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Archive for July, 2017

The Star

Tommy

From the opening credits of Serpentine. Tommy’s name racing along the ice.

On Sunday my friend and business partner Thomas J. McGinnis passed away after a long illness. For so many that knew him he was our North Star. A light that guided us throughout our careers.

Back in 1993 Tommy took a chance and believed in my vision for an international newsmagazine for the sport and art of figure skating. It wasn’t just his financial support that breathed life into this venture, it was the stature he commanded in figure skating and the numerous personalities and “stars” he introduced me to.

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With Tommy and Lois at The 25 Most Influential Names in Figure Skating. 2002. New York City. We produced this star-studded event in a theater.

I’ll still never forget that day. Here I was at a skating conference to give a presentation on what I planned to do. No sooner was it over when Tommy came up to me and said “Do you need an investor?” As a fledgling entrepreneur, I certainly did! Of course I knew who Tommy was. You couldn’t be involved in skating without knowing the name. Simply, his was a name that yielded grace, style and importance.

While so many judged my ability to pull off this venture, Tommy never questioned it. He used to tell me he knew a star when he saw one. I didn’t quite know what he meant at the time, but it didn’t take long for the magic that was Tom’s coaching on and off the ice to have its effect on me. He was filled with wonderful witticisms. One of the earliest bits of advice he gave me was, “Be available, but not too available.”

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Tom McGinnis and Tom Collins at a skating reception. Collins produced Champions on Ice.

Over the ensuing years, and with my other business partner Lois Elfman, we built a multi-million dollar media company that eventually saw the title available in over 60 countries. For years it was the world’s largest for the sport. Indeed, it was a venture we were all proud of. I fondly remember the days when Tom would visit the office or call. No matter who I was on the phone with, they were quickly placed on hold. This was Tommy calling and I was available!

Sadly, in 2004, we lost the company in a brutal hostile takeover from a predator investor who bought up our securities and foreclosed. In one day, a decade plus enterprise was over. Over 20 of us lost our jobs. Worse, Tommy lost his investment.  My God, how do I make that call? What do I say to this man who gave so much? Who believed in me?

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Todd Sand and Jenni Meno with Tommy at an event we sponsored.

When I made the call his first response was, “How are you?” How was I? How was I. With the emotional turmoil that Lois and I went through the months preceding, someone asked how we were. That was the type of person Tommy was. He was a coach. He knew that not every performance ended in a gold medal. He knew there were just as many difficult days as there were great ones. He knew the peaks and valleys of life. He imparted all this knowledge onto his students.

After the company, Tom and I were frequently in touch as friends. There were so many things we would joke about. I always wondered how old Tommy was. His response was as accurate as it was witty, “I’m older than you and younger than Dick Button.” OK!  As for Dick Button, it was Tommy who introduced me to him at Skates of Gold in 1993. Tommy knew everyone!

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At The 25 Most Influential names in Figure Skating. 2002. New York City.

Very few of us know the impact someone has had on us until an end is coming. Tommy’s investment bought me an education in the real world. I’ve often remarked that I wouldn’t have been able to produce a feature film had I not had the experience of running a company.

Over the last few days I’ve been looking at Tommy’s emails to me.  I can’t help think of the kindness and generosity this man imparted to me and so many others. Never a judgement, but a lesson. Never a criticism, but encouragement.  Let’s say I’ve shared many the tear. To be frank, he was the father figure I looked up to and admired. Someone who I could talk to and not be afraid.

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With Rosalynn Sumners at a Champions on Ice reception.

Tommy’s words of wisdom and support continued when I put Justice Is Mind into production. One of his emails read, “Mark, how wonderful. Best wishes for success” and on one of our screenings, “Mark, well done!  Congratulations and wishing you the best in success.” Making a feature film is not easy by a long shot, but knowing that Tommy was there wishing for the best was just another element that made that project go in the positive direction that it did.

When I announced my return to figure skating with Serpentine in 2016, Tommy wanted to be involved. He must have figured out that I do my best writing in the morning when he once responded, “You are an early riser. I thought the stars appeared only at night?” It was wonderful to add his name as an Executive Producer. It was like we had come full circle in our work together. When the Associated Press syndicated a story about Serpentine Tommy’s response was quick, “A hot property.”

