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.