by Lou Mancinelli
For Chestnut Hill screenwriter and professor David Greenberg, who has penned, edited and doctored over 30 films and documentaries throughout his nearly three-decade career, the journey to get his own film produced took him from Philadelphia to Hollywood and back. It has taken 10 years so far.
Now, after a successful $12,000 Kickstarter campaign, his film, “Stomping Ground,” is in post-production and is expected to be finished and entered into film festivals by late summer.
“I have always said that shooting a film is maybe half the battle,” Greenberg wrote on his blog last fall after the shooting of “Stomping Ground,” his first full-length feature film as director and screenwriter. A look into the production of the film provides a glimpse into the independent film world, and how an independent screenwriter can land his script with a Hollywood producer against overwhelming odds.
“Stomping Ground” was shot last September in one location with multiple cameras capturing each scene, which allows editors to choose from a number of angles during post-production without having to reshoot the scene each time. It also saves money across the board, from the time the cameras are used to the cost of talent and crew.
The movie tells the story of three lifelong friends who are out for a good time and end up killing someone. Their friendship is pushed to the brink, and the group buckles and strains under the darkest aspects of the personalities. Greenberg wants people to think of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” crossed with Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me.”
When he first tried to make “Stomping Ground” in 2006, it was called “Aftermath.” On two separate occasions Greenberg was prepared to shoot the film when the lead actor dropped out of the film hours before the shoot was to begin. The two false starts occurred within a few months.
Meanwhile, a Hollywood producer had heard about the film and had been baiting Greenberg to sell it. Since the early ’90s, Greenberg, 49, had been making a name for himself as a screenwriter-for-hire in the industry. His short film, “The True Meaning Of Cool,” earned him an American Film Institute award in 1995. (That film, a nine-minute short, took two years to make.) So throughout his career he was contacted by various industry people looking for a writer.
Raised in Mt. Airy and Germantown, Greenberg’s father founded The Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill. Greenberg attended Crefeld (originally called The Miquon Upper School) after attending The Miquon School in Conshohocken. Then he studied film production at Temple University.
When he graduated from Temple U. in 1987, his first job was on the set of a small budget film shot in Maine, where he did everything from filling gas tanks to serving as second assistant cameraman. He got the job by calling the director over and over and eventually just showing up on site. He worked for free. He was in Maine because his dad, who owned a restaurant in Frenchtown, N.J., had opened another location in Maine.
Greenberg’s work so impressed the director that he recommended Greenberg for a job with a Hollywood producer. Greenberg found himself working on the set of “Pet Sematary,” based on an early horror novel by Stephen King.
Afterwards, in the early ’90s, Greenberg moved back to Philadelphia and worked at TLA Video in Chestnut Hill.
He had become hooked on independent films like the Coen brothers’ first film, “Blood Simple,” which premiered in 1984. A film of that quality made without major traditional studio backing inspired him. “I really thought I could make it at home,” Greenberg said, “that I didn’t have to go to L.A. to do it.”
His first screen-writing job came in 1996 when he was looking for freelance writing jobs. He happened to meet an individual who worked for Ruffhouse Records, a hip hop label with major acts like The Fugees and Lauryn Hill. They were looking to expand into television and film.
Greenberg was hired to adapt true crime novels into screenplays that were pitched to HBO and other major studios. They were never picked up. A decade passed before he got his next job screenwriting.
“Somewhere in there I decided to give up,” Greenberg said.
Before that he had married (he is not married anymore) in 1992 and had become a father of two girls, who are now 20 and 17. So he worked in Chestnut Hill at TLA and at Gilmore’s Books, his film visions stowed away, as he raised his children.
In 1999 he started teaching film at The Crefeld School, where he stayed for two years before moving back to Rockland, Maine, where he lived for three years before returning to Chestnut Hill in 2004. When he returned, he got a job teaching screenwriting at Drexel University. He still teaches at Drexel, as well as at the University of the Arts.
So it was in 2006 that he tried to make his film, but after the two flops, Greenberg contacted a studio in L.A. which paid for the rights to option the film for two years. After some rewrites, which eliminated any Philadelphia references, the studio decided they couldn’t translate the script into a film, and after some legal work, Greenberg got the rights back in 2011.
In the meantime Greenberg wrote screenplays for other people, sometimes finding gigs on Craigslist. In 2009 he wrote a feature film, “What Matters Most.” In 2011 he wrote “Celebrity Skin,” a documentary. In 2013 he wrote “Journey Into The Holocaust,” another documentary.
It was through the Philadelphia theater scene that he met Dan Zubrzycki, a producer who ran the Philly-based Truly Brave Films. Zubrzycki and his partners liked Greenberg’s script. They liked him as a person, too, and as a teacher.
“It can be a calling card,” said Greenberg about making small, low-budget films without major studio backing. It’s a way for a screenwriter to show he is capable of putting together a quality production, but screenwriters needs networks and connections to resources.
Before Greenberg can complete production of “Stomping Ground,” he’ll need another few thousand dollars. Shooting the film is hardly half of the project. Then there’s post-production, which includes editing. Actors might have to do vocal overdubs. And of course, the all-important branding and marketing.
“I would like people to know that I was only able to shoot the film,” Greenberg said, “because the crew and the cast were willing to work at discounted rates. They knew me as a teacher and as a local in the film and theater scene, and they wanted to be part of the production.”
You can check out Greenberg’s blog at ddjjgg123.wix.com/davidjgreenberg.