Ashley Jones is beloved by Lifetime viewers for her memorable roles in several of the brand’s thrillers—and now the Daytime Emmy Award nominee is adding director to her resume. She steps behind the camera for the latest LMN thriller, Secret Lives of College Escorts, and spoke about how she made the successful transition from actor to director for the project. Plus, what is it about the Lifetime brand that Ashley gravitates toward creatively?
Secret Lives of College Escorts follows Eve (Pilot Paisley-Rose), who winds up entangled in the world of escorting after meeting Carla (Lifetime veteran Laurie Fortier at her devilish best). Eve thinks Carla is offering her a job that will help pay her college tuition, but she has no idea what she’s in for. The film also stars Emily Ram, The Voice alum Briana Cuoco and Chasty Ballesteros. Here’s what Ashley had to tell me about it and her filmmaking experience before its premiere tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on LMN.
Brittany Frederick: How did you come to make your directorial debut with this film? Was it something you’d been working toward in general, or more of a natural growth out of all the work you’ve done with Lifetime?
Ashley Jones: It’s a little bit of both. I definitely have always wanted to do it. I’ve been shadowing people for a long time [and] it’s a natural instinct for me. I just honestly didn’t know if anyone would ever give me the opportunity. There’s different ways to break into directing, and a lot of actors get to do it because they’ve been on series for so long. They get to eventually direct an episode, and if it works they get to direct more. So I just had to be vocal to the powers that be at the network and mainly Pierre David, the executive producer with whom I work closely. Once some of the producers saw me on set shadowing other directors, I think they realized that I could do it. So it took a lot of proving myself, but then I finally got this opportunity.
BF: What is it about the Lifetime brand that’s continued to bring you back for so many years and keep you interested creatively?
AJ: The characters that they create! They have very rich, fun characters that stay with you. And each character is different than what I normally play on soaps or other series. I recur on Bold and the Beautiful right now, after years and years of playing Bridget Forrester. As much as I love it and will always want to play her as she evolves and grows, she’s not a villain, for instance. Lifetime has continually given me an opportunity to play the gamut [of characters], so that’s why I keep coming back. And obviously now, I’m also behind the camera.
BF: You have to do a certain amount of preparation as an actor, so how does that change when you step into a directing role? Obviously you have different responsibilities, but are you able to use the same process you would in breaking down a script?
AJ: The words you just used are exactly what I ended up doing. As an actor, you do want the overall picture, but you’re really focused on your character and how your character relates to the other characters and the overall plot. Then you want to make sure you understand what the director is looking for and how the DP [director of photography] is achieving it. But it’s all very much from one point of view as an actor.
As a director I would read the script over and over, but break it down from different characters’ points of view. And then also go back and read the script and break it down from different department’s points of view, so that [I] could communicate with wardrobe and the DP, the music supervisor, art department…all about a vision. [I was] thinking about music and editing and how [I was] going to cut the scene together and locations. And the logistics are different than acting, because you have to make sure you make your day and you stay under budget, and all these other things that are very demanding.
BF: As you’re directing, you still have that actor’s perspective in your head. Was that an influence on how you worked with the Secret Lives of College Escorts cast?
AJ: 100 percent…When I’m acting, I’m also thinking as a director. We filmed this movie a year ago and I’ve done a lot since then, but my brain just doesn’t shut off as a director. What’s great now is that I learn a lot from these other directors because I’m studying them in a different way. But that was probably my favorite part of directing. I love communicating with actors and learning their process. Sometimes I would say, “Everything is working, I don’t want you to change any of the emotion—but I’ve got to see your eyes more in this take, try not to blink too much,” and little things like that. Also, for newer actors, sometimes it’s reminding them of the sequence of events that have taken place before the scene you’re filming, because you’re almost always shooting out of order. But it’s bringing together the technical side and the emotional side. These actors are fantastic.
BF: That cast includes Laurie Fortier, who’s someone else that is a veteran of the Lifetime brand. What was your experience directing her specifically given you’re both well-versed in these kinds of films?
AJ: I adore Laurie. She’s done a lot of Lifetime movies, and has a fan base. She never stops working because she’s so good. I’d worked with her as an actor, but I learned a lot about how she works as an actress. She has a very specific process that’s phenomenal…When she gets into character, she’s in character and you don’t want to disturb that process. There’s some people that once you, as a director, learn how they work you just want to help them continue that process.
BF: Did any of your past LMN experience help, considering that you also know the tone of these films or maybe could draw upon past sets you’d been on or stories you’d told?
AJ: After being on set so many times and shadowing so many different directors, even if they didn’t realize I was shadowing, you learn other people’s style. Most of the directors were very, very cool. If you’re not in the scene or they’re turning around on lighting, or something they’ll let you come sit next to them, look at the monitor, and they’ll start explaining things, so I got a lot of tips. One of the producers, David DeCrane, was my on set producer with me every single day. I was able to look at him and say, “David, remember in this movie we did this and this, how do we make that happen here? And what am I missing, and why isn’t it looking like that?” He is so familiar with the Lifetime brand and so many movies—not only the movies that we’ve made together, but a lot of Lifetime original movies. He fully understands what the audience really loves.
Sometimes I’d say, “Oh, remember [the HBO series] Succession, in that first season when they did this and this? That’s what I want, so let’s figure out how to make it look a little bit more like that, but on our budget.” (laughs) Josh Folan, our line producer, was very good at that. Michael Su, one of our main DPs, is well-versed in films and could reference nearly anything. He has endless energy. He taught me a lot, mostly about communication and how to execute my vision in a feasible way.
BF: Is there anything that particularly stands out to you from the filming experience? Any scene that came together exceptionally well or something you learned that perhaps you didn’t expect when you started?
AJ: One of my mentors, Pierre David, is the executive producer of this and I would not be here without him at all. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s done so many highly rated movies the audience has loved; he’s the mastermind behind these projects. Pierre is phenomenal at developing scripts, and he’s very, very hands on, really guiding the whole production. David DeCrane, as I mentioned, is priceless to me and was there all the way through editing. Also, David Latt at Asylum—you know him from the Sharknado franchise—I was relentless with him and he bent over backwards for me. Erica Duke, our UPM [unit production manager]…It takes a village and I am very grateful for these people, and also the cast and crew.
There’s a scene with Chasty and Pilot, and there are little things I had a vision of getting. Our lead comes down the stairs and she’s trying on different clothes trying to get ready for a date, and they go to the mirror. I wanted to give it a little more depth and use the mirror a lot in the scene, racking back and forth. It showcases the location, the actresses and adds interest to the scene. But racking like that, not cutting in between the shots and adding in a lot of movement with the camera and actors is a bit of coordination and rehearsing—especially with focus. Plus, making sure you don’t catch crew in the mirror! (laughs) Our other DP, Jordi Ruiz Maso, was very patient with my ideas and with me. It just takes time, and when you’re on a budget, that’s not always the most popular choice. It’s only one scene, so curious if the audience thinks it was worth the time.
BF: Is there anything else you want to say to your fans as they prepare to watch the film?
AJ: The one thing is I want to thank those of you that are watching it. Thank you for the support that you’ve given Lifetime and the brand, and the soap world, and my world. I feel your love on social media, so I want to say thank you. It’s a fun movie. It’s a fast-paced thriller that I hope you enjoy. And please let me know what you think once you watch it—find me on Instagram @ashleyaubra.
Secret Lives of College Escorts premieres Aug. 19 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on LMN.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.