The Impact Marketing Approach We’re Using to Change the World

A Guest Post By: Director Ashley Maria & Producer Lea-Ann W. Berst, Pioneers in Skirts

It was the summer of 2015, and filming of this very important impact documentary was going as planned.  We had been traveling throughout the United States speaking with women and men about the setback’s women were still facing in their careers. We were learning about the issues unique only to women.

Pioneers in Skirts® is a movie about ambition in women today.

We had hours of incredible character footage and a strong story arc. Our team estimated we’d finish the film after another year of following characters and fine-tuning scenes. We were almost done!

But, since we had depleted our savings and the donations we received from friends, we decided to head down the road of launching a Kickstarter campaign. The funds we’d raise would get us out of production and take us into post.

Pioneers in Skirts follows Ashley Maria’s journey as she examines the barriers and setbacks women confront in their careers. Our film came to light at a time when the Pioneers in Skirts topic, to many, was considered a non-issue. We were in an uphill battle when it came to educating the public that gender issues still existed. The word “bias” was not a term associated with women. The word “sexism” was a scary and misunderstood term. And “feminism”…many people we met had no idea that they didn’t have to burn a bra in order to show their support for equal opportunities and treatment for women!

Movie Sizzle Trailer from Pioneers in Skirts ® on Vimeo.

Here we were, about to have a Kickstarter campaign for a project that many wouldn’t understand until they saw the movie. We were in a Catch-22 and needed help.

Our PR intern, Lauren McDonald, stepped forward to suggest creative ways of building awareness for the movie and educate the public as we do it. On Lauren’s lead, we reached out to Deirdre Breakenridge for advice and quickly learned that Deirdre is a person who uses her expertise to help amplify others – not just for her clients – but for people who want to find their voices, share their stories, and make a difference.

To help us communicate the right message, Deirdre suggested that Ashley appear on her Women Worldwide podcast. That one opportunity set us up for the next, and then the next. A few months later we kicked off our month-long Kickstarter campaign and successfully raising the funds we needed!

Ashley Monica on Women Worldwide with Deirdre Breakenridge

Today, we’re excited to share that on October 26, 2019, we premiered Pioneers in Skirts in Los Angeles, CA!

Pioneers in Skirts Premiere in Los Angeles, CA

What’s Next?

Our goal is to screen Pioneers in Skirts in schools, communities, and companies, and help them utilize the film to spark conversations about what inclusion really means, and how to support and actively promote gender parity in our culture today.

And, now that the movie is ready to be seen, we are dedicated to sharing lessons-learned with fellow filmmakers. We’ve also started to post behind the scenes career advice videos aimed at helping others elevate in their careers!

Attributes a Mentor is Looking For in a Mentee from Pioneers in Skirts ® on Vimeo.

On January 30, 2020, we’re kicking off our “Ambition In” speaker series at the University of Southern California (USC). Our message reaches across industries, so we are working to influence post-screening discussions called Ambition in Science, Ambition in Robotics, Ambition in Politics, etc.

Called Ambition in Film: Overcoming Obstacles, Changing the Landscape of the Industry, for the January 30th event we’ve teamed up with two USC groups to instigate a productive action-based conversation!

Ambition in Film Event

We made this film for communities pursuing gender equality movements of their own, companies looking to better their inclusive culture, and schools who want their students to be aware of what’s ahead for them.

We especially made this film for the many young women who need to know: You Are Not Alone.

To achieve our impact goals, we emulated the approach we used for our Kickstarter campaign:

  1. Work to build an audience of screeners and influencers
  2. Research past successful impact film campaigns and try to emulate the steps they took
  3. When we launch, line up initial, targeted screeners who
    • can afford screening packages that will allow us to raise much-needed funds, and
    • are capable of bringing the film into communities and schools
  4. Create buzz and excitement around the film aimed at:
    • incenting people to want to see the film
    • incenting companies and nonprofits to want to support our impact efforts

Pioneers in Skirts is taking its first steps of our impact campaign – with an outcome of having an international deep dive changing-of-the-world for women who dream big. Our success could never have happened without the people we met and the support we received along the way.

Go Pioneers!

By Ashley Maria & Lea-Ann W. Berst

Ashley Maria, Director & Lee-Ann, Producer, Pioneers in Skirts

Pioneers in Skirts is a film from a daughter-mother team dedicated to fast-tracking the cultural change we need in order to achieve gender parity in the workplace.

Ashley Maria is a director, writer, and sound engineer based in Los Angeles, CA. She is a winner of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award and has also been recognized by the DGA Women’s Steering Committee as a director who represents The Future of Women in Film. Most recently, Ashley won Best New Director by the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival.

She is also a directing instructor at both UCLA’s Film School and America Film Institute’s Young Women in Film program.

Lea-Ann W. Berst is a Raleigh, NC-based producer, writer, and activation marketer. She started her career in the corporate arena, then, after 17 years, transitioned to competitive positioning consulting with mid-to-large sized companies. She is a winner of several technical and leadership awards – including the Triangle Women in Business award and twice receiving the prestigious IBM Award of Excellence!

Lea-Ann entered her career at a time where she had to fight for many of her career achievements, but – was shocked to hear her daughter, Ashley, had to fight just as hard. With years of studio and independent production experience under their belts, Ashley and her female colleagues started to notice they were consistently turned down for jobs because of being inexperienced “women-directors.”

Years of championing Lea-Ann’s daughter to be and do anything she wanted – wasn’t working!

That’s when Lea-Ann and Ashley picked up their cameras to share Ashley’s story; revealing the career obstacles she and many other women still have to deal with today.

Now that the film is released, the daughter-mother team is focused on building partnerships and tactics designed to deepen and advance the impact the film will have on our culture.

Find out more about Ashley, Lea-Ann and Pioneers in Skirts by visiting