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I had the pleasure of speaking with filmmaker Ashley Shelton a month ago about her short film “Magnolia & Clementine” (2019). During our conversation, I learned Ashley and I are cut from the same movie loving cloth. We both go through our lives with movie vision, meaning movies are on our brain most of the time, and what we see and experience in life we connect to cinema. Ashley took her passion and love for movies in to an acting career, which led in to directing her short film.
GROWING UP WITH MOVIES
REBECCA MARTIN: What drew you to making films and acting?
ASHLEY SHELTON: From as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be an actor and be in movies. I was a real weird kid growing up. I was an introvert. I’ve always been like a lone wolf. Movies were like my best friends.
From as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be an actor and be in movies. I was a real weird kid growing up. I was an introvert. I’ve always been like a lone wolf. Movies were like my best friends.
MARTIN: That’s totally me. I am the same way.
SHELTON: Movies were how I experienced life growing up. That’s how I traveled. I felt like I was best friends with Julia Roberts. That’s just what I did, I watched movies constantly and related to them in a weird way. And movies were always on in my house, always on in my grandmother’s house. And my grandmother loved the movie, which is so weird for her because she’s like a preacher’s wife, so it’s really awkward, but she loved “Dirty Dancing” and she loved “Misery” with Kathy Bates.
MARTIN: Are you serious? That is awesome!
SHELTON: From an early age I was introduced to these strong female characters, especially in “Misery” with Kathy Bates. And “Nell” with Jodi Foster, was another staple.
MARTIN: Those are great films.
SHELTON: Yeah, both of them are brilliant films. That’s what I grew up watching and I was like yes, that is what I want to do. And of course, I loved “The Outsiders.” When I was growing up I’d watch a lot of movies with male leads, but I always wanted to be the male in the movie. I never wanted to be the female character, because the male had all the power and the cooler part.
When I was growing up I’d watch a lot of movies with male leads, but I always wanted to be the male in the movie. I never wanted to be the female character, because the male had all the power and the cooler part.
SHELTON: I watched “The Outsiders” and I wanted to be Ponyboy. I didn’t want to be the female characters because they were just portrayed as young and stupid. The same thing for when “Mission Impossible” came out, I wanted to be Tom Cruise. But I was drawn to strong female characters, especially with “Misery.”
SHELTON: All I had for a lot of my life was just movies. And it’s my connection point. I started wanting to make movies, because I knew how they made me feel, and I wanted to be that for someone else.
MARTIN: Yes, I love that.
SHELTON: Whether you watch a movie either to escape or relate, that’s what I wanted to be.
NEW YORK AND BROADWAY
MARTIN: Walk me through what’s next, did you go to college in New York, or did you go there afterwards?
SHELTON: No, I went to college at The University of Tennessee. I graduated from college and then moved to New York. I have a degree in theatre, so I started out doing theatre. One thing was that when I was at college they didn’t have a film department, I had to major in theatre, it was the next best thing.
MARTIN: You went to New York, then started acting?
SHELTON: Yes, of course when you move to New York you can’t make any money doing acting. I did some side jobs. I actually worked at a theatre. I did a couple off off Broadway things. Because I always wanted to do movies, I just didn’t know how to navigate that, and it seemed unrealistic to tell anyone. Also, everyone that is on Broadway is a movie star. You’re a movie star and they ask you to star in a Broadway play.
MARTIN: They’re all big time in New York, it’s different here in Chicago for sure.
SHELTON: I was like that’s the game, I need to be a movie star. Then I could come back and do Broadway. But I’m happy I had my foundation in theatre, because I was exposed to Chekhov and Ibsen, and all of these great people. It really taught me how to tell stories the right way.
MARTIN: When was the cross over from theatre to film? What broke you in?
SHELTON: It’s kind of a crazy god thing, a weird story, I was going back and forth a lot from New York to Tennessee. And there was this guy named Paul Harrill and he was casting for a movie. They Facebook messaged me, and asked me if I wanted to come audition. I was like, sure. I went and auditioned, and that was for the movie “Something, Anything” (2014). It did great on the indie film scene. And that was kind of how it happened. It kind of just fell in to my lap.
MARTIN: What was your role in the film and what was the film about?
SHELTON: It’s about a woman, really a slice of life film, and it’s about a woman who goes through a midlife crisis, and it uproots her whole life. It’s quietly spiritual because there’s symbolism about her maybe wanting to become a monk in a monastery. It was my first time ever trying it, doing it. I really had no idea about what I was doing. My only film school was just watching movies.
I really had no idea about what I was doing. My only film school was just watching movies.
WRITING AND “MAGNOLIA & CLEMENTINE”
MARTIN: What happened next?
SHELTON: The film did well. It went to the IFP in New York. It screened in New York, and then it was at a couple festivals. Sundance kind of distributed it, in a way. Then slowly, I started to do more indie films, did some TV, and then I went through kind of a really hard time, mentally, and just emotionally, and then one day I was like, you should start writing. I always enjoyed writing when I was younger. I was one of those kids at school that enjoyed writing essays, as long as it was about what I liked. And so I just started writing, and I wrote a script. “Magnolia & Clementine” was actually the first script I ever wrote, and that was like four years ago. I just wrote about what I was feeling about at that time. It was really bad, and I felt like I wasn’t ever going to make it, be anybody or do anything.
