Just prior to any screening of Justice Is Mind there is the usual set of nerves. Will audiences show up? Will they like the film? I also say a few words to the audience prior to the start of the film. Each one of these “opening statements” is a bit different but they always end when I introduce the concept of Justice Is Mind starting with “Imagine a not too distant future…” Someone asked me how I’m able to talk to audiences like this. Simply, I rehearse what I’m going to say. That’s what this industry is all about no matter what side of the camera you are on – the rehearsal and the performance.
After having a pre-event drink with my former classmates from grade school, I went over to the theatre at 5:30. Although that was an hour and a half before the film started, there’s a system I like to employ – meet with the photographers and get a feel for the surroundings. Every theatre is different and each has its own atmosphere.
It didn’t take long for audiences to arrive. From childhood friends to new supporters who read the media coverage we had in print and on the radio. For me, it’s always great to see the “JIM family” arrive. By that I mean the actors and crew that have traveled this journey with me for nearly two years. This was our tenth theatrical screening and there is a certain camaraderie among us that makes these screenings thoroughly enjoyable for all in attendance. And in attendance did they come. We set a new single screening record for Justice Is Mind with 159 in attendance and $1,570 in box office. To see photos from the event click album one and two.
The process of filmmaking is really a set of impossibilities that you overcome. Writing the story, raising the money, producing the film and, finally, distributing. This is an industry where the odds are against you from day one because of the quasi creative, entrepreneurial and business aspect that a film needs to have. But with 10 theatrical screenings under our belt, I updated our IMDB listing to include The Ashton Times as a theatrical distributor because, frankly, that’s what we’ve been doing that wouldn’t be done any different than with a traditional theatrical distributor. We strike a deal with the theatre (we don’t rent), pitch the local media, set up targeted promotions and engage social media.
Just prior to the start of the film I announced that Justice Is Mind will be screening on April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). For those of you that have followed this project for the last few years, I was inspired to write this story when CMU’s Dr. Marcel Just was interviewed on a 60 Minutes story about mind reading using fMRI techniques. With Dr. Just opening the film along with both of us having a Q&A with audiences after, this is one of those honors in life that doesn’t come along often.
Writing. The foundation of all things. For all of us that write creatively we are initially inspired by something. For Justice Is Mind it was 60 Minutes. For First World it was the Apollo space program. For SOS United States it was our current political climate.
There was a moment on Monday when I was standing just outside the theatre and a few final folks were walking in. As I opened the door for them it was in that instant when a strong sense of appreciation waved over. From the first word to an open door.
Tomorrow evening Justice Is Mind will have its 10th theatrical screening and 15th overall if we include our law school and science fiction conventions to date. When I met with our editor earlier this week for the video and sound check at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, we both remarked on how fast time flies. It seems like just yesterday we had our world premiere in Albany in August.
Having a theatrical screening, or any type of screening for that matter, doesn’t mean just booking a date and arriving with the DVD. They are weeks in the planning. When we plan a screening I like to have at least four weeks notice to so we can properly pitch the local media. Having been a magazine publisher I know editors need time to consider pitches, assign writers and then plan for publication. In my view radio and TV are no different. Unless you are “breaking news” you need to be programmed into the schedule.
I have to say going to a theatre for a test run is always an exciting time for me. Sitting in an empty theatre watching your movie play is a pretty surreal experience. But I suspect surreal will most certainly be tomorrow evening. Over the last couple of weeks I have heard from so many different groups that plan to attend, from childhood friends, to new acquaintances I have met through our social media efforts, indeed tomorrow evening will certainly represent a wide variety of attendees. This doesn’t even include those who have read about the screening in the local press or heard our radio commercials.
Those are the new audiences to Justice Is Mind that those of us associated with the film welcome with open arms. I’m reminded about one particular couple who attended our screening in Ogunquit, ME. My mother and I ran into them the following day. Who were they? Enthusiasts of independent film who were intrigued by the concept of Justice Is Mind. They saw our film poster outside the theatre earlier in the day and did some online searches to learn more. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to tomorrow night!
As this past week came to a close, in addition to some of the final deliverables and information being sent to our VOD distributor, I received confirmation of another state premiere and a fantastic screening opportunity at a university that will bring the concept of Justice Is Mind to its origins. I plan to announce both tomorrow evening.
Keeping up with the industry can almost be a full time job in and of itself. But there comes a point when you just have to shut off the data stream and go with what you think is best for you and your project. Honestly, the “talking head” experts some of these trade publications are constantly quoting can put you on a roller coaster of contradiction. I’ll just say that I take the “grain of salt” approach to this industry as I did in publishing. Simply put, I’m not a follower.
Producing a true independent film means that you literally have to create what a studio does, but with limited resources. But that doesn’t mean no resources it just means being inventive and wearing multiple hats. Sometimes at the same time!
Take for example this past week. Filmmaker: With our March 24 screening at Cinemagic in Sturbridge coming up, I’ve been talking with the theatre on when we will run our test. Publicist: Then there is the follow up to media outlets I pitched our screening to and a special promotion by Pizza Post. Producer: Talking to possible financial backers for my next project. Distributor: Talking to a digital aggregator for Justice Is Mind in addition to a variety of theatres that are interested in screening the film. Writer: Presented the idea for a concept poster for my political thriller to a graphic artist. Accountant: Review our financials and prepared 1099 filings.
Personally what I enjoy the most about filmmaking is the opportunity to wear these many hats. I love to write. But when my brain needs a creative break, I can turn to some dry financials or mark down some notes for another story that has come to mind when working on another. That’s how Justice Is Mind came to life. When I was working on the sequel to First World, I was at a scene that involved a mind reading machine. Suddenly the concept of Justice came to being.
