For former Chicagoan Jen Richards, who is transgender, the Emmy nomination for Her Storythe web series she co-wrote and co-stars inseemed surreal.
"It was a lot to process," said Richards, who now lives in Los Angeles. "I didn't think we were going to get itnot because I didn't think it was deserving. I think it was. It's just that it was a longshot because we are such a small, independent production. We had no studio-backing, marketing budget or celebrities attached."
Her Story is a six-part series centered on Los Angeles trans women; it debuted online last January. Its Emmy nomination in the Television Academy's new Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series category was the only one in its category not associated with an existing television program.
"We're such an outlier," Richards said. "We're the only indie show, the only YouTube show, the only queer show."
Richards and co-creator Laura Zak conceived of Her Story back when she was still living in Chicago. They expected to film the project there and that it would mainly be a "labor of love" with a small audience.
"Everything changed when a producer out in L.A., Katherine Fisher, came across the script," Richards recalled. "Her only requirement was that we move production from Chicago to L.A. But she brought many more resources there than we could have done in Chicago, and people like our director, Sydney Freeland; our director of photography, BÃ©rÃ©nice Eveno; and our editor, Bryan Darling. They were very professional people and, collectively, this kind of magic began happening. People would drop their fees. People would shift their schedules. People saw something special in the script and they wanted to be part of it."
Richards, who was also a regular on Caitlyn Jenner's I am Cait series, has been living in Los Angeles for about a year. "I've had my first L.A. winter, and I'm never doing another one in Chicago," she joked.
But she added that she also likes the scene she found in Los Angeles, a community of kindred-spirit creative professionals.
"They're content creators who aren't straight white men, basically. We're creating our own content, working together and supporting each other's work," Richards said, comparing it to the group that had formed around filmmaker Judd Apatow.
"I feel it's like that, like we're going to be 'the' next group of people," she explained. "But it won't be a group of straight white menit'll be a group of everyone but that."
Richards said said she hasn't yet made any money from Her Story. "I've had some great things happen, but Angelica [Ross, her co-star and friend] and I are in a strange place. …We are at a point where we have to show up on red carpets with hair and makeup, and be put together, and 'on'but you're not actually being paid for any of it yet. I'm getting by, but mostly through the charity of friends. I've living with a couple in LA who have an extra room."
But she called such kindnesses "a queer thing. People in the queer community have invested in me. They want me to succeed. They take me out to dinner, give me a place to stay, let me borrow their cars, so I can do this work."
Another project in which Richards has a hand is More Than T, an upcoming documentary series exploring issues pertinent to the transgender community; she worked on that alongside Silas Howard, one of the directors of the Transparent series. Their project pairs longer-form documentaries with several short public service announcements, which are titled Trans 102. The first of those PSA's, about anti-transgender bathroom bills, was recently released online.
"We're taking for granted that there's a little bit of knowledge out there about trans people now, and we're going to try to push that conversation a little further. We shot the PSA's earlier this year. We fast-tracked the bathroom PSA because of HB 2," Richards said. The rest of the PSA's, she added, will likely be ready by late-summer or fall.
As for now, she's savoring the Emmy nomination.
"The best thing of all is that everyone else is so excited, as if they got the nomination too," noted Richards. "It feels like an affirmation for people of color, for queer people, for trans people. Everyone feels like they have a share in this nomination and that's really a nice feeling."