Ashley Soto ’11 Leads FAMS Kaufman Masterclass

Ashley Soto ’11 led the third installment of the Film and Media Studies Department’s Kaufman Masterclass, preceded by a screening of her five-episode series “Chuchi & Adaliz.” Assistant Arts & Living Editor Abby Kim ’27 recaps the screening and the class.

Ashley Soto ’11 Leads FAMS Kaufman Masterclass
A group of masterclass participants working on their independent production pitches before presenting it to Soto. Photo courtesy of Dana Whitney.

The third installment of the Film and Media Studies (FAMS) Department’s Kaufman Masterclass series featured Ashley Soto ’11 on Feb. 23 in Frost Library. The Kaufman Masterclass series was launched last spring, and invites film and media makers to the college to lead workshops open to all students interested in learning more about the entertainment industry.

Soto’s masterclass was preluded with a screening of her original five episode series “Chuchi & Adaliz.” The screening began with an introduction by Professor Pooja Rangan, Chair of the FAMS Department, of Soto and her impressive resume. Soto, a Mexican and Afro-Puerto Rican native of El Paso, Texas, has experience writing for “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” “Vida,” and “Fast and Furious: Spy Racers,” and was Co-Executive Producer of the podcast series “Michele Rojas Is Not Okay,” before co-creating her pilot “Chuchi & Adaliz.”

When Soto introduced “Chuchi & Adaliz,” she was emotional, explaining how despite showcasing her work before various executives and in front of a large audience at South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2023, presenting it at her alma mater felt more nerve-wrecking and sentimental. She continued to explain that she was adamant about creating “Chuchi & Adaliz” because through her own original work she had the freedom to explore and address the topic of intersectionality of race before the screening proceeded.

“Chuchi & Adaliz” is a single-camera digital series that follows two childhood friends and their evolving relationship. The protagonists Chuchi and Adaliz are played by the co-creators of the show Soto and Dani Adaliz respectively. The series highlights the friends’ racial and ethnic identities as Afro-Puerto Ricans and the impact of their different socioeconomic statuses, with Adaliz living in San Francisco and Chuchi in Oakland. The series immediately grabs viewers’ attention with a catchy, upbeat theme song, created by Bay Area artist Trackademicks. Soto’s use of vibrant lighting and fun costume designs also generate a unique, but fun and fresh vibe for the series.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with Soto and her partner Lance Cameron Holloway, who directed the third episode of the series. Soto revealed how, originally, she was supposed to play the character Chuchi while her co-creator Dani Adaliz would play Adaliz. Soto also disclosed the lengthy but fulfilling pre-production, production, post-production processes, which spanned a couple years. Soto and Holloway also explained how Holloway’s experiences as a Black actor lead to his direction of the third episode.

This third episode is characterized by the bold and direct conversation Chuchi and Adaliz have around race, where they compare their parents’ facial features and argue over who is “more Black.” This is followed by a defining moment with actor Jullian Farris, also a Black man. Given the nature of the scene which touches on the sensitive topic of race, Soto decided to put Holloway in the director role in order to ensure that all actors and crew on set felt like they were comfortable and seen, and that filming proceeded smoothly.

Soto hosted the Kaufman Masterclass the following day in Frost. Through a slideshow presentation, Soto lectured on the value of producing your own independent production and provided foundational tools on how to independently fundraise for it. Soto also provided a variety of insightful tips she learned during the production, post-production, and pitching of her series “Chuchi & Adaliz,” including the importance of calm and quick decision making while on set. The ease with which Soto spoke and answered a variety of questions throughout the presentation spoke to her experience with giving presentations and pitches for “Chuchi & Adaliz” to top level executives.

Masterclass participants pitched their independent production projects to Soto. Photo courtesy of Dana Whitney.

After Soto concluded the presentation, she split participants into groups of three to conduct an exercise that accumulated all of the advice she presented. Each group practiced pitching an original independent production offered by one participant from the group; each participant was delegated a certain role, and they collectively created presentations which they pitched to Ashley herself. Ashley then provided insightful feedback, allowing participants to feel more confident in their ability to sell themselves and their projects in any field, not just entertainment.

The FAMS masterclasses are amazing opportunities for all students, whether or not they are looking to enter the entertainment industry. For a connection-based industry, the opportunity for participants to meet and connect with alumni is an invaluable and unique experience provided through the masterclasses.