How We Wrote and Shot a Movie AND Got Representation in Just One Year
In July of 2021, two filmmakers decided to make their first movie, WINE CLUB. Six months later, they were in production, and six months after that they were signed by Mosaic. This is an oral history of that year from the filmmakers' and their manager's perspectives.
Written By Eric D. Cohen, Matthew Hirschhorn, and Tovah Silbermann
Getting a movie written is pretty hard, but getting it written, funded, and shot in under a year is a miracle. That movie being good enough to land you representation seems like even more of a long shot.
But that's just what we did when we made Wine Club, an irreverent comedy that tested everything we knew about Hollywood and that became a journey we want to share with you now.
We love No Film School and wanted to deliver an article that actually tracks the time we put into making this movie and how it all turned out.
So we made a detailed list of everything that went on during that year in an interview with us and our manager.
Check it out below!
Wine Club | Official Red Band Trailer - HDwww.youtube.com
Matthew: All we ever did was complain about not having a manager. Both when we worked together at a start-up production company—I was the Head of Development and Eric was the Head of Production—and after we both left. We complained about that and also, not being allowed to make a movie. But we told ourselves, if we could just get a manager to read our stuff, a bunch of other stuff will happen and then we'll somehow get to make a movie, which will obviously lead to us writing and directing big studio comedies.
Every once in a while, we'd be able to get some momentum on a project with a producer and we'd check in with a few manager contacts to see if it was enough momentum to get signed, which would in turn create more momentum. It was not. We don't know why it took so long, considering that we did have some experience working in the industry, but we finally realized there are just too many aspiring filmmakers who have some random producer who says they love your script and want to make your first movie. We had always been aware of the advice that it's better for a rep to want you than it is for you to chase a rep. But how the hell do you get a rep to want you if nobody will read anything you write? The classic question.
Eric: Before Wine Club, I had been unsuccessfully trying to put together an indie feature for the previous eight years. That project had a lot of ups and downs—I won several grants and succeeded in getting interest from investors, but I never raised enough to enter production. While that project was languishing, Matt and I co-wrote an original screenplay—a sci-fi space comedy—and we both really enjoyed the collaboration, intentionally removing any pressure to make the script sellable or producible. We just wanted to tell a fun story. After finishing that script, we both wanted to try it again, but with a more contained idea that we could direct and produce ourselves.
Matthew: So we started bouncing ideas around. At one point, I called Eric about a Tweet I had seen that was a great jumping off point for a feature, but Eric thought it would be too much of a headache to deal with the rights issue.
Eric: We started laying the groundwork for what our producible feature would look like. At this point, Matt and I had already been working together for years, so we had a lot of shared half-ideas. For example, I eloped with my wife in 2018 in Napa, and right after our wedding, we went to a private vineyard and had a fantastic time being served too much wine by our extremely friendly host (and we were the only three people there). At one point, our host pointed out a nearby cottage that was used to house members of the vineyard's wine club when they came to visit. I imagined this as a great setup for a horror movie, but didn't really think more about it for another three years. But when Matt and I were talking, I brought this old idea back up, with the suggestion that if we wanted to, we could probably shoot at that private vineyard for free.
Matthew: I spent some time on my own combing through old ideas and found a pilot I wrote with a friend, Sean Spencer, about a cult leader who was trying to escape his own cult. I thought if I made it a wine cult, we could combine the ideas, Eric bet me 50 dollars that I couldn't write a draft of that movie in less than a week that all takes place at a vineyard, that only has two to three people in most of the scenes, where nobody is allowed to move around that much, but the whole movie feels like a fast-paced studio comedy with tons of laughs and we could shoot it over a week in December. It seemed a little ambitious, but I had a lot of time on my hands after I left my stable job at the production company just prior to a global pandemic to become a fulltime screenwriter, and I really wanted that 50 dollars. I wrote the entire first draft over the next four days and happily collected my 50 dollars, the first money I ever made writing. Using a name generator, I randomly named one of the main characters TOVA.
AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2021
Eric: We wrote A LOT of drafts of Wine Club. We were both extremely used to sending out scripts and waiting weeks, if not months, for them to get read. But with this, Matt would send me a draft from New York at night, and by the time he woke up, I had sent him a new draft from LA.
Matthew: We can't even count how many drafts we did. I was personally so obsessed, if I woke up at 3 am because I wanted to change one word of a joke, I ran over to the computer, made the edit and sent Eric a frantic email saying "READ THIS ONE!!!"
