As filmmakers we tend to operate in a vacuum. We generally write our screenplays in a bit of isolation and only expand our audience when our projects go into production. It’s easy to take refuge in people that will like our work, but we all know that’s not realistic. As creatives we look for our work to be seen by audiences outside of our own. Of course, there’s always that worry of what others will think. But that’s the very nature of what we do—we create to exhibit.
“For all those avid fans and not-so fans of sci-fi theme, this is a movie that edges all others this season and will go a long way in the mainstream if launched globally.”
This past week a notification popped up on First Signal’s Facebook page. When I clicked on it, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was a posted review. As I haven’t been promoting First Signal to the media for reviews, I was wondering how it came about. I then saw where the post originated. The Utah Film Festival & Awards posted, what could only be described, as a glowing review. Every word was a positive one. What I particularly enjoyed was the following passage, “For all those avid fans and not-so fans of sci-fi theme, this is a movie that edges all others this season and will go a long way in the mainstream if launched globally.” You can read the entire review on the screenshot below or their Facebook page.
Being thankful for this review would be an understatement. After I read it a few times I started to reflect on the origins of this project and how it came so close to never happening on more than one occasion. One thing I learned is that perseverance is key. If you believe in your project, you have to keep pushing despite all obstacles. Those that have worked with me know that I’m someone that doesn’t give up. As a literary agent friend told me last year, “You are truly a dog with a bone.” The First World Universe, that First Signal is part of, has been in development for over a decade.
I’m also pleased to announce that First Signal is an official selection of Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. When I was looking at their selections page and saw First Signal’s poster among a sea of films, I was struck by the sheer quality of the other projects. Some of these posters are truly works of art. My congratulations to all.
As for art, I saw Tenet last week and could easily attribute it to the surrealism of a Salvador Dali. The one thing about a Christopher Nolan film is he demands that his audience think. Not just in one dimension, but at least three. When I first see a Nolan film, I take in the stunning cinematography that’s always complimented with a rapturous score. The first viewing must be seen in a theatre as that’s where it’s designed to be experienced. The second time I focus on just the story to grasp the message. But it’s the third time, with captions on, that I do my best to understand the nuances of what Nolan wanted to achieve. What I love about his films are the subtle messages through numerous clues. I think this is why I love The Man in the High Castle so much – with every viewing I learn something more. I’ve always believed a film (or TV series) should be multi-layered.
With First Signal now accepted in eight film festivals, I am pleased where the project is going so far. We have had a couple of wins and finalist positions for the trailer which makes for a nice build up to the festivals considering the feature length version. Time will tell where the festivals will take us along with other theatrical and special event screenings.
The point of festivals and screenings is to develop interest in First Signal that goes beyond those that saw the film in a theater. It is about word of mouth and, hopefully, some choice media placements to develop a following for the film, so when the film goes to VOD, there’s a waiting audience. Like the journey of most films, that is the plan. What’s not in the plan is losing control of the film in a bad distribution deal.
For some years, I have heard from numerous filmmakers that after they sign a deal with a distributor or sales agent, they receive little to no money from sales of the film despite the grosses. In more instances than I can go into here, they sometimes wind up in court. The Dallas Buyers Club matter was relatively high profile, this article in Deadline hit the nail on the head and the collapse of Distribber had indie filmmakers taking solid note.
The last three contracts I reviewed were so heavy in the favor of the distributor/sales agent, that I could not see any path to profitability, yet they would hold the rights to my film for over ten years. Translation? Once I sign the rights away, I won’t have the rights to exhibit my own film. In each of my last three calls, they all talked glowingly about First Signal, promising encouraging sales estimates and things they can do for the film. But when pressed to offer those estimates (that I know are only estimates) and details in writing, they somehow were not available. Worse, on two occasions, the contracts stated they would have the rights to any sequel I write and work products. Was there ever a minimum gurantee? No. Was there a fancy computation of proposed acquisition price for a sequel that didn’t benefit me at all? Yes. Would I ever enter one of these contracts without some sort of minimum guarantee or entertainment lawyer reviewing my contact? Never. I generally remember this “atmosphere” when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. In the end I went with a wonderful digital aggregator that I will mention shortly.
