Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ashbash, the love story. Story-telling via documentary.

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 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 embed code:  


  1. Welcome! I loved, I've Liked...when can we see the entire movie it looks wonderful!! I can see going to this film with a pack of my girlfriends. (Can also see a very cool tv series...)
    Dare I ask what's next for you and Ash?

    BTW - Blogger is messing with us idea what that box is at the bottom...

  2. I'm dying to see this after watching the trailer--what a great story for both of you!

  3. I think that weird box on the bottom took Elaine's place. No matter what I did, no matter how many times I deleted and readied the video box, the extra box wouldn't disappear.



  4. Welcome, Heidi! I loved the trailer and liked the movie on Facebook! I'd love to see the whole movie with friends.

    Jan, that box is one of the abusive things Blogger does now and then with video, audio, and photo links. I don't think there's anything you can do to get rid of it once it shows. I've tried. Great post, nonetheless!

    Elaine might still be there--behind the box. We wouldn't know. We'll have to see if she shows up again tomorrow.

  5. Thanks Linda,
    I feel better now!

    And thanks to all of you who "liked" the movie. I have never seen anything like it. It's a "feel good" movie - except that it makes you feel good about your own life as well as Ashley's life

    It's tremendously uplifting and I wish I could send it to every single, newly divorced, widowed person out there.


  6. This was such a good film!! Can't wait til it's on video so I can show to my friends:)

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  8. Oh,gee! Here I am trying to view it at lunch on my Kindle and cannot get it here. (Kindle even uttered a mild expletive!) No choice but to wait until I can get to the library and view it there. Sounds really heartwarming, and I am definitely in the mood for heartwarming. I am all for celebrating life!

    Speaking of celebrating life, I tried to wish you a Happy Birthday yesterday, Deb Crombie. Unfortunately, I am having Facebook/Kindle issues right now and can only send FB messages from a REAL computer at the moment. (I wonder if FB and Kindle and Blogger are all in cahoots with each other to make me crazy?)

    Now I will ask Blogger for an alternate captcha because the area where there are supposed to be numbers just contains a bunch of symbols.
    I miss Elaine today. I,too, suspect she's hiding behind that box.

  9. Hi Everyone! This is Ashley (the Ash in AshBash) and I can't thank you all enough for your "likes" and encouragement! We will keep you all posted on future screenings!

  10. Thanks Deb for reminding me about the other Deb's birthday!

    My first Kindle broke down pretty quickly. I got my husband the super-duper one and he has problems as well.


  11. I loved the trailer, and the spirit that Ashley showed. Good on you, hope it goes further!

  12. I'm a 40-something singleton (never been married), and I LOVE the idea of a throwing a party for myself. Kudos to Ashley for doing it, and Heidi for telling the story!

  13. Hello, all!

    Thanks so much for all your comments and for your fabulous support on FB! I'm so excited to be here in your company!

    Hot-off-the-presses: we just found out that AshBash is an official selection of the 21st annual Woods Hole Film Festival, voted one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World by MovieMaker Magazine.

    Exact screening schedule to be released, but the festival itself will take place July 28 - August 4 at its beautiful Cape Cod venue:

  14. Congrats on Wood Hole, Heidi and Ashley! It's supposed to be a fabulous festival, at least according the Ph.D. in film & theater I married. ;-)

  15. P.S. I would have responded far sooner, but was mesmerized by that magical box - I was hoping you all had provided us with an outline for our next movie at the highest encryption levels...

  16. Congrats on the Woods Hole festival Heidi and Ashley.

    Lisa, one of the funniest things about the party Ashley threw was that she opened it as if it were a wedding reception with the toasts. And she gave herself a hilarious toast, saying, "I know, I know, this only as a 50-50 chance of working out." And someday she'd have to come back and face herself and say "I love you, I'm just not in-love with you."

    And there is a lot of wisdom about NOT making yourself crazy!


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  18. Deb Crombie and Ashley also have something in common - they're both Geminis!

    And Linda, what do you think... at our world premiere in Boston, Ashley and I arrived via pedicab:

    We were thinking of kayaks for Woods Hole?

  19. Kayaks sound perfect! I was so excited to see Ashley and Heidi show up here--it was like being at the Oscars with red carpet and movie stars...

  20. We actually have a lot of very funny outtakes of Ashley rowing off into the sunset with her boat-made-for-one...

  21. Hilarious, Heidi! I think you've got a golden idea with the kayaks!

  22. Of course, the last time Ashley and I tried this (during filming), we got waked by an enormous powerboat out celebrating July 4th - there was a moment there where we were pretty sure my camera equipment and I were going to capsize. Little known fact about Ashley: she doubles as both a stunt driver and a stunt rower. In fact, I might just go update her imdb credits right now...

  23. Jan, thanks for sharing this with us!

    Heidi, I am desperate for this film to come out, not because I am married - because I am over-married. Love. Love. Love. Yes. All of that. But the me in us is too much us, and I need to see me again. Clearer. Much clearer. More clearly me. We all need this AshBash attitude whatever our relationship condition.


  24. PS: Viewed; Liked; FB Posted; Tweeted.

  25. Thanks so much for these posts!

    We have gotten a really great response from married viewers - it is a filmmaker's dream to be able to connect with every "quadrant"!

    After 20 years in financial services, Ashley recently re-trained completely and is now a wellness coach (the inspiration for our next movie). A whole added boon for me while filming is that Ashley taught me so much about mindfulness...