Eric: We were very hard on the material, trying to get the script to a good place, and making it as funny as it could be. We were both very aware that if we got lucky enough to make this, it could be our only shot at making a movie... so we kept writing draft after draft. As long as we felt it was improving, we kept going. The first three months of Wine Club was all writing, solidifying our investment, and trying to lock down this free vineyard. We had no producers planning the actual shoot and no reps out there trying to get us talent. But we both had learned a critical lesson during our time working in production: if the cast and crew feel like a good project is definitely happening at a set time and place with or without their help, they are more likely to be interested. We never asked actors if they were generally interested in the project. We would approach them (and/or their reps) saying, "we have a greenlit/financed movie going into production in December, we're looking to fill this role, and we think you would be great -- would you like to be in the movie?" We figured we'd be far more likely to get reads from managers, who are extremely busy, if we approached them with a shooting date and a money offer - even if it was a cold email and the offer was for the SAG minimum. We had a few actors in mind for specific roles that we happened to have personal connections to. But to fill out the rest of the cast, we thought we would have less success in reaching out to a bunch of actors individually than in finding one manager who liked the script and could put all of their clients in it.
Matthew: And then the rest of the genius plan was just to try and make the movie really good so that this hypothetical manager will eventually want to sign us themselves. But what even is a good movie? Who's to say (as Eric likes to say). We figured if we were as good as we thought we were, we'd find someone smart enough to help us. And if we weren't as good as we thought we were, we'd find someone dumb enough to help us.
Courtesy of Static Films
Eric: By October, we were comfortable enough with the script that we sent it out to our first actor—Daniel Van Kirk. We met Daniel on a digital series we did for Go90 in 2016 when Matt and I both worked for that production company. Luckily, Daniel still had good memories from that show, even after five years.
Matthew: I actually didn't meet Daniel during that shoot because I was asked to leave my own set for laughing too much at Daniel's improv and ruining takes. But I knew I always wanted to write something for him after that. We also realized we had a very loose connection to Steve Little through one of our friends who we asked to come on as a creative producer. He had made a pilot with Steve 10 years earlier and hadn't talked to him since but still thought he might have his email somewhere. So that was promising.
Eric: Daniel signed on very quickly and we let him take a pass at the script himself while we sent the previous draft of the script to Steve Little (we were still revising the script at a hectic pace through the fall). We figured we should probably start looking for this hypothetical manager who was going to put all of their clients in the movie because the shoot was now only two months away, but we also thought we should start looking for the people who are actually going to physically produce the movie. That seemed very important. By the end of October, we teamed up with Stephen Mastracola, Liana Montemayor, and Rafi Jacobs from Static Films. We were extremely lucky to find them—they had roughly 6-7 weeks to do pre-production and they were fantastic producers. Funnily enough, they convinced us to not actually film at the "free" vineyard that was one of the initial reasons for wanting to make the movie, as the travel required to get to the vineyard would have been prohibitive. So they found a better location (actually several locations in the same general vicinity) that would serve as our vineyard.
Matthew: We were still waiting on Steve to read the script and hopefully say yes. We figured if he'd just say yes already, then our cold emails to reps would feel that much more legit. We did manage to add one more actor at the end of October without the help of a rep. We somehow got a recently new friend of mine named Jackie Emerson, who played Foxface in the first Hunger Games movie, to play Tova. And since we still had no rep behind the movie, we basically started asking Jackie and Daniel if they had any actor friends who they wanted to hang out with for a week in December. But we still needed to cast three of the five leads and we were now running out of time.
Matthew: After three weeks, Steve Little finally said yes! We immediately started strategizing on which reps to reach out to. I reached out to another friend who worked at Comedy Central for a list of his favorite up-and-coming comedians. I started with the first name on the list and looked up her manager. She was repped at Mosaic. I reached out to her manager, who looped in the rest of that client's team. It was very exciting to even get an answer from a manager at a company like Mosaic, where I had wanted to sign since I saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin when I was 18 and saw that they represented Judd Apatow. But that didn't turn out to be the email we had been hoping for since July - that client ended up being unavailable. The email that we had been hoping for came five minutes later...from someone named Tovah.
Tovah: We were coming out of the pandemic, slowly but surely, but projects were still extremely touch and go. So many of my clients were starved to do something creatively fulfilling and missed being on set so much. That being said, I had read SO many terrible indie comedies those past few months, so when the inquiry came in for my client I figured I’d skim the first ten pages to confirm my suspicions that this was another one of those and not worth their time. I ended up reading the entire thing on the spot.
Matthew: I always wonder whether someone is actually reading something I send them or not. At least here, I'd know if she actually read it...She emailed me a screenshot of her name 10 minutes after I sent her the script. Then she called me a few days later ON THANKSGIVING suggesting an actor named Taylor Ortega for the female lead.
Tovah: I know this shouldn’t be a novel concept, but the script made me laugh out loud multiple times. I was looking for a project for Taylor and she had been sent so many of those corny indie scripts and when I read this I knew I had to make it happen. Taylor loves cults, so when I read a low budget indie comedy about a cult that was actually funny that needed to cast its leading lady... I may have gotten a little thirsty. I figured if I reached out on Thanksgiving, I would beat any other reps to the punch. I promise it wasn’t just because they had a character named Tova, though I did wonder if they changed the character’s name based on each rep they were sending the script to. (Did you guys??)
