Film Independent Fri 5.30.2014

Making a Rom-com? Forev Filmmakers Share the Secrets of Their Success

After premiering at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, co-directors Molly Green and James Leffler’s modern romance Forev gets its release on DVD and VOD this week. The first-time filmmakers gave us a tour of their creative process by elaborating on an unconventional approach to screenwriting, overcoming the challenges of getting distribution for a rom-com and how it felt the first time they saw their movie with an audience at their Festival premiere.

How did you guys get the ball rolling on Forev?

The project began when our two lead actors, Matt Mider and Noël Wells, asked us if we’d direct a series of comedy sketches for them. We somehow convinced them to make a feature with us instead.

Can you tell us about the screenwriting process?

It all started with our actors! We included Noël and Matt in the outlining process, and once we brought in Amanda Bauer (who plays Matt’s sister in the movie), we had all three leads improvise scenes together. Then we wrote the script on our own using the best bits of dialogue from those improv sessions, which proved hugely helpful since those guys are funnier than we’ll ever be. We also hoped an actor-inclusive process would help the romance and chemistry feel real, so if it’s awkward, at least it’s authentically awkward. Once the script was pretty solid, we tweaked scenes based on more rehearsals. So by the time we went out to shoot, we had a script that felt natural for the actors but was hopefully sharper and more structured than if we’d improvised the whole movie in the middle of the desert.

Was it difficult to raise money for a romantic comedy, since it is such a popular genre?

 Fortunately, we made the film at a budget level that didn’t require too much in the way of a fundraising campaign, but it can be a tough genre to pitch—making an indie romantic comedy might not sound as cool as a twisty intellectual thriller. We knew going in that rom-coms without name actors can have a tough financial road, but when we finally started conversations with distributors, they told us that romance in general is one of the more profitable genres on VOD and streaming platforms. So we did put a lot of our own savings on the line, but numbers-wise it might be a less risky prospect than, say, a dark drama.

Was it especially challenging to seek distribution for a rom-com?

We’ve learned that every distributor has their own personality. We got the sense from some companies that it would be a stretch for them to acquire something like Forev, because it didn’t fit with their image and niche. We also talked with some people who wanted to play up the more classic goofy rom-com elements, but we felt like that wasn’t right for the film. It’s definitely a modern twist on the genre, and we wanted to make sure that was clear in the marketing. Fortunately, we found two distributors who loved Forev for what it is.

Did you target specific festivals when submitting because of your genre?

Well, there aren’t any romantic comedy festivals as far as we know, but when we were submitting, we would call the festivals first, ask to talk to a programmer, and try to gauge their excitement level before we’d spend the submission fee. Sometimes programmers told us their festivals wouldn’t play rom-coms, which was definitely good to know before we spent the money. Some festivals were really excited about it, though, and to our surprise, we ended up playing over a dozen festivals around the country.

How did the screening in last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival effect the future of Forev?

Screening at the L.A. Film Fest was the best thing that happened to this movie. Having those LAFF laurels as a stamp of approval legitimized Forev as we figured out distribution and applied to other festivals. And the festival itself was an amazing experience and opportunity to get the movie out there. Sitting in the theater at L.A. Live and hearing the audience start laughing at the first scene was probably the moment it really hit us that, “ohhhhh, we actually did make a movie.”

What advice would you give to first-time filmmakers?

For one thing, in big-time filmmaking, people solve problems by throwing money at them. That’s not possible when you’re a first-time filmmaker. Our solution was to over-prepare. Anticipate any problems, come up with solutions ahead of time, know your shot-list front and back, stay on schedule. Things will still go wrong, but you’ll be in much better shape if you know every moving piece of your production. Get your script right before you shoot—notes can be your friend. And speaking of friends, be nice to yours, because you’re going to bug every one of them for favors.