Unless you are just making a film to put on a shelf, a film requires a distribution plan. It requires a plan that has some sort of path to profitability and/or the ability to leverage the film towards a larger project (sequel, etc.). There is nothing sadder when I hear from a filmmaker that has been taken by one of these companies. The years and capital they have spent to bring their projects to life only to be tied up with nefarious distribution expenses, horrid customer service or legal doubletalk. The last thing anyone wants is to get into litigation (one of the filmmakers I talked to was preparing to file action against his sales agent). Even more insulting two of the three companies I talked to stated that they would require Executive Producer credits. Let us be clear, I don’t care what industry you work in, nobody likes a coattail rider. You do not have the right to ask for a top credit on a film just because you are offering a contract. Period. Nothing is this world is free, most certainly not an Executive Producer credit to make you look like a prolific producer. I know Hollywood is all about smoke and mirrors, but I only tolerate that act on the silver screen not in the boardroom.
There is a silver lining to all of this. Yes, there are great sales agents and distributors. Yes, they do pay their filmmakers. But sadly, there are enough in the other camp that simply require substantive due diligence along with a crack lawyer to protect your interests. You may have heard the saying “Caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware. That could not be truer than in this industry. At the end of the day, we must just do our homework.
One area of this industry that has been part of the silver lining are the digital aggregators. If you have a film, want to see it on a variety of VOD platforms BUT also retain your rights, I highly recommend FilmHub. I’ve had Justice Is Mind with them since 2014. If you are looking for no upfront fees, payment every quarter and excellent customer service, then FilmHub just might be your answer. Will I place First Signal with them? It honestly depends on a variety of factors, as we are in the early days of the release plan. Our next steps are festival, theatrical and special event screenings that will commence in the 4th quarter of 2020.
The only right Americans seem to have left is freedom of expression. Before you continue reading this blog post, I caution you that I have strong dissenting opinions from the popular norm. If you are easily triggered by articles and opinion that don’t conform to your beliefs, you may want to stop reading now.
The United States of America is now basically a police state. I honestly never thought in my lifetime I would see my country become a dictatorship overnight. We talk about the draconian leadership policies of countries like North Korea, the former Soviet Union and the present Venezuela, as corrupt and barbaric. Well nothing is as barbaric as when a handful of politicians decide who works and who doesn’t. What industries are allowed to thrive and which ones are allowed to collapse. Who can pay their bills and who must go bankrupt. Who has rights and who has none.
Detractors to my commentary will state that we have a pandemic and that these measures were necessary. We certainly do have a global medical crisis that is being addressed. This is not the first time in human history nor will it be the last, but was this the way to do it? Was there no other alternative except to disrupt and ultimately destroy the lives of tens of millions around the world? I read an interesting story this week on Reason on where blame can and should squarely lie for this crisis.
I think it is safe to say we are all doing what we can during this intermission. For me it’s keeping focused and staying active (yes, that means going outdoors—daily). The one thing I’ve taken is social distancing literally. It became clear to me some time ago, and was further reinforced by this crisis, that social media has been a permanent destructor to our way of life. Social media is like high school, you have to follow the lambs no matter the direction they are going. You have to agree en masse, regardless of the subject, or you are treated as an outcast.
When you post a dissenting point of view people attack because they believe they can while hiding behind the safety of their screens. The one good thing that has come from this is the revelation of people’s true personalities and what they really think. I now have a list of people that if I never see them again it would be too soon. Life is too short to put up with their nonsense and self-righteous personalities. It is those that are ignorant and full of fear that want to pull you into their vortex of negative energy. I’ve always known that I’ve had some people in my orbit that have depressing personalities and traits that should have been addressed by a good psychologist years ago. Everything with them is doom and gloom. For them the glass is always half empty. If I didn’t know any better, I swear they love what’s going on because they can pull as many as they can into their cabals of virulent thinking. I’ve never taken refuge in community, I take it in common sense.
But one thing that is far from over, is a new side of humanity that I have truly enjoyed seeing. It is those that I meet when I’m outside, walking, running or hiking. It is those that understand we have a crisis but are not in panic mode and don’t feed into fear and ignorance. It is those that you can have a conversation with without them being hysterical or dictating. It is those that know this crisis will pass and there will be some return to normalcy. To be frank, this group, I firmly believe, far outweighs the naysayers.
