Martinsville native and filmmaker Natalie Hodge’s web reality series, “Hometown Hustle” is gearing up for a second season and is currently searching for its stars. The series, which highlights the entrepreneurial spirit of local small business owners, premiered last Thanksgiving on the Rudy’s Girl YouTube channel.
Hodge, who is the series creator and host, discussed the success of the first season and plans for the second during a visit to Teresa’s School of Baton and Dance in Collinsville. There, she and a film crew were catching up with owners Teresa Martin and Chelsea Krontz, who were featured in the first season.
The day’s filming reveals a glimpse at part of the magic of the show, which is Hodge herself. She is a host who highlights the skills of her stars by becoming a willing participant in the business they have built. As the experts instruct her in her tasks, their knowledge of and passion for their industry shine through.
That day, for example, Hodge entered the room wearing a tutu. She gamely attempts a few ballet steps and a forward roll with instruction from Martin and Krontz. The camera crew films the interaction.
The first season of the show, she said, received “an overwhelmingly amazing response. It really exceeded our expectations, even though we had really high expectations. The global feedback that we received, looking at some of the comments and looking at people who have subscribed to the channel, this has touched people who aren’t even in our country.”
According to YouTube’s count, each video has been viewed thousands of times, with the episode on Abraham Gonzalez, owner of Ape’s Frozen Yogurt, garnering the most views with more than 8,000.
Local residents also have been excited by the project, Hodge said. Those featured in the first season enjoyed seeing themselves in the episodes and business owners have enjoyed increased sales and more followers on their social media accounts.
Building on the success of season one, Hodge said the new season of “Hometown Hustle” will be “bigger, better, and bolder” in nearly every way. First and foremost, Hodge is looking for stories from a wider range of localities.
In addition to Martinsville and Henry County, “this season, we’re able to cover Patrick County and beyond,” Hodge said.
After witnessing the success of the first season, which was comprised of six 10-minute episodes, Hodge said businesses in other communities began reaching out to find out how to become involved.
“The first group of folks (to reach out) were actually in Patrick County,” Hodge said. Even during filming for the first season, there was interest from Patrick County businesses, but that year the funding for the project (from MHC Pay It Forward and the C-PEG) was tied specifically to Martinsville and Henry County.
This year, Hodge said, there are no such restrictions.
Besides Patrick County, she said business owners in Danville and Pittsylvania County have reached out to inquire about being featured, as well as a number of people in Martinsville and Henry County, though the cast search extends beyond that into the counties of Prince Edward, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Charlotte, and Brunswick, according to a release.
Another aspect of the “bigger, better, bolder” second season is with the format of the show itself. Whereas the first season was six 10-minute episodes, Hodge plans ten 22-minute episodes for season two.
“We are now in the 22-minute format, which is the standard format for half-hour shows on television,” Hodge said, adding that she is currently having discussions regarding distribution of the series. “I won’t reveal what spaces, but it was important for us to make sure that we had a format that matches with the standards for those platforms, so we’ve moved out of web series and moved more into TV series.”
A broader scope and longer episodes also mean a bigger budget, Hodge said. She is currently in search of sponsors for the show, which this year has a six-figure budget.
“Last season was really a micro-budget,” she explained. “This season, for us to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish, it has to be a TV budget.” The additional funds will be used for a larger production team, enhanced marketing, and travel expenses to the various locations across southern Virginia that will be featured in the show. Hodge said she hopes to provide support for the featured businesses as well.
Thus far, she said, sponsors for the show include the TAD Space (owner Wayne Draper was featured in season one), Michael McPheeters (who also sponsored season one), Hamlet Vineyards, Hairston Funeral Home, and Hogwest Auto.
Showcasing businesses and business owners from the region is at the core of “Hometown Hustle.” Hodge said she wanted to tell these stories because, “I think we are a forgotten region in some ways.”
She recounted a recent trip to Atlanta to attend a wedding. When she told people she was from Martinsville, people did not know where it was and could only name cities and towns in northern Virginia or on the coast—all in the easternmost part of the state.
“Our community has amazing people, amazing business owners,” she said. “So many gifts and talents are present in the community and deserve the same level of attention and exposure as someone who might be in one of those major urban areas. I love to be able to shine a spotlight on our community and our region.”
Hodge said she and her crew want to film season two of “Hometown Hustle” this summer, with episodes potentially premiering this fall.
Business owners and individuals interested in participating in the upcoming season, either as a featured business or as a sponsor, can find more information at HometownHustle.tv.
The first season of “Hometown Hustle” can be found on the Rudy’s Girl Media YouTube channel.