Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Archive for April, 2016

The Proof

vlcsnap-2014-04-07-15h29m21s229

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Robin Ann Rapoport as Margaret Miller in the short film Evidence in 2011.

This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.

My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.

vlcsnap-2014-04-20-09h15m19s169

Aldersoff and Rapoport reprised their roles in the feature film Justice Is Mind in 2013.

In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed.  But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.

As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.

vlcsnap-2015-12-13-10h10m13s65

The President’s motorcade arrives in First World in 2007.

Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles.  After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously.  After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.

vlcsnap-2013-12-03-12h55m32s159

A fan made trailer for First World.

The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.

As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States.  For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.

Lights, camera, concept.

SOSposter (704x1024)

The concept poster for SOS United States.


First Act

empty_hockey_rink

Act I ends in an ice rink. Practicing alone at night all is going well until suddenly the music goes off followed by the lights.

Yesterday I finished the draft of the first act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. For me the first act is always the hardest. This is where you are “world building”, introducing your characters and setting up the story to eventually “turn” into why you’re telling it in the first place.

In SOS United States it’s the revelation of a potential nuclear bomb on an ocean liner heading to Boston. In First World, it’s the revelation of the classified mission of the Apollo space program. In Justice Is Mind it’s the revelation of a memory that cannot be immediately explained. In this new screenplay I’m writing, it’s the revelation that the skater’s family is somehow linked to a multi-decade Cold War mystery. From these revelation points, each of these stories moves into the next act.

uk-carriers-and-f-35b-aircraft-carrier-alliance

An F35 from the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier goes to intercept an ocean liner that may have a nuclear bomb on board.

Personally, I enjoy what’s called the “second act” the most. This is where I like to see all kinds of involved character developments and subplots. Of course, as screenwriters, we are inundated with one article or expert after another stating either the rigidity of the three act structure or the opposite.  My stories tend to run about four acts. I do believe in a mid-point or splitting of the second act. In Justice Is Mind the true mid-point is when Henri Miller’s kindergarten teacher reveals something from his past that sets the course for another character to act while the main story continues toward its conclusion.

As a screenwriter I don’t believe in following a prescribed set of rules per see. But that being said, you do need a beginning, middle and end. Is this three acts? Four? Sometimes five? That’s really up to the writer and the story they are telling. In my view, some require less while others more.  How I learned to write was pretty straight forward. I read the screenplays of my favorite films (some more popular than others). The one common thing they all had was a resolution, an ending that if a sequel was never made the story could exist on its own.

vlcsnap-2014-12-26-11h01m40s27

Act 2 in Justice Is Mind splits at this scene.

Being a filmmaker is a multi-disciplined endeavor. From continued marketing of  First World (short) to Justice Is Mind, to presenting the feature film version of First World and SOS United States for development, to pitching Justice Is Mind as a TV series, the process is an endless one. And while I enjoy those aspects of the process, writing a screenplay keeps up my creative energies.

While I reference the word discipline, the other is also patience. Writing a screenplay, getting it produced and distributed is a multi-year process and isn’t for everyone. I remember coming across a documentary filmmaker a couple of years ago who told me flat out he hated the distribution process and that he just wanted it “done” to move on to the next project. We all look forward to our next project, but if your previous one fizzled in distribution, I don’t see how that helps future projects.

This is why you just need to stay a course. It’s not easy by any stretch. Some days are smooth sailing and others you just want to abandon ship, but in the end it’s about staying at your post and seeing your ship back to port.

All clear.

vlcsnap-2014-04-04-10h13m25s249

In First World, both short and feature, the Prime Minister informs the President about the classified mission of the Apollo space program.


Original Program

vlcsnap-2015-01-06-10h16m36s249

Desperate to save her husband, Margaret Miller retains a private investigator. Notice the mark on the whiteboard in the upper right hand corner. Justice Is Mind

I only subscribe to a handful of writing and filmmaking newsletters. In today’s day and age anyone can have a newsletter, but what it really comes down to is content.  Many years ago my former business partner recommended that I subscribe to C. Hope Clark’s FundsforWriters. The amount of useful and insightful information about the world and industry of freelance writing is nearly unlimited. For me, I always enjoy Hope’s “EDITOR’S THOUGHTS” and the featured article. I was honored when Hope asked me to write the featured article for this week’s newsletter. Titled “From Bookstore to Theater, Turning Your Book into a Movie”, you can read my article at this link.

Writing an original story is not easy by any stretch and we all approach our stories differently. But in each and every case, there is that one moment when we are inspired to write that one word or phrase that will ultimately result in a book a movie or both. When I wrote a screenplay for a friend last year based on his book, there was a road map of sorts, a foundation in which to build off the primary story. The book was the original idea, the screenplay was the adaptation. A couple of weeks ago at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, a friend of mine was passionately telling me about an original story that they want to turn into a movie.

