We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley J. Long and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley J., we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I’m often assumed to be a big risk taker because I wear bold fashion and have no problem telling people what I think. What people forget is that “risk” is not always the same thing as spontaneous, carefree, or dangerous. The truth is I’m big on planning ahead, punctuality, attention to detail; all that left brained stuff people don’t expect of artists. The career risks I take might be ballsy, but each one is weighed carefully. Embracing calculated risk is what’s gotten me to the top of my field. When I supervise a show, I approach it like a strategist. I ask myself what combination of people and tasks vs. our schedule will produce the best results, while also giving crew predictability, respect, and allowing a person to shine at what they do best. It takes a lot of plate spinning and the ability to anticipate possible outcomes. All that said, you can’t calculate everything life is going to throw at you. Working with a team means being willing to step out of your own comfort zone and taking the risk of trusting other people. Both personally and professionally, risk is the origin point of all my favorite things and the accomplishments I’m most proud of. Moving 2,000 miles from home to work in L.A. was a huge leap. Leaving a bad long term relationship was difficult and confusing, and later finding a healthy one with a supportive partner was so worth it. Jumping very quickly up the ranks to episodic directing and dealing with heavy work loads tested my metal, but I knew I was ready. Even fostering kittens for the animal shelter is a risk, because you might fall in love and keep them (Totally did it. Twice)! Risk –structured or unstructured–doesn’t have to be a bad word. When I saw the opportunity to become a Supervising Director, I called up the show runners and made my case for why I was the best pick for their project. That’s a really direct situation most would call “risky”; it could have ended up being embarrassing, or viewed as over stepping, but I had more to gain than to lose so I went for it. Fortune does favor the bold(ly dressed).
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a little kid, I always thought I’d be the lead singer of my own rock band. Or if my friends and I were putting on plays, I was doing the casting and the stage directing, and planning what props or masks we would need to make out of construction paper. While the desire to perform in front of people got intimidated out of me somewhere around middle school, the drive to bring a vision together never left. I didn’t know it then, but those traits that probably came off as bossy or over particular in a child would be what turned my aptitude for drawing into a career episode directing and supervising entire animation crews as an adult. My earliest inspirations were –like most animation industry people my age– the Saturday morning cartoons of the early ’90’s and Disney feature films. Disney was the end all be all, and where I thought I could end up when I got my degree in Animation and Digital Media in college. That didn’t go as planned for a couple reasons. The year I graduated, the industry had all but abandoned traditional animation in favor of CG and there just wasn’t any work for a green hire who wanted to draw. I lived in L.A. for four months before finding work; doing the weirdest dirt pay design freelance jobs and living with some really gracious family friends who let me stay in their spare room for free as long as I cooked dinner now and then. I’m really grateful I had that support system of living with friendly faces, because calling around to traditional studios only to be told they had shuttered their doors and laid everyone off was very discouraging. A chance meeting at a neighborhood Christmas party in 2005 led me to an interview at Fox’s “American Dad”, where I got my very first job as an art dept. P.A. Back then the show didn’t have many fans so it didn’t feel like a glamorous job, but it turned out to be a really great foot in the door. In about 6 months I was able to break into a Union art role as a Storyboard Revisionist, which I enjoyed for many years before leaving Fox.
Even though it hadn’t been the original goal, I felt right at home in adult television animation. Even if Disney HAD been hiring at the time, I don’t think I would have fit their standards. As I got older I found was more interested in drawing characters that were weird and kind of ugly-cute, and had always found delight in being subversive. Think more like “Rocko’s Modern Life” instead of “The Lion King”. Starting off in prime time gave me the opportunity to embrace that subversiveness, and later go on to storyboard and direct on even more mature content with “Brickleberry” and now “Paradise P.D.” and new Netflix series “Farzar”. With cable and streaming, we can push the limits WAY past anything that can air on network tv. The on-going office joke is that we all have bingo cards of “things I never thought I’d draw” and when something really messed up is called for in the script, we get to mark that one off.
