This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Amazon in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Japan. Since the film was released in 2013, it has been my plan to get the film distributed in as many territories as possible. Considering part of the story takes place in Germany, and as our composer and sound mixer reside in the United Kingdom, it’s great to be able to bring the film to those markets. Also, it’s part of the long term plan to generate as much interest in the Justice Is Mind story as possible as the pitch process continues to further develop the project as a TV series. But, like all things in this industry, it’s about having more than one project in development as things take time.
When I was taking to a fellow filmmaker in England this past week, the one thing we talked about was distribution. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, as a former magazine publisher I directed the distribution and marketing of my magazines. The process has a variety of similarities. You deliver your finished product to a central source and it’s delivered to the outlets. But as I learned all those years ago, for every middleman there is a percentage given back. Sometimes a middleman is necessary, sometimes not so much.
To quote from Amazon Video Direct’s website “Helping content creators and visual storytellers reach millions of Amazon customers across hundreds of devices with the same distribution options and delivery quality available to major motion picture and television studios.” Why, unless a distributor was acquiring your film for a fee, would you just give Amazon your film to upload? With the tens of millions of customers that Amazon commands, I certainly understand why some distributors require Amazon to be part of their VOD platform mix. But with “platforms like Distribbr, Quivver, and Bitmax – what’s the benefit of going with a more ‘traditional’ distributor over those?”
Honestly, by the time I release my next film, self-distribution may just be the way to go. Unless a distributor brings me a fee and a marketing plan, why would I bother signing away the rights to my film when I can just deal directly with the VOD platforms? I have heard too many horror stories from filmmakers that were all excited a distributor was interested in their project only to receive a fraction of return even though their project was available on countless platforms. It’s sad and frustrating to hear these stories, because I know how much hard work and years of dedication goes into making a film.
As for new projects, the concept poster for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating is now being designed. With the script registered and URL reserved, the general plan is to formally announce the project in mid-late August. Nothing is more exciting than seeing those first images come to life. And for me that starts with the concept poster.
Of course, like building a house, this is the stage where the architectural plans are developed. In my view, a script is an evolving document based on a variety of factors until you lock it down just prior to pre-production when you lay the foundation for what you will ultimately see on the screen.
After six months of research and writing I finished the first draft for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating. From the tranquility of local skating rinks to the power capitals of the world, the story centers around a champion figure skater, her mysterious new sponsor and the president of the “American Figure Skating Federation” as they traverse a Cold War mystery that has engulfed the skater’s family since the 1970s. While the title of the story will soon be revealed, the working logline is as follows, “A champion figure skater finds herself in a decade’s long government conspiracy involving her missing mother and a Cold War mystery that culminates at the world championships.”
Writing an original story takes time, at least for me. I move the process along, but don’t rush it. I let the characters speak to me and the settings they are in. While the story started and ended the way I had originally planned, I always find it interesting how suddenly the idea comes for this character to do this or that character to do that. In the end, I like to see characters evolve.
Since SOS United States went under review some months ago, I’ve had the time to devote to this project, a project that I’m planning to put into production the way Justice Is Mind came to market. Some have asked how this process moves forward. First, the script is now being read by my trusted attorney for the last twenty five years. In addition to trusting his judgment and comments, it’s also for legal purposes. Over the week the script will get registered at the Writers Guild of America and then at the U.S. Copyright Office. After WGA registration the script will roll out to a select group for their comments.
During the script review process a concept poster will be produced along with website registration and a preliminary design. The project will be formally announced once the concept poster is complete along with a synopsis. I usually let a project sit for a week or two after a first draft before I tackle the synopsis. It’s not so much as a challenge to write, but you need to decide what to write. I never like giving away the whole story because in the end the synopsis is also a promotional tool. In Justice Is Mind we don’t learn the outcome of the trial, just that the situation is dire. If you want to know what happens, I say watch the movie.
But following the Justice Is Mind model, will be the production of a short film version to develop interest and present the production aspects of the intended feature, in this case, the first ten pages of the script that introduces the primary characters and their world. By the end of next week, or first of the following, I will be reaching out to several actors and crew that I have worked with on First World and Justice Is Mind. This will be in addition to reaching out to area skating rinks that I’m familiar with and other locations.
Of course, critical to the process will be the interest of a skater who can project the starring role on and off the ice. A tall order? We shall see. The one thing that will not happen is using a double. It was one thing in Justice Is Mind when an equestrian was used in the advanced riding scenes, but even the actress that played that part was a rider. Yes, I’ll be looking for a “Lynn-Holly Johnson” type. On the production side, there will be the filming of the skating sequences and having them look as dynamic and exciting as possible. I already have color scheme in mind that will play out throughout the production.
