Interview with Screenwriter Ashley Gianni (NO RULES)

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

In 1992 New Jersey, at the boom of drag culture and amidst the raging AIDS epidemic, drag queen Visa Declined and best friend Angela Caruso find themselves at a standstill in their creative endeavors while desperately trying to build a community to call their own. Their dream of one day owning their own bar where they can produce their own shows and host community events is becoming less of a reality as they approach their mid-thirties and feel societal pressure to “grow up” and “get a real job”. Nonetheless, Visa’s an optimist, Angela is stubborn, and neither of them are fulfilled by the idea of a traditional and ordinary life. But how can two struggling artists scrape together the money for a down payment? They get creative, of course!


Narrator: Steve Rizzo
Visa Declined: Kyana Teresa

Get to know the screenwriter:

1. What is your screenplay about?

My film, No Rules, tells the story of Drag Queen Visa Declined, and her best friend Angela Caruso, in 1992 New Jersey, fueled by the urgency of the AIDS epidemic, as they fight for the respect and money to open their own bar so they can finally have a space to build their chosen family and live unapologetically! It is Camp – it is Theatre – it is Drag! But it’s Film, it’s accessible, it’s Welcoming! It invites the audience to engage and participate. No Rules encourages a “cult classic midnight showing” viewing experience that creates community. A little To Wong Foo and a little My Cousin Vinny, No Rules is my ode to my childhood as an Italian-Jew growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, and my love letter to all of the Drag Queens who have helped shape my identity.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

No Rules is a Queer and Female driven Narrative Feature Comedy that falls under genres such as Camp, Diversity, and Independent Film. No Rules celebrates feminine expression and queer values through comedy, camp, and compassion taking inspiration from classic, popular drag films like To Wong Foo and The Birdcage. No Rules will connect with audiences that enjoyed recent 2023 Sundance hit Theater Camp, 2023 SXSW success Bottoms, 2022 hit queer films like Fire Island and Crush, as well as female-led films like Do Revenge (Netflix) or indie-hit Booksmart. Audiences that tune into networks like Bravo and/or watch shows like Pose (FX), RuPaul’s Drag Race (MTV), and Queer Eye (Netflix) will connect with No Rules. On a border scale, the world of the film and its familiar characters reaches audiences who enjoy classic Italian-American films like My Cousin Vinny and Goodfellas or shows like The Sopranos and/or who are New Jersey natives.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Because we “Can’t Say Gay”, because Drag Queens are being banned, vilified, and criminalized, because our transgender youth can’t play sports or access gender affirming care, and because women have lost access to critical healthcare and the rights to their own bodies! As the rights of LGBTQIA+, Drag, Trans, and Female Americans continue to be dismantled & threatened every day, it is vital that we tell our stories – to enlighten, uplift, and empower our communities. To remind our peers that we belong. To uphold the values of our communities, and to amplify the necessary voices of the underrepresented. To create change!

The impending WGA strike only amplifies the demanding need to fund and produce uplifting queer stories focused on empowering the Drag and Trans communities before another industry shutdown.

It is my hope that No Rules, which celebrates the power of femininity and queerness, can inspire more acceptance for and the celebration of feminine presentation and values. I hope that No Rules can provide healing to anyone suffering, for anyone battling the heteronormative, and for anyone struggling to find their community.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?


5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

Are we surprised?! 🙂

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

The idea oriented in April 2021 and I wrote the first draft of what was originally a short film in November 2021. No Rules began as a poem that I wrote on my birthday – almost 2yrs ago to the day! I was spending my 2nd birthday in a row in quarantine & needless to say, more than a little depressed (who wasn’t depressed come April 2021?!) So, it was such a treat to be gifted a long weekend away, by myself, to write. I sat in front of a blank page for hours (the writer’s block was real)! To get inspired, per my usual practice, I turned on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race which I had been rewatching at the time (because whenever life gets hard, I turn to my Queens for comfort, inspiration, and empowerment)! Then it hit me, an Ode to the Drag Queens who helped shape my identity, the first line; Drag Queens were better than Barbie! I had no idea how timely that sentence would be two years later!

7. How many stories have you written?

Wow! This is tough. I have been a storyteller my entire life and started writing at a young age. Over the course of my professional career, I have written and produced stand up, sketch comedy, social content, short films, webseries, and pilots. No Rules is the first feature script I have written without a collaborator!

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

Another tough question! Music is a huge part of my life and creative process. My favorite music often depends on my state of being, and I’m not sure if I can choose a favorite song, but if I could only listen to one album for the rest of my life it would be the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Rent.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The No Rules writing journey actually served as a life raft for me while I navigated a very challenging life transition. This past year has been a massive period of personal growth and transformation for me and writing No Rules helped me reconnect with my true-self and find my authentic voice. I did, however, learn the biggest lesson a screenwriter will ever learn; DO NOT RELY ON ICLOUD BACKUPS!!! After one of those “in the flow” writing sessions on my second draft my computer crashed, and I lost everything that I had written that day. It was devastating! After hours (literally) of IT support, I had to accept that there was no way to recover my work. My Time Machine backups disappeared and my iCloud backup was overwritten when I turned my computer back on after the crash. Now, after receiving great support from fellow screenwriters, I backup to my external harddrive and have my Dropbox automatically backup. As one colleague reassured me, “the good news is that you’ll never lose another piece of writing again”! I’ve come to learn that a computer crash is a right of passage for any writer!

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

My first passion has and will always be acting. The story goes that I was two years old and pointed to the television and said, “I want to be in there”! I have always been captivated by the magic and power of storytelling. I love collaborating with like-minded queer and female storytellers. I love the independent film world and enjoy being a part of the filmmaking process in multiple ways from producing to acting to wardrobe styling. Outside of filmmaking, I’m a big animal lover and pittie Mom, and spend time advocating for bully breeds. I’m not surprised that I’ve fallen into the world of wardrobe styling, as I’ve always loved expression through fashion. I’m an avid thrifter and if you look at my closest you’d think at least ten different people lived out of it!

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

FilmFreeway has provided excellent customer service any time I’ve reached out in need of guidance and/or support. Since each festival has specific submission requirements, I would love to see the platform evolve into a more submission friendly experience and allow filmmakers to build their project’s landing page with a little more freedom, without upload limitations, etc. so that they can be tailored to each festival’s requirements. I’ve needed to build several project pages for No Rules to accommodate each festival and it becomes difficult to manage.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I connected with the mission of the festival and really appreciated that programmers focused on uplifting diverse, new voices giving a platform to underrepresented independent filmmakers. Because of the clear mission, I knew my script would be aligned with the values of the WILDsound festival and its audience. And the opportunity to receive feedback on my script at no additional cost was a huge influence on my decision to enter! WILDsound provided excellent, constructive and uplifting feedback that reflected the feedback I had been receiving from trusted colleagues. It is a thrill to know that my story resonated with the WILDsound community. The festival win and screenplay reading is extremely validating and empowering!


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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