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Articles > Behind the Scenes with Elizabeth Chase (11/02/06)




Elizabeth Chase (Pasadena, CA) speaks about her experience in the Screenwriter's Challenge 2006, which attracted 440 writers from around the world.  Her winning scripts, "Maddie's Quick Trip" and "Disgorgement", helped her take home over $2,500 in cash and prizes. 


E-Mail Elizabeth Chase



NYC MIDNIGHT:  Congratulations on winning the Screenwriter's Challenge 2006.  This year's competition attracted 440 writers from around the world, an increase of over 100 writers from the 2005 competition and winning was a great accomplishment.  Why did you enter the Screenwriter's Challenge 2006 and what did you hope to get out of it?


ELIZABETH:  I discovered the competition in 2005, and was hooked.  I love the concept of writers being presented with a blind challenge rather than simply submitting previously-completed work for judging. It puts us all on an even playing field, so anything goes.  And I like competing against writers of all walks of life and with all levels of experience.

This year, I hoped the Challenge would help me to rejuvenate my writing habits by making me think outside the box, which it definitely did.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Have you had success in other competitions/festivals? 


ELIZABETH:  I placed 2nd Runner Up in my Heat in the Screenwriter's Challenge 2005.

NYC MIDNIGHT:  How did you get started as a writer?  Where are you now in your writing career and what are your goals?


ELIZABETH:  I have very fond memories of all of my English teachers and Creative Writing instructors.  There was the one life-changing teacher in high school and then the-rock-and-the-foundation writing teacher I had in college.  Both pushed me to explore the limits of my
creativity and were very open minded to my wild imagination.

Currently, I'm in my first year as a Screenwriting Fellow at the American Film Institute Conservatory.  My attitude is that I've forgotten everything I knew before, and am just trying to glean as much as possible from the wonderful instructors at AFI.  I have big plans for my thesis feature script, which will be happening in the second year.  I'm also hoping to have a spec script or pilot written for television by the time I graduate.  The school provides several showcase outlets for approved thesis stories, but I've got a long road ahead before that happens!


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Do you write on a regular basis?  What is your general approach for writing a script, from idea to final draft?


ELIZABETH:  Now that I'm in school, I'm forced to write on a regular basis, but I have to admit that I've had poor writing habits in the past.  I have a tendency to run in circles while trying to get started.  But once I get going, I'm glued to the keyboard.

As far as my approach is concerned, I'm in the process of learning the value of outlining my story first, then exploring character bios. Emotionally, I lean towards character rather than premise, so starting with an outline is something I make myself do in order to balance things out.  An outline, or beat sheet, can truly serve as the bones of the story, and filling in all the muscle and details is the fun part.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  In the first round, you received the assignment of genre (suspense) and subject (a photo album).  Were you happy / disappointed with your assignment?  Were there other 1st Round assignments that you would have preferred or despised, and if so, which ones?  What genre(s) do you most prefer when writing your own material?


ELIZABETH:  I was disappointed because of the thriller genre.  I thought I could do a lot with a photo album, but making it the topic of a suspenseful story seemed impossible!  The assignments that looked pretty tasty were Mockumentary/Modeling and Romantic Comedy/Immigration.  I love to write comedy, although I feel very comfortable working with quirky dramas, road trip stories and I've got a couple of biopics I'd love to tackle.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  In the 24-hour final round, you received the assignment of genre (horror) and subject (a note).  Were you excited to get started or did you have some problems?  How was your experience writing a short script on such a tight deadline?


ELIZABETH:  I had some problems!  I had no idea I had it in me to write horror at all.  My mom reminded me that I had asked for monster wallpaper when I was only four years-old, so I just reached back into my psyche and drummed up every feeling, thought and vision I'd ever
found frightening.  Once I started writing, I remembered how much fun it can be to scare oneself!

The deadline is what makes it fun.  If I'd had more time to write the script, it would have surely lost some of its organic grossness.  I would have tweaked that out in the interest of not making my readers sick.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Were you happy with the original scripts that you submitted for the competition, “Maddie’s Quick Trip” and “Disgorgement?  Have you done any rewrites since the competition ended and do you have any plans for the scripts?


