Indie Diaries: Jeff Grace, Riding Festival Momentum in Los Angeles

For the “Film School, Film Careers” special in our upcoming Summer 2016 issue, we asked three indie moviemakers to chronicle week of their lives in April: of work, family life and yes, endless emails.

Jeff Grace’s directorial debut, Folk Hero & Funny Guy, has just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. He previously worked in advertising in Chicago before getting into comedy (with the group The Vacationeers) and then filmmaking (producing and acting in The Scenesters and It’s a Disaster). Find him on Twitter @jeffgrace.


Day One

7:30 a.m. I’m riding high on all the back-patting I just experienced at Tribeca, but I also have the paralyzing fear that I need to get something off the ground in the next few weeks from whatever little buzz the film has generated so I can perhaps make a bigger film or television show within the “studio system” (and stop asking Uber drivers how much money they make). I am looking for a literary agent and/or a manager. I wanted to wait until I had a finished film to best showcase my writing and directing style.

8:15 a.m. I write every day, first thing in the morning. I set a timer for two chunks of 25 minutes with a five-minute break. This ensures that my brain is incubating on creative ideas while I tend to the emails, calls, meeting and busy work that can take up the bulk of a director’s day. It also ensures that I don’t go multiple days without writing. I’m working on a high-concept studio feature comedy in the spirit of The Hangover, a 30-minute single-camera comedy about my experiences working in advertising in the vein of The Office, and a feature indie drama/comedy about sex and dating in the world of dating apps.

9:15 a.m. I reach out to people I might be able to work with next: a comedy producer buddy, a fellow writer who used to work at a commercial production company, an actor from my film and a fellow writer/director who really liked her agent and is in a position to refer me.

11 a.m. Urgent phone call from Independent Film Festival Boston, my next festival stop, about getting our DCP and Blu-Ray from Tribeca in New York City up to Boston by Wednesday morning. It turns out Tribeca has given employees a much-needed day off after the festival, complicating matters.

5 p.m. My brain is foggy today (jetlag, or the effect of 10 days of free alcohol and pizza). I go on long run with my dog around the Silver Lake Reservoir.

6 p.m. Before dinner with a friend visiting from Brazil, I break out the ultimate email-destroyer app, Mailstrom, in an attempt to get my Inbox back to zero (or something close to it.)

Jeff Grace and his dog Sawyer overlooking the Hollywood Bowl at Griffith Park

Jeff Grace and his dog Sawyer overlooking the Hollywood Bowl at Griffith Park

Day Two

8.30 a.m. I have a breakfast meeting with a big comedy production company at Homestate in Los Feliz. This is very early by L.A. standards. The producer has a very interesting concept for a digital series and while it’s something that wouldn’t pay a ton, it would be a chance to build my reel in the semi-television space. After the meeting, I email him the most recent reviews from Tribeca on Folk Hero & Funny Guy and highlight a few that complement my writing of strong female characters (which this digital series would center around).

8:45 a.m. I email notes on the most recent sound mix for a TV pilot I co-wrote with Jan Livingston for E! called Glam Squad. Jan and I met working at Leo Burnett in Chicago.

9:45 a.m. I organize press reviews and clippings coming out of Tribeca, pulling out a few key quotes and linking to my website, which lists all the positive reviews. Effective moviemakers have to get comfortable with some level of gratuitous self-involvement.

2 p.m. I run with my dog at Elysian Park in Echo Park.

5:30 p.m. I exchange emails with a foreign sales agent about how domestic screen counts (i.e. how many theaters a film plays in the U.S.) drive up the value of a film in the foreign market. As we look through domestic distribution offers on Folk Hero, we are trying to keep in mind the impact various deals will have on our foreign value.

6 p.m. I have a call with my friend Abe Schwartz of production company Honora regarding our distribution offers. He tells me that most films don’t get bought the night of their premiere, but rather in the weeks after the festival, so the distributor’s production and marketing teams can run the numbers on how much they think they can make on your film. This is supposedly a good year for indie filmmakers because Amazon and Netflix purchased a lot of films out of Sundance and South by Southwest, leaving a lot of the conventional independent distributors with more need to buy films out of Tribeca.

7 p.m. My producer Ryland Aldrich and I set up a meeting for Thursday with a company that wants to release the Folk Hero & Funny Guy soundtrack.

