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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
This past week there were a variety of reports locally and nationally about the industry. In the Hollywood Reporter there was a story about how the major studios don’t actually pay to make movies anymore they are more facilities, marketing and distribution companies. It has been true for some time. The studios mitigate their risk by partnering with production companies, investment funds, etc. This practice particularly picked up steam when capital was flush pre recession and especially post recession. As the majority of the major studios are divisions of multi-billion dollar companies, risk avoidance is what they now do best.
Here in Massachusetts, there were new reports on the building of film studios in Devens and in Westborough. For any of us in the region that is even remotely tied to the industry, we all remember the grand plans of Plymouth Rock Studios. Having recently just moved back from Los Angeles at the time I knew Plymouth was never going to happen. First, even with the tax credit benefits of the state (and they are nicely generous), there were simply too many empty stages in Los Angeles and unless you signed contracts with the production companies that supplied TV programming where on Earth was the revenue going to come from to support such an ad-venture?
Anyone that has worked with me knows that I am the consummate optimist. I strive to push the envelope until it gives, but in the end I’m a realist as well (I’m a New Englander after all!). When I see with these “studio” projects and the bravado of one person who claims mysterious sources of capital with a “build it and they will come mentality,” I just shake my head. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way in this business or any other business. If you don’t build a solid foundation to a business how are you going to support it?
The one thing we have in the New England region is great talent on both sides of the camera. This talent deserves to be involved in major projects not reaching for the crumbs when a BIG film comes to town. What film projects need is capital. Can you imagine instead of building all these buildings, a few million dollars in capital were raised to produce independent films with varying budgets? Sure as the budgets grow, you need to attach bankable (usually out of town) talent to sell your project domestically and internationally. But that doesn’t mean that after you secure bankable talent at the top (say 1-3 actors) the rest can’t be cast locally between talent and facilities in the region. Imagine a talented actor who is leading an independent film produced for under $50K and the project does reasonably well in sales. As that actor’s profile starts to rise at some point they may be the “anchor tenant” of a larger film. Just like in the studio system days long past, an actor, a cinematographer, a writer all had to start somewhere. The studios had smaller films to test talent before moving them to larger projects.
For anyone that’s produced an independent film you basically need to create a virtual studio to make it work anyway. Someone handles casting, locations, editing, marketing, distribution, etc. Why not seek to formalize it by raising capital to produce films under one virtual roof rather than build buildings and wait for product to come?
With the digital age we live in a virtual studio system is possible. Once enough films get into the distribution pipeline and the revenue stream starts, the foundation is there to eventually build a studio. When I started a magazine I launched it on the dining room table and eventually got an office once we had revenue to support it. It’s not a foreign business concept it’s a practical one.
As I start to work on the distribution plans for Justice Is Mind, I am reminded about the similarities between the film and publishing industry when it comes to distribution. Having worked as a magazine publisher for over ten years, I can tell you definitively they have a lot in common. Both have evolved from their standard methods of distribution to include new and exciting revenue generating platforms. For the last several years I’ve been talking about VOD (Video on Demand) and online streaming as the way to go for independent filmmakers. In fact, I was interviewed about this new method of distribution on New England Film a few years ago. Trust me when I tell you Hulu, Crackle, Amazon, iTunes and YouTube deliver solid revenue to filmmakers. It may not be as sexy as theatrical, but there’s real cash in those downloads.
As publishing has migrated to more of an electronic medium, filmmaking has evolved in the same capacity on both the production and distribution side. Unfortunately, just as I’ve known way too many publishers that were terrified of this thing called the internet, the same holds true for some filmmakers that believe theatrical distribution is everything and that somehow VOD doesn’t validate their work. Of course we all want to see our films in theatres. Who doesn’t? But the reality is that, traditionally anyway, theatrical distribution is perhaps the most expensive outlet for film. When you consider the P&A costs alone, a distributor has to make certain that there is a reasonable chance your film will do well enough to justify their investment. But if your film isn’t picked up for theatrical, it doesn’t mean you can’t self distribute. You can simply call up an independent theatre to see if they can screen via DVD and share the gate. Send a few posters for their lobby with social media and public relations support and you may just have a hit that finds its way to traditional pick up by a distributor. My point is that, like publishing, the film industry has evolved and that independent filmmaking is now more approachable than ever. The goal, in my view, is to make your entire package as attractive as possible so when distributors see your work they know you put some time into making it look as sharp as possible.
