed treatment of a season containing 10 episodes, at 30 minutes each. We have a look-book and a budget for the series- now we just need a developer or network to acknowledge the demand for this content, and to sign on to help us make this a reality!
What have you got planned for 2016?
We are putting together a college tour to bring screenings, and our cast and crew, to campuses around the U.S. (and we're happy to travel internationally if there's a budget for it!) If we get picked up, making more "Her Story" will be the focus of our year. But, I'm also always working on new scripts and projects. A short film I starred in with Fawzia, called "Spunkle", comes out this year as well. Jen and I have a new potential collaboration in the works, but I can't say more just yet. :)
How did it feel for Her Story to finally be released, and what have you made of the reception so far?
It is totally surreal. It still hasn't fully settled into my psyche that this labor of love is finally out there in the world, and to top it off, people seem to really like it! Mostly, I feel grateful to our team for each contributing their talents and vision to lead to this beautiful hour of film.