Alumni in Features | Ashley James Louis & The Last Victim

By: Laura Huie

 

Ashley James Louis was a Quarter-Finalist in Shore Scripts’ 2018 Feature competition with his screenplay A Long Shadow At Noon. Since then he has gone on to write the 2022 neo-Western crime thriller The Last Victim, which was directed by Naveen A. Chathapuram and stars Ali Larter (Final Destination), Ralph Ineson (The Witch), and Ron Perlman (Hellboy).

 

Ashley was also a Grand Prize Winner of the Stage 32 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Screenwriting Award as well as winning “Best Sci-Fi Script” at the iconic Hollywood Horrorfest. Both awards were for his screenplay Catalina, which also placed in the top 1% of all scripts on Stage 32.

 

Read on to learn more about what inspired Ashley to become a screenwriter, what keeps him resilient through the process, and his essential advice for aspiring and emerging feature screenplay writers.

 

The Beginning

 

Ashley has long been captivated by the magic of cinema, a fascination deeply rooted in a childhood enveloped by the iconic films of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. With older siblings, who had amassed a collection of these cinematic treasures on VHS tapes, it was inevitable that these films would become integral to his formative years. Watching them on repeat, Ashley was scarcely able to recall a time before these stories were a part of his life.

 

As a child, Ashley’s aspirations were as varied as the characters that graced the screen, from dreaming of becoming an archaeologist inspired by Indiana Jones to imagining life as a spy in the vein of James Bond. However, it was detective stories, particularly influenced by an older brother’s Director’s Cut of Blade Runner, that sparked a deeper passion within Ashley.

 

“I distinctly remember having a moment of revelation around age eight or nine – that what I actually loved was movies. After that, I started watching every “Making of…” VHS tape I could find and ever since then I’ve sort of known that I had to make movies with my life. And the great thing about film is that it kind of grows with you.

Every time you come back around to a movie, you’ve changed and so the movie changes, too. You understand it in a different way. Sometimes a movie you initially hated sparks a new resonance later on because of life experiences. Sometimes, you start with a movie you’ve already loved, and you find a new way of appreciating it that makes you fall in love with it again. That’s what I love about film.”

 

Challenges as a Screenwriter

 

Navigating the unpredictable landscape of screenwriting, Ashley has faced the daunting challenge of reconciling the industry’s inherent rejection. Like many before, Ashley acknowledges the stark reality that the journey to success is often paved with far more declines than approvals.

 

“I know it’s been said a lot, but the biggest challenge as a screenwriter (apart from the craft itself) is probably getting used to the rejection, which is just part of the job. In most cases, a writer will get a lot of “no’s” for every “yes”. But all it takes it one “yes” and suddenly the “no’s” don’t matter anymore. But even once you’ve “broken in” with a project, you still have to deal with rejection in some ways.”

 

Even despite the mostly glowing reviews of The Last Victim, he remembers some of the harsh criticisms from reviewers. However, Ashley found motivation in the words of Ridley Scott, who once shared his encounter with a 4-page critique of Blade Runner, “I was so crushed. I had a hard time making it, and yet I thought I delivered something special. And then to have it killed…I took the four pages and I framed them on the wall of my office. They’re still there today because there’s a lesson in that, which is: ‘When you think you’ve got it, you don’t know s—.”

 

This perspective is a beacon for Ashley, who sees in Scott’s resilience a path to navigate his own setbacks. Reflecting on this, Ashley mentions, “Knowing that the masters of the craft have been in the same situations always helps to keep the fire lit.”

 

 

 

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A pivotal moment arrived unexpectedly when Stephen King, a figure of immense admiration for Ashley, offered praise for The Last Victim on social media: “Looking for a bloodthirsty little thriller? How about THE LAST VICTIM (Hulu)? Ron Perlman doesn’t have a lot to do, but Ali Larter is in overdrive. Like a combination of Joe Pickett and Cormac McCarthy.”

 

For Ashley, this transformed a period of doubt into one of unparalleled affirmation. “Having something I wrote being compared to one of my favorite authors (Cormac McCarthy) by one of my favorite authors was, and still is, an absolutely unreal experience that completely made up for any negative reviews. It only takes one “yes” sometimes. I have the Tweet framed in my office and I still glance at it when I’m having a hard day and need to keep going.”

