Kyle Colgan (BFA Directing, 2014) wrote a feature screenplay immediately after finishing his thesis film. After two years of writing, he realized his script was too expensive to make on his own – so he started again: He wrote, produced, directed — and starred in — a feature within his budget.
In November 2014, I wrapped a two-week shoot for my thesis film Night for Day in the small auditorium at the Angelika Film Center, down on Houston St. in Manhattan. It was around 2 A.M. and I was ecstatic. Not only were we done for the day, but I had finished shooting a film that I had been writing since the summer. As everyone started to leave, I went over to my cinematographer, Lee Williams. He looked up at me and as he packed his homemade shoulder mount he said, “You did it, dude!” I smiled at him, proud of what we accomplished. But a question that lingered in my mind, and became more pressing during the rest of my days at SVA — “when am I going to do it again?”
So right away, I started writing a feature screenplay to follow up Night for Day. As I was writing this screenplay, I was also editing my film, working two jobs and going to school. I was exhausted. The screenplay was called Lola Sweetheart and it was about a recently graduated girl who loses her mother to a brain aneurysm. She gets a job at a temp agency and works for an iniquitous boss. The script was an over-ambitious way to deal with the stress in my life; I was mourning the death of my grandmother, to whom I had dedicated Night for Day, and I was angry that I was working the same awful job I had as an undergraduate.
Cut to two years later. I stopped working on Lola.
No one saw Night for Day and no one wanted to buy my feature. No one proclaimed, “You’re next! We want you to make whatever movie you want to make! You made it!” Unfortunately, that’s not how the film industry works. After two years of writing my script and interning at the Criterion Collection, followed by six months of unemployment, I realized that no one was going to finance my next movie. The cavalry wasn’t coming.
So I started a new script that I could fund on my own. I wrote with a limited budget in mind and planned locations we could use for free. It took me two months to write a first draft of this, my current film, The Tenant. By draft nine, I was ready to go into production. I asked Lee to shoot the film, and many other fellow SVA classmates joined my crew. I filmed during the entire summer, one week per month, giving me enough time to shoot a scene per day. Aside from one actor dropping out and going through a bunch of sound recordists, everyone stuck around, and I owe them everything.
I made the film for $4,000 of my own money. I produced the film myself, starred in it, and made sure the script wasn’t much longer then an episode of The Sopranos, 84 pages. This was important to me because more people would be inclined to watch a shorter movie than a longer one and it helped with production. Pre-production and production took about a year and the film is now going to my editor, Alessandro Bricoli, another graduate of SVA. I learned so much from making The Tenant. It was without a doubt one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.
You can follow The Tenant on Facebook at “Tenant – The Movie” or follow on Twitter, @tenantthemovie.