Prior to operating my own publishing company, I worked at Time magazine and had a mentor that instilled in me the importance of a solid presentation. I worked for a sales representative at the venerable newsweekly for a few years. She handled some pretty major accounts for the magazine and always prepared these wonderful presentations. I’ll never forget what she said, “Always have a nice leave behind.” Simply, once you leave the room make sure your presentation stands out on its own. I took that axiom to the magazines I published and the films I am now producing. It all comes down to packaging. From the one sheet, website, trailer to the end product – the film. Of course, we are limited by our budgets, but with social media and other online tools why not try your damndest to put your best foot forward? With thousands of films being produced every year, standing out from the crowd is important. Besides, I owe it my investors, cast, crew, sponsors and myself to see that Justice Is Mind is distributed over as many platforms as possible to maximize revenue.
One trend in film distribution that I love is the Day and Date release. Like Margin Call did, why not have your film screen in select theatres the same day it’s available for VOD and DVD? It’s a foregone conclusion that consumers want choices in their entertainment experience on how the content is delivered. Who cares what platform it comes in from as long as it winds up in your bank? Remember content is king and the key to more content is someone has to pay for it.
Will Justice Is Mind have its world premiere in a theatre? Naturally, and a day will be set. But while Justice Is Mind is playing in a theatre someone thousands of miles away may have a date with their tablet watching Henri Miller face his own memory at the trial of the century.
It was Saturday, October 13 in the middle of the afternoon. I was sitting in the jury box at the Massachusetts School of Law thinking to myself for a few moments as I watched the scene unfold in front of me. For this particular scene I didn’t need to sit behind the cameras, I wanted to watch from another angle. The actors and crew knew what they were doing. But for this moment, I wanted to see the story I wrote two years ago come to life.
About a week earlier I reorganized the production schedule to end principal photography of Justice Is Mind with this scene. I wanted to conclude our weeks and weeks of work with a pivotal moment in the story that involved as many of the actors as possible. For anyone who has worked on a film set, there is a certain camaraderie that builds between the actors and the crew. I believed ending with a scene of substance was in order.
Scene 74 was the bail hearing of Henri Miller. Played by Vernon Aldershoff in the short film, Evidence, and having reprised his role for the feature, I could not be more proud of his performance. The complexity and depth he brought to this character is what truly makes a writer/director smile. Sitting behind him was Henri’s wife Margaret Miller. Played by Robin Rapoport in the short film and back for the feature, this is an actress whose performance range is inspiring. I should know, I played opposite her in a film last year and didn’t even recognize her when she auditioned for the short film version!
In this same scene were the other two co-stars of the film. The wonderfully talented Kim Gordon who played District Attorney Constance Smith brought a dynamic to the character that had me wishing I wrote more dialogue for her. And then there was Paul Lussier who played Henri’s lawyer and friend John Darrow. The passion he brought to his character made you feel for his client who appears all but guilty of the crimes he was charged with.
Behind the cameras (we generally used a two-three camera set up) were two of the most talented people I know. Jeremy Blaiklock, our director of photography, who I worked with on Evidence, set the example through his dedication and creative approach to photographing the story. And then there was Jared Skolnick who while originally signed on as our still photographer brought his artistic talents to bear with additional angles. Suffice to say, the coverage we achieved was impressive. I’m also happy to say that Jared is serving as our editor.
So it was at the end of Scene 74 when a voice inside me said “Cut!” rather automatically for the last time. It was then that Kim Gordon turned to me from her desk and said, “Well, the magic words!” For a fleeting second I just looked at her in confusion then said “Magic words? Oh…That’s a wrap!”
And with that, Justice Is Mind wrapped principal photography. I know I can speak for all of us when I say, what a ride it has been! 15 locations, a crew of 16, 35+ speaking parts and well over 50+ extras. Justice Is Mind is independent film at its finest. We proved that when outstanding talent on both sides of the camera come together, anything is possible.
