This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 317: With Actor/Writer/Director Steven Chase.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #317 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing actor, director, producer and writer Steven Chase. He started out as an actor. He started producing stuff to have stuff that he could star in. He’s produced nearly 20 feature films and has written and directed many of those, and now he’s just completed another feature film called Stan the Man, which he wrote, directed and produced and starred in. We talk about the early days of his career, kind of how he got going, and then we dig into this movie specifically and talk about how this movie got made. So stay tuned for that interview.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer, director, producer and actor Steven Chase. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Steven to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Steven: Thank you. I appreciate being here.
Ashley: To start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Steven: Well, I was born in Newark, New Jersey and came to Staten Island when I was probably like five or six years old we moved there. And I was always interested somehow in the entertainment business. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do [inaudible 00:02:28] magic and started getting drum lessons and wanted to be a rock star at one point, but that all faded. Years went by and I always try to figure out when or what kind of moves could I make to get in the business. I did have a relative, I don’t know if you know who he is, his name is Jack Klugman, he’s from The Odd Couple and Quincy.
Ashley: Oh yeah, sure.
Steven: Yeah, he’s my cousin. Well, he passed away, but he was my cousin. He was my father’s mother’s sister’s son, so my grandmother’s sister’s son. I guess it’s in the blood stream, I’d always had that feeling of being an actor. I went to New York and went to a school called HB Studios and started learning the craft and I really enjoyed it. And working and collaborating with other actors, I started getting smaller acting jobs at NYU , and then I started [inaudible 00:03:38] feature films. I believe the first feature film that I was ever cast in was a movie with Eric Roberts, Megan Gallagher, Red Buttons, James Earl Jones. And that was the first movie that I ever done.
So I caught the bug right away and worked with all the famous casting directors and started to gain a little name for myself and just started working my way up. Then I moved Florida after I guess around six or seven years in the business. Then I started working in the Florida circuit. That went pretty good too. I did various plays and commercials and as many feature films as I could audition for and also book. Then one day I just said to myself I need to figure it out and write a film for myself, write like Sylvester Stallone did. And I started to write this romantic comedy and I wrote myself in the lead called Shut Up and Kiss Me. I ended up not playing the lead because of the Hollywood nonsense.
I stepped down and just took a small role, but I was a producer and the writer one of the actual movie. It did really well and shot it on…
Ashley: Let me stop you there just with a couple of follow-up questions. Just real quick, I’m curious, what was the motivation for moving from New York to Florida? That seems like it’d be very counterintuitive for a guy that’s coming up through the ranks.
Steven: Well, it was just a bunch of events that occurred leading me to Florida. I didn’t move there for a career move, I kinda moved there to help my dad out. My dad needed to move to Fort Lauderdale and I took the ride with him and ended up staying there myself because the weather is so beautiful and I just got tired of the cold weather in New York. It’s just unbearable in those winter months. So I gave it a shot and signed up with some agents and it seemed to be really good at the time. That’s how I made it to Florida.
Ashley: Gotcha. Now a follow-up question on your screenplay Shut Up and Kiss Me, how did you sell that? Maybe you can describe that process. I know screenwriters are always asking that question, “Well how did you sell it?” Maybe you can give us a little insight. At this point, you have an acting career going so you know a lot of people in the industry, but what was the… how did you… did you get an agent first or did you just meet some producers? How did that actually sell?
Steven: You mean after we shot the film?
Ashley: No, I’m saying for Shut Up and Kiss Me, how did you actually get the screenplay sold? What were some of those steps you took to get this thing into place?
Steven: Well, I never sold it, I produced it. I wrote the screenplay and I mailed out these commissions to a few producers in LA. I got turned down a couple of times and then I didn’t give up and I kept going and finally I got a yes. I was invited to California, Hollywood to meet with a producer, a Hollywood producer. She basically loved the screenplay [inaudible 00:07:14] work with us, with my partner and myself. And we… that was history right there. We raised the money ourselves.
Ashley: What was the reaction, because I get a lot of screenwriters coming to me, they’re an actor exactly in your position where they’ve written a script, they’re an actor and they wanna put themselves in the lead or a director or something along those lines. What was the reaction you got? You said, “Hey, I wanna be the star.” And at this point, I mean you had a lot of acting credits, so it doesn’t seem like it would be that farfetched for you to be the lead in this movie. But what was the reaction you got and what was the motivation ultimately for saying, “Okay, I’ll take a secondary role in this project?”