StatueEncounter

Roy Scheider and Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man.

And therein lies that one word that drives us creatives – passion. I can only speak for myself when it comes to writing an original story, but passion is the number one driving force for me.  When you are “world building” an original story, if you aren’t excited about the concept why should anyone else be? I was having dinner with a friend last night who mentioned the complexities of the Justice Is Mind story and how it compared to a particular author and the movies that followed. The comment was very flattering.

For me, I like a complex story. A story that isn’t paint by number, but one that you need to watch more than once. I like characters that are multi-dimensional or suddenly change their tone. Take for example Margaret Miller in Justice Is Mind. In the beginning we see a concerned wife who happens to be a novelist. Suddenly in her desperate attempt to save her husband she goes against type by retaining a dubious private investigator to steal what she wants.

executive-action-movie-poster-1020681901

Having spent over three decades in the sport of figure skating in a variety of capacities, I suppose it had to be inevitable that I would conceive of a story around the sport. When talking about the concept a couple of weeks ago, I referenced the political thriller Marathon Man that starred Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. But there is another movie, a bit obscure, that is having another influence on this story—the conspiracy thriller Executive Action that starred Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. I say obscure, because when you look up the film you’ll see what happened when it was initially released.

In the end the goal, of course, is to write a story that audiences will enjoy. For me films are a living legacy. Long after their creatives are gone, a film lives on. One of my favorite thrillers is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938).

But before I vanish into this new world I’m writing, I’ll leave you with a sample piece of dialogue from an FBI supervisor, “If I know this much you can bet that someone else sure as hell does. Because suddenly, there’s a concerted effort to get Wilson’s daughter to the World Championships in a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.”

Act 1

Worlds

One of the final scenes in the story takes place at a World Championships.


World Reunion

Philippe

Philippe Candeloro and Lynn Plage.

As I was driving to Boston on Wednesday to attend my first World Figure Skating Championships since 2003, there was the fair share of wondering, and a bit of apprehension, how things would go. In years long past, there was a series of things I had to accomplish from interviews, to pictures, to attending the right functions and even going to the right official hotel bar post events (and perhaps the coveted invite to the after party). It was a tried and true agenda that served me well. But that was well over a decade ago when the sport was at its height in popularity in the United States. But now, there was no agenda just observation. To turn a phrase, I needed to get a lay of the ice.

Christine

Ari Zakarian and Christine Brennan.

I passed through the same security gate that I long remember from attending the Stars on Ice and Champions on Ice tours.  The former is still with the sport but vastly abbreviated, the latter is sadly gone. Indeed, I knew that the “studio system” of the sport had long passed. But like the Hollywood of yesterday, motion pictures are still made, they are just presented differently. And different is the current state of the sport of figure skating. But it is the familiar faces of those off the ice that have always made the sport tick.

After riding a freight elevator to the 9th floor (this is the slowest elevator in the world, best bring a snack) to the media center I soon saw Lynn Plage. Lynn is the sport’s consummate publicist who has promoted, guided and mentored more skaters, events and journalists than I could ever count. No sooner did we exchange the mutual reunion greetings and obligatory “catching up” and it was like we picked up where we left off those years ago.

Tonia

Tonia Kwiatkowski.

And while there are the publicists there are also the journalists. The sport has many fine journalists that regularly cover the sport, but there is the quintessential reporter of them all, Christine Brennan of USA Today. I met Christine at my first World Championships in Birmingham, England in 1995. We shared a train down to London after the event and she taught me the “pyramid” in writing. These are life lessons and moments you never forget.

David

Christine Brennan, Jirina Ribbens (Exec. Director Ice Theatre of New York) and David Baden.

Arriving at the media seating I was soon greeted by Ari Zakarian. In those early days I needed a “foreign correspondent” who was everywhere and knew the European and Russian world of the sport. I armed him with a pager and the reports flowed in. In those pre-internet days, it was all about print for the latest news. Now an agent to skaters, event producer and country representative, his days of hard work traversing the globe had paid off.

Sheryl Franks

Sheryl Franks.

As for agents, like the importance of having a solid publicist to promote the skaters and sharp journalists to report on them, there is David Baden of IMG. I’ve known so many agents over the years, particularly those that work in “Hollywood”, but no agent works harder for his clients than David. But David also was the consummate collaborator. I can’t tell you how many marketing partnerships I worked on with David, partnerships that worked for all concerned. At the end of the day, it’s about building a mutual business.

Kim and Beth

Kim Merriam and Beth-Anne Duxbury.