But in addition to the cast and crew of Justice Is Mind there are the locations and sponsors that made this endeavor not only possible, but will present a quality on screen that will put this film on the same playing field of any studio level production.
As we enter post-production you can look forward to stills, posters, the trailer, the launch of the website and all kinds of promotion as we build up to the world premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2013.
To the actors, crew, location partners and sponsors, I say thank you again for not only believing in the story, but in me. I know how much time you gave up and how many schedules were reorganized. But on that last day of principal photography, we didn’t just pull a rabbit out of a hat with what we accomplished; we brought magic to the world of independent film.
Since the funding was announced to produce Justice Is Mind last month, there has been a flurry of activity around the entire project. As a filmmaker, it’s great to see a film begin to take on a life of its own. Of course in that process there are a mountain of details to attend to. In addition to securing the cast and crew, there are the locations and the nuances to detail so that when principal photography starts all things are in place—or damn close to it!
Our posting on New England Film for actors yielded over 300 responses across several states. I was delighted to see so many familiar faces from the work I’ve done over the last several years as both an actor and producer. But discovering new talent during the audition and casting process is always exciting. Make no mistake about it while New York and Los Angeles may claim to be the entertainment centers of the country, New England is a treasure drove of talent on both sides of the camera. Our call for crew has also brought an unprecedented quality in submissions. With callbacks taking place on July 7, and with crew discussions ongoing, look for our announcement of cast and crew soon.
In addition to the people that will bring Justice Is Mind to life, it is the locations that truly make the look of a production jump off the screen. A few weeks ago I traveled to Rotterdam, New York at the request of one of our starring actors to scout locations (thanks Vern!). There is something to be said about the welcoming atmosphere of a small town and the enthusiasm of the world of film. The same can be said for a restaurant in the town of Oxford we worked with on the short film and a two restaurant group I just visited in New Hampshire this past Friday.
Producing a low-budget feature film is no easy task. You are asking actors, crew and locations to work with you largely as a project of passion and belief in what everyone is aiming to accomplish – a quality motion picture that will be well received in the market. But for anyone that has worked with me on previous projects, there is one element that they know I bring to the table – promotion and marketing. Yes, I am relatively relentless when it comes to the promotion of projects I’m involved with (it’s also what I do for a living). While the immediate situation may not yield a market level payout, everyone rides along on the promotion train, shares in the rewards and leverages this project for the next gig and the next and so on. I did that in figure skating which eventually led to a gig on network TV show (FOX’s Skating with Celebrities). This is why we are offering points to the majority of actors and crew on this project. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know I wouldn’t mind receiving a check every quarter for a project I did a couple of years past. It’s a reminder that the work you did mattered and that someone is going to bat for you. Just as important, your work is being seen.
On the side of promotion and distribution, I am delighted to announce that IndieFlix released Justice Is Mind: Evidence on June 19. The short is now available digitally for all those to view and enjoy. And on the film festival front, Evidence has been accepted to the Scinema 2012 Festival of Science Film in Australia and the Chicon 7 Independent Film Festival in Chicago. With our acceptance to these festivals, we are making some artwork updates to the Justice Is Mind: Evidence DVD. Look for that release later on this month.
To the actors and crew who have submitted, to the location stakeholders who have welcomed and considered our production, to our distributor IndieFlix and to the film festivals that have accepted us, I say thank you. To Mary Wenninger and Stefan Knieling, who backed the feature, and to my Producer/AD, Jess Killam and her organizational skills and knowledge—it goes without saying that absent your support the production of the feature film Justice Is Mind would not be possible.
“We want to fund the feature.” When Mary Wenninger and her husband Stefan Knieling said that after they viewed the short film version Evidence for a moment it didn’t sink in. After nearly fifty presentations and playing the wait and see game with so many possible investors and production companies, I finally heard what every producer dreams of. “We want to fund the feature.” In my own moment of silence I realized that the short film version just accomplished what it set out to do – act as a capital raise vehicle for the feature.
