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Archive for April, 2015

The Inspiration

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

As filmmakers we draw inspiration from other films, life events or experiences to create. It’s been well reported that Gene Roddenberry was inspired by Forbidden Planet to create Star Trek and that George Lucas was inspired by Flash Gordon (and other films) to develop Star Wars.

For me, the inspiration to create First World came from film and television. Two of my favorite science fictions films are The Day the Earth Stood Still and Capricorn One. Then there is the iconic TV show Space: 1999.  Sadly, Capricorn One has been largely forgotten but for anyone who wants to see a good space conspiracy thriller with some great actors and cinematography, it’s a must watch.

Capricorn One (1978).

Capricorn One (1978).

As for SOS United States, I’ve always loved a good political thriller especially those from the Cold War. Discovering Seven Days in May and Fail Safe along with my love for ocean liners, I created a political thriller that is starting to gain some traction. With political thrillers on the rise, coupled with current world events, the timing is good.

Of course, for those that have seen Justice Is Mind you know what my primary inspirations were – Law & Order, The Andromeda Strain, Fringe and, yes, Dynasty.  In so many ways, the genre mix in Justice Is Mind is reflective of what we are seeing today – especially on TV. As for my inspiration for In Mind We Trust? That would simply be Justice Is Mind and a conflux of current events.

Fail Safe (1964).

Fail Safe (1964).

It’s one thing making your film but it’s another getting to market. When the aforementioned films were made they were simply distributed by a studio. Pretty standard in those days. Ask any independent filmmaker and you not only have to be the creative behind the script, but a distributor and marketer at the same time.

Reading about the various challenges filmmakers faced at Tribeca to bring their films to market along with a myriad of interesting comments by Julianne Moore about independent films at CinemaCon, while there is tremendous opportunity to get your film in front of an audience, the navigation of this industry on the distribution front continues to intensify and diversify.

Seven Days in May (1964).

Seven Days in May (1964).

There was a pretty good article titled The Distribution Equation on Cultural Weekly that is worth a review. The big question I would love answered is why would independent films with limited theatricals runs sign with a distributor (for theatrical) if that was going to create a loss against the title of your film? It simply makes zero sense from a business point of view. Justice Is Mind has had 12 theatrical screenings and has grossed $13,357. Our total out of pocket costs were just over $500 (mostly from printing posters). On my end it costs nothing but time to present Justice Is Mind to theatres, write a press release and pitch the media.  For me, from a business point of view, it’s much more important to show profitability than perception of “we signed with so and so”.  “So and so” might look good on paper but red ink is still red ink.

This past week I pitched Justice Is Mind to another eight theatres. Yes, we have had a great run to date theatrically for our independent film, but why not make the pitch. You never know who’s going to say yes.

Business plan.

the courtroom scenes-page-0

 


Two Decades

Timeline

A few months ago Michele Mortensen, who plays Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind and is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, asked me if I would give a lecture to her communications class about the importance of marketing communications and how you can build something from literally nothing. Suffice to say it was interesting encapsulating the last twenty years of my career into a one hour lecture this past week.

What I do isn’t rocket science (although I do write about rocket science!), it’s just common sense and takes time, lots of it. As I mentioned to the class, it is important to have a few good mentors you trust and who believe in you. Also, never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. When I was in high school and a teacher from the speech club told me not to think about doing anything on TV because I talk too fast, I can only hope that he saw one of my 300+ TV appearances. That example is an important one, because over the last twenty years I have done my best to steer clear of negative people and naysayers. I’ve always been someone that looks at the past as a guide for the present and a plan towards the future, but the one thing I don’t do is live in the past. That doesn’t move you forward.

On ESPN's The Price of Gold.

On ESPN’s The Price of Gold.

From that first TV appearance on the Montel Williams show in 1994 to presenting Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, it has been one hell of a journey so far.  While there have been many peaks, there have been just as many valleys. That’s just the world of business and life. Some things just take time to build.

This past week I heard from our distributor that another VOD platform has picked up Justice Is Mind. This is all about building for the next projects. The foundation has been well laid with the production and release of Justice Is Mind. Which project will be next on the horizon? It’s hard to tell. While In Mind We Trust makes perhaps the most sense at this stage, it could just as easily be First World and SOS United States given the state of the film industry and current events.

