These past two weeks the entire world has been front and center on news surrounding the United States’ National Security Agency and a “whistleblower/traitor” that is now “residing” in Hong Kong. Whatever your opinion is on this matter one thing is certain—someone has pitched a story to a producer, a script is being written and a film will go into production by the end of this year.
In Justice Is Mind one of the tracks in the story is loss of privacy. Our primary character, Henri Miller, makes an elected choice to give up privacy with that decision secured by biometric signatures. Miller’s information is digitized, sent electronically to a foreign company and held in a central library of like “minded” information. Trapped by his own memories, he soon finds himself on trial. But in an age of social media and immediate news gathering, while the law may say “innocent until proven guilty”, let us not kid ourselves. Despite the democracies that we live in anyone charged is guilty first and only innocent after the public says so.
When it comes to marketing Justice Is Mind, I have been working closely with my entertainment attorney Arnold Peter. Sure, we are submitting to targeted film festivals and making presentations to sales agencies and distributors, but the major push for the film will be in the very democracies that have allowed us, the citizen, to sign away our rights of privacy by our own choice. Speaking of choices, I’d love to have Justice screen in Tehran (that probably just got me on a list).
One country that we will be having a presence in is India—the world’s largest democracy. This would not be my first foray into that country. My first short film First World was the only science fiction film to screen at India’s first national discussion on science fiction. It was an honor and a distinction that I will never forget. Presenting Justice Is Mind in India is just as important as the United States as the whole point is to establish discussion around key areas of the film—where does privacy start and stop?
In the digitized and social media world we live in the loss of privacy in the general sense must just be accepted. One of my favorite films, Gattaca, sequences DNA and decides your societal fate. In Justice Is Mind your memories decide your legal fate. Make no mistake, these sciences are largely here in the year 2013. Maybe not as developed as the films they are represented in, but like Star Trek literally invented the cell phone, fiction will be fact soon enough. Get used to it or live in a cave.
When it comes to writing, production and directing a film you want your audience to leave thinking. That’s how a film establishes a long shelf life. That’s how a film finds audiences long after its world premiere. That’s why films like Judgment at Nuremberg, 2001 and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner still resonate today. They had something to say and weren’t afraid to say it. Justice Is Mind is not politically correct. It is designed to elicit conversation and to remind us that our life is largely dictated by the choices we make. And in the case of Justice the choices of…sorry you’ll have to wait until the film is released for the end of that sentence.
Thankfully our democracies still give us the right of choice. And like those that we elect to office to represent us in our respective governments, we want our films to also win in the court of public opinion. Because it really comes down to three words–
WE THE PEOPLE.
With the special effects for Justice Is Mind being completed this week, my attention has largely been focused over the last month on the sound design of the film. Yes, while the visuals of Justice are easy to share and enjoy, there is an entire area of the film that is just as important – sound. It’s not just the words that are being spoken it’s the atmosphere around them that defines the mood and feel of the film.
For anyone that has been involved in filmmaking, post-production is a managed process and sound design is part of it. Sure, you don’t have to have that beep on a cell phone, or electronic click of a computer, but I believe it’s that level of detail that sets films apart from each other. I’m also very into details and sound is part of that process. Is the judge’s hammer sound too soft? What tone do we set for this particular character? Sound wise how do we advance the drama and the story?
A film without sound design is like a painting. Sure, it can be visually arresting and you hope there is a compelling score, but have you ever noticed in a film that particular characters or moments have a similar sound? In Justice our primary character is Henri Miller and as the story builds so does the atmosphere around him. Sometimes the sound is silent as the stage is being set for a dramatic build or moment in which you want the audience to pay attention and take notice. This is a process that is just as creative as the editing, score and special effects and just as time consuming.
It is a curious process watching a script come to life. Sure, I directed it and have worked with our editor, special effects supervisor and composer (who is also doing sound design), but this is where you see the creative energy come to life and I haven’t even talked about sound mixing or color correction yet. I’ll save that for another post.
I often wonder if audiences really know what goes into a film from start to market. Personally I love the entire process, but to quote District Attorney Constance Smith, “I didn’t promise you an easy case.” Filmmaking is not easy by any stretch. The level of competition between films is fierce beyond words (just start to look at sales agents’ websites). If you don’t have A or B list actors to anchor your distribution, you better have a compelling story because that’s the only thing that will save you from achieving distribution. I like to think we have a compelling story with Justice. We already have digital distribution in place and our early interest from sales agents and distributors is extremely promising. I’ve sold them on the script, the trailer, clip and visuals, this is why all of us involved in post-production are being a bit manic about the details. Because in the end you have to have a commercial product.
I know some filmmakers that are not commercially minded and in fact have told me they aren’t producing such and such to make any money. Unless you are producing as a calling card for experience, short films are great for this like I did with First World and Evidence, I just don’t believe in vanity filmmaking. Point in fact there is just way too much that goes into creating a film in the first place.
Let me give you some facts. My legal team is in Los Angeles and they are working diligently with me on countless matters; our composer is just outside London, UK; we had a representative (my entertainment lawyer) at Cannes; our post production team is in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and we have, by my last count, just over 200 actors, crew, marketing, location and promotional partners involved in the film. Justice will not just have one big showing then off to a dusty shelf while I wait to hear from festivals. Dear god if that happened I would board one of my Arctrans from First World and quietly leave the planet! What it comes down to is promoting your project to as many people that will listen. Sales agents, distributors, theatre owners, conventions are, by design, used to getting pitches-it just comes down to a compelling story because they need to bring that story to their own audiences to, dare I say it, make money.
But like I did when publishing magazines, money cannot be the first thing on your mind, quality must be the first. For I believe that if a quality product is well presented it will find its audience and share of revenue. It just comes down to doing one thing:
Turning up the volume.
There is, as some have surmised, an entire back story to Justice Is Mind. When I set out to write a story believe it or not I think of the ending right after I think of the original idea. Point simply, I have heard too many times “I have a great story but I don’t know how to end it.” Point in fact, I wrote a screenplay with a friend years ago that takes place in Ogunquit, ME. It was a thriller. Oh we had a great first and second act but dear god that last act was just a travesty. Sometimes not having an ending when you start out does have a positive outcome…can anyone say Casablanca? Flash to 2013 and it should be interesting to see what World War Z looks like. I understand they reshot the entire last third of the film. I can say first hand there was a sense of calmness, in my opinion, when we were shooting Justice because we all knew how it was ending and we weren’t tinkering with it. Screenwriting is not a democracy and it most certainly can’t be decided by committee.
Again, I can’t speak for any other screenwriters, but when I write I’m always thinking sequel or a continuation of the story or part thereof. Why not? Sure, some films rightly stand alone, but if it resonates with the audience for a continuation you have notes and concept ready to go. A single feature film can take years to develop, why have it end at the first installment if there’s an interest in more? As some of you know, the seed for Justice Is Mind was planted in my First World story about a machine that can read memories to track where certain people have been. When we were shooting Justice the idea for a sequel started to come to me but more importantly the ending realized itself just a few days ago when I was looking through some VFX images. Of course the real test is how audiences are receiving Justice once it’s released and what resonates with them. I may have the most fantastic idea for a sequel but if research shows that audiences are gravitating to one particular part of the story, there’s your market research. Why go against the tide when you can ride the wave.
Already I have been able to ascertain certain conclusions from our early marketing for Justice. The audience is skewing 60% female to 40% male with the United States, India and the United Kingdom making up the highest traffic. On age, our largest numbers are in the 45-54 range. But what gets the most attention to a post? Special effects. Yes, every time I post a special effect image our reach sometimes triples from regular status updates. Conclusion? It’s not just men that like special effects, women enjoy them too.
Will these numbers hold up when Justice is screened? Who knows. The marketing of a film is perhaps the trickiest of them all. The goal is to develop positive word of mouth, and a following of fans that will support the endeavor and create that wave of enthusiasm. While the big studios can employ a marketing department to at least attempt to shield their risk, as an independent filmmaker working on meager resources, we must take advantage of the myriad of online services now available to us. And as we have recently seen, even the most robust marketing campaigns can’t shield some major films from audiences misses.
