Seth Savoy is a Cajun American film director and screenwriter from Little Rock, Arkansas. He studied filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago. There he made multiple award-winning short films that screened at more than 65 film festivals around the world. In 2015, Seth took his script The Echo Boomers to the Sundance Film Festival and won an independent pitch competition which caught the industry’s attention. Five years later, he directed Echo Boomers with two Academy Award nominees, Michael Shannon and Lesley Ann Warren, and established his niche of fun and flashy filmmaking with strong political commentary. Echo Boomers is now in theaters, on demand and on digital via Saban Films. (Picture by Caity Gainer.)
As a first-time filmmaker, the obstacle of finding someone to invest in you seems almost impossible. You have no work or experience for them to gauge your “value,” so why would they give you their time or money to make a movie? A pretty valid question. Even though I knew I didn’t have much work to share, I was determined to find someone who would be willing to roll the dice.
It was 2013 in Chicago. I had just gotten home from an unbelievably long commercial shoot. To say I was exhausted would’ve been an understatement. I curled up in bed and as soon as I closed my eyes … ding. The text alert made me take a long, deep breath. It was an old friend I hadn’t seen in years – he was in the city for the night and wanted to grab a drink. Despite the exhaustion, I said yes. We agreed to meet over at The Store, a bar in Lincoln Park I frequented more often than I wish to admit. To help set the scene, imagine: Your shoes stick to the floor the moment you step inside and there’s that wet Chicago dive bar smell that’s inescapable.
It took me a minute to pull myself together, but I was on my way. I reached the Loyola L station just as the train door was about to close. I bolted for the train and barely made it. As I was riding to my stop, I scrolled through my Twitter feed and a quote popped up:
“When you’re at your breaking point remember one thing, the greats never gave up. There’s a point where most people quit – be the 1% that doesn’t.”
My stop arrived before I could even digest what I had just read. I took a quick screenshot and hopped off the train. When I reached The Store, it was still 20 minutes before I was due to meet my friend. Pulling up a barstool, I ordered a drink, and noticed a strange noise coming from the back of the bar. It sounded like a carnival game. Alone, in the corner, sat a pop-a-shot basketball machine. In front of it was a lanky man in his forties taking the game extremely seriously. He was so tall that he had to bend down to play. Something about him was fascinating. As the game ended and sweat rolled down the side of his face, I said, “10 bucks, I can beat your score.” The bet was on. We shook hands and he introduced himself as James.
Little did I know, he was an uber-successful businessman and investor in Chicago and would become the first person to put money into my debut feature, Echo Boomers. Through the journey of the film, we became extremely close and to this day, I consider him one of my best friends. As I play that night back in my head I think, What if my friend had never texted me to meet him? Or, What if he picked a different bar? What if the train doors had shut a second earlier and I didn’t get to the bar with time to spare? If I had been running even two minutes behind, that whole experience might not have happened and Echo Boomers would have never been made.
A year or so after that fortuitous encounter, I received a call from a casting director I was working with at the time named Jerry. “Seth, I’m not messing with you. He loved the script and he’s truly considering your movie. A fifty-fifty chance, at this point. I could get a call any day saying he’s in.” This young actor he was referring to, was the lead in one of the biggest movie franchises at the time and I was shocked. He read my script … and he loved it?! If he were to sign on, I could have one of the most-watched independent movies from the past few years. Every day I was glued to my phone, making sure I didn’t miss the call. Two weeks passed. I was slowly feeling the opportunity growing cold. When I asked Jerry his thoughts, his reply was, “It could just be a loss of interest, Seth. That’s just how the industry works. It’s normal.” This specific actor was by far the biggest opportunity I had. And that it just disappeared in thin air, really had me thinking, it was clearly not written in the stars for me. But I’m a pretty stubborn person, my friends and family like to tell me. So, I kept chasing.
One day, my then-partner Carly had a surprise for me. She said, “I know you’ve been bummed out about not getting that actor you wanted, but I have an idea …” She told me she’d done some research and learned that this actor would be in New York City for a charity event. The plan: Buy a last-minute, one-way plane ticket, show up, and introduce myself as the director of the script that he loved. I figured, in-person, I could convince him to come on board the project. He’d finally have a face to connect the material to.
So I flew from Palm Springs, where I was living at the time, to JFK. Group 9. Seat 32 B – the one at the very back of the plane that seems smaller than all the others. The overhead bins were full, and my backpack was shoved where my feet belonged, but comfort was the last thing on my mind. When I finally arrived in NYC, I instantly became lost. The address didn’t match up and the event had already started. I asked around, and the auditorium where the event was taking place was within walking distance. As I headed over, I tried to map out in my mind an approach without seeming like a crazy person. I silently slid into a back-row seat. As he was leaving, I saw my opportunity and hustled over. Before security ushered me away, I approached and said, “I’m the director of Echo Boomers. That script that you were a huge fan of.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, there was a look of confusion. He kept walking and quickly said, “Sorry, man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I left the auditorium in a daze, stepping out into the busy city streets. My urge to break down was more real than ever. “Deep breaths,” I reminded myself. There was no positive way to spin this. I had just failed miserably. At that moment, I felt like giving up on directing. I was defeated. Tapped out. Feeling completely done.
Months passed and I moved back to Chicago. I was scrolling through photos to delete on my phone and the same quote I saw years ago was there: “When you’re at your breaking point remember one thing, the greats never gave up. There’s a point where most people quit – be the 1% that doesn’t.”
It resonated deeply. That feeling of knowing that I just had to push through. There was no way I was going to give up on my passion. I made my way to Soho House that day, because I’d left my headphones there the day before. While retrieving them, a woman I’d met recently named Kristina came over and asked if I was still “putting together that film.” I told her, “Absolutely.” She led me over and introduced me to a soft-spoken guy whose first words were, “Sounds like you’re up to something big. Let me know how I can help.” He had this rare trait about him that made you feel as if he really cared. That what you were sharing was completely and entirely possible. As I spoke, he saw my vision and, at that moment, committed to partnering with me to make something happen. He gave me his card: Sean Kaplan. I sent him the script, and within the week, we were talking. I met his producing partner, Byron Wetzel. They introduced me to potential financiers, distributors, and other producers. They then brought Michael Shannon on to the project. I had no idea who they were or what it could lead to, and to this day I still wonder, if I hadn’t forgotten my headphones, and met this unassuming connector, would this movie ever have been made?
The two factors of timing and perseverance are yin and yang. One is completely unpredictable, while the other is continually self-manageable and controllable. The experience of making Echo Boomers gave me deep insights into my passion, how much drive I need to fulfill my desires, and the idea of being at the right place at the right time. Being ready in that moment to be authentic and vulnerable, to be able to receive the help and support you don’t even realize you need.
The one thing that I hope people take away from my experience is this: If you believe deeply in what you’re creating, and you knock on doors long enough and loud enough, you are bound to inspire people to collaborate and co-create your vision. For me, it was truly about timing and perseverance. And a whole lot of luck.
Featured image shows Seth Savoy with actor Michael Shannon during the making of Echo Boomers. (Photo by Caity Gainer.)