Of course there is the one component that all publicists, journalists, agents and producers need and those are the skaters themselves. I’m not just talking about technically proficient skaters, I’m talking about those that have a personality. Those that understood that it wasn’t enough to just to land the jump you had to present yourself just as much off the ice as on. Philippe Candeloro is such a skater and it was great working with him on one of my skating cruises. Running into him and Tonia Kwiatkowski, another skating cruise alum, fondly reminded me of when we boarded Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas for a skating event at sea! (Cruise ships and events. Does this sound familiar? Justice Is Mind’s international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth).

Moira

Moira North.

Indeed, the teams of people I worked with during my days publishing a figure skating magazine, most certainly led to my work as a filmmaker. Working with actors (skaters), crew (productions) and marketing/PR elements in the sport most certainly paved the way. But there was a path before that was the foundation of what I do today.

Dick

Dick Button.

A couple of weeks ago Sheryl Franks and Elin Schran sent me a Facebook event invite for a reunion party at World’s.  This was one, if any, of the few social events happening during World’s but my invitation was a maybe until I committed to attend. Of all the parties I have been to over the years in skating, this one, I think, may have won the Gold medal.

My best friend Kim Merriam and I were the first ones to arrive (Kim was one the producers on Justice and we used to skate together back in the early 80s). But soon, skaters and coaches I worked with locally started to arrive, then the personalities from the legendary Dick Button, Tenley Albright, Ken Shelley and Paul Wylie, to venerable producers of Broadway and skating events (some on cruise ships!), to choreographers, coaches and those that have long linked the sport behind the scenes with their executive experience and philanthropy. One of these great links is Moira North who founded The Ice Theatre of New York. Coordinating their annual gala one year during my New York City days was a real eye opener on how to run an event. Lots of lessons learned!

Darlene

Darlene Parent.

As for lessons, I’ll never forget my first credentialed event as a member of the media. It was called Skates of Gold and was held at the old Boston Garden back in 1993. It was at the post event reception that I first met Dick Button. I remember mustering up the courage to introduce myself and mentioned I was going to start a figure skating magazine. He graciously smiled and said, “How very good for you.” For anyone that knows Dick you can picture the response! He soon became one of our biggest supporters and a friend.

One of the absolute highlights of the party for me was seeing my old skating coach Darlene Parent. When I lived in New York City in the 1980s and got up at 4 in the morning to skate (before I went to work at TIME magazine), I trained at the old Sky Rink. Not only was Darlene my skating coach she was also the chef and made us breakfast after our lessons. She would literally show us moves while flipping an egg (you can’t make this stuff up!).

Ken

Ken Shelley.

Indeed, this week has been a world reunion and great trip down memory lane. But in the here and now in 2016, like the entertainment industry itself, the sport of figure skating is going through a transition. A transition that has seen its fan base seismically erode. Some say it’s the change in scoring. Some say it’s because the United States hasn’t produced “stars” like it once used to. Some say it’s because there was a saturation of sameness back in the heyday of the 1990s. Some say there wasn’t enough innovation.  What’s the answer? Perhaps a bit of all those reasons. But something tells me that this downward trend could possible see a bit of reverse.

One only has to see the enthusiasm of the Japanese and Russian audiences to know that the sport is alive and well in those markets. I have seen video excerpts of a figure skating event in Russia that literally presented the sport as “Cirque du Soleil” on ice. These events were sold out. But there was something else that was nearly sold out as well—the events this week at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Is this a new trend? It could be.

Dennis

Dennis Grimaldi.

If you told me 14 years ago that the United States would medal in ice dancing I would have laughed in your face. But here we are in 2016 with Maia Shibutani / Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock / Evan Bates winning the silver and bronze medals respectively. While the United States men did a glorious job, it’s all about the quad. I wish I could say it wasn’t but it is.

Michelle

It was so great seeing Michelle Kwan again.

As for an electrifying moment, Ashley Wagner’s win of the silver medal ended the 10 year drought of an American woman winning a medal at the world championships.  Skating last to a capacity audience you could just tell with every second passing this was going to be a performance best for Wagner.  Her gracious enthusiasm at the press conference reminded me of earlier days. Could those days be returning? One thing is for sure, this is a sport about personalities and Wagner certainly understood that off ice is just as important as on.

In the end this is a sport that endures. It is owned by no one but graced by everyone. It is these collective contributions that have always given the sport its edge and vibrancy. That may sound like a colloquialism, but this sport will never be judged by a stopwatch and because of that uniqueness it earns a special place as both sport and art.  And just like Hollywood itself, figure skating is about performance and box office. Some pictures do well and some…well…you get the point.

As for the entertainment industry, having accomplished what I wanted to this past week, I return to writing my political thriller around the sport and art of figure skating.

Finally, I just have one thing to say to the organizers of the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships and all those that made it a memorable event.

6.0

Ashley

Ashley Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, at the press conference.