The willful destruction of the economy, the failure to handle this crisis in other measured ways, the coming destruction of our environment (something the President hates anyway), the suspension of constitutional rights and guarantees. Remember folks, it’s important to remember your elected officials chose this path. Your elected officials decided that to address this crisis, the whole world must suffer. We all know that when the curtain opens on this intermission of life that the revelation of destruction is going to be 1,000x worse than any medical crisis.
I say this to all Americans. We fought a World War to ensure that dictatorships and fascism were beaten. Well, look around you. There are the fortunate few that are working and the rest that are told they are non-essential. Just how long do you believe the government is going to underwrite the latter? Just how long do you think seven billion people (to say nothing of the 300 plus million in this country) are going to tolerate the lunacy of conflicted messages by elected officials and the abdication of human rights and dignity? Brace yourself for a bumpy ride. We aren’t even through the second act of this drama.
At some point this will be over. But one has to wonder what type of world will emerge. I suspect it will be those that can see the light at the end of the tunnel; those that understand practicality from pessimism; those that know we need a new world order that doesn’t select a chosen few over the rest of humanity; those that know we need a whole new set of laws that protect individual rights over the state.
Liftoff of the trailer for First Signal went off without a hitch. To put in in space terms, we are now in low Earth orbit. A special thank you to WMUR, Athol Daily News, Greenfield Recorder and Britflicks for reporting on the trailer. We’ll continue orbiting until First Signal is released and we venture into deep space. OK, enough with my outer space analogy on releasing a trailer!
Two weeks ago I had several browsers open with the trailer ready to be published. Did I spell the title of the trailer correctly? How does the formatting look for the email newsletter? Once I proofed everything for what seemed like a tenth time I finally entered the commands to go live. When the time came everything worked. But it wasn’t for a lack of planning. The organizing and release of the trailer took about three months. It wasn’t just about the actual video file of the trailer but all the marketing around it.
When you are an independent filmmaker your team is small if not but one. There’s no marketing communications group to handle this effort. Oh sure, you ask people to read this or double check that, but at the end of the day the responsibility is yours. Like it always happens before I launch something, I think of the steps it took to get to that point. It all started as an idea at the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI in 2017.
Up until that point I honestly never thought I would be revisiting this First World Universe I created. First World, the script, came out in 2006 with the short film version following in 2007. With the global financial crisis in full swing, it was next to impossible to get a film financed. At one point, just before the collapse, the financing and production teams were in place. But then, seemingly overnight, financing fell out of the markets and that was the end.
Slow but sure the markets recovered. A filmmaker friend of mine knew about my frustration with getting First World made and challenged me to write something that I could film on a true indie budget. A moment that involved mind reading in the sequel I wrote for First World turned into Justice Is Mind. The rest, as they say, is history.
Shortly after the trailer was released, I started to receive interest from sales agents and distributors I didn’t meet at AFM. I have to say that was very encouraging. The whole goal of a trailer is to “sell” the feature. As I can well appreciate how inundated these representatives are, the fact that they are even interested at this point bodes well for the project. What kind of deal will ultimately emerge? That’s really impossible to tell as there are numerous factors involved.
While post-production continues with an end of April (early May) completion date, marketing of the trailer continues, while I plan for the release of the feature and presentation to sales agents and distributors.
On a closing note, I’m aiming to have a draft of the sequel to First Signal completed before the film is released. To turn a military phrase, it’s about preparedness.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Its stories like Opportunity that remind me of the day I first looked through a telescope and saw our neighbors in the solar system.
The date was set weeks ago – January 26. It was the day we were holding auditions for the final two characters in First Signal. From the moment I posted the auditions, I was encouraged by the quality of responses. When the day came the actors didn’t disappoint. I was uniquely impressed that many of them were off book. Impressed, because the sides I send aren’t just the standard two pages you usually receive for an audition (one of the sides even included a monologue). Frankly, I’ve never understood why so many auditions are based off the two page side. It’s even worse when those two pages only have like three or four lines for the part you’re auditioning for. Regardless of what side of the camera you’re on, I don’t believe you can properly ascertain a project based off a two page side.
I have some cardinal rules I follow when holding auditions. First, you send sides well in advance of the audition. Two, you include some background on the character with the sides. Three, and this is perhaps the most important, you don’t change the sides in the audition room (there is one local casting company that does that regularly and it infuriates me–I’ve stopped auditioning for them). For me, it’s about respecting the actor’s time and preparation. As a director, it’s about seeing a quality audition. To learn more about the cast (and some of the crew) of First Signal please visit our IMDb page.