 

Day Three

7:30 a.m. Part of my morning ritual involves the “5 Minute Journal” in an iPhone app called Grid Diary. I answer questions every morning on it, such as “What is on my calendar today?,” “What are three new things I’m grateful for?” and “How can I help someone else today?” Research on habit-forming shows that if you can do something for 30-90 days straight it becomes an ingrained behavior (unfortunately, this is also holds true for booze, porn and Buzzfeed.) I also create a “daily task list” in an iPhone App called Swipes.

7:54 a.m. I meditate for five minutes. Check out an app called Headspace to give it a try.

8 a.m. I run with my dog Sawyer.

8:50 a.m. Setting my timer, I rewrite a treatment for a studio film I’m hoping to pitch in a few weeks.

12 p.m. Another call with Jan Livingston about sound mix and use of music in the Glam Squad pilot.

3 p.m. I write at Muddy Paw, my favorite secret spot in Silver Lake to write. The owner, Darren is the nicest (he’s actually a movie producer as well) and I can bring my dog.

Grace at the Muddy Paw

Grace at the Muddy Paw

6 p.m. I attend a Clippers game with Todd Berger, one of the members of The Vacationeers comedy group we co-founded, and he wrote and directed The Scenesters and It’s A Disaster. We split Clippers season tickets with seven other guys.

 

Day Four

10 a.m. I meet with Jean-Christophe Chamboredon of Milan Records about the soundtrack rights for Folk Hero & Funny Guy. This meeting helped me understand music licensing for soundtracks much better. The “net-net,” as my grandfather used to say, is that because it is so complicated to pull all these artists together, usually producers don’t make much money from soundtrack rights, but it’s still a great way to market your film.

12 p.m. I write for 40 minutes.

1 p.m. I hike in Griffith Park with my dog. Griffith Park is hands-down the most underrated aspect of Los Angeles. It is the largest municipal park in the world.

2:30 p.m. Distribution call with our talented sales rep at UTA, Hailey Wierengo. UTA represents Folk Hero & Funny Guy as a “sales agent” (or sometimes called a “producer’s rep”). We go through a status report of interested distributors. Our reviews have been really good so far, so things look optimistic at this early check-in.

4 p.m. I write at Alcove Café & Bakery in Los Feliz. Much of “writing” is actually surfing Facebook and checking email, the enemy of all writing. Mustard Seed, across the street, is another favorite writing spot.

8 p.m. I pack for the IFF Boston trip.

 

Day Five

6 a.m. My dog gets nervous if he detects I’m leaving town, so I tie him up on the front porch of my apartment while I sneak out the back to throw my bags in the car. If he sees my black roller bag he knows something is up. I then have to walk him around the block a few times because the dog walker isn’t coming until 1.

7.15 a.m. I arrive at QuikPark, where I park at LAX.

8:10 a.m. Airplanes are far and away my favorite place to write. You are forced to sit down and write. (As the quote by Steven Pressfield goes, “It’s not the writing part that is hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”)

3 p.m. Upon landing in Boston, I have a quick call with Molly Benson, who runs 99 Tigers, a production company I do some commercial and promo directing for. She produced SXSW Audience Award winning film Transpecos which just secured a deal with Samuel Goldwyn Films. It turns out the director of Transpecos, Greg Kwedar, is also going to be at IFF Boston and I make plans to meet up with him at a mixer the next day. His story is encouraging: We were both unrepresented writer-directors before making our films; he got an agent a few weeks after the SXSW premiere of his film and he has since been doing the “water bottle tour” of meetings with various production companies and studios.

7:30 p.m. I check into IFF Boston and meet Nancy Campbell, the program director of the festival. This festival is very intimate in contrast to Tribeca. I check out a shorts program and then meet my sister, who lives in Boston, for drinks.

IFF Boston w/ Alex Karpovsky (star of Folk Hero & Funny Guy) and Jackie Arko of IFF Boston

Jackie Arko of IFF Boston with Grace and Alex Karpovsky at a screening of Folk Hero & Funny Guy

10 p.m. I roll with my sister to the Filmmaker Party. I meet some other filmmakers, but I’m spent from my flight and must go to sleep. My film screens tomorrow at 7 p.m., so I can sleep in a bit and then check out some other films. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Summer 2016 issue, on newsstands July 2016.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.