If you’ve seen shows like Survivor’s Remorse and BET’s The Game, or movies such as Creed and Ride Along, you’re familiar Dianne Ashford’s work. The self-made producer has generated a long and illustrious career in film and television and continues to aid in the success of blockbuster movies, award winning TV shows, and even experimental shorts and indies.
Over 15 years ago, the Atlanta native took a leap of faith and quit her corporate job to pursue a career in the unstable and freelance world of filmmaking. “I got my degree from FAMU in Computer Information Systems,” Ashford said, “I had no intention on becoming a film producer, it just happened!” By some luck or divine intervention, Dianne took a leave of absence from her Project Management job at AT&T to intern with Will Packer and Rob Hardy of Rainforest Films on an indie project called Pandora’s Box. She knew the boys from college and wanted to step out and try something new. Little did she know, this decision would change her life forever.
In sitting down with Ashford to discuss her approach to producing, I couldn’t help but notice the black girl magic exuding from her bold presence. When asked if producers usually benefit from this stamp of poise, Dianne admitted that her profession does demand a certain level of courage. “To produce films, you have to be confident and strong because you often have to tell people ‘no’ and be ready to explain to them why,” she said. Producing is definitely not for the shy of heart and Dianne Ashford is anything but timid.
As an African-American woman, she is very well aware that she’s involved in a white male dominated profession. But the assertive producer doesn’t let that affect her work or opinion of herself. “When you hire me, you are inviting me to have a seat at the table,” determines Dianne, “So, when I sit at the table, I consider myself to be equal to everyone at that table. Now yes, I know that sometimes I’m working with people who have way more experience than myself, and yes it can sometimes be intimidating, but I don’t let that affect me and I definitely don’t allow anyone to treat me as if I’m any less than they are.”
Dianne formed a production company called Symmetry Entertainment in 2003 with fellow Producer Angi Bones. Although the two good friends have since parted ways professionally, Ms. Ashford still holds the Symmetry moniker, and defines it as “the balance and harmonious arrangement” of film and television. This is a mantra that Dianne not only holds in business but believes through and through. “Everybody on a film set is needed, every single person, if one of those elements is not there you don’t have a great project,” Dianne passionately expressed, “The writer could say ‘I wrote the script, there’s no film without me’, but if there’s no one to act in, produce, or shoot your script, you don’t have a movie. The actor may say ‘I’m the one on camera, nothing happens without me’, but every actor needs a team of makeup, hair, and costume designers to reveal their respective characters. Films don’t get made without a team of experts. So to me, there is not one single person on set that is more or less important than the other.”
Ashford’s ability to show ardent respect mixed with her fearless nature and copious knowledge of the film and television process makes her one of the well-known favorites in the booming Atlanta industry. Thankfully, she doesn’t keep all that knowledge to herself, and has taught master classes as the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), Bronzelens Film Festival, as well as her own Budgeting and Scheduling Workshops for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of producing.
“As a producer, you’re putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to make it work. You don’t have to know how to do every job on set, but you must at least understand each job, know the process and what needs to be done,” said Ashford, “…even if you don’t go to film school (like I didn’t) you must be good at the process and the only way to get good at it is to do it. Make mistakes, you’re going to make mistakes, its inevitable. But a producer is a problem solver who can think on their feet, and the only way to get good at solving problems is to do the job.”
Having a mentor like Girls Trip producer Will Packer has definitely allowed Ashford to see first-hand what it takes to make a film a success. Ever since she decided to leave the corporate world to venture into film, the two have maintained a genuine friendship and a competitive working relationship. “I definitely want to follow in Will’s footsteps somewhat, I definitely admire his hustle, and I’m super proud of all the accomplishments he’s achieved thus far. At the core, we are good friends but when it’s time to work, we roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
Although she has an amazing sister/brother type of bond with Rob Hardy of Rainforest Films and Packer, Dianne has chosen not to work on every single project with the guys. Instead, she has made a conscious decision to venture out and work with other people. “I really wanted the separation because not only was I starting to be known as the girl who only worked with Will and Rob but more importantly I wanted to grow in producing by working with other people, and the guys really supported me and respected that.” Dianne said.
Dianne has served on the Producers team for STARZ’ Survivor’s Remorse for the past 4 seasons and has expressed so much love for her involvement with the production. When asked why she loves working on the show so much, Dianne replied, “It starts at the top. Our show runner and creator Mike O’Malley has a way of making sure that everyone understands how important they are. At call time, he is giving a speech to the crew, letting them know that he appreciates them, how much he understands that they are away from their families. He tells them thank you on the regular and it just trickles down to an awesome cast and crew.”
So, what’s coming up for the super producer other than the exciting possibility of a 5th season of Survivor’s Remorse? She’s actually working on a cool new project that she can’t speak on quite yet. “It’s not greenlit yet, so I can’t really give a lot of details, but let’s just say I’ll be working with my good friend Will Packer again,” Dianne said with a wink.
You can find information on Dianne’s Budgeting and Scheduling for Producers class online at www.symmetryentertainment.com and keep up with her on Instagram at @dashingphotos and @symmetryentatl (Instagram) and on Facebook as Dianne Ashford and Symmetry Entertainment.