Steven: Yeah. It’s definitely disappointing because you set your mind to playing one of the leads, the reason being is they just didn’t feel, back at the time [inaudible 00:08:11] would sell a movie. The distribution wouldn’t have worked out. That’s the reason being. Only distribution, and it’s sad but it’s true. At the time I didn’t feel strong enough to fight it, I was just happy enough to make the movie and I believe that I would have my chances later on. So I kinda stepped down from it and just took the smaller role and the movie was pretty good. I mean, we shot on 35 millimeter, we shot it in Florida, a lot of company moves, a lot of cameras. I mean, the whole nine yards.
Hollywood came to Florida and shot a great movie and it did really well. We got picked up by American World Pictures and went on to do great things. So I made the right choice.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, perfect. That’s a good little bit of insight. Let’s dig into your latest film, Stan the Man. Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Steven: Well Stan the Man was… I manifested the character and created the story during a shoot I was doing as well. I was working on a movie called Garlic and Gunpowder, a comedy, a buddy movie. I don’t know how it happened or if I hit my head on the toilet bowl seat or something like Dr. Brown, but all I could say is that the idea just manifested quickly. So it was just a week left to shooting Garlic and I was already writing notes. I do a lot of stuff shorthand, on a legal pad, so I just started writing down. I was always a big fan of Dudley Moore and Arthur, so it kind of like… it was that kind of field that I wanted, but I also wanted to get on like touch on something like a spiritual feeling, something that’s biblical as well.
That is, I wanted to have the combination. And it was just… it was… I’ve kind of… it moved pretty fast, the screenplay. I mean, I had pretty much a lot of notes ready to go and I knew where I was gonna shoot the movie. I had a lot of help with the locations and I knew I was gonna be hands on. So I knew I could alter the dialogue and the current locations for where we were gonna shoot. And so basically, it’s about a guy that just… he wasn’t a bad guy, but he just didn’t have it together, he just didn’t understand that he was breaking a lot of cardinal sins. He just wasn’t on the right track. His mom from above was trying to give him signals but he just didn’t see it because he was having too much fun and too much distractions, too much noise.
So he became a [inaudible 00:11:29] not a hardcore drinker, but he liked to dabble in it and he definitely was a big womanizer. So that’s really where the story goes. And then we have kind of the arc where he meets with the, I don’t wanna give away the story, but he meets up with the angel to give him a second chance in life.
Ashley: Right. Gotcha. Let’s talk about the writing of the screenplay and the collaboration. On IMDb there’s a Zachary Sasim who has an original story credit and then a co-writer credit with Robin DeMartino. Maybe you can kinda just describe that process. Did you guys get in the same room once you had this outline, did you give it to them, did you get feedback? Maybe just describe sort of the process of collaborating with these other writers.
Steven: The collaboration was that I came up with the storyline and I already knew Zachary because he worked on another movie with me called Garlic and Gunpowder, which I just spoke about. So I told Zachary about how I would like the story to be and the characters and basically, let’s get a real draft up quick. So we got that together, but there was something missing. I wasn’t quite happy with it and I just didn’t have, let’s see, the patience anymore to go over anymore notes with Zachary even though he did the best he could. Then I went to my casting director, Robin DeMartino and I sent over her my notes. She started collaborating with me and things started really making sense.
Basically, the first draft I did with Zachary, but then the draft we actually shot, was a collaboration of me and Robin DeMartino.
Ashley: I gotcha. Perfect. So let’s talk about your writing process. Where do you typically write, do you have a home office, are you guy that likes to write at Starbucks? What does that look like for you?
Steven: Writing could be anywhere. I could be outside in a park bench, I could be outside at the back of my yard, sometimes I’ll get ideas in a car and I’ll pull over and write it down. I mean, it could happen anytime, anywhere. Then I just combine all the notes and then I’ll come home into my home [inaudible 00:14:06] and start to put the sentences together, basically as they say, start to write the dialogue, the characters and figure out what’s gonna work and what’s not. And you know what, you could do a whole screenplay and I’ve done it and only a couple of the 5% of it sticks into the screenplay. It just evolves, things change. There’s no controlling it either.
I think that you just get a feeling of like a God thing that comes through you to start jotting down new notes every day. One day it sounds like it’s gonna work out.
Ashley: Yup. How much time do you spend preparing when you’re doing the outline in this outlining stage, how much time do you spend in the outlining stage versus how much time do you spend actually in final draft writing scene descriptions, character descriptions, dialogue and that sort of thing?
Steven: Gosh, it’s just a real process. Like a real process that happens through writing all of it at one time, like the complete screenplay. I just break it up into scenes and then I figure out where I’m gonna shoot it. So I get that I know the location pretty much because I’ve been shooting the last few movies in Temecula, so I know. So it all takes place in my mind and the location, then I think about the actor and then the actors saying the dialogue. Then I just type it all together. Robin and I just, we get into the program and we just start hammering away whatever the notes that we have.
