Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

First World

Festival Market

Preview(opens in a new tab)

The opening scene of First Signal

Since my last post, First Signal has been accepted as an official selection in the Bucharest Film Awards and Aasha International Film Festival. To date, this makes eleven festivals that have accepted either the trailer or feature. I have to say I’m very encouraged by these early results. While there’s no guarantee of acceptance to any festival, I remain hopeful that First Signal will continue to be discovered by film festivals around the world.

Although I had planned to start screening First Signal independently of film festivals in October, I have put that plan off until 2021 and will wait and see how the film does during its festival run. Since I’ve submitted to additional festivals over the last few weeks that have a United States or world premiere requirement, any independent screening would jeopardize acceptance.

The theatrical market is the lifeblood of the film industry. While PVOD has demonstrated great promise during the last few months, theatrical is the key to success. Without theatrical, certain types of films either simply won’t get made or will be done so with dramatically reduced budgets. Sadly, some states have enacted the most draconian and restrictive requirements for theatres I’ve ever seen, while some (Los Angeles and New York) aren’t open at all. These types of restrictions do nothing except ruin industries while promoting fear to keep people out of indoor gatherings. I’ve never subscribed to those narratives.

The bright side to all of this is that smart states and countries have very relaxed if not completely opened their economies. They smartly treat citizens like adults and not like children. What this means is the obvious, businesses and creative industries will flock to these destination points. We all know enough now to know what is reasonable about events from the last few months. But, sadly, there are those governments that, for some odd reason, what to keep control of their citizens. Those citizens will simply move as no reasonable person wants to live under any form of totalitarianism.

I continue to remain optimistic that 2021 will return the world to normalcy. Some say the world will never be the same again. Some live in a world of such pessimism that optimism is like a foreign language to them. There are those times you have to look far down the tunnel to see a glimmer of light. But when that light is found, I prefer to be with those that share that destination. Life is too short, to waste on those that want to hold you back in their world of darkness.  

While I do some repositioning with First Signal’s marketing plan for the festival market, an idea came to mind the other day for an offshoot story that would focus on one of the characters that is introduced in First Launch. This is a character that I introduced in First World, but never fully explored.  Between my archive and what I have of this character in First Launch, my aim would be to create a stand-alone story that would expand the “First World Universe” and compliment the sequel.

1947


Course Correction

First Signal – color grade example.

I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a filmmaker on the planet that isn’t affected by the current world crisis. The one saving grace with First Signal is that it was always scheduled to be in post-production during this time and won’t be finished until May anyway.  Color grading and sound mixing is moving right along.

While we all monitor for the opening of the economy (it’s vital this happens as soon as possible), the question is when and how to ramp up marketing and distribution efforts. I will say this, after submitting First Signal a few weeks ago to two film festivals, I have formally stopped until the film is 100% complete. With future submissions I will also require an assurance that a film festival will not default their festival from live to online.  I have ZERO interest in premiering First Signal online with a film festival. It will never happen.

I’m not surprised that only seven films took up Amazon’s virtual film fest offer. Unless Amazon’s screening fee was going to offset production costs, why bother. Any filmmaker can upload their film direct to Amazon, why dilute future distribution opportunities with an online premiere.

First Signal – private conversations

A few days ago a film festival I submitted to with a December event date, sent this long winded email stating generally that if people don’t feel comfortable attending or their theater isn’t available, they’ll make it online – and won’t refund submission fees. I frankly couldn’t believe the gall. I guess they’ll have to answer to the credit card companies who will chargeback the submission fees to the filmmakers. Having produced many live events, you as the organizer/promoter are responsible to execute what was contracted with the customer. If you don’t you must refund. It’s as simple as that.

I have never been a traditionalist.  From publishing to filmmaking, I have always taken an unconventional approach. When I launched my figure skating magazine years ago, I was told it was never going to work as I needed to do this or that or whatever. Whether it was budget related or simply because I had a different idea, I executed the way I could to accomplish what I needed to do. I brought that same approach to filmmaking. When I produced First World and quickly learned that festivals wanted shorts under 15 min long, I found science fiction festivals, unique events and, yes, online (a fledgling platform called Hulu) to present my first film.

My point in all this is being able to pivot. For better or worse the world has changed in the last couple of months. I’m not going to try to roll a square rock up a hill, when I can slide it on rails at ground level to the same destination.  As filmmakers we think unconventionally when we create our projects, the same should hold true for marketing and distribution.

Next plan.


The Rollout

Rollout of Apollo 11 to launchpad 39a

With the trailer edited and scored, we are in the rollout phase as the color grading commences.  As each day passes we are rolling closer and closer to the day when the trailer for First Signal is released. I don’t think I’ve prepared nearly as much for the release of any of my film projects. Yes, Justice Is Mind was obviously important to me, but with First Signal being my first feature film in the “First World Universe,” I want to make sure I reach who I need to reach.

When I was talking to an acting friend this past week, we started to talk about certain sci-fi series and movies and what we do and don’t like. For me, I’m not so much into spectacle but story. I’d rather watch a solid story than things getting blown up. Yes, sometimes you need to blow something up, but I feel it should be done within the context of the story, not just for show and tell.

Last weekend we had First Signal’s ADR session. Watching these talented actors bring their characters back was nice to see. It was also an opportunity to show them the trailer and opening credits. Aside from some stills, they haven’t had the chance to see anything since we wrapped last July. I know when I’m part of a project as an actor I anxiously await to see what the product will look like.

With audio complete, the provisional score nearly done, VFX being built and the film close to a lock, I can almost see the light at the end of the post-production tunnel. But this is where all the details come up. From polishing the edit and score, finishing the VFX, sound mixing and color grading, creating a film is an arduous task and all about project management.

One of my favorite “TV” series these past few years has been The Man in the High Castle on Amazon. The entire production on both sides of the camera was first rate.  When I started to write the sequel to First Signal it dawned on me the character of Major Sampson could parallel Juliana Crain.  In High Castle, Crain was instrumental in the resistance movement and played all sides to achieve her goals. In the sequel to First Signal, Sampson finds herself torn between three worlds – the President of the United States, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cedric Yonah the Premier of the Synedrion Council.  As of this morning I just hit the sixty-page mark and I think I know how I want it to end. I think!

As for films that have a military storyline, I saw 1917 last weekend. I can’t say enough great things about this film. From filming the entire story in one continuous shot, to the production values and acting, 1917 was truly a delight. The cinematography alone is reason enough to see this film. I can only imagine the pre-production planning!

I was reading an email newsletter this morning and the author talked about having to love the journey not only as a writer but as it pertained to sales. As a screenwriter, there is that moment when you feel these characters talking back to you as you type their dialogue and action their elements. When you’re filming your screenplay, you see these characters come to life. When you’re watching your story on the silver screen or your TV, you know you’ve made a sale. There is something immensely satisfying being in the lobby of a theatre when someone asks to buy a ticket to your film. Equally when you get notice that your film has been streamed.

