Sparked by film's impact

Grad moving to LA to pursue film dreams, work for ASU's Film Spark program


Woman looking into the camera.

Ashley Peatross is graduating from ASU with a film degree, but she's not leaving the university. Peatross is moving on to work with ASU's Film Spark program in Santa Monica.

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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Ashley Peatross always knew she wanted to be involved in entertainment production — she just wasn’t sure where that path would ultimately lead. 

The 27-year-old Cleveland transplant came to Arizona State University to study film after obtaining a degree in recording arts and technology from "Tri-C University" (Cuyahoga Community College) in her hometown.

“The reason I came here was not only because I saw the connection to Los Angeles with Hollywood Invades Tempe [a film-screening series at ASU] bringing industry professionals here, but also because this is just a great place to learn, to make mistakes, to get support from your professors. We have a lot of resources that we can use,” Peatross says.

During her time in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, Peatross was quick to take advantage of these resources.

The first big opportunity for Peatross — who chased her bachelor's in film with a concentration in film and media production — came when she was selected to participate in ASU Film Spark’s Feature Film Internship Initiative for the movie “Car Dogs.”

“I said to myself, ‘I’m a film student — I need to get my hands involved,’ ” Peatross says. “With film, you can’t just teach it [in a classroom]. You have to be on set, you have to learn hands-on. So I thought, why not do it? They brought in industry professionals, they taught us so much, and I learned a tremendous amount about everything.”

Peatross worked as assistant to the line producer, and even took on a small acting role in the film, playing Octavia Spencer’s daughter during the four months of production. But her true passion is directing.

For her senior film capstone project, Peatross got to explore this role; she wrote, produced and directed a film titled “Embrace,” which told the story of a young tattoo artist having to choose between saving his deceased mother’s tattoo shop or pursuing his dream as a fine artist.

“With directing you get to work with actors, you get to see how the story unfolds, you get to communicate with your cast and crew … and when you finally get to say 'action,' and you get to see them actually perform your word and everybody’s behind you supporting you as you’re seeing your project come to life, it’s amazing,” Peatross says.

“Embrace” was selected to be screened at the Fall Film Capstone Showcase, where Peatross was subsequently awarded the F. Miguel Valenti Award for Ethical Filmmaking, which is presented to the project that substantially and significantly represents issues and themes related to ethical inquiries and/or represents complex and difficult subject matter in an ethically responsible and compelling manner.

The future looks bright for this grad. She already has a fellowship lined up post-graduation at the brand-new ASU Film Spark offices in Santa Monica, California. Film Spark is a career accelerator and industry innovation incubator responsible for programs like Hollywood Invades Tempe and the Feature Film Internship Initiative. In just five years, Film Spark has connected ASU students with five Oscar winners, six Oscar nominees, numerous blockbuster producers and many award-winning directors.

Peatross’ ultimate dream? To one day direct and produce a major feature from a major studio that is an action/thriller. She sees it as a specific opportunity for a woman in a genre dominated by men.

“We don’t see enough of a male’s point of view looking through a woman’s lens,” Peatross says. “It’s different and it’s going to be a lot of work. There are a lot of years I still need to get under my belt for that.”

But in the meantime, she’s content to keep working toward those goals, and committing to what she cares about most.

“I love how film, and other kinds of media, can influence you and change your outlook or just make you laugh or cry,” Peatross says. “It can be relaxing or it can be intense and you can learn. It can take you different places, and I like them all.”

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