Thankfully with Justice Is Mind we can push in genres that are specific — sci-fi and drama. The world of sci-fi has changed a lot in the last several years, while space franchises are still flying to distant worlds, stories that are Earth and “mind” based are growing (I still miss Fringe). And in the world of drama, Justice has started to book law schools to screen the film for the legal drama that it is. What better way to develop a following than presenting a film in these types of forums.
The email came in from our special effects supervisor yesterday, “block 6 done”. With one more block to go, the special effects for Justice Is Mind are nearly complete. I can’t speak to how other directors handle their post production work, but I decided early on that the best approach was to edit the film in seven blocks that average about 20 minutes each. As all of us work remotely, we have relied fairly exclusively on DropBox to share files. But sometimes the good old U.S. Postal Service is still needed as part of the delivery process. Simply the number of files involved in Justice are staggering –over 150 hours of film to edit, over 10,000 frames for special effect processing and then there are the special effect sounds (over 200 in one block alone). But with edit files now being locked and sound mixing complete for the first two blocks, Justice Is Mind is well on track for completion. With the last piece of “skyscraper” being the color correction that will take place in June, Justice will have a completed running time of 2 hours and 33 minutes.
This past week it dawned on me that it has been exactly a year since I announced pre-production for Justice Is Mind. In some ways it seemed like yesterday when I was at a science fiction convention in Maryland with Vernon Aldershoff (Henri Miller in Justice) showing the short film version Evidence. Before I knew it, we were shooting the feature. Now the feature is nearly complete. Time certainly does fly by!
But now my time turns towards our premiere date on August 18 in Albany, NY at the Palace Theatre along with a host of other marketing and distribution initiatives. With sales agents actively interested, film festival submissions starting shortly, screenings at law schools and sci-fi conventions being scheduled and looking at independent theatres to book Justice along with an industry screening, timing all these processes is another task in and of itself. And that’s where another area comes into play—strategy.
Take for example the Liberace “drama” Behind the Candelabra that stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Director Steven Soderbergh told the New York Post in January that the movie was originally planned for a theatrical release but was ultimately produced by HBO instead because the story was “too gay” for Hollywood movie studios; curious as Brokeback Mountain was released theatrically. So now the film is debuting on HBO.
My point is that even the best laid plans sometimes need to be adjusted based on the market (as ridiculous as this may be). Certainly, I don’t agree with the studios not distributing Behind the Candelabra domestically, but HBO does also present a great option as well. Thankfully the United States isn’t the elephant in the room it used to be for theatrical distribution. Important, of course, but foreign markets are growing in prominence and importance. For anyone that follows the film industry we are seeing more and more films released internationally first before they bow in the United States.
For Justice Is Mind we may just see some sort of reverse market release. Of course we proceed with our plans in a timely fashion, but if a sales agent comes in and sells our rights to foreign markets that may dictate a whole new distribution and marketing strategy.
Time will tell.
With Cannes in full swing and Justice Is Mind continuing down the post-production track, it seemed fitting to tour a new film studio this past week. No I didn’t travel to Los Angeles, I drove about 35 minutes to Devens, MA where a $35 million state of the art film studio is being built. Appropriately called New England Studios the phase 1 complex is scheduled to open late summer. With four sound stages, production offices and a mill building, the tour reminded me of stories I read about the early days of Hollywood and those pioneering risk takers.
Filmmaking is all about risk. Whether you own physical assets such as a studio or have sat behind a computer writing a script, you have invested some sort of time and money to live your dream. But unlike other industries, this is a sexy business. Ask anyone that has seen their name come up in the credits in a theatre and the most common word to describe the felling is—cool! But in the end, it does come down to a return on investment.
As Cassian Elwes told The Hollywood Reporter this week, financing a film through a combination of equity, tax incentives and foreign pre-sales provides a “guaranteeable return.” Combined with the powerful allure of the movie business, that makes the film an attractive investment. He went on to talk about the superrich, but you don’t have to be superrich to enter this industry you just need to be thoughtful and have a plan.
Even for a film on the scale of Justice Is Mind I have endeavored to bring a “studio” operation-like quality to the entire production. There is another entire structure to getting a film into the market which we see at film markets such as Cannes. Reading the daily reports coming out of Cannes you can just feel the excitement. Film slates are getting financed (Hayden Christensen’s Glacier Films did well), new film finance companies are being launched and there seems to be some solid buying. Of course then there are the horror stories of films that pre-sold last year that lost, for whatever reason, the top talent that got the project sold in the first place. As I’ve said before, this is not an industry for the faint at heart.
With sound mixing commencing on Justice and the last third of the special effects being built (there are over 200), the end of post-production is certainly in sight. With the film edited, the process of scoring, sound effects, ambiance and mixing is just as detailed a process as any. I could not be more thankful to our post-production team for the job they are doing.
And this is where I come back to New England Studios. I’m fairly confident this project never would have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for our 25% film tax incentive. Some filmmakers at an industry event in Boston just bitched that producers shouldn’t follow the tax incentives. I say then you need to leave this industry because unless you are financing things yourself, filmmakers need every damn incentive to produce their motion pictures. Thankfully, Senator Michael O. Moore wrote to me and said, “…I will not support any legislation brought before the Senate to cap the production incentive.”
While I certainly hope to someday produce a film on the sound stages of New England Studios, the one thing I was happy to hear is their desire to develop a complete infrastructure of like-minded businesses around the studio. Having lived in Los Angeles, I can tell you there’s nothing like being around the studio atmosphere of creativity. One just doesn’t wake up and become a movie mogul. It takes time, incentive and a conducive structure.
Of course, I couldn’t help but be reminded about one of my favorite sci-fi TV shows when touring New England Studios. In U.F.O. an ultra secret organization called S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters of the Alien Defense Organization) has its headquarters 80 feet under Harlington-Straker Studios. With a base on the Moon and support aircraft around the world, their often used statement is apropos to our local film industry and the current state of post-production for Justice Is Mind.
On positive track.
This past week was another milestone for Justice Is Mind – film sales agents wanted to know more about the film. These sales agents represent and sell films into foreign markets and are constantly inundated with pitches from producers. As these agents are preparing to leave for Cannes next week, I was even more pleased as they took time out of their schedules to respond to my inquiry. In fact, it was a bit humbling.
Although I plan to attend AFM in the fall, I wasn’t planning to attend Cannes for a variety of reasons. First, my focus has to be on the completion of Justice Is Mind. As we are in the final stages of post-production, it’s imperative that I stay in communication with the team. This is my first feature film and it just needs to be done right without distraction. The palm pressing, networking and parties will come after the film is complete. That being said, you also have to keep the fires lit and stay top of mind to those that are interested. Thankfully, I soon learned that someone I have worked with for years will be attending Cannes. Thus, Justice Is Mind will have representation and meetings can be scheduled.
What’s interesting about the three sales agents is the diversity of the projects they represent. From Oscar winners, to vertical integration to genre specific, they all work with filmmakers from theatrical, to foreign sales, to broadcast, DVD and digital platforms. And these are just the three that I’m in direct communication with. As our representative will be meeting with additional distributors and agents with their other clients, other possibilities could present themselves.
Of course, at some point a decision will need to be made on who to sign with. There are so many factors that come into play with decisions like this. What rights do you sign off? How long is the contract for? What deliverables are needed? The questions are endless. But once you sign and transfer the rights of your film, it’s done. This is why it’s so important to have people in your network that understand the ins and outs of contracts specific to this industry. Thankfully I have an entertainment attorney that I’ve worked with for years who is not only an expert in the industry, but a good friend whom I trust 100%.
As producer it’s my job to make sure that we secure the best deal possible for Justice. But as director I also have to make sure that the artistic vision is complete to make such a deal possible. Just this weekend, I was transmitting additional pictures for some VFX shots, addressing some processing matters regarding the build out of other shots and listening to the completed score and various sound effects. Again, welcome to the world of independent filmmaking – the wearing of many hats!