Michele Mortensen as Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind.

Michele Mortensen as Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind.

But through this all, and what was part of my lecture, is to be ready to seize the moment. That happened when I launched International Figure Skating, landed on Skating with Celebrities and secured the funding for Justice Is Mind. I had my materials ready. Whether it was a business plan, an acting reel or a script. In each of those cases, people that wanted to invest in me needed some additional information. At the time, I was top of their mind. Had I delayed, none of the aforementioned may have happened.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that marketing, communications and public relations is a continuous repetitive process. As I mentioned during my lecture, nobody is waiting for you to arrive, you have to tell them you’ve arrived.

Next decade.

46 years ago this past week the first British Concorde took off. In SOS United States the Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.

46 years ago this past week the first British Concorde took off. In SOS United States the Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.


Minding The Future Today

recording-thoughts-mri-mmt

How I came up with the idea for Justice Is Mind is well known. I first saw a 60 Minutes broadcast that discussed ‘thought identification’ mind reading techniques being developed at Carnegie Mellon University. When Vernon Aldershoff and I screened Justice at Carnegie last April it was great having the opportunity to present the film at the very origins of its concept.  But it was when I read about MMT NeuroTech in an article titled “Mind Reader: Meet The Man Who Records and Stores Your Thoughts, Dreams and Memories”, where my attention was fully peaked. Indeed, the science fiction in Justice Is Mind will soon be science fact.

Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D.

Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D.

In this special edition of The Ashton Times, I asked Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D., the Founder and CSO of MMT Neurotech, about the process and science behind the article.

1) YOUR TECHNOLOGY RECORDS AND STORES MEMORIES, HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE BEFORE SUCH MEMORIES CAN BE DECODED INTO VIDEO FORM?

Decoding of memory into videos has been in existence for several years to some degree. A number of laboratories have shown this technique to be useful including those of UC Berkeley. MMT NeuroTech is working actively to make this available in the immediate future.

2) WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE COMMERCIAL AND MEDICAL BENEFITS OF THIS PROCESS?

Memory recording is in many ways similar to the marvelous sense of discovery and personal freedom that people experienced when Edison introduced voice recording in the late 1800’s. Prior to that there was no method of hearing a person’s voice after the words were spoken. There must have been a similar sense of wonder thousands of years ago when the written word was first introduced.

Once there is widespread awareness of memory recording, I think that many individuals will want to make recordings for themselves and for other people. Recording a memory is the only way to preserve the personal awareness permanently. Rather than recording the outer experience through photography, video or the written word, you can record the inner experience- your own actual experience. Back in the day of Edison, people did not initially know the many things that would be possible by recording a voice. It was beyond their understanding until it actually began to happen. Now we are able to preserve the actual memory of an event or personal thought rather than the general occurrence. Playback on a screen should be possible and we have plans for developing play back inside the mind.

Noncommercial medical applications will include preservation of memory in those individuals who are losing their memory with possible future reimplantation of those memories. Memory recording will help in the study of complex memory processes for development of new medications or devices to facilitate memory, and treat memory impairment.

Activation patterns during interrogation concerning recognition of the face of Saddam Hussein. Image: Courtesy MMT Neurotech.

Activation patterns during interrogation concerning recognition of the face of Saddam Hussein. Image: Courtesy MMT Neurotech.

3) DO YOU SEE SUCH PROCEDURES BEING USED IN COURTROOMS AS WE SAW IN
JUSTICE IS MIND?

I think that memory recording will follow the introduction of the use of functional MRI for interrogation and determination of truthful vs deceptive responses. This technique is already being offered by MMT Neurotech. However our justice system protects the individual from self-incrimination so forced fMRI for criminal prosecution will not be possible.

4) WHEN A PATIENT ELECTS TO HAVE THIS PROCEDURE, WHAT DO THEY GO THROUGH?

For recording memories, the individual must be able to undergo an MRI. While the MRI is being done, questions are read to the person about every 15 seconds and they are asked to think about and visualize their answers. The questions are determined by the person and given to the examiner to read. There can also be private questions that only the person knows. Examples might be ‘think of the earliest memory of your mother’ or ‘think about the most exciting moment in your life’. Celebrities, sports stars or politicians may want to record their experiences for fans to potentially download or for historians to access in the future.