The journey is a long one, with many highways and exits ahead. But it’s a journey that I have loved since I wrote my first screenplay in grade school.

Stay the course.


The Brand

The bunker in First Signal.

Yesterday I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen in few years. The first thing he asked me was “How’s the writing going?” I told him about First Signal and a few other things going on. As he runs a successful business in Worcester, I asked him how the salon was.  He responded “Busy.” I really didn’t have to ask him that because I know his salon is always busy. He’s been working on building his brand for years.

It took some years to build my brand in figure skating and equally as long as a writer and filmmaker outside of the sport. Building a brand isn’t something that happens overnight. It builds from one project to another. However, we now live in a world where people think that having a large social media following is a brand.  Social media, in my view, is great for amplifying what you’re doing in the real world. But without a foundation of something, it’s just likes.

When I started to revive the First World Universe to write First Signal a few years ago, I realized after reviewing all my original material and the media we had at the time, that I created a unique brand. One with its own voice. With First Signal I finally had the opportunity to present this world as a feature film. The first in what I hope to be a series of films in the First World Universe.

With the trailer nearly complete, the marketing train will soon be leaving the station. Once it leaves it can’t come back. While post-production has been going on in earnest with countless notes with the editor, composer and VFX artist, I’ve been working out the marketing plans for the trailer and ultimately the feature.  All of us on the post-production team know how important it is for the trailer to present the film. At the end of the day it’s about selling the feature.

One of the primary sets in the sequel to First Signal is the Oval Office.

As for the First World Universe, I’m just over the thirty-page mark for the sequel. This is the story that takes place before the events in First World.  In my view, writing a sequel is no easy feat. You must balance the established characters and their stories with something new. I think one of the most interesting sequels was 2010 from the legendary 2001.  Starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren, 2010 created a wonderful “what if” possibility.

In the sequel to First Signal the following dialogue happens in the Oval Office

“Exactly. Now he’s operating covertly and illegally. If you lose and Reager legitimately controls the military and his commander in chief is complicit, history books won’t judge your actions today, because they’ll be none left. It will be the end of civilization.” – Elisabeth Seward, National Security Advisor to President Helen Colton

That dialogue derives from actions around Operation Troy in First Signal.

“General if I sign this. What’s the objective of Operation Troy?” – Helen Colton, President, United States of America.

“Identification.” – General John Reager, Commander, Air Force Space Command

This week I write the draft press release and email newsletter to announce the trailer. As for when the trailer will be released? Sometime in February

Coming Soon.

A VFX still from First Signal.

The Last Weekend

VFX begins for First Signal. The starfield for the end credits.

Before I started to write my last blog post for the year, I took a moment to review what I wrote this time last year and the year before. In 2017 it was “One project I’m excited for in the new year is the First World prequel I’m writing.” In 2018 it was “The pre-production process of First Signal continues towards a May launch.” For the end of 2019 I can proudly say post-production on First Signal is well underway.

The stars of First Signal.

I’ve often stated the word perseverance and what it means to never give up. I see so many projects being announced with great enthusiasm only to wither away. I’ve also stated that making a feature film is a task like none other. It’s about surrounding yourself with people that share your enthusiasm and vision. If it’s one thing I’ve learned this year is that it’s important to work with those that understand dedication and don’t just call it in. That dedication will be released in 2020 for all to see.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions or subscribe to the “New Year. New Me” philosophy. By example, I workout an hour a day seven days a week. I know next week the gym will packed. Over enthusiastic people trying to run a hundred miles an hour on a treadmill when they don’t even enjoy taking long walks. They don’t see results in a month, so they stop coming. They don’t know that to run on a treadmill you first have to learn to walk on one. That means showing up, taking small steps and watching your diet. In the entertainment industry I see the posts “My feature will be produced this year!” or “This year I’m going to star in a film!” Um, well, what did you do three months earlier? Just wait for the 1st of January to arrive? Did you look at your script and see how it could be adjusted to shoot on a budget you could afford? Did you see that part in a film but not submit? Remember in this industry there are no small parts. And more importantly it’s all about risk.

When you join a gym you risk not having the body of Adonis after six months. But you know what? After those six months you may have lost twenty pounds, feel and look better and no longer crave that evening pint of ice cream. When you write a script you risk not having it ever produced. But after you adjust for a budget you can afford, you could soon find yourself in post-production. When you decide to be an actor you don’t start as a star. You submit and submit and submit. You accept the roles you can, no matter the size, because that can lead to a starring role.

That happened to one of the stars of First Signal. He was my first choice, but I cast another actor who lived closer to our shooting location. The actor I originally wanted didn’t dismiss the project when I offered him a background role. He stayed interested. When the actor I cast flaked off and ghosted me, I offered the part to him. He breathed life into this character that I never thought possible.

This is an industry not only about accumulating experience but dedication and enthusiasm. If you have experience and are known to be dedicated and enthusiastic, you will be top of mind when a project comes to being. This just happened to me when I was contacted by a production company for a project coming up for a few days in January. It might not happen in the end, but at least I was contacted (with no agent involved).

Believe me I don’t look at this industry through rose colored glasses. We all have those days where it seems like we aren’t gaining any traction or making any progress. But I do believe if you stick with it and are persistent those chances improve tenfold.

See you at the premiere of First Signal in 2020!


World Building

Earth – The Blue Marble – Apollo 17

Since I returned from AFM last month, in addition to post-production work, I’ve been building out the marketing and release strategy for First Signal. For marketing, it’s about verifying media contacts, researching new outlets, creating talking points and a million other details. The goal is to create awareness and reach First Signal’s intended audience. I don’t shirk those responsibilities. In fact, it’s part of my job as a filmmaker.

The one thing that was painfully apparent at AFM, albeit not surprising, was the limited marketing/pr resources that a sales agent/distributor was going to bring to any single title. This is not necessarily the fault of the agent/distributor, it simply comes down to resources. If they have a couple of hundred films in their respective catalog, there is only so much time they can allocate. But at the end of the day, they must have some sort of plan—especially if they want to charge for it.

First Signal – Worlds Apart. Worlds Together.

I recently turned down a contract from a sales agent. While the contract was littered with tens of thousands of dollars in fees, there was no marketing and release strategy for me to review. It was simply, send us your film (at considerable expense), we’ll see if we sell it, but we’ll still charge the film along the way. Um..no thanks. It shocks me that these one-sided contracts still exist. To turn a phrase “Send it and forget it” does not apply to film distribution.

Post-production is well on its way for an April completion. I wrote the trailer up just over a week ago. The VFX areas of the film are on their way to our visual effects supervisor. Every Sunday for the last few weeks I receive a section of score to review.  Although I believe it’s important to maintain a schedule with an end date, it’s equally important not to be rushed. On the marketing side, I have a general idea of where and when I see our first screening. Will it be a “world premiere” or just a private screening? That I’m not sure yet, but plans are moving forward.

