In the Spotlight: Neil Chase
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
Neil Chase, like any of us has had his nose in the grindstone for quite some time. As he has honed and perfected his craft over the years, Neil’s witnessed his writing grow and change just as he has through hardships and setbacks. Nevertheless that hard work has paid off. Now, Neil is witnessing his dreams come to life and is loving every second of it. He is proof that hard work, perseverance, and the right attitude can pay off. This is why I am so proud to introduce you to him. This is Neil Chase…
With a background in electrical engineering, I was about as far removed from the world of writing fiction as it got. But growing up with the love of movies and telling stories, the writing bug in me grew, and my transition from hobbyist to a full-fledged writer and actor was inevitable.
I have been fortunate enough to have a number of screenplays optioned and I am currently working on a fantasy children’s novel. As an actor I have starred in films which have screened at fests and networks across the globe.
I live in Edmonton, Canada with my beautiful wife and two amazing daughters. They truly are my inspiration. Without them none of this would be possible.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
Around ten years ago, I had moved to Edmonton and I didn't know anyone. So I thought I'd do something that both expanded my social circle and challenged me in some way. I'd always wanted to take acting lessons, but never had the chance, so I signed up at a local theater school. I enjoyed it immensely, and I made some life-long friends from the experience.
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Acting for the theater led to acting for the camera, and it was in that class that I was introduced to the local film community. One thing led to another, and soon I was attending a weekly meeting of actors, directors, and filmmakers organized by a local film collective, where we would practice the craft each week with a new and different scene. Over the span of four or five hours, we would split up into groups, pick our scenes, memorize lines, rehearse, block, and then film the scene, with in-camera editing to piece it all together.
A lot of what we made wasn't very good. But there were times when we made absolute magic, and it was those golden moments that kept all of us coming back and trying again. And it was also what led me to screenwriting. For most of the scenes we performed, we would use film or TV scripts that the collective had on file. Anything from The Godfather to Gilligan's Island. But even so, aspiring writers were encouraged to bring their own material. So I decided to do just that.
I started with simple scenes. From there, I wrote my first short film. Then another. And another. And after finding some success with them, I decided to tackle a feature screenplay. I can't remember how long it took from page one to completion, especially since I had a full-time job and could only dedicate an hour here or there at a time to it. Even so, it was worth it.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Being an actor before a screenwriter helped me find focus in this journey. It helped me to be as rounded in my approach as I could be. I found that being an actor helped me to be a better writer, and vice versa, as I got a deeper understanding of what actors look for in great roles, be it snappy and realistic dialogue, elevated character development, or attractive action lines. I've gotten a better understanding of what each role in a script needs in order for the story to really shine.
That said, I also wouldn't be where I am without the support of my incredible wife, Christina. She's my inspiration and my rock. When the time came to decide on whether or not to pursue writing and acting full time, she was the first person in my corner. I always loved to write and tell stories, but growing up, the arts weren't exactly a long-term option. If it wasn't for Christina, they likely still wouldn't be.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
It might sound corny, but my mom was always my number one fan. She would be the first to read my stories as a child, and she's one of the first to read my work now (next to my wife). She's read more books than anyone I know, and she has a keen sense of what works and what doesn't. I value her input as much now as when I was a kid. What can I say? I love my mom!
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
The first time I saw other actors breathing life into my words. It's one thing to put words to a page and imagine them spoken. It's quite another to see them come alive with the great variety of actions and emotions that trained performers can bring. It's amazing how different people interpret your words. No two actors will read the same dialogue the same way, and that's what makes writing for stage or screen so exciting. They're still my words, and it's still my story, but I get to see and hear it from a completely different perspective each time someone puts it to film. How cool is that?
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I've been fortunate enough to win some writing awards, and with how subjective this business can be, each time feels like winning the lottery. What works for one contest might not resonate at all for another. It's the same for getting your scripts read by producers or investors or studios. There's no blueprint for success. Believe me, if there was, I would have followed it years ago. But the one thing all successful people have in common is persistence. No matter how many times you fall, you have to get back up and try again. Set a goal. Work hard for it. Never give up. And swing for the bleachers every time. For all the strikes you suffer, all it takes is one moment - where all your training, dedication, persistence, opportunity, timing, and of course, good luck, come into play - and you will hit a home run.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
Definitely a Night Owl. All my best writing is done in the middle of the night. It's just me and my thoughts. No distractions. Sometimes, when it flows, I can barely keep up with putting words to paper as quickly as they come. Those are the best nights.
When do you get up?
After a solid night of writing, it's always too early the next day, but that's the price to pay for the pleasure of walking my daughters to school in the mornings. They are my world, and I would happily trade a few hours of sleep to help them get ready and spend that time with them. In a few years, they'll be too old and won't want me along, so I'm enjoying the small moments while I have them.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
After my daughters are safely in class, I take an hour to go to the gym. It both energizes me and gives me a chance to reflect on the work for the day. I do some of my best thinking in the gym. It's just me and the weights, so what better time for introspection and planning? Or for working out a stubborn plot point?
What’s for lunch?
Every day is different. My wife chides me for caring more about what I put on the page than what I do into my body, but for the most part I try to eat healthy. Tuna sandwiches or ham and cheese tend to be my favorites these days.
What do you do at night?
If I have an hour or two to spare, I'll catch up with a favorite film or a TV show I've been meaning to watch. One of the best ways to learn to write better is to see what other writers and filmmakers have crafted. Otherwise, it's time to write!
How do you define a successful day?
Any day I get some writing done is a successful day. If I can spend some quality time with my wife and kids on top of that, it's even better! One thing this journey has taught me is to appreciate the little moments, because they're too fleeting and gone way too soon, and yet they're the ones that make life special.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Taking rejection and growing a thick skin. I've had the same script win Best Screenplay honors one day and not even get past the preliminary round on another. You learn real fast not to take it personally (at least if you want any kind of longevity in this game). No single piece of art, whether writing, painting, sculpture, or music, has ever been universally loved. That's both the blessing and curse of art. It's not a science. There's no right or wrong way of doing it. There's poorly executed, but that's not the same thing. It's about how it makes you feel, and let's be honest, no two people feel the same way about an