The following day Daniel Groom (Director of Photography), Patience McStravick (Producer and Major Sampson) and I went to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center for our first day of testing. After a successful day of auditions, we were all in good spirits driving up to the Discovery Center as we knew we had the actors we wanted. We now could get down to the business of pre-production. For First Signal, we’re taking extra steps in pre-production to insure, to the best of our ability, a smooth production.
It’s one thing scouting a location, it’s another to film in it. From interesting angles, to lighting, to electrical, there are so many numerous things that go into the pre-production process. Since I knew we were going to film First Signal at the Discovery Center, I’ve had so many ideas come to mind to bring this project to life.
In First Signal the Discovery Center will act as a European air force base. When General Reager arrives we will see a full size replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket. Once inside he passes by an XF8U-2 Crusader Jet. Considering that the First Signal story is rooted in the space program of the 1960s and two of its main characters are in the air force, the Discovery Center is the perfect backdrop.
But it’s not just about what’s best for First Signal, it’s about promoting the Discovery Center itself. Long after the final “cut” is called, the Discovery Center will forever be featured in a film that will be seen for generations to come. Those that know me, know I’m a passionate believer in the space program and all those that make “space” possible. That, in so many ways, is what makes the Discovery Center so special – it’s about discovery.
It was early in 1994 when the call came in. The Montel Williams Show wanted me as a guest to discuss the “Tonya/Nancy” fallout. Naturally, I was beyond thrilled, excited and, yes, nervous. But I had just launched a figure skating magazine and was eager for all the promotion I could get.
I remember like it was yesterday the days leading up to my first TV appearance. The call with the producer going over details of the planned show. Their booking of my flight to New York and my hotel. In the end I drove to the city the day before as a snowstorm threatened to cancel flights from Worcester. I couldn’t believe I was in New York as a guest on one of the most popular syndicated talk shows of the time. The taping went great and the rest as they say was history – over 15 years of TV appearances around the sport of figure skating (the total count is around 300). Because they wanted me on that show and because I said yes, it launched my career and created a brand in the process. Someone reading this is now asking how much I was paid in cash. The answer is simple – zero. It was exposure.
Throughout my career the one thing I have endeavored to keep is an open mind. When an opportunity presents itself the first thing I look at is the exposure. Is it going to look good on my resume? Might it lead to something else? Will the footage be worthwhile? Perhaps the most important – will I have a good time. Sure, the compensation package is a consideration. But currency shouldn’t just be measured in dollars and cents. Each “gig” is cumulative. By simple example, many high profile “non-cash” TV appearances led to a $2,500 an episode paid gig as a Judge on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities.
Unfortunately, what I’m seeing in this industry lately are closed minds unwilling to see the big picture. An actor, who I booked on a paid gig last year, recently took to social media to call out a listing they saw about how actors apparently weren’t being compensated. Instead of ignoring the posting they thought it was a good idea to take their “vent” to social media to get like-minded people to agree with them. I have seen other similar postings or have heard of those brought to my attention. These actors believe they’re doing the industry a service when in fact they just expose themselves as nonprofessionals. What’s curious about some is that they are represented by reputable agents. Do these agents know what their clients are doing on social media? Sadly, they don’t think about the possible fallout from defamation or that they have now branded themselves as troublemakers. Believe me when I tell you, producers, casting agents, directors and employers look at your social media before hiring you for a gig or a job. I now understand why some of these folks have painfully thin resumes.
To quote Paul McGill in my favorite book A Woman of Substance, “We are each the authors of our own lives, Emma. We live in what we have created. There is no way to shift the blame and no one else to accept the accolades.” Whether I’m creating a project or considering the opportunity to work on one, I always look at career “currency” and how it will increase my brand. This is all about leveraging one project after another. The one thing everyone wants in this industry is to be noticed. I think it’s best to be known for ones accomplishments rather than complaints.
I’m now thinking to myself, what if I said no back in 1994? Would my career have launched? Who knows. But one thing I do know is this is an industry of endless opportunities. It also doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time.