For those who don’t know what a Supervising Director does, think of it like the Captain of the ship. The episodic directors are your lieutenants. While they each handle their own episodes as they come, I manage the series as a whole; checking every art related asset (meaning every design and every panel of storyboards) for functionality, quality, and –of course–comedy. There’s at least a handful of assets each day where I have to ask myself questions like, “Is this butt drawn funny enough? Should we add pubes to this mutant penis person, or is hair going to be a pain to track in animation? This decapitated corpse feels like it’s missing something. Shall we add a juicy little peek of esophagus can help make this feel more organic?” The subject matter is ridiculous, but the need for attention to detail is very real. The decisions I make when something reaches my desk largely dictate what will come back in the color footage. Refining something to be as practically effective and sharply funny (or cringey, in some cases) is what I’ve discovered I’m really good at. For me, there’s a satisfaction bonus in being a woman working on this type of content. There aren’t many women Supervising in the adult realm, I think largely because nobody looks to hire us for it. There’s an assumption that women would be uncomfortable drawing “gross” stuff or wouldn’t be good at it. Some of the very best gross stuff i have seen in my life has been storyboarded by women! If I can make the guys in the edit session blush and avert their eyes, I’ve done my job right!
My personal art has changed a lot as I’ve grown in my profession. The meticulous nature of my animation work led me to want to do something much more relaxing when I was on my own time; something that couldn’t be noted or compared to others –it just WAS. Instead of drawing, I turned to three dimensional works and fabric arts, including plush toy making, costume building, creating large scale Halloween displays, and most recently, restoring and customizing vintage ’80’s and ’90’s toys. The toy restorations really took over my hobby space during quarantine because I could scour eBay for subjects and it totally speaks to my empathy for discarded things. It’s lovely to be able to just focus on one thing, using your brain and your hands in different ways than you do Monday through Friday, and create something that just brings you joy and is accepted by others for exactly what it is.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery tour is really fascinating–try booking the night tour if available! The guide is a true historian and focuses on old Hollywood icons, many of whom had tragic stories or were too poor at the time of death to be interred here originally. Learning about these people and the communities that rallied to fund getting them a resting place they deserved was very eye opening. The grounds are really beautiful and the resident peacocks are everywhere, and very vocal at dusk. This is a 2 hour walking tour so be prepared for a full brain and very tired feet after. Drag shows can be a really unique experience for visitors who come from more conservative areas. Don’t go if you’re going to be a rude gawker (or think your guests might be), DO go if you are ready to have a good time and you truly support the performers from this community. There are different shows scattered throughout the area; West Hollywood, some in the valley, some downtown. My longtime favorite has been Bingo Boy’s “Legendary Bingo” at Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo. I went on a whim during my first year in L.A. and I just felt so welcomed –like these were people I’d been waiting to meet my whole life. If you become a regular, the staff really treats you like a friend (shout out to Jerry, Jeffery, and Roxy!) Friendly reminder: Tip your drag performers! Drag is hard work.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is fun for those interested in art and curiosities. Part genuine museum of strange collections, part Dada-esque art experience. You’ll come away not knowing what to make of some of it, but definitely wanting to tell someone about something you saw that made an impression. One of my favorites are the carved and painted miniature figures that fit within the eye of a needle. MJT is a tiny inconspicuous spot in Culver City, so research the location beforehand otherwise you’ll miss it. I lived down the block for years and never knew it was there!
For treats, I have an old favorite off the beaten, trendy path. Galco’s Soda Stop, housed within Galco’s Old World Grocery. If sugar doesn’t scare you, go here to stock up on a ton of interesting bottled sodas from all over. You’re sure to see something that takes you down memory lane; for me it was Green River, something I used to get at an old timey malt shop back in the midwest. I love going here just to try brands or weird flavors I’ve never had before (rhubarb, espresso cola, elderflower, dry serrano pepper, to name a few). I also love that this is a family owned business and the owner has tried everything he stocks, so if you ask for a root beer recommendation he can talk with you in detail about his favorites and the differences between them. They stock old fashioned candy as well. It’s just a cute little spot with no pretense, no big wait, but plenty of charm and fun things to take home.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My parents deserve a shout out for supporting my interest in an art career from a young age. They never discouraged me from pursuing it, and I recognize now what a huge difference that makes. I’d also want to thank my very first animation professor, David Chai, for his mentorship back then and his continued friendship now.I love being asked to talk to his students because somewhere along the way I turned out to be a good role model. Pat Bedrosian, and the late Ed, who let me stay in their home when I first moved to L.A., which was invaluable at the time. My current animation crew has a huge chunk of my heart too. Some of these people have been with me for years and they make a very tough job worth doing. We celebrated holidays and did baked good porch drops to each other all through the pandemic, and a bunch of them recently surprised me for my birthday. My co-workers are my best friends, and how often can someone say that?
Image 1–Netflix/Bento Box Entertainment Image 2–Netflix/Bento Box Entertainment Image 7–photographer Lori Lane