What’s also important during this process is to convey to agents that you aren’t a one picture producer. For them, it’s about building relationships for the long term and working with filmmakers not only on the present project but the next project (one of them is also reviewing First World) and the next. But through all the activity this week, there was one development that most certainly brought a smile to my face.
The Hollywood Reporter listed Justice Is Mind.
The one thing that consistently amazes me in the world of filmmaking is the creativity everyone brings to the table. This is one of the areas that I enjoy the most. I’m not sure if my post production team will agree with me or not, but after I give my general direction on something, I let them simply create. Imagine. I’ve often heard these nightmarish stories of directors that berate everyone involved to obsessive extremes or worse the other side of it when no direction or organization is given. Once, I had the unfortunate experience of working with a disorganized director as an actor and it was a nightmare (I felt like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise B!). I always aim for a comfortable middle. But at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the director that the vision is executed by all concerned.
As we are entering the final stages of post production, I look at the smoothness of the story our editor Jared Skolnick has created for Justice Is Mind and I wonder if he read my mind on my fondness for dramatic storytelling from Hollywood of the 1940s and 50s. The same holds true for my friend and our special effects guru Adam Starr. I’ve worked with Adam for well over ten years on other projects, and while I will be the first to admit that I used to get a bit hot headed in those early days, it was all for the best of the project. Adam is another one who is good at mind reading (I guess that works well with the Justice Is Mind story). I send off my notes and presto out comes something that would simply rival any top special effects house. Then there is our composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta, someone I have never met who lives in the United Kingdom. When I first listened to samples of his work, I just heard the sounds of Justice coming to life.
Like any industry, you create teams of people you enjoy working with. But no other industry ties that together more than filmmaking. Of course, we aren’t all going to agree on everything and we all have our own point of view on how something should be executed. But once you work on a set you can clearly understand how you see the same people working together over and over again. It’s not so much on the acting side, but on the production side you want to work with people whose work you know and who you trust. Look at someone like J.J. Abrams. He often collaborates with the same team. I’d say that’s worked out OK for him!
But look this isn’t always a bed of roses either with everyone singing Kumbaya. During Justice Is Mind I had the unfortunate job of having to let people go during the production and in post-production (and there was some pre-production drama too). You’re either part of the team or you’re not. Simply, in this business time is money and I don’t have the time to figure out what your issues are. Besides, it’s woefully unfair to those putting in the effort to produce a quality product.
Coming into the last couple of months of post-production I could not be more thankful to the entire team (on both sides of the camera) that is making Justice Is Mind possible. We all know that producing a feature film is not easy. As we have seen this past week, actors like Zach Braff took to Kickstarter because they couldn’t get the deal they wanted, famed director Steven Soderbergh vented on the wild west of filmmaking (has it ever been anything less?) and digital distribution continues to “adjust” the establishment. But through it all you need content and a team that can deliver. And like Captain Kirk and his crew on the Enterprise, it would be pretty cool to board a ship with the crew I’ve been working with the last several months.
U.S.S Justice standby for departure.
It was last Sunday and I was uploading footage to various websites along with programming our press release and email newsletter for a Monday, April 22 event – for the first time in the history of Justice Is Mind we were releasing footage from the film. While the January release of the trailer was well received and picked up by numerous platforms, this was an actual part of the film. With a running time of 2 hours and 33 minutes, there were obviously lots of scene choices. But a few weeks ago I selected a few different areas that I thought would be most interesting to viewers and posted it as question on our Facebook page. What did they want to see? The arrest of Henri Miller.
From a marketing and public relations point of view, releasing a clip was not only important to keep up the momentum of the project but to demonstrate to the outside world that Justice Is Mind was indeed in progress. It was shortly after my press announcement to various sites that post trailers and clips, did additional opportunities start to present themselves. In fact, one major site I wanted Justice Is Mind listed on finally got back to me and pointed me to a digital aggregator they use for the majority of their trailers and clips. The verdict was in—with this clip Justice Is Mind was being taken seriously by industry leading websites.
Getting to this point has not been easy. The endless days of sitting at my computer researching the industry, the countless emails and mining telephone contacts, this is what building a business is all about—hard work with no shortcuts. As an independent filmmaker this is what it is. You write the script, secure the funding, shoot the picture (honestly, that’s the easy part) and market the film. Unless you have mid to major studio involvement to assist in all these areas, that’s it in a nutshell.
And with the release of the clip came the atmosphere of the scene. As one of the actors in Justice commented, “…had that Dynasty thing going on”. The guess was spot on. One of my favorite TV shows of all time was Dynasty. While the Millers in Justice are not nearly as rich as the Carringtons in Dynasty, this was the atmosphere I was hoping to convey. In the clip we see successful, wealthy people in black tie at a first class establishment in peril, conflict and deception. Who doesn’t want to see that!
Many years ago I was introduced to one of the leading writers of Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest for a television series I was looking to pitch. For anyone in my age group forward we all remember the power those shows brought to network television. The characters were specific, the dialogue was deliberate and the scenes were grand. I learned more from working with that writer during those few months in how scenes and storylines were crafted than anyone else in the business. She didn’t pontificate on what not to do like so many of these ridiculous condescending seminars I see being promoted. She took the essence of an idea and transformed it for audience appeal. Talk about inspiring! I’ll never forget that week out in Los Angeles when we went to pitch meetings at Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney and a few others. While the project wasn’t picked up the experience was more than I ever could have hoped for. Yes, as you have surmised, there are plans for the Justice Is Mind project.
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and that mantra certainly is true in the world of filmmaking. To this moment, Justice Is Mind has been nearly a three year plus project—from concept, to short to the coming feature. And like the business that made up the monolithic Denver Carrington, the oil wells in filmmaking are the distributors that reach your audience.
It was nearly a month ago when I received the email through my website. A production company wanted to interview me for an upcoming documentary. The subject? The Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding debacle that started on January 6, 1994 when Nancy was attacked backstage at the National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan. My first reaction at the moment was what Nancy said all over national television at the time, “Why me?” At the time of this “incident” I had recently launched what would become the world’s largest figure skating magazine. Suffice to say I knew quite a bit about the sport and I’ve known Nancy for years. Some of you may remember that I served as a judge on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities and Nancy was one of the contestants with her skating partner Dave Coulier (that was a fun time!).
After a bit more of an internal debate, I decided to do the interview. Not because I have any lasting love affair with a sport that is a shadow of its former self (that’s a story for another day), but because it was through these types of interviews that I became acquainted with production work and learned some pretty valuable tricks of the trade that I have brought to my present day career as a filmmaker.
First and foremost, I learned how to speak on camera working with some of the most excellent producers and directors of the time. I’ve never paid for an on camera class because my work was my classroom. Oh sure, not all those interviews have gone according to plan, but that’s the chance you take when you put yourself out there… publicly. You know what they say, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Thank you, I’ll stand at the stove. Personally, I discovered during my work at the 2002 Winter Olympics that I enjoyed live broadcasting the most. When a director is speaking in your ear while you are live on air, damn you learn how to focus.
Secondly, was the behind the scenes aspect. I started paying attention to the camera operators, sound, lights and the varying equipment. On set you see the producers, directors and everyone else work harmoniously together. Ask anyone that works in this business and organization is everything. And, call me vain, you also learn about having on camera makeup. Yes, that’s right…makeup. Damn, I’ve had it all. From my face literally being spray painted to sittings with no makeup. Dear lord I hope those interviews never surface they could be a horror show! My special thanks to Monique Mercogliano for her wonderful makeup services last week. I met Monique in 2011 when I was in a feature film and brought her outstanding work to serve as makeup supervisor on both Evidence and Justice Is Mind. Even better, she’s now a good friend and I enjoyed giving her a sneak peak of Justice Is Mind at dinner after we wrapped.
And so it was during all those years that I started to gain insight and more importantly experience. It gave me a solid foundation in which to build and that’s why I did this interview this past week. You can always learn something new. I remember how terrified I was during my first TV appearance on The Montel Williams Show in 1994. I could barely speak. But this past week? I was on camera for 2.5 hours just firing off the answers. I had the opportunity to work with a great director who has produced a variety of films and TV programming and meet additional local crew. Yes folks it’s all about networking.
