For This Hollywood Director…

North Carolina’s Film Industry Is A Call Home

Director Ashley Maria is a Tarheel born and bred, but professors and friends both told her the only way to “make it” in film was to be in Hollywood. Determined to succeed, she went west in 2009.

Despite her driver’s license reading “California,” Ashley’s blue blood never wavered.

When her most recent project, Pioneers in Skirts brought her back to North Carolina for an interview with the UNC women’s basketball head coach Sylvia Hatchell in 2013, she saw an opportunity to weave together her two homes.

“I’ve always wanted to be bi-coastal,” Ashley said. “I want to be able to tell my editing team ‘we’re going to do post-production in NC for three months, surprise!’”

Splitting time between two coasts presented a few interesting problems for Ashley; namely where to live and how to afford it. She juggles freelance writing, directing and production sound recording with paying rent on her Koreatown apartment and scraping together funds for plane tickets with an unusual cheer.

“You have to make it your new normal, and elevate yourself. If you think about the amount of work this all requires then you’ll be overwhelmed. So you just make it a part of your daily life.” According to Ashley, the benefits of being bi-coastal are worth the long hours.


In North Carolina, Ashley is able to stay with her co-producer Lea-Ann Berst rent-free. Lea-Ann is Ashley’s partner in crime, and the only other person working on the film full-time. She’s also Ashley’s mother.

“It took people a while to realize that I wasn’t just coming to North Carolina to visit my family for a fun trip, I was here to work on the film,” she said. Despite her visits to North Carolina being work-focused, she says she feels recharged when she returns to L.A. from an east-coast stint.

The East Coast’s draw for filmmakers isn’t only creative: North Carolina has been striving to draw in more directors like Ashley in recent years. The 2017 legislature recently passed a $33.6 million funding bill to support North Carolina’s film industry and create incentives to draw more productions like Pioneers in Skirts east.

“One of the best things about coming home is the weather. Oh, and the traffic isn’t terrible like Los Angeles,” Ashley said. The east coast is still home to Ashley, but her Californian connection isn’t something she’s willing to give up.

“I love the Hollywood scene – watching movies, talking about movies, getting excited about stories, and, of course, the empowering conversations I have with my friends and fellow filmmakers. In addition to the wealth of jobs in LA, it’s really the hub of the Hollywood industry. I bring all of these experiences back to NC which creates that flow of information between both coasts,” Ashley said.

When asked if she’s ever considered a permanent transition to one place or the other, Ashley shrugs. She says there is too much of her in both places to consider ever leaving either of them.

At the end of the day, she’s determined to remain bi-coastal for as long as she can.