Sylvia Ray is an award-winning Chicana/Korean-American born and raised in Barstow, California. The talented director has been in the entertainment industry for over six years and has already made considerable strides in advancing her career.
Raised by her mother and father in a military home, the young filmmaker dabbled in the art of theater and sports during her early education, yet, she hadn’t indeed found her calling as a director. Thanks to the help of a close relative, Ray attended Cal State Fullerton, where she landed a degree in communications, which would become very helpful down the line—more on that later.
We spoke to the young filmmaker for our continuing Women In Industry segment. Ray shared her upbringing, her discovery in becoming a filmmaker, her creative short films, and her latest project, Through the Blinds.
So, at one point, did you decide to become a filmmaker?
— It actually didn’t happen until later in life. I would say about six years ago was when I actually took the plunge. And prior to that, I had these whole other lives. I was into fashion; I worked in high-end fashion, in retail, and in management. I worked in the restaurant business. I traveled a lot. I lived in Korea twice, so I studied abroad and worked too–I was an English teacher there. Then eventually, I got pregnant with my first child when I was working on Melrose Place at a high-end fashion boutique. I took my leave, and the thought of going back to work there didn’t seem fulfilling enough for my time away from my kid. So, at that point, I ended up really digging deep about what it was I wanted to do with my life. How I wanted to spend my time and how I wanted to feed my soul, basically.
Sometimes it can take the correct events to fall into place before a person can find their true calling. Self-reflection, journaling, and her husband’s quarter-life crisis are something Ray took in account in what she wanted out of her creative life.
— I did a lot of self-reflecting about my childhood and a lot of journaling. I did a creative workshop and ultimately found myself kind of writing, basically. That ended up to journaling and writing and doing fiction writing. At the time, I had influences like my husband, who went into the film industry after a quarter-life crisis. I met friends who were doing what they wanted to do in arts and making money as a living. In fashion, I met a lot of people in the film industry as well, that were just regular ordinary people that weren’t any more special than you and I. And so I think by the time I was a little bit in my later 20s, the veil kind of came off, and I was like, “Oh, I could just choose this, and it’ll be fine.”
I went through a similar path. My mom always instilled in me that just getting a regular 9 to 5 job would always pull me away from what I really wanted to do in my career as a writer. And like you said that your husband had a quarter-life crisis.
— I feel like a quarter-life crisis is a real, very intense thing that doesn’t get talked about often. It was instilled in me too. My mom and my dad were in the military. My mom worked on the base, as a custodian. For her, it was all about the benefits, benefits, benefits, benefits, like, “Get a job with benefits.” It wasn’t even about finding the highest salary as possible. It was just getting good benefits, and that’s it.
Ray has been in the entertainment business for over half a decade. She’s held many positions and learned from them, and her education in communication plays a massive part in her journey as a filmmaker.
You’ve been in this business for 6+ years, and I see that you’ve done directing and editing. What other types of positions you’ve taken while in this industry?
— Producing is a big one because, in order to make your own stuff, you have to learn how to do that fairly quickly. Because no one’s really gonna do it for you or be as dedicated as you. My focus is directing, but I also write, edit and produce. Oddly enough, with the films that I work on or that I’m attached to, my communications degree comes into play big time. So, when it comes to networking, communications are big–press kits, press releases, promoting, marketing, all that stuff. It’s just part of it; otherwise, you’re just gonna scream into the void, and no one will know you exist or make things–that’s part of what I do.
Since you’re in filmmaking, is there any particular director, producer, or anybody who inspires you?
— Today I was just researching Paul Thomas Anderson. When it comes to visual storytelling and craft, he has changed a lot in tone and genre and the way that he moves the camera. I find it unique cause, as filmmakers, we all don’t wanna be pegged in one box. But then we all love all different types of movies. I’m that type where I kind of want to genre-blend or try this and that and not be stuck in one light. Other directors that influenced me are–Ava DuVernay is a huge one. I find it very inspiring that she started later in life. She had a whole career before she jumped ship and just went for it. So, I relate to that a lot.
I have noticed that some of your films go more into comedy. However, there is a bit of drama in some, and there’s Sci-fi in your short My Human Experience. So, what genre do you feel the most comfortable in working in?
— Right. Yeah, so I feel very much prepared, and I have a nice grasp on dramady. I do lean into comedy. I like to have fun. I like to have fun with my collaborators. I enjoy working with comedic actors a lot–it’s a blast. While I curate my career, that’s going to be the lane that I choose to barrel down, hopefully. Yeah. So, dramady, comedy, drama with levity.
Ray already has an eclectic set of shorts and music videos under her belt. The creative filmmaker has put her stylish directing to good use with a short film she’s hoping to turn into a pilot and another one hitting the film festival circuit.
I love your short Preggers. I thought Preggers was really funny, especially how it’s always that thing of a woman getting pregnant, and it’s the man in the relationship that comes in and says, “Oh, this is how it’s gonna happen.” And the short later forces the woman’s perspective onto the guy in comedic fashion. Another one I enjoyed was Limbo. You said you’re doing a 30-minute pilot, correct?
