"BEING AND NOTHINGNESS"
Starring Sascha Nastasi, Cloris Leachman, Betsy Brandt, Connor Weil and Sloane Avery
February 2019

I have always wanted to film something in Casper, Wyoming. Growing up, I had heard stories of my "Aunt Patty", a woman who lived out on a 400-acre ranch with a menagerie of animals. She had ridden horses in Madison Square Garden, turned down an engagement with Henry Ford III, and had run off with a cowboy in her twenties. Patty apparently had dozens of horses, cows, llamas, and whatever else you could think of. I finally met her when I was nine or ten, and spent several summers in Casper on her ranch.

Having grown up in a small city, spending summers in Wyoming was a big change; there was less technology (and this was before the advent of everything 'i' related now), more book reading, and the majority of my days were spent galloping through the meadows or quietly stargazing. Every time I visit Patty, in the evenings I always find myself wobbling around outside because my eyes are tilted directly toward that big star-blasted sky.

I've written of Patty in a few of my projects over the years, but this January I finally got the opportunity to go up to Casper to film something. I wrote an experimental project, about twenty fives page long, about a young woman called LOLA (Sascha Nastasi) who is forced to relocate from a big city to Casper with her anxiety riddled, Jean-Paul obsessed existentialist divorcée mother HOLLY (Betsy Brandt). Soon Lola meets her grandmother IVY (Cloris Leachman), a ranch woman who has long been estranged from Holly.

Lola instantly adores her idiosyncratic grandmother, and quickly falls in both love and lust with Ivy's ranch hand and surrogate son CODY (Connor Weil). Unfortunately, Ivy dies the very next morning, and Lola is committed to the "nothingness". "At least I have him," she quotes, gazing longingly at Cody who is warming a newborn lamb in his jacket. Lola later plots to rid Cody of his simpleton girlfriend ALLY (Sloane Avery), for his good as well as her own.

This project was a joy to do for a number of reasons. It isn't often we get the opportunity to do something for the sheer sake of creativity, and while still on a tight budget, be able to get on a plane and actually go to a place like Casper (versus "ah, we can kind of double it somewhere in Los Angeles... but no, we really can't"). There were a number of fascinating and challenging technical problems to solve on this, too. Cloris and Betsy had to shoot in Los Angeles. The film was set in Wyoming (in the winter, nonetheless!). So we found a house in Santa Clarita that sat on a ranch, and shot all of our interiors in that house, as well as all the coverage facing the porch directly, so Ivy could walk out and greet her guests. We then shot the reverses and the rest of the coverage in Casper.

Now, Santa Clarita was 80 degrees and sunny -- Casper was below ten with wind chill, and was in the process of having significant snowstorms. We brought in a snowteam (well, a 'snow guy' -- pulled a lot of favors on that one, and we could only afford to cover part of the front lawn!), got creative with our coverage, and extremely specific with our shot list. In Wyoming, we were fortunate to have an incredible amount of support by a few people my Aunt Patty introduced us to, especially our guide Jade and the brothers at Murphy Ranch, where we shot all of our ranch exteriors and animals. I very nearly took home a little newborn lamb myself.

Wyoming in the winter was striking. We were fortunate to encounter only a few storms (a few scary mornings driving in a caravan out to places like Independence Rock with limited visibility), but magically when we needed to roll camera... it was as if the weather sighed, and stilled for us. We had spectacular morning sunrises and stunning molten sunsets -- the landscape was frigid but magical. Our cast and crew were the ultimate troopers, getting through these scenes on the top of mountains while controlling their chattering teeth, we dragged the Alexa (carefully) up a rock face. We had a drone for our Wyoming days which proved very much worth the cost and one of us sitting with it fully assembled in the front seat at all times.

Sixteen-year-old newcomer Sascha Nastasi played the lead of Lola, and did an unbelievable job, standing with giants like Cloris and Betsy. It was quite an emotional experience, for me, to work with a legend like Cloris Leachman who is now ninety two years old and still acting. Sascha, Betsy, Connor and Sloane had such wonderful chemistry -- and Hugo Martin, an actor I've worked with for some time, lent his humor as the voice of "Paul Jean's Soothing Sartre".

I worked with cinematographer Kai Krause to set the look, tone, and intentionality of movement for the film, and we ended up deciding on the Alexa Mini paired with Cooke Anamorphic lenses (we really wanted that anamorphic look, given our sprawling landscapes). They were light enough to move around quickly, especially in Casper, and lent just the right amount of tempered sharpness while retaining texture. Colorist Paul Byrne positively painted this film in the grade, bringing out our cold blues of dusk, the purples of sunrise, and honing in on our interiors and use of practical lighting with the shaping of shadows. Michael Clausen did the production design inside the Santa Clarita house, and my husband Edward Winters and brother Richard Avis produced the film (Richard literally drove our camera package to and from Los Angeles to Casper).

