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Ashley-Lauren Elrod: “Let the NO’s build you, not destroy you”

You’re going to probably hear the word NO 80% of the time. Once you get over this, the freer you will be to truly walk the road with a confidence that attracts only the BEST for you. This industry is tough, which is why I created Visionary Woman Productions, so regardless if I am performing […]

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You’re going to probably hear the word NO 80% of the time. Once you get over this, the freer you will be to truly walk the road with a confidence that attracts only the BEST for you. This industry is tough, which is why I created Visionary Woman Productions, so regardless if I am performing 100% of the time I would be able to create, lead, and guide within the industry I love. It’s wise and beneficial to have multiple streams of income and creativity, because I guarantee you it will keep you around the right people who will call you back if you prove you can get the job done on the first try.


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ashley-Lauren Elrod.

Ashley-Lauren Elrod is a seasoned visionary within and outside of the entertainment industry. Highly experienced in several areas of entertainment, arts, and media; ranging from acting, music, and dance to casting, directing, costuming, makeup artistry, production design, and various areas of naturally lit lifestyle photography. She possesses the unique and strong resume in which has led her to work alongside some of Hollywood’s most established, such as Paul Haggis of ‘Crash’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby’ actors, Kevin Pollack, and David Dastmalchian, as well top projects such as casting for ‘Shameless’, Revlon, and award winning Indie ‘The Alley Cat’. Her work ethic and spirit have led to her notability in publications such Vibe, Vogue Italia, Refinery29, WCIU, Windy City Live, and more.

As CEO of Visionary Woman, the award nominated performer and business owner holds strong to one mission which is to empower and equip performers, productions, and brands to excel in the entertainment industry. To fully bring a VISION to life; whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera.

If Ashley isn’t on set she’s usually performing, coordinating events, coaching, and speaking; combining creativity, counsel, and mission with her partners at The Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center as a survivor speaker, combating sex trafficking and child abuse. She strives to make a difference creatively and practically, one day at a time, using her testimony of overcoming life’s toughest battles to inspire those whose shoes she once stood in.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Absolutely- Thank you greatly for having me here! I now reside in the Big Apple, but a born and raised Chicagoan in which I carry much pride in! I love my city. I was raised by two dedicated parents that encouraged me to be my own personal best, and to remember my values would get me more out of life than money, fame, or any person ever could. I’m beyond grateful for that, due to the fact so many lose themselves in this industry daily striving for things that are unattainable. I had the greatest example of humility and truth growing up, as I watched my father work his way up from an almost pro-athlete to teacher and later a highly respected superintendent who left a positive mark on many lives.

And I’ve watched as my mother has constantly persevered through health troubles, which led to her leaving teaching and becoming a self taught creative and interior designer along with stay at home mom. I was taught perseverance from birth and how to get creative in a crisis which has served me greatly in life, especially in this time of COVID-19. I’m thankful for my parents’ sacrifice for me to take several different lessons in art, dance, music, and sports which has led to me having a pretty wild and fun journey as an artist, equestrian rider, business owner, and non-profit partner.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Artistry is in my blood as I now see as an adult. My parents and pretty much all my family members are phenomenal artists and entrepreneurs, so I feel it was destiny for me to continue on the path. Specifically, I was sexually abused growing up and the one thing that has kept me going is my God given talents to serve others through music and performing. I knew in high school because of what I was unfortunately subjected to in my younger years, that I wanted to inspire others through meaningful art because I knew how therapeutic and lifesaving it truly could be in times of trauma. It was exactly that for me growing up, and as I’ve gotten older, my ‘why’ has become even stronger.

I now and have always used my art and story to help those in whom I can relate to in regards to brokenness, by partnering with the very org that helped prosecute my abuser; which is The Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center. I have also been blessed to partner with other orgs combating abuse and sex trafficking such as Songs Against Slavery, Humans for Justice, and Thistle Farms. Coordinating events, tours, shows, and speaking engagements to further empower others.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Honestly, it’s been such a funny and winding journey. If you would have told me I would have been an actress, recording artist, and dancer, who’d create her own one woman run production company, I would have looked at you cross-eyed. This whole journey has been one big interesting story! I think the most interesting story of my career would be how I got into casting. I worked as an extra during college so I could get on sets, network, and land bigger opportunities before graduation, which ended up happening. I worked for one of the bigger extras casting companies back in 2011 Atmosphere Casting for someone who became a mentor to me years later, Jon Kinnas. When I met him as just an eager gal in college I thought he was so intimidating on set! He just walked with a confidence and aura that demanded respect which was inspiring. I didn’t know years later after graduating and working my way up that he’d ask me to be his casting assistant for a little show called Shameless. The opportunity was totally out of the blue and was one of the best experiences of my life which led to me making my own mark in the casting world. I will always be thankful for genuine people like him who were willing to take someone like me under his wing and train to be a leader and not a follower.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My goodness! From fake model comps I thought were fabulous to how my hair was styled, I made so many goofy mistakes which I’m glad I quickly broke interning with a talent agency. I think the biggest mistake that stands out in my head is when I started out modeling and went to a callback for Elite Model Management my freshman year of college. I was way overdressed first of all, wearing flare jeans, a chunky necklace, and some awful lace camisole number. I literally cringe thinking about it! Ha! It was awful, and my pictures were below par to say the least. My dad took them for me in front of our house and boy did I think I was something!

