I came across Sitting Room Only this summer: a video interview series featuring radical New Zealand women. I watched 60 seconds of one clip before I found the directors contact information (Hannah Marshall), and emailed her to say how much I loved what she’d created. Hannah and her producer / pal (Fleur Saville) got back to me, and we met in LA the month after. Yelling over each other for an hour in a tone best described as how-have-we-never-met-we-are-the-same!—we talked about moving to the US from our tiny little island and working in the arts. As a New York dweller, I loved hearing their take on their transition to LA, what inspired them to create Sitting Room Only, and how they keep trucking forward in the fickle world of Hollywood.

Fleur: “I’ve been here five years now, and it’s definitely taken some adjusting. When I moved here I was like, ‘Guys, I’ve arrived! I’ve done 800 hours of TV. I was on Shortland Street! You should just give me a show!’ Now I see similar expectations in other people who come over—it’s humbling to go through that yourself. When I left New Zealand, I was at a point where I needed to know who I was outside of everyone telling me who I was. So I followed my best friend to LA. We had no idea what we were doing here. It stunk for three months, then I started the whole Visa process which had me back and forth between the US and New Zealand. I felt like I didn’t really fit in anywhere, and those two years were especially hard not knowing anyone. You get here thinking, ‘Oh, people will help me,’ but you really have to figure it out yourself. Now I spend a lot of time helping other people going, ‘Don’t worry. This is where you get a house, this is where you get a car, this is where…’”

Hannah: “You have to go through the terror of that uncertainty before you can help other people through it. I’ve been here three years now, and it’s very different to be here for three months vs living here. Everyone comes over for a short period of time and thinks it’s the best. They’re like, 'Oh my God! It feels like being on vacation all the time! The weather’s amazing! Everyone’s so friendly!’ And then you move for good…and we can pretty much statistically prove this, but you have the worst time ever. People are flaky. No business stuff goes right. Your car breaks down. All of the shitty, hard things happen. I got kicked out of my house and was driving down the freeway, homeless, with Fleur being like, ‘It’s cool, it’s normal, this is your initiation.'”

Fleur: "When I moved here, I was living in a rent-free house in on Mulholland Drive, but we figured out it cost about five dollars in gas to get up the driveway in the car. We were like, ‘Cool. We have a free house, but we can’t afford to get up and down the driveway.’ I remember I had a friend come over who I let stay on the couch. She drove my car to Redondo Beach and back, and didn’t put gas in it. I was like, ‘That like actually affects my life right now. We’re not on vacation.’ It might look like we are sometimes, but we’re working all the time to try and make ends meet. My old roommate Rose McIver and I used to throw parties in our living room. We would pay our rent, then put a little budget for booze aside so that we could make friends. We would throw parties, then eat the leftover chips for a week. When the week was over we would say, ‘Cool, we made a friend. So that was worth it! Now I’ll just eat noodles.’ Eventually, good people find good people.”

Hannah: “There’s also a rhythm here which takes some getting used to—you have to learn how to stay sane with the free time. New York is physically exhausting, but LA is mentally exhausting. You can’t force anything to happen, and people can go a bit nuts in the waiting process. I think that’s why a lot of actors and creators get into drugs and the party scene over here—they’ve got all this energy and no outlet. In general, particularly to someone from NZ, the idea of being here is very different to the reality. Take Zoe Bell for instance. There was this perception that she arrived here, Quentin Tarantino picked her for a job, and then she was off. But if you speak to her, it wasn’t like that at all. She got a job, was injured for over a year, was at the lowest of the low and had to pull herself up. One of the reasons why we did Sitting Room was to humanize these journeys, and to show who these people really were. We also wanted to celebrate Kiwis, because everyone thinks we’re Australian. We love Australia. But a lot of people literally do not understand that New Zealand is a different place, or that there is more to the country than Lord Of The Rings.”

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Fleur: “Filming for SRO wasn’t a production by any means. It was us in Hannah’s living room, saying, ‘Hey mate, have a seat.’ It was very grassroots. For example—one day that we were supposed to be filming there was a car alarm that went off outside all day, so we had to cancel the shoot.”

Hannah: “We wanted everyone to feel as chill as possible, because the goal was to capture these people in a way where it felt like you knew them. They are all such incredible women and I think that’s a testament to them being Kiwis. I remember Zoe Bell talking about how people would say to her, ‘You’ve changed.’ But we all change. You have to in order to survive here. We also wanted to talk about Tall Poppy Syndrome, but not in a derogatory way—just to have a proper conversation about it. When you try to explain Tall Poppy to Americans, they’re like, ‘What?!’”

Fleur: “For Americans reading this, Tall Poppy is this cultural thing in New Zealand where if someone gets too high, others will knock them down. Like we’re all supposed to stay at the same level.”

