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 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."

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