Just before visiting a friend in Newport last Sunday (who is also one of the actors in First Signal), I went to Easton Beach to do some drone photography. Since I purchased the DJI Spark last year for First Signal I’ve had a great time taking all kinds of images. The number of doors it has opened for me and my projects has been very encouraging. Photography and film, in my view, is all about inspiration.
I have two favorite mansions I love to visit in Newport; The Elms and Rosecliff. I don’t recall if The Elms was closed last weekend, but I know that Rosecliff has converted the second floor (which was primarily bedrooms) into an exhibition space.
Discovering Bill Cunningham: Facades was an absolute delight. Having been to New York City in the 70s and lived there in the 80s, I could relate to the atmosphere of the city at the time when he captured these images. The juxtaposition of his muse Editta Sherman wearing all kinds of period costumes against the architecture of New York was truly inspiring. If you’re in the Newport area or plan to visit, this is one exhibit I highly recommend.
For me Rosecliff has held a particular fondness. It was the first mansion I visited with my mother in the 1980s. When I was publishing a figure skating magazine in the 90s and early 2000s, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan at the estate. I think “Tessie” Oelrichs would be pleased how Rosecliff is still entertaining guests well into in the 21st century.
With pre-production well under way for First Signal, it’s exhibitions like Bill Cunningham: Facades that inspire ideas for my own projects. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” reminds me of the still photographs you often see accompany the production of a film. While making a film is about moving pictures, it’s “the still” that often promotes the project.
In my view inspiration doesn’t happen overnight. In the creative world, it comes from a cumulative effect of new experiences. It also comes from surrounding yourself with equally good people that inspire and motivate you to create. In today’s world of always being “plugged in” it’s easy to get drawn in to those that endlessly complain or live in a world of negativity. Those that live in that world are, as I said when I was in a Star Trek fan film, “dismissed.” Simply put, life is short but I’m making a feature.
As 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.
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.
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.
With 2018 coming to an end in just over a week, I always reflect this time of year on what was accomplished. For me it’s not about volume but the quality. On the talent side, I’m looking forward to the PBS reconstruction documentary I was part of this past summer. It’s scheduled to air in the 1st half of next year. There was also my work with the Naval Justice School and the National Guard exercises. But perhaps my most ambitious mission to date was putting First Signal into pre-production and attending the American Film Market.
A film requires countless elements to be successful. There’s finding the right actors, crew, props, etc. But perhaps one of the greatest challenges is finding the right location. We often hear the phrase, “Location, Location, Location” when it comes to real estate, it’s also true when it comes to filmmaking.
Although we knew we were going to film the “bunker” scene at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, I was hoping for other location possibilities at the museum. After an audition we held a couple of weeks ago, we drove up to the Discovery Center to meet with museum officials. This was also an opportunity for the director of photography and one of actors to see the facility. Needless to say, everything worked out beautifully. With the exception of the scenes in the field, First Signal will be entirely produced at the Discovery Center.
Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how we all feel about this opportunity. For First Signal the location provides a perfect backdrop to the story. For the Discovery Center it will showcase the museum for years to come. For both, the marketing and public relations opportunities are endless.
As a filmmaker what’s terrific about this arrangement is that it’s all being produced in one location. Nothing can be more taxing on a cast and crew when numerous locations are involved. It’s like you’re starting over from day one. When talent on both sides of the camera are relaxed and in a familiar environment, it only enhances the end result. Because that’s what this is all about, the end result.
The production of a feature film isn’t just about the days on set, it’s mostly about the pre and post production. This is why I always aim to plan as much as possible in pre-production so when the day comes when I first call “action” nothing is left to chance and we can all enjoy the process.
Like planning for a launch, that first day of production comes up faster than you think. As that day approaches you only hope that you’ve covered all your bases. But it’s all about surrounding yourself not only with a talented cast and crew, but a location partner that believes in your project as much as you believe in their mission.
No, this post isn’t about NASA’s new launch system but the systems created to produce the independent feature film First Signal. Since I returned from AFM a month ago the pre-production process has ramped up for a May 2019 production start date.
The process of bringing a film to life is one of organization and planning. Whatever I’ve produced, from magazines, commercials, events and films, the more I can execute in pre-production the easier the actual production is. Once production starts the train has left the station. You can only hope you’ve laid all the necessary tracks to complete the journey.
These tracks begin with rounding out the cast. Starting next weekend and into early 2019, auditions will commence for a few roles. With the majority of our filming taking place at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, we can now plan accordingly from a production point of view.
