Ashley Noel Long isn't waiting for opportunities to come served on a silver platter; she's decided to work for her dreams so they can work for her. Born in Newport Beach and raised in Austin, Texas, 20-year-old Ashley is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California, majoring in Acting from the School of Dramatic Arts and minoring in Entertainment from the School of Cinematic Arts. This multi-talented woman has recently added a huge accomplishment to her resume: the short film in which she plays the lead role, "CÉLINE," was accepted into the Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Festival. Below, Ashley talks to Annenberg Media about fun times while shooting "CÉLINE," how she can't wait to explore the South of France, and why anyone who says that women can't make movies is dead wrong.
Adrianne Ramsey: What do you love about USC?
Ashley Noel Long: I love the culture [at USC] because it has broadened my mind further than I imagined. I'm growing and constantly honing my craft in the intensive and intimate program of S.D.A. I've grown accustomed to so many different lifestyles because incredible, diverse, and cultured people surround me. I've met some of my closest friends in S.D.A. and S.C.A., as well as the sorority I'm in, Alpha Phi. Being in the heart of Los Angeles is a great opportunity for artists to study and propel their careers, as well as collaborate and create art.
AR: Have you been in any S.D.A. productions?
ANL: Last fall, I was the lead role in "Mockingbird," which was directed by Andy Chapman. I played Caitlyn, an eleven-year-old girl living under pretty serious conditions – a school shooting and the loss of her brother, all while dealing with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. It was a very transformative experience.
AR: What are your interests outside of acting?
ANL: Since a young age, I've been writing poetry and music. I started jigging around Texas and California, and created an album when I was sixteen with Grammy-nominated singers and producers. I also do film. Constantly creating and traveling are a huge part of my life.
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AR: Let's talk about "CÉLINE." What is it about?
ANL: The release date is in April so I can't spill too many details, but the basic premise is the life of a girl who is in a toxic, abusive relationship with a guy she's been with for three years. Mistakes are made on both halves, and he gets into a car accident and dies on their anniversary. The film also looks at the aftermath of what his death means to her, as well as dealing with his family, her future, and her identity. The message is that relationships can go wrong and sometimes it feels like there is a point of no return.
AR: What audience is the film trying to speak to?
ANL: Victims of domestic violence and women, for sure. The film looks at different aspects of relationship identity, the aftermath of a break up and everything that is unsaid, and the conflicting feelings in abusive relationships.
AR: Who did you work with?
ANL: Annalise Pasztor, Kiersten Friesen, Sydney Sánchez, Lina Kahn, and Maria Vera Alvarez. Maria is an S.C.A. student and runs her own independent production company, M.V.A. Films. She wrote the concept for "CÉLINE" a year ago and asked me to join the team by portraying Céline.
AR: When and where did you shoot the film?
ANL: We started shooting at the beginning of this school year, and pre-production lasted a couple of months. We had a house in Palm Springs were we shot for a couple of weekends, houses in Santa Monica, and did shooting all around the greater Los Angeles area and Salvation Mountain. Maria just wrapped up post-production and premiered "CÉLINE" at the Cleveland Film Festival, where it started receiving buzz.
AR: What was it like shooting the film?
ANL: I've done a lot of film work in my career but this was definitely one of the most thrilling, enjoyable, and crazy experiences I've had! Maria is a tenacious and determined woman, and her schedule is pretty insane. For example, we had to do a sunrise shoot at Salvation Mountain so we left at one in the morning and drove all night. Maria blasted Kanye West the whole way to stay awake, which was hilarious. We shot for two hours and then headed back to LA. Overall, working on "CÉLINE" was an incredible experience, and Maria and I have gotten close through creating and where we want both of our careers to do. This is only the first of many projects we're doing together. "CÉLINE" is also the first project I've ever been apart of that had a 100% all women crew, which was extremely challenging and rare but beautiful. As an actress, it was great to see all these female USC film students empowering one another, especially with the sensitive topic of the film that was ultimately taken with delicacy.
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AR: When did you find out about Cannes, and how did you react?
ANL: Maria submitted the film about two months ago – it was a decision we made together – and we found out a couple of weeks ago, but we just announced it on March 20th. I was extremely shocked. Premiering it at Cleveland was great, but Cannes has been a dream of mine since I was nine-years-old and decided that acting was the biggest thing in my life. I've had friends that have gone [to Cannes] and it seems like a great experience. I'm so humbled and appreciative of this opportunity.
AR: What are your plans for the festival?
ANL: Cannes is invite-only and very intimate – Maria and I were both invited to attend and we will, from May 19th to May 29th. We're staying in a cute hotel right next to Cannes, and I'm so excited to get there! It'll be my first time at the festival and South of France, and I'm so ready to network, see whom I meet, collaborate, and see the other films that will be screened.
AR: How has been accepted into Cannes impacted your future goals?
ANL: It's just one of those experiences that reiterates my vision and determination. I try not to allow awards/reviews impact my confidence or stop me from propelling my career, but this is one of those experiences and accomplishments that has only made me stronger. I plan to be a working actress and hone my craft in television, film, and stage for the rest of my life. Overall, I'm just beyond thrilled.
AR: What is your advice for girls who are interested in putting themselves out there but are a little scared?
ANL: Say yes to everything and constantly create! Every project you get asked to work on, no matter if it's readers/community theatre, just do it. Listen to your voice if you want to make it in this career; it's not just about your talent. You have to have this smidge amount of luck, which is a weird part of this industry. Tune out everyone's voices because you will hear so many no's, but remind yourself of your vision, passion, and why you want to do this. Keep your intentions and you will be happy and accomplish anything. It's about starting small and working your way up. It's a long haul, but one of my mentors – Nikki Peterson, a talent scout – has been a huge influence on my life and summed it all up by telling me that my career will be a huge journey but it's not a sprint.
Reach staff reporter Adrianne Ramsey here.