So look for me this November on ESPN’s Films 30 for 30 series about this sport changing event back in 1994. I don’t know how much of me they’ll use, but it was fun visiting another time, but with a good face!
In closing I go off topic for a moment. A special thank you to the first responders, police departments, intelligence agencies, governor, the public and our president for the outstanding work to bring to a close the tragic events of the Boston Marathon bombing. We can’t bring back the victims of this tragedy or return those gravely wounded in the attack to the world they lived in before last Monday, but we can honor them with the efforts and bravery of so many.
The power of the camera.
With the post production phase of Justice Is Mind moving along according to schedule, my job now, in addition to managing the entire post production phase (yes, still directing!), has turned to marketing and distribution. Most independent filmmakers don’t have these departments, so what we rely on are trusted sources and contacts inside the industry and our own real world work experience. But in the end, as President Truman made famous, “The buck stops here.” When producing a film, every buck counts. And quite of few of those bucks go to film festival submission fees.
The film festival market is as mysterious as it is rewarding. Yes, I have a list of festivals I’m submitting Justice to. Some have “final” deadlines that come well before our completion date so we will be submitting as a “work in progress”. But others thankfully fall generally in line with our July 1 completion date. But like I did in magazine publishing I also do in filmmaking, I really don’t like what I call “rules of market”. There is this rule, even though it seems to be unwritten, that films should first be submitted to festivals to see what happens. Sure, I’ll just wait and wait and wait for a decision while my film could be losing momentum. Seriously, I was part of a feature film project as an actor a couple of years ago and the entire distribution strategy was getting into film festivals. I couldn’t believe it. There was never a plan B. The problem with that strategy is that if you don’t get into festivals (particularly the buyers markets) you can find yourself with many missed months of “buck making” opportunities for your film.
With the world premiere set for Justice Is Mind on August 18 in Albany, New York along with an industry screening planned for Los Angeles (date to be announced), there are a host of other screening opportunities for the project outside of the film festival market. First and foremost Justice Is Mind already has a non-exclusive digital distribution deal in place, so with one email and the transmission of deliverables, distribution is done. But that’s just part of the strategy and it’s an evolving one as this article in Sundance demonstrates the nuances of digital distribution. Yes, digital distribution is a science all by itself.
Digital distribution can be very successful for a film, but it helps enormously if you have some terrestrial assistance. What it really comes down to is building awareness through word of mouth and that does come from screenings—theatrical or event. So while I am putting together a list of independent theatres to pitch, the one area that has shown great interest in Justice Is Mind is the science fiction community. This past week I finished up my pitch list of nearly 100 sci-fi conventions around the world to present Justice Is Mind for screening. The interest was successfully tested with the short film version Justice Is Mind: Evidence (another reason to produce a short first—market testing). On the practical front my first short film First World screened at over 20 conventions in numerous countries. As some of you know, the trailer for Justice Is Mind is screening during Boston Comic Con next weekend. Thank you Boston Comic Con!
While I love the glamour, pomp and visibility that come with a festival, I am anything if not practical. As a director I owe it to everyone involved in the project to get their work seen by the widest possible audience. But as a producer, it comes down to a return on investment.
At the end of the day filmmaking is about making bucks to be “scene” again.
As I prepare to release a clip from Justice Is Mind, I was reminded again this week that the entertainment industry is yet again going through a transition. With another VFX production house leaving film, state tax credits in flux, online streaming pioneer Hulu up for sale and companies like Tugg and Gathr gaining traction for theatrical release of independent films, the word transition seems appropriate if not nearly descriptive enough of the change sweeping through the industry locally and throughout the world.
In today’s day and age of real time change with social media, it seems like everyday someone is presenting a new way to finance, produce, distribute, market and publicize a film. There is a race to embrace it all, to discover that new magic formula, to make money, to reinvent the wheel of a century old industry. But in the end, you do have to produce a quality motion picture and be cognizant of the real world. I honestly wonder who is involved in some of these new backward film “ventures”. In a leading industry trade this week, some moron actually said with bravado in an overly produced video presentation it’s harder to distribute your film than get it financed. Seriously? And you live on what planet?
Bottom line, if the industry survived United States v. Paramount Pictures in 1948, it will survive anything being thrown at it now. For me, I believe this is one of the most exciting times to be a filmmaker. In our hands we have the power to produce and distribute economically. Our work can be seen by audiences. Of course that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges when evaluating all these new transitional ventures. For me it comes down to being practical. If I’m going to actually pay you, what are you going to do for my film? Don’t give me smoke and mirrors, because I’ll bring one of those large wind machines and you will be…I’ll just say it…Gone With the Wind.
With Justice Is Mind I see the premise of the story itself going through an interesting transition from science fiction to fact. As most know, I was inspired to write the story after seeing a 60 Minutes broadcast about ‘thought identification’. Once I put the feature into pre-production and spoke to Dr. Marcel Just at Carnegie Mellon University (the scientist who was interviewed on the 60 Minutes show), he mentioned that they have been quite “busy” since that 2009 taping and that the science fiction I postulated in Justice could be reality “within seven to ten years.” My reaction was the same as Constance Smith’s in Justice, “Now that’s fascinating Dr.”
But when I read this week that researchers in Japan have built a mind reading machine using MRI technology and the Obama Administration is seeking $100 million to unlock the secrets of the brain, suddenly I’m seeing a favorable “market” transition towards revenue. Naturally, I’ll be sure to send President Obama a DVD screener of Justice Is Mind. You think I’m kidding? I did send Laura Bush a copy of my first book Frozen Assets in 2002 and received a lovely letter from her. To quote a former president, let me make this perfectly clear, it’s not about politics it’s about promotion.
And that really is what this industry has always been about – promotion. From the studio system of yesterday to social media today, it’s all about promoting your film. Thankfully, in today’s electronic world independent filmmakers have those economic tools to promote (For a fleeting moment I’m imaging what David O. Selznick would have done with a Twitter account!).
So while the physical product of film may be made up of stills, we know this is an industry that doesn’t sit still.
Producing a feature film, never mind writing and directing one, is a project. In this industry you often hear people say, “What projects are you working on?” The word “project” is code for “film”. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to use the word “project” than list out your films at a cocktail party. But here are my projects: Justice Is Mind, First World, titled, but not announced, political thriller and…that’s enough. Suffice to say, both Justice Is Mind and First World are in various stages of development and production. Justice has a short and feature, with notes on a sequel. First World has a short, a feature I hope to put into production with a sequel already written (it’s a trilogy). The political thriller is at the treatment stage with 12 pages of script already written.
There was an article in an industry blog about a filmmaker who was quoting all these projects. I mean, they went on and on and on. Sounds impressive on paper, but two clicks on IMDB and you realize it was just talk because honestly it’s impossible, unless you have a production staff, to be involved in so many projects strictly from a time point of view. For me, less is more. Anyone that has worked with me knows that I focus on the details. It’s easy in this industry to get distracted with someone’s new and exciting project, but if your own project isn’t finished it’s really doing a disservice to those that worked on it.
With Justice Is Mind edited and the score nearly complete, the one area of the project that’s front and center are the building of the special effects. When you see these before and after examples, the quality that our Special Effects Supervisor is putting into them is stunning. But to get to this point, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few details that first start with original files being pulled by our Editor, sent to me for review and then processed over to special effects with my instructions for the building.
Special effects are an integral part of the world of filmmaking. Without them, films just don’t exist. The special effects we see in 21st century films are obviously very cool. On a contemporary note, visually Olympus Has Fallen was really excellent. But let’s take a step back in time to my favorite film Gone With the Wind. In those days it was the matte shot. When you consider what Jack Cosgrove achieved back in 1939, impressive doesn’t even begin to describe those visual effects that still hold up to this day. How the burning of Atlanta was accomplished was truly spectacular.