Ashley: Yeah. What does your development process look like? It sounds like once you got going with Robyn, things were going pretty well in terms of the script, but did you then finish a draft and send it to some other people to get notes and then do more rewrites? What did that process look like?
Steven: No, not at all. We didn’t send it out to anybody. The screenplay was the screenplay, we just made alterations and revised things that we needed to so that we can make the days in days out. But no, this is what in house Robin and I, we wrote the final screenplay Stan the Man together.
Ashley: I gotcha. And how do you approach screenplay structure? You know, there’s the very sort of formulaic template, Syd Field, Blake Snyder. A lot of writers I have on are a little more free form. How did you guys approach screenplay structure with this?
Steven: Magic Screenwriter, the program. That’s the best way. Just, yeah.
Ashley: What sort of genre requirements did you feel this needed to have? I mean, it’s kind of a romantic comedy. Is there certain tropes that you wanted to use or certain tropes you wanted to subvert?
Steven: Yeah, I just kind of developed through the idea of just having this character just go through life just like Dudley Moore, that’s where I got it from. It was just that kind of a feel the whole time. I really wasn’t thinking romcom, it just happened and just happened. I didn’t really say, “Oh, I’m gonna set out to do this genre.” It wasn’t like that. Now, these days you really need to know for distribution because things have really changed because of all the online platforms and the DVD stuff that’s happening, it’s calmed down and the market’s slow. So you really need to know your genre. You need to know your audience, who you’re going after, especially as an independent filmmaker.
So, yeah. It’s just the business is changing very quickly, so you really need to know everything before you sink your teeth into a script, because you don’t wanna waste your time on writing a screenplay that you’re not gonna be able to get produced.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Sound advice. Okay, so once you were done with the script, you had a draft that you guys were happy. It sounds like you had a lot of locations, a lot of actors in place. What was your next steps to actually getting some production funding in place? Did you have some financiers that you’d worked with before, did you go to them, did you get new financiers? And I’m just… even just some general advice, because I get a lot of people coming to me, “Hey, how can I raise money for my screenplay?” It sounds like you’ve done it a number of times, so maybe you can just kinda tell us specifically about this one and then in general some advice you might have.
Steven: That’s exactly… I made a few phone calls to people that have already invested in the films and they were happy to do it on. They usually come in also to and visit the set while we’re shooting. Sometimes they bring their family members and we put them in as extras. But that’s exactly how it went. Just a few phone calls.
Ashley: So on your IMDb page, it looks like you’re transitioning to be more of a producer, director, writer in addition to your acting. Maybe you can talk about that transition. Are you becoming more excited by writing and directing, are you writing and directing just to give yourself acting parts? That kinda sounds like how it initially started out, but sort of where do you see yourself, how is that transition going and where do you see yourself in five years?
Steven: It seems that way, that producing and acting and directing all goes together. What happens is that you get disappointed through some of the work you’ve done and you feel like you know what, the only way you can get it done the way you want it done is to be hands on. That’s pretty much what happened to me. I just feel that who’s gonna do it better than me and knows the story better than me if I’m the one directing it. And I’ll tell you directing is a lot of fun.
Ashley: Yeah. So yeah…
Steven: It’s a hard work, it’s a hard [inaudible 00:20:25] yeah. But it’s great, it’s… I think that at one point every actor should get a chance to direct one of their own films.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. So what’s next for you? What do you have in the pipeline?
Steven: Well, I have a movie out called Frankie’s Redemption that I shot in May and that’s pretty, it’s pretty good. It’s getting wrapped up and availed. [inaudible 00:20:53] there’s gonna be also be handling distribution for that film. Also, I have a movie that I’ve been actually in rewrites right now called Too Hot to Trot. It’s about two kinda like, how do you say it, they’re not like real wise guys, they’re just really like guys that just made some bad choices in life and they actually get a gambling debt going and they stumble onto a horse that can talk and the horse… actually, they take him to the track and the horses, the thoroughbred actually talk to the other horse and let them know the winners of the horse.
Ashley: [laughs] That’s a great premise.
Steven: [inaudible 00:21:41].
Ashley: I like to wrap up the interviews just by asking the guests what they’ve seen recently that they thought was great. And again, this is geared towards screenwriters. Are there any movies, TV shows, Netflix, Hulu, wherever shows you’ve seen recently that you thought the writing was really, really stellar and you’d recommend to other screenwriters?
Steven: The only show that I actually could say that about is Breaking Bad. That was the one show that I thought that was unbelievable writing. And now they have another, like a spinoff of it. Something Saul, the guy that was in there they have another show.
Ashley: Oh yeah. Better Call Saul. Yeah.
Steven: Yeah. So that’s a really… the [inaudible 00:22:28] was fantastic.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. How can people see Stan the Man, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Steven: The release schedule, it releases tomorrow I believe on the fourth. February 4th.
