Plainly, Ashley Connor is trusted as a collaborator, especially by artists trying to envision themselves in the world. Watch the music videos she’s shot: the NYC hyperrealism of Chairlift’s “Crying in Public”; the cutting photo-shoot satires of Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” and Jenny’ Lewis’s “Just One of the Guys”; the richly lit, cinematic look of Julianna Barwick’s “Same” and Jenny Hval’s “That Battle Is Over”; the direct address of Angel Olsen’s newest singles.
In Connor’s film work, particularly the dreamlike, sensual features of her regular close collaborator Josephine Decker, the camera seems to discover the world through movement, focus, light, and chance. It’s a particularly physical way of seeing, and a style supple enough to tune in to her collaborators’ frequencies (particularly those of Zia Anger, director of many of the aforementioned music videos and a couple conceptually ambitious shorts).
Expect more features in the up-and-coming, as indie filmmakers with newly expanded budgets come calling for Connor’s intuitive, organic working methods. Tramps, a seat-of-the-pants tri-state caper, just had its world premiere in Toronto; Human People, starring Abbi Jacobsen and Michael Cera, is soon to follow.
How old are you and where do you live?
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened?
I played a lot of sports growing up and figured I’d end up doing something related. Then at fifteen I blew out my knee playing soccer, had surgery, and was stuck on the couch for a good stretch of time; all I could do was watch movies and take painkillers. At the end of the whole ordeal I emerged wanting to be a filmmaker. I can’t remember all the films I watched during that time but one was definitely the Count of Monte Cristo remake—take from that what you will.
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career?
Of course! Is it too expensive? Definitely. I think it is damaging to a lot of young artists because you’re not able to take big risks. I wasn’t really paid for the first three or four features I shot, but I’d bring a hard drive and edit a woman’s workout videos on my days off to pay rent. I was lucky enough to find an alternative source of income to afford me the ability to take on those low-budget movies.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully my job is still around in ten years! I joke that robots will eventually replace me on set. They won’t complain about back pain or ask production for endless amounts of seltzer or argue with a director about blocking. I can already hear a producer whispering into a director’s ear, “But like, the robot’s in our budget and comes with its own camera package.” So yeah, I just hope I’m still shooting films.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
When I’m in the 15th hour of shooting and I’ve got a 40 to 50 lb camera on my shoulder and the sweat is stinging my eyes and everyone is cranky and smelly, the thought crosses my mind. But those moments are also the reason I love my job so much—making films is both pain and pleasure rolled into one confusing ball of emotion and I think I’d be bored doing anything else.
What’s felt like you’re biggest professional accomplishment?
I still feel so proud when women come up to me on set and tell me how inspiring it is to see a woman behind the camera. From the new PA to Oscar-winning actresses—it’s crazy how novel it is for most film sets. I can’t wait for the day when it’s normalized and I’m not referred to as a female cinematographer, but until then, it’s empowering to feel like part of the change.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?
I’ll say what most DPs say because it’s true—shoot everything! I also think it’s important to not get too caught up working on sets in a position you don’t want to be doing. It’s harder to step away once you’re being paid a lot for your job.
Who are your role models in your industry?
There’s a lot of filmmakers that really inspire me but I’ve got to throw it out to my amazing crew this summer. We did two features in a row and they worked insanely hard and gave up every weekend to work with me. Their dedication and positive attitude made coming to work that much more enjoyable, so, they’re really the ones I’m looking up to right now.
Who would be your pick for a 30 Under 30?
Cocoon Central Dance Team! Comprised of Eleanore Pienta, Sunita Mani and Tallie Medel—I think they’re just the funniest and most talented ladies around. And they hustle and really supportive of each other. I shot a film version of one of their live shows and it’s called Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone—you’ve got to be something spectacular to come up with that name.
Tell us about your next film…
I just wrapped my third feature film with Josephine Decker. This one stars Molly Parker, Miranda July and newcomer Kaitlyn Howard and is a really twisted movie about a director struggling to find their narrative. We did a lot of animal POVs and crazy angles—Josephine really pushes me to experiment. I’m actually writing from Toronto right now for the premiere of director Adam Leon’s new film, Tramps—so I’m hoping to relax and celebrate with the fantastic team that created the film.
To learn about 29 more accomplished sub-thirty-year-olds, visit this year’s Envy Index.
Photo by Jane Bruce.