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Interview: Tess Bellomo and Hannah Bear the Creators of ‘Liked’

Entertainment

Interview: Tess Bellomo and Hannah Bear the Creators of ‘Liked’

The rise of social media has introduced some really awesome new channels of communication, but it’s also introduced behavioral changes that have brought about new questions of reality and even the morality in false depictions of livelihood. Simply, some people out there are faking it big time for social media fame. Occasionally people even own to up to their exaggerations, but we still only see that perceived honesty through the lens of social media. What actually happens within someone’s personal life when the pressure from a huge online façade is truly threatening to come crumbling down?

One fictional web series, aptly named Liked, is painting that picture one episode at a time. The web series follows Savannah, a relationship blogger who had been completely fabricating her life for the sake of the interwebs acceptance and doling out boyfriend advice that she probably wasn’t qualified to be giving. What could possibly go wrong besides everything? The series follows the story of Savannah and her roommate Taylor, and what really encompasses the pursuit of being “liked.” Online and in real life.

Naturally, the concept of the web series stems from an awareness of the real pros and cons of social media. Its creators (and stars) Hannah Bear and Tess Bellomo hope to shine some light on the conversation, but they want to do it in a fun way. And a way that brings support to the path of women in the entertainment industry.

Tess and Hannah are both actresses, writers, and producers who are inspired by the strong, comedic, female roles in Hollywood. They both have the desire to see more witty and intelligent female roles on TV, so they decided to create that very opportunity for themselves. Liked is currently in its second season and has already been recognized numerous times. It nabbed the Award of Recognition for Women in Film in the IndieFilm Fest. The web series has been gaining major traction and its likely that you’ll be hearing more about it soon. We caught up with Tess and Hannah to talk about their experience thus far.

When did you know that you wanted to work in entertainment? How did you begin?

Hannah: I knew probably after doing my first play in the third grade. I made my on-stage debut as “‘Kaa’ the Python” in the Jungle Book. It was in high school when I realized, “Wait people do this for a job?! Sign me up!”

Tess: My passion for acting started in kindergarten when I was cast as the Queen in Cinderella. I was devastated that I didn’t get Cinderella herself, but that’s another story. But I truly knew I wanted to work in entertainment when I moved to Los Angeles three years ago and was going on these degrading auditions where I was offered no substantial material. That’s when my goal switched from just being an actress to an actress, writer, and producer.

What came first, the idea for Liked or the motivation to create your own content? Why a web series?

H: The drive to create our own work was the catalyst to our Liked inception.  We had spent a year in the midst of our long-distance relationship sending each other scripts and meeting up in LA to shoot shorts and other projects. After playing around with different characters, stories, and roles we decided an episodic web series was the next step.  A web series seemed technologically relevant and the most accessible way to reach and grow an audience. Our series is also grounded in the social media phenomenon, so pairing it with an online platform felt like the perfect storm.

T: We really liked the idea of a web series because it allows the audience to see a lot of growth for not just the characters, but in the production as well. Our season one and season two differ immensely because it’s a growing process. Season one was just me and Hannah. Now we have a brilliant co-producer and writer, Ellie Monahan, and a larger team. We are still learning and I like our fans going along with us in that process.

Liked touches on our obsession with social media. Why do you think that’s a conversation we need to be having?

H: I think social media has been such an interesting tool and extension of people’s personal lives, that it just made sense to explore that a bit more in our narrative.  I’ve seen social media become this thing that helps expand and develop a brand whether it’s a professional or personal/lifestyle.  We hear things all the time like “do it for the ‘gram” or FOMO through seeing what people post on social media pages, it’s just such an interesting concept to unpack and ask “how much of this is real?”

T: Social media has gotten out of hand. Now, people go to events just so they can take a picture there and prove to the world they are satisfied with their life. We have to ask ourselves, are we even enjoying the moment anymore, or just hoping everyone knows how much we are enjoying it? I think Liked focuses on this competitive nature we feel to be having the most fun, to be the happiest. As millennials, especially who grew up in this technology-crazed world, contemplating how we can separate ourselves from this behavior is really healthy and important to recognize.

What kind of a response have you received so far?

H: We’ve had a lot of really positive responses from both men and women who have seen the show! I think the biggest compliment has been hearing that it’s made people laugh as well as tugged at the heartstrings a bit. We really wanted to tell stories about real, flawed, human, women and I think that response makes us feel like we’re doing our job.

T: We have received nothing but praise, which means the world to us. Both personally, and in the festival circuit. Fans are absolutely obsessed with Savannah, played by Hannah Bear. I think she brings this humor yet vulnerability to a very insecure woman, but we can all see a bit of ourselves in her. She is desperate but strong at the same time. And that duality and irony aren’t expressed in most female characters. A character is either this or that. We want to challenge those norms and step outside those suffocating boxes.

It was important to you to tell this story through a female comedic voice. Any women in the industry who are notably inspiring to you? What about in your personal lives?

H: I have a deep respect for and burning desire to befriend Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams.  I am really digging their podcast “2 Dope Queens” as well as Phoebe’s other project, “Too Many White Guys.”  The way they talk about relationships, entertainment, and the mundanity of life speaks to me on a deep and personal level. I’ve also always been inspired and a fan of Tina Fey because I’m pretty sure Liz Lemon is a glimpse into my future.  And in my own life, my mom and friends have always been huge influences.  My mom has always been a person who worked hard in order to reach goals she set out for herself but also was open about when she felt stressed or needed a break.  She’s always been someone who has shown me how to ground yourself in your work but also how to take care of yourself and cut yourself some slack.

