Interview: Rad Ladies Lauren Haroutunian and Ashly Burch on Working as Women in Film and Games
Lauren Haroutunian and Ashly Burch are two of the badass creators in RocketJump, the digital production studio behind Video Game High School and Rocket Jump: The Show (premiering on Hulu on December 2nd). They’re also giving women newfound visibility in fields where we’ve historically been erased or shut out; Lauren is the Dean of RocketJump’s new film school, and Ashly has lent her voice to roles in games like Life Is Strange, Mortal Kombat x, and Borderlands 2.
We caught up with the two RocketJump-ers at New York Comic Con, and had a chance to talk to them about what it’s like to work in their respective fields, and how they hope to increase visibility for women in media.
The Mary Sue: Could you guys break down what RocketJump is for any of our readers that are just becoming interested in it?
Lauren Haroutunian: Rocket Jump is a digital production studio. We do all kinds of stuff, we do web content, we do original shorts, we have the RocketJump film school, which is educational film stuff. Podcasts…it’s just fun filmmaking!
Ashly Burch: It’s basically just a bunch of people that have become friends, or are related, or married, and are making fun stuff together.
TMS: How did the film school component come about?
Haroutunian: A big part of RocketJump is being transparent about our filmmaking process and letting people feel included; we have behind the scenes stuff for almost everything we do. And I did all of that for our flagship web series Video Game High School. I started on that end, and I’m a cinematographer, so I’m shooting other stuff, and I thought ‘I want to get more technical, I want to get more educational.’ We were like, this is a good way to tap into this core audience of young filmmakers who are looking to us like ‘oh, I think I’m interested in film, I like what you guys are doing, this seems like something I’d like to do.’ And they kind of found us. It was kind of a response to that need.
There are tons of free film schools that talk about ‘this is how you replicate what you see on TV,’ and we were like ‘no, let’s talk about why you would do that, let’s talk about what story are you telling.’ What I found is a lot of our RocketJump fans kind of see themselves in us, because we’re so available. So we wanted to create a more accessible education. It’s always going to be free. It also kind of started because I wanted to show more women behind the camera. It’s kind of blown up — we have around 125,000 subscribers and we launched May 1st. And we upload two videos a week, and we have a podcast. We have pro tips and we have longer tutorials. We’re trying to cover a wide range, from beginner stuff to higher concept.
Burch: I think it’s really cool too, because Lauren’s a DP, and it’s not a historically female-filled profession. And Lauren’s an incredible DP, and I think it’s really important and really amazing for young female filmmakers to see. Because Lauren is the Dean of the film school, and of course she talks about cinematography a lot. It’s really important for there to be visibility of women in those types of roles, because otherwise I think girls might not even think of that as a possibility for them.
Haroutunian: I didn’t. I didn’t know that was a thing I could do.
Burch: So when people can see an awesome lady doing something like that, it’s less intimidating, it’s less exclusive feeling.
Haroutunian: I want everyone to feel like they could do this.
TMS: And how did you wind up becoming interested in DPing?
Haroutunian: It was kind of by accident. I went to film school thinking I was going to be a writer-slash-director, and then I realized I’m terrible at working with actors. I’m just terrible. But I saw these big scary film cameras, and I was like ‘god, those are terrifying, I don’t know. I’m just going to do it, I’m just going to get over my fear of it,’ and then I realized that I loved directing camera, I loved lighting it. Once I understood it, it was totally fine. And then joining up with RocketJump was awesome, because they’re probably one of the few companies out there that will put a camera in a woman’s hands and expect her to do action. Which has kind of become my thing. I think I’m more of an action DP more than anything, so whenever there’s a handheld fight scene I’m the person they call, which is really awesome to me. 14-year-old Lauren wouldn’t believe me.
TMS: Ashly, you’re a voice actor for games as well. That’s another area that’s not been traditionally dominated by women. Have you had that experience working on it, or have you been working on games that you feel are pretty diverse?
Burch: I don’t want to count my eggs before they’re hatched, but especially after this last E3, it feels like there’s been an audible shift and an awareness of the fact that women have been poorly represented in games for a very long time. This year I was like, there are so many female protagonists! This is really exciting! And I’ve had the really good fortune of working on games, like, my character in Mortal Kombat X [Cassie] is the comic relief character, she’s really funny and sassy. And my character in Life Is Strange is Chloe, and I think that’s a really important game. I’ve been really really fortunate. And of course Borderlands 2, which my brother wrote, playing Tiny Tina, is just a fun, silly character. So I’ve gotten to play a lot of characters, but it’s only recently that that’s started to happen more. Before that there were the same female archetypes you would see in games; usually it was the damsel, or a badass chick that then gets damseled. Or death. Death or damseled.
TMS: Life Is Strange is an inherently emotional game. What that was like, to see that kind of response to something you’ve worked on?
Burch: It’s honestly a relief, because I put so much of myself into Chloe. That game is the most challenging and one of the most rewarding acting experiences I’ve ever had, because it’s so emotional. Episode 4, Hannah [Telle], who plays Max, and I were both bawling. We poured so much into those characters, so to see it reflected, and people really responding and having a real emotional connection….to have that connection with people, especially young girls, it’s really important to me. It’s…Lauren and I feel the same way too. For women in our roles, and the characters we write in the writer’s room, we’re always thinking, what are the representations of women that we’re putting out? Are they the right ones? What are we trying to say? For people to respond to the work Rocket Jump is doing, or any of the work I’m doing in games, means a lot to me as a young woman.
This interview has been edited and condensed. RocketJump: The Show premieres on Hulu on December 2nd, we’ll be sure to share more from Ashly and Lauren then.
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