Looking back, I just say to old me “bless you heart my dear” because I had zero clue what I was doing. I obviously didn’t get a contract that day, but the good thing is after I got myself together the following year I signed with BMG and three other agencies for different divisions instead. I let that mistake propel me forward instead of stop me in my tracks.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Wow! Honestly, many people have helped me get where I am. Geri Perez, Vivian Sinya, Alina Tsvor, Jehan Miller, Jon Kinnas, Darlene Hunt, Lily Liu, Tiffany Mcpherson, Rodney Young, The Basuel Bros, Janiece Noel, Rebecca Taras, Jackie Merlau Hall, David Mitchell, Lauryn Vaughan, and so many other creatives and mentors who I call family have helped me become who I am in and outside of this industry. It would be a disservice to name only one, because all of the people named have truly been my ride or die from the very beginning. They helped me build my brand and start my movement which has grown greatly over all of these years. They have continuously supported me over almost a decade in my calling and I’m equally blessed by all of them.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

You’re going to probably hear the word NO 80% of the time. Once you get over this, the freer you will be to truly walk the road with a confidence that attracts only the BEST for you. This industry is tough, which is why I created Visionary Woman Productions, so regardless if I am performing 100% of the time I would be able to create, lead, and guide within the industry I love. It’s wise and beneficial to have multiple streams of income and creativity, because I guarantee you it will keep you around the right people who will call you back if you prove you can get the job done on the first try.

Be smart, not eager as this industry is filled with people who are sadly more than willing to take advantage. Nowadays, I suggest one-on-one mentorship with someone who is well versed and connected who can teach you to build your brand and business. It could be with an industry coach like myself or a manager in whom you can entrust with your goals. Lastly, know your why! Know why you want to actually do this, because your why is what will get you out of bed in the morning. It has to be substantial and rooted to something much bigger than yourself. It can’t be “I want to be famous” because a why like that will drive you crazy instead of into your own version of success. Trust me. Fame should never be the goal. Influence on the other hand should, because when you’re striving to leave a positive mark that is when things seemingly come together for the right reasons. Once it is , trust me, God will truly open doors no man can shut.

What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?

Honestly, my why is what drives me, which is to see others succeed and use their stories for good. I want to see more genuine partnerships and diversity. I want to see these unique and beautiful stories being written by independent artists get funded over the same recycled stories we are all tired of seeing. I want to see the industry shift more towards the time where it is truly about the story and nothing else.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

Thank you so much for noticing! I’m currently working on my next EP ‘Revival’ in which my single “Alive’ will be debuting this September as a preview. I’m also wrapping up my first book, currently filming two podcasts; Heart Issues and Courageous Babes Tribe, setting up a coaching sessions hub for aspiring artists, and athe feature film ‘Imago’ in which I assisted directed to raise awareness for domestic sex trafficking is wrapping up in post for it’s upcoming premier. Lastly, I’m excited to be continuing my partnership with Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center in regards to further speaking engagements, healing sessions, and an upcoming documentary to further raise awareness and support survivors.

We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?

Of course! It is crucial to have much more diversity in this industry, because let’s be honest it is not known for it in several ways. We have always been fed one type of beauty, and I personally know and understand what it feels like to fight that toxic norm every single day. This is a big reason I created my company, which if you go to the sight you’ll immediately see that all of my projects have been cast with diversity in mind on purpose, and I will never accept a job or create one that doesn’t truly cater to that.

It’s crucial in all arenas of the field to truly be able to tell stories that breathe life and authenticity, give whomever is watching it a voice and send messages of solidarity and hope, and further creates a comfortable environment for everyone to be a part of and not just a select group. All of these factors affect the next wave of culture and influences our youth, and as we can see the next generation are much more open to change, and not willing to abide by the norms set up by generations before us. I believe whether we start working to create true change or not, they definitely are going to fight tooth and nail to make sure it happens in the next decade, and I’m excited to see it!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Gosh! Another tough one, ha! These are all so great and I have so many, but here’s what sticks out the most.