While the special effects are being built, one of the next areas of the project that I’ve been focusing on is our upcoming August 18 premiere, continuing to develop the list of film festivals to submit to and working towards an industry screening. There is also a list of independent theatres I’m working on to screen and test market the film. This is another area of the project that has to be carefully considered—distribution. The one thing about the world of filmmaking, and probably like any industry, is the abundance of “consultants” that want to tell you how to hone your craft. I have to tell you, wading through these “experts” is a project in and of itself. I’ll just say this, if you are going to consult for a fee in this business you best have accomplished what you are preaching before I part with 10 cents.
For my projects it’s pretty simple. 1) I want to produce, 2) I want my projects to be seen, and, 3) I want to make money. Obviously, a lot has changed in this industry since Gone With the Wind. Filmmaking is achievable today because of technological advances that allow us to create. And after all…
Tomorrow is another day.
In the world of filmmaking setting the date for a world premiere isn’t just about booking a theatre, gathering the troupes, throwing down a red carpet and self congratulating. While celebrating is certainly part of “the big day” the even bigger part is launching the film to audiences, film festivals, media and distributors. I also believe it’s important to spread your wings outside your comfort zone. But what it really comes down to is where is the film going to get the biggest bang for its buck? And by buck I mean those future dollars that come in as a result of early marketing and public relations efforts.
With our completion date set for July 1, I had started the search on where to premiere Justice. Will it be at a film festival in the region that works with our completion date? Will it be in Los Angeles? Will it simply be striking a deal with a theatre in central Massachusetts? Then the call came in early last week. Vernon Aldershoff who stars as Henri Miller in Justice, and lives in the Albany area, told me that Don Rittner, the commissioner of the Schenectady Film Commission and creator of Inspiration Week, invited us to premiere Justice Is Mind at The Palace Theatre on August 18. How did this invitation come about? Because Rittner saw our trailer screen at Upstate Independents in February and liked what he saw. After a few days of discussion, the deal was struck.
In the world of Star Trek, there is a saying, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” That means that when opportunity knocks for the greater good you take it. This was one of those rare moments when everything just came together. I could not be more excited to premiere Justice Is Mind in Albany. First, we are part of a major event with Inspiration Week. Second, we were invited. Invited. That really is key in my view. Someone wanted to premiere our film. Third, The Palace Theatre is a world class venue with seating for over 2,800. Finally, the Albany region is the birthplace of MRI technology—the very backbone of our story. Game. Set. Match? Almost.
With our premiere booked months in advance, this gives us plenty of time to properly plan a dynamic event while planning additional screening opportunities. It was also during the Albany premiere discussions that Justice Is Mind secured a deal to work with The Association of Media and Entertainment Counsel to bring screenings to law schools around the country. I can’t thank my friend and entertainment attorney Arnold Peter of The Peter Law Group enough for making this deal a reality.
Suffice to say there is a hell of a lot more involved in filmmaking than just shooting the movie. Of course you need to get that right, but you do need to have a “Plan With a Capital P” (thanks Emma Harte!) or at least the semblance of one.
Finally, I had the opportunity yesterday to attend the first Massachusetts Media Expo that was organized by the Massachusetts Production Coalition. This was really a well run event. It was great seeing so many actors and crew members from Justice. Even though I saw most of them from across a room! For me the keynote panel was the most interesting. Listening to legendary filmmaker Douglas Trumbull alone was worth the admission. What I enjoyed about Trumbull is that he’s honest in his opinion of the industry. It was refreshing. So now I’ll be honest, I could have done without the directing “seminar” for a variety of reasons that I’ll keep to myself. And speaking of premieres, I enjoyed Whitey Bulger: Making of a Monster documentary. Congratulations to Mary Wright who plays one of the Reincar Scientific board members in Justice. Wright is one of the principal actors in the documentary and plays Bulger’s girlfriend Catherine Greig.
Game. Set. Match? I’ll let you know.
The world premiere for Justice Is Mind will take place… The industry screening in Los Angeles will take place… I am pleased to announce that the following cities will be screening Justice Is Mind …We looking forward to presenting Justice Is Mind at….International Film Festival in… Yes, the majority of what I just mentioned has been accomplished and will be formally announced once all the final details are in place.
This past week has been a feverishly busy one for Justice Is Mind. With the world premiere date and location set, the score nearing completion and the special effects continuing on their building spree, the pieces of this massive puzzle are coming together. Just the other day, I received an email from one of our faithful extras in Justice. I had forgotten to add his name to our IMDB listing. The total count of all those involved just on our official film listing is nearing 100 when in fact we have over 120 people and companies involved in this project. And with our various screening deals and new partners coming into the production, we just added another 10 or so. No pressure to make sure this project comes across right! But that’s what filmmaking is about.
From the day you write that first word on your screenplay until the day your story has its world premiere, the process of details is an endless one. Just today, I finished up writing the instructions for all the special effect shots. From simple tracking points to the processing of Henri Miller’s memories, the special effect shot count alone is over 225. I now have to write out the closing credits. To coin a phrase from district attorney Constance Smith in Justice Is Mind, “At the start of this trial, I said this would be a simple case. But I did not promise you an easy case.” Indeed, filmmaking isn’t easy and the process should be taken seriously because there are simply too many people involved that have contributed in one fashion or another.
I see so many projects wither on the vine. It’s so unfair to so many involved. Those that work with me know I am relentless in detail and organization. As I’ve mentioned this before, I learned these traits from my days of running a publishing company. To not pay attention or be organized just meant costly delays. In the world of low budget filmmaking, time sure as hell equals money.
But with this constantly changing industry comes what I call the continuing self-education process. It’s reading the trades, blogs you trust and attending industry events. Let me say this, it was an industry event I attended that led to the deal for the premiere of Justice Is Mind. Suffice to say you never know who’s in the audience that you haven’t met but wants to do business with you.
This coming Saturday I’m attending the Massachusetts Media Expo in Boston at WGBH TV. The expo is being organized and presented by the Massachusetts Production Coalition. To partially quote from their website it’s, “a day-long event will feature over 50 exhibitors, a distinguished panel of guest speakers including: Doug Trumbull, Dorothy Aufiero, Todd Arnow and Mark Kamine. Directing and Casting Workshops will be held in the afternoon, and in the evening the premiere of Whitey Bulger: The Making of a Monster followed by a Q&A session with the directors and special guests.” So to quote Marlene Dietrich in one of my favorite films Judgment at Nuremberg “It ought to be quite an evening. Would you like to come?”
Sure. Who knows who’ll be in the audience.
Being an “independent” filmmaker means wearing multiple hats and this week was no exception. On the post production front of Justice Is Mind, the processing of the special effects continues in earnest. I had the great pleasure of presenting the trailer for Justice at an industry event and on Friday there were some conversations with our distributor regarding the short film version Justice Is Mind: Evidence. From production to marketing to distribution it’s all in a day’s work in the world of independent filmmaking—many hats usually worn by one person.
Long after I called “That’s a wrap” on October 13 the last day of principal photography, the editing began about a week later (heavens knows we all needed a break!). Once our editor had a rough cut complete, the process of identifying the areas that needed special effect work began. To give you an idea of what’s involved; there are 24 frames per second. If a shot is three seconds long that means that 72 frames need to be exported by the editor and sent to me for delivery to our special effects supervisor along with a detailed memo on what needs to be accomplished for each shot. Just as important as writing and actually shooting a scene, each shot needs to be just as thought out. By example, the instructions for the iPad shot I posted to our Facebook page last week: This is Henri looking at an iPad reading the news that’s part of the story. Please see attached assets for specifics on what to put in for this effect. In the assets folder was copy written by me along with pictures I selected. If you look closely at the copy, there is a shout out to a previous film of mine.
This past Tuesday, in Albany, NY, I had the pleasure of screening the trailer for Justice Is Mind at Upstate Independents, an organization for “filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, and other media artists”. I was invited by UI member Vernon Aldershoff who stars as Henri Miller in Justice. I also brought along Monty Lyons who plays Detective Campbell in Justice. The program called for showing the trailer and then taking Q&A from the audience. Although the trailer has been released through numerous online platforms since January, this was the first time I was presenting the trailer to a live audience. I can’t speak for Monty, but I’ll confess I was a bit nervous. But after the trailer screened, their enthusiastic questions were very inspiring. As a filmmaker, there is nothing more grand than seeing your film on the big screen.
