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Filmmaker Blog - Ashley Maria Website



The biggest career challenge…ever

Making Pioneers in Skirts™ has been the biggest career challenge I’ve ever faced –

But hey, that’s a statement a first-time feature filmmaker typically would make. Creating a feature documentary film takes an incredible amount of dedication, belief in the film, as well as a business mindset.

Most documentaries take years to make, are intended to be impactful, and are usually made with a zero-to-almost zero budget. Not one bit of this effort is easy.

I hit setbacks every day — 

The saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” applies to me on a regular basis, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. It’s become abundantly clear to me that no amount of schooling would have prepared me for making a feature film on my own.

On a daily basis I am faced with having to figure out how to professionally move a movie forward with an impactful “story” and, well…all while making my rent payments.

So I juggle my learning curve with my (very good) film-making skillsets, and with the need to work on paying gigs.

Robotics Girls

Filming for Pioneers in Skirts — a robotics team prepares for a competition.

My education has made all the difference —

As I venture down this path of making my first feature film I am very thankful to have received a top-notch education that taught me process, increased my understanding for the film industry, and helped me to gather a team of trusted colleagues. It taught me how to handle project setbacks, figure out how to fix them, and move on.

Pioneers in Skirts began when I noticed I was hitting another kind of setback…

A few years ago, I felt myself losing confidence in myself, and my ambition — it was soon after exiting the University of Southern California with my Masters in film. I knew I wanted to have a career in film; but, as I took the actions expected of me to grow in my career, I was surprised to be knocked down at every step.

Everywhere I went to promote myself or showcase my abilities, I was hit in the face with the realization that people were surprised that I was a Film Director. From the comments to the stares, I was surrounded by unwarranted assumptions that I had no idea what I was doing.

I even experienced a few occasions of walking on a set when people assumed I was dating a man who worked there – that I wasn’t part of the crew or the person in charge.

At first I found it cute when the studio guard thought I was an actress, but that soon got old.

And when I realized men of all ages were flirting with me…a lot, at work — and women and men were increasingly saying to me, “it’s tough being a female director in Hollywood, how about try being someone’s assistant and see if you can work your way up…” — I knew I was experiencing something I didn’t know how to handle.

It really got to me — I started to question myself and my abilities – were their assumptions right? Did I not know what I was doing? Was I dressed wrong, did I say the wrong thing, was I wearing too much make-up?

“Of course not” my inner pioneer would say, but if it happened every day, how could I ever get past it? I was hit in the gut on a daily basis and it took its toll.

Ashley as a kid

Okay — here’s a shot of me as a kid. With my extremely supportive Mom, and our dog (who supported me too).

My inner pioneer, that young girl who made films in her backyard in humid North Carolina, had great grades and was successful at just about everything. She had confidence and ambition.

I have always known I wanted a life of story-telling and entertaining.

I had to do something —

After 4 years of research and filming Pioneers in Skirts, I’ve come to learn that women face this kind of negativity every day, and even more so in male-dominated fields. Something inside is subtly chipped away until they reach their breaking point.

Soon after graduation I hit my breaking point. I had had enough and needed to find answers. How did I end up here? What can women do differently to have a better chance of getting where they want to go in their careers?

Early on I discovered it wasn’t me —

It was my environment.  The “toughest time in my career” has taught me about unconscious bias — a bias that most of us have no idea we are guilty of. And the lack of real mentors (and sponsors) — and the lack of support.

Women used to support each other in the past. They had a reason to support each other…it was called “The Women’s Movement.” Today, women (and men) don’t seem to know how important it is to provide better support for women. Pioneers in Skirts aims to change that.

I’ve grown as we’ve made Pioneers in Skirts —

I’m learning how to deal with the challenges of making a feature documentary, as well as the challenges of pursuing a life-long career in one of the toughest industries to work in.

And I’m excited for 2016 – this is our movie release year!

We are intensely editing, writing, shooting and editing some more. We want this film out in the world so it will impact other women like me – women who have always imagined what their careers would look like, and want to make their dreams a reality.

meeting Gloria Steinem at the White House

The day my producer and I met Gloria Steinem. We told her she was our hero…she returned with, “we are all each others hero.”



A Content Creator Looks at VR Goggles

Let’s begin at the beginning – what is Virtual Reality?

In my world, ‘Virtual Reality’ is considered immersive story: narrative, gaming, interactive, live-action, or animation – that involves the audience, and takes them a major step closer to the story than they ever could when watching on a screen or television.

The creator of virtual reality (VR) content WANTS the audience to be immersed, and – like me, will try all sorts of VR technology in order to achieve the goal.

You most likely have the technology you need to watch VR.

