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Cable station manager leads double life, as film producer

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GROTON — Advances in communications technology have resulted in a flowering of creativity in every branch of the arts.

Liberated are those thousands of writers, artists and musicians whose work otherwise would have been lost in editorial slush piles, with the public never allowed the chance to decide whether their work was worth a look or a listen.

All that is changed now with the emergence of print (and recording) on demand companies. For a modest fee, these firms can store a book, album or film electronically and print, press or publish a book, CD or DVD as orders come in, instead of having thousands of copies sitting in a warehouse waiting for buyers.

In addition, these new start-up companies post listings to popular online shopping networks such as Amazon.com or Borders.com, placing a client’s work before a worldwide market of potential buyers.

It was these advantages that helped reinvigorate a film with the unlikely title of “Follow the Broccoli” that was written, directed and produced by Robert Colman, Groton’s very own cable access station manager since 2003.

“It’s the story of a young songwriter who becomes obsessed with a woman,” Colman explained, “and in order to win her heart, he becomes a bingo champion. In the context of the movie, it’s about being true to your own path.”

“The idea for the film came up between myself and five of my friends and we wrote the screenplay together,” Colman said. “A lot of it was based on music that one of them, Bob O’Connor, wrote including a song called ‘I Cried at Sammy Davis Jr.’s 60th Anniversary TV Special.’ Another inspiration was a friend of a friend who was a professional backgammon player, but we wanted the game in the film to be something more random and picked bingo instead.

Shooting began and ended in 1997, he said.

“It was the editing that took a good four years to complete,” Colman said. “But when we were done, we premiered the film in 2001 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We had over 250 people there and their reaction was all very positive.”

The resulting 80-minute film featured guest appearances by then-Channel 56 news anchors as well as local TV titan Rex Trailer, who had been teaching at Emerson College. Total cost of the independent production was an impressive $70,000 and could have run substantially higher if salaries had been paid to the cast and crew.

“No aspect of making the film was easy,” Colman said. “Writing is the most crucial aspect of the whole process.”

When pressed, Colman admitted that some diplomacy was also needed to help deal with his fellow creators.

“The hardest part about balancing the different responsibilities was working with the five friends who helped me to write the screenplay,” Colman confessed. “They weren’t film people and trying to deal with them on the set was the most challenging part of the whole production.

“But seriously, there certainly was a lot that went into making the film and I did have many good friends who did have experience in filmmaking so the overall burden was shared by many. My assistant director, Bill Flannagan, had been a grip for years and I had a gaffer who I’d worked with before too. Also, I had an assistant producer who brought a lot of her friends with her; so at various times, not including cast, we had over 50 people working on the film.

“The goal was to hopefully make money on the film,” concluded Colman. “We liked the script and I for one wanted to make a movie. So we got some friends involved and made it happen.”

Colman graduated in 1996 from Boston University with a master’s degree in film production but actually began his long relationship with cable television a few years earlier with the Cayman Islands Television and Video Production Co.

In 2003, Colman arrived in Groton, where he took over as station manager for the town’s cable station.

Colman said attempts were made over the years to submit Follow the Broccoli to various film festivals, including Robert Redford’s Sundance, but only managed to have it screened in a few smaller venues. There matters rested until recording technology gave new life to independent filmmakers.

“So the next thing we did was to work with the Screen Actors Guild to have the film released on DVD,” Colman said. “There’s a whole range of possibilities out there now that weren’t available when I first shot the film.”

With the arrival of the Internet, online companies have sprung up that will transfer finished films to DVD and then market them for a modest fee. Colman contacted a company called customflicks.com and the rest is history.

“The library here in Groton even has a few copies,” Colman said. “It’s satisfying to know that we took on this huge task of making a movie and accomplished it. That alone says something. Now, there’s a concrete product out there that we did a pretty good job of putting together.”

After the bright lights, won’t cable access seem boring?

“I’m enjoying my work here at Groton Cable Access,” said Colman, a resident of Ayer. “I love cable access and am quite content working with residents and helping them make their own productions.”

Colman did admit that he is still trying to do some screenwriting on the side