— Yeah. It’s funny. Cause both of those films were actually created by males. And so when I got brought on to direct, in my head, I’m like, “Well, they brought me on for a reason. So here we go.” And I appreciate that all of the creators, Mark [Elias] and Antoine [Perry], for In Limbo. Marco Parra, in particular for Preggers. They all let me put their characters through the wringer basically, which I appreciated. So, In Limbo, we had a blast shooting that. It was absolutely a micro-budget pilot web series. It did pretty well in film festivals, even through the pandemic. So we weren’t able to go to a lot of festivals in person. During the pandemic myself, Antoine and Mark wanted to rebrand it to be a bit more focused on V [Molly Cerne], who is the woman character that comes in and takes them to their apartment.
Oh yeah. I remember V.
— Yes. Simply because she’s more of the “straight man” in the story, and the characters that Antoine and Mark play are a bit intense. So, I feel like it would be hard to follow them all the time throughout a series of series of shows. So, we wanted to focus on V [Molly Cerne] and having these characters, playing off of her. And so, we’re focusing right now on rewriting a 30-minute comedy pilot.
Yeah. I’m totally interested in the perspective of V.
— It’s really fun. I’m gonna tell you, there’s a sexy angel, there’s a minotaur. There’s the demon Azazel who is even more vicious and has a crush on the devil–she’s secretly in love with the devil. There’s lots of really fun stuff going on that I can’t wait to share.
Are you shopping that pilot around?
— Yeah, yeah. So, the three of us are really highly ambitious filmmakers are in our own right. So we have been just doing monthly calls and monthly development deadlines until we get the script tight. Then hopefully by then, one of us will have more traction in which we can send it off and get it picked up. Mark is out there hustling and making another feature film, Antoine is writing, writing, writing, and I’m trying to make my first feature, I Blame Juliet and an anthology feature, Through the Blinds.
How’s the festival run for Preggers coming along?
— Yeah. I’m really excited about what may happen with Preggers. So, we’re at the very beginning of its festival run; we’re having a pretty good response. The rejection rate is low so far, which is good.
That’s a good start!
— We’ve been selected to Arizona Film Fest, Philadelphia Latino Film Fest, which is announced on April 1st. Then we just got selected to the Cine Nueva Onda program, which is through Hola Mexico Film Fest, Tomorrow’s Filmmakers today, and the Los Angeles Cinematheque. But yeah, we’ve gotten in a few, so all of the notifications are rolling in now.
One of the projects Ray is passionate about is her collaboration with other female directors and film Through the Blinds. The filmmaker has been working on the anthology project for several years, and production will soon ramp up.
— So, Through the Blinds—about in 2019, me and several filmmakers did the Directing and Actors Workshop through Alliance of Women Directors with Jennifer Warren, who is a really awesome director, and she’s really great with actors. So, we took that workshop together, and it was a whole monthly meeting situation ended up doing scenes from a film. And long story short, we came together for a potluck. We talked about just the trials and tribulations of filmmaking and what are the roadblocks and barriers for women and people of color in film. And we talked a lot about features. I’ve been developing features for several years but haven’t been able to make one yet. A lot of them, all of them haven’t been able to make their first features, even though they’ve earnestly tried.
Ray touched upon the unity of collaborating with her fellow directors on their Through the Blinds project. The film brought the group directors closer together, allowing their creative experience to build a more vital professional and personal bond.
— So we’ve talked about the difficulties, and then Becca [Louisell] came up with the idea of an anthology, and it kind of just rolled from there. The prospect of all of us doing it together, figuring out every step of the way, and using all of our strengths that we individually have that are different. In order to push the project forward and be accountable for one another and support one another, that aspect was really intriguing for all of us. It was somewhat like an experiment. Over time we’ve developed ways of how to come to agreements for things. We gave each other space when we needed it, as far as, if somebody’s on a job or if somebody’s doing this, we’ve been a shoulder to lean on if somebody needs help personally and professionally. So, it’s actually been a really awesome experiment that now is jumping into the investment phase after this crowdfunding is over. And hopefully pre-production at the same time. So it’s been really fun and cool.
Yeah. I’m digging the vibes and era of music that you and the other directors are doing with this movie, especially since there’s a connected Spotify playlist.
— Oh, did you find that?
Yeah, I did.
— We did extensive research, and we’ve been developing with each other for over two years now. We basically started off as a writer’s room for each other. The blueprint was we’re all in one house. We all have one decade in the same house. Basically, you have free range to make your short that is within the home, and some of them are intertwined, and some of them are not. We were soundboards for each other, and we were basically a writer’s room. We worked like a writer’s room. And then towards the end of the development, when we’re developing the script, we weaved through lines throughout the script–little Easter eggs. Trinkets like the fireplace is a big motif in all of our scripts.
If you’re wondering what Ray has in store for the foreseeable future, you’re in luck. The filmmaker is hard at work developing her short, In Limbo, into a pilot and is working on a feature called I Blame Juliet. The rom-com follows a woman whose family theater is going bankrupt. The company puts on a version of Romeo and Juliet to save the establishment. However, the main character encounters the spirit of Juliet in this cross between 13 Going on 30 and Shakespeare in Love movie.
Sylvia Ray’s growing talent as director will grab a lot of attention in the continuously expanding world of filmmaking, without a doubt. In addition, her eye for comedy and drama is a skill many desire to have, and it looks like Ray will be having a long, fruitful career in the entertainment industry, and we can’t wait to see where she goes next.