Eric: Matt called me ON THANKSGIVING to tell me that this actor for the female lead seems perfect and that we also have to eventually try and get signed by Tovah because she called him on Thanksgiving. And because her name is Tovah and that was crazy. He said that if the movie turns out well and if reps actually take notice, we're not signing with anyone until Tovah tells us no to our faces. During those last 2-3 weeks before production, Tovah ended up putting five of her clients in the movie. Just as we hoped.
Eric: We started principal photography in mid-December, days after finally locking the shooting script. We had an eight day schedule for principal photography, which we knew at the time was extremely ambitious, but that was the maximum number of days we could afford given our budget and technical requirements. Our producers thought we were a little crazy, but Matt and I felt confident that our experience would carry us through. We filmed with two cameras, which definitely added a bit to the cost, but it sped things along so much. We worked with a great DP, Carter Ross, who we really clicked with.
Overall, despite the ridiculous schedule, (I just looked back at my old call sheets, and there was one day where we shot 22 pages), things were relatively smooth. There are always a few major crises on indie film shoots—we had a rain out on day 4 with mudslides and unsafe conditions and we were shooting up in the Malibu hills. Some of our G&E equipment started sliding down the mountain, and one of our locations used the rain as an excuse to renege on our agreement. So we had to change the location of our 10 minute long climax sequence one day prior to filming and redo the blocking for the 14 actors in the scene.
We also lost sound for nine scenes due to some confusion and personnel changes resulting from the rain out... That being said, the actors came to set completely prepared, and once we got one or two takes of the scene as written, we encouraged them to add improv. A ton of it was used in the film, along with genuine reaction shots that we were able to get because we had the second camera. We were also continually raising money over the course of production, using the stills and dailies to win over investors.
Matthew: We felt really great about everything we got. Tovah also lived in New York so after the holidays, we had a celebratory drink in the city. Not only did I not ask her to rep us that night but I told her "I am not going to ask you to rep us"...but I also said the part where we're also not signing with anyone until you tell us no to our faces.
Tovah: I became invested in the project so quickly. I loved the script, was astonished at how gorgeous the stills were, and when they started sending me their favorite scenes of Taylor’s improv, I knew I had to make sure people saw this movie. I represent mostly multi-hyphenate writer-performers, stand up comedians, and actors and at the time didn’t represent any directors. I didn’t want to sign them because I didn’t want to let them down. But I knew I wanted to be a part of their journey.
Matthew: It was great to actually talk and seemingly start some kind of working relationship, even if we weren't "signed". It was on this night that I really told her the story behind how we made the movie - when we initially sent her the script, we didn't exactly advertise that we wrote the script in four days and we didn't even think to do this whole thing until this past July! That probably would not have inspired a lot of confidence, especially with us being first-time filmmakers. She seemed pretty shocked by what I was telling her and I could tell that she clearly cared a lot about the movie. And it didn't feel like that was only because her clients were in it. She had been extremely helpful during production and whether she was ever going to sign us or not, we asked her to be a producer on Wine Club.
Wine Club | Extended Clipwww.youtube.com
FEBRUARY 2022 - JULY 2022:
Eric: We edited the movie throughout the first half of 2022 and everything came together better than we ever could have imagined when we put this insane plan in motion. Except for the fact that we lost sound from NINE scenes and had to lock picture while using temp scratch audio hastily recorded by our actors on their cell phones. So our rough cuts were a little... rough. We were reluctant to share it with Tovah, and we were really hoping that we would recover the lost sound files (we didn't). Through extensive ADR, it did eventually get fixed to the point where the sound issues were not really noticeable. We did start to wonder what it would take to get signed, whether by Tovah or someone else. Would the movie have to get into a major festival and be a huge hit? Because that seemed harder than ever and completely out of our control. It really seemed like we did everything we possibly could.
Matthew: I ran into Tovah at a Tribeca screening in June and to back Eric up, she couldn't seem to have been more thrilled with the final cut of Wine Club. She also seemed very inspired by the Tribeca comedy that we both just came out of—not necessarily the content of the movie, but how similar it felt to Wine Club in scope knowing how much fewer resources we had than this movie. She was like "you guys gotta do it again!" I'm like "do what again?" She was like "let's make another Wine Club!"
As we said goodnight, she told me to send her a script by next week for a movie that we haven't thought of yet, since that's basically what we did last time... I don’t think she was seriously expecting a script in her inbox next week but something finally clicked in my head.
Eric: Matt called me that night and said "I know how we get signed! We have to do it all again!". So we started down the road of doing it again with a new project.
Matt: She had a new script in her inbox six days later.
Tovah: I loved every script and idea the guys sent me. The more we talked, the more I got the feeling that if I didn’t define our relationship, I would grow to regret it. So I called Matt and said look - here’s what I know about representing filmmakers and here’s what I don’t know. I was very transparent about my limitations and was basically like—if you’re willing to figure this out together then I want in. I just have one condition —the character of Tova needs to have an 'H 'at the end of her name.
Watch Wine Club on Prime Video here!
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