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.