My notes for the sequel to First Signal are starting to turn into some actual writing. I generally have the concept for the beginning and end. The sequel will be a continuation of events in First Signal while incorporating a good part of the storyline from my ebook First World: Covenant. I can always tell when the motivation to start writing again hits me—an idea for a scene or line comes to me and I stop what I’m doing and note it.

EXT. THE PLANET SHINAR – 8282 BC

Satellite images of the Earth like planet Gliese 581 d come into view.

PREMIER (V.O.)

Good afternoon my fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the military buildup on the Channel Islands in the Southern Provinces.

Shinar – Gliese 581 d

Second Market

With Daniel Groom at AFM 2019.

On Thursday I returned from my second attendance at the American Film Market (AFM). By all accounts, it went well. This year I was accompanied by Daniel Groom, First Signal’s director of photography and editor. He was also representing his own feature film Alternate Ground.

AFM 2019 at the Loews Santa Monica. All the hotel rooms are converted to offices.

My attendance at AFM in 2018 was generally a fact-finding trip and learning how a film market works. Yes, I had meetings, but it was more to promote projects in development, like First Signal, and to represent my first feature film Justice Is Mind. It’s important to note that AFM is not a film festival. Yes, AFM has screenings, but they are mostly for buyers and sales agents.  AFM is one of a handful of film markets around the world. Simply put, these markets are where deals are done for independent filmmakers.

The Oval Office at the Reagan Library.

Preparing to attend a film market is the same as pre-production on a film – preparation. You research who you want to meet, make a pitch and hope for a meeting. Like an actor preparing for a part, you rehearse, memorize and have talking points. If you can’t articulate your own film, it’s hard to expect sales agents and buyers to take any interest. In a curious twist, I was in a meeting when someone wanted to present their film regarding locations they were looking for. Oddly, they couldn’t really present the logline or what the general concept was.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach.

I would say my last meeting at AFM was the probably the best one of the market. First, they were specifically looking for films like First Signal. I met with the principal of the company and two representatives. In their suite, I was able to make a complete pitch for First Signal. From development, production to goals for a series of films in the First World Universe. I stressed the importance of marketing and kept an open mind on their points, some of those points being working with them to plan for a rollout in upcoming markets.

The Grand Salon on the Queen Mary.

There is another point that’s stressed at AFM and that’s professionalism. From scheduling meetings in advance to how to introduce your projects when you don’t have a meeting scheduled. All in all, my experience was positive. But here I was in a booked meeting with a sales agent when another filmmaker arrived, interrupted my meeting and pretty much insisted the agent give them a few minutes. The agent mentioned they were in a meeting, but this filmmaker didn’t care. I just looked at this filmmaker blankly taking it all in.  When the agent returned and apologized, the first thing I said was you don’t need to apologize for someone else. I’ll just say this—it’s all about first impressions.

At the Griffith Observatory with Los Angeles in the distance.

In the end, AFM 2019 was a great market for what I was representing. This industry is rapidly changing from an economic point of view. The differences between 2018 and 2019 were apparent and stark. It’s truly about being adaptable and going with the flow. Having worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen the advent of digital change. I knew some years ago that VOD/streaming was going to truly be the primary revenue driver for most independent filmmakers. That reality is now here.

The USS Iowa.

But as you will see from my pictures, my trip wasn’t all business. From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, to the Queen Mary, Griffith Observatory and the USS Iowa, I always enjoy my visits to “Hollywood.” I also discovered a new navigation app called Waze. Given the traffic challenges in LA (although I think they’re worse in Boston), I highly recommend it!

Next steps.

Boarding Air Force One at the Reagan Library.

First Website

First Signal‘s official website launched this week.

Now that First Signal is well into post-production it’s about the marketing plan. Part of that plan is the launch of an “official” website. Unlike social media that gets your news out quickly, I view a website as the central source for a brand or in this case a film. For those of you that followed Justice Is Mind, you saw how the website started and then built out during the post-production and distribution phases. When you consider the number of films looking for attention during any given year, you really need all the tools you can to make yours known. I am therefore pleased to announce the launch of First Signal’s official website https://www.firstsignalmovie.com/ Enjoy!

As I was telling a fellow filmmaker yesterday, when it comes to marketing your film you need to be relatively relentless. Unless your distributor is going to launch an aggressive marketing communications campaign to support your vision that responsibility is on the filmmaker—as it should be. Sadly, I see so many projects get released only to fizzle on the launchpad.  

The job of a filmmaker is an all-encompassing one. It generally involves writing the script in relative solitude, to directing the project with cast and crew, back to solitude for post-production, then managing the release, distribution and marketing. I firmly believe that when you put the word “filmmaker” on your resume you can list your responsibilities in one word – everything. Frankly, that’s why I love this process. It gives me the opportunity to wear many hats. 

One of those hats will be pitchman when I travel to AFM in November to represent First Signal and my other projects.  With the edit at the 30 minute mark, the opening credits sequence nearing the completion stage and scoring well underway, so far everything is proceeding on schedule. Unlike last year when I waited to book my trip three weeks before the market and almost had to pay a premium, I booked my trip last week to get a good rate. In the next two weeks I start presenting First Signal to a list of sales agents and distributors I curated from AFM.

As for agents, I informed my talent agent yesterday that I was leaving their representation. While there are numerous reasons why I left, I was first reminded that my contract passed the one year mark. In addition, I took a look at my full page resume, and with the exception of one gig, I secured the rest on my own.  With my on camera work largely reflective of domestic and international TV, I need representation that aligns with my experience or do what I’ve generally always done – represent myself.

The one thing I have learned over the past twenty plus years, is you need to market yourself—continuously. If you don’t market yourself, never mind your films, you will either be forgotten or passed by. There is simply too much talent out there competing for the same thing. The chance of you being discovered on a roster of talent or your film in a catalog is slim to none. I’m not saying you have to hire a personal publicist, but social media marketing (without looking like a narcissist), a press release targeted to the media and a quality email newsletter, go a long way in recognition.

On those notes, I plan to release First Signal’s second still next week.

The meeting.

Daniel Elek Diamanta scoring First Signal

Last Shot

Conor Timmis (l-Cedric Yonah), Chris Goodwin (James Griffin) and Patience McStravick (Major Sampson).

Last Sunday First Signal wrapped principal photography. The final shot seemed particularly appropriate. It was a POV from Major Sampson (Patience McStravick). With Daniel Groom on camera, Patience guiding his shoulders to mirror her character and myself directing, it was that moment when I remembered the day all three of us met at a Starbucks in January 2018 to discuss First Signal.  None of us could have foreseen the journey that was to lie ahead. While pre-production was fraught with fits and starts, the train of principal photography not only ran on time, but finished five production days ahead of schedule.

