A $40,000 Lesson, by Bryan Cohen

I once directed the trailer for a Web series I tried to put up with my money and the money of friends and family. I was going to use this trailer to attempt to contact investors with the help of a very expensive legal document that is used by movies, etc. to secure funding. I learned a huge amount from this experience, especially how to deal with a $40,000 hole in my pocket.

I assumed that with a good enough idea, money was the answer to push the project forward into being. Before I had any money promised from outside sources, I paid a team of writers to produce thirteen full-length episodes of the show, rented out an equipment truck and twenty or so staffers, and booked a coffee shop over night for an entire weekend. The biggest expense, however, was paying a lawyer to draft up a private placement memorandum. All of this together cost a little bit over $40,000.

If I had a well-paying job or a nest egg somewhere, this might not have been such a big deal. The issue was that I was working as a barista at a coffee shop (which is how I got the idea for the Covenant Coffee Web series in the first place). The second issue was that I already had tens of thousands in debt from college that my father was graciously taking the load of while I got my life together. Most of the funds I cobbled together from credit cards, online loans, and generous contributions from friends.

The funny thing is, when you have some money to spend, it tends to go pretty quickly. On the first night of shooting, I found out that my line producer had gone off of his medication and he began to promise everybody on the cast and crew (including those who had been working for free) thousands of dollars that were not originally planned for. On the second night, he got into a fight with the owner of the building we were using and I had to pay the owner off so that we could even film that night.

After all of that craziness, we did eventually finish the trailer. I tried to pitch it around to a few people, but I never made it very far. I’m not sure exactly what happened. I think the amount of debt liability I had finally caught up with me and it clenched me up in a bear trap of fear. I’m not sure if I ever could have gotten the investment money, but I’ll really never know because I didn’t give it 100%.

I gained a lot of great experience during this project and it was almost like going to film school for a year, which might have cost around $40,000 regardless. I matured thoroughly and learned a ton about the true value of money. There is a lot to be said for bootstrapping by working with the little money that you already have. I could have probably shot the show on the cheap and tested the waters spending a fraction as much. Hindsight is 20/20 though and I’m happy to have been seasoned by the endeavor.

A fantastic thing that did come out of the project was the 13 scripts that I am now planning to release in eBook form. The first script is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc. I plan to create a site to chart its progress and once it has sold 1,000 copies, I will release the second script and so on and so forth. Enjoy the wacky antics of a team of baristas trying to make it in the real world. Hmm, sounds familiar…


Bryan Cohen is giving away 100 personalized writing prompts to one giveaway entrant chosen at random during the blog tour!

Personalized prompts are story starters that cater specifically to a writer’s subject matter, strengths/weaknesses, etc. Cohen will create the prompts to cater exclusively to the winner. He is giving away free digital copies of his book The Writing Sampler to everybody who enters, which includes excerpts from each of his four books on writing. The book contains essays, writing prompts and tips and tricks to enhance your writing skills.

In addition, for each of Cohen’s books that reach the Top 500 on Amazon during his blog tour, he will add a $50 Amazon gift card to the drawing (up to six $50 cards in total)!

To enter, simply post a comment to this blog post with your e-mail address. Entries will be counted through June 2nd, 2011.

About the author

Bryan Cohen is a writer, actor and comedian from Dresher, Pennsylvania. Since graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill he has written four books (1,000 Creative Writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More, 500 Writing Prompts for Kids: First Grade through Fifth Grade, Sharpening the Pencil: Essays on Writing, Motivation, and Enjoying your Life, and Writer on the Side: How to Write Your Book Around Your 9 to 5 Job), several plays (Something from Nothing and Chekhov Kegstand: A Dorm Room Dramedy in Two Acts) and he was the head writer for an un-produced Web series (Covenant Coffee). His writing and motivation website Build Creative Writing Ideas has had over 100,000 visitors since it was founded in December 2008. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Follow Bryan on Twitter @buildcwideas.