The last and most interesting part of this journey was editing it. I have been editing for about ten years now; I cut almost all of the commercial work I direct, I've edited portions of my features and other people's films; but I have never attempted to tackle my own narrative film project solo. BEING AND NOTHINGESS ended up being 30 minutes long, and it was very much a matter of cutting a very short movie. On top of that, I was cutting between Los Angeles and Casper, we had a number of other challenges, and I was pretty sure this experience was going to point to either loving to edit narrative work, or being sure I didn't want to embark on doing so in the future!

I loved it. I loved every minute of it. Finding every moment, scrubbing through that footage, knowing exactly what we got on set, each beat, each breath. I couldn't be more grateful to having had to learn how to edit ten years ago for time / budget / margins / creativity and overall being curious to learn. I don't know how I would direct today without the ability to stitch scenes and coverage together in my head on the day while filming.

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS was a joy, and upon screening it for the first time for my ineffable Aunt Patty, she enjoyed it. "I see a lot of me in there," she said, laughing. This one is for you, Patty.

 


 

CHEVROLET | GOALKEEPERS
January 2019

Getting to board a project like Chevrolet Goalkeepers this year was incredibly special, especially given that the message contained in the campaign was poignant to me personally. This fourteen part project, which I directed as well as edited and was produced under our Winterstone Pictures banner, encourages girls between the ages of 10 and 14 to stay in sports. The various films feature inspiring Olympic greats such as Mia Hamm, Laurie Hernandez, and Hilary Knight. Chevy's message encourages girls to keep playing, because involvement in athletics promotes leadership skills, individualism, team building, and confidence.

When we were casting, it was critically important to me to cast girls who were real, competitive athletes. I wanted that genuine energy to shine through them; in the dialogue, in the passion for their sport, and in the representation of their skills on camera. The young women who came in just blew me away -- there truly is a different energy with athletes, and the very collected nature of these young girls, the confidence they exuded, and the joy they expressed when talking about why they got involved in sports and what drives them to continue really impacted me.

Similarly, the stories of overcoming obstacles and barriers shared by our Olympians and Women's Sports Foundation ambassadors in Laurie, Hilary, and Mia were awe-inspiring and prompted emotional responses from myself and our agency team behind the monitor. It was a wonderful challenge to also edit this expansive campaign, which will roll out through 2019. Some wonderful people got involved on the post side as well, including Ben Wilkins (Oscar winning sound mixer, Whiplash), composer Peter Gregson (next up with Blackbird starring Kate Winslet) and Technicolor's Maxine Gervais (Book of Eli, Black Panther, The Mule). Our DP was the wonderful Kai Krause and producers were my husband and partner Edward Winters and brother Richard Avis.

We shot eleven sports in four cities over seven days, for a whopping total of 119 deliverables (yes, I counted!). Check out some stills and the link to the Launch film below.



 

BLACK BEAUTY
June 2018

I couldn't be more honored to announce that I have been brought aboard to write and direct the modern day reprisal of Anna Sewell's classic novel, BLACK BEAUTY for Constantin Film and Bolt Pictures.

Deadline.com
https://deadline.com/2018/05/black-beauty-movie-ashley-avis-writer-director-1202396601/

This project is a merger of two great passions; growing up, most of my life revolved around horses. I always thought I would become a novelist, and ride in the the Olympics one day. Alas, for a number of reasons, that wasn't the path I was meant to follow and at eighteen, I moved from Florida to go to school in New York City. It was there, hidden behind my economics book, I began to write screenplays.

Anna Sewell's BLACK BEAUTY is one of my favorite stories from childhood, and the message contained within it as pertaining to our reprisal is very timely. In the 1800s, Anna Sewell wrote the book to try to bring to light the abuses horses of her contemporary were facing. Back then, those things were cruel "fashions" like bearing reins that horses had to wear while pulling carriages, which constricted their ability to breath properly. After the original novel debuted, those cruelties rapidly decreased. Many people don't know that the book was never supposed to be a popular novel: Anna wrote it as a text to pass out to horse people in England, with the hope that they would read it (from the unique first person perspective of a horse in Black Beauty) and thus would understand their own horses better.

