Laura Zak is an Emmy-nominated writer, actor and producer, most notably known for her role as Allie in the award-winning web series, Her Story. netTVnow had a chance to catch up with the star to talk Her Story and positive representation of women and LGBTQ people in entertainment. Catch the full interview below!
netTVnow: The series is incredible, what prompted you to create it?
Laura Zak: Thank you! My co-creator Jen Richards and I met on the set of another web series I helped create, called #Hashtag. We immediately hit it off and wanted to collaborate with one another. The inspiration for Her Story was born from the natural chemistry between the two of us. We had hardly seen any examples of a love story between a cisgender lesbian and transgender woman in the media and so it was exciting to take on this story. At the time, Jen was roommates with Angelica Ross who because the natural third lead, and I was roommates with Katherine Fisher, who signed on as Executive Producer. So, much of our beginning was about right place, right time, and working with people you already trust and love.
NTN: It was co-written by you and Jen, what was the writing collaboration process like for that? The series touched upon some very fragile and topical issues, I’m wondering how that process was emotionally, to create some of the more sensitive scenes?
LZ: Jen and I are both rather heady people so, despite the sometimes traumatizing content, we stayed in the space of what felt the most truthful and what would drive the story forward, while creating the characters and circumstances of the show. It wasn't until we were acting out the scenes that the emotional impact of some of what we wrote really hit us, which I suppose was helpful for the performances. Jen would take the first pass writing the scenes centering Violet or Paige, and I would take first pass at scenes centering Allie or the other queer women characters, then we would trade and work through one another's writing. By the time we were shooting, it felt like our minds had melded and it was hard to identify who had written what.
NTN: In regards to production, why did a web series seem like the best medium for the series? What about the medium attracted you to it?
LZ: Due to my previous project, I was already familiar with the world of web series. Affordability, immediacy, and creator-driven freedom were also clear benefits of telling the story on our own. We wanted members of the queer and trans communities to be able to access this content easily and for free, so YouTube made the most sense. People assume that we chose this medium after considering many other avenues but we never really foresaw that the show would receive the recognition it has, so at the time we simply chose the path that felt the most natural.
NTN: The series has gained incredible recognition, and as a fellow queer woman, I couldn’t be more proud to see this series represent our community, what was it like after finding out the series was nominated for an Emmy Award?
LZ: Completely surreal. Content on YouTube only became eligible for nomination a few months after we released our show, so entering ourselves for consideration felt like a low stakes, "why not?" scenario. I'll never forget the feeling of seeing our name listed alongside all of those major titles the morning the nominations were announced. I'm a member of the Television Academy now and so this year was my first experience with receiving all of the For Your Consideration materials and DVDs that major networks send out, and the special events they produce, just to be nominated. I didn't previously realize how much money is invested in the effort to get nominated and this knowledge has left me more grateful and more in awe of the fact that our little show made it through.
NTN: Something that stood out to a lot of audiences was the positive representation of LGBTQ characters in the series, something that mainstream media is sorely lacking, can you talk a little bit more about that and how this may have influenced the way the series was created?
LZ: It's the easiest thing in the world to create nuanced, authentic stories about LGBTQ characters when you hire writers from within the community. Jen and I drew inspiration from our own lives and the lives of our friends. When the show is described with hyperbolic language like "revolutionary" or "radical", we laugh because all we did is tell a simple love story about people who aren't usually seen as the romantic leads. tmax
NTN: Another thing that stands out is the way the series features LGBTQ women on and off-screen. How important was that to you during the casting process?
LZ: It was very important to the producers to hire as many women and queer people as possible on and off screen. We ended up with a majority female crew, and it was trans written, acted, and directed. We hoped this show could serve as one more bit of proof that you can hire inclusively and not at all sacrifice the quality of the final product.
NTN: In addition to co-writing the series, you also played one of the leads, Allie, what can you tell us about her and perhaps you can shed some light as to why she was so intrigued by Violet and the transgender community?
LZ: Allie is a writer and she's ambitious so her curiosity about experiences different than her own, though they are genuine, can sometimes feel slightly self-serving. When she meets Violet she's first and foremost interested in learning whatever she can to write a great piece, and is surprised by the chemistry and attraction she feels alongside her professional aims. There are some problematic, cultural tourist, elements of Allie's tendencies that we will explore if we have the opportunity to make more show.
NTN: Where do you think Allie and Violet are now?
LZ: They finally get to begin. The arc of their relationship in what we've shot so far was really about getting over each of their internal obstacles to relax into the idea of dating one another. Next, we'd get to see what happens when they start a relationship.
NTN: What’s next for the series? Is there hope for a second season?
LZ: We are exploring multiple options. We are pitching the series as a full show to networks, but are also exploring the possibility of creating more short-form content in the meantime. There is always hope, but it helps for people to keep talking about and sharing the show. We've also licensed the first season of the web series to Revry, which is a wonderful new platform for queer content. Hopefully this will expand our audience even more.
NTN: What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share or have anything else to add?
LZ: I worked on a brilliant animated series called Danger & Eggs that will be released on Amazon June 30th. I've started co-hosting a podcast with Brittany Ashley called Sicker, Sadder World where we rewatch Daria and relate it to our current world, and I'm shooting a film called Foxy Trot next month.