It took some time to make the switch from finance to filmmaking, but it’s paying off for Niskayuna native Jeffrey Scott Collins.
His feature film “Poor Greg Drowning” was recently released on major streaming platforms and, like the rest of his filmmaking career, it was years in the making.
“I think I was 4 years old and my mom had this big, heavy-duty VHS camcorder that she would film us as kids around the house,” Collins said. “I started filming and making these short films. I would beg friends and family members to be in these little short films I would do, and that continued all the way into high school.”
At Niskayuna High School, which offered film classes, Collins and a few friends created short films that showed at festivals. Yet after graduation, he decided it was time to look into other avenues.
“Even though I loved filmmaking, and I’ve always had big dreams and aspirations, I’m from upstate New York. I didn’t know much about Hollywood, so I figured I just had to go to business school. That was the time to grow up and actually go into a real career path,” Collins said.
But after working straight out of college for two years as an auditor in the entertainment group at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he knew he needed to make a change.
“My creative soul was just rapidly dying,” Collins said.
He took a job as a financial analyst for the MLB (Major League Baseball) Network and then in the finance department at HBO.
“I was slowly, methodically working my way toward the industry without giving my dad or myself a heart attack,” Collins said.
While at HBO, he made a short film and showed it to the creative team. They approved and moved him onto the creative services group, where he worked on trailers and promos.
“People were like, ‘You made it! You’re in a creative position at HBO.’ I was like, ‘I want to be the one making the films and the shows. Not just marketing them,’ ” Collins said.
Finally, around eight years ago, he made the leap and moved to Los Angeles to pursue the profession full time. Since then, he’s worked with directors such as Victor Levin (“5 to 7”), Luke Greenfield (“Let’s Be Cops”) and John Hamburg (“I Love You, Man,” “Why Him?”).
“I think the fact that I went into finance first was great because . . . even though I was in a stable career and making decent money, I knew I still wasn’t satisfied and that creative bug was just screaming at me. I think that really helped drive my ambition. In this industry it’s true: You have to absolutely love it, otherwise it’s going to be hard to make it,” Collins said.
In 2015, while working full time, he started writing and filming the beginnings of “Poor Greg Drowning.” It began as a short film, then evolved into a feature film as Collins was able to bring investors, editors and others on board.
The film stars Graham Sibley (“Sully”) as Greg, a love addict who is going through a painful separation after his girlfriend leaves him for their couples’ therapist. At the same time, he needs to find a roommate to help make rent. Greg scares away all potential roommates except Peyton, with whom he falls madly in love after she moves in.
“If Graham and I had a baby it would be Greg, only the exaggerated version. So it was very easy to write, and a lot of the characters in the film are exaggerated people from my life. It was very easy to draw from,” Collins said.
The entire film was shot in Los Angeles, and endured several years of editing and making the rounds of the film festival circuit.
“It is crazy how much work goes into making a movie. Luckily, I had learned that on a studio level. Even though it’s hard to be patient, it’s worth it in the long run in terms of finding the best film,” Collins said.
The film was featured in more than 40 festivals and won more than a dozen awards, including best picture and best comedy.
“We were actually using a rough cut of the film because we didn’t have enough money to finish it, but also I’ve learned from working with Vic, John and Luke that with comedy it’s key to do test screenings, because you want to try different jokes with audiences and finely tune the film based on the audience’s reactions,” Collins said.
During its festival run, Collins decided to add a narrator, bringing on Cedric the Entertainer to fill the role. “Poor Greg Drowning” was released by Comedy Dynamics and became available on streaming services such as iTunes, RedBox, Amazon, Google Play and others earlier this year.
In what’s been a very intense year for many, Collins hopes the comedy will be a welcome escape.
While the coronavirus pandemic has delayed many films and projects, 2020 has been a busy year for Collins. He recently sold a movie and is casting for his next feature film, which will be a dark comedy about a Los Angeles heist. He’s also working on the upcoming drama-comedy “American Sole” starring Pete Davidson and O’Shea Jackson Jr.
In the film industry, juggling several projects at once is par for the course, according to Collins.
“I’m often working on the weekends but I love it. I know it sounds corny, but it really doesn’t feel like work. It’s something that I would just be doing on my own time,” Collins said.