“I want anti-establishment.” That line by Diana Christensen (wonderfully played by Faye Dunaway) in one of my favorite films Network could easily sum up the state of the film industry. But before I go into my thoughts on the past week, particularly around all the news surrounding Sundance, there was a moment that gave me some pause.
I received an email earlier this week from someone who desperately wants to be a screenwriter and who mentioned they were envious of me. Envy is a very dangerous emotion in this business, because I promise you someone is always doing something more than you. We are all guilty of having it, but, honestly, you just have to focus on your own mission and believe in it. Anyone who has followed my career knows that I am anti-establishment. My advice was pretty straight forward. Read lots of great screenplays that have been made into movies. Register your work. Enter some contests and then either seek to produce your own work (like I do) or look to get it optioned (like most do). What’s the secret? There is none. You just have to work hard, believe in yourself and develop a network of people you like and trust.
On the path of anti-establishment, by now most have figured out that I’m more interested in having Justice Is Mind screened in theatres than worrying about film festivals. While I think festivals are great, they have not been our release strategy. For the amount of money you spend on submission fees (with no guarantee of acceptance), I’d rather put that into marketing to bring people into a theatre and to secure press. Our result in 2013? The 8th highest rated independent film released and the top 50 in independent box office for that year. I’d say that’s a pretty good result for a film that is being self-distributed at this point.
With the Sundance Film Festival front and center this week we all wonder what will happen to the under 200 selected films out of the 12,218 that were submitted (Justice was submitted but as we already had our world premiere last August that disqualified the film). Could the news have been anymore gloomy this week from the establishment? “For Movie Producers, a Golden Age Fades” – Wall Street Journal. “As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity” – The New York Times. “Sundance: Festival Suffers From Too Much Brooklyn” – Variety. “5 Cold Truths From an Uninspiring Sundance” – The Wrap. When only a handful of films at Sundance get picked up for distribution and the acquisition prices don’t seem to cover the production costs, I would say it’s time to rethink putting all your eggs into that establishment basket.
As a former journalist I understand The New York Times position. Films “picked up for distribution” have to fulfill contractual requirements of a theatrical run which means more and more are actually renting theatres in New York (four walling in my view doesn’t count as a theatrical run). But I don’t agree with The Wrap at all. There are not too many indie films being made, the marketing key is to make sure that audiences and the media know about them. That’s what I have done with Justice Is Mind. I present to theatres. I present to the media. And the “Justice Network” is pretty rabid about social media. The proof was in the effort. Of course we are far from done and will be announcing a variety of new initiatives shortly.
There’s no question that the entertainment industry is going through change. This change is rightly so pushing the boundaries of the distribution and media system. Filmmakers, to quote Howard Beale in Network, “I want you to get mad!”. Not mad angry but mad determined to circumvent an establishment that is sometimes less than welcoming to new voices. My job as a filmmaker is to get my work “scene” and if that means I bypass “tradition” and go direct to the market – the audiences – that’s what it means.
“The World is a Business.” – Ned Beatty, Network
It was April last year when the email came in through my old website – ESPN was going to do a documentary revisiting the Tonya/Nancy saga of 1994 and they wanted to interview me about it. In the day, I used to do these types of interviews all the time. After I founded International Figure Skating in 1993 building it into the world’s largest for the sport (yes, I’m very proud of that accomplishment), I was often called by various networks and TV shows to offer my commentary on a particular subject in the sport. For me, this was brand building for the magazine and my name. During the height of the season it was pretty standard that a news crew would come to my office to interview me or set something up a skating event. Aside from anything else, they were a lot of fun to do!
But this request gave me momentary pause. I had lost my publishing company in a hostile takeover back in 2004 and with the exception of starring on Skating with Celebrities in 2006 and a couple of other interviews, I didn’t push anything in figure skating. For me, personally, the real turning point for my passion happened during the judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. By that point, the sport was already in a popularity nose dive due to oversaturation and horrid mismanagement with the governing bodies and their agencies. During those games I did over 200 TV interviews about the scandal. Exciting? Sure. But I knew where this was going to go. It didn’t take long for the bottom to literally fall out of an industry that was born nearly ten years earlier with the Tonya/Nancy saga.
I am now a filmmaker and pursuing a new passion. A passion to make movies and to work creatively with others. My work in figure skating gave me a solid foundation to build something new. My momentary pause didn’t last long. I wanted to work with ESPN again and then I learned that this documentary was being directed by the award winning filmmaker Nanette Burstein. It’s all about networking and there is always something new to be learned by working with others.
On Thursday I watched ESPN’s The Price of Gold with one of my best friends Kim Merriam. Yes, you have probably heard her name in association with Justice Is Mind. We filmed the short and feature length version at her house and she appeared in both films. But Kim and I used to skate together as well. It’s a friendship that started back when I was in high school. So not only were we watching this show together, but we were also on the Justice Is Mind “set” if you will. Coolness.
First, The Price of Gold is simply the best documentary I have seen that pulled together the “drama” that literally captivated the entire world for those weeks twenty years ago. For me, I could not be more honored to have been selected to be part of this documentary. A special thank you to Nanette Burstein for having me participate. And to my family, friends and colleagues who reached out to me on Twitter, Facebook and by email, your support was truly special.
In closing, I want to take a moment to wish all athletes going to the 2014 Winter Olympics the best of luck as you live a dream you have had since childhood. Having represented my country as a journalist in 2002, I can only imagine the pride as an athlete. And while I don’t’ understand the new scoring system, you, the skaters, will understand my closing mark.