Filming in the field.

Shooting First Signal these last few months has been nothing less than thrilling for me.  Oh sure, as director you worry about countless things, but when you see the progress and quality being produced from one day to the next, those worries quickly evaporate. Those pre-production matters that sought to derail the train are nothing more than a distant memory. Of course no vision comes to life without a dedicated cast, crew and location partners. Without their tireless efforts First Signal would still be just that—a vision.

Yefim Somin (l-President Tupolov), Wendy Hartman (President Colton) and Lindy Nettleton (Prime Minister Colby).

The vision for First Signal was nicely magnified by some wonderful press over the last several weeks.  WMUR-TV, The Concord Monitor, The Athol Daily News and the Greenfield Recorder all visited set (The Hippo did a great piece that you can find in my previous post). I couldn’t be more thankful for their coverage. It isn’t just about producing a film, it’s about getting it noticed. When you consider the tens of thousands of films that are made a year, having media support, particularly at this stage, is paramount.

Lindy Nettleton returned to the role of Prime Minister Colby in First Signal after first playing it in First World in 2007.

Throughout the production process and this past week, I have kept the contacts I made at AFM last year informed about our progress. While one during production was keenly interested in First Signal, another got back to me last night and wants to see some footage as soon as possible for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). In addition to the festival itself, Toronto is one of the major film markets.  

Stephanie Eaton (l-Elisabeth Seward) and Wendy Hartman (President Colton).

This is what producing a film is all about – distribution.  Putting aside getting an actual deal for your film, there are simply so many platforms to distribute and market you really need a distributor to navigate this labyrinth.

Putting together the puzzle that was created during production, is now the purview of our editor and the rest of the post production team. This is where the tone and style of the film come to life. We’ve already decided on a color scheme and I’m pretty close on what I’d like to see for a score. While I’m overseeing post-production, I’ll be working on branding and other marketing aspects. Yes, making a film is thrilling, but seeing it come to life in the consumer market is where it matters.

In closing, thank you to all those that have supported this project. Your support over these months have made First Signal possible.

Next steps.

With Patience and Dan on our last day of principal photography.

In Production

The stars of First Signal in the planetarium at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.

It’s hard to believe that First Signal is nearly at the halfway mark in principal photography. The dedication of the actors, crew and staff at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center has been unprecedented. Producing a feature film is no easy task but when you work with a dedicated group of professionals, the process doesn’t actually seem like work.  Of course the one thing I won’t do is get complacent. There’s still several weekends left of filming with half of them being outdoors.

Along with principal photography, our public relations efforts are also well underway with our first press release announcing First Signal (click this link).  I’m also delighted to report that The Hippo published a great article this week about our filming at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. The Hippo does a wonderful job with their Q&A formats.  

The making of First Signal.

Now that we’ve had some press, I’ll be reaching out to the distributors and sales agents that I met at the American Film Market (AFM) this past November, particularly those that expressed an interest in First Signal. As AFM is all about planning, it’s never too early to start conversations about projects in production.

One of the next steps in the process is how the film will look from a color point of view. It’s something I need to start thinking about as we will soon be releasing stills. While it’s a process that shouldn’t be rushed, it shouldn’t be delayed either. Like the building up towards the release of the first trailer, I believe the releasing of stills should be given equal weight.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The field where the final scenes of First Signal will be shot.

With principal photography resuming next weekend, Daniel Groom (Director of Photography) and I will be doing some test photography tomorrow in a field. This location encompasses the last scenes of the film. While the scenes we are shooting indoors are obviously important, the outdoor scenes will be involving a substantial amount of special effect work in post-production.

Patience and Conor have fun between takes.

Although the making of a feature film takes quite a bit of work while you’re on set, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of frivolity. From Patience McStravick (Major Sampson) and Conor Timmis (Cedric Yonah) in a Space Shuttle simulator to a birthday celebration for Daniel Groom. One of the highlights from last weekend was when Sarah Beattie, who works at the Discovery Center as an educator, treated us to a wonderful planetarium show about the constellations. I never knew there were so many! But what was very touching to me, was this lovely blog post that she wrote last week.

For me there is truly no more rewarding of a process than seeing a film come together. It is a form of art like no other. Long after I call the last “cut” this film will live on forever. A film is a testament to the dedication of so many to realize a vision. When you watch a film and see the credits role know that every person, company and location played a vital part in its creation. While the adage for actors is “there are no small parts” that also holds true to those that sit behind the camera.  As I conclude this blog post, I want to say a special thank you to Patience, Dan, Sarah and Linds for believing in First Signal.

Next scene.

First Signal in The Hippo.

First Day

Patience McStravick as Major Sampson and Conor Timmis as Cedric Yonah.

The train has left the station. I’ve often used that phrase to describe what happens on the first day of principal photography. There is nothing quite like that first day. You wonder if you’ve missed anything in the planning process because film production is all about details. Every day of principal photography is an event unto itself. But after months of pre-production, the First Signal train left on schedule.

I always arrive early to any set, but particularly so when it’s my own project. I view it as my job to have everything at the ready for the cast and crew. Last Monday our call time wasn’t until 9 AM, but I arrived at 7:30. One thing I had to do was to turn my “United States” car into a “Foreign” one. That meant changing my Massachusetts license plates into Belgian (First Signal takes place in Belgium).

Major Ellen Sampson and Paul Noonan as General John Reager.

After one of the staff at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center arrived early, I was able to load in my stuff and wait for the crew and actors to arrive. It didn’t take long for 9 AM to approach and then one by one they started to arrive. Before I knew it, we were ready to go with our first shot.

By the end of the day we largely accomplished what we wanted to. All the necessary indoor scenes, promotional photos and some key outside drone footage were shot. Although we still have a couple of drone shots to complete, the day by all measures, was a success. I can’t thank the crew, cast and staff at the Discovery Center enough for making First Signal’s first day a positive one.

Of course there are still many days to go until principal photography is over. Today, I’m putting the final touches on our shoot for next weekend that involves Senator Hadrian and General Reager. Weather permitting we will also be shooting a scene in their Observatory. Then there is the pre-planning for the primary conference room scenes with the majority of the actors the following weekend.

The one thing I want to reference from our shoot last Monday were the actors that played Secret Service agents. I’ve worked with two of them before on my own projects and as an actor. The other three I met through our casting notices. For one, this was his first film. For another, he was in the army. For another, he had a great eye for costuming. It was through their collective experience and efforts that brought an authenticity to their scenes.  

There is nothing more exciting as a writer than seeing your words come to life through the process of film. When you combine great talent on both sides of the camera, against the backdrop of an ideal set, that’s when magic is made.