Now, in our reprisal, we are mirroring Anna's original intentions and message while bringing the events and characters of the book into a modern light. The story, as described in Deadline as I can't reveal too much, follows a teenage girl named Jo Green (you'll remember the original groom Joe Green from the novel); who has recently lost her parents in a car accident. She is forced to move to Birtwick Stables to live with her uncle. Jo bonds with the wild Black Beauty, who was similarly was taken away from her family when her herd was rounded up out west.

Changing Beauty into a wild horse brings an important message for horses of today to the screen, harboring the same intentions Anna Sewell originally had and illuminating a significant problem they are facing right now. Not many people know, and I certainly didn't until I started doing my research, that mustangs our west in states like Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and Montana are being rounded up by the thousands by helicopter, forced into compacted holding pens, where many remain for years. Family herds are bonds are broken up, babies are taken from their mothers, and certain states are trying to pass laws to remove the wild horses completely - in different terrible ways.

I sincerely hope with our emotional, cinematic ally striking reprisal we will honor what Anna Sewell wished to do, through a beautiful story about friendship, trust, love, the incredible complex bond between horse and human - and also helping the horses who need voices today.

While doing my script research, I went out to visit Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue in both Lancaster and Caliente, California - and got to sit with founder Jill Starr amongst the wild herds. The moment I touched the nose of one of those wild horses (the little chestnut mare pictured below), I realized even more deeply the importance of this film and the special message it can contain.

Cannot wait to share further updates with you.




 

"ADOLESCENCE" ACQUIRED BY NORTH OF TWO
April 2018

Our independent, coming of age story ADOLESCENCE has been acquired for worldwide distribution via North of Two. Very excited to embark on this partnership with such a filmmaker friendly company. The movie will come out in the fall, and stars India Eisley, Tommy Flanagan, Elisabeth Rohm and Jere Burns. Feel free to follow the film here.

Variety
https://variety.com/2018/film/news/india-eisley-coming-of-age-adolescence-getting-distribution-1202869190/

In the meantime, check out some of our beautiful production stills by Marcelo Araujo.




 

"BESPOKE" TAKES HOME MERCEDES-BENZ AWARD IN CAPE TOWN!
April 2016

Our third journey down to one of my favorite cities in the world, Cape Town, was especially rewarding this year. Ed and I attended the Mercedes-Benz sponsored Bokeh South African Film Festival with a project I directed called "BESPOKE". The spot was a branded beauty piece, a fusion between an automotive spot and a fashion film.



We shot the project over two nights in Los Angeles, with the outstanding Natalia Barulich and Miklos Banyai as our leads. I worked with a DP that I've wanted to collaborate on something on since we shot a charity project years ago for the Tanner Foundation, a wonderful cinematographer named Daniel Cotroneo. We shot on the Alexa Mini with Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses primarily at 48fps, and much of the spot features the striking steadicam work of Wael Shuka.

The idea for Bespoke, like much of my work, started with a love story. The goal was to feel rooted in the contemporary, the modern - but distinctly reminiscent of an older time. Elegance, old Hollywood. A starlet who has everything but love, and finds it on a chance meeting with a gentleman who whisks her away from a movie premiere (in his Mercedes-Benz, of course), ending in a rooftop kiss.



Esther J. Han was our costume designer, bringing the couture fashion elements of the spot to life by sourcing a striking - impossibly flowing red chiffon gown - it seemed to billow with every movement, which is exactly what we wanted in shooting this high speed. Makeup artist Tracey Rosen and hairstylist Henry Sanchez created a flawless, classic look on Natalia, and we had placement and support by Los Angeles based tailors, SHAYQ Bespoke Suits. Production designer Jefred Marceo constructed a beautiful, French-modern inspired loft set, infusing it with a classical but modern feel that we were searching for in the piece, and an old Hollywood reminiscent red-carpet affair where our hero first glimpses our heroine. Edward Winters and Richard Avis produced the spot with me.



We shot Bespoke within days of the deadline for consideration of the Mercedes award, which meant editing it while we were en route to Cape Town. I edited the project on Adobe Premiere between Stockholm and London, and our colonist Paul Byrne (who works on almost all of our work), graded from Los Angeles.



When Selven Govender, the Head of Marketing of Mercedes-Benz SA announced that our spot had won the 2016 Mercedes-Benz award - the very last award on the closing night of the Bokeh ceremony, there was certainly some champagne toasting to be had!

A big thank you to Mercedes-Benz and Adrian Lazarus of Bokeh for putting on such an elegant event again this year.

Now, check out the spot!

