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Archive for March, 2016

Idea and Consent

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Gene Tierney explains how the Senate works in Advise & Consent (1962).

Yesterday, I arrived at the Boston Marriott Copley Place and did something I haven’t done in 14 years – I picked up a media credential at a World Figure Skating Championships. The procedure was the same. I checked in at credentialing, gave my name, proceeded to another station, showed a government ID with photo, they took my picture, printed the credential and I was done. It reminded me of voting. (Political side note: I believe, strongly, that you must have a government issued photo ID to vote.)

Having long accomplished what I wanted to in the sport from my publishing and TV work (yes I skated and coached as well…long ago!), who would have thought an idea would have come to mind with the sport as the backdrop. For this week it’s about reporting solely from an observation point of view and for inspiration as the story I’m writing culminates at a “worlds”.

Justice Is Mind - The FVMRI process begins

Justice Is Mind was inspired by a 60 Minutes story on thought identification.

I’m not entirely sure where the inspiration for this new story came from. I know with Justice Is Mind it was from watching a 60 Minutes broadcast on thought identification. For SOS United States it was the Cold War aspects of the real SS United States ocean liner coupled with the political thriller movies of the 1960s.

Of course the sport itself has changed dramatically over the last 14 years. All you have to do is read this article by Christine Brennan in USA Today to get a feel for where the sport was and now where it isn’t. Sure, there will be tens of thousands of fans in attendance this week. Sure, the official hotels and arena are dressed and set designed to showcase this beautiful sport. Indeed, it is beautiful to watch. If it’s filmed right there’s nothing like the grace and power of a performance on ice, coupled by the drama off the ice. Sadly it’s the millions outside the storied walls of the rinks that have long left the sport.

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The idea for SOS United States came from my interest in the Cold War and political thrillers.

The reasons are many, but the writing was on the wall after the 2002 judging scandal and the subsequent change in the scoring system. Long gone is the 6.0 system. It was a system the general public understood and could be marketed. But now a system is in place that supports anonymous judging. Yes, for those that have never followed anything in the sport, you read that right. I’ll just say this, it may not be good for the long term viability of an Olympic sport, but it makes for a great plot point in a political thriller.

One of my favorite films is Otto Preminger’s Advise & Consent. There’s a masterful scene that takes place in the Senate in which the glorious Gene Tierney explains to two visiting dignitaries how the Senate works. You can be sure, that there will be a similar scene in my story in an attempt to explain the judging system. As I was leaving credentialing yesterday and saw someone approaching me who I hadn’t seen in years, suddenly another Preminger classic that starred Tierney came to mind. In the film Laura,  newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb) was describing a party scene, “It was the usual roundup of b-stars and nondescript characters.”

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“It was the usual roundup of b-stars and nondescript characters.” – Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944)

INT. ICE RINK  – OPENING CREDITS


The Theater

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A pitch for First World goes out this week. 

Innovation or disruption – Forbes has a nice comparison with this article. As an entrepreneur, I’m all about looking at an industry and seeing how a new product can be developed, launched and marketed. But innovation and the popular word “disruption” does need to coexist within an establishment of some sort.

Case in point when I developed a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating in 1993, I was told time and time again “don’t do it”. Why? Because at the time the sport was just used to small fan based publications that narrowly reported on the sport as an “industry”. I saw it as something for the general consumer audience that watched the sport on television and responded to direct response commercials and frequented newsstands.

At times it was like pushing a square rock up a mountain, but push I did and it soon became the world’s largest magazine for the sport at a time when figure skating was exploding in popularity. Losing the title in a boardroom battle in 2004 certainly wasn’t a career highlight, but in hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened to me because both publishing and figure skating were rapidly sinking as an industry. In “Titanic” terms I left the “ship” at Cherbourg at the apex of our influence and wasn’t on the bridge watching the ship sink.

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Imagine as the SS Leviathan in SOS United States.

Every industry goes through some sort of course correction and while print is still with us, the news is largely relegated to the web and companies either adjusted or failed. The same holds true for the entertainment industry. As filmmakers our projects are made digitally. Gone are the days of producing on film. While there are some directors that still insist on the medium, the bottom line is the invention and distribution of digital media have enabled filmmakers like myself to produce. I’m not interested in nostalgia if it means I’m relegated to the unemployment line.

When I produced Justice Is Mind I was determined to get it in to theaters. I was told time and time again I needed to go through a booker or distributor. Well unless they had a contractual lock on a theater, I discovered that theaters are all approachable. They simply require a few logical things. 1) The film meets a professional standard point of view, 2) You act as distributor and provide them with the necessary “media” of DVD/DCP, posters and artwork, 3) You will market the hell out of it to drive audiences to the theater.  The latter is actually, in all honesty, the most important. Nobody cares about your film unless you tell them to care and give them a reason to go to theater (or watch it online).

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At the Cape Cod Premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2014.

These past couple of weeks we have seen this new disruptive technology called Screening Room. Just do a search and you’ll see the myriad of industry and consumer articles. While I’m all about creating something new to drive audiences, this technology is a terrible idea. We know the moment a film is released to theaters it’s pirated. Now, imagine a service in which you can skip the theater and watch it at home the day it’s released. The image and sound is captured at a higher quality and then uploaded to the net. I for one cannot imagine an entertainment industry without the theater.

I think Netflix and Amazon finally realized that after they buy a film it needs a theatrical release component or it will simply get lost in the world of VOD. Sure it might be seen by millions on their platforms, but will anybody know? And while I’m the biggest supporter of VOD, the net of the issue is that when a film is in a theater it is considered by the press and the public differently. It is packaged, presented and showcased. It brings people together in forum that can’t be replicated in a living room. The media we secured for Justice Is Mind can be directly attributed to our theatrical release.

As for figure skating, and so many sports, while TV ratings have been challenged and fragmented, there is still an enthusiastic audience of supporters that attend the events – like a theatrical release. It is those supporters that will be at the World Figure Skating Championships in a couple of weeks in Boston—supporters that may be interested in the political thriller I’m now writing around the sport.

New audiences.

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Looking forward to attending in a couple of weeks.