On a closing note, I want to particularly thank Patience and Dan for your efforts, dedication and friendship. I remember that day at the Naval Justice School when Patience and I first talked about a story that would largely take place in one location. Then, on her introduction, our first meeting with Dan at a Starbucks to talk about the possibilities.

The days are long, the lists are endless, but in the end there is a product everyone involved in can be proud of—a feature film.

Next shot.

Wendy Hartman as President Helen Colton (c) and Stephanie Eaton as National Security Advisor Elisabeth Seward with the Secret Service. Lead agent David Afflick (left of President).

The Production

My U.S. car with Belgian plates for a scene in First Signal.

The final days leading up to principal photography are ones that give the word “multitasking” a whole new meaning. Throw in a last minute casting and that brings it to a new dimension.  But as I look at my lists, what I’m crossing off and what we have left to do, things are moving along.

I’m also pleased to announce that Wendy Hartman will play President Helen Colton in First Signal. Although I’ve known of Wendy’s work for some time, we haven’t had the opportunity to work together. But the one thing I have admired is her dedication to any project she becomes a part of. Welcome Madam President!

It would have been too easy to throw the towel in when I received the news that someone was pulling out this close to the start of production, but I have never been one to throw a towel. When you reach a certain point in this process you just double down and pursue all avenues.

After the auditions in Nashua I drove up to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center for a last minute location check. Our first day of shooting will involve just two locations, but it’s those last minute looks that are important. While visiting I had the most fascinating conversations with a few of the staffers about all things science and science fiction. They showed me some of the new shows in the planetarium. Every time I visit the Center I “discover” something new.

One area art direction I did some work on this past week was having Belgian license plates created for the first scenes we are shooting. I believe in authenticity and making every effort to get it right. A special thanks to Adam Starr for creating the plates and to my friends at FedexOffice for bringing them to life.

With some final fittings this week and picking up the tailored Air Force Uniforms, First Signal will soon be filming.

Paul Noonan being fitted for his Air Force uniform.

From when I started writing the script in 2017 to where we are today, I think of the journey and dedication of so many to see this project through. I can’t help but be reminded of when I started to put this “First World” universe together back in 2006 with the screenplay First World, to the short film version in 2007 to a near greenlight of the feature film version in 2008 until the economy crashed. It was from my writings in First World that the genesis for Justice Is Mind was born. That project seemed a lifetime ago until I was driving home yesterday and actually drove by one of the restaurant locations in New Hampshire we used in that film.

I believe this quote from Theodore Roosevelt sums up what many of us feel in this industry when a project finally moves forward after years in development –  “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Call sheet.

A First Signal location at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.

The Morning

Check out my interview on the show at this link.

The email came in on a Thursday afternoon. A producer from station KABC-AM 790 in Los Angeles wanted me to do a phone interview on Friday with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips for their popular morning drive talk show. The subject was figure skating. The topic was an incident between two skaters at the World Figure Skating Championships in Japan. 

I co-starred with Jillian on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. She was a skater and I was one of the judges. No sooner did we meet on set than we became fast friends off the ice. Needless to say I was very excited to do the interview. First, it was Jillian but second she’s a great interviewer. It was a reunion of sorts as we haven’t seen each other since I moved back east in 2008. The moment the interview started we picked right back up where we left off all those years ago. You can listen to the interview at this link. Those few moments on air with Jillian brought back so many great memories from my time in LA.

A still from Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

As for the world of entertainment, last year I was cast in a documentary titled Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. As you see in this still, it was shot entirely in green screen. In the production these shots will be animated to recreate areas of the documentary for which no photos or film exist. From what I’ve seen, this looks like a brilliant documentary about an important part of American history after the Civil War. The documentary airs on PBS April 9 & 16. To learn more click here.  

In just over a month principal photography begins on First Signal. Since I wrote the script in late 2017, it’s amazing how fast time has gone by. It was becoming real enough over the last month when certain props arrived, but when the Air Force Uniforms started to arrive last week it was then that we all could feel the day coming.

Some of the patches arriving for First Signal.

I decided to buy the uniforms rather than rent. Not only was it about the same price for the weeks we needed them, I look at the uniforms as a smart investment. First, we’re not constrained to a limited amount of time with them. What happens if we need to reschedule shoot dates past the rental period? What happens if after we wrap we want to do some pickup shots? With this acquisition, the budget is locked down.

With cast and crew complete, final props being created and actors going through fittings, it’s this moment in pre-production where things are fine-tuned and coordinated. One could say we’re rolling out of our Vehicle Assembly Building.

T-minus.

Apollo 11 leaving the VAB Launch Complex 39-A

First Schedule

The shot list is complete and a preliminary schedule was worked out yesterday. It now goes to the actors, crew and the location partners for review. From what starts as a one person exercise writing a screenplay (I use Final Draft) now turns into project management. I can at least add another checkmark on my task list. But make no mistake, just because I checked off an item doesn’t mean that it’s completed.

One thing I realized years ago when I was publishing magazines was the importance of organization. In those early days being late meant paying heavy fees. In this industry it means that something doesn’t or can’t be filmed. Case in point the Air Force uniforms that we need. Do I buy them or rent them? While I have pricing for a purchase, I’m waiting to hear from the costume company. One thing I learned from producing Justice Is Mind is advanced planning when it comes to costumes.

Vernon Aldershoff as Wilhelm Miller in Justice Is Mind.

In Justice Is Mind one of the actors had to be outfitted as an SS officer. I ordered the uniform from a Chinese company and it was shipped well in advance of our shoot dates. Although tracking showed that it arrived in the United States I still hadn’t received it yet. Finally, I talked to customs and got the “opinionated” custom agent on the phone who asked why I needed such an outfit. After I directed some choice words to him and cited certain regulations, the uniform arrived in time for our shoot.

While I look back at the scheduling for the number of events and films I’ve produced over the years, I realized I’m starting to develop an interesting inventory of wardrobe and props. I still have the original Nehru styled jackets worn in First World along with the briefing file the Prime Minster shows the President. It might not be bad to add Air Force uniforms to the collection.

The Nehru styled jacked in First World.

In closing, NASA announced this week that the Mars rover Opportunity ended after a 15 year mission. When we consider the science this rover discovered over its decade plus mission, it truly paved the way for new “opportunities” as plans for an eventual manned mission to Mars come to fruition. For an original mission that wasn’t supposed to last more than 90 days, it is a testament in time, patience, research and excellence to all those in NASA that worked on this project.  

Opportunity’s first self portrait celebrating the
5000th Martian Day.

Its stories like Opportunity that remind me of the day I first looked through a telescope and saw our neighbors in the solar system.

Observatory.

One scene to be shot will take place in the Observatory at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.


Last Days

37550551_640759909613857_1545604007928528896_nAs the pre-production process of First Signal continues towards a May launch, I always take the last weekend of any given year and reflect on what I was able to accomplish. The key as I’ve learned over the years is to not spread yourself too thin. I mentioned in my last post, it’s about quality rather than quantity.

