It's a tale as old as time (or a tale as old as the internet age, at least): Online content creators try to bridge the gap between new media and old media, making the leap from online videos to television or film, and they flop miserably. That's not the case with Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart, otherwise known as the "Holy Trinity" of YouTube. They've made two movies together (both written by Mamrie Hart), Hannah Hart (no relation to Mamrie) has a Food Network show in the works and both she and Helbig have production deals with Lionsgate. Oh, and they're all best friends, too.
At the Lionsgate Lounge on a rainy Saturday at South by Southwest 2017, Variety reporter Elizabeth Wagmeiser questioned the trio about their latest movie, "Dirty 30," which tells the story of Kate (Mamrie Hart), a dental assistant having a bit of a crisis about her 30th birthday when her two best friends (Helbig and Hannah Hart) decide to throw her a rager of a house party (think "Can't Hardly Wait," but in 2016 and with a bunch of cameos from YouTube stars).
"It felt like a reunion of sorts" for the friends getting back together to work on their second film (their first, "Camp Takota," came out in 2014), Helbig said (even though "we hang out like, every day," Mamrie Hart added).
But for their fans, the three YouTubers' friendship is about more than creating content: They've become role models for their primarily young, primarily female fan base. They're entrepreneurs, comedians, actors, producers, authors ... they've done it all, and they've done it while avoiding tabloid headlines or being defined by who they're dating or what they're wearing. They agreed that a special quality of the online video world is the feeling of mutual support rather than competition like in Hollywood, where "women are pitted against each other constantly," Mamrie Hart said, and women are left “looking at each other instead of who put you in the pit," Hannah Hart added.
"When one of us is doing well, we're all doing well," Mamrie Hart said.
That's why the three friends come together to tell their stories. "We want to show what real friendship looks like," Helbig said.
And to them, real friendship looks like this: On International Women's Day this week, the three friends went to get their palms read and then got margaritas. That’s the type of friendship they want to showcase, not the roles they frequently find themselves auditioning for: For Helbig, that’s "sexy wife," for Mamrie Hart, it’s "weird, odd neighbor" and Hannah Hart jokingly added, "Ellen?" They stressed the importance of females in off-screen roles, too: Directors, producers and writers who can tell women's stories.
"We're all looking at films through a male lens, even though I'm a raging lesbian," Hannah Hart said. "That's not what it's like. That's why you need female directors. The male gaze is worthy of being there, but it's about changing it so it's fair."
She wouldn't say too much about what her and Helbig's production deals with Lionsgate entail, but she did say she wanted to work on an LGBT romantic comedy one day.
"I want to be the Hugh Grant of LGBT romantic comedies," she said.
The conversation turned to politics, something all three creators have discussed occasionally on their public social media channels, especially around the 2016 election. They agreed they each try to find a balance between acknowledging political issues but also staying true to the personalities their fans know and love.
"My 'brand' has always been about, you're learning with me as I'm trying to figure it out," Helbig said. "I try not to be too soapbox-y."
Hannah Hart, who speaks often about LGBT issues, said she voted in her first municipal election recently and feels optimistic about the future (appropriate for a woman whose motto is "practice reckless optimism").
"I'm hopeful that this generation is going to be more politically involved," she said, urging the crowd to register to vote in the midterm election in November.
"I could see you later in life running for office," Mamrie Hart responded, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Hannah Hart shook her head, saying, "I enjoy being a citizen so I can say things like, 'F*** what's going on right now.'"
But the real mic drop moment came at the end of the discussion, when a female engineering student in the audience asked the women how they dealt with sexism.
"Use it as hater fuel," Mamrie Hart said. "And just know that one day, you're not going to hire him."