Upstate Independents is an organization that I highly recommend. The meetings start with first time attendees introducing themselves (as Monty and I did), then members take to the microphone and talk about their projects. After the introductions and news, a guest speaker is presented. At this meeting, UI invited Jeanne Bowerman the Editor and Online Community Manager of ScriptMag.com to speak. I’ve been following Jeanne’s various columns and Script magazine itself for the last few years. It was great to finally meet Jeanne in person and hear her speak. What I love about Jeanne is she’s honest, inspiring and talks to audiences directly without all that “cheerleading pom pom” stuff you see with “motivational” speakers in this industry. Jeanne talks from solid experience and presents market facts and realities. For anyone that writes, or wants to learn more about the process, I highly advise following Jeanne and Script magazine.
One thing Jeanne mentioned during the meeting that really resonated with me is for anyone that works in this industry to be kind and say “thank you”. I could not agree more. This is an industry that is all working relationship and networking built. I promise you those two words can easily translate to work down the road. Likewise, absent being appreciative and you can find yourself “not” under consideration.
As filmmakers we all believe that our project deserves the best. Indeed, if we aren’t going to champion our own project who is? But like the title of this post, Dickens’s novel was met with mixed reviews. In the world of entertainment, it’s all about the review, the acceptance of our work. And part of that world revolves around being accepted into a film festival.
IndieWire always has excellent, if not practical, articles that solidly pertain to the world of independent filmmaking. Fair Trade for Filmmakers: Is It Time For Festivals To Share Their Revenue? suggested that film festivals pay filmmakers to screen their films once accepted. Frankly, I think this is an excellent idea. Filmmakers need to get paid for their work. There are investors somewhere and probably actors and crew waiting for their cut of the pie. Of course the argument by the film festivals is that they barely get by financially (some sort of Hollywood-like accounting?) and are offering a platform for a filmmakers work to be seen. As one poster ignorantly claimed, “the solvency/insolvency of a festival itself is actually irrelevant if their very existence is almost entirely dependent on insolvent films and insolvent filmmakers.” But trust me the argument for and against is as old as the three act structure of a screenplay (and, yes, I still believe in the three act structure!).
However now I will be practical, every business venture has risks and filmmaking is no different than any other industry. What it comes down to is producing a solid product (and that has nothing to do with budget) and steering clear of bad advice. 1) You don’t put all your eggs in the distribution basket by ONLY submitting to festivals. Whoever told you to do that doesn’t know how distribution works. 2) After you submit to festivals, you don’t post on your website what festivals you submitted to—seriously a local filmmaker did that. So then what do you tell people when you haven’t been accepted? 3) Festivals are a marketing and public relations platform. Know how to write a press release. If you can write a script, you can write a press release—just apply the three act structure and you’ll be fine.
I was talking to my entertainment attorney a couple of weeks ago to catch up and to get a sense of what’s really going on in the industry beyond the trades and rhetoric. The one thing he told me is that the industry is pretty much all over the place. Nobody knows where the next great film is going to come from and the world of distribution is continuing to change. What we do know is that audiences are simply yearning for quality films.
While the cost to produce has come down with technology, that has had consequences to companies that support the system—the VFX industry is at a crossroads. When you have a film like Life of Pi win the Oscar for best visual effects, but the company that created the visual effects (Rhythm & Hues) goes into bankruptcy (MPC worked on and shared the award with Rhythm & Hues), something is seriously wrong with the economic picture. Who’s “write”? As Addison DeWitt said in All About Eve, “ Too bad, we’re gonna miss the third act. They’re gonna play it offstage.” Like festivals and the distribution chain for filmmakers, this is another critical part of the industry that is in an evolutionary state.
Putting aside the headlines and debates, for me seeing the trailer for Justice Is Mind on TVGuide.com this week just continued to confirm the acceptance of independent film on a stage that largely was the province of studio level or “mini-majors” projects. Yes, as independent filmmakers we are in charge of our own destiny, but that also means navigating a constantly changing industry and the great expectations of one group—the audience.
P.S. On a side note, I want to thank NASA for offering me a social media credential to cover the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) launch at Kennedy SpaceCenter this past week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it owing to some other commitments, but I look forward to the next opportunity. My congratulations to NASA and SpaceX for a great launch!
“It was a dark and stormy night.” That opening phrase by novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton could have been used to describe some recent drama in the local entertainment industry this past week in Boston. For those of you that follow Justice Is Mind on Facebook and this blog, you remember me announcing that Justice was invited to screen the trailer today at an “industry” event in Boston. The event was also supposed to introduce attending actors to “invited” casting agents and filmmakers to “invited” investors. The cost to attend this event? Only $25. For me, this was always simply going to be a networking event with the over 400 people that were scheduled to attend along with a reunion of about 10+ actors from Justice Is Mind that were planning to go.
No sooner did this event gain some traction than did the rumors, emails and investigations ensue. It was like watching a viral episode of Scandal (one of my favorite TV shows). It had all the makings of solid entertainment – scam, fraud, threats, media reports, government agencies, similar “events” in Florida with “involved” people, so-called “attachment” by actors to mysterious films you couldn’t find on IMDB. And now my favorite, a casting associate identified by one gender when in reality was another “to protect their identity”…seriously! If a TV network got a treatment of this story they would probably green light it for a pilot! But this was reality—a reality that has had a lasting effect on the local entertainment industry.
This is a pretty simple industry to understand. If you are an actor, you want to be well known and maybe eventually famous. If you are a filmmaker, you want to get your film financed and maybe make a living at it. But you have to take a “serious” look at these “events” before hard earned cash is parted with. Again, for me it was just a networking event. I could have cared less about the “casting associates” or “financiers” that were “attending”. This trend of casting associates holding seminars has been going on for some time and is really a frowned upon practice in legitimate circles. Why? It’s simple. Any casting associate worth their salt is only going to cast when they have a project to cast. This business of paying to audition for casting agents has to be the worst trend I have seen in this industry. You wouldn’t pay for a job interview, why would you pay to audition or meet a casting agent? You meet them at auditions and trust me if they like you they remember you for future opportunities. As for meeting investors, sure you might find someone in a bar that might be interested in your project. But if I’m going to pick a bar to do that, you’ll see me at the bar of a film festival or at minimum a higher end establishment – hell, it’s all about demographics!
In the end, the event was cancelled by the venue and most have moved on. But not without finger pointing to those that didn’t deserve to be blamed. Again, this was only a $25 event. Lord knows two drinks out in Boston cost more than that. But what it came down to was the industry wasn’t going to put money into the pockets of unscrupulous organizers. End of that story!
Aside from that episode, the week went really well. My friend Mary Murphy was in town to audition dancers for the next season of So You Think You Can Dance. Oh the laughs and stories we shared—and desserts! (I highly recommend the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel). I had a great conversation with my entertainment attorney about having an industry screening event in Los Angeles this summer for Justice Is Mind. And I attended the Berkshire Shorts Film Festival on Friday to see Jared Skolnick’s The Earth Rejects Him (great film Jared!).
And, yes, I spent more than $25.
This past week the editor for Justice Is Mind completed the rough cut of the film. The estimated running time is 2 hours and 26 minutes (146 minutes). I say estimated as it may run a little longer or a little shorter depending on a variety of factors. For me, I generally enjoy longer films. As long as the story moves along, the length shouldn’t matter.
Two of my favorite movies Judgment at Nuremberg (186 minutes) and The Andromeda Strain (131 minutes) were my biggest influences when writing Justice Is Mind. In Judgment the courtroom testimony is evenly balanced between the prosecution and defense. Likewise in Andromeda, the science is explained and demonstrated.
What bothers me the most in some contemporary films is the rush to explanation or worse no explanation at all for a moment that obviously needs one. This is why I have always loved Star Trek, Space: 1999 and the like, they actually explain the science even though such science may not have been invented yet. The audience just wants to hear and see something—thus to be influenced, thus to set the stage for future writers.
