Looking for some new TV to watch this fall that’s equal parts funny, charming, and real? Look no further than “OM City: The Series,” a web series created by New York City yoga teachers and filmmakers Jessie Barr and Tom O’Brien.
The seven mini episodes, which range in length from five to 10 minutes, follow Grace (Barr), a yoga teacher whose life is, let’s say, a bit harried at times. She’s trying to “make it” in New York City as a full-time yoga teacher, mixing in private sessions with studio classes, plus family events and ill-fated dates. She’s got flaws like the rest of us—showing up late for a class she’s teaching, for example—but you can’t help but root for her.
We chatted with Barr and O'Briend to learn more about their inspiration for starting the show, what the filming process was like, and what scenes made them nervous.
What gave you guys the idea for “OM City: The Series”?
Both being actors and filmmakers we wanted to create something together. And even though we were also both yoga teachers, and that's how we met teaching at Elena Brower's Virayoga, we at least initially resisted the idea of creating something about yoga. But it was such a huge part of both of our lives and we had so many stories and issues that we wanted to explore within the context of an on going series that it came back to age old adage "write what you know." We also had never seen anything in film and television that resembled the world of yoga that we both knew and loved. Everything out there in the mainstream media was pretty broad, and we were interested in exploring the more real and subtle comedy as well as the beauty and transformative power of yoga.
You used Kickstarter to raise money for this project. Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding route?
Tom had already directed two independent feature films and had raised money through the more traditional route of private equity investors. And it takes years to raise the money that way. Crowdfunding has really changed the game for filmmakers. We were lucky and surpassed our goal in 30 days. Kickstarter really was an amazing part of the creative process. We not only reconnected with people from our past that we hadn't been in touch with in years but we met so many new people who came from all over to support this project.
You guys had a pretty tight filming timeline. What was it like to have to work at such a quick pace?
It's difficult. You always want more time but we had an amazing producer, Massoumeh Emami, who had produced Tom's first feature film, Fairhaven, and an incredible cinematographer who had shot Tom's second feature, Manhattan Romance, so having a crew who had a familiarity and knew how to work with each other and having such an awesome cast really helped us move quickly while still capturing great moments.
A lot of the scenes from the first season are pretty relatable to fellow yogis. How much of it is based on your real experiences as yoga teachers in New York City?
All of it! No, I mean we've both been practicing and teaching yoga for years so there's a bottomless well of material there. It's really gratifying the way the yoga community has embraced the series. There seems to be a real hunger for something about yoga that's real and relatable. We've gotten emails from people, not just yogis, all over the US, Canada, France, Turkey, Macedonia, and Brussells reaching out, and we had no idea that would happen. The power of the internet is really overwhelming.
What scenes were you most nervous about filming?
We weren't really nervous about filming any particular scenes, but the big class scenes were the most challenging. All of the yoga students in those scenes were friends and colleagues and other teachers so we had to figure out who was available and for how long and base our camera angles on whether people could stay that long.
Describe the audience you had in mind for this series.
The audience we thought of was definitely the yoga community but also people who enjoy character-driven indie films. It's been really gratifying that non-yogis have been responding to the show as well. We intended for Grace to be a protagonist that people could relate to, women, men, anyone who struggles in pursuit of a chosen vocation and tries to navigate the perils of making a living while still staying connected to a sense of wonder. But there are definitely elements of the story that we hope will resonate with female yoga teachers. It's a crazy life we lead having to make a living as yoga teachers and going into people's homes, etc. It's intimate and you become like a therapist and a friend and boundaries can be tricky. And the gender relationship is definitely a big part of that.
What’s the one thing you’d like viewers to take away from “OM City: The Series”?
We just hope people continue to enjoy it. Beyond that it's really up to them what they take from it.
Visit omcityseries.com/episodes to watch the series.
Photo courtesy of "OM City: The Series"