BLACK BEAUTY
June 2018

I couldn't be more honored to annouce 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 sincerley hope with our emotional, cinematically 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.

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 remeniscent 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!