This past week I was preparing a presentation for SOS United States and started to reflect on what I have produced and directed over the years. From plays, to commercials, to corporate videos, short films and feature films, it has been one hell of a journey so far. I remember back in the 1990s when I produced my first direct response commercial and being glued to the TV just waiting to see it air for the first time. The next day I went into my office (early) to look at the fax report from the call center to see how many placed an order for one of my magazines. I fondly remember my excitement then as I do now every time Justice Is Mind embarks on a new journey.
In a few months I’ll be on an ocean liner in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean screening Justice Is Mind on the Queen Elizabeth. Yes, this is a tremendously exciting opportunity for the film and as cruise travel is my favorite way to travel, all the better! But in all honesty, it has always been about bringing Justice Is Mind to the widest possible audience.
Justice Is Mind was produced in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and while local, regional and national audiences have been wonderfully supportive, the second phase of this four year project has been to present Justice Is Mind to an international audience. When I was publishing magazines I was always looking for new avenues to distribute, filmmaking is no different. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, filmmaking is a journey to new worlds and new audiences.
Of course the one constant, the one continuous journey in all of this, is capital. The capital to produce and the capital to pay back your investors from distribution. When you read the entertainment trades, blogs and related sites (Slated, etc.) they talk about the countless various structures of film finance. But there are a couple of constants in all this coverage, 1) everyone is looking for funding, and, 2) every deal is different. From the studios to the independent filmmaker, cash is king.
How many times do we read that such and such a film was financed by the most unlikely of investors? Trust me I had no idea that my best friend and her husband would be my investors in Justice Is Mind. Nor did I think that 20 years ago a figure skating coach would back my dream to launch a figure skating magazine. So what common thread did these financiers have? A passion for the intended product. Don’t get me wrong, they are business minded but at the end of the day they believed in the project and wanted to see it come to life.
On my quest to secure funding for SOS United States and First World I look for those that may have a passion for the subject matter and are entrepreneurs. There’s no question that filmmaking is a risky venture, but isn’t any business? Unlike a business that may not make it and has to close its doors (or shut down their website), a completed film is a product that can be marketed and sold.
Now boarding. The journey to new worlds.
It was during the post-production of Justice Is Mind in 2013 that the idea for SOS United States came to me. And like the original idea for Justice Is Mind that was sparked from research on the sequel to First World, as a writer once I get an idea in my head I just have to write it out and see where it goes. When I do write, I think about the story not about the market.
Who would have thought that when I was writing Justice Is Mind back in 2010 that mind-reading technologies, patient privacy and genetic seizure would be trending in the news? Likewise when I wrote SOS United States last year it really didn’t occur to me what the state of the world would be with the United States withdrawing from various hot spots. And with China’s space program advancing at a rapid pace, the science fiction in First World in regard to space travel, is rapidly approaching science fact. But in the end, it all comes down to raising capital.
As I read the trades on a daily basis, there’s always a story about a film that took years to make (Dallas Buyers Club), a filmmaker/actor with award winning credentials who couldn’t get “traditional” financing at the start and resorted to crowdfunding (Zach Braff) or some major production company that misread the market (Senator), but isn’t this like any business? We are inundated with the extremes. The epic failure of one film or the stunning achievement of another. How about what’s happening in the middle? That’s what I look for. Will the trends today hold for tomorrow? What I think we all know is that theatres and VOD are here to stay.
There is one trend that I find pretty unsettling in this industry, but it was this way in magazine publishing too. The “experts” selling their services. Honestly, you might think that sliced bread has just been invented and if you don’t buy a loaf from them you’ll never be part of this industry. Really, what it comes down to is raising cash to produce a film. I’ve written so many business plans over the years. Of course you do the same with this industry and identify a return on investment.
We live in a world of constant change and changing priorities. And this industry magnifies that x10. When I was talking to a producer a couple of weeks ago who releases a good share of their films through one particular studio, they only take on projects that are based on intellectual properties because that’s pretty much what the major studios are backing these days. I read about this in the trades and one stop to your local cinema chain and the proof is on the marquee. But, there will always be independent films. Always.
Yes, my world is about spirited optimism. If someone says no, I just keep navigating until someone says yes. I try very hard to avoid the storms of this industry always thinking, “What does the consumer want?” The consumer doesn’t care about unnecessary industry noise, they just want to see a movie. From day one of distributing Justice Is Mind, my only concern is the audience that is buying tickets (at theatres or online). All theatres and VOD platforms want are paying customers. Promotion and marketing are the key to those customers.