But through all this perhaps the most exciting for me is when we have a screening of Justice Is Mind on the calendar. There is nothing quite like the experience of seeing a film you created come to life. The moment I hear those first few bars of music and see the opening quote, the journey of four years and over two hundred people, there is an innate satisfaction of accomplishment.
On accomplishment, my sincere thanks to Bob Leveillee of Pizza Post who plays Mr. Oxford in Justice Is Mind. As some of you may know, we filmed several scenes at Pizza Post. For our March 24 screening, Bob has offered ticket holders a dollar for dollar credit at Pizza Post. I first met Bob back in 2011 when we filmed the short film version Evidence. He has been a terrific supporter from the start and now a good friend. Check out the great radio spot he created as part of this promotion that is running on a couple of local stations.
As for friends, it looks like our screening on March 24 is going to be a reunion of so many friends from my childhood to the present. I was reminded from talking to one of my friends from second grade about the organization of forts we made when we were younger. Indeed, it has been a journey.
“One Man’s Trial Against Science, Faith and History” – Justice Is Mind.
Last week I talked about some fantastic numbers regarding our IMDB rankings for 2013. It looks like I have some additional numbers to report, in this case, the reach of some newspapers that carried articles regarding our upcoming March 24 screening at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA.
I first got word that our story appeared in the Southbridge Evening News from a friend that introduced me to the reporter. As this paper’s online edition is only available to subscribers, we met in a parking lot so he could give me a copy. While I was waiting in my car, suddenly the movie All the President’s Men flashed with the parking garage scene when Robert Redford meets with Hal Holbrook.
Needless to say I thought the reporter did a great job. And then it dawned it on me. The parent company of this newspaper also owns several others, including my hometown paper. Suddenly the reports started to come in. The story ran in the Webster Times, Spencer New Leader and the Sturbridge Villager. While the Southbridge Evening News is subscription based, the other three are generally mailed to requesting households. By my minimum estimate, 40,000+ households now know about Justice Is Mind and our upcoming screening. As I grew up in the area, I heard from a lot of folks I haven’t seen in decades. Suffice to say March 24 will be a reunion on numerous fronts.
No sooner did the story break across these newspapers, than one of our location partners for Justice Is Mind worked out a promotion in connection with our upcoming screening. More on that next week!
Marketing and promoting a screening takes time. Generally, when I am negotiating a date with a theatre we ask for at least 30 days out to properly market a screening. Audiences don’t just magically show up, particularly for an independent film. The theatres we have worked with have been nothing less than spectacular. They know we work as hard as we can to make the screenings as successful as possible. But while I would love to see Justice screen at every theatre we pitch, it’s a reciprocal business arrangement that needs to mutually work. I learned this when I worked in figure skating listening to promoters bring events into buildings—what works in one venue might not work in another.
Speaking of reunions, like our last screening in Plymouth, March 24 will bring together several of the actors in Justice. To see who has confirmed attendance as of today, visit our Facebook event page at this link. For us, it’s like visiting with family. Indeed, when you work with people so closely when making a film you develop lasting friendships. For audiences, they get a chance to meet those that brought the story to life. It’s a unique experience that is usually only reserved for world premieres and film festivals.
And while our next screening is my top priority, there is the continue push to markets and venues far away from New England along with our related VOD plans. But for this moment, it’s nice to be home.
The entertainment industry is all about numbers. What’s your budget? How many likes? How many theatres? What’s your box office gross? As most know, I’m pretty open about some numbers and keep others close to the chest. By example, the budget for Justice Is Mind is under $25,000, our 10th theatrical screening is coming up and over 200 people were involved in the production of the film in one way or another.
This week I was interviewed by a couple of reporters in connection with our March 24 screening at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA and some of our numbers were part of the conversation. I was working on a follow up email to one of them in regards to films released in 2013. I suddenly came across a list on IMDB “Highest Rated Feature Films Released In 2013”. To my surprise, I learned that 8,709 films were released in 2013 – eight thousand seven hundred and nine! Those are some numbers.
I’ve previously reported that Justice Is Mind finished as 8th Highest Rated and 42nd top US Grossing Box Office on the similar “independent film” list of 220+ films. I was a bit worried to start the search on THE list for 2013. To my surprise and elation, Justice Is Mind finished 2013 as the 185th Highest Rated and 419th for top US Grossing Feature! Finishing in the top 2% and 5% respectively for our independent film is a true honor of effort by so many. I smiled even more reflecting on an email I received earlier this week when a “film buyer” for a theatre in the Southwest said “Were you looking to four wall a theatre or do a rental? I’m not sure that there is enough commercial potential for us to play your film.” Clearly this “expert” judged the film based solely on the “recognizable stars” of the film rather than running some numbers that would be available to this theatre based on our box office to date. After I responded with our results, media placements and that we don’t rent theatres, I never received a response.
In this industry, like any industry, knowledge is power. I know that phrase is overused but it still rings true. There are forward thinking people in every industry that are willing to take a chance to try something new. And if you don’t think out of the box on occasion you are simply going to be left behind. I remarked to one of the reporters that if we do the best job we can when a theatre takes a chance on us that may pave the way for another independent filmmaker to present their project down the road. You know the old adage, don’t judge a book by its cover. The same thing rings true for films.
We are now in an industry that is producing more and more content because that’s what audiences want. That’s not going to change. To the “gatekeepers” that are restricting entrance to new voices, you know that just creates opportunity for new ventures and forward thinking existing platforms to embrace said voices. Just today I read this story on IndieWire about a documentary that was passed over by distributors until it found someone that believed in their project.
Justice Is Mind – March 24 – Tickets now on sale!