  1. To be patient and not jump at every contract offered to you. I jumped at signing a big contract for a major television network that was attempting to create a music division when I first started that part of my career. They did not have my best interest in mind, and it showed. I wish I would have taken my time to feel it out, rather than jump at the opportunity so quickly.
  2. Let the NO’s build you, not destroy you. To briefly elaborate, I got burned out and depressed years ago when I worked so hard on booking so much, almost got booked as a lead for some big projects, all to get told they went with someone else! It is TOUGH, but this is why knowing your why is so important, because when those big blows come it will help you stay focused and find the positives in those letdowns. It will help you understand that you’re still awesome in your own right, and that it was not meant for you at that time, but something else will come along that is just right.
  3. It’s not a competition. What is for you will truly never miss you. This industry can be toxic and I’ve seen the cut throat nature of many people in the production realm and in the performance realm. I always hated and still hate to see this. There is truly enough to go around for everyone, and if more people realized this, I believe this industry would be a lot brighter than it is. I love living in freedom knowing that what God has for me is for me, and my talents and light will book what is right for Ashley, and not anyone else. I would rather build community and root on my fellow artists in the audition room rather than walk in highly insecure playing the facade of “I’m going to get this role over you” card. Also, as a casting director I’m always looking to connect with talent even in my own auditions so I can keep them in mind for future opportunities! You never know who you’re sitting next to, so be nice.
  4. Less is more. You don’t need to overdress, wear heels, and strut extra into the audition room. As a casting director and performer, I love to be natural and love meeting talent that can do the same. I want to see who you truly are and what you can bring to the role, not all of this extra fluff being used to overcompensate. I want to book people who are talented and also fun to work with on set. That minute or so in the audition room means everything!
  5. It’s a lot about who you know, so make a standout impression. As stated above a lot of casting directors, directors, and such want to book people who are not only talented but have a great presence and are easy to work with on set. We don’t like having to deal with difficult people in an already high pressure situation. A lot of times, if you make a good impression with production the first time they will keep you in mind for their next project, even if it’s years later. I know this from experience, as I’ve been booked on many jobs and hired to cast many jobs due to the fact I left a good impression with whomever was in charge. Always leave a good impression, because most likely you’ll see anyone from craft services to the director again who indeed will help you get your next job.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

God is my number one and connecting with the divinity of the spirit is what guides my life and every decision that I make, which has never served me wrong. Life has been tough for me in many ways, and disconnecting from the world and connecting truly with something much bigger than myself has been key to me not losing who I am. I have been in many situations when I walked away out of confusion and pain, which literally almost led to my suicide, but a moment happened that is hard to explain which saved my life. I had a true encounter with something I didn’t know was real until I saw it for myself. I may sound crazy, but that is my truth and no one can take that from me. And now part of what I do as a leader is teach others to connect with the divine so they can connect with themselves and others.

This segways into my next form of self-care, which is immersing myself in nature by hiking, camping, fishing, etc, anything where I can be amongst natural creation because that is where I see God’s beauty. Especially in the mountains in places such as Montana. It’s my favorite place to go, especially because it’s one of the last Indian Reservations in the U.S. in which my ancestors resided.

Lastly, I love getting my body moving through dance. If I’m ever feeling anxious or down I hop into a DivaDance NYC class which is currently online due to COVID. I love being surrounded by a body posi community that makes you feel good no matter what, and reminds you that you deserve your time to connect with yourself and create beautiful, sassy art.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is a scripture which is actually a part of my business model, which is “where there’s no vision, the people perish” in Proverbs 29:18. It’s highly relevant because this is the scripture that focused me to start my business Visionary Woman Productions, which has become successful in its own right in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Currently, I’m blessed to be leading a movement of over 10,600 people in which we are called The Warriors. It started over five years ago when I launched my first single ‘Warrior’ which was to inspire others to lead the change by actually being it. It’s a movement which calls for authentic action, accountability, and healing. Our membership site will be up soon since it’s gotten so big that I felt led to create something to keep the vibe personal. It’s been amazing to walk alongside so many journey’s and see how me being fully open with who I am and my why has inspired many to do the same and to continue the cycle. I am aiming for it to break even more ground in the coming years to create my nonprofit to further support survivors of traumas and abuse. My goal is in the next five years we will be having Warrior conferences and retreats which will truly help others transform and walk out life as the best version of themselves, constantly evolving.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I would absolutely love to have lunch with Tori Kelly! As a fellow recording artist and faith-filled leader, I would love to just take in her beautiful aura and learn from her since she is one of the greatest female artists out right now in my opinion. From her phenomenal guitar skills, songwriting, and faith it would just be great to be mentored by someone of her caliber and spirit.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Yes m’am! I can be found through the following links:

Instagram: www.instagram.com/ashleylaurenofficial

Website: www.ashleylaurenonline.com

Youtube: www.youtube.com/ashleylaurensmusic

Photo credit: Diana Davis Creative @diandaviscreative

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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