 

The Importance of Passion & Preparation 

 

Ashley emphasizes the crucial role of passion in pitching projects, advocating for a strategy that involves sharing the entirety of the concept with potential partners. By revealing all the compelling aspects of the story, including the climactic moments, intriguing scenes, and the satisfying conclusion, Ashley believes in making stakeholders visualize the movie so vividly in their minds that they become eager to see it materialize on screen. This approach, according to Ashley, leverages the contagious nature of excitement, drawing others into the vision with an irresistible force.

 

Preparation is another cornerstone of Ashley’s advice for aspiring screenwriters. Ashley reflects on his own early career missteps, particularly during meetings with major industry figures that were secured through the recognition of his spec scripts on The Black List website.

 

 

The realization that he was inadequately prepared for these opportunities serves as a cautionary tale. Ashley had not anticipated the need for a variety of pitches and a wealth of ideas that could demonstrate his range and voice. Instead, he had mistakenly believed that the interest in his spec scripts would directly lead to film adaptations.

 

How to Write a Feature that Entertains & Sells

 

As for writing scripts that entertain, Ashley has this to say:

 

“I think the key to writing an entertaining script is that old trope of “write a movie that you’d want to see”. It essentially means the same thing as “write what you know,” which to me has always meant “use all of your experiences when you write it, since you’re the only one with those exact experiences”. You grew up with specific interests and fears and weird neighbors that no one else had – those are your secret weapons and those are the things that make up your “voice” as a writer.”

 

On the point of writing a script that not only entertains but also sells, Ashley, stressed the importance of being able to condense the essence of the story into a single, compelling sentence that features a twist or a hook. This sentence forms the backbone of the pitch, designed to capture the attention and interest of potential backers from the outset.

 

The Producer

 

To get a producer involved you have to understand that what they’re usually looking for is a return on their investment. So, you have to think about it from a business perspective. Why are people going to come see this movie and why will it make more money than it takes to produce the film? Will it only need a very low budget, but it has the potential to have a cult following with the A24 crowd? Can you show a proven track record of movies in this genre (with certain stars) being a big hit on VOD?

 

The Actor

 

To get a named actor involved you need to write characters and dialogue that named actors (it sometimes helps to think of specific, attainable actors) want to perform. Your goal is for them to agree to give you a chunk of their very costly and important time because they don’t want to let that character getaway. Producers can generally tell when a script will be easy to get an actor attached.

 

The Director

 

To get a director involved, you should make sure the script creates great visuals so they can create the film in their heads. Is this a visually and philosophically striking movie? How do you write it to make them visualize something that’s unique and has never been seen before? How do you make it so they want to bring it to life in their unique way? Is it full of non-stop, well-thought-out action sequences? How do you write them so that they can see every punch and feel the rush of the action in black and white?

 

Advice for Emerging Writers

 

Ashley’s advice for other writers: “Be open-minded. Be flexible. Defend the integrity of your script, but pick your battles wisely – in the end, this is a collaborative process.”

 

On the topic of collaboration, Ashley stresses the significance of forging partnerships with collaborators who not only understand but also complement your creative vision. The alignment of vision and style between a screenwriter and their collaborators, including producers and directors, is paramount. He underscores that regardless of a script’s quality if it fails to resonate with the collaborative team’s expectations, the project may not achieve its intended outcome.

 

“I’ve been lucky enough to find an amazing collaborating partner in director/producer Naveen A. Chathapuram (who directed The Last Victim). We have the type of working relationship where we can sort of see each other’s blind spots, but also collaborate on nearly every part of the filmmaking process because we have such similar sensibilities.”

 

 

Ashley also says that the best thing to do as an emerging filmmaker is to watch as many movies as you possibly can.

 

“I love that there is so much access to great videos dissecting films on YouTube – among others, I watch Patrick (H) Willems, Oliver Harper’s Retrospectives, JoBlo, JustWrite, Heavy Spoilers, Lessons from the Screenplay, CineFix, StudioBinder, Cinema Tyler and even old episodes of Siskel and Ebert.”

 

One last piece of advice from Ashley: “Oh, also – always keep a notebook on your bedside table.”

 

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Laura Huie is a writer and editor involved in comedy-drama screenwriting, fiction editing, and full-time marketing copy. Laura is also a freelance article writer for Shore Scripts and has worked with Script Pipeline on their live Symposium series. She is one-half of the screenwriting duo, Bloom & Huie. Together, they have written multiple television series as well as a feature-length film. Their mission is to write honest and witty female stories wrapped up in unbelievable worlds.

 

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