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Ohio filmmakers are on a mission to level the playing field, create powerful entertainment

The mission of 6 with Heels Productions.
In a 1982 Frank and Ernest comic strip a female friend of the two main characters makes a poignant observation about Fred Astaire: “Sure, he was great,” she says, “but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards and in high heels.”

The observation caught national attention with Texas Governor Ann Richards used it in a convention speech. Others, like Ohio-native filmmakers Sarah Chaney and Heather Olt, would use it as inspiration. The spirit of that phrase is the foundation for their production company, 6 With Heels, and its mission.

“It’s an homage to the notion that women have often been underestimated and have, throughout history, had to work harder to prove themselves, especially in the entertainment world,” explains Sarah.

“Our mission is designed to help level the playing field so that women don't have to do everything ‘backward and in heels’ to achieve the same result or level of success,” says Heather.

It also plays a little tongue-in-cheek with the filmmakers’ height. “We’re both 5-foot, 10-inches tall, so if you put us in heels, we are over 6 foot,” Heather says with a smile.  

Today, Sarah and Heather reside in Los Angeles. Heather is a regular guest star on a number of popular shows, including The Middle, Young Sheldon, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She also played Frances on Runaways. Sarah has appeared in New Girl, NCIS: Los Angeles and Lethal Weapon.

We recently sat down (via email) with the producers.

MMM: Tell me a bit about yourselves. Where do you hail from, what was it like growing up there, where did you go to college, what did you study and so forth!

Filmmaker Sarah Chaney
Sarah: We met doing theater in New York and yet, ironically, we are both from Ohio. I am from Waterville, a small town. So small you can’t call it a town. It’s a village. There was a community theater called The Waterville Playshop where my dad would perform in musicals. I saw him in one of the shows when I was around 4 or 5 and decisively proclaimed that I wanted to do that too! The following year I was in the musical Annie Get Your Gun, and I was hooked! 

From that point on, I was involved in as many singing and acting performing opportunities around town as possible, including America’s Pride, The Toledo Rep, The Ohio Theater, The Children’s Theatre Workshop, and all of the shows at Anthony Wayne High School. My poor parents were taxi drivers to me and my siblings (I was also involved in sports - I didn’t make it easy for them!). After graduating from Anthony Wayne, I headed to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where I received a degree in theater and political science. 

Filmmaker Heather Olt
Heather: I am from Dayton, Ohio. I spent my formative years in the small suburb of Oakwood, a town where no one locks their doors and you can walk just about everywhere.  My family was very creative. My mom wrote plays and played piano and violin. My dad played piano, cello and was a singer in various choirs and ensembles. 

Naturally, my parents passed on that creative gene and allowed my sister and me to explore anything we showed interest in. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents made sure that if we wanted to try it, they would find a way to nurture that passion. Little did they know I would want to try anything and everything.  

I played piano, cello, oboe, was in multiple choirs, took ballet, did school plays, community theater, swam, ran track, and then some.  You name it, I gave it a shot.  Because of this, by the time I went to college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I have a BFA in music theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University.

MMM: Tell me a bit about your film careers. When did the film bug bite? What made you want to pursue the art - and in what capacity? 

Sarah Chaney, left, on set
Sarah: We moved to L.A. from New York, Heather in 2006 and me in 2012.  And while our timelines are different, we both were excited to explore TV and film. 

I was eager to make a shift from theater to the big screen. Both TV and film share a magic that is quite different from theater in that it allows for a story to be told in a much more realistic and literal way..

My first TV show, New Girl, was fascinating. The director and producers created an artistic environment that encouraged the actors to improvise and "play" while still maintaining the bones of the script and technical elements necessary to tell the story. Each experience is different, and it's always thrilling to be thrust into a new artistic family.  I’m loving being able to simultaneously work in front of the camera as an actress and also behind the scenes as a producer. 

Heather: While the initial draw was to be in front of the camera, I quickly realized that writing and producing allowed me to use my voice and develop characters and stories that I was passionate about.  Within a year of moving to L.A., I had co-written, co-produced and co-starred in a web series (before it was even a “thing”) called The Auditions with several friends from acting class. That was when I knew that I was no longer just an “actor.”  I had too many stories I wanted to tell.  

