“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.
This past Saturday marked the 12th screening of Justice Is Mind since our world premiere last August. And while we have screened to enthusiastic audiences from New England to Los Angeles, our screening at Plimoth Cinema was particularly exciting as audiences were tremendously enthusiastic and supportive of the film. Adding to the excitement, fourteen actors from Justice were present. Not since our world premiere in Albany did we have such a turnout. The result? A record single screening box office gross for Justice Is Mind!
The enthusiasm and support carried forward to some terrific unsolicited posted comments “Justice Is Mind was brilliant and a film worth seeing more than once.” “Quite the twist and an amazing piece of movie magic.” “As good or better than so-called “studio” films.”
For me personally the evening was an emotional roller coaster. While I knew the local actors in the film were going to be in attendance, I didn’t expect to see Vernon Aldershoff (who lives in the Albany, NY region). Here I am standing around talking to some attendees and I casually look over at the box office and there he is buying a ticket! What a wonderful surprise that was. Oh but it didn’t stop there. No sooner after talking with Vern for a few minutes than did a gentleman introduce himself to me – a cousin who I have not seen since I was about five. When he told me he has been following my career and came down special to see me it was pretty moving. In that instant I realized that I have a family bigger than what I’ve always thought. Something tells me it’s time for a family reunion!
As I’ve posted before, successful screenings like this do not magically come together. A very special thanks to Mary Wexler (Judge Wagner) and Gail Sullivan (Helen Granger) for all their hard work and dedication. Since the January 11 screening was announced both of them have worked tirelessly to promote the event. Their hard work was front and center on Saturday night.
Just before the weekend started we had some great media placements. PAC-TV was our first TV interview. Based in Plymouth, they just did an amazing job presenting Justice Is Mind and bringing the story to the Plymouth actors that were in the film. The Barnstable Patriot also published a terrific article titled “Whose mind is yours, anyway?” My favorite passage by writer Lee Roscoe, “In the film, past life memory and future mind tapping by machines merge in a psychological thriller, which develops slowly and then grips you with its logical twists and mysteries, haunting you afterward.” Sadly, despite a written agreement, Cape Cinema (Dennis, MA) pulled Justice Is Mind (the day after our screening in Plymouth) claiming we weren’t supporting the upcoming screening. Seriously. To protect the reputation of the film I forwarded the email trail to the press we were working with and our lawyer. The trail not only proves opposite what Cape Cinema stated but that this “theatre” wasn’t supporting us either despite their agreement to us. Unfortunately, there are those unprofessional types you come up against in this industry but I’ve never been one to let one small storm cloud get in the way of great weather. Moving on.
And so with a new box office gross record in hand for Justice Is Mind, a thank you again to Mary, Gail, the actors, the attendees (including my cousin!) and the Plimoth Plantation for a fantastic screening. As we prepare for our VOD release, while working on additional theatrical screenings, please take a moment to view our pictures from Facebook from Saturday’s screening.
They are used during times of war and for government continuity. They are a place where thoughts can be concentrated and orders can be given. In so many ways, it is also how a writer works – in a bunker.
When a screenplay is written it just doesn’t magically come together with a few keystrokes. A writer creates an entire world in their head with numerous characters, plots and scenes coming to life. For me at least, this has to be done in a bunker-like fashion. I need quiet. I need to concentrate. You will never find me writing in a coffee shop or with other writers at a retreat. Call me an isolationist, but I just don’t want the distraction. Honestly, some of the best ideas for scenes (particularly of conflict) come to me when I’m at the gym. Go figure. All writers have their oddities and that is mine. OK I have another, I get strange looks from my cats when I’m talking out dialogue.
I’m also not the type of writer that spends months creating these worlds only to option it off to a production company to let someone else create their view of my vision. Sure, an immediate paycheck is nice (if at all), but I take a long term view of my projects – development.
Having launched and managed a publishing company in a previous life, I think I’m just used to writing business plans (yes, I still believe in them) and working all the angles to raise the capital and making it happen. As I’ve said in previous posts, there is nothing more satisfying that seeing your written word come to life.
I’ll never forget my early days of developing Justice Is Mind. Yes, the idea came to me when I was working on the sequel to First World. Although I have written the feature length screenplay and produced a short film version for First World, as that is a multi-million dollar project, it’s just taking more time to develop. My goal with Justice Is Mind was to write, produce and direct a large scale feature on a micro budget to prove what I could and ultimately wanted to do. The proof was in our world premiere last August.
Heading into 2014 with our 9th and 10th theatrical screenings for Justice Is Mind on January 11th (Plimoth Cinema) and 24th (Cape Cinema) and with our Video on Demand plans coming online shortly, now could not be a better time for independent filmmakers. Simply put, we have a myriad of options to distribute on countless platforms. As I continue with our distribution plans for Justice Is Mind, which includes more theatrical screenings in the United States, the international push begins in earnest this year.
What has happened with the development of Justice Is Mind, started with First World and now will continue with my new political thriller – you build your base of supporters which includes actors, crew, marketing partners, investors and fans. From world building on paper to bringing it to life, but like all realities you have to keep it in check and it has to be managed. For me it all comes down to the bunker with a desk in the corner.
Next stop. Plymouth.