“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.