Who We are

Pioneers in Skirts is from a daughter-mother filmmaking team dedicated to raising awareness for cultural biases and prejudices, empowering others to know that they aren’t alone, encouraging productive and meaningful discussions, and generating action. 

Ashley and Lea-Ann

Lea-Ann entered her career at a time where she had to fight for many of her career achievements. Like many women with a drive to achieve, she assumed her struggles would make it easier for younger women entering the workforce. But during a heart-felt conversation on a drive to the beach, Lea-Ann’s daughter, Ashley, revealed systemic barriers and personal biases are alive and well, and eroding Ashley’s ambition.

Ashley was at first disheartened and nearing burn out. Her female colleagues were feeling the same way, too.

Rather than getting discouraged, Ashley and Lea-Ann teamed up to understand what was happening, and what to do about it.

Premiering late in 2020…yes, not the best time to launch a film, Pioneers in Skirts follows Ashley’s story to understand and resolve the obstacles that were getting in the way of her ambition. Today, the film just finished its 2-year PBS run and continues to screen worldwide thanks to the film being translated in all the United Nation’s languages! Companies, Governments, Communities, and Schools are hosting group screenings of their own — and viewers all over the globe are watching the film at home on select streaming channels.


Event Introduction Biographies:

Pioneers in Skirts director – Ashley Maria, is an Emmy-nominated and DGA award-winning director, writer, and producer. She’s known for creating both comedy and horror films as well as content that addresses pressing social issues, especially gender equality. Ashley’s portfolio includes a range of funny (and fun), scary, musical, and impactful films with superheroes, singing neighbors, and screaming television characters — to highlight a few! Based in Los Angeles, CA., Ashley hails from the Tar Heel state of North Carolina. She received her undergrad degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) from the USC School of Cinematic Arts – in California.

Pioneers in Skirts producer – Lea-Ann W. Berst, is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and global activation professional based in Myrtle Beach, SC. She helps filmmakers develop impact strategies and put them into action. Known in the past for her “first-to-market” product marketing launches in the tech industry, today Lea-Ann is a writer, producer, and impact marketer of films focused on positive cultural change.

Fun fact, Ashley and Lea-Ann are daughter and mother!

Long Biographies for Ashley and Lea-Ann:

Picture of Ashley Maria, Director

Ashley Maria, Director

Ashley Maria is an Emmy nominated director & writer based in Los Angeles, CA. She is best known for her films and media work, including the comedy/horror short Friday Night Fright which won a Directors Guild of America award. Ashley was also recently accepted into the Blackmagic Collective Filmmaker Advancement Initiative, a program that provides select artists with the resources they need to make their next project.

Hailing from the Tar Heel State of North Carolina, Ashley earned her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She then packed up her car, drove across the country, and arrived just in time to start the first day of classes at the University of Southern California’s Master program at the School of Cinematic Arts. Her career began as an award winning Director, including “Best New Director” from the DTLA Film Festival and, in a follow-up ceremony, the DGA Women’s Steering Committee declared her to be a filmmaker “who represents the future of women in film.”

Ashley continues to write and direct and has built a portfolio that includes a range of funny (and fun), scary, musical, and impactful films with superheroes, singing neighbors, and screaming television characters — to highlight a few! Her next project, Super Human Anxiety, will launch in May 2024 for Mental Health Awareness Month.

She is also a directing instructor at UCLA’s Film School and a sound instructor at the American Film Institute’s Young Women in Film program.

An advocate for advancing women’s opportunities on set and off, Ashley takes her commitment to the next level by being a North American delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women.

Picture of Lea-Ann W. Berst, Producer

Lea-Ann W. Berst, Producer

Lea-Ann W. Berst is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and global activation professional who specializes in maximizing a film’s reach and helping screening hosts use it to build their brand and meet their mission. As a Producer, she is focused on building partnerships and tactics designed to deepen and advance the positive impact a film can have on our culture.

Based in Myrtle Beach, SC., Lea-Ann leads the Pioneers in Skirts impact efforts and works to help hosts build inclusive cultures and achieve equality in all areas of life.

Her career began during the mid-1980's and has spanned from Product Management & Go-To-Market Execution in the Tech Industry (including several First-To-Market products) -- to large and mid-sized corporate consulting that included effectively managing standalone or sophisticated Engagement Marketing programs & Olympic Brand Activation -- and now Film Production & Activism.

Lea-Ann's films have received several festival awards, including the Best Documentary for Change, the Spirit of Activism Award, and the Best Documentary Feature -- to name a few.

An award-winning business woman with an accomplished track record in corporate and community service, Lea-Ann is also the recipient of various leadership and business awards, including the prestigious IBM Award of Excellence, the NC Triangle Women in Business Award, and the Associated Press Robert R. Eunson Distinguished Lecturer Award.

Ashley & Lea-Ann’s next impact film:

Super Human Anxiety


Scheduled for release in May 2024, during Mental Health Awareness Month, the film aims to highlight the importance of reaching out to provide support to those silently struggling as well as the importance of self-care.

For more: Ashley-Maria Productions


Directed by Ashley Maria

Produced by Lea-Ann W. Berst, Ashley Maria

Sound Edit by Amy Reynolds Reed

Composed by Alana Balagot

Sound Editing & Design by Devon Kelley at Skywalker Sound

Sound Mix by Vicki Lemar at Technicolor Post-Production Sound

Edited by Tiffany Hope, Ashley Maria, Crystal Lentz

Production Sound by Rebecca Chan

Cinematography by Elizabeth Yarwood

Written by Lea-Ann W. Berst, Ashley Maria

Graphic Design by Tom Bloczynski

Movie Theme Song “Freeway” by Mia Yara
(Listen to it on our Spotify playlist!)