Although I told my fellow producer and assistant director Jessica Killam the moment I heard from Mary and Stefan, I kept the news largely under wraps until the deal was signed sealed and delivered. Film finance, even low budget films like Justice Is Mind, is a very convoluted business and it’s not for the faint at heart. Generally, you are asking people to believe in your product and to wait 2-3 years for any return. But the film industry is a passionate one and largely lives and breaths in all its forms because of that passion. For Mary and Stefan they love going to the movies and as they said in our press release, “Justice Is Mind is a timely story that marries cutting edge technology with its possible impact on civil liberties. It raises meaningful questions in an entertaining way – the audience will be talking about the film long after they leave the theater.” Indeed, that’s what a filmmaker wants with its backers—those that understand the essence of the film and believe in the product.
Our fifth screening of Justice Is Mind: Evidence at Balticon was yet again another moment of supportive attendees asking interesting questions and wanting to see the feature. Having Vernon Aldershoff (Henri Miller) as a special guest was terrific. Not only did he answer questions for the audience from his perspective but sat on a filmmaking panel with me the next day. Thanks Vern!
With the upcoming IndieFlix and DVD release of Justice Is Mind: Evidence this month and pre-production of the feature film now in full swing for a production start date in August, the work really begins in earnest.
My trip to Washington, DC and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum was a true delight. Seeing the Space Shuttle Discovery in person exceeded every expectation I could have imagined. And it’s just that kind of thinking that made the Space Shuttle a possibility in the first place – it had to be imagined.
If you haven’t been to the National Air and Space Museum I highly recommend it. From the Concorde, to the Enola Gay to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the history of aviation and the space program could not be better represented under one roof.
But no trip to Washington, DC is complete without talking a walk on the National Mall. Seeing The United States Capitol Building, the Washington Monument and the World War II and Lincoln Memorial is truly an experience. I must admit, walking around the World War II memorial was an emotional one. When I saw some veterans and service members paying their respects, all I could say to myself was thank you for your service and defending the ideals this country stands for. For when you stand at such a memorial it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on, we are all one nation united in liberty and justice—for all.
One would have to be living not just under a rock, but off the planet to not know about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15. I was first introduced to this great story in the 1970s though my mother who belonged to the Titanic Historical Society and received their newsletter The Titanic Commutator. I fondly remember the newsletter being packed with endless speculation on the exact whereabouts of Titanic’s resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and countless “what if” scenarios on actually raising her to the surface. Yes…raising an 882 foot long ship! They tried that with Raise the Titanic which sank at the box office.
What has fascinated so many of us for so long is the sheer “titanic” of the story itself. Titanic was one of three new “Olympic” class ships built by Harland and Wolff for The White Star Line. The RMS Olympic and Titanic were built side by side then followed by the Britannic. Promoted as unsinkable with water tight doors and a double bottom, Titanic represented much more than the largest man-made floating object of the time—she ushered in an era of technology and a revolution in industry that wouldn’t be seen again in size and stature until Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969.
But with great achievements comes great arrogance. Since the discovery of the wreck in 1985 so much more has been written about what was the actual cause of the sinking. There was no structural failure (Olympic sailed until 1935). The RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg because its captain, Edward Smith, ignored one iceberg warning after another and wanted to make it to New York City a day ahead of schedule as the last hurrah of his career. Smith went down with the ship.
When Titanic sank, it was more than just the sinking of a ship. It was a collision of three classes of passengers on one deck against a calm moonless sea. American millionaires representing some of the most famous names of the time—Astor, Strauss and Guggenheim—to the “nameless” steerage class seeking a new life in America. On that night dreams were shattered and a world changed forever.
None of us will ever know the sheer terror of that evening when the number of passengers and crew far outnumbered the available lifeboats, but for any of us that have sailed on a cruise ship or an ocean liner we all share a common history—major changes in safety measures and maritime regulations. But such change is only as effective as the captains that pilot these great vessels. We don’t need to look any further than the recent tragedy of the MS Costa Concordia which is owned by Carnival Corp and through a series of past acquisitions owns The White Star Line through its Cunard Line unit.
