In the vast kilims of film history, some stories remain hidden yarn, awaiting the right storyteller to bring them to light. Ruby Rose Collins, a compelling writer, embarked on such a journey, unraveling the life and work of her grandmother, Kathleen Collins—a pioneering Black filmmaker from the 1980s. In this exclusive interview with WP Now, Ruby shares the deeply personal and inspiring story behind her feature film project that explores the complexities of family and the legacy of a groundbreaking artist.

Kathleen Collins: A Black Trailblazer Remembered

At the time of her death from cancer in 1988, Kathleen Collins was just 46 years old, leaving behind a legacy that stretched across disciplines. She was not only an internationally renowned playwright but also a popular professor at New York’s City College and a successful independent filmmaker.

Her second film, “Losing Ground,” stands as a testament to her artistic prowess. It tells the story of a marriage between two remarkable individuals, both standing at crossroads in their lives. Sara Rogers, a black philosophy professor, embarks on an intellectual quest to understand “ecstasy,” while her painter husband, Victor, sets off on a more earthy exploration of joy.

Victor, celebrating a recent museum sale, decides to rent a country house to return to realism after years as an abstract expressionist. However, their summer idyll becomes complicated by Sara’s research and Victor’s involvement with a young model. Sara experiences a painful emotional awakening when one of her students casts her as the woman scorned in a film version of the song “Frankie and Johnny.”

Despite dealing with strong individuals and complex emotions, “Losing Ground” is charming and comedic, portraying a young woman whose heady and intellectual nature juxtaposes her artsy husband. Seret Scott, Bill Gunn, and Duane Jones, accomplished actors, bring Collins’s vision to life in one of the very first fictional features by an African-American woman.

Funny, brilliant, and personal, “Losing Ground” should have ranked high in the canon of indie cinema. However, the early 1980s posed challenges for women and independent filmmakers, and the film never received theatrical release. It was shown once on PBS’s American Playhouse before effectively disappearing. Twenty-five years after Kathleen Collins’s death, student Ruby Rose Collins’ mother, Nina Collins, rescued the original negative and created a beautiful new digital master of her mother’s film. “Losing Ground” now looks and sounds as fresh, bracing, and complex as it did when it was first filmed, a testament to Kathleen Collins’ incredible talent and a lasting treasure of African American and women’s cinema.

Writers’ Program Student Ruby Rose Collin’s Journey: From Legacy to Personal Discovery

Ruby Rose Collins, inspired by her grandmother’s pioneering spirit, embarked on her own storytelling journey in Donald Martin’s Feature Writing Conservatory, a 9 month all class which grows a single film idea into a completed script. In an intimate conversation with the Writers’ Program (WP), she shared the challenges and triumphs of crafting a feature film that delves into the complexities of family dynamics and personal discovery.

 WP: What inspired you to take Donald’s class? What was it about this class that stood out, and did it meet your expectations?

 Ruby Rose Collins: I’ve always had demanding jobs in the industry, and I knew deadlines, guidance, and feedback would be instrumental in finishing my first feature. Donald’s class was exciting because it was project-focused, small, and tailored—perfect for committing to my goals.

 WP: So where was the project when you started the class, and where was it when the class finished?

 Ruby Rose Collins: It started as a 15-minute documentary reel and an idea. Now it’s the second draft of a feature, and I’m working on the third draft and a short film as a proof of concept.

 WP: What was it like bringing your story into the classroom? Did you feel like it was a collaborative environment?

 Ruby Rose Collins: It was definitely collaborative and intimate. Getting to know everyone on a deep level in such a small class was a unique experience.

 WP: What’s next for your feature? Where do you plan on taking it?

 Ruby Rose Collins: Currently, I’m focused on rewriting and rewriting until I absolutely love it. I’m also working on a short proof of concept. Once that’s done, I’ll think broader about the feature piece.

 WP: Do you feel like you walk away with a specific skill set or something you’ll apply to your writing?

Ruby Rose Collins

 Ruby Rose Collins: Learning 3-act structure, deep diving into outlining, and practicing pitching were valuable tools. The class helped me understand my taste and navigate feedback.

