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The AV Interview: Ashley Eakin (Single)

All questions from AndersonVision are tagged. Ashley Eakin’s responses are colored below.

If you have the chance, go see Single.

After watching Single for a fifth time, I think that I can say I’m captivated. I admire the economics of storytelling in the film. What was it like telling such a focused story?

Thank you! Well when I wrote the first draft of the story, it almost read like a play. It only had two locations and I was advised by my mentors to “make something happen” – which is where the ditching the date element came into play and the rooftop. But by design I wanted to make it economic. My last short film had a lot of elements at play – SFX, dance, an entire high school, skateboarding, etc. and I knew I wanted to make something that was to the point, but tackled a heavy topic in a fun way. 

The AV Interview: Ashley Eakin (Single) 1
KIM (Delaney Feener) exits the grocery store after an interaction with a condescending clerk.

Where did you find Delaney Feener? I went to IMDB immediately after my first viewing of Single and I’m shocked that she isn’t everywhere. 

I worked with an excellent casting director Suzanne Yavuz, who is also a personal friend, so she is very attuned with my mission of disrupting the narrative of disability in Film and TV. We searched and searched, far and wide for the perfect “Kim” – even going as far as DM’ing random women on Instagram who were graciously open to sending me self-tapes. But ultimately, Delaney was the only actor who instinctually understood the character and was able to exude that in her audition. She’s a trained actor who studied theater in university. She told me a professor once told her that ‘while she can choose to major in theater, she likely won’t have a career due to her arm’. That made me mad! We desperately need more actors with disabilities to study and perfect the craft! Acting is such a delicate skill and I am so happy I found two actors with real disabilities for this project. Delaney and Jordan’s playful chemistry on the roof is my favorite. 

Kudos to you on making a slice of life film about a woman that doesn’t want to be pitied. Were you concerned about the line between likeable underdog and aggressive personality?

Absolutely, Kim is very polarizing. Which became an issue when I would take notes from my peers. There is actually a version of Single with a much more mellow Kim, but ultimately I strived to make a [some-what] unlikeable character. You never see that when it comes to disability representation – our narrative is so limited and I was excited to create a character that took her micro-aggressions a bit further that I ever would. And to be honest it’s quite cathartic for not only me, but other people in my community as well. I just received a note last night from a woman with one arm who told me she felt like it was an “out-of-body experience” watching my film because of how much she could relate to feelings she never knew anyone else felt.

The AV Interview: Ashley Eakin (Single) 3
KIM (Delaney Feener) meets her blind date and realizes he has one hand.

Too often when you see films about disabled people, it feels like the work is trying to capture every single unpleasantness in one narrative to create a response point. While you have two or three in Single, what made you want to space that out?

I think while it’s definitely a part of our lives, it’s also not the whole picture. And to be honest, there is certain skill obtained by people who have disabilities where you easily ignore, or just disregard any stares or comments. They easily become just a part of life, so while I did want to highlight some of those experiences, I didn’t want it to be the main focus. The real focus of the story is our lead character’s struggle with her own identity, not how society perceives her – but how she sees herself.

As a former little kid who stared at anything and everything, I appreciate the early scene with the little girl. At a certain age, it’s not anything more than sheer inability to process your environment. Yet, you juxtapose that with the elevator girl at the end of the film. At what point do you feel that simple staring in terms of disability goes from curiosity to malice and then back to a form of voyeurism?

Well after living an entire life dealing with the “stares”…to be honest, I don’t know if it’s ever truly malice. I stare at things that are new and unfamiliar – does that make me a terrible person? No. Curiosity is natural, human and just a part of life. I am not sure if you caught it, but when the Mom pulls the little girl away and says “I told you staring isn’t nice” – I think that’s the real original sin.

Because we then learn at such a young age that someone who has a disability is someone to be ignored, or feel shameful about when we see them. I think it’s almost worse to be entirely disregarded out of fear of staring. It’s a tricky world that I am still figuring out how to navigate. Some days it doesn’t bother me at all, others it can. But one thing I highly suggest not doing – is overly complimenting a person who has a disability. The pretty face line is one I have received my whole life, and when you really break it down…it’s such a backhanded compliment.

But I think people truly don’t realize what their doing…which is why I am excited for this film to be out in the world. It allows some introspective thinking about how they personally react to people with a disability. I also think visibility of disabled characters will really change how society reacts. A friend who has one arm said FINDING NEMO was life-changing. They instantly can tell a kid “Have you seen Finding Nemo? Well, I’m like Nemo” and they blindly accept it. That’s wild. The power of media can break barriers and we just have to get more of this type of content out there, that can normalize the unfamiliar.

What was it like making a short film with the AFI? So many legends started there, but you never get to hear them talk about outside of the historic connotations.

The AFI Directing Workshop for Women ignited such a huge shift in how I approached my career, and what type of stories I want to tell. It really instilled a certain level of confidence I never had before, especially about pursuing content in this space of disability representation. It’s tough for female filmmakers to break into this industry and we so easily get trapped into the imposter syndrome pitfall. But in the program, we constantly had to pitch ourselves over and over again to new professors and mentors. And by the end of it, it’s just part of your identity – a passionate artist who wants to add a new perspective to the world.  

The AV Interview: Ashley Eakin (Single) 5
JAKE (Jordan Wiseley) and KIM (Delaney Feener) throw eggs on a rooftop

While gathering my thoughts on Single, I read about your previous short film Blue. How did the path to Blue differ from what you brought to screen with Single?

As mentioned above, Blue had a lot of visual elements and was more an artistic expression piece. It’s a homage to the Shel Silverstein poem Masks. I would say Blue reflected my emotional pain living with a disability I tried to hide my whole life, while Single is more about taking control, having fun and also coming to terms with the reality of being a person with a disability. I also knew I wanted to make something much more traditional with heavy dialogue and conversation, to show I have some variety in my work.

What are you working on next?

I am currently writing an R-rated coming-of-age feature about a girl with a disability on a mission to complete her bucket-list with the impending Y2K apocalypse only a few months away.  It’s fun and heavily inspired by my high school experience, which wasn’t the clean-cut narrative for someone with a disability. I got into trouble, tested the limits, had friend drama and wasn’t entirely sure who I was… just like many other high school kids. I also have a TV show in the works about a woman in her 20’s (also with a physical disability) – navigating the nightmare of online dating apps. That’s also a fun one to explore, as I’ve had my fair share of experiences to pull from. 

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