 

One project that I will always be immensely proud of is my work with the Naval Justice School. Acting and directing that project was a true honor. I never viewed it as just another acting gig but rather my small way of giving back to those that serve in our great military. What I always conveyed to the actors was the importance of “staying on script” as the mock trial program was one of the last exercises these law students had before they were deployed.

 

The contractor for that program then retained me to write a training script for the military. I can’t go into too many details publicly, but it gave me an opportunity to broaden my screenwriting skills while again giving back. When I learned that my script is now part of the orientation program at one of the largest military bases in the country, well, that was another honor.

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Outside of the military contracts, my acting work led me to some unique projects. At this stage of my career, a project has to be interesting. It’s not about the check, it’s about the scope. I also need to believe in those that are behind the project. Do they have a vision? Will they see it through to the end? I’m proud to say that the projects I have been part of in 2018 had both scope and vision. There’s nothing more exciting as an actor than working with passionate filmmakers.

 

Speaking of passion, one of the most exciting things I did this year was drone photography. As some of you may know, I purchased a drone for First Signal. From the beaches of Ogunquit to the mansions of Newport to museums in Concord and Quincy, more doors opened than I could have possibly imagined.

 

One of those doors of course was the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH. It’s no secret that I love museums, but museums that focus on space, science and aviation are my favorites. When I first walked through the door at the Discovery Center this gem of a museum offered a bit of everything to this enthusiast. But it’s when I asked permission to do some drone photography that more doors opened—the door to First Signal.

 

Of course the biggest project to come out of 2018 has been First Signal. Undertaking the production of a feature film is a task like none other, but I’ve been through it already with Justice Is Mind and other projects.  After ten years in development from the First World story, and as the first in a series, it’s important to get as many things right as possible. Nothing is worse than when a project is rushed into production and you feel like something is off. But when things do come together as you envision, that’s when a project becomes exciting.

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The one thing I strive for is enthusiasm and a positive outlook. But anyone that works in this industry knows it’s not easy. There’s always some sort of obstacle, setback or situation to overcome. But it’s also about perseverance, persistence and above all patience.

2019.

Mark Lund-The Ashton Times - AFM Poster


A Giant Leap

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Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S flag on the Moon.

July 20, 1969. The 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission – “we came in peace for all mankind.”

Although at 4 years old, I was too young to remember the historic event of the Eagle landing on the Moon, I fondly recall the later Apollo missions in the early 1970s. Those grainy black and white pictures being transmitted from the Moon to our television sets was a remarkable achievement. Indeed, it truly was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In those days the world watched in wonder as the impossible was achieved, not once, but several times.

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Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder.

When you think of the new technologies, sciences and discoveries that resulted from the space program of the 1960s and 70s, it’s clear that a giant leap was achieved on numerous levels. You can’t bring together that many scientists and engineers and focus them on a single end goal without achieving breakthroughs that were literally out of this world. Of course, another result of the space program was the motivation it gave to so many.

In my case, I developed an interest in astronomy which led to my passion for science fiction.  When I combined these interests and wrote First World in 2006, I had no idea where that journey would take me. In the film world it led to the production of the short film version of First World in 2007, followed by Evidence and my first feature film Justice Is Mind. In the real world, I have been fortunate to see the space shuttle Atlantis land at Edwards Air Force Base, Discovery and components of the Apollo program at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Enterprise at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and Freedom 7 at John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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The plaque left on the ladder of Eagle.

In the world of entertainment, two of my favorite TV series that involved the Moon are UFO and Space: 1999 with my favorite sci-fi movie being War of the Worlds (1953). But over the last several years “Hollywood” has produced some excellent must see films. I could list many, but my two recent favorites have been Hidden Figures and Arrival.  Two completely different films, but with compelling messages of the possible when faced with the impossible.

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A first look at some artwork for First Signal.

As for possible, progress continues on First Signal. With Daniel Elek-Diamanta designing our first promotional poster, the look of First Signal is beginning to take shape. With more location scouting planned over the next several days, I have no doubt that the right location will soon present itself. When a launch is planned, all the conditions need to be right. I don’t want to settle on a substandard location just for the sake of keeping a schedule. Not only do I need to be excited as a director, but I want the actors and crew to feel equally motivated with their surroundings.

Next steps.

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Apollo 11 takes off.


First Summit

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The table read is set in the Jupiter room at The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick, MA.

Whenever I’m involved in the production of an event, I always arrive early. First, I hate to be rushed. Second, it’s about setting everything up.  Finally, I like to just sit and take it all in for a few moments. I don’t meditate. It’s about quiet time. Because the time for this event was starting shortly before 11 AM – the table read for First Signal.

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Patience McStravick and Adam LaFramboise.

This journey didn’t just start when I wrote the script for First Signal, it started back in 2006 when I wrote First World. When you write a screenplay you never really know where it’s going to go or who is going to be involved. But when I was watching Lindy Nettleton reprieve her character of Allison Colby, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from First World, I was not only enormously thankful for her return, but the realization of the journey this project has taken since those early days.

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Kim Gordon, Lindy Nettleton and Yefim Somin.

As a writer, there is something surreal about watching actors bring your characters to life. I’ll admit, when I was writing First Signal I had several actors in mind for certain parts. There’s a reason why you see filmmakers work with the same actors because you know what you’re going to get in a performance. But then there is also the excitement about working with new actors and crew. They bring things to the table that you just don’t see. Not because you don’t want to, but as the writer you tend to have blinders on to keep the train of the story on a certain track.

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Stephanie Eaton and Kim Gordon (that’s me in the back).

Case in point when Vernon Aldershoff and Adam LaFramboise were in a confrontational moment. Vern suggested the line of “You can sit down” or “Sit down” before his character answers Adam’s. As I mentioned to the room, I have no problem with such additions (or deletions) if it adds to the vibrancy of the story. As a filmmaker you have to let a story breathe. The key, is to make sure it’s remembered by the actors and then noted by the director. Yes, I made a variety of notes from yesterday’s table read and will be following up with the actors and crew.

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Vernon Aldershoff and Paul Noonan.

This is the first time I’ve held a table read and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t just about hearing the words come to life, it was about the actors and crew meeting each other and getting familiar with their respective styles. In the end it’s about chemistry for the next time we are all together it will be on set.

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Phoenyx Williams enters the scene.

It’s impossible to thank the actors and crew enough for believing in First Signal.  Your dedication and talent means a first rate production. And from their hosting of First Signal’s auditions in April to yesterday’s table read, my thanks is also greatly extended to The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick. Indeed, a film has many behind the scenes partners. Each one of them is part of the production engine that finds its way to the silver screen.

Action.

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Testing the drone with Patience McStravick at the location of the field.


First Market

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A panoramic picture of the field where First Signal will be shot.

