Can you tell me about your new TV series ‘The Life’?
George Perez: “The Life” is a prospective TV series, meaning that we’ve independently produced the first half hour of the pilot episode in order to pitch it to television networks, in the hopes that it’ll be picked up as a regularly televised series.
Mohammad Maaty: The initial idea was brought forth to me about three years ago by George, who I’ve collaborated with before on various short film projects. His passion and dedication to the issue of child sex trafficking was clear from the beginning, and myself having witnessed these trespasses occurring in my own city for quite some time now, decided to team up with him on developing the idea into a television series. Unlike a short film, we decided that the we’d have more of an opportunity to reach and affect our audiences in a much larger scale with a television series, which would allow our viewers to follow the lives and storylines of the different characters that make up ‘The Life’ over a longer period of time.
What research was required to get it off the ground?
GP: Before the idea for a TV series was even born, I started with the idea of writing a feature film script on the subject, so I met with a member of law enforcement who works on child sex trafficking cases as well as meeting with a sex crimes prosecutor and several advocates (former sex trafficked victims-turned-overcomers) and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). One such organization, B.E.S.T., became our consulting partners and flew to NYC several times to teach not only us, the series creators, but the entire cast, about the psychology behind sex trafficking, from the victim perspective as well as the pimp perspective (force, fraud, coercion, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs etc.) After the pilot episode was written, I asked them all to read it in order to give their thumbs up on it regarding authenticity, which they all did. Then, we moved on to the production stage.
MM: Since our goal was to shed light on a real issue happening in the present day, in order for it to have a realistic impact on our viewers we had to make absolutely sure that our stories were true. In other words, the scenarios we were presenting to our audiences needed to be believable – either they’ve happened to real people involved with the life or are likely to happen. In order to achieve this level of realism, in addition to dozens of written firsthand accounts and publications, we teamed up with various consultants with firsthand experience from that world, from sex-trafficking detectives to advocates and prosecutors to former sex trafficked victims themselves. We had to make sure we didn’t sell our characters short, since if our audiences don’t believe in the stories we’re telling, then the hope for change is lost.
What do you hope the series will achieve?
GP: It’s our hope that the series accomplishes three main objectives. Firstly, to raise awareness that this issue is at an epidemic rate in our home country of the U.S. and that it’s hidden in plain sight. Too many Americans believe child sex trafficking is a problem that mostly happens ‘over there’ (i.e. South East Asia, Eastern Europe, etc.) because they’re not aware of how pervasive it is on the internet, among other avenues.
Secondly, education, because it’s not enough that folks realize how bad the situation is. We want to point out what works and doesn’t work in this battle to save kids. Viewers need to know, for example, how bad a state the foster care system is in or how child protective services and law enforcement are overwhelmed with caseloads and how their needs aren’t being adequately met in order for them to be more effective. People need to know specifics in order to gain a firmer knowledge and perspective on the issues of child sex trafficking, so we aim to educate through compelling, scripted drama; most storylines dramatized but accurately depicted from true events and current conditions.
Thirdly, we plan to encourage safe and effective activism for our viewers by providing online resources that they can immediately access after watching an episode, like a website to a local NGO, where viewers can choose to donate money or clothing for survivors, or web links to their local representatives in order to place pressure on passing a key piece of legislation. There are many ways a viewer can immediately do their part to help after watching, so we believe that the success of the series is to leave a positive impact after each episode’s conclusion. We’ve always believed that ‘The Life’ is more than a piece of entertainment. It’s a human rights advocacy mission disguised as a TV show. Our secret, don’t tell.
