Embracing Entrepreneurship As a Screenwriter Part 2: Patience and Process
November 25, 2020
In Embracing Entrepreneurship Part 1 we discussed the importance of taking initiative as a screenwriter using my film, Poor Greg Downing, as a case study.
Now that we had the movie in the can, the real work was just beginning. Starting with: backing up all the data! I am super paranoid when it comes to losing footage. So I bought half a dozen or so hard drives, backed up all of the data on them, and gifted them to friends for safe keeping at different locations (what if there was an earthquake!?). Yes, there are also a vast amount of online back-up options you can consider using, as well. Either way, the takeaway is: back up everything you do!
Fun side story — about a year after the first rough cut of Poor Greg Drowning was completed, we spent an entire week, working all through the nights, coloring the film for our first festival screening. We finished right before the deadline and uploaded the cut to Vimeo. But, the file was only saved on one hard drive. I drove home that night with the drive and left it in the backseat of my car — I know, I know, amateur move, but I was too tired to even think, let alone be a responsible adult human being. It’s literally the only time I have ever left a hard drive in my car, and I even remember thinking about someone stealing it, but my exhaustion strongarmed my mind into saying, what are the odds? I’ve never had someone break into my car before…
…until, that night. When I returned to my car the next morning, my window was shattered and the hard drive was gone. As was the entire week or so of the coloring work that we did. Utter disaster. Turns out, making an indie feature isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Who would have thought!?
But back to backing up. Once that was done, it was time to find an editor. Much like an entrepreneur hiring a key position, I asked people around town for referrals for editors, reviewed their resumes, met with a few, and finally hired one. That editor took one of the hard drives of footage and was going to do a cut of the film. Meanwhile, I was editing my own cut as well.
Fast forward three months. I was just about finished with my cut when I kept reaching out to the editor asking how their cut was going. I would get very delayed responses, which became increasingly delayed, until I wasn’t receiving responses at all. Going into the holiday break, it had been about a month since I heard from the editor. I believe it was around Christmas Day that they finally responded, apologizing and informing me that they couldn’t work on the film anymore for personal reasons. They gave me back the hard drive in the new year, roughly four months after receiving it, with just a few scenes cut together. FML. But hey, what can you do? This was an indie feature with very little money to keep it going, and they had a full time editing job and were dealing with some personal matters, so that’s how it goes sometimes.
While this was very frustrating, it was a great learning lesson. When you are running a business, not everyone you hire is going to work out like you hope they will. I’m not telling this story to throw anyone under the bus, but instead, simply highlighting unforeseen roadblocks that arise when you are making a film (or running a business). This is your baby, and not everyone is going to be as invested in it as you are. And, while I was frustrated with how much time we lost during those four months, it taught me to be patient and embrace the process of making a feature, and all the hiccups that pop up along the way. Just keep your head down, focus on the end goal, and power through. Ideally, with a high alcohol percentage cabernet in arms reach at all times.
With that being said, it was time to find another editor! Luckily, through a great referral, we found a fantastic editor in Michelle Gold. She did her cut of the film, and then we worked together on weeknights and weekends whenever we could (as I had a full time development job and she was working on Curb Your Enthusiasm — “Prett-ay, prett-ay good!”). About a year after we finished principal photography we started submitting a very rough cut of the film to festivals.
We continued editing for another year and a half after that. Yup, process and patience. Just say it to yourself like a mantra to avoid losing your mind. We were fortunate to get into a good amount of festivals, winning various awards along the way. We were screening rough cuts which had no sound or color editing done yet (simply because we weren’t ready), which was very unorthodox, but it allowed us to identify parts of the film that needed tweaking. We would try different jokes to see how they landed with different audiences, which is crucial when editing a comedy film. When it was all said and done, we played at festivals for almost two years with various rough cuts, tinkering and editing between each showing.
A year into the screenings, we realized that we wanted a narrator for the film. I immediately thought of Cedric the Entertainer, who I had worked with on a film called Why Him?. I reached out to Cedric with a rough cut of Poor Greg Drowning, and he was immediately game. Much like an entrepreneur running a successful business, great relationships are VITAL when it comes to making a successful movie. Especially when you are making an indie feature for very little money.
Once we had Cedric’s narration in the film and were nearing the end of our festival run, I started reaching out to potential distributors. I had never worked with indie distributors before, so I did a substantial amount of research on them, and made a list of fifty or so. I reached out to all of them with cold emails and a link to the movie. Once again, this was probably a very unorthodox move. Most people hire sales agents to handle this process. But I figured, why not embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of this film and reach out to the distributors myself? Even if they don’t send us an offer, at least I will develop that relationship for future projects.
Once we received distribution offers, I then hired a great law company to advise on the offers, and negotiate the deal with the distributor we eventually went with. But, there was still a lot of work to be done. My mantra of “patience and process” was truly going to be tested over the next year or so, dealing with contracts, clearances and other unforeseen hurdles. Why couldn’t I have just embraced Will Hunting’s career aspirations of moving to Nashua, getting a nice little spread, and getting some sheep and tending to them?
Written by: Jeffrey Scott CollinsJeffrey Scott Collins is a writer-director-producer whose feature film, 'Poor Greg Drowning', was recently released worldwide by Comedy Dynamics. The film screened at 26 festivals, winning thirteen awards. Jeff is currently casting his next feature film, 'Above the Line', a dark heist comedy set in LA. Jeff co-wrote the feature with Jono Matt, and will also be directing and producing the film. Jeff began his film and TV career in finance, before transitioning into creative services at HBO. He then worked under the tutelage of three writer/directors on their features as an AD, including John Hamburg on 'Why Him?', Luke Greenfield on 'Let’s Be Cops', and Victor Levin on '5 to 7'.