Yes, this is a very exciting time but having been down this path before with Justice Is Mind it’s all about planning, production and execution.
On the ice.
This past week I finished watching season one of The Man in the High Castle. Between the story, acting, production values and world building, it has to be one the best, if not innovative, shows I have ever seen. This groundbreaking series from Amazon yet again demonstrates that the streaming services have arrived. When you watch a “TV show” produced by and for a streaming service that exceeds the quality of cable TV, you can see how “cord cutting” has come into being.
But like so many TV series and films, it was interesting to learn that The Man in the High Castle was in development for years. It just demonstrates that persistence and patience is again the key to moving forward in this industry as nothing happens overnight. When Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind, went live on Amazon in the US, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria this week, I was reminded by one of the actors that Evidence was five years old. Justice Is Mind was written in 2010, followed by the production of Evidence in 2011 and the feature film version in 2012. Since Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 the marketing has been ongoing. Why? Because the next goal is a TV series around the concept. When will that happen? In this industry, that would be anybody’s guess.
An editor from one of the industry trades recently posted the following to their Facebook profile, “The hardest part about this industry is even when you find your champions, so much of your success is out of their control. They can work their asses off to help you, but they’re still climbing Mount Everest while dragging a dozen anvils behind them.” The point is obvious, this is an industry that works on teams. All you have to do is look at the cast and crew lists on IMDb to see the staggering number of people involved. For Justice Is Mind that number was well over 100.
A friend of mine recently said to me, that I write what I can produce. That’s partially true. Justice Is Mind was written exclusively with the idea that I might be able to pull this off within my own network of contacts. Whereas a project like First World requires substantial resources with my political thriller SOS United States falling in the middle. Even the short film version of First World had a cast and crew of over 25.
Since First World and Evidence went worldwide on Amazon, it has been interesting to see new audiences discovering these projects. That is the glorious thing about streaming. Your project is discoverable. But in each of these projects, they had some sort of theatrical and exhibition push prior to their online premier. It’s this type of audience development that propelled them forward online.
The one thing I remember when writing Justice Is Mind is that I could visualize it happening. The same is holding true for this political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. Of course there are elements that raise the bar from my last feature, from filming on ice performances to “dressing” an arena to look like a “world championship”. But like the Justice Is Mind project, the plan is to first produce a short film version to not only generate interest in the project, but to develop a team that can see it through.
“Not paying enough attention to the script.” I couldn’t agree more when I first read that statement attributed by Arnon Milchan of New Regency on The Tracking Board. Time and time again I read in the trades, or general consumer press, about the issues a film has faced because of the script. In so many of these cases it seems that a script was rushed to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. But as I posted this past week on Facebook, no amount of A list actors can rescue an ill-conceived script.
The article that Milchan was quote in revolved around the dearth of the mid-budget movie. I fondly remember the variety of movies that studios used to distribute in mainline theaters that didn’t revolve around a comic book, endless sequel or rehash of something we already saw (like the latest Star Trek and Star Wars films). But thanks to determined filmmakers, great films like Trumbo, Spotlight and The King’s Speech are being made and, honestly, always will be. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience to support it from financing to distribution.
As I come up towards the end of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating, there is the continued promotion of either projects completed or in development. In my post last week I talked about my “special relationship” with the UK. A few days after my post, I was nicely surprised when Daniel Elek-Diamanta sent me a re-imagined look for the SOS United States concept poster. While I wanted the first concept poster to reflect the vintage era of the ocean liner, this one presents the same view but with a contemporary look. When developing a new project, it’s all about promotion and this concept poster really captures it!
In the world of filmmaking, particularly as an independent filmmaker, it’s all about promotion and getting the word out. It’s about exploring every avenue of distribution and pitching your project. We all look around to see what other filmmakers have done to promote their projects, but what works for one film may not work for another. But there are some distribution avenues that are just a no brainer – Amazon.
When Amazon announced their new Amazon Video Direct program I could not be more excited. Although First World was available in the United States for some years, I now had the ability to have it in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Last week it went live in those countries. Yesterday, I uploaded all the necessary digital assets for Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind (the feature is with a distributor). The process was painfully simple to reach an audience in the tens of millions.
But when I saw someone post on their Facebook page, “I fear my work will get lost in a sea of titles and get drowned out by larger studios.” That’s a defeating position to take. Once it’s live on Amazon it’s just a matter of external promotion through social media and other channels. Amazon operates on an algorithm of suggested films. All it takes is a few people to find your project on Amazon and it will just continue to grow. While there are other VOD platforms popping up every day, they rely on the filmmaker to bring the audience whereas Amazon already has the audience. Yes, you’re in a sea of films. But I’d rather be in an ocean than a puddle.