However, before one scene is even shot, I’ve already started to lay out the general plans for First Signal’s marketing and release. While these plans may ultimately change, I think it’s important to have a good idea where you want to go so when you get to that destination you’re prepared. There’s simply too much time and money involved to not think of release plans. One thing is certain, in this age of independent film, you have to take the long view. Anyone going into this industry looking to make a quick impression (or buck) is in the wrong business. Case in point Justice Is Mind: released in 2013 to a limited theatrical run and now available on Amazon Prime and other outlets, it’s still being pitched for other opportunities and promoted on social media.
With First Signal’s URL reserved and social media already active, one of my next steps is to build the website. Although I was aware of it before I attended AFM, the one thing I was cognizant of was the countless number of films in various stages of production all looking for attention. Being a filmmaker isn’t just about shooting the film, you also need to be the marketing communications department. It’s simply one of the many hats you have to wear. Trust me, distributors will ask about your films online presence.
Sorting through the numerous business cards and materials I gathered at AFM, I began my follow ups a few days after I arrived home. The return correspondence has been very encouraging. For obvious reasons I won’t publish the names of the companies I’m talking with, but suffice to say things are moving in a positive direction for two of my projects. The devil is in the details of course, but as filmmakers we are used to countless details.
As I begin to ramp up pre-production for First Signal with a May production start date, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker the other day about the importance of insuring there’s a market for our projects after we wrap production. There’s simply too much time and money involved to wind up on a shelf which translates to holding up a return on investment.
I’ve talked about this subject before when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was vital to me that Justice was introduced in a theatrical setting. While many submit to film festivals at considerable expense and wait for an acceptance (a practice that was frowned upon at AFM unless it’s an A level festival with potential buyers in attendance), I pushed for a theatrical run. The result was a limited run of 14 theatres, box office revenue, an international premiere on an ocean liner and substantive media placements. If I worked for years to get my film off the ground the last thing I’m going to do is pay $$$ to a second tier film festival. Then wait weeks (if not months) for a decision by a committee, then, if accepted, be at the mercy of a programmer to place my film in a time slot convenient to the festival, ceding box office revenue (filmmakers don’t receive a cut from festivals) and sharing in their public relations efforts with other films. As you can imagine, the public relations and release strategy for First Signal is already in the planning stages.
Speaking of planning stages, I had the opportunity today to visit the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA at the Collings Foundation. Some of you may remember my trips to the Collings Foundation for their World War II reenactment event “Battle for the Airfield” or their “Wings of Freedom Tour” around the country.
Although they are in “preview” until their Grand Opening in April of 2019, what I saw today was truly outstanding. The museum represents the history of war in America. Although it starts with the Revolutionary War all the way to the War on Terror, the primary focus is generally on World War I and World War II.
The tour starts in the orientation theatre and then proceeds to two immersive experiences before advancing to the main exhibit hall. The first is the World War I exhibit complete with a trench you can walk through. From there you proceed to the World War II exhibit which features a Mercedes-Benz W31 and Panzer 1A. Click this link to learn about all the tanks, vehicles and artifacts that will be part of the museum when it reopens in the spring. Of course, as a filmmaker, their use of archival film to enhance the static displays was brilliantly done.
For years I have followed the film markets, but none so closely as the American Film Market (AFM). As an independent filmmaker and screenwriter, I think it’s important to stay informed on the latest trends and news. As we are “indie” it’s too easy to operate in our respective vacuums without the benefit of new voices. That ended last week when I attended AFM in Santa Monica, California.
As this was my first AFM, I followed their how to work AFM guide. Several weeks prior to the start of AFM, I researched companies that might be interested in hearing more about my projects. I curated a list and then sent an email of introduction that included a brief (title/logline) of my projects for consideration of a meeting. By the time I arrived in Santa Monica, I had several meetings confirmed. In addition, I made sure my Cinando profile was completed along with the MyAFM section of AFM’s website. The completion of my profiles and subsequent postings in MyAFM conversations resulted in a few companies reaching out to me for meetings.