As we are about one month away from First Signal’s table read on June 16, we had a location confirmation lock with the expansive field we needed. I couldn’t be more pleased with this location. It’s exactly what the script called for.

As this location is on private property I won’t reveal its location. With an outdoor location, private property is better to shoot on. Why? It’s about privacy. While I’m all about someone learning the process of making a film, the actual process of making one is time consuming detailed work. On private property you don’t have onlookers watching from the sidelines and getting in the frame of the shot. But it’s also about taking pictures and posting them to social media, etc. Unfortunately, the wrong picture can ruin an entire film. Anyone that works in the industry knows the general policies that go with on set photography.  Most sets have “still photographers” that take a variety of pictures that encompass an entire production.

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In First Signal the opening credits travel from the Moon to the Earth.

While additional locations are being scouted, along with numerous other behind the scenes activity, the one thing I’m very cognizant of is the film market itself. There is no better market than Cannes to provide a fresh perspective on where the industry is going.  As Alex Walton of Bloom tells the Hollywood Reporter. “International distributors are in need of product, but they’re also incredibly cautious because they’re in need of the right product. There are fewer films, fewer packages and fewer things to buy, so when we approach Cannes now, even compared to five or six years ago, it is with a completely different mindset,” Adds Entertainment One CEO Darren Throop who tells the Hollywood Reporter, “The whole concept of buying a good package on the open market and reselling it to cinema, pay and TV — that whole model has changed. The very foundation of independent film has changed.”

The one thing that has changed in the last several years is the development of franchises and the sci-fi genre has pretty much been a solid bet.  As a director my job is to create a quality film that’s ready for the market. But as a producer I am making a bet on the market. It’s an interesting line to balance.

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Directing Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind. In First Signal Vern plays General Reager.

But putting aside numbers, market share and all that comes after the fact, it is the process of making a film that’s the most exciting. Watching the actors and crew bring life to your story is tremendously satisfying. As a screenwriter we spend hours, weeks and months behind a computer coming up with, what we hope, is an interesting story. But it’s seeing that story emblazoned on the silver screen that makes the entire process a worthwhile endeavor.

Part of that process is equipment. Yesterday, I purchased a drone for a pivotal shot at the end of the film. But no sooner did I complete this purchase and I’m suddenly thinking of all the other creative areas we can use a drone in First Signal. This technology has changed so much since we used one in Justice Is Mind. Add to that the cost has come down exponentially. This is why the process of filmmaking is so enticing and exciting. The democratization of the entire process from creating to distributing has changed for the better.

Technology.

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The drone shot at the end of Justice Is Mind.


The Revelation

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First Signal starts in 2014 at the 40th G-7 Summit. As soon as the President arrives in Brussels she meets with an Air Force General who discloses an alien satellite in Earth orbit.

This week I completed a first draft of First Signal. I have to say there is something immensely satisfying about completing a script. From the moment I get the idea for a story it’s weeks and months of research, notes and random thoughts.

For me writing doesn’t start and stop at my computer. While I don’t believe in writer’s block, there are those times when after I do a bit of writing I just see the story stop for a moment. Sometimes it just takes a change of air to get the characters and storyline talking to me again. In my case, it’s generally a trip to the gym or watching a movie that brings me back to the computer.  In fact, after I saw Darkest Hour last weekend I was inspired to write a critical speech in First Signal. If you can’t get inspired after watching Winston Churchill there’s a problem!

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What did Air Force Space Command discover in Earth orbit?

Like Justice Is Mind I wrote First Signal to independently produce, not to submit to production companies or agents. While my other projects are in various stages of review or consideration by the latter, First Signal is not part of that mix.

It is ironic how this whole project came to being. Here I am at the Naval Justice School talking to one of the actresses. Suddenly, the idea for a limited location drama that largely takes place in an underground bunker came to mind. After talking with her about the idea, I just started to write it with her as one of the new characters in the “First World” universe.

Great Britan and Russia.

What does Russia and the United Kingdom have to do with this?

While I love acting and performing, I think my greatest joy comes from creating projects and original stories. Although it has been some years, I remember the days of Justice Is Mind and the dedicated cast and crew that made it possible. Unlike a play, when you create a motion picture it’s out in the world forever. As I often watch films from the 1930s and 40s, I wonder who may be watching my films in say the year 2088. From that era I count Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, Laura and Now, Voyager as some of my favorites.

Although I plan to reach out to a variety of actors and crew I’ve worked with in the past, the next step in this process will be a casting notice for a table read (one part is already cast).

First Signal—When Air Force Space Command receives a signal from an alien satellite in Earth orbit an emergency meeting with the President reveals a government conspiracy.

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The first draft of First Signal.


Rocket Science

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A scene from the short film version of First World. An Arctran landing  anti-gravity propulsion

Last week I mentioned how producing a film is not rocket science, but writing about rocket science is a different story.

With Justice Is Mind I did an exhaustive amount of research on two fronts. The first was mind-reading technology with the second being the law as it applies to investigations and the courtroom. But at some point you reach a certain knowledge bank when you can start writing.

Once a project of mine is given the green light I bring it to experts to insure its veracity. Of course there’s creative licensing, but at the end of the day a rocket launches vertically not horizontally!

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A combination of science and science fiction in Justice Is Mind.

One of the things I enjoy the most about screenwriting is learning something new. Am I an expert on mind-reading, the legal profession and rocket science? Good heavens no. But I can certainly talk about it in the context in which it’s presented. That’s what filmmakers do. We present. We create a fictional world against fact. Sure, some stories are pure science fiction with no regard to science, but I like to root my stories in plausibility.

While I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind from a 60 Minutes story, did I ever actually think the science fiction I postulated in my story could become near science fact? As a storyteller I’m doing just that, telling a story. My feeling has always been that as long as the story is interesting, it will hold an audience.

We’ve all been reading the difficulty that films are having at the box office. There are countless discussions on why this is happening. I have my own theories, but what I truly believe it comes down to is having an interesting story that is well marketed.

Mark Lund and Paul Lussier at the NH Premiere

With Paul Lussier (l) at a near sold out screening of Justice Is Mind in New Hampshire.

When I was marketing Justice Is Mind the actors were brilliantly talented and on par with any A list actors you would see on the silver screen, but they were not A list from a public relations point of view. I couldn’t market the film with Starring So and So, but I could market the concept. The end result was audiences bought a ticket and came to our screenings. Some were nearly sold out while others saw an OK attendance. What it proved to all of us was that audiences will turn out for an interesting story.

Revisiting the First World story has also been interesting. In addition to my “rocket science” research, I had almost forgotten the mountain of work I have done on this project, from writing the original script, producing a short film version, writing a sequel and publishing a novella. It’s safe to say I have some well thought out characters to work with!

Anti-Gravity

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First World centers around the Apollo space program.


First Signal

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The “war room” in Fail Safe.

