This post might be observed as a continuation of The Cold Call. As I’ve previously discussed, whether you are a studio, production company or independent filmmaker, you need investors to realize your projects. As I stated in my opening remarks at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, without them you don’t have a project. It doesn’t matter how great it is.
Over the last few weeks, I have discovered a not so pleasant revelation of investors (hedge funds, private equity, etc.) that used to be involved in the industry but aren’t any longer. The reasons stem from lack of returns, revenue transparency or, worse, misrepresentation. These investors that used to invest millions now invest elsewhere, and for good reason.
As filmmakers we are creators, visionaries that can illuminate a project without showing one frame on the screen. It’s what we do. It’s not only the investor we have to sell; but the actors, crew, location, marketing partners, distributors, etc. But there is also a business side that needs to be observed to make these dreams happen in the first place.
The one thing I have learned with investors over the years from publishing to filmmaking is what I call an alignment of common interests. Yes, you want funding, but you also want some sort of engagement. When I was publishing magazines, my investors had a vested interest in the industry we covered. In filmmaking it can be anything from the subject of the film, the mechanics of the process or simply a pure investment play to generate a return. But in my view, it just comes down to being honest and, to be blunt, not a bullshit artist.
Yes, I will tell you point blank that I can make $1,000 look like $50,000 on screen and back it up with the talent involved and technology shop talk. But I will not tell you that we will get selected for Sundance and all rights deal that includes a wide theatrical release. But what I will state is how I accomplished a theatrical run and VOD distribution for Justice Is Mind. I’ll then mention the various companies I would use to facilitate this process for the next project. In other words, transparency.
As I filmmaker I couldn’t have asked for better investors in Justice Is Mind. First, as they are in business for themselves, they were realists and enjoyed both the excitement and challenges that come with any new business. And a film, even a low budget indie, is a business.
The one area they found particularly interesting was distribution. Rightly so, they wanted to know how Justice Is Mind was going to market. While the business plan spelled out our primary method at the time, during the production of Justice Is Mind a company I was going to work with changed their business model that didn’t align with ours. This is when it comes down to adaptability and looking for new avenues. Those avenues led us to a limited theatrical run, an international premiere on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, solid media coverage and VOD distribution. Yes, we all want more, but the one thing this industry takes is time—time to build relationships, new projects and getting them to market.
S.O.S. United States. The call went out by the SS United States Conservancy this week and was answered by media around the world. From The New York Times, to The Telegraph to CBS, the famed ocean liner SS United States may be auctioned by the end of the month and scrapped unless a buyer, developer or investors save America’s flagship. As the conservancy’s Executive Director Susan Gibbs stated to CBS, “We have never been closer to saving the ship and never closer to losing her”.
After World War II, the United States government realized the value ocean liners could bring when Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were converted into troop ships during the war. Partially funded by the government, the SS United States keel was laid in 1950 and was launched in 1951. A technological marvel, she projected American pride around the world and shattered speed records during her sea trials sailing through the ocean at 38 knots or 44 miles per hour. She won the eastbound and westbound Blue Riband for speed records in 1952 and still, to this day, holds the westbound title. So advanced were her propellers and steam turbine engines, they were classified Top Secret until the 1970s. In the event of war, she could quickly be converted to a troop ship for 15,000 soldiers.
Of course, with jet travel literally taking off in the 1960s, the SS United States along with the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were withdrawn from service. While the Queen Elizabeth was lost in a mysterious fire in Hong Kong, the Queen Mary is still with us as a museum ship in Long Beach, California. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Queen Mary on a few occasions. That liner still projects to this day a symbol of an era that should be remembered, not scrapped.
I have long wanted to write a story that revolved around an ocean liner. A story that also enveloped the complexities of world governments and the atmosphere of the Cold War, but set in the present. In SOS United States we learn that the “world’s fastest ocean liner” is heading to New York and may, or may not, have a nuclear device on board. Modeled after the SS United States, the ship is called the SS Leviathan. In the real world the SS Leviathan was originally called the Vaterland until it was seized by the United States government after World War I and became the flagship of the United States Lines; the same line that would eventually build the SS United States. It was maritime engineer William Francis Gibbs who renovated the Leviathan and who went on to design his dream ship the SS United States. Entirely self-taught, he devoted himself to this singular passion.
And now that same passion has been picked up by his granddaughter Susan Gibbs. Her tireless efforts, determination and commitment to save this ship reflects the best in America—pride.
Stated Gibbs, “It’s our shared history as a nation.”
SS United States
Anyone that knows me knows that I love science fiction movies. It’s hard to say what are my favorites, but last night I did add one to that list – The Martian. There are so many films that have revolved around Mars, but The Martian really did it right–from a captivating story to real world science. Although there were many aspects of the film I enjoyed, one plot point that I thought was terrific was the cooperation between NASA and the CNSA (China National Space Administration). If you’re on the fence about seeing The Martian jump off and go see it, you’ll be glad you did.
The cooperation between NASA and the CNSA is also a major plot point in First World when China announces its first manned mission to the Moon four years ahead of schedule. When I first introduced the story back in 2007, who would have thought that China’s space program and film industry would be booming to such a degree. At some point in the future I feel it is inevitable, and rightly so, that the United States and China will cooperate on space exploration – especially when it comes to a manned mission to Mars.
With the Toronto International Film Festival concluded and the American Film Market starting in a few weeks, it’s always interesting to see what comes out from industry trends to sales. It was well reported that Toronto was a slow market, but it could be just the opposite at AFM. But what we do know is that audiences will turn out for a great story and a trend can change overnight. So many films that revolved around Mars have fared poorly, but The Martian has reversed that trend.
The one thing I learned some years ago was to have a slate of projects ready to present at a moment’s notice as you never really know what’s going to resonate when you pitch. Case in point was Justice Is Mind. It was packaged as a low-budget independent as opposed to First World which has a multi-million dollar budget. With In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind completed and with some minor updates to my political thriller SOS United States, it’s always interesting to see what project gets attention over the other.
And now on a business note. Like the producer I mentioned last week that gets unsolicited scripts sent for review, this week I received a random instant message from someone I’ve known for years asking me to introduce them to managers and agents. It took me by total surprise, as, 1) I’ve never seen this person’s work, 2) To the best of my knowledge this person has never been nominated or won an award for their screenwriting, 3) It wasn’t personally addressed as “Hi Mark…” at least pretend you know me. My advice is the same as advice that has been given to me, 1) Enter your screenplay in contests. I did this for First World it opened some doors and established credibility, 2) If you want to pitch an actor or their reps just do it. Send a brief introduction with a logline. Some have their own production companies. If you want an agent or manager call them and see what their submission policy is and 3) Personalize your introduction.