For my mother and I vacationing on a cruise ship or ocean liner is our preferred way to holiday. Indeed, our cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 with its “White Star” service was an experience I will never forget. In an age of 21st century quickness, there are those two words that conjure up a by-gone era of optimism and spirit against the passing of the ocean in all its power and glory… all aboard!
I have to confess I was more than a bit nervous about screening Justice Is Mind: Evidence at Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas in Mystic, CT. Was I happy with the short film? Absolutely. But what were audiences going to think? At the end of the day, it’s not just important that I love Evidence audiences needed to enjoy it as well. For some, filmmaking may be vanity x10, but for me it’s about audiences appreciating the work. We weren’t screening at a film festival where this short was bunched with other shorts, we were screening before, then Oscar favorite, The Artist (I loved this film and was so happy it won for Best Picture).
As the credits for Evidence started to roll I walked down the aisle in controlled confidence with microphone in hand, “Are there any questions?” The moment of truth was less than two seconds away. To my relief, I was overjoyed by the enthusiasm and questions the audiences had. They were engaged, insightful and thoughtful. More importantly, they wanted to see the feature. Of our three screenings, I was joined by Toula Coin for the 2nd and 3rd. Toula played our wonderful news reporter and is a resident of the area. She made the introduction to the owner of the theatre to screen Evidence.
Screenwriters tend to create in vacuums. I can’t speak for others, but I generally write about subjects that appeal to me without much interaction. Then, after we complete our work, we pass it around to a trusted few for opinions. Feedback in hand, if we can, we produce the work and open it up to visual interpretation. Trust me, there is nothing more rewarding as a writer than seeing your work come to life on the big screen. Of course, there is nothing more terrifying as a writer than negative feedback. But as I’ve often said, this is not an industry for the thin skinned.
With our next stops for Evidence being the upcoming release by our distributor along with our first international screening in April at Olympus 2012 in London, UK and in May at Balticon 46 in Hunt Valley, Maryland, my efforts to secure funding for the feature film continue in earnest.
Our IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign concluded with $2,330 raised by 20 funders! Not only do those contributions bring us that much closer to our goal to produce the feature, but that’s 20 more people we can count on in spreading the word. When I was talking to a fellow filmmaker in Kenya, Africa this morning via Skype we both talked about getting the word out for our respective projects. After all, every team needs its cheerleaders.
Indeed filmmaking is a commitment far past the popular phrase, “That’s a wrap!”
When I received the email newsletter this morning from Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas with its subject line Now Showing, I just assumed it was only going to mention the feature films the Mystic, CT theatre was exhibiting over the next few days. To my surprise, Justice Is Mind: Evidence was included in the offerings not just as Now Showing but as an Exclusive Showing. Either way, it’s beyond cool and I’m looking forward to introducing Evidence to audiences on Saturday, February 18. Our showtimes are 1:45, 4:10 and 7:00.
Since Evidence’s theatrical premiere at the Strand Theatre on January 20 and our online premiere on Constellation.TV on February 2, momentum has certainly been building for the project. Oh sure, a couple of film festival notify dates have come and gone without acceptance, but after two seconds of “I wonder why they…” you just move on.
About an hour before our online screening, I received word that IndieFlix picked up Justice Is Mind: Evidence for distribution. Elated, didn’t even begin to describe how I felt on that news. Needless to say, I announced the deal after our online presentation. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that a company believes enough in the product you made to market it to their customers. Stay tuned for the release date.
I think it was actor Maximilian Schell who said it best in the DVD extras from Judgment at Nuremberg, this really is an industry of chances and luck. But we also know that this industry, like any other, is also about hard work and perseverance. I believe the latter presents the former in due time. Point in fact, the anonymous contributor who donated $1,000 to our crowdfunding campaign this past weekend. A contribution of any size is very much appreciated, but one on that level signaled to me that Justice Is Mind is a project on the go.
With just over two weeks left to our IndieGoGo campaign and countless investor presentations out for consideration, sure we have a way to go before the feature can be green lit, but for anyone that has sought to raise capital to produce a motion picture it’s all about honing something else…the pitch.