In April I brought him a copy of Serpentine. I knew his health was failing. But he wanted to stay engaged. It was hard seeing a man so full of life slowing slipping from this world. There were many things we talked about. I left that day feeling sad. Waving goodbye to a friend I wasn’t sure I would see again.

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After a toast to Tommy. With Lois Elfman in New York City on Wednesday.

A few days passed and an email came in from him, “Enjoyed Serpentine very much. T.”  That email meant the world to me. A couple of emails after Tommy told me about his devastating health news while also promoting a friend who was appointed to the presidency of the Julliard School. That was Tommy, always thinking of and promoting others.  Our last email exchange was when I was updating him on some plans for Serpentine. His response “Great. Tom. XXX”

I did see Tommy about two weeks ago when he was in hospice. I thanked him again for our friendship and for believing in me. I held his hand and told him not to worry about anything.

While Tommy loved to be around stars and create them, indeed he was The Star. The rest of us simply orbited around him.  For those of us that were fortunate to come into his orbit, we were his students whether we realized it or not. From on ice to off, Tommy had a knack for discovering and nurturing talent. It was a rare gift. To turn a phrase from Auntie Mame, he invited us to his banquet so we never starved.

I will miss my mentor and friend. A voice in my life is now gone. But with Tommy’s performance and tutelage in this world transferred to another, perhaps it’s time we score his life while he was with us.

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Serpentine‘s world premiere poster. Thomas J. McGinnis Executive Producer.

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The Steps of Mankind

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Neil Armstrong prepares to step foot on the Moon.

July 20 should be a national holiday because it marks an unprecedented milestone in the history of the human race – the day we set foot on the Moon in 1969.

Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to look at their home, the planet Earth, from 238,000 miles away. July 20, 1969 marked the very pinnacle of research, science and mankind’s determination to explore the unknown when Armstrong famously said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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Buzz Aldrin with the Eagle in the background.

Yet, sadly, there are those ignorant dangerous fools that still believe the manned missions to the Moon were a hoax. Somehow an achievement that exceeded the mysterious building of the Great Pyramids was created by the Hollywood studios.  It’s unbelievable to me in today’s day and age that such ignorance permeates our existence. When evidence is there for everyone to hear and see, they turn deaf and blind by deliberate choice. Some of these misguided morons have tried to post their so-called views on First World’s Facebook page. Thankfully it’s called a delete and ban.

Yes, as you can surmise I feel very strongly about the aforementioned. For if there is one thing the Apollo space program taught us was that anything is possible if we remain singularly focused on just such a mission. In the 1960s there’s no question that the United States government was motivated to compete against the then Soviet Union. Say what you want, but that was a healthy competition because the fruits of all those scientists lay in the very technology we enjoy today.

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Dunkirk 2017

But decades before Apollo 11 there were the steps of over 300,000 allied soldiers that were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Battle of Dunkirk is well known as a substantial turning point in World War II and has been brought back to life by Hollywood.

Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk is most certainly a must-see film. But more importantly it is a history lesson for those that may not know the story. It is a story about what’s possible when faced with the impossible. How do you evacuate over 300,000 people off a beach? The answer was as miraculous as it was obvious—you mobilize a fleet of small civilian boats to effect a rescue.

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Dunkirk 1958

While I greatly enjoyed Nolan’s version of Dunkirk, if anything because it reintroduced this critical moment in world history to 21st century audiences, I found myself enjoying the 1958 version better. For me it provided a larger backstory as it followed several characters between England and France until they arrived on the beaches of Dunkirk.

But whether you liked the 1958 version over the 2017 entry isn’t important. What’s important is that these films are watched. What’s important is that we learn from history. Who would have thought back in 1940 that the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany (and Japan) would someday become great allies in years to come? For it’s allies that truly unite mankind. Building off that first step on the Moon, modern day space programs are a coalition of cultures.

United Nations.

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The International Space Station. A coalition of nations.