 

ADOLESCENCE (feature film): A few teasers, director's notes
July 2016

We're currently in post on ADOLESCENCE, a coming of age feature I directed this past March. I was fortunate to work with many of the same people from DESERTED - including my husband and producing partner Edward Winters, my aspiring producer brother Richard Avis, Director of Photography Garrett O'Brien, and editor Douglas Crise (the brilliant mind behind movies like Birdman, Babel, and Spring Breakers).

I wanted to post a few teasers ... a few of these are screengrabs from the editing room, and a few are behind the scenes set photos by Marcelo Araujo.

We were very specific on the outset about the texture and feel of this film. I worked with Garrett (and our production designer Michael Clausen) for months discussing our color palette and tone. The movie undergoes a "color roller-coaster" of sorts ... I wanted to define certain colors for certain characters (you'll notice in the film, there is rarely any blue seen unless Alice is in frame - to me, her colors were of the ocean, blues, her bedroom is painted a color called "Hemlock", a green blue).

Now, we haven't done anything but grade the proxies yet as we're not into color (Paul Byrne will be grading the movie), but the film starts with nostalgic tones of the main character, Adam's, flashback. They are brighter, more hopeful. Flashing forward ten years, we reveal Adam's (Mickey River) home life. We focused on muted colors, a feeling of being "stuck" (paralleling how he feels about his life). Then, as he and his best friend Keith (Romeo Miller) visit Venice beach and meet Alice (India Eilsey), we see an explosion of color. Richness, excitement. We introduce those blues, those Alice colors.

We also executed these feelings in movement. In Adam's world of Torrence, at home, we primary stayed on sticks for most of the movie - again, in keeping with a feeling of stillness and stuckness. With Alice, however, we have sweeping steadicam or jib moves, we have handheld, dolly push ins.

As the relationship begins to disintegrate we see the colors of our world start to change, to sicker colors (introducing greens and yellows). Our team - and again, I have to specifically note our DP Garrett and Production Designer Michael in this - was extremely collaborative in executing those tones and the vision of that progression.

Lastly, the goal was to have the film have a texture to it. I didn't want to see a lot of technology (i.e. cell phones) in the film, I wanted to use older cars (Jennette's car is an old, faded yellow Mercedes station wagon, Alice's car is a blue, slightly beat up old Mustang convertible). I almost gave my producer (luckily husband) a heart attack when I toyed with the idea of wanting to make ADOLESCENCE a period piece set in the 80s, but that was fleeting and it is very much set in the contemporary. However, we feel a nostalgia, we feel the texture of a different time. Well, hopefully the audience will!

We shot Panavision, ALEXA for C-Series Anamorphic lenses that were soft, filmic, and textural.

Look for the film in 2017!

 

DESERTED (feature film): Behind the Scenes
Updates, 2016

A few beautiful behind the scenes photos by set photographer Marcelo Araujo. DESERTED is set to be released in September of 2016 by Invincible Pictures. We'll have a limited theatrical release (stay tuned for updates), as well as be on VOD / On Demand.

A few notes on the movie: we shot DESERTED primarily in Ridgecrest, California. The original inspiration of the film came when a cinematographer I was working with at the time on a commercial campaign, showed me photos of Death Valley. The sweeping vistas, the sand dunes, the salt flats. The mysterious sailing stones of Racetrack Playa. The topography was so varied, it was a fascinating place to set a film. From there, the characters crawled out of the woodwork. The relationship of Jae (Mischa Barton) and Robin (Jackson Davis) was inspired by my relationship with my younger brother. What you would do for others - for friends, for family - if you were in a situation like this. Like so many have been before, getting lost in Death Valley.

Ridgecrest provided very similar shooting locations to Death Valley (which was difficult and costly to permit). I worked with DP Garrett O'Brien to bring the film to life, costume designer Kate Fry, Production Designer Michelle Patterson, and my producing partner Edward Winters.

You know you have a loyal crew when they are willing to race to the top of a mountain with you to capture a molten sunset, or drive straight through a real sandstorm careening over a mountain.



 

MERCEDES-BENZ: A Beautiful Life
Produced Spring 2015

Last year, we did another spot for the Mercedes-Benz Bokeh South African Fashion Film Festival. Like BESPOKE (above) this was a fusion between automotive and branded beauty.

Shooting in the poppy fields of Lancaster, the story follows a photographer who happens across a striking woman in white, the unfolding of a love story, and returning to the place where it all happened.

I worked with Director of Photography Corey C. Waters on bringing this spot to life. Corey also colored the spot, and I edited it ... the fact that our leads, Kelly Brannigan and Jackson Davis were a real couple made for the most wonderful, but difficult editing process. I still get teary eyed watching this spot (which you'll find after the photos by Marcelo Araujo, below).



One of my favorite spots to date. Please enjoy!