Ashley: Okay, February 4th. Okay, perfect. Well, Steven, I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today. The one last question I give everybody is what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing. I will round up for the show notes.
Steven: Oh yeah, I’m on Instagram @chase1, C-H-A-S-E like my last name, one and also on Facebook @Steven Chase.
Ashley: Perfect. As I said, I’ll round those up for the show notes. Again, Steven, I really appreciate your coming on the show and taking a few minutes to talk with me. Good luck with this film and I’m happy to have you on in the future when you finish another one of your films.
Steven: Thank you so much. I really appreciate this and you have a great day.
Ashley: You too. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
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To wrap things up, I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Steven. I really like what he said about his first project that he wrote so that he could star in it, but ultimately, he had to relinquish the lead role to get the movie made. Sometimes those sorts of practical decisions must be made. One of the marks of a real writer at least I think is that they don’t ever get too tied to any one specific piece of work. Real writers are always writing new stuff, they’re always finishing new stuff. So there’s always this sort of attitude like, “Yeah, whatever, I can always write a new script, I can always generate new material.” And that’s really what a writer, a good writer can do.
It’s not about just one script. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people who have written one script, it took them five years or 10 years to write, and now they’re wondering how they can retain creative control over the project, they put so much time into it. There’s really only one answer for a novice writer that has one script, they have to go out and raise the money themselves. That’s the only way they’re gonna maintain creative control because no one is gonna finance a film with an inexperienced writer who’s making all sorts of creative demands. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s not how the business works. If you go back and listen to my story of how I broke into the business with my first spec script sale, it’s actually Episode Number #2 on the podcast.
You’ll see me and my writing partner, we had to do something similar to what Steven’s talking about. As the option was going forward, we kinda knew that they weren’t gonna make what we considered to be a good script. They had done a lot of rewriting on it, but ultimately we decided, and there was sort of, there was some dates that they missed and the option actually expired. I don’t think they were fully aware. They were really busy in preproduction and so the option actually did expire and we could have just gone and said, “No, we’re not selling you the script.” But ultimately, we made the decision. We felt like we could write more scripts. Why not get a credit, get something produced, get one on the board, make a little bit of money, be a produced screenwriter?
And they were gonna do a good job in terms of the casting, the production value. They did have some money behind them. So we made the decision and it was painful. We knew the script was not gonna be the movie that we had written or the movie was not gonna be the script that we had written, but again, these other things just sort of outweighed it. And we always just sort of felt like, you know what, we can write more scripts. And you know, what we did, we sat down and we wrote a couple more scripts that were very similar in sort of tone and everything else. And to be honest, I think the newer scripts, we wrote two more that were very similar sort of young guys discovering themselves, fighting themselves sort of those Jack Kerouac on the road type scripts a lot of people in their 20s write.
We wrote this one Dish Dogs, which sold and then again, we wrote two more after that. And I think the two more after that were actually better. We just kept getting better as writers, we listened to the feedback. What was the problem with Dish Dogs, why did they wanna rewrite it? What mistakes did we make? And I think these other scripts were better. So that’s my parting advice for today. Don’t be too precious with your materials. Sometimes it’s okay to let them bastardize it if it can still move your career forward a little bit. And believe me, I know how painful this can be because pretty much every spec script that I’ve sold that got produced ended up the same way.
Even the ones that didn’t get produced, I know what the scripts look like. I have a couple scripts that I sold that didn’t get produced but the producers were doing rewrites and going in directions that I didn’t necessarily wanna go. And to be honest with you, that’s been one of my decisions. One of the decisions, one of the pieces that helped me make the decision to be more of a producer and a director is to try and get some of these films finished in a way that creatively I do maintain control. But you’ll notice, I talk about this on my own podcast. It’s all about the raising of the money. It’s about… if you raise the money, you’re in control of where it goes. But if you’re just looking to be a screenwriter, sell scripts, it’s gonna take many, many, many years, many, many successful films before you as a writer really has any kind of real power.
And to be honest with you, I don’t know that there’s any writers, like I don’t know there’s anybody that I can really name. Certainly, guys like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, but those guys are writing and directing. They’re not just writing. So I don’t know that there’s anybody in Hollywood, even the biggest screenwriter on the planet, I don’t know that he really has a lot of creative control ultimately unless he’s also directing and potentially producing. But certainly, he’s gotta be at least produce on a feature film and ideally the writer would direct again, to maintain that creative control. Anyways, parting advice, don’t be too precious for your material, always go about it with that attitude that, “Hey, they can bastardize this script.
I’ll get a credit, I’ll make a little bit of money and I’ll move my career forward and by the way, I can always go write a better script, more scripts.” That’s really what you’re gonna have to do to be a professional screenwriter. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.