|Ashley Norwood at left, Heidi Sullivan at right:|
She looks a little like Jennifer Aniston, doesn't she?
JAN BROGAN: There are many ways to tell a story, and although I have enjoyed and admired a number of documentaries, I had never once considered making one. The scale of the project seemed enormous. That didn't bother Heidi Sullivan, a former NYC lawyer, travel writer, and multi-award winning screenwriter now living in Boston.
Never having worked a video camera before, she took a course, ordered the equipment and just started shooting her very first documentary, AshBash: a Love Story. It won special recognition at the Boston International Film Festival earlier this spring and is now seeking distribution.
I happened to be at the film festival and was completely blown away by the movie, which is about Ashley Norwood, a forty-something woman, who has suffered years of trying to find the "right man" so she can settle down and have a family. It chronicles less of the suffering, and more of Norwood's soul searching that leads her to celebrate her singleness and plan her own 200-person reception at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
If that sounds political, or somehow feminist, it isn't. The film manages to be completely apolitical, and is, instead, wise, poignant, uplifting and laugh-out-loud funny. Instead of lamenting or exalting the single life, it simply celebrates life and all its many paths. If I had my own copy (yes, I'm angling) I'd keep it in my DVD player to play every time I was in a bad mood.
So, please welcome Heidi to Jungle Red, as I ask: How on earth did you decide to dive into making a documentary?
HEIDI SULLIVAN: When I first met Ashley, she was already in the throes of planning the actual AshBash. I was writing screenplays at the time and thought Ashley’s concept would make for a hilarious screenplay. The hitch: no else could pull off playing Ashley. So we decided on a documentary.
JAN: The actual AshBash celebration took place in June 2009. But you said you didn't start working on the documentary until the following fall. Didn't that present problems?
HEIDI: A documentary is supposed to document the story as it happens, but thank God, Ashley had film footage of the party. Generally with filmmaking, you’re also supposed to avoid internal struggles and invisible opponents, and this story deals a lot with societal pressure. We had to figure out a way to show it.
JAN: So you broke all the rules?
HEIDI: One of my film instructors liked to quote the architect Louis Kahn: "honor the brick." In other words, honor your limitations – work with the material you do have. Because the party had already taken place, it made us go to a deeper place.
JAN: I can attest to that. There is a moment in the film, during Ashley's epiphany, the night alone in her apartment, that I felt chills. It made me think not just about how Ashley had arranged her own life, but how we all unconsciously arrange our own lives. That was my favorite part of the film, what was yours?
HEIDI: For me, it was the AshBash party itself, perhaps because I was actually there. When Ashley comes out to do her hip-hop dance and she makes that entrance - I’ve never experienced anything like it – the energy in that room was so unbelievably positive. I also love Ashley’s toast to herself. Given the editing process, I’ve now seen it hundreds of times – and it still makes me laugh.
JAN: Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
HEIDI: At the beginning I thought the film was going to be about singlehood, I even contacted Gloria Steinem's office. But as we shot, it was like writing where one character emerges and takes over the story. The through-line became Ashley. The thing is neither of us wanted to make a political movie. We weren't trying to say anything about being married or single or advocating for any particular lifestyle. We were just trying to tell an inspiring story – to encourage other people to follow their own path, whatever it might be.
JAN: I understand you shot forty-three hours of footage for 55 minutes of finished film, is that typical? And how practical or expensive is it to make a documentary for novices in this new, digital world?
HEIDI: Many documentarians shoot even more footage than that. And as to the costs of making a film - the video equipment is still expensive, but becoming less so, and you can rent it. You can also get a home-based editing program. If you don't use royalty-free music, the most expensive part can be the music licensing. (There are tiered rights – ranging from one year on the festival circuit to broadcasting via any medium in perpetuity.) We wound up dropping some songs from the movie.
JAN: Below you can click to check out the trailer. If you like it on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/AshBashMovie you'll help them get distribution of the film - which take it from me - is a net gain for the world. In the meantime, Heidi will be stopping by to answer any questions you have about screenwriting or making a movie.
- Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/31964215
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