Yesterday Justice Is Mind had its world online premiere on VHX! You can view our listing at this link. If you select the Deluxe Package be sure to enter promo code: JUSTICEPREORDER for a $2 discount with your final price being only $7. With over 3.5 hours of programming that includes the feature film, original short film, clip from the feature along with a compilation video of our screenings across the United States, I personally think it’s a great value. Your purchase also supports the independent filmmaker!
With traffic to the site increasing throughout the day and orders coming in from Boston to Buenos Aries, I’m pretty pleased with our initial results. Through VHX alone, Justice Is Mind is available in over 200 countries. But the marketing doesn’t stop because we are on one platform. Nor does the drive to push Justice Is Mind to market. There’s no magic switch when you go live on one site or several VOD platforms (additional platforms will be online soon). Sure, there’s the discovery process, but there’s also the direct push to those platforms. For a $20 investment on Facebook, our promoted post reached over 8,000 people. But like this blog, Facebook is just one part of the marketing mix. It has to be, there are simply too many films vying for attention. My overall goal is to make Justice Is Mind discoverable and then deliverable on whatever platform you want to watch it on.
As we still own the rights, Justice Is Mind continues its theatrical run. In addition to our upcoming international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, I have been invited to meet with a theatre tomorrow for a possible screening opportunity in September. How did they hear about us? Word of mouth and the press we have secured in connection with our past screenings. Taking social media out of the equation entirely, positive word of mouth and press, in my view, are still two of the most powerful ways to get a film noticed. Our screenings have been successful because of these two initiatives.
This weekend will be an interesting one for me as I will be visiting my cousins at the Cape where I filmed First World back in 2006. It was eight years ago when I stood on Corporation Beach in Dennis, MA making my first film with Adam Starr. In some ways it seems like ages ago, in another it seems like yesterday. Who would have thought I would return all those years later with a completed feature film that will probably screen at a nearby town. Yes, it’s all about perseverance and patience.
No matter where you live on this great planet, you knew that yesterday the United States of America celebrated the 4th of July. Indeed, that day is a proud moment for every American and for each of us it stands for something different. For me it just comes down to the simple fact that I live in a country that promotes freedom and democracy. But even more important, we live in a country that encourages entrepreneurship. If the film industry is anything, it is built on entrepreneurship. Watching the History Channel’s America the Story of Us yesterday just cemented the point.
Producing an independent feature film is a great example of entrepreneurship. You write a script, produce the product and get it out to market. Of course there will be those outlets you want your product in who say no, but as I’ve discovered there are plenty that say yes.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind back in 2010 I was just writing a story. What I soon discovered after I saw the completed film was the number of genres, social and demographic groups that I could use in the pitch process. The legal aspect of the trial and the loss of privacy. Advancing sciences and their impact on our society. Passing the Bechdel test. The science fiction appeal. The aged 40+ demographic that has turned out in theatres. The list goes on.
I read in the trades of so many films “bypassing” theatrical and going straight to VOD. Sure, I know it’s the same as when films used to go straight to DVD. But in my view, I wanted to bring some sort of following with Justice Is Mind before we went to VOD. I believe a film needs a theatrical run. No matter how few or many the venues, I think it’s important that you demonstrate some sort of public interest in the film. With our theatrical run to date, I’ve learned 1) the media was interested in reporting on our film and 2) the demographics that made up the audiences. We’ve established a foundation and with it a following.
Sadly there was a filmmaker in a trade publication this week that was waxing on how a theatrical run isn’t necessary, paid too much attention to an article in the New York Times by Manohla Dargis and said that film festivals deliver the best audiences for your film. While film festivals may work for some films, the bottom line is a film festival audience is vastly different from a traditional theatre audience who has purchased a ticket for your film sitting in a theatre that has your film on the marquee. With Justice Is Mind there has been no four walling (renting of theatres) we just work very hard to interest theatres in our story. To that end, I will be meeting with another theatre next weekend.
On Thursday, July 10, 2014 Justice Is Mind will have its VOD premiere on VHX! Shortly after that the film will appear on other VOD platforms. And like our theatrical run and upcoming international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, 2014, it all comes down to the pitch. Some will pick us up. Some won’t. In the end it’s all about developing an audience.
With all I’ve learned with distributing Justice Is Mind and the distribution changes in the industry, it makes me even more excited about the prospects for SOS United States.