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Life and Work with Ashley James

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley James.

Ashley, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Making films for me at this point in my life has been an evolution, it has grown with me as I have grown as a person. Each experience life has brought me infuses my choices as an artist and has played a part in the direction of the stories I choose to tell, but I think that is where it all began, this belief I had as a child that stories are the most meaningful tool we have as human beings. I remember reading a book when I was about 9 or 10 and it moved me, sparked my imagination in a way nothing had before. Just as I still do, I created a movie in my head through that book. I experienced all the main characters emotions and I could see clearly each scene, so much so, once I finished it, I immediately wrote a letter to author explaining she had to make this into a film and I desired to play the main role. At that time, I wasn’t acting, I was just a kid in a small town in Texas deeply moved by this story, so much so, I wanted to experience it first hand. Nothing came out of that effort, other than planting a seed for what I would spend most of my free time doing when I young, read books or plays and act them out in my room, or my parents garage when I needed a bigger set. Honestly, the idea of going off to film school and making this dream a reality never even entered my mind a real possibility. What I could wrap my mind around was being a journalist, because that was something I was at least exposed to through watching the local news. When it was time to go to college, I really didn’t have much of a solid plan for my future, I knew I loved art, I loved film, and I loved telling stories. I ended up spending a year studying at our local community college, taking an art history class, a journalism class, and an advertising class. What I found to be a defining part of my experience in this world is who we surround ourselves with opens up our beliefs of what is possible. I had a professor in community college my first semester that taught “A Survey of Art and Music”, it was a difficult class and the professor was known for his astronomically high expectations. I was absolutely in love with the class, I hung on every word as the professor would tell of his adventures all over the world to study art and it made me realize, there is a whole world of stories out there, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can go anywhere. Again, it was a book I read in that class that would change the course of my life, “Sappho’s Leap”, by Erica Jong. I wrote an incredibly passionate paper on that book as the final for class and at the end of the semester, this professor pulled me aside and in so many words, gave me the courage the push I needed to follow my dreams. I applied for a transfer after looking up art schools, and by the next year, I moved to San Francisco to study film at the Academy of Art University.

Has it been a smooth road?
When you are doing something that means everything to you, there is always going to be struggle. Over the years, I’ve come to accept, if not invite, struggle into my work. It’s something like the story of the child who saw the caterpillar struggling to emerge from his cocoon. The child wanted to cut open the cocoon to help free the caterpillar from his struggle, but if he had done so, he wouldn’t be helping the caterpillar, but the caterpillar would die. It takes the struggle for the caterpillar to become strong enough to transform into a butterfly. Struggle isn’t always a bad thing, it makes us stronger in our convictions, it gives us the opportunity to see what really needs to change in our world and what we are willing to do for the things we believe matter most. Being an actress and a writer has been a difficult but rewarding struggle. You’re going into these deep parts of yourself, places you don’t want to confront, sides of yourself you wish didn’t exist, and sharing these things for everyone to see. The rewarding part of all this is the connection and relationships we end up building as artists, with ourselves and with one another. Deep human connection helps us to see the world from all points of view, it provides us with empathy, passion, and understanding.

This has been an especially rewarding path in my relationships with women. We have been brought up in a society that does a lot to teach us life is a competition and there’s only room at the table for one woman, no matter what table you are looking to take a seat. Thankfully, we are seeing incredible change in this mentality and we have decades of strong female crusaders that have made this change possible. I run a film company with two of the most amazingly talented and driven women I have ever met. At another point in my life, my insecurities would have put up a wall, robbing me of the incredible experiences that have entered my life through bonding with powerful women. There is nothing like the bond we women can have with one another when we clear out all the bs that we are in competition and see the truth, the only thing greater than one strong, powerful woman, is a world full of us, loving one another and lifting one another up.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Maenad Productions – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I now live in Austin and work as an actress and producer. I met my partners a few years ago on set, we all three had an immediate connection, honestly, it felt like something greater had brought us together at just this right moment in each of our lives. Liz Tabish had already directed a few shorts, in fact, it was one of her sets we met on, and Janet Travis had been working on her first script, “Mother’s Day”. As Janet tells it, she had been struggling with the script, as it was autobiographical, and once she and I met, she immediately starting writing it with me in mind, which opened her up to the process of writing by putting herself in the writer’s seat, rather than reliving the story directly. It wasn’t long after that the script was finished and we began filming that fall. “Mother’s Day” is now in the film festival circuit and has won several awards for best short film, best director, and best actress. Liz, Janet, and I started Maenad Productions this past May, and are now working on our first feature, “Day of the White Rabbit”. Our films focus on female-driven stories, written by women, reimagining some of the old Hollywood tropes of female characters and telling stories we feel are meaningful and transformative. Each film envelopes our signature filmmaking aesthetic, which is richly stylized. We have a teaser trailer for the feature and more about us and our films at maenadproductions.com.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts or other resources that you’ve benefited from using?
I read constantly and listen to podcasts and books while I am driving. I have been obsessed with quantum physics for a very long time and have been writing a script with those elements infused, so currently I’ve been listening to a lot of Sean Carroll’s Mindscape. I’ve always loved This American Life, so that definitely is on my podcast playlist, as well as the Aubrey Marcus Podcast, as just about every episode he or his guest will share some massive life lesson or quote that feels like it speaks directly to me. As far as books, it’s a lot like films, it’s impossible for me to narrow down even a few, so many have influenced me. I just finished “Sex at Dawn”, but Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, it opened my mind and taught me so much about our humble beginnings as human beings. I will always go back to “The Alchemist”, by Paolo Coelho, at least once a year. And of course, for filmmakers, I love “In the Blink of an Eye”, by Walter Murch, one of my favorite film editors.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Todd White

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