Actor Filmmaker discusses Losing Hope the series

Cover Photography and Styling by Jerris Madison

The dramatic scripted series, Losing Hope touches on several themes from interracial dating, racism, family issues, and depression. The series explores the lives of African American, Latino, multiracial, homosexual, sexually assaulted victims rarely discussed by the mainstream media. The story is based on the experiences of Bay Area-native Derek Daniel. 

“At the end of the day, I am someone who is chasing his dreams,” said Daniel, the Creator, Lead Actor, Director, and Executive Producer. “I hear people say, don’t give up on your dreams, work hard, and you’ll see the fruits of your labor. That’s what I’m doing, “he said. The series was completed just before the COVID-19 pandemic. It has screened at several film festivals. 

Below he discusses how he kept it together while wearing multiple hats, how this project came to life, and what he wants audiences to retain from it. 

Photography and Styling by Jerris Madison

PrideIndex (PI): I am here with actor Derek Daniel. How are you today? 

Derek Daniel (DD): I am well. Happy Monday to you. 

PI: I heard that you’re in LA. What’s going on? Are you working on a project? 

DD: Yeah, I’m in LA currently working on the second season of Losing Hope, a mini-series that I created, wrote, directed, executive produced. I’m queuing everything up for next year to start filming the second season.

PI: When I hear people say they do A-Z on their projects, what instantly comes to mind is a garage door opener. (Laughs). How does it work when you’re wearing multiple hats on a project?

DD: It’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of juggling, but it’s like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. When directing, I like to meet with the cast ahead of time to go through the project, the scenes, or whatever we plan on shooting and make sure they’re 100% clear. When we get on set, it’s just a matter of performing. I try to minimize my work by planning ahead of time. Often, it’s like a revolving door and keeps my head spinning, but it’s just a matter of figuring out what needs to be done at the right time and getting it done in a moment.

PI: Let’s take two steps back. Where are you from, and when did you first know you wanted to be an actor? 

DD: I am from the Bay Area-San Francisco area. I moved to LA to attend college. I went to UCLA and studied Economics. While in LA, I started diving a bit more into music. Music is my number one love. When I was a kid and through and after college, I wanted to be a singer and solo artist, but that didn’t pan out. The crazy thing is that when I was auditioning for everything but acting, my agents would send me on acting auditions. It wasn’t until later that I said, let me give this a try. When you don’t care as much about booking a job, that’s when you start booking appointments or coming very close to securing them. (Laughs) I love the idea of storytelling, so that’s what made me more interested in acting. But for me, it’s tying the acting piece to the writing and just being behind the scenes of developing the story. As long as there’s a good story that piqued my interest as an actor, I will continue doing but diving into the story development pieces where I think I’m ultimately going to land.

PI: Are you a musician?  

DD: I used to be a musician. (Laughs) When I’m in my house, I’m a musician, and no one else is around. I used to sing back up and work on my music. That ship has sailed and is floating in the ocean right now. I may get back into it, but it’s not something that’s been a priority for me right now.

PI: When and where were you formally trained as an actor?

DD: I worked with my acting coach Kia Esmaeal, based in Atlanta. I also took some classes at Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop and Ivana Chubbuck Studio.

Actors Derek Daniel and Apollo Levine in a video still from Losing Hope

PI: How did Losing Hope come about?

DD: Losing Hope came out of heartbreak. I was dating someone; it didn’t go well and left me heartbroken. As a way to cope with it, I started writing. I didn’t intend to develop this into a series. It was a therapeutic thing for me. Once I got it on paper, I said, let me see how this end. I had a couple of friends read it, and many liked it. I shot a proof of concept for it. The first version of episode one was shot years ago in Atlanta; from there, I decided to go ahead and complete the entire season. Due to the pandemic, I only got through five episodes. The series came out of heartbreak, and I said, let me see what I can do with it. I figured why not take the Issa Rae route and film this content, throw it out there, see what happens with it, and see how it can develop?

PI: Is the series in its second season right now?

DD: We released five episodes in October. The plan is to start shooting additional episodes next year. 

PI: Where can I find the Losing Hope Series?

DD: The series can be found on YouTube. Search for “Losing Hope a scripted Series.” Also, people can follow us on IG and Facebook @losinghopeseries. They can also follow my page @misterderekdaniel

PI: What do you want viewers to take away from this series? 