My industry badge granted me access for four days that began on Saturday. But as the director in me wants to get the lay of the land prior to “arriving on set,” I landed in Los Angeles on Thursday and picked up credentials on Friday. I knew that the start of the market for me on Saturday would mean putting on my acting hat. The days and weeks of memorizing the loglines and synopsis of my projects along with talking points was soon going to be put to the test. As an actor, I wouldn’t think of arriving to set without knowing my lines, attending a film market is no different. If you don’t take the time to know your own projects, why should anyone else take their time? As attendee’s schedules are booked up well in advance, AFM is all about maximizing time.
The Lowes Hotel is entirely converted for the market (you can’t enter the hotel without the proper credentials). When you enter the lobby you are soon greeted by representatives of the industry trades with the dailies, see throngs of attendees going to and fro and banners representing the myriad of companies that are bunted on the multi-floor balcony railings. What were hotel rooms before the market, are now offices. You have arrived at AFM.
Over the course of two days, meetings with producers and production companies in the United States, Canada, Germany and Romania resulted in positive experiences. Then there were the various film commissions from Russia, Georgia and Japan that also asked for meetings. On Saturday night at the official carousel cocktail reception, casual conversations resulted in meeting two producers with substantial credits (there was a specific request for China related stories – First World anyone?).
But what I do want to stress is that you can’t go into the market thinking “what can you do for me” it’s more about “what can I do for them.” Think about it, is the screenplay I have going to be a good fit for “X” production company or producer? One company I met with wasn’t interested in science fiction, but wanted to see my political thrillers. In the reverse, one producer was very keen on developing science fiction franchises and requested information on the “First World” universe. In both those cases, they asked for scripts. It pays to have a variety of projects to offer.
These meetings are also about building relationships for the long haul. All the meetings and interactions I had were positive, with the exception of one. In that case, it didn’t take long for me to realize that one was just playing the posture and poser game (he didn’t even have a business card). Yes, while AFM is all about meeting the right people and developing a network, you do have to be judicious on who you interact with.
But here’s an interesting twist of fate. Years ago I pitched Justice Is Mind to a distributor that passed on the project. For AFM, this company reached out to me about First Signal. When I was meeting with them and Justice Is Mind came up and their original pass, they presented a new division for digital distribution and asked me for a screening link. As for First Signal, the number of companies looking to get involved at the script stage is a market trend. This is an industry about product and intellectual property and that’s exactly what AFM is all about.
Now it’s about the follow up. The continuation of introductions, conversations and presentations that started at AFM. One thing that’s always excited me about this industry are the possibilities of what’s next. Because for this filmmaker, there will be a next AFM next year. As for AFM, a special thanks to Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director at AFM, for creating a welcoming atmosphere for first time attendees and his informative presentation at the AFM Orientation.
After AFM I had the opportunity to visit Eastern Costume. I was introduced to Eastern by the costume supervisor on Madam Secretary regarding Air Force Uniforms for First Signal. Another special thanks to Ian Brown, Military Technical Advisor, for a three hour tour. Whatever you need for your film, Eastern Costume has it!
Of course, my trip to Los Angeles wasn’t all business. I had some great reunions with friends along with some requisite touring. Seeing the Endeavour Space Shuttle and the King Tut exhibit at the California Science Center was truly exciting. But my favorite place to visit is the Griffith Observatory. From the wonders of science and space to its expansive views of the city, it was wonderful way to spend my last night in the city at…
…the top of the world.
In the entertainment industry it is the “one sheet” that advertises and promotes a film. In an instant the release of a one sheet sets the tone for a film that could be weeks, months or years from release. It is a form of media that should be carefully thought out. While it’s impossible to convey the entire story in a film poster, it should at least project a certain atmosphere.
When I was in post-production with Justice Is Mind my goal was to conceive of a poster that would represent the general story. With an MRI image in the background we see two sides of Henri Miller. One looking forward in the present world and the other looking backwards into World War II. I had the general concept in mind when we were shooting so I had Vernon Aldershoff, the actor that plays Henri Miller, photographed accordingly.
With Serpentine, the story revolves around a figure skater caught up in a Cold War mystery. With a sheet of ice as the backdrop, a skater is centrally framed in Red Square to convey the premise of the story. For SOS United States, the image of two F35’s flying in proximity to a cruise ship, dramatizes the accompanying tag line that says it all.
