Exclusive Interview "Alonge Hawes"
Alonge Hawes is an author residing in Stone Mountain, GA. Whose reviews and think pieces have been published in such online publications as Abernathy, Ryse, and Blavity. Disillusioned and disappointed by the mainstream portrayals of black millennials across film and television, Alonge created, wrote, produced, and starred in the web series Blue Collar Hustle. Blue Collar Hustle debuted in February 2017 on Youtube and has since amassed over 50,000 views on the official series channel. The early success of Blue Collar Hustle led to the series being distributed on rising online platforms such as Seeka.TV and KweliTV. In October of 2017, Alonge entered into a marketing partnership with Seeka.TV, making Blue Collar Hustle a cornerstone of Seeka’s programming. As the creator, writer, and show-runner for the series, Hawes has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, amongst them winning the award for Best Web Series at the Global Film Festival and Best Representation Of Communities Of Color at the Minnesota WebFest. Alonge is currently in pre-production on Blue Collar Hustle’s second season which is expected to debut in 2018.
Tell us a bit about your web series “Blue Collar Hustle” and the inspiration behind it.
Blue Collar Hustle is the story of 4 young men from different backgrounds who are drawn together by one common goal, that of creative and financial independence. They are attempting to change their current situations and achieve a higher goal utilizing music, art, and imagination. I was initially inspired to create the series based upon what I felt was an underrepresentation of the young, working class black millennial in mainstream media portrayals. I wanted to create something that I felt could speak to our generation in a unique and authentic way.
Along with being the writer and executive producer of “Blue Collar Hustle” you also play the character, Ajani. Was it challenging to write as well as be an actor in the series?
It was at first a daunting task, but to make the process a little easier I drew upon many experiences that I have had myself as a young black male attempting to forge my own path in working class America. I knew that to be successful, I would have to tap into that part of my psyche which provided me with the ambition and desire to do something more. Once I did so, it was about continually challenging myself to view writing, show-running, and acting as one in the same; not separate entities.
What was the writing process like for the series? Did you write each episode one at a time or did you write them together?
The first thing I did was write a series outline. The outline basically maps out the plot, the character motivations, and the major challenges or situations they will encounter upon their journey. When it’s time to craft an episode, I also write an episode outline, which bullet points the major theme the characters will be exploring, how they will go about doing so, and why its important to both them and the audience. So you have your Setup, Rising Action, Climax, etc. Then I write the first draft of the script. Once the first draft is complete, I allow a few of the producers to read it and make their suggestions, then I edit and make a final draft. I usually write each episode one at a time so as to allow that particular piece my full creative attention.
Why did you decide to produce your work independently on the web?
There is a freedom that comes with web based content that is unlike any other platform. You can count on one hand the number of series on network or cable television that feature young African Americans as more than dated stereotypes. Producing our own content independent of what the Hollywood gatekeepers imagine us to be, is both a defiance of the status quo and a way of reclaiming our narrative. We as black creatives have been shining a light on our own genius since the dawn of this country. The web is simply another tool for us to shine that light even brighter.
What was the production schedule like for “Blue Collar Hustle"?
For season 1 we held rehearsal twice a week, we filmed on Saturdays and Sundays once per month from December-June with a break in March. Every cast member works a full time job so it was a big undertaking getting the days off we all needed to film, but the commitment of the cast & crew was phenomenal. Everybody brought their A game every single minute of production.
Tell us about your casting process. How did you go about it?
Series stars Quentin Williams, Howard Woodburn, and Roberto Cruz were friends and co-workers of mine. We worked at Best Buy every day together, sometimes 10-15 hours a day. We’d see more of each other than we did our families. Quentin is a real life musician and DJ and we were helping him gather resources to put out his debut album, titled A Soldier Story. From that experience I saw their drive and dedication and I knew that if I was going to do my own project they would have to be a part of it. So I decided to cast them in the roles and build the series around our shared kinship and experiences. Shani Hawes, who is a co-lead and co-producer, is my younger sister, and has been acting since we were young children. I knew she would physically hurt me if I didn’t write a role for her. Or worse yet, tell our parents! So I recruited her as the more seasoned actor and she assisted in coaching and encouraging us. Tijuana Agnew, who plays my girlfriend Anaya Bassett, has been acting professionally for over 10 years. The character of Anaya was the hardest to cast because I wanted to make sure that the character displayed the right mixture of intelligence, independence, and warmth. Tijuana was recommended by our director, and she just knocked it out of the park from day one! I am extremely lucky and honored to work with such brilliant people.
On a more personal note: Tell us a little about your “real” (non-writing) life — family, job, etc.
My personal life involves me putting on the Clark Kent glasses by day and working my regular job so that I can put food on the table and don my own personal cape and S by night so I can knock out all the scripts, outlines, and ideas that are locked within this brain of mine!
Does your personal life give you inspiration for your writing?
Absolutely! Life is the best teacher. There are certain conversations that I have with my friends or family that might fit right into a line of dialogue. There are certain situations that I’ve been in that make great stories. I am definitely inspired by current events and the happenings of the world around us. Art imitates life, that’s one of the truest quotes for any creative.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
First and foremost I would say my father Reginald Hawes. He was the most intelligent human being I’ve ever known. He was the first person to expose me to the concept of knowledge of self. He was the first person to make me believe that I was better than what the world expected of me as a black male. He was the real superhero. And now he is legend. I miss you pops.
What advice do you have for aspiring web series writers and creators? What lessons did you learn from your experience that you’d like to pass on?
My advice is that if you are going to create anything, be it a web series, book, cartoon, album, etc. That you have to be determined. You have to be determined to the point of obsession. And I say that because nobody is going to champion your work harder than you are. People will lose faith in you, people will abandon you, people will tell you to your face that you cannot do it. But if YOU are determined to see it through, it will be as you envisioned it. Make sure that you appreciate the few that believed in you from the start, and never despair. What you are doing is important, because somewhere, there is somebody who you will reach.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Season 2 of Blue Collar Hustle will be out in 2018 on both Seeka.TV and Youtube. Season 1 is available on both platforms now. There will be much more announced very soon!