T: I am obsessed with Reese Witherspoon. I love how she has been outspoken about the fact that the scripts she received after she won her Oscar were absolutely sexist and just true garbage. She wasn’t satisfied with these roles and the man’s world that is Hollywood, so she opened her own production company and focused on female-driven content, including female directors and producers. Big Little Lies was the most inspiring show to me in years.

In terms of my personal life, everything good about me, I get from my Mom. Whenever I need advice about how to handle a situation personally, or professionally, she knows exactly what to do. She is kind, but she is fierce. She taught me that you need to be strong, stand up for yourself, and speak up- if people don’t like you, that doesn’t mean it’s your fault for being a strong woman- that’s on them.

How did you two connect?

H: Emotionally or Physically? Tess and I met our freshmen year at the University of San Francisco, and then one night we had a drunken heart-to-heart in a dorm bathroom and it’s been history ever since.

T: USF! Go Dons. Hannah and I became instant friends. She is the type of woman who supports other women. She is happy for everyone’s success, wants to collaborate, be a team, and never puts another woman’s work down. I admire that because honestly, it is rare in this industry. We need to lift each other up.

There are some pretty staggering stats out there about women on the production side of the entertainment industry. Why do you think we’re underrepresented? Has that been a motivating factor for you personally?

H: I think a lot of it really has to do with women not having representation or opportunities in the first place. I know my high school drama teacher was a huge influence on me in high school who made me feel like what I was doing was a viable career because I loved what I did.  There’s also just a gross lack of studios and networks choosing to tell women’s stories as well as hiring women to tell them.  This is a huge driving force in our work! We wanted to show what it’s actually like to be a 25-year-old woman making a name for herself in a big city.

T: It is shocking when you view the statistics and very disheartening. That was definitely a motivating factor for me because I felt like I had this duty to empower other young actresses to take control of their own careers. I think Hollywood represents a small portion of our society, and obviously, as we’ve seen with recent politics, people still fear women in any position of power or being a leader. It goes back to years and years of harboring sexism and doubt that not only men, but also women, fear in strong, intelligent, and talented women.

It would be impossible to create something this large without learning a ton…what elements of this project have been transformative for you?

H: Learning to let go has been a huge lesson for me.  There’s a lot of things that you can’t completely control on a set which is a scary feeling! You have this idea of how something is going to go and then you get to set and you realize “why can’t this kid-next-door have their birthday party next week when we aren’t shooting our outdoor pool scene?!?!?!?”  But those have been the moments where we get creative and having such a strong team to put our heads together has been such a saving grace. Letting go has been really liberating in the production process.

T: I’ve learned how to be a boss. I was always hesitant to tell someone what to do, if I didn’t like something, or scared I would come off as too opinionated. Now, I am involved in every step of the process from makeup, to wardrobe, to editing, and I’ve learned how to feel confident with my voice and in my own body. Being in charge does not mean you’re a bitch, it means you know what you want and are passionate.

There’s a huge aspect of commitment and accountability that comes from working as a team, especially when it’s your own content. Have you had any struggles? Have you found support and help to be forthcoming?

H: I think producing your own content is a struggle in itself, especially when it’s brand new to you. Finding a crew, learning how to develop a shot list, securing locations, raising money, etc has taken a lot of time and energy, while also working full-time day jobs! But it’s been the most rewarding experience in my career thus far. And support really has been a source of drive for us; when our pilot came out I had women reach out to me, who I maybe hadn’t talked to in a few years or women I had always admired, to share their well-wishes and how much they loved the show. That was an incredibly rewarding and humbling thing to experience.

T: Our team is so special to us, and we couldn’t do it without our co-producer and writer for season two, Ellie. I think reaching out to other artists and collaborators have been an important lesson of letting go of certain set ideas we may have had in the beginning relating to the arch of the series, and being flexible to challenge those. Every time we add someone to the team, we just get stronger and better. So many people go into the series and Hannah and I are extremely grateful.

Some people seem to find success by diversifying their talents while others prefer a very specific focus. How is that for you? Does it feel different to be an actress/writer/producer instead of having one title?

H: It’s really exciting and challenging to wear multiple hats.  I think we’ve all had opportunities through writing and acting for Liked where other writers/directors/etc have reached out to us to collaborate.  As we’ve just wrapped our second season, I look back on production and I don’t think I would change a thing.  I love what each role brings for me as a creator and actor and I’m so ready to keep going.

T: I think anyone in the field of entertainment needs to explore different talents and pursuits. Diversifying these only expands your creativity. I never considered myself a writer until Liked and now I don’t know what I would do without it. It is such a powerful feeling to wear these hats and just try it out! What’s the worst that could happen?

What’s next for Liked?

H: We have a lot of exciting developments in terms of distribution that we are waiting on to share publicly, but hopefully this next year will bring more partnerships and gearing up for our third season!

T: Liked recently got distribution from one of our favorite actress’s digital platform and we can’t wait to announce it to the world! For me, I just finished wrapping my first feature film, The Bone Box, and am starting to plan funding on IndieGoGo for my debut feature that I am writing and directing, Just the Three of Us. I also am in the midst of finding distribution for another web series I created and will act in.

 

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Kate Ferguson is a Los Angeles local and freelance writer for a variety of genres. Her experience spans blogging, creative writing, screenwriting, and journalism for digital and print magazines. When she's not writing, the UC Davis graduate is focused on pursuits of the entertainment industry, spin class, and hot sauce. Find her on social media @KateFerg

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