I met Vancouver based writer/director Meeshelle Neal a couple of years back at a Vancouver Women in Film event. I was instantly drawn to her passion and professionalism and she became a fast friend. May I introduce you all to the awesome Meeshelle Neal!
Having started off as an actor and then transitioning into writing and now directing, is there a particular job of all of these that you prefer?
I enjoy each of them for different reasons. Each one informs the others. I’m focusing on directing right now, but I will always love to act — and I write all the time. Writing doesn’t require anyone beyond myself and I have done it every single day for over four years now, no breaks.
What do you love about storytelling?
World creation. It’s incredibly thrilling to be pulled into a person, or place, outside myself. I love experiencing empathy through story and character, evoking unique insights that would normally be closed off to someone with my background. The current abundance of media enables us to find (and make) niche content, which is exciting.
A couple of years ago you received a grant from BravoFACT to produce Mental which had a fantastic festival run and then distribution on Bravo itself. This film was nuanced and inspiring and emotionally gut-wrenching. How did that project and story come to be?
Thank you. The inspiration for Mental came from watching a loved one suffer psychotic episodes. Not knowing what was happening was frightening. I often turn to art as a way to process experiences. So, I developed it into a one-woman stage production. After that, I turned it into a short film script. Later, when my (then) writing partner Jax Smith and I were looking at possible projects, we dusted it off, and submitted for BravoFACT. It was amazing to receive those funds and be given the ability to produce the altered reality the protagonist was going through.
You recently made your directorial debut at VIWIFF (Vancouver International Women in Film Festival) with Check. What was that experience like?
It was amazing! I love the WIFTV Film Festival. Having screened many shorts there, it feels like coming home. For Check, we had a sold out, incredibly engaged, audience. The Q&A was expertly run by Arianna McGregor. She started it off with some fantastic insights, after which we got to engage with the audience in a dialogue about our work. This is the third short film I’ve made about mental health. All of them were created with the intent to spark conversation, so it’s an amazing feeling when that happens. I make films with the aim to deepen the human experience, and feel incredibly grateful when people tell me they better understood the struggle (for themselves or others) after watching something I’ve worked on. Check’s debut was actually at the Covellite Film Festival in Butte Montana where we won a ‘Best Short Form’ award. That festival is so much fun and run by two great guys Don Andrews and Brian Boyd. Both WIFTV and Covellite have a strong community-minded festival cultures, which is what draws me to them.
I heard you have another short film now in post-production. What can you tell us about this project?
This short is extremely close to my heart. It’s called Sweet Release and is set in the same world as my feature, which I am aiming to shoot later this year. It’s about two people in love and one of them has to make the decision about whether or not to let the other pass away.
Taylor Hastings (my extraordinary producer / actor) and I pulled together a fantastic team of people for this. Some we worked with in the past and some new ones to add to our community of talented filmmakers.
Sweet Release also happens to be the first time I directed my own writing. It was an amazing experience to see a project from inception to completion. I’m hooked!
As a “Women in the Director’s Chair” alumnae, how did you find that experience, and how do you feel it’s prepared you for the industry going forward?
The WIDC has some incredible programs. Through their Story and Leadership intensive, I honed my skills, pitch, and script. As well as learning from industry experts, we were introduced to producers, funders, and some very high level people. This program was an incredible boost to my career. Above and beyond that, the WIDC programs also introduce female directors to one another, thus also creating a cohort of amazing people we can call upon in times of need and/or celebration.
Do you have any particular tips specifically for female directors based in Canada? Perhaps insight on the grant process or how to ‘work the system’?
I highly suggest WIDC and WIFTV. Both organizations are geared toward helping women within the industry. However, I recommend them with the caveat that, like the gym, they both give back what you put in. Self motivation is key. Always.
I wish I knew how to ‘work the system,’ but all I really know is how to reframe things for myself. Grant writing can be time consuming, and rejection happens a lot. So, I look at the time spent as honing the project / pitch package and do my best to let go of the results.
Do you have any leaders or mentors in the industry who have helped you?
My main mentor is Gary Harvey. He has been amazingly instrumental in furthering my career. I cannot say enough amazing things about him. Carol Whiteman is not only a huge advocate of female directors, but someone who has also helped me immensely (and a good person to have in one’s corner). A lot of people have given me guidance along the way. Those two standout as the people who have done the most to further my directing career.
Along with mentors, I think it is incredibly important to find your tribe. Peers who are at a similar point in their journey. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a long list of amazing people all helping each other.
Meeshelle Neal – Full Bio:
Meeshelle ‘Meesh’ Neal is a Canadian filmmaker best known for writing, producing, and acting in ‘Therapy,’ and ‘Mental,’ as well as directing ‘Check,’ and ‘Ladies Don’t Wear Slacks.’ She adapted ‘Mental’ to the screen from a one-woman stage play. The short received BravoFACT funding, various awards, and national / international acclaim. Meeshelle has attended workshops such as the: STORYHIVE ‘Career Accelerator Program,’ Women In the Director’s Chair (WIDC) ‘Career Advancement Module,’ and the WIDC immersive ‘Story and Leadership’ program.
Through the WIDC she developed her magical realism feature film, ‘Sweet Release.’ She recently shot a short film version of ‘Sweet Release,’ which is a stand alone piece that simultaneously introduces the audience to the larger world of the feature.
She served a full term on the board for Women in Film & Television Vancouver and is mentored by Gary Harvey.