Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Archive for January, 2017

Serpentine Premiere

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Serpentine‘s VFX were completed this week.

I am pleased to announce that Serpentine will have its world premiere at the Strand Theater in Clinton, MA on March 6, 2017! Serpentine will premiere after an encore screening of Justice Is Mind. For Serpentine this will be a first, for Justice Is Mind this will mark our 22nd  screening. But it is the Strand Theater that give us our first theatrical break.

It was in 2012 and I was looking for a theater to screen Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind. It was the Strand that gave us the opportunity to screen after J. Edgar.  Over a year later Justice Is Mind had its Massachusetts premiere at the Strand. The same model is being employed for Serpentine: The Short Program.

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At our Massachusetts premiere in 2013.

A theatrical screening marks a starting point. A launch pad, if you will, into a greater marketing program. Everything in this industry is timing. It’s about striking while the iron is hot (even though the rink is cold!). For Serpentine the launch will take place between national and world figure skating championships. The goal, as it was with Evidence all those years ago, is to develop as much interest as possible to produce the feature film version this year for a 2018 release. Why 2018? The Olympic Winter games take place in South Korea next year. It’s about riding a wave of popularity post games.

With a running time of just over 12 minutes, we will be presenting the first 10 pages of the feature length screenplay. Serpentine not only features several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind and First World, but introduces actors making their debut performance. In the world of film it’s all about performance, what we see on the screen and how it comes together behind the scenes.

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Serpentine introduces Denise Marco as Elizabeth Rogers and Isabella Ramirez as Suzanne Wilson.

As for debut performance, it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with an aspiring actress and model. This week I signed with Dynasty Models & Talent for New England representation. Yes, it’s an exciting step as I continue to lay out some personal plans of my own. During my visit at the agency, the owner asked me if I had any words of wisdom for this actress.  I first offered her the back story on how I was cast in a TV show some years ago but then went on to say how you have to want to be in this industry more than anything. No matter what you want to do, it takes a one hundred percent commitment and being able to weather continuous rejection. As I’ve stated before, this is an industry of no (or no response). But when a yes does come, it makes you appreciate your hard work all the more.

They say you are only as good as your last performance. While I agree with that to a point, I believe you are only as good as who you surround yourself with. This is an industry not lacking in advice, particularly from those you never asked. In my view it’s about working with those that want to showcase their efforts with you. I’ll just say this, it is not a coincidence that I’m working with a lot of the same people from Justice Is Mind and First World to bring Serpentine to life. This project also marks a reunion of sorts with a former business partner. More on that development later.

As for development, as an independent filmmaker, theaters like the Strand are important for our continued success. That being said, the Strand has established a GoFundMe campaign to restore and upgrade their wonderful marquee. For our screening on March 6 all ticket sales will be going to the Strand (no share of box office).  As a filmmaker there is something special when you see your film in lights.

Marquee.

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World Building

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Kim Gordon stars as Marlene Baxter the president of the American Figure Skating Federation in Serpentine.

In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.

The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating  performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.

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Since her mother disappeared five years ago the FBI has been following Suzanne Wilson.

This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film.  In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.

With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office.  For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.

We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.

United States.

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Picture Lock

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As planned Serpentine went to picture lock this week. And while that’s certainly a milestone, there are numerous other details that need to be attended to. From completing the visual effects, to sound engineering, scoring and color correction. And then there’s the marketing plan.

As I did with Justice Is Mind, and First World back in the day, I always aim to cast the widest net. When it comes to securing media or perhaps a screening opportunity, the more eyes on a project the better as you never know who may be interested. There’s so much more to filmmaking than the actual mechanical work of creating the film.

Since pre-production on Justice Is Mind back in 2012 I have been receiving email newsletters from various “experts” in the industry. Honestly, there is no magic wand and having a star in your project just doesn’t matter (look what happened this weekend at the box office). Your project will either resonate or it won’t. It will either breakthrough or get stuck. And while there are certainly a set of standards that need to be followed from having a quality picture with a proper aspect ratio, closed captioning and a few other industry standardizations, the rest is really up to the filmmaker. My point is there is no cookie cutter sheet that gives you instant success.

