Award-Winning Series ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ Exploring Pressures Around Motherhood & Career

It is a line of questioning most women will experience at some point in their lives, past a *certain* age: “when are you going to have children?” And if they do choose to have a family, the inevitable, “how do you balance motherhood and career?” questions start to increase. You’d think in 2017 experiencing the current wave of feminism and social activism around gender equality these issues would be a thing of the past.

But as the award-winning digital series ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do‘ shows, women’s reproductive choices and their career decisions still remain high on the list of things society wants to know about. The series is loosely based on creator and star Monica West’s own life, but goes beyond an autobiographical account and ventures into a larger cultural discussion of how we can challenge our collective perspectives on motherhood & career conversations.

Available now on Amazon Prime, the series chronicles the journey of 30-something NYC waitress Mae (played by Monica), who finds herself at a personal and professional crossroads. Mae makes the spontaneous decision to move to the San Francisco Bay Area, and jump start her career as a Silicon Valley based entrepreneur. While in the Bay Area, a chance encounter with Sam (Bhavesh Patel, “The Good Wife”), develops into something more, and leads Sam to ultimately begin discussions around starting a family.

Mae receives unsolicited advice from friends and family, and confronts her ambivalence and fear about balancing a career vs. starting a family. ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ explores the complex decisions women have to make around motherhood and career today, as well as the societal expectations they face along the way. ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ also features Myra Lucretia Taylor (Michael Showalter’s “The Big Sick”, Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” and Lena Dunham’s “Girls”), Michelle Ang (Emmy-Nominated for “Fear of the Walking Dead”), and Liam Vincent (“Seducing Charlie Baker”, “Nash Bridges”). We had an opportunity to speak with Monica about her series and her personal experiences.

The ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ was loosely based on your own life circumstances. Can you tell us the situations that led to this series?

I spent my twenties and early 30s pounding the pavement as an actress in NYC. In my mid-thirties I started booking the kind of roles I’d always wanted to play: an archaeologist in an indie action movie which took me Morocco, Mexico and Switzerland; a provocative professor on an MTV comedy series; a lead role at Lookingglass Theatre Company playing a woman caught between what society says she should do and what she wants to do. On top of that I met my amazing husband.

So imagine: life is finally coming together — career and love — and all of the sudden my family starts asking: “When are you two going to have a baby?” My best friends: “Are you going to freeze your eggs?” Church ladies: “You have to have a baby!” My dad: “Having a baby is the best thing you’ll ever do!” Now I’m laying awake at night worrying about blowing up everything I worked for to have a baby! That’s when I started putting pen to paper, in that 3am time of waking panic.

You’ve spoken about the issue not necessarily being about “having it all” or finding that work/life balance. Can you explain more about this?

I think that both of these ideas are Cinderella stories or sound bites that sounded great around the time they were coined but that what they represent doesn’t exist in reality. It’s fruitless to think one of those options is actually possible right now. One of the things I hope to accomplish with ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ is start a conversation around how we can support people with young children in real ways, like paid parental leave, and by making it easier for people to hire a nanny and afford to pay their taxes, or creating standard options for daycare at both small and large businesses.

What was the process from conception to production, and having the series shown on Amazon?

It took me about six months to write the first season of the series and then Catherine Fordham, the series director and I started holding table reads with actors in New York and Chicago. We ran a Kickstarter campaign in May of 2016 and made our goal in less than three days. By the end of the campaign we’d raised just over $31k to make the first three episodes which allowed us to hire over twenty five people including actors, crew, and engineers to make the first four episodes of ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ a reality.

We filmed in the Bay Area and NYC summer 2016 and released October 2016 at the Brooklyn Web Festival where we took home the Emerging Voices Award. From there it’s been pounding that ol’ pavement again. We’ve played at festivals in London, Seattle, LA, DC, NYC, Melbourne and Manchester, VT. A streaming platform focused on inclusion, Seed&Spark approached us about a streaming opportunity and that has turned into a beautiful relationship for us. Recently we won Best Short Drama Series at the HBO and Raptor Films sponsored Independent Television Festival and that’s when we decided to release on Amazon Prime Video.

What are some of the most frustrating misconceptions about motherhood and career you had personally faced?

When I got married people started asking me if I was going to quit being an artist. Realizing that some people think writing or acting is a hobby that people do only until they “grow up,” get married and have kids rather than seeing the arts a vocation someone is drawn to do and can make a life in was so hard for me to hear! When people say innocent but often closed-minded things like that it’s pretty easy for me to understand why deciding to have kids feels so daunting to me.

How did making this series impact your own life and perspective on the themes it involves?

Making ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ allowed me to put words, characters, colors and music to something that weighed on me heavily for years. It opened my eyes to the amount of women and men who are struggling with this very same question. We had a screening in Silicon Valley recently and I was overcome when I realized that as an artist I have an outlet to talk about fertility fears or blowing up your career to have kids but that business women (and men) don’t necessarily have the opportunity to put their anxiety to work, let alone even talk about it at work!

We’re having another screening and discussion with entrepreneurs and women in tech sponsored by Seed&Spark in San Francisco in January. I’m so looking forward to sharing the series and starting a conversation with those women about their own “to bae or not to bae” questions and how we can support each other so the decision isn’t so daunting.

Right now we’re seeing a huge push for more female-driven content, especially in the wake of so many Hollywood sexual assault scandals involving high profile men. What do you think this moment could potentially mean for women in the industry, especially in leadership/executive positions?

I’ll tell you what I hope – and I do think this can happen, but it’s the “long arm” plan. I hope that enough women and men in positions of power now see that it is important not only to hire women but to promote women; to keep women moving up the ladder so that we can reach gender equality in all of our work places from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Main Street and Wall Street.

Something that I’m also really excited about is that women are starting their own companies and production companies. I love when people who find themselves unsatisfied at work say fuck it, I’ll make my own work. I should also add that I have found making this series and connecting with people because of it more satisfying than any single acting job I’ve ever booked.

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’?

If they’ve ever felt the way Mae does in the story, I hope they’ll say “oh thank god someone is feeling this too,” but also that no matter how heart wrenching their thoughts are around the decision to have baby or not, they will always be open to finding humor in them too.

What advice would you give to a woman watching this who is struggling with the same issues you experienced?

I made this show because my friends, family, even the lady next to me in the nail salon had an opinion on whether I should have a baby or not. I felt overwhelmed by all the unsolicited advice and so I try not give advice freely about anything anymore. But if someone asked I’d say: I encourage you to give yourself the time to consider both options – think about them, write about them, meditate on them – maybe for as long as couple of years even.

And then trust yourself even if the answer is different than your closest friends’ answers or even if it’s different from what your answer was when you were younger. And trust yourself again if you change your mind. If you don’t feel forced you’ll never make the wrong decision – you’ll be up for the challenges and joys that either option brings you.

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Find out more about ‘Best Thing You’ll Ever Do’ via the website, or stream series 1 now on Amazon Prime.

 

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