This isn’t to say you throw everything and the kitchen sink into a story because you can. I do agree that every scene has to have some sort of contribution to move the story forward. But I always enjoy seeing the characters do something to enhance the substance of their character but not necessarily contribute to the plot or story.
I’m rather passionate about this part of the process not just because I wrote the screenplay, but because I’ve been part of projects when someone took out a chain saw and gutted a story to conform with some sort of perceived “industry standard running time”. The results on these occasions haven’t been pleasant to watch. Incomplete characters, unfinished storylines and story plot holes you could lose a semi in. It’s one thing when you submit a 120 page screenplay to a production company, they option it and they want you to trim to 100 or 110 pages before they start shooting. You either make the changes or you don’t. If you sold/optioned the screenplay to them they can probably do anything they want with “your” story so if they ask you to make the changes, why not at least try rather than let someone do it who really doesn’t know the nuances of your story. But that’s just one example.
When Justice Is Mind is sold to a distributor, I’m sure they will have a variety of areas that need to be adjusted, dubbed or cut. One high profile example that came out of Sundance was Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction. Gordon-Levitt will need to cut a graphic sex scene just to secure an R rating. This is when the distributor comes in to have a story adjusted to fit the particular platform. In Justice, while there are no sex scenes, there are several occasions when the ‘F’ word is used. That will be fine for theatrical, but would quickly be dubbed for broadcast television. But am I interested in censoring this now? Not at all. Justice will premiere as it was intended to be told. When someone is holding a checkbook, I will be more than happy to make adjustments.
And speaking of the checkbook, I am pleased to announce that our distributor IndieFlix informed me yesterday that Justice Is Mind: Evidence will be available on Roku next week with Xbox shortly to follow. Look for our press release soon.
As a screenwriter, we generally write what interests us. I’ve always been fascinated with science fiction, dramas and political thrillers. Justice Is Mind is principally an intense drama that combines a solid sense of mystery and science fiction elements, while First World is primarily a science fiction adventure. My latest screenplay is a political thriller set in New England. I draw my motivation from various real world events: Justice Is Mind—advanced MRI technology; First World—the Apollo space program; the political thriller—the Cold War.
Anyone that writes a screenplay wants to see it produced. Seriously, what’s the point of writing it if you don’t want to see it come to life. But ask ten screenwriters how they want to see their work produced and I promise you you’ll get ten different answers. For me, I want to produce my own work. Both First World and Justice Is Mind were first made as short films before I raised the money for the feature film version of Justice Is Mind. Honestly, I’m glad Justice Is Mind came to life as a feature film before First World. With what I learned during the process of producing Justice I can apply that to First World from a budget and production point of view.
A friend of mine on the west coast has written a few screenplays in different genres and is only interested in having someone else produce them. As he said to me last week, “I have no interest in producing or directing.” Those are career choices we make. But I look at it like this, there are thousands of screenplays being written that are looking for a production home. I know, because I receive at least one or two pitches a week from produced screenwriters. I’m not talking just about independently produced screenwriters, I’m talking about writers that have had major studios either option or produce their work at some point during their career. The point—everyone is looking for money. Sure, I’ll produce and/or direct someone else’s work, but I won’t actively seek financing for those projects. As I’ve said before, raising money is perhaps the biggest obstacle a producer faces.
Which brings me to the title of this post—timing. When you write a screenplay, you are just hoping that it’s timed right for the market, i.e. distributors and audiences. This is something that is almost impossible to predict so you just have to go with it and hope that by the time your project is finished the market is receptive to it. But I firmly believe that regardless of the genre, there are always audiences for great films.
The news from European Film Market in Berlin this past week could not be more excellent for Justice Is Mind. As the Hollywood Reporter reports in their story, Adult-Oriented Dramas on the Rise, films that target adult media-savvy women are in demand. One market insider tells the Hollywood Reporter, “Films that appeal to a female audience are broader in appeal because the women will take men along.”
With the rough cut of Justice Is Mind nearly complete, everything is moving along nicely for a mid-summer release. In addition to our wonderful online placements of the trailer, we have been invited to show the trailer at two events in the next four weeks. On February 24 at the Actors & Movie Fest in Boston and on March 5 at Upstate Independents in Albany, New York.
As for timing, at the request of one investment group that contacted me last week, time to send the business plan out on First World. Is the time right for this to be the next project? Only time will tell.
This week some “friends” on Facebook were posting and sharing a rather long quote from director Stanley Kubrick. It was interesting where he talked about the chaotic process of filmmaking. I think this quote from him sums it up pretty good, “Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.” I agree.
Whether it has been directing a company as its CEO, a stage play or a film, I’ve always been a director of sorts. Some call me a control freak, but really it’s just about being thorough and above all else organized because in the end if there’s a mistake, they always blame the director. But the reward in seeing your work come together is worth any level of chaos.
But with just over 1 hour and 45 minutes edited, I find myself now directing Justice Is Mind again. Aside from reviewing the editing (our editor and composer are doing a great job), I’m now directing the special effects that are being built and listening to the score. What does that iPad need to say on it? What section do we put on that TV monitor? Can you add more strings this section? Yes, that’s right, that’s the director’s job—at least on an independent feature film it is. As part of that process this past week I bought the royalty free footage that we need for the film; i.e. the Reincar Scientific building in Berlin, Germany and various medium and jumbo jets taking off from airports.
Someone suggested to me at one point, just go to the airport and film planes landing. Not as easy as it sounds. First, unless you have permission you can’t show the livery of the airline. Second, why should I send a crew to an airport for a simple takeoff shot when I can spend $35 online for the footage we need? The roller coaster of directing!
Now wearing my producer hat, I was really excited to read in The Wrap this week a story titled Look Who’s Rising to Fill the Void Left by Studios: Foreign Sales Companies. The studios have been cutting off production deals left and right with many producers moving their production shingle off the studio lot. While that may just sound like a change of address, it also generally means no more overhead paid for by for the studio. Frankly, I think this is a good thing as it presents a much more level playing field rather than giving a deal to a producer who hasn’t had a hit in years but gets paid to just sit around the lot.
An independent filmmaker wants a great relationship with a sales agent. After all they are the ones securing financing from distributors. Now at least armed with our trailer, I’ve already started to present Justice Is Mind to agents and have received some very positive feedback. They like the story, the performances and the look of the film so far. We all know what that means, post-production is critical for a successful film.
Part of the fun about directing on the FX side is that I got to slip in some other projects—subtly. The Synedrion Council…stay tuned.
With Justice Is Mind now edited in a rough cut up to the 1.25 hour mark, there is nothing more satisfying as a filmmaker than to see the story come together visually. Oh sure, I wrote the script and the film has been shot, but seeing it in action brings the project to another level of reality – a completion date.
Having now set an internal completion date that I believe is achievable the process now turns to what film festivals to submit to. Of course every filmmaker wants to see their work accepted to a festival. There is a certain pride knowing that your work has been reviewed and approved by your peers. Unfortunately, simply owing to the volume of submissions to even the smallest of festivals there is simply no guarantee that it will be accepted. With Sundance receiving over 4,000 submissions and screening just over 2%, the chances are slim that such a high-profile festival will accept your film. But honestly, you never know.
The one thing I do know is that you can’t put all your eggs into one basket by submitting only to festivals and then waiting to see if you’re accepted. First, the majority aren’t buyers markets so aside for some public relations and resume accolades, you still don’t have a distribution deal for your film. That’s why in addition to presenting Justice to sales agents and distributors the fallback plan is self-distribution for theatrical, DVD, VOD, digital streaming, TV, etc. The military isn’t the only industry that understands preparedness. Seriously what’s the alternative, have a film sit on a shelf waiting for the phone to ring? There’s a reason why I post to this blog, send press releases, email newsletters and have an active social media plan, because if I was a distributor and was considering Justice I would simply do a Google search on “Justice Is Mind” movie and when over 300,000 entries come up I figure that just gives our film a bit more of a bump in awareness for a deal.
