Tomorrow I leave before the crack of dawn for a nearly nine hour road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the April 29 screening of Justice Is Mind at Carnegie Mellon University. We have screened Justice at two universities, but Carnegie is different. This is where the idea for Justice Is Mind was born from a 60 Minutes broadcast about ‘thought identification’. Yes, I’m pretty excited. I’m also excited to report that Vernon Aldershoff, who stars as Henri Miller, will be joining me!
This past week I was reflecting on all our screenings to date. From theatres, law schools and science fiction conventions, each have their own atmosphere. From the actors and crew to the audience that attends. Indeed, those that attend Monday’s screening at Carnegie will represent an entirely new audience. And this is what it’s all about, building an audience.
The one thing I have read over and over again is the importance of building audience prior to VOD and DVD. Simply put, the number of films that are entering the VOD world is astronomical. When you have filmmakers like Joss Whedon and Jeff Lipsky placing their films in the digital world rather than “traditional” distribution routes, it does further the discussion that VOD has replaced DVD as the real revenue generator for independent films. More importantly, traditional distribution methods are changing in favor of filmmakers and audiences.
I do, however, disagree with the blanket statement by Jeff Lipsky that, “Independent American films are largely considered anathema to foreign distributors these days.” While I will agree that foreign distributors are hell bent on “stars” and “commercial” projects, the $35+ million bath foreign (and domestic) distributors are taking on Transcendence proves yet again that their model simply needs to change. Audiences want a good story. Period. Like Lipsky’s films that found US distribution but no international, foreign distributors have told me Justice wasn’t commercial enough because we didn’t have a “star”. They are seriously laboring under a monumental misconception of reality that will keep Justice out of the foreign marketplace. Do they know that some of the leading VOD platforms, like Vimeo, can be accessed anywhere in the world and that traditional and social media is the fuel that drives audiences? On that note, I’m working on finalizing a very unique international deal that I hope to announce in the next couple of weeks. Like others before me and after me, we just circumvent gatekeepers.
It’s often reported in the trades about being inventive when making an independent film. But the same holds true for distribution. What about unique ways and interesting venues to bring a film to an audience? Yes, you can get your film into a theatre. Yes, you can get your film screened at a university. Yes, you can get your film distributed online. There is a tremendous amount of work involved and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be done.
For me, I’ve been doing this for years. When I operated my publishing company sure we had traditional paid subscribers, advertising and newsstand. But there was always the events. I was always trying to create something unique that would bring attention to our magazine. Is it really any different with a film?
See you in Pittsburgh!
Last night I watched the classic Murder on the Orient Express. I have always been a fan of movies that center on a train with one of my particular favorites being The Lady Vanishes. I suppose it’s no surprise that each of these classics were directed by two of my favorites, Sidney Lumet and Alfred Hitchcock respectively. Needless to say I thought Murder on the Orient Express was just brilliant.
When I first started to write screenplays and then produce and direct, perhaps the best advice I was ever given was to simply watch well made films and read their associated screenplays. In all honesty, doesn’t that make the most sense?
One of the compliments I’ve received by the actors in Justice Is Mind and the audiences that have seen it is on the dialogue itself. Scary, I was actually at an industry mixer last year where some “expert” stated to attendees to only write dialogue at a max of 140 characters. Um, people don’t speak Twitter. Just watch one episode of the hit TV show Scandal. The editing is quick, but the character interactions always have a great arc of dialogue.
On Friday my email newsletter and press release went out announcing our next three screenings – April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University, May 4 at Peguicon and May 19 at the Elm Draught House Cinema. The Justice Is Mind tour continues across the United States at three different venues with three distinct audiences. This is what I call the road show before we go public – video on demand (VOD). But to be clear, our theatrical and special event screenings will continue as live screenings and VOD complement each other.
A few days ago an up and coming actor said to me, “I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes trying to steer the ship.” As I mentioned to a variety of people during the production of Justice Is Mind, my prior experience running a publishing company helped enormously when it came to organization and execution. In today’s world, a filmmaker really does have to be on the bridge navigating all the changing waters of this industry. Someday I suspect this actor will be on his own bridge after some years of experience watching others – it’s what I did and continue to do.
Speaking of being on the bridge, the poster concept art for SOS United States is coming along nicely. It’s very exciting when a new project is being developed. For me, after the screenplay and business plan, having a concept poster created really starts to bring a project to life.