A single memory scan can last long as 15-20 minutes and scans can be repeated as many times as a person might want to preserve as many memories as they wish. Unlike with the CT scan, with the MRI there is no radiation. The data is downloaded from the machine and sent to a computational neuroimaging center at MMT NeuroTech where the data is stored and interpreted. The final product eventually is made available to the client. Not everyone can undergo an MRI, but most people can do so easily.

5) GENERALLY, THIS SEEMS TO BE A FAIRLY NEW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. WE HAVE SEEN WHAT’S BEING DONE AT CARNEGIE MELLON FROM THE 60 MINUTES STORY, TO WHAT HAS BEEN DONE AT BERKELEY TO REVEAL CRUDE VIDEO IMAGES OF MEMORY. ARE SCIENTISTS LIKE YOURSELF WORKING TOGETHER ON THIS PROCESS OR IS IT MORE PROPRIETARY AT THIS POINT.

MMT NeuroTech does have significant proprietary processes. We are interested in university affiliations and have already established several corporate affiliations.

Henri Miller has the FVMRI process in Justice Is Mind.

Henri Miller has the FVMRI process in Justice Is Mind.


The Ashton Slate

In SOS United States the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier intercepts the SS Leviathan ocean liner.

In SOS United States the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier intercepts the SS Leviathan ocean liner.

With the business plan for In Mind We Trust completed, work now begins again in earnest to market my slate of films for development, The one thing I have learned about this industry since I made First World, and during my time as a magazine publisher, is that investment can come from anywhere at any time. They key, as I learned with Justice Is Mind, is to be ready when the time is right.

Christopher Nolan said it best in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of weeks ago when talking about his career, “The thing that happens to a lot of people is that you get that opportunity, somebody says, ‘I really loved your film, what else do you have?’ And if you don’t have anything, or if you’ve just got vague ideas, it’s very difficult to take advantage of that moment, and that moment doesn’t come around again,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on it.” Obviously, I agree.

In In Mind We Trust "McCarthy Era" Congressional hearings on mind reading take place.

In In Mind We Trust “McCarthy Era” Congressional hearings on mind reading take place.

My feature length screenplay First World worked great to make the short film version in 2006. Yes, that project as a feature is years in development, but the short film version is in the market and the script award nominations have served as a great foundation. Just over the last couple of months, sales of the short film have tripled from this time last year and China is moving along at breakneck speed with their space program. Timing is better now to present. As this article on Hollywood.com shows, some projects just take time to develop.

The idea for SOS United States came to me when I was in the process of managing the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind. I’ve always loved the political thrillers made during the Cold War. The idea of developing a story that pits the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as they deal with a potential nuclear device on a commercial ocean liner bound for Boston, certain reflects the political and military tensions we see in the world today.

In First World the story revolves around NASA's Apollo 11 mission and what was discovered on the Moon and then classified.

In First World the story revolves around NASA’s Apollo 11 mission and what was discovered on the Moon and then classified.

But it was the sequel to Justice Is Mind that called to me this past November. I always figured that, “someday I would write a sequel”. But I didn’t know it would develop so quickly. For me, when I get an idea I just need to run with it. The result is In Mind We Trust. With a story that reunites a number of the original characters from Justice with new characters against the world covert surveillance, government power, reincarnation and the horrors of World War II, the screenplay, like Justice Is Mind, is a demonstration of competing genres that I believe work well together. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “Mark Lund’s film is a thriller-gone-courtroom-drama-gone-sci-fi.  Such extreme shifts in genre should not work. But they more than work in this case.”

Through all this is the navigation of a changing industry and the needs, interests and wants of investors. As I learned from my original investor in my old publishing company, to my backers on Justice Is Mind, these things take patience and perseverance and being ready when the time is right. It’s about staying a course that is true to the projects and to never capitulate.

Full ahead.

The foundation for the business plan for In Mind We Trust is expanding on the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind.

Like Justice Is Mind, the business plan for In Mind We Trust calls for a theatrical release.