ELIZABETH:  I would like to rewrite both scripts – particularly "Disgorgement".  I feel that there could be a longer short film or maybe even a feature there.  I think that there are several key ingredients in "Maddie's Quick Trip" that could be used in another writing concoction, so I'd like to play around there.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  This year we introduced a script review forum where writers could share their scripts from the competition with each other and provide/receive feedback.  It appears that you didn’t post your scripts, but did you get a chance to check out some of the scripts that were posted?  If so, what were some of your favorites?


ELIZABETH:  I'm embarrassed to tell you that I didn't get to the forum in a timely manner.  I just found it now, and would love to participate next time around.

MIDNIGHT: You took home over $2,500 in prizes including $500 cash, a $1,795 Course Certificate to Writers Boot Camp, the full version of Movie Magic Screenwriter Software, a King Single Laptop Backpack from Crumpler, and a free feature listing on Inktip.  What prizes are you most excited about?  Have you taken a WBC course in the past and if not, is this something you are looking forward to?


ELIZABETH:  I'm most excited about the cash and the software.  If WBC will allow me to start my coursework after I graduate from AFI, then I will be very happy.  I would love to have a continuing education, and it seems as though WBC could keep me on my toes, and in such an organized fashion at that!  (I love their website!)


NYC MIDNIGHT: Besides the prizes, what did you take away from your experience in The Screenwriter's Challenge 2006?


ELIZABETH:  Before the contest, I was in dire need of a confidence booster where my writing was concerned.  To struggle through those two scripts and then to be rewarded with such an honor as first prize was truly exhilarating.  My passion for writing was renewed because I proved to myself that I had the ability to convey a specific vision.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Do you have any ongoing projects you would like to talk about?


ELIZABETH:  Right now, I'm going into production on a short film I co-wrote at AFI about a hit man with dementia.  My next short script collaboration is going to be about a Vietnam veteran who returns to his hometown of Bethel, NY, right in the middle of Woodstock weekend.  Also, I'm working on a mainstream romantic comedy longform and have just begun the research for my thesis drama feature, which will follow a young man down a suicidal path that turns and eventually leads to redemption, hope, and the belief in a higher power.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  What are some of your favorite films?  What are your favorite stories?  Do you have any obscure independent or foreign films that you always recommend to friends?

ELIZABETH:  I have a very broad-ranging taste in movies, and favorite stories are usually the scripts for favorite films, so it's difficult to separate them!  Here's my attempt.

Some of my favorite films include Best in Show, The Big Lebowski, Blue Velvet, Donnie Darko, Do the Right Thing, Elizabeth, Eraserhead, Grease, The Hunger, The Iron Giant, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Lost Highway, Master and Commander, The Misfits, Mrs. Doubtfire, Mulholland Drive, Raising Arizona, A Room with a View, Se7en, Singin' in the Rain, V for Vendetta, Whalerider and Wild at Heart.

A few of my favorite stories are After Hours, Barton Fink, Being John Malkovich, Double Indemnity, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees, Junebug, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Some Like It Hot, Strictly Ballroom and You Can Count On Me.

Some obscure independent and foreign films I often recommend are 37°2 le matin (Betty Blue), Chung hing sam lam (Chungking Express), Delicatessen, Hollywood Hotel, The House of Yes, I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore, Impromptu, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Manufacturing Consent: Thought Control in a Democratic Society, Me and You and Everyone We Know, La Muralla Verde (The Green Wall), Paperhouse, Waking Ned [Devine], The Wicker Man (1973) and Zukerbaby.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  What advice would you give to all the aspiring screenwriters out there?


ELIZABETH:  Don't forget to get up every once and a while and do some stretching and exercises.  Don't let your body atrophy in front of the computer.  Remember – if you're not healthy, you won't feel good enough to write!  But after you've had your vitamins and have done your yoga, write as much as you can as often as you can, even if you spend a lot of time staring at a blank page.  If you just hang in there, you will succeed!


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Will you be back to defend your title in 2007?


ELIZABETH:  I'm satisfied with this year's results, and I'd come back next year just for the personal challenge of meeting the requirements of the assignment.  As with this year, winning is just a bonus!




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