Sundance 2020: Ashley Williams talks Meats

Ashley Williams appears in Meats by Ashley Williams, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Roman Vasyanov.

Writer-director-actress Ashley Williams took some time out of a very busy Sundance schedule to discuss Meats with Solzy at the Movies.

Meats marks the directorial debut for the actress.

How thrilled are you that your short film, Meats, was selected to premiere at Sundance?

Ashley Williams: It’s absolutely thrilling. It’s a little bit of a shock but mostly just really cool.

Ashley Williams
Ashley Williams, director of Meats, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Dana Patrick.

What was the genesis behind the film?

Ashley Williams: Well, I love meat. I love eating meat. I have always felt bad about the fact that I love eating meat. So there have been times in my life that I’ve been vegan, I’ve been vegetarian. I’ve done an all meat diet for Atkins or whatever it was but I have also done a lot of research throughout all of that to try to get my brain around it. I’ve read books by Jonathan Safran Foer, Camas Davis—who wrote Killing It—and Michael Pollan—all the sort of food writers who write about the ethics of meat. At one point in the last year and a half, I gave myself the assignment of writing a short film a week. This was one of the short films just because I’m really interested in the subject matter.

Is this something that you’ve experienced in real life?

Ashley Williams: Yeah, I was vegan for a little while. Not while I was pregnant—I’ve been pregnant twice but I was vegan for a little while and I just couldn’t sustain it. I didn’t have enough energy. I felt very weak. My doctor explained to me that some people just really need amino acids that are only found in meat in order to survive. I don’t know if that’s true. That was that doctor’s theory but I was a very bad vegan.

Can you talk about the decision to use an actual lamb rather than a prop lamb?

Ashley Williams: Yeah, absolutely. The reason I wanted use an actual lamb is because I wanted to butcher it in a really true authentic way, in a responsible way, and a way that is respectful to the animal as possible. One of the main judges and heroes of mine from Top Chef, Tom Colicchio, talks about how you disrespect the animal by not breaking it down and cooking it properly. I really wanted to show that in a real way on camera. Also, I don’t know if I could afford a prop that was realistic enough if it was not real (laughs).

How much of the lamb has been eaten to date?

Ashley Williams: We’ve eaten all but the head. I kept it in my freezer and fed it very slowly to my family over the course of about six months. I never want to eat lamb again. I think it’s gross now. I think lambs are amazing beautiful creatures, and I’m grateful for sheep’s milk and all of that but I don’t ever want to eat it again. I think I’ve had my time with it.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Ashley Williams: I think with all these things, it’s really hard getting it made. Figuring out how to pay for things, how to get everybody to work for free. I’ve mostly paid everybody in pizza. I paid my editor real money. I had to rent the camera equipment myself. I needed to insure it myself. I needed to shoot in an actual butcher shop because I love the aesthetic of it. I needed to shoot in that and they were only available after 8 PM and then we had to be out by 5:30 AM because the people were coming in to work for the next day, and they had to clean the space. We didn’t have much time.

And then, there’s a funny thing when you make something just for yourself and you think probably nobody’s ever gonna see it, that it’s kind of hard to actually finish it because I’m like, Well, no one’s ever going to see this. What is the point? I thought it might be a good directing sample to maybe apply to some directing programs. Once I had sort of gotten it to the place where it could be submitted for that, actually spending the money and the time to finish it felt weird until I got into Sundance. Then I said, Okay, now we’ve got a real reason to clean up the sound and, figure out how to own the music, and all that stuff. That was a funny, weird challenge I hadn’t anticipated.

Meats serves as your directorial debut.  How long have you wanted to get into directing?

Ashley Williams: My whole life. I started as a child actor. I’ve been working professionally since I was 11 years old. I was on a soap opera when I was 15. I asked the cameraman, who was operating this really interesting, weird camera if I could, hold it and look through the lens. He said, “Why don’t you stick to wearing your bikini?” And it made me mad and I think I’m still mad. I think that anger is motivating me to continue to ask the questions, be curious, and do way, way more than just wear a bikini.

Ashley Williams and Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother
Ashley Williams and Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (Drumroll, Please). Courtesy of CBS.

You were a fan favorite on How I Met Your Mother. How fun was it to work on the show?

Ashley Williams: Yeah, I loved working on How I Met Your Mother. It was a dream job. The entire cast was some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Pam Fryman, who directed most of the episodes, is a longtime hero of mine and now I’m really excited we’re working together on something that’s very connected to this short so it was one of those sort of seminal moments in my life that changed the trajectory of my whole career. I’m very grateful.

What other projects are you working on now that you can announce or have already been announced?

Ashley Williams: I’m going to be collaborating with Pam Fryman on Camas Davis’s book, Killing It, which she’s optioned, which is based on a female butcher. We want to turn that into a TV show. I am going to be directing a feature for Lifetime next month. It’s a true crime thriller. I’m looking forward to directing a Hallmark movie, which is going to happen sometime in the next 12 months. Honestly, I really want to direct episodic television. That’s really what I want to do. I’ve worked a lot in episodic TV during my whole my whole career. I really love genre work where you figure out the rules of the genre and then work within that space. It’s something I think I would really excel at so I’m looking forward to that.

If the opportunity presented itself, would you like to do a reboot of Good Morning, Miami?

Ashley Williams: Oh, gosh! We would have to get Max Mutchnick and David Kohan on board but if you can get Mark Feuerstein’s word—if he’s in, I’m in!

Meats screens as a part of Short Programs 2 during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.