I’ve worked with VR content the audience views on their smartphone or laptop; looking around a 360 immersive world. The ‘immersive’ part comes just by being able to see everything! I made a 360 video last September on the beach in Los Angeles for my documentary film Pioneers in Skirts.

VR Kickstarter update video

On a laptop: Place your cursor on the video and move your cursor up/down and left/right to look around. On a smartphone: Well, that’s even better! All you need to do is move your phone around. But watch out, you might run into someone!!

Interested in trying out the possibilities of VR?

But you don’t want to dish out thousands for the whole gaming system?? I invest in a VR goggle.

As I venture more into the world of VR content creation, I have come to realize I need to create content the everyday viewer can (and will want to) see. I started out by researching what’s out there for consumers, and what’s coming down the pipeline. After purchasing my ticket to attend the January 2016 CES — the biggest consumer technology show in the world, I purchased VR goggles to get a first-hand user experience.

There are several pretty good options that cost $100 or less. I bought MergeVR Goggles (retail $99) — goggles that work with pretty much any smartphone. I’ve read they are super easy to use: simply slide the phone into a slot at the top of goggles.

I opened the box and learned…

The MergeVR Goggles are made up of a plastic foam that fit nicely around your head (and your glasses if you need them like I do). I like the MergeVR because I don’t fear they’ll break or get scratched thanks to the foam and disinfectant wipes are easy to use when passing the goggles from person to person).

I discovered that I needed a newer smartphone to play the more advanced applications (and I do…I have a HTC One A9 that worked out great).


I started off by playing with a basic app (I chose a haunted house VR app because that’s the kind of person that I am), pressed all the necessary ‘let’s get started’ buttons in the app, and then put the phone in the Goggles. Be sure you have gotten through all of the prompts in your VR game before you slide in the phone. It’s a real bummer when you select the app, put the phone in your goggles and then realize you have to take it back out to click okay. Ugh! The lameness!


My cat is clearly not sure about VR glasses.

I have tried VR applications in the past, specifically at the AFI VR Fest back in November 2015. One thing they did that I liked – they had me sit in a chair on wheels that can spin around. This allowed me to turn all around without having to move my head too much. It also helped with motion sickness, which I am unfortunately prone to experiencing.

Animated games and interactive environments are king right now in the smartphone category.

This particular haunted house app started out with scary music which got me excited for the experience – but I was home for the holidays…and my Mom tossed something to me that landed near me, and I screamed at the sound. Thanks Mom. I clearly was immersed!

Once I figured out how to move around the haunted house (press in the little knobs on top of the MergeVR Goggles), then I was really exploring. I was opening doors. I’d look in a direction and then move forward. This game didn’t have the ability to move backwards yet, which was apparent when I saw a huge spider on the wall and couldn’t help but walk right into it. I was so freaked out, I threw the goggles off my head and turned off the app. I wasn’t about to deal with that ‘reality’! Again, good thing those goggles were foam…

The motion sickness was very real.

Sometimes it was hard to keep my eyes focused on what was moving around me; and, as I tried to keep focus, I was also moving around the room. Keep in mind, I was still sitting on my couch. All of this made me feel a little woozy – not while I was actually in the game, but when I took the goggles off. I had to take a minute on the couch. Regain my composure. Walk around a bit. Then I was good.

There you have it. My first attempt in the at-home VR goggle space. Again, it’s worth investing in a $100 goggle to better immersive yourself and understand what all the hype is about.

What’s next?

I will be making a series of narrative live-action VR shorts in the coming months. I plan to create content that people can easily enjoy, learn from, and access. It’s a new way of viewing, so I think it’s important to gradually ease people into the possibilities of VR and how it can improve a story experience. And I think people need to appreciate it’s not all about the gaming!

But, hey — yeah, the gaming is quite fun :).

Okay – go VR! And tell me about it!

I’ll keep telling you. Follow along as I post what I learn and see at CES — here, and on Twitter @AshleyMaria.



2015 was a blast!

It’s not an easy task, but we have to do it! When you make a social impact film it’s important to keep your audience updated, encourage them to get involved, and find ways to reach them in a compelling way. And — in the end, it turns out to be a true labor of love.

Late in 2014 we started a once a month (or so) email update. We start by reviewing our accomplishments and listing what’s up ahead. We brag, we ask, we challenge, and we share behind-the-scenes videos!

We share it with everyone —
First via email join our mailing list, then on Facebook and Twitter, and now here! I thought you’d enjoy perusing the progress we’ve made! From amazing filming to a successful Kickstarter to, well, now — it’s been a blast. I think you’ll agree!

Email Campaign Archive from Pioneers in Skirts