In the Spotlight: Ash Willeby
I could be just a writer very easily. I am not a writer. I am a screenwriter, which is half a filmmaker. … But it is not an art form, because screenplays are not works of art. They are invitations to others to collaborate on a work of art. -Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver/Raging Bull)
This quote has always stuck with me. A screenplay is an invitation to collaborate. All too often we think of screenwriting as a solitary art. That it is just us, our genius, and a keyboard. But once you step back and realize just how many people end up influencing that screenplay to transform it into a film, that's when you truly understand what it is to be a screenwriter. That is something Ash has learned during her time as a screenwriter. She truly understands the value of teamwork which comes from working long hours on sets and doing whatever it takes to help make the dream of a film become a reality. Her dedication and hard work eventually lead her to be staffed in a writer's room. I am so excited to introduce you to her.
This is Ash Willeby...
I believe writing is so much better than talking. It’s easier. You can more efficiently convey what you actually mean. You can take more time to utilize language how you want. It’s just better.
I was writing (10-page, illustrated, for class) books in kindergarten. That began my love of the full circle style of storytelling. I also kept a journal from the time I could write, through High School (before we went digital).
I went to college/grad school for not-film-related fields, Psychology, and Criminal Justice. I spent time as an Extra on things like Prison Break. And, being a theatre kid, I ended up hanging out with the film students in college and was recruited to do the thing none of them wanted to do- Art Department. It was actually super fun and I enjoyed being on set, doing whatever.
During grad school, I stumbled into screenwriting, and have been studying it for eight years. I’ve placed in a few contests and got my first paid gig this past summer. I was in the writers’ room for the upcoming comedy series Tequila (Sparxs Studio; www.sparxsstudio.com).
I write female-driven comedies. I am super interested in portraying the female anti-hero, and other female characters who are allowed to be ridiculous, unsavory, inconsiderate, and unlikeable. Because I feel that is relatable. And that we can laugh about it.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
It was back in 2011, I was in my last semester for my Master’s in Forensic Psychology, and had been in the longest relationship of my life (7 months….hey, that was serious to me). So, when my partner asked me to give feedback on his script, I wanted to help!
I come from a live theatre background, which is totally different, so I took one screenwriting course (Chris Soth’s Mini-Movie Method) to understand screenwriting better, in order to give productive feedback.
Long story short, my feedback (which was dismissed because I was a newbie) was almost identical to the notes he got from a producer’s assistant. Validation!
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
I ended up really enjoying that class, as the format for screenplays lends itself to my terse writing style. It seemed to “fit” my natural instincts.
Plus, as with most of us, there’s a certain type of joy I find while watching a really good show or movie. I can watch some shows (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Santa Clarita Diet) over and over, and it still releases the feel-good hormones into my brain. If I can maybe provide that for someone else, I’m gonna try. And if I entertain myself while writing (which I usually do, because I’m hilarious), even better.
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Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
Obviously, firstly my mom. She’s always been a huge support and loves reading my stories. That’s really saying something, as she readily admits she will go out of her way to avoid reading in general.
Also, in High School, my Creative Writing teacher, Sandra Morris, was so positive and encouraging. After I took all of her Creative Writing classes, she went to admin and had them create a new class code, just for me, so I could take another creative writing class with her. She was amazing. Her encouragement made me feel like I could write in any style.
Now, my partner, James Rhodes, (the one who got me into screenwriting in the first place) is the first one to offer to brainstorm, give feedback, or listen to a pitch. I probably would have given up five times by now if it weren’t for his pep talks that got me to refocus.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
Directly after I took the first screenwriting class, I was feeling all empowered, and entered a screenwriting contest (Emerging Screenwriters). Now, this was definitely a first draft of a first script, but the reader liked it enough to qualify it for Quarterfinalist. I was hooked.
The more I write, the more I analyze as I watch TV/Films. The things I think of while watching, lead me to want to write more. This delightfully vicious cycle has me locked in.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I take the little successes as they come because that keeps me going. If I place in a contest- that’s a win. If someone is reading a scene I wrote, and laughs out loud- that’s a win. In the writer’s room, when I pitched an idea, and everyone, including the showrunner, says they love it- that’s a win.
Take one little win, and ride it to the next. If you have a consistent series of wins, you’re successful.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I am naturally more awake at night…. however, I am more productive earlier in the day. I have yet to figure out how to trick my brain into making these the same thing.
When do you get up?
My partner has early call times (he drives on shows that film here in Austin). I either get up to see him off and start my day…. or tell him “have a good day, don’t die” as I fall back to sleep.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
Back and forth between wasting time on social media and brainstorming for scripts. I sprinkle in a few more times of ushering the dogs out to potty...sometimes they just do it for the treats they get when they come in, but they’re so stinkin’ cute, I just decide to fall for it.
What do you do during the day?
Look over the “notes” I made while half-asleep the night before. I take some time to ponder them while checking out socials and catch up with friends and their goals/projects.
I’ll randomly figure out what the heck bedtime-Ash was talking about, and flesh it out real quick.
I cherish the quiet time, with relatively few interruptions, so I basically just do this cycle of writing, dog tending and snack breaks until my partner gets home from work.
What do you do at night?
Ahhh, nighttime. When I have more energy and less focus!