MARTIN: You say it was inspired by real life, I thought it was so creative. I’m interested I how you did it, because you played both Magnolia and Clementine. Can you share more about the process in putting the film together?
SHELTON: When I wrote it I had gone through some betrayals in my own life, and I guess it translated in to this way, putting it down on paper, and my feelings of my creative unfulfillment. The scary world of trying to be an actor. It was birthed out of a broken heart, really. So I wrote that script, four years ago. It was a completely different script. It dealt with more mental health issues. I had the writer dealing with mental health, and that is why she was seeing those characters.
We had a friend that moved back from New York, and when he moved back we all just wanted to make something together. So I was like, I have this script that maybe we should try doing. Then I wrote more of a concise version of the script about finding yourself and all of these things, then we filmed it. It started as one thing, and then it kind of became something else. I mean you go through all of this stuff and then time goes by and it turns into something else. It feels more true to who I am now, and what I am going through in my life. I tell people I think it’s about a woman finding her power. She’s been standing in her own way, I mean yeah he stole her story, and it’s bullshit and wrong, but she’s just been standing in her way for so long. Like she’s been too scared of success. She has to get out of her own way. Sometimes as creators we do that and we can really sabotage ourselves.
I tell people I think it’s about a woman finding her power. She’s been standing in her own way, I mean yeah he stole her story, and it’s bullshit and wrong, but she’s just been standing in her way for so long. Like she’s been too scared of success. She has to get out of her own way. Sometimes as creators we do that and we can really sabotage ourselves.
MARTIN: I love how your main character finds her power, and it’s empowering. Your film is realistic and real. Not like a superhero, your character is a real person who is finding their creativity inside. That’s your power, your inner power.
SHELTON: That’s a big thing to me, it’s representation, for women especially. I want women to see me or other characters I create, and see themselves in them. That goes as far as looks too. I know we are at this point now in the industry where I think women have spoken up and say that they want to see women like me on the screen. I think that also goes hand in hand on how you tell a story too. Like you were saying, it’s relatable, and real. It’s something she goes through and rises up from. Representation is really important to me in that aspect.
MARTIN: Do you feel like there’s changes with Me Too, or Times Up? Is there more words then action? What are your thoughts about the climate right now for women in film, with change, and representation?
SHELTON: I do think it’s changing, and I also, I always say this too, I don’t want to get a job because I’m a female, I want to get a job because I am talented. I am just as talented as my male counterparts. And I just want to have equal footing. I don’t want to be thought of as better, or put on a pedestal because I’m a female, or have a vagina. But I do think it’s changing. And I also think we’re in a time where women are finding their own voice, where we haven’t before. Like we have the courage to be bold and to have our voice, and to say what we think. Where as before, I don’t feel it was so much like that.
And I also think we’re in a time where women are finding their own voice, where we haven’t before. Like we have the courage to be bold and to have our voice, and to say what we think. Where as before, I don’t feel it was so much like that.
MARTIN: That’s right on, and that’s what I’m hearing, and that’s what I think as well. The conversation is there now. Whereas before people didn’t really talk much about this. Like it wasn’t at the front of peoples’ minds. Like yes, this is a problem. There seems to be some changes of representation now behind the camera, like making choices to have more of a female crew.
SHELTON: Yes, my crew, even when I was submitting my film to Amazon Prime Film Festival, they ask what was the gender percentage of your crew? Because it’s an all-inclusive film festival, and they want to give voices to those people who never had them. My crew was 50% down the middle. And that’s everyone who helped with the movie, as far as locations, DIT, poster design, anybody – split down the middle between women and men. To be honest I didn’t think about that while I was doing the film, I just ended up being that way. Which is kind of even cooler that it just happened to be split down the middle like that.
MARTIN: What’s coming up?
SHELTON: I would love to do more with the short if the opportunity presented itself, in that regard. But I also have a feature that I would really love to do, that I finished up this year, it’s a female empowerment movie, totally. I would love to do that in the coming year. Acting wise I have stuff coming up in the next year too. It’s so weird because now I know my whole life I’ve thought as a director. I’ve always thought in movies. Anything I do, or experiences I have, I always think about the movies. Like oh, this is like a movie scene. It’s always in my head, that’s how I think. I mean people who see color when they listen to music. I see movies constantly.
It’s so weird because now I know my whole life I’ve thought as a director. I’ve always thought in movies. Anything I do, or experiences I have, I always think about the movies. Like oh, this is like a movie scene. It’s always in my head, that’s how I think. I mean people who see color when they listen to music. I see movies constantly.
MARTIN: We have so much in common. I’m right there with you with movie vision.
MARTIN: Advice for young female filmmakers?
SHELTON: I would say just do it. That’s the best way to learn and that’s the best way to “practice,” is hands on, do it. And get on a set somewhere, whether it’s PAing, I think everyone should be a PA at some point. I think you just have to do it. You have to jump in. I’m that type of person, I jump in and think later. Also, don’t worry about what people think about you. Don’t worry about what people are going to think about your work. Because all of your work as an artist is like this embryo. I think Elizabeth Gilbert said that, it’s like this child and you want to keep it safe, but you have to send it out into the world and let it do what it’s going to do.
Don’t worry about what people are going to think about your work. Because all of your work as an artist is like this embryo. I think Elizabeth Gilbert said that, it’s like this child and you want to keep it safe, but you have to send it out into the world and let it do what it’s going to do.