MM: Our primary goal for ‘The Life’ is to raise awareness, to let our viewers know that underage sex trafficking is very much still going on today and that there are things that can be done to help stop this form of modern day slavery. In addition, we’re also hoping to reach out to the young girls who are still caught in the life, to let them know that despite what they may think, they have options. At the end of every episode, we’re going to include information on the leading outreach organizations (such as B.E.S.T. and Equality Now) that provide aid and refuge for these young girls. But unlike these organizations, as filmmakers we’re put in a unique perspective to approach the issue in a different, more creative way, giving us a chance to reach a larger audience and really make them sit up and take notice. One of the things I loved most about the HBO series ‘The Wire’ was how effective they were in shedding light on the issues of crime, drug abuse, poverty, and corruption in the city of Baltimore and doing so through the television medium. That’s exactly what we’re hoping to achieve with ‘The Life’.
What stage is it at now?
GP: We’re in post-production on the pilot episode and are about to release a new trailer for the series in a few weeks.
Who is the target audience?
GP: I believe that teenagers and adults comprise our target audience because teenagers need to watch the truth about the manipulation process a pimp employs in order to groom them (boys as well as girls) into the life; they need to know how pimps are lurking in shopping malls, school yards and social media websites and how to identify the phraseologies and methodologies these jackals use. The same goes for parents; in order to help them understand the dark world their kids can fall into. Our target audience is also the person who still doesn’t believe that this is a huge problem and that these kids “do this because they want to.” We need to reach everyone because there’s a lot to learn and act on and we want to do our part to help.
MM: I think there’s something for people of all demographics to gain from ‘The Life’, just as long as they’re old enough to handle some of the more mature themes explored in the series. For teens and young adults, we’re showing them a world they themselves may be familiar with, but have seen in a more glorified light via some other films and music that touch on pimping and prostitution. We won’t call anyone out in particular, but the fact that someone could look up to the act of pimping as something to aspire to is outright stomach-turning. Additionally, adults can learn the causes and triggers that often lead to a young girl’s descent into the life, and take the necessary actions to try and prevent them. Of course, our favorite audience members are the ones who don’t believe that this type of thing is still happening in the US today, since sometimes it takes that initial shock to be jolted into awareness and in some cases taking action.
What message do you want the audience to take away with them?
GP: This is a massive problem that’s happening in my own community, but now I know what the problems are and now that I want to help, I know what I can do and how to go about doing it.
MM: Simply put, we want our audiences to be pissed off. We want them to stare in disbelief at their television screens at the end of each episode and sincerely ask themselves, “What can I do to help stop this?” And that’s when we’ll inform them of the many organizations who are fighting to end sex trafficking on a daily basis, who need all the help they can get. But keep in mind that we’re not out to create 1 hour infomercials, we are after all filmmakers. While we want to make sure we educate our viewers, we want to do so by entertaining them, and telling them real stories about the characters surrounding the issue that will create a real connection with our audience. That way, they may look a little deeper at that young girl standing on the corner late night.
Are you looking for people to be involved?
GP: We’re looking to get as many of the show’s viewers to do their part in small but significant ways that can help kids get out of the life and to get the best after care possible. There are easy, uncomplicated ways to go about being a better citizen of the world.
MM: Absolutely, we’d like to rile up the public into getting off the couch and getting more involved – after the episode ends, of course. But this can actually be in whatever small way they can, be it a change of perspective on the trade’s villains and young victims, or as in the cases of some of our partners helping on the series, a path to leave the life.
What are your plans for the future?
GP: Even if the series doesn’t get picked up by a network, we’re committed to keep it going, even if that means as a web series. Failure is not an option.
MM: Our ultimate goal is to have the show get picked up by a television network so we would have the ability to produce the rest of the first season, and hopefully more after that. However even if the series doesn’t get picked up for television, we’re committed to keep it going, even as an independently produced web series.
Where can people find out more about The Life?
Recommended websites/further reading:
http://www.courtneyshouse.org – Courtney’s House
http://truckersagainsttrafficking.org – Truckers Against Trafficking
http://www.breakingfree.net – Breaking Free
http://www.fairgirls.org – Fair Girls
http://www.equalitynow.org – Equality Now