It’s been just over a year since I completed my political thriller SOS United States. Like all my screenplays, I revisit them after some months for various edits. Part of the general premise revolves around a cyber-attack on the nation’s power grid that also cripples military satellites. Imagine my response when Emmy and Peabody Award winning journalist Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” was released last week. As Koppel stated on CBS This Morning, Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin had told him, “It’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when.” Needless to say, Koppel’s book will now be part of my “general” pitch with SOS United States.
As American’s we like to think we are number one, that we are an invincible. Sure, we lead in many areas, including our military capability, but unless you are truly living off the grid we all remember the Sony Entertainment hack and one drive down most streets in our nation says – fix me. It’s always a positive when a journalist like Koppel shines a light on something we take for granted – electricity. Remember 1953’s War of the Worlds when the phone went dead after the initial alien attack took out the power lines? “That’s funny the phone isn’t on the same circuit as the lights.”
As for film, the American Film Market (AFM) starts next week. Their website boasts, “2,000 new films and projects”. You should see the catalogs of sales agents and the hundreds and hundreds of films that are represented. One does have to truly wonder how to stand out in the crowd. But stand out we must. Because, let’s be honest, it’s our project first before someone else’s.
It should be interesting to see how AFM resonates after Toronto’s tepid market. There’s no question that the recent box office troubles of Steve Jobs, Burnt and Our Brand is Crisis will be over analyzed and discussed. As filmmakers we are told by the “experts” that you need to attach stars to pre-sell into foreign markets, raise capital and secure distribution. But how many times do we see the absence of the consumer equation in this formula? It doesn’t matter what star you have in your film if the story isn’t there audiences won’t buy it.
Case in point I watched Marathon Man yesterday. Now there is a film that has stars and story. Imagine seeing the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier bring a film to life with the incomparable Dustin Hoffman along with the great Roy Scheider and the, what I believe, was the American debut of Marthe Keller. Watching the DVD special features, the passion of all involved truly made this film resonate at the box office in 1976, a film which still holds up today as a classic crime thriller.
This industry is a marathon. It’s easy to read about this great deal and that great deal, but we very rarely get the entire back story of the years it took to get to that point. By example, just this past week, two years after our initial release, a distributor in one of the world’s largest film markets, reached out to me about Justice Is Mind for VOD. It’s all at the preliminary stage, but it proves that long term marketing and promotion is effective.
Whether it’s an investor, theater or media outlet, it all starts with a cold call or cold pitch. I have always taken the position “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Sure we can all hope to be discovered at a “Schwab’s” or positing a proof of concept video to YouTube, but in the end it truly comes down to a pitch and then the presentation.
I have long discovered that it’s easier to pitch the office of a qualified investor than it is to a “Hollywood” production company. Why? A production company is fielding countless projects and they need that one thing to move any project forward—cash. I also have long believed in charting my own course rather than following the same route everyone else takes. Put it another way, I’d rather pull my car up to the front door than park blocks away.
Just this morning I was watching a video on IndieWire by writer/director Charlie Kaufman about his film Anomalisa (impressive wins at the Venice Film Festival). When asked why there was so much time between his projects, the Oscar winner stated freely a variety of challenges and that his film was made outside of the “studio system” and didn’t go the conventional route. The point? It doesn’t matter your credentials, this business takes a steady hand of determination and patience. Kaufman went on to mention that he was on this project for three years (his team also raised some funds on Kickstarter).
As some of you know, my political thriller SOS United States sees the Concorde fly again. Just yesterday an article on Road Warrior Voices revealed a determined group of investors and enthusiasts that may just bring the Concorde back. I’ve been following the steadfast voices behind this movement for the last couple of years. Their resolve, like those behind the SS United States ocean liner, is impressive. And, yes, I will be informing the group behind this hopeful return of the Concorde about SOS United States – with a cold pitch!
From script (2010), to short (2011), to feature (2012) to release (2013), Justice Is Mind has been a five year project. I remember those early days of pitching to the “establishment”. Why not. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do because everyone else is doing it? Sure, a deal can happen. But in the end, producing it independently outside of any system has brought far greater returns on so many levels.
Next week there’s an industry event taking place in Boston. I’m largely planning to attend because of a panel around drones. We used a drone in Justice Is Mind for the climatic end scene, but SOS United States calls for a substantial amount of drone shots. Imagine skimming close above the ocean only to rise up to take in the gravitas of the USS Massachusetts battleship as the President of the United States addresses the nation.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010 I had no idea that the science of mind reading and its related legal and ethical implications would present itself in the real world the way it did (Pamela Glasner’s article in The Huffington Post pretty much sums it up). There’s no question this public awareness helps when I market the film.
In the sequel, In Mind We Trust, part of the storyline picks up from the end of Justice Is Mind – lost artwork from WWII. In the story it’s revealed that Wilhelm Miller worked in transportation whose responsibility was to ship stolen artwork via train, artwork that disappeared at the end of the war and begins to resurface through the Miller family.
It is oddly ironic that over the last few weeks there has been substantive media attention to an alleged underground NAZI gold train that disappeared at the end of the war. Apparently, a death bed confession revealed its whereabouts. There’s no question that there are countless unresolved mysteries from that time period. And the stealing of artwork, gold and other treasures during the war is another horrid atrocity that the world continues to face and rightly so. Now that Poland’s military is involved in the search, we should have a resolution one way or the other sooner rather than later.
But then we move forward in time to First World and SOS United States. When I wrote First World back in 2006 sure China had ambitious plans with their space program. But I had no idea it would move along at the pace it has. There’s no question, that unless something substantive happens to China’s economy, that country will land a man on the Moon. Much like the space race when the Soviet Union successfully put Sputnik in orbit, it was a wake-up call to the United States. And wake-up our country did by landing a man on the Moon in 1969. Curious how Russia announced this past week they are going to the Moon. Something tells me that China and Russia will soon be cooperating.
This of course brings us to SOS United States. Although China is moving along at a rapid clip, they are disadvantaged in certain areas of military might, particularly in aircraft carrier development, thus the conflict in my political thriller around the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and her ordnance.
But it is the continued cyber-attacks by groups in China directed against United States interests that really is the crux of the world we live in and a major plot element in SOS United States. And let us not forget how Chinese warships entered United States waters off Alaska this week.
In my view, every film whether the subject is good, bad or indifferent needs some sort of hook. Something that will pull the audience in from the real world while they escape into the narrative world of a movie.