It was a producer who I met when I was living in Los Angeles that talked to me about balancing multiple projects. That while one was moving along you should have others in development. But the key was not to get overloaded so that you never leave port with either. It’s really only the last couple of months that I’ve been able to cast an eye onto SOS United States while Justice Is Mind is riding along the tracks of distribution on its way to new audiences.
Next stop. Pittsburgh.
I am pleased to report that Justice Is Mind will have its next theatrical screening on May 19 at The Elm Draught House Cinema in Millbury, Massachusetts. This comes on top of our screening on April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania followed by May 4 at the science fiction convention Penquicon 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.
When the funding came together to produce Justice Is Mind back in 2012, I was only too familiar with the rapid changes engulfing the independent film industry with the decline of DVD, the rise of VOD and the challenges theatres faced with digital conversion. But change, in my view, is a good thing because it simply brings about new opportunity.
I’ve been a proponent of VOD ever since my short film First World ran on Hulu from 2009 to 2011. (It’s now available on Amazon Instant Video). Prior to the VOD release of First World, the film screened at 20 science fiction conventions in 6 countries. Some solid interviews were generated and it laid the foundation for the VOD release. It was a different time back then as social media was relatively non-existent with the exception of MySpace. During that time I simply utilized the tried and true public relations and marketing tools from my days as a magazine publisher. They worked then and they work now.
When it comes to marketing a film, I do believe you need to have a hook. Some reason why a journalist will write about your film, buy a ticket at a theatre or stream your film. None of this is easy and takes continuous promotion and pitches. Seriously gone are the days when you can “build it and they will come”. All of these screenings to live audiences on terra firma are building our foundation for VOD.
“VOD distribution is the ‘new’ DVD distribution at least in the US market.” That statement was part of a spot on post at the Independent Film Blog about marketing a VOD release. In today’s world of independent filmmaking, we know it’s not enough to write the script, raise the funding and produce the film. Filmmakers are also publicists and marketers. Simply put, if we aren’t going to champion our own film, who is?
Over the next two months, Justice Is Mind will travel to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Massachusetts. From one of the world’s most prestigious universities, to one of the largest science fiction conventions to a theatre that is nearly a century old, each venue represents a unique audience to present the same film.
P.S. As some of you know, my best friend Kim Merriam (who played an FVMRI tech in the film) graciously allowed us to use her home as the Miller residence in Justice Is Mind. As she is starting a new chapter in her life, she has put the house up for sale. You can view the listing here.
For those of us that are independent filmmakers we are inundated with more and more information on the direction of this business. In my point of view it comes down to what’s best for your own project and not the dictates of others. Coming off our highest theatrical attendance, I actually received an email from a filmmaker, who of course was selling their services, claiming “…you can forget a theatrical release if you don’t have a named actor.” Putting aside the fact that Justice Is Mind has had 10 theatrical screenings to date, this claim just smacks of sheer ignorance because there are simply too many films that have disproved this. Certainly named actors are a great assist for foreign sales, but how many articles and statistics have stated otherwise particularly when it comes to domestic sales?
There was a great article that was posted on Truly Free Film about the number of bad deals out there for filmmakers. Again, in my view, it just comes down to being careful because once you sign away your rights they are gone. Every filmmaker has different goals and objectives with their project. The great thing about this industry now is the number of ways to get your film seen by audiences. Because at the end of the day nothing else matters if audiences are not embracing your film.
As we are finalizing our VOD plans with a distributor, our box office gross numbers were also released this week to demonstrate the commercial appeal of Justice Is Mind as platforms consider the film. Our theatrical screenings have afforded us the opportunity to generate media and a following prior to VOD release. I did a simple search on Google today under “Justice Is Mind” movie and over 600,000 results were returned. What’s the makeup for all these entries? Who knows, but I think it shows that our independent film has some legs to stand on. When I read that an estimated, 50,000 films are made year, I’ll take our 538 rank for the past 365 days.
Over the course of any given week I see the relentless promotion some filmmakers do with their projects and my work on Justice Is Mind is no exception. The only magic to this business is hard work with the goal that audiences will enjoy your film. With Justice I could not be more thankful to the cast, crew, location and marketing partners that keep pushing this project forward. Just this week, through the introduction of someone part of Justice, we had another test screening at a theatre. I hope to announce that date soon.
What I find exciting in this business is the inventiveness you see with filmmakers to make their projects a reality. From writing, producing and distributing, there’s always something new to be learned and experienced. On that note, I’m particularly looking forward to our next screening at Carnegie Mellon University on April 28.
Justice in Pittsburgh!