Hannah: “I think the thing with Kiwis that also might have something to do with Tall Poppy, is that because we’re such a small community, there’s really no room for bullshit. If someone is full of it, we call see it immediately. We call them out and we don’t respect it. Integrity and honesty are really important to us, which is also why it’s funny to witness this whole buzz around the word ‘authenticity’ here.”

Fleur: “It’s actually amazing how good Americans are at selling themselves. People are so good at the hustle. It was a massive shock to me. You can talk to someone on the phone who’s like, ‘I can totally do the job.’ But then you see them in action and they have no idea what they’re doing. Whereas in New Zealand—you do your work, put your best foot forward, and you gain your reputation that way. But here, it’s so different, because everyone’s in survival mode.”

Hannah: “That survival culture has definitely taught me to appreciate how hard it is to get a shot at something. Usually, I find the people at the top of their game here super humbled and grateful. The mid-level players can be a bit sketchy, but the ones at the top often know how lucky they are, and how hard it is out there. Because even if you make that lucky break, it’s still hard to keep it. And the authenticity thing is funny when you have people saying, ‘You have to be more like this,’ or, ‘You don’t look like that.’”

Fleur: “I’ve been told I’m not pretty enough to be the leading lady, but not fat enough to be the comedy chick.”

Hannah: “I got told the other day that I wasn’t a model but that I’m also not the ‘kooky character,’ and there was nothing that special about how I look. I’ve been told I look too different from LA girls, that I’m too casual. People have accused me of having too much work done on my lips—I have naturally big lips. It’s crazy and you have to go—‘Hang on, that’s just noise.’ I’m so glad I didn’t come here super young. Coming here mid-to-late twenties, you have the opportunity to decide to stick it out, or go home if it’s really not for you.”

Fleur: “The best advice I’ve received since moving here was to enjoy it for what it is without any expectations—regardless of what anyone else tells you what your life is suppose to look like. That was a real break-through for me, because up until then I was like, 'If I’m not ‘making it’ by these standards then I might as well go home.’ But then I opened my eyes, started enjoying the sunshine and made a life here. Ever since then, I’ve been fine.”

Hannah: “You let go of the need to ‘make it’—that need for success. If you fight for it and it doesn’t happen in the ways you want it to, it’s so easy to crumble. But you have to figure out how to enjoy what you’re doing, regardless of the outcome. The rest will come if it’s meant to, but letting go strengthens you. As a society, we have this problem where we look for all of the trappings of success rather than our own internal fulfillment and what makes us truly happy. When you shift that perspective, everything around you shifts too.”

Fleur: “I think that vulnerability is power. I really do. When I arrived here, I had an opportunity to sit down with someone who could have given me anything in terms of money and career. I sat down and said, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve got a dollar in my bank account, I’ve said goodbye to everything to be here.” He offered me help and I’ve got this amazing job because of it.”

Hannah: “Vulnerability connects us. Underneath everything, we all have the same fears, the same insecurities, the same dreams. That fear of never being good enough or that it’s never going to happen—it’s shared, even if we don’t show it. Especially with the world of social media, where we’re seeing people’s photoshopped lives. That’s also why we wanted SRO to feel really honest and real. The struggle is what people connect to and the struggle is what unites us. Instead of trying to pretend like things aren’t hard, how about we be relatable and that becomes inspiring? I know that I’m always inspired by peoples real stories, how they overcame obstacles, how they knew when to keep going or let go. That balance between being aggressive and knowing when to let go.”

Fleur: “Yeah—it’s about playing the game, not being the game. And also creating your own story. I always felt like everyone else had the answers and that they were so much smarter because they lived in a bigger country. Now, for me, it’s the internal that creates the external. I say: ‘This is me, this is what I believe, and I’m going to stand by it.’ And things happen around that.”

Hannah: “You know there’s that saying: 'No one is going to believe in you but you?’ I think when I moved here, part of me thought, ‘Someone’s going to believe in me!’—but you really have to believe in what you’re doing. There’s that whole fake it til’ you make it—sometimes you have to fake believe in yourself until someone else does. That’s been a really hard lesson for me to learn. You have to hang on to that drive you have, that instinct, because when you’re sitting alone with that dollar in your bank account going, ‘What am I doing?’ it’s all that you have. You have to listen to yourself. You can’t be derailed by someone else’s opinion of who you are and what you have to offer. And don’t quote me on this, but fear really is the cock-blocker of dreams. Actually scrap that one. That quote ‘Doubt kills more dreams than failure every will,’ is better.”

Hannah & Fleur’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • Success starts on the inside.
  • Vulnerability is power.
  • Play the game, don't be the game.
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Hannah Marshall & Fleur Saville
Director & Producer, Sitting Room Only
sittingroomonly.com

i. @misshannahmarshall
i. @fleursaville


As told to Amy Woodside, June 2016
Photgraphed by Amy Woodside