Additionally, wearing multiple hats allows me to gain even more from every acting job.  Every time I’m on set, I’m talking to the writers, the producers, the directors, and everyone in-between.  It’s strengthened my acting because I can see the process from multiple angles and not just from a performance perspective.  

MMM: You both have a ton of acting credits, but it looks like you're deeply involved behind the scenes as well. What's your passion on set? In front or behind the camera? Or a tie? And why?  

Heather Olt guest-starring on 'Brooklyn Nine Nine'
Heather: As most people that know us will tell you, we are two sides of the same coin. We both love acting and will continue to pursue it with passion and drive.  However, we also love storytelling. Whether it’s writing our own content or producing other people’s stories, the most important thing to both of us is collaborating with artists we believe in.  

Sarah: Producing allows us to wear so many different hats and be involved from the very beginning. It's extremely fulfilling to see a project through from infancy. To see something go from an idea to the screen gives you a whole new appreciation for everyone involved in filmmaking  So, to answer your question, we’d have to say, “It’s a tie!”

MMM: Tell me how you met and when you decided to form 6 With Heels.   

Heather: We met in the summer of 2000 while performing at New York’s Gateway Playhouse in a production of The Will Rogers Follies.  We reconnected in 2012 when Sarah moved to L.A.  I immediately cast her in The Auditions.  We continued to work together creatively and in 2015, we decided to officially join forces.

Sarah: We had spent so many years working for other people and helping them grow their business that we thought it was time to combine our super powers and do the same for ourselves. We have the same aesthetic and are drawn to the same stories so becoming producing partners was a no brainer!

MMM: Your mission is wonderful. Can you talk about that?  

Sarah: Our mission is simple: Women will make up at least half of the cast, crew and content of our multimedia productions. Half of our planet's population are women and it's time the entertainment industry followed suit. We are determined to strengthen the voice of women in media. Our first project was the short chickadee, which featured an all-female cast and crew. 

MMM: Talk about some of the projects you have in the works. What will viewers see next?

Heather: We have a few exciting projects in the pipeline!  We just completed a short film, Last Chance Moms, that explores the complications of women in their 40s deciding to have children; platonic co-parenting and society's bias surrounding that conversation. Our goal is to develop this project into a television series.  

Additionally we’re producing a feature we hope to shoot in early 2021. It follows a female protagonist who chases after unrequited love, making a mess of her own life and her friends' lives in the process. It's a fantastic dark romantic comedy written and directed by the incredible Mandy Fabian (who also directed Last Chance Moms). 

A few other projects are in development, including a play that we’re developing into a limited series. It’s a drama that takes place in a small town in Texas, written by the prolific and talented David Stallings. We also have a feature that follows a woman's quest to unravel the mysteries of her dead mother's past, and a comedic pilot about a woman who falls into an unlikely career path, completely derailing and altering her once perfectly planned out life.

MMM: A while back, you'd submitted for the Ohio film tax credit for Fat Camp Massacre. How is that project going and still planning to shoot in Ohio? 

Sarah: The script has undergone a major rewrite, so we are re-strategizing our development efforts.  Fingers crossed we will be able to shoot in Ohio in 2021!  The industry is making some major changes in reaction to COVID-19. Understandably, safety and travel for cast and crew will be more complicated than it once was. However, we are optimistic that creative and pragmatic solutions are in the works. 

MMM: What's the next step for 6 With Heels? 

Heather: As we continue to develop our multiple projects, we are always looking for new stories, scripts, and concepts that fit our mission. Additionally, we are hoping to create a film fund that will help to bankroll future projects!

Sarah: Ultimately, we want to tell the stories we want to hear...stories that inspire, delight, challenge, and motivate change for the better. We also love a chance to escape and step into a world that we've never seen, a world where more is possible, a world that is kinder. Art has an incredible opportunity to invoke empathy and enlighten its audience.  We hope to allow people a chance to walk in someone else's shoes for an hour or two. 


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