By Chris Hadley and David Schwartz

Note: This article is also available via The Huffington Post, and can be viewed here.

Web series have given female filmmakers and performers an incredible platform. Two recent web comedies, Rare Birds of Fashion and Ex-Best, both demonstrate compelling and realistic characters that defy the-all-too stereotypic Hollywood depiction of women, while providing their cast and producers with opportunities not readily available in more mainstream venues.

Created by Lily Hayes Kaufman and produced by Jackie Schwartz, Rare Birds of Fashion follows the lives of two best friends: Brenda (played by Jackie Zebrowski) and Alix (Haley Rawson), who seek to challenge the fashion industry’s unwillingness to serve plus-sized women. They also set out to boost the fortunes of the fledgling upscale design company they work for by creating a new line of clothing for that underserved market.

Unlike many movies and TV shows that feature stories of women seeking romantic fulfillment, Rare Birds of Fashion focuses on the pursuits of women determined to succeed as entrepreneurs, and the strong friendships they share.

“I wanted to create a world where the women aren’t focused on finding boyfriends, husbands, the next tinder match,” says Kaufman. “I wanted to tell the story of women who are focused on their friends and career aspirations.”

Meanwhile, Ex-Best is the story of Andrea (played by Diana Gettinger) and Leanne (played by Monica Hewes), two former friends who struggle to fill the void left by their breakup, while trying to maintain some normalcy in their own lives.

Co-produced and co-written by Hewes and Gettinger, Ex-Best brings viewers a side of female relationships that’s rarely, if ever, been depicted on any screen: the end of a longtime friendship.

“We didn’t feel that the media was giving female friendship the attention it deserves, and when it did portray the friend break-up, it didn’t seem genuine,” they say. “The narrative of the guy coming in between two girlfriends isn’t one we find true to our lives or the lives of those around us. We wanted to tell an honest story about why friends break up, the psychological repercussions and what happens afterwards.”

Hilarious comedy and realistic characters are the keys to Rare Birds’ success. “I have been plus-size my whole life, and this script is the first one I read that is about a woman who is working hard towards her dream,” says Zebrowski. “Yes, she is plus-size. No, she does not have a ‘woe is me’ attitude about it. No, she does not dream of someday banging Prince Charming. She is an everywoman, and I tell you, there are lots of us plus size every women out there.”

Most importantly, shows like Ex-Best and Rare Birds stand out because they feature true-to-life characters that viewers can easily identify with. “From what I’ve seen out there, we are the only scripted web series or television series about a plus-size female entrepreneur,” responds Schwartz. “It’s an interesting time for women right now, where we really are saying we’re not all a size 2 and we want to see more people like us. We want more diversity amongst women, which Rare Birds viewers will experience.”

“As actresses, we are often asked to portray stereotypes and one-dimensional characters. By creating our own work, we were able to focus on who our characters were and the story we wanted to tell,” add Hewes and Gettinger. “Our ages, body types, facial structure, or hair color did not factor in to any decisions we made. We chose to tell the story of two multi-dimensional and sometimes flawed individuals. We hope that our audience is able to relate to and see themselves in the characters that we portray.”

While Hollywood struggles to level the playing field for women, indie web series are portraying interesting and unlikely characters. Ex-Best and Rare Birds’ production teams are mostly female, and a great deal of freedom has been provided to the creators and the stars of both series.

“By hiring a predominantly female crew, we were able to highlight the work of some incredibly talented women and send it out to an international audience,” Hewes and Gettinger say. “Also, by telling a story about women, told by women, we are showing that women are storytellers and there is an audience (male and female) for their stories. By showing real women in front of the camera, we are working to dispel the myth that women need to look or act certain ways.”

The same commitment is on full display on the set of Rare Birds. “On camera, most of our characters are female entrepreneurs, which is not something you see very often,” adds Schwartz. “Off-camera, we were mostly women too – our writer, director, cinematographer, costume designer, one of our production designers and all four of our producers! I think online platforms have been a tremendous help in giving women greater opportunities – not just for filmmakers and actors, but for writers too.”

For filmmakers and actors looking to make their own online content, Kaufman’s advice is simple: “Write something quick, short and fun that will be simple to shoot: minimal locations, simple gear, no special effects, small cast,” she says. “Rally a great crew you love working with. Keep up the momentum – ask your crew to commit to a few days over a short period of time and try not to stretch the production out over weeks or months.”

Based on their own experience making Ex-Best, Hewes and Gettinger encourage aspiring web series creators to work with those who share the same vision they hope to achieve. “Just do it. Seriously. Looking back, we don’t know how we achieved this, but I think if we had stopped to question it, we wouldn’t have come this far,” they say. “Surround yourself with inspired and honest people who also want to tell interesting stories. Cultivate a community and then create together.”


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