If you’ve seen Justice Is Mind, First World or Serpentine: The Short Program, you know I don’t shy away from using multiple locations to tell my stories. I’ve been very lucky with my productions to secure some unique locations.

Each one of those projects had one or two critical locations. For Justice Is Mind it was a courtroom and MRI facility. For First World it was a presidential suite and a horse farm. For Serpentine it was a figure skating complex. Each of those locations brought gravitas to their stories.

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Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder.

For this new project, my aim is a simple one. Keep the story largely contained to one interior room and one outdoor scene. My goal is both for story and cinematography. With the primary story taking place in a windowless bunker one of my inspirations is Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. For those that have seen this classic, the story primarily takes place in an apartment. As that film was first produced as a play, it largely makes sense that it would be confined to one location.

This new story is a prequel to First World and revolves around one particular meeting. While I would obviously love to see First World produced, I also know that it’s a science fiction epic that would require, while maybe not an “epic” budget, certainly one in the seven figures. For this project, the aim is to contain production costs for independent production.

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First World at the Hotel Commonwealth.

While Dial M for Murder is one inspiration, another is Fail Safe. The scenes in the Pentagon’s “war room” worked on a variety of levels. What I particular liked was the rear projection that was used to display the military crisis between the United States and U.S.S.R. Because this type of “special effect” was produced while the movie was being photographed, it saved time in post-production.

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One of the courtroom scenes in Justice Is Mind.

With a good amount of my research completed, I’ll shortly start the writing process. The fall and winter months are my favorite time to write an original story. Believe me, it’s the cold weather that will set the mood for this piece!

This story will revolve around a particular signal intercept and how certain government and military officials are responding to it. To give you an idea of the conflict in this story, I’ll borrow a quote from Valkyrie, “This is a military operation. Nothing ever goes according to plan.”

United Nations.

Denise Marco and Isabella Ramirez in Serpentine

Serpentine: The Short Program was mostly produced at NorthStar Ice Sports.


First Decade

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The view of Earth from Lunaria in First World.

Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.

Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.

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In First World China launches Tsien One to the Moon in 2018.

In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.

After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.

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Getting ready for a First World screening in Los Angeles in 2007.

Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!

First World on hulu

After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.

But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.

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First World on Amazon Prime in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.

Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.

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Some special effect work with closed caption file.

Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…

numbers.


The Gilded Age

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The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island

A visit to an estate. Military trials at a naval base. A meeting with the Prime Minister. No, this isn’t the plot for a new screenplay (although I have some ideas), but what my last couple of weeks have been like in Newport, RI.

I discovered Newport back in the early 1980s when my mother first brought me down to the seaside city. Touring the mansions and learning about the Gilded Age was something to see for someone who grew up on a farm. It was two decades plus later when I struck a deal with The Preservation Society of Newport County to photograph Nancy Kerrigan at Rosecliff. It’s hard not be awe struck at the majesty of these great “cottages” and imaging the grand parties of days long past.

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A grand hallway. The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island

Although I’ve toured all the mansions, I haven’t visited The Elms since those early days. The self-guided tour is a nice improvement from the live tour guides. It lets you go at your own pace and learn about additional details that time doesn’t permit with a guide.  It seemed fitting to my Newport visit that The Elms was built for coal baron Edward Julius Berwind who supplied coal to the Navy. Because back to the Navy it was for the last few weeks.

Last Thursday I finished working at the Naval Justice School as an actor in their mock trial program. This was my “second tour” at the school. While I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of interesting opportunities in the industry, this by far offers not only the ability to act but to learn something in the process.

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At the Naval Justice School.

First, there are generally no set lines per se rather a scenario for your character with action points that must be adhered to. In my view it takes role playing to a whole new level. While there’s a highway and destination for each character, it’s the exits along the way that give the character and the entire scenario depth.

But for me it’s the atmosphere and the importance of the assignment. Yes, I’m working with other actors, but our primary interaction is with the officers, students and staff at the school. In other words this is real life. The students that attend the school are generally all lawyers and graduate from this program for military postings all over the world.  Suffice to say we take it seriously.  You can learn more about the Naval Justice School at this link.

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With Lindy Nettleton and Kevin Nowak one of the actors from the Naval Justice School.

What was nice about this “tour” was not only working with some of the same actors from the first assignment but meeting some new talent as well.  The actors I’m pictured with here at the school are extremely talented. I had the opportunity to see some of them perform their character and they had me believing they were living that person.

Of course I was watching with my director hat on. Because who knows what project I may be working on next or have the opportunity to recommend an actor that is both talented and professional. Just as when I produce my projects, I want to work with actors that understand the word “team” without striving to become the center of attention off stage.

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Lindy Nettleton as the Prime Minister in First World with Jeffrey Phillips as the President.

As for talent, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Lindy Nettleton who invited me to her play reading group. Lindy, as some of you may remember, played the Prime Minister in First World. I’ll still never forget her audition. She arrived with the actor who was auditioning to the play the President.  We couldn’t find a quiet place for their audition, so what did these two professionals do? They got into character outside an elevator bank and read their lines…brilliantly!

Finally, for those of you that are car enthusiasts, I highly recommend the Audrain Auto Museum. A must see!

Next project.

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At the Audrain Auto Museum.


The Marquee

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There is something to be said about arriving at a theater and seeing not one but two of your films on the marquee. Yes, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. Because it is in that moment that all the work that has gone in to making a film is celebrated.

And celebrate we did. One by one family, friends, actors and crew started to arrive. Some I saw as recently as a couple of weeks ago, others it’s been a few years. But in the moment it feels like it was just yesterday. And heavens knows there were many yesterdays to get to this point!

After a reception in the lobby of the Strand Theatre, I made my opening remarks and then Justice Is Mind began. I was sitting next to Vernon Aldershoff and he said to me, “It never gets old.” No it doesn’t. And seeing the film in its highest resolution in a DCP format was another highlight.

Of course the highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program. This is one project that was particularly close to me for a variety of reasons. The moment the film started I was reminded about my days as a skater, teacher, magazine publisher and the TV work I would do around the sport. But it’s not about me, it’s about the product. One that you want audiences to enjoy.

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Serpentine: The Short Program on Amazon Prime in the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan.

And it was the next day that audiences around the world were able to stream Serpentine: The Short Program on both Amazon and the Ice Network. So far the numbers look promising and early reviews have been encouraging. But like First World ten years ago, this is an industry of the long haul. Or as we say in figure skating, the long program.

Ice Network

While VOD is a savior to the independent filmmaker, there is nothing like the theater. Because there is that one moment you’re hoping for that can only happen in a theater. To again quote from All About Eve, it was Eve Harrington that said it best, “If nothing else, there’s applause.” And they did when Serpentine: The Short Program faded to black.

Thank you.

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Some of the cast and crew from Serpentine and Justice Is Mind on March 6, 2017 at The Strand Theatre.