But whether we are accepted or not to a festival like Sundance, there’s a lot we can take away. It’s been revealed yet again that big name stars don’t translate to big prices or even sales. This has been a consistent trend that I just believes come down to the story…you have to have one. And while certain buys for all rights deals were in the $2-3 million range, reports still say that investors are losing money. Look, I understand the distributor secures rights for the $2-3 million and then commits another say $20 million in prints and advertising, but haven’t we learned anything from the economic meltdown! Why are producers still overpaying for talent. Don’t you want to go back to your investors for your next film? I personally know of one film that was produced in 2008 with nearly $2 million in equity financing with some well-known talent. It was only accepted to Tribeca and never received a distribution deal of any note. I saw it in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart last year. It’s one thing taking a bath on an investment, it’s another to go down on the Titanic.
A film like Justice really isn’t any different except in the numbers. I believe we wouldn’t have secured the talent on both sides of the camera or the locations and sponsors if they didn’t believe in the story and see the possibilities. And what did my investors want to know? They wanted to enjoy the script and to see a business plan with a reasonable return on investment at some point. Imagine.
And while there are economics that sometimes dictate a high-profile name to sell a project, I’d rather see an actor on-screen who I’ve never heard of but delivers a performance of believability and substance. I still believe filmmaking is about telling a story and that word of mouth is still the best advertising you can’t buy.
Last night I attended the Actor’s Demo Reel Showcase by Talent Tools which turned out to be a terrific reunion with some of the actors from Justice Is Mind. Talent Tools is a company that produces demo reels, websites, resumes and other important business related services for actors (I highly recommend them). My thanks to Talent Tools owner Becki Dennis Buchman for inviting me and having me speak to the attendees. Of course what was particularly enjoyable to me was seeing some of the actors I worked with on Justice.
When I saw Richard Sewell (Joseph Miller) and then his wife Kim Gordon (Constance Smith), I was instantly brought back to our days on set and the quality of work we all produced. Also at this event from Justice was Jeanne Lohnes (Reincar executive), Mary Jane Brennan Sangiolo (juror), Paula Dellatte (secretary to Dr. Pullman) and Curtis Reed (who played the valet). Although I worked with these actors and saw their capabilities, I was really looking forward to seeing their demo reels. Suffice to say the quality of talent we have in New England continues to impress and inspire me. And now that talent is being seen far away from the Northeast in the trailer for Justice Is Mind.
This past week the trailer was picked up by Moviefone, AOL Entertainment, Huffington Post, SciFi-Movies and a variety of other platforms. Kim Gordon in particular is the face for the trailer on AOL Entertainment. The reach the trailer is receiving has already brought forward sales agents interested in licensing our foreign rights. With the rough cut now at over an hour, progress is well underway on the feature.
But whether you are a producer, actor or somewhere in between, it all comes down to marketing. For the actors, last night they were polishing their work with high quality materials for producers, casting directors and agents to see. For the work I’m now doing on Justice, it really is the same thing when presenting the project to interested distributors and sales agents. Thankfully we now live in a world where producing quality materials can be achieved without breaking the bank.
In the end though it does come down to talent and it has to start somewhere. As I mentioned last night, one doesn’t simply wake up in the morning and say “I’m important”. It takes many years of dedicated hard work to prove and hone your craft. Even more important is when we learn from each other. This is an industry that despite your experience level, there’s always room to grow. Of course that doesn’t mean that you sign up for everything but pick and chose what’s best for you. There’s a lot of companies that hang out their shingles, but like I highly recommend Film Specific for learning about distribution, the same would hold true for a company like Talent Tools for what they offer actors. Both offer completely different services, but in the end want you to look your best in an industry that takes the word competition to a whole new level.
As I mentioned to the group last night, and as I’ve stated before, the great actor Maximilian Schell said that this is an industry of chances. I think we all agree that it’s worth taking a chance for what we believe in.
I come from a world of brand building. Having once worked in the sales department at TIME magazine and being on the same floor marketing it was there they built a brand to stand the test of “time”. Life is interesting. You can be in the middle of learning something important and you don’t pay any attention to it at the time. Dare I say it…Time Life?
I’ve talked before about taking my experiences from publishing to filmmaking with one of those being distribution. But also carried forward from that experience was brand development. Whether it’s print or online a brand is a brand. It all comes down to consistency. But it also means testing to see where your audience is coming from in terms of demographics. Trust me, this is something distributors will want to know – your audience.
Last Thursday, the trailer for Justice Is Mind was released and I could not be more pleased with the results to date. With over 1,000 views on YouTube the trailer has already started to be picked up by other sites like MovieWeb. As part of the distribution mix for Justice will include digital platforms, the numbers are showing an interesting pattern already. Facebook is recording 50.4% of women between the age groups of 25-54 with men at 48.7% in the same age group. As for YouTube our top demographics are men 45-65 with women at 55-64 years. You remember my post from last week when The Wrap talked about older audiences? Justice is following that trend. One of the panelists in that article stated, “When we started the National Research Group 35 years ago, moviegoing was a young person’s domain. Older people went to the movies, but we stopped sampling after the age of 49. The target audience ranged from teenagers to the late 40s. Now it goes up to the mid-60s.”
I cannot thank enough all our supporters for posting, sharing, liking and tweeting the trailer for Justice Is Mind. It’s very encouraging as a filmmaker to see your project supported by so many. But Justice isn’t just about me. It may have been when I first wrote the script, but the moment cameras started to roll for the short film and then the feature others are now part of the mix. Independent filmmakers and their constituents need this type of support to move projects forward. A quick like or comment goes a long away. Of course you can’t please everyone. But even when someone posts a negative comment they are amplifying the project for someone else to see.
As for promotion, I highly recommended promoted posts on Facebook. For the first time I tested this type of advertising. A $10 investment on the post that included the link to our YouTube trailer page yielded 2,738 that saw the post in their news feeds. I’d say that’s a worthwhile investment!
With early numbers and demographics in hand, I start Monday to promote the trailer in earnest to interested media and distributors while I plan the next release event for Justice Is Mind - stay tuned.
With the trailer for Justice Is Mind days away from being released, the plan that I’ve been working on since we wrapped will soon be put in motion. What does that plan entail? I promise you it’s more than posting the trailer to YouTube, Facebook, writing the requisite press release and hoping the world finds you. I wish marketing a film (or anything) was that easy but when you are an independent filmmaker that process is continuous with the goal of standing out from the thousands of films being produced every year.
But when you look at a film festival like Sundance that gets over 12,000 submissions and only screens 119, the plan has to be diversified. Of course we all believe our film is that promised gem among many. As filmmakers we have to think that. Thankfully in today’s age of social media anyone that participates in a project can be a cheerleader in its promotion. A simple post, share or tweet and your audience is building.
There was a very interesting story in The Wrap last week that talked about the future of filmmaking. Bottom line? With the ever increasing number of digital services, networks, cable operators and the like, the one thing they all need for their audiences is programming. As Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm said, “They’re in an arms race for content, and that’s creating a perfect storm for independent film.”
And speaking of audiences, my own movie going experience is much different now. Sure, I’m there to watch the film, but I first take in the audience – specifically age. Audiences are getting older which is great for this project. I didn’t write Justice Is Mind with an older audience in mind, it just turned out that way. With the average age of the actors 40+ at least the product is positioned to appeal to a more mature demographic that…ready…spends money.
The one misconception that I’ve addressed before I think needs to be stated again. A film doesn’t need to be picked up by a distributor and placed in hundreds of theatres to be considered a “movie”. Of course, I’d love to see Justice receive a theatrical release that’s handled (and financed) by a distributor, but as an independent filmmaker I can self-distribute Justice in select markets to build momentum, reviews and audiences. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting a return on investment and it doesn’t matter to me what platform that it comes from. Trust me, seeing your film on Hulu with ads running along with it is a very good thing.
With Evidence heading to additional digital platforms and with the trailer for Justice Is Mind being released in the next several days, the franchise is building. But as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and things take time. While the editing is ongoing the foundation is being built to market and distribute the finished product.
But like a house, every film has its own construction plan.