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Vernon Aldershoff and Michael Coppola in Serpentine.

Serpentine is as opposite to Justice Is Mind as First World is to SOS United States.  But in all my projects I make every effort to have an audience of some sort in mind when I start to write. Passion projects are great, but given the work that goes in to making a motion picture someone has to appreciate it past your family, cast and crew.

Since First World was released on to Amazon Prime it has seen a sizable increase in traffic. Science fiction is a relatively easy sell. Justice Is Mind is a hybrid of genres with science fiction and fantasy folded into a straight drama.  The marketing of that film was a three prong approach with audiences reacting all over the place from science fiction enthusiasts to those that love courtroom films. Audiences have loved it or hated it. But no matter the reaction every click and view just increases the audience. And just this week I learned that Justice was picked up by a Chinese concern. More to announce later on that development.

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With my mother just prior to the Boston SAG Awards screening of Jackie.

On a personal note, I’m glad over ten years have passed since I was publishing a magazine in the sport of figure skating. It has given me a perspective well outside the bubble I lived in for over a decade. In general, as I’ve learned, living in a bubble is never a good idea as it warps your perspective.

As for perspective, since I’ll be voting for the first time in the SAG Awards this year, I’ve been watching more independent films than I normally do. Or should I say, than I normally would simply owing to their story. What one has to appreciate is the sheer energy and enthusiasm that goes into making an independent film.

One film I just have to recommend is Jackie.  From Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy to the cinematography and story, I thought it was brilliantly executed (although the score gave me pause).

Crossover.

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Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy.


Ice Market

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Serpentine will shortly go to picture lock.

With picture lock on Serpentine coming up probably this week, the marketing plan I’m putting in place for this film won’t exactly be created from scratch. Having published a consumer magazine in the sport for just over ten years, let’s just say I have a pretty good understanding of this market. Oh sure, things have changed over the years, but not that much. Case in point, I’ve been presenting the opening credits to a variety of industry insiders over the last couple of weeks.

But this project isn’t just targeted to the sport.  As a political thriller that traverses a variety of countries and covert situations, the aim is to reach a broader audience. As I state on our website Serpentine is “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Americans meet the sport of figure skating with a hint of Madam Secretary”.

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This shot from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy inspired the FBI conference room shot in Serpentine.

Of course since my time publishing magazines, we now have online streaming and social media. Both have been a godsend to the entertainment industry and a must for independent filmmakers like myself.  Platforms that are essentially free that reach around the world. Just over ten years ago, if I wanted to reach a market in a foreign country I had to buy premium newsstand placement and display ads. While the latter still has a place, geomarketing on social media is de rigueur.

But with these new mediums come a lot of noise. If you let it happen, it’s very easy to get caught up in someone’s vortex of whatever. Seriously, unless it’s somewhat business related or of personal interest to me, I just tune it out. I always make an effort to ask myself if what I’m posting is improving my brand or my business. Sure, we all have our positions on a variety of things and “milk toast” posts are boring, but it really comes down to how others are perceiving you. I know I’ve made more than a few social and business related decisions simply by what someone is posting.  Social media is like the SETI project. The majority of signals are just noise, but on occasion there is that “WOW” moment.

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This shot in Serpentine was inspired from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

On the marketing front it has been interesting watching a variety of screeners through the SAG Awards voting process. While some of these films have done an outstanding job of marketing, others have just failed miserably. Because I read the trades I generally know what the films are doing before they reach the market. Does that influence my vote? No. Because making a film is hard enough and if you are part of the voting process it should be watched.  There’s no question that I believe Arrival is a brilliant film in concept and execution and I’ve been more than public about my disdain for one filmed in my home state. But having started to watch Hidden Figures, the story simply grabs you right out of the gate. Or maybe I should have said the launch pad!

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But through all this I do see a bright future for independent film. Oh there are those that complain about this and about that. Financing has always been difficult and getting a film together can be just as involved as a Moon launch, but filmmakers are an innovative bunch. We cut through the noise, drive around the roadblocks, scale the brick walls and every other obstacle and persevere. To partially quote Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…”

Next steps.

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