Ashley Steele is a writer, producer and actress currently residing in New York City. She enjoys penning coming of age features and short film scripts as well as learning the ropes of production. Her first feature length screenplay won her 2nd Place in the Richard Gill Screenwriting Competition. Moreover, Ashley recently discovered her passion for acting and she loves learning and working on camera. She has had roles in the SAG New Media web series “Lindsay’s World” by director and creator Stephen Belcamino and the feature film “See You Tonight” and she has worked with the Columbia MFA program on filmed director’s exercises. She loves to produce authentic, coming of age scripts and hopes to make her debut in the independent film circuit with her first short film “Dark Blue.” Recently, Ashley spoke to the Examiner about her experiences working in the movie industry and her hopes for the future:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): What inspired you to become an actress?
Ashley Steele (A.S.): A lot of my inspiration to get involved with acting actually came from the desire to grow as a screenwriter. I wanted to take acting classes to better understand the characters I was creating on paper. From there, I loved the idea of performing and wanted to continue learning the craft.
M.M.: How did you get involved with screenwriting?
A.S.: In my senior year of college (Spring 2015), one of my elective classes was Screenwriting. I had an excellent professor, Jonathan Danziger, who really was the one who inspired me to write more. I’ve always been a writer, but taking that class is what led me to write multiple scripts. A lot of my involvement with writing comes from me wanting to see more of a variety in Hollywood and filmmaking in general.
M.M.: I understand that you have won awards for your writing. What awards have you won?
A.S.: My first feature film script “Outside the Fields of Rye” won 2nd place in the 2015 Richard Gill Screenwriting Competition.
M.M.: How many other films have you worked on and what were they about?
A.S.: “Dark Blue” is the first of my scripts that I’ve decided to bring to screen. Writing-wise, I’ve completed two feature length screenplays that center around coming of age storylines and about another six short films that are mostly two-character, character-driven stories. I write a lot about LGBT characters, teens at crossroads of adulthood and finding what they want from life, and even some weirder, older characters who aren’t all there. I love the diversity writing allows you to create, for sure.
M.M.: How did you come up with the idea for “Dark Blue”?
A.S.: The idea for “Dark Blue” started as an in class assignment where I was to create dialogue between a mother and a child. From there, I kind of fell in love with the dynamic between the mother and daughter, Emma, and it grew. As I started adding characters into the plot, I found that it was becoming more layered than I originally intended. “Dark Blue” really throws the audience into the lives of these five characters-who are all intertwined-without really knowing it-and takes them on an anxiety-filled ride through this moment (really a few days) in time. The film is also a commentary on the dynamics of relationships in film today, and how sometimes we think that things we read or see on the big screen are romantic and we want that for ourselves, but really-many of these fantasies are anything but. People are drawn to dysfunction, and that’s really what I’m trying to show. My film isn’t supposed to be romantic or something you want for yourself in any way and you’re supposed to see that things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface.
M.M.: Growing up, what movies had the biggest impact on you? Why?
A.S.: The movies that really had an impact on me growing up would have to be “Lords of Dogtown”, “Thirteen”, “Elephant” and “Paranoid Park.” The intelligence and innocence in the performances of young John Robinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Nicki Reed, etc. really stick out to me-there’s something so captivating about their vulnerability and simplicity. Catherine Hardwick and Gus Van Sant are two of my absolute favorite filmmakers for so many reasons. I love films that make you care about the characters involved in a way that feels natural. I love “Elephant” because of how realistic and innocent the performances were. I think that films that stay true to life and actors that don’t exaggerate or over-act really sell it for me. I love those films where the ambiance and mood is dark, and kind of heavy-that feeling of knowing something is going to happen, it’s just a question of when and why. Those are the ones I love. I also think that creating characters who aren’t just black and white, good or evil, is so important. Make an audience think-write the good and bad of human beings. Those are the things I like to see, and the characters that stick with me most.
M.M.: If you could make any kind of film, with an unlimited budget, what type of movie would you make and why?
A.S.: Wow, what a question! I have two ultimate fantasy type situations. One would be a dystopian-style teen survival film (or series!) much like “Hunger Games” or “Divergent.” I think that would be a wild experience to work on a set like that and to create that world. One that I’m actually working on now is a rock and roll feature length script set in the 90s; drugs, sex and rock and roll-centered around a female band. So I would imagine the budget for that is going to be astronomical-but I’d love to do it!
M.M.: So far, what has been the most rewarding thing about being involved in the movie industry?
A.S.: A really rewarding aspect of this whole industry for me would be the open-mindedness of other actors and the excitement that comes from them. Specifically in the case of “Dark Blue”, it’s my first script to screen ever-which is scary and new to me, and casting was something I was nervous about, I had a lot of self-doubt and would ask myself “would people want to work on this?” etc. The excitement from the actors I ended up casting is one of the coolest, most surreal feelings I’ve ever experienced. It’s amazing that such a talented cast (Jonathan Drew, Noelle Lake, Thomas DiCostanzo and Abigail Blades Watson) are excited to work with me. And then there’s our director, Doug Bollinger, who’s so established, professional and well known in the horror film world-it’s crazy. I think the most rewarding part is definitely the collaboration that comes with creation.
M.M.: Career wise, where do you see yourself in ten years?
A.S.: Oh wow, I wish I knew! I’d love to think that in ten years I’ll be producing feature length scripts as a working writer and actress in the industry and hopefully growing as an artist, increasing budgets of films, and pushing the limits of character-driven stories.
M.M.: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
A.S.: “Dark Blue” films in February, so that’s taking a lot of my time, which is awesome. After that, a lot of effort is going to go to getting it onto the festival circuit. I’m continuously writing-and I have another short I’d love to put into pre-production. That script is yet another thriller–I can’t say too much yet but I do have some shorts I’m excited to work with after “Dark Blue.”
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an actress/screenwriter?
A.S.: As far as acting, I really think that it’s important to push yourself creatively. Know what works for you, and always be open-minded. You never know what you’ll find out. As far as screenwriting, never get too attached to your dialogue. Focus on the story-focus on your character. Keep it bare bones-bigger isn’t always better. Elaborate settings might take away from your characters. Write what you know and stay true to the way people work, you know? Keeping things authentic makes a world of difference. And have fun with it. We’re all out here learning together-keep creating.
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To learn more about Ashley Steele visit her IMDB and follow her on Instagram via @ashleysteele129