In a more extensive exploration of Ruby Rose Collins’s creative journey, WP delves into the intricacies of her writing process and the emotional depths she reached while unraveling her family’s story.

 WP: What was the most challenging aspect of bringing your grandmother’s story to life on the screen?

 Ruby Rose Collins: The most challenging part was grappling with my preconceived notions of who she was. She was this pioneer, an idealized figure, but as I dug deeper, I discovered a more complex individual. It forced me to confront uncomfortable truths about my family and myself.

 WP: “Losing Ground” is a powerful exploration of a marriage at a crossroads. How did the dynamics of your grandmother’s marriage influence your approach to the narrative?

 Ruby Rose Collins: It profoundly influenced me. I saw parallels in my own family dynamics, the struggles, and the moments of joy. It made me realize that every family has its complexities, and that became a central theme in my storytelling.

 WP: Your initial approach was a documentary. What prompted the shift to a scripted project?

 Ruby Rose Collins: Working in documentary production influenced my initial approach. However, as I delved deeper into the story and the research, I felt the need for a more nuanced, scripted narrative. It allowed me to explore the emotional depth in a way that a documentary couldn’t capture.

 WP: How did the class at UCLA with Donald Martin contribute to the evolution of your project?

 Ruby Rose Collins: Donald’s class was a turning point. It provided the structure, deadlines, and guidance I needed to move from an idea to a tangible script. The collaborative environment and the intimate class size allowed for in-depth discussions and invaluable feedback.

 WP: Were there specific moments in the class that stand out as transformative for your project?

 Ruby Rose Collins: The table read was a pivotal moment. Hearing actors bring my characters to life made them real to me, and I fell in love with the pieces of my script. It solidified my belief in the project.

 WP: Reflecting on the class, what skills or insights do you feel will have a lasting impact on your writing career?

 Ruby Rose Collins: Learning to navigate feedback, honing the skill of pitching, and understanding my taste as a writer were crucial takeaways. It’s not just about writing; it’s about understanding why I’m telling a particular story and how to communicate that effectively.

 WP: As you continue refining your feature, what aspects of your grandmother’s legacy do you hope to honor?

 Ruby Rose Collins: She was unapologetically herself, and I want to capture that spirit in my storytelling. It’s not about idealizing her but presenting her in all her dimensions.

 WP: How has this project impacted your connection with your family and your understanding of your grandmother?

 Ruby Rose Collins: It’s been both challenging and healing. It forced conversations within the family, and it made me appreciate the nuances of my grandmother’s life. It’s a journey of self-discovery and understanding where I come from.

 Ruby Rose Collins’s journey is a testament to the power of storytelling and the impact of dedicated mentorship. As she continues to refine her feature, we’re reminded of the transformative potential that courses like Donald Martin’s Feature Film Writing Conservatory can offer.

 Feature Film Conservatory Plug

Ruby Rose Collins’s journey is a reminder that behind every untold story lies an opportunity for resurrection. Donald Martin’s Feature Film Writing Conservatory is not just a course; it’s a gateway to unlocking your storytelling potential. Enroll now and embark on a nine-month journey to transform your concept into a market-ready screenplay.

Before you embark on your own storytelling journey, consider the opportunity that awaits in Donald Martin’s Feature Film Writing Conservatory. In this highly intensive and collaborative environment, you’ll start with a new feature film story concept and develop it into a dynamic, compelling, market-ready screenplay in just 9 months. This unique course combines the art of storytelling with the technicalities of scriptwriting, providing a space for in-depth analysis, brainstorming, and problem-solving sessions.

Professional development is a key focus, covering topics like forming business relationships, pitching in meetings, handling rejection and success, and more. Upon completion, you’ll receive a certificate in Feature Film Writing, a one-on-one consult, and a one-year WP Now membership.

While the application process is rigorous, students should consider looking into the upcoming course from January 22nd, 2024, to September 19, 2024, and discover the tools to ignite your screenwriting chops that will compel a finished screenplay much like WP student Ruby Rose Collins. The application deadline for the course has been extended to January 3rd and one can learn more and apply here.


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