DD: It is very important that anyone who watches this series see a bit of themselves in it. With content that deals with same-sex relationships and dating, people automatically label them as gay-only issues, but it’s just about life. I want people to take away that this is a story about people living their everyday lives and trying to make it through heartbreak, growing their careers, and leaning into their friendships. I want people to take away that this is relatable and something anyone can identify with.

Video still of a conversation with Losing Hope castmates Pedro Figueroa, Derek Daniel and Brianna Michelle

PI: Talk about your co-stars and the casting process for this series. How did that work out?

DD: Some actors responded to an online casting call. I had them submit self-tapes. I reviewed each to determine who I wanted to meet in person. I tried to understand who they were as a person, how they felt about the LGBTQ community, their feelings about this content that represented the community, and what they thought about the world seeing them starring in content like this. It was a matter of finding talented, personable actors who were supportive of the community. We have Apollo Levine, who plays Kevin, Pedro Figueroa as Donnie, Blake Bodden as Leo, and Brianna Michelle as Kelly. I went to school with Brianna Michelle. I hadn’t seen her in years, and I thought she would be the perfect fit to portray Kelly. The casting process depends on talking to each actor to determine who they are and which character they best represent.

PI: Losing Hope is a non-fiction piece based on actual events. Were you concerned about what your ex would say about putting his business out there for all to see? 

DD: I wouldn’t say he’s my ex. (Laughs). He’s someone I dated, fell for, and it didn’t work out. I wouldn’t even say that I was necessarily in love with {Name Withheld}. In the end, I was heartbroken. It’s a fictional series inspired by my personal heartbreak. The overall series is fictional. The person you called my ex could never come back and say, why did you write that about me? It’s not about him. 

Actors Pedro Figueroa and Derek Daniel in a video still from Losing Hope

PI: How did you decide which parts to leave out and which ones to make up?

DD: That’s interesting. The first thing I wanted to include was real-life moments where my heart was broken. I felt there was an opportunity to bring in fictional pieces to address other topics. In the series, my character Gideon is dating Donnie, a Latino character; with that, I wanted to explore the challenges, nuances, and excitement that come with interracial dating. Initially, when I wrote the lead characters, they were both black. As other things were happening in the world, around race and racism, sexual abuse, and so on, I felt they would be interesting topics to explore. I didn’t experience some of those things in my life, but I thought it was an opportunity to broaden issues we could discuss and possibly give the series longevity.

PI: Do you have any idea how many episodes you will film in the second season?

DD: It depends on getting the funding secured and timing. I’m hoping to film at least eight over 15-minute length episodes. I’m working on all of that right now.

Photography and Styling by Jerris Madison

PI: Have you considered looking at other avenues for bringing this content to audiences, such as film festivals or streaming services?

DD: We screened at several independent film festivals. I had a meeting with Netflix last year. After Netflix reviewed the first episode, they took a pass because they didn’t think it was in the direction they were going in. I’m hopeful. You never know what door could open. I would love to continue pitching the series, see what other networks have to say about it, and ultimately get it picked up. So, when I say I’m pulling an Issa Rae, I’m trying to go from YouTube to a network like she did with Insecure.

PI: What was it like to work during COVID?

DD: Fortunately, we didn’t film during COVID. We stopped to begin editing the five episodes that were done. We want to start filming at some point early next year, but I don’t know how that will go.

PI: How did you raise funds to finance this project? Did you use crowdfunding or other avenues?

DD: We did a crowdfunding campaign. We raised a little money for the first five episodes, but 99% of the money came out of my pocket. I’m looking at other ways of raising money through nonprofit organizations that help with independent content. It’s something that was on my mind to look at this week. I could end up doing another fundraising campaign. 

PI: What else would you like to share?

DD: At the end of the day, I am someone who is chasing his dreams. I hear people say, don’t give up on your dreams, work hard, and you’ll see the fruits of your labor. That’s what I’m doing. Losing Hope has only been out for a couple of months now, and I’m grateful that our audience has recognized the hard work the team and I have put into it. I’m just a down-to-earth regular person trying to make his dreams come true and who’s also looking for the opportunity to help others make theirs come true too. It was important for me to use my network of talented old friends, new friends, and people I didn’t know and looked for opportunities to make sure folks from the LGBTQ community have options across races, genders, etc. I’m grateful I have gained support in the process.