Actor/writer/director Dylan McDermott—known for his work on the TV series The Practice and in films like Steel Magnolias and The Campaign—returned to Sarasota to share news about the production of Sugar, his web series, and a newfound connection with local charity Selah Freedom.
Produced by Ringling College of Art and Design and David Shapiro’s Semkhor Productions, Sugar chronicles the life a young woman who falls victim to human trafficking and who, in the depth of despair, manages to find hope—and herself.
It’s a story that McDermott—who is writing and directing the project—feels a close connection to. “I have two young daughters of my own, and I want a [good] life for them,” he says. “Plus, my adoptive mother, Eve Ensler, has been trying to stop violence against women her whole life. And there’s my personal beliefs, all mixed together.”
“As a director-creator, this is really my vision—how I see the world, this character, her plight,” he continues. “That’s something I haven’t had much of a chance to do [in my career]. This is the beginning of that, and I’m excited. I really want to tell the story through my eyes.”
Sugar is slated to begin filming here in May, with the help of Ringling College students, and McDermott says he thinks Sarasota is the perfect location. “Sarasota is a funny mix of light and dark,” he says. “At first glance, it looks like a very wealthy community—a little utopia—but if you dig a little deeper, you find there’s an underworld here. That’s pretty fascinating.”
He and his team will be casting locally, too—“except maybe the role of Sugar, because that’s harder to cast,” he says—and he plans to have the series available to view on the Ringling College and Selah Freedom websites, as well as on YouTube.
Elizabeth Fisher, president and CEO of Selah Freedom—which helps victims of human trafficking through a variety of programs—couldn’t be more thrilled with the partnership between her organization and McDermott’s project. “We meet regularly with David Shapiro [about the project] and we’re going to create a director’s cut of Sugar, called Selah Project, for those who want to dig in deeper [to the issue of human trafficking],” she says.
McDermott echoes Fisher’s sentiments. “It’s a great relationship, particularly for this project,” he says. “I find that when your heart’s in the right place, [the right] people find you.”