There are times when the production of a one sheet has to be as accurate as possible. First Signal was one of them. While the science fiction aspect gives one a certain amount of creative freedom, some things need to be right. The Moon to Earth vantage point was modeled after the famed “Earthrise” picture taken from Apollo 8. But it was the star field that needed to be accurate. Thankfully, Celestia, a 3D astronomy modeling program, was available (Special thanks to Daniel Elek-Diamanta for creating the poster and finding Celestia!).
Right after I registered for AFM, I was wondering what I could create to represent my various projects. While they each had their own branding and collateral (depending where they were in the production pipeline), I realized that I didn’t. Those that know me and my projects know what I create, but there is a whole industry universe out there that doesn’t.
I am therefore pleased to present the one sheet for The Ashton Times. Designed by my longtime colleague and friend Adam Starr, it is designed to promote and illustrate the type of works I create. For the last couple of weeks it has been included in my industry communications and promoted on MyAFM and Cinando. As we are an industry of image, I think it’s important to create what we can to present our projects in the best possible light.
It seems fitting that I’m preparing to leave for AFM during the anniversary week when Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2014. That screening proved to me that you don’t have to be a major or mini studio or have A or B list actors in your film to have a marketable project. Indeed, you only need one thing…
…a good story.
Since I registered for AFM (American Film Market) it has been a whirlwind of activity. From setting up personal and film profiles on MyAFM and Cinando to arranging meetings in advance, there seems to be no shortage of things to do as I prepare to leave for Los Angeles on November 1.
The one thing I’m looking forward to is learning something new. In an ever changing industry, I think it’s important to know where things are going. That doesn’t mean that I latch on to the next big thing. But it does mean that you have to be aware or at least open minded to change.
It’s easy for the casual observer to think that all innovation in the entertainment industry originates out of Los Angeles. Indeed, “Hollywood” is the entertainment capital of the world, and while proximity to the city certainly has its advantages, innovation truly comes from the four corners of the world.
Here in New England (Massachusetts to be specific) we have some terrific talent on both sides of the camera. Probably because I’ve lived here most of my life, I find it easier to get projects off the ground. But there are times when I have discovered that while we have solid talent, the pool is limited. Knowing that, sometimes it takes a bit longer to put together the right team.
When I saw First Man yesterday I was reminded what originally brought me into the world of film – the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Director Damien Chazelle assembled a dynamic team that wonderfully brought this historic story to life. Not only did Ryan Gosling deliver a solid performance as Neil Armstrong, but visually Chazelle created a film that brought the viewer back to those iconic moments in time.
Talking about teams, there is no team greater than those that work at NASA. During Apollo, it took “400,000 engineers, scientists and technicians to accomplish the moon landings.” It was a time when nothing seemed impossible. Those that say the moon landings were a hoax are just ignorant fools that suffer from denialism.
As I prepare to present my projects at AFM, one could say, in a small way of course, that it’s my very own Apollo. It’s about putting together the right team for the next project.
In this industry there is always the word “next.” For us creative types we yearn for the next project to be better than the last. Whether it’s an acting performance or directing your next film to higher acclaim, it’s about exceeding things you’ve done not simply repeating yourself. Of course I speak for myself, not others. Some are content with just another gig. There’s nothing wrong with steadiness and consistency, but for me there needs to be an improvement.
Every year I seek to accomplish at least one project that I’ve never done before. On the acting front there was a PBS documentary that was shot entirely on green screen. That production recreates a post-civil war America. From the outtakes I’ve seen, the creative is simply stunning. That show will premiere next year.
On the filmmaker front, I continue to prepare to attend the American Film Market in November. As I’ve never attended a film market before, it will be an interesting experience and one that I’m looking forward to. For me, it’s about hearing new voices and expanding my network. While I’m most certainly a creative, my business side needs to know where an industry is trending.
I was reminded just yesterday of how far the industry has come over the last several years. In the morning I received my quarterly statement from Justice Is Mind’s distributor. There is that feeling of accomplishment when you know your film is being watched domestically and internationally. But resting on one’s laurels is never a good idea as this industry changes like New England weather.
When I pushed First Signal back to spring due to scheduling conflicts, it gave me some serious time to reflect. Justice Is Mind went so well on so many levels, my next film simply has to exceed it. If I’m going to invest my time, money and name it has to execute at a certain level. I haven’t invested what I have to date without being committed to the project, but I found myself settling on certain matters when the better part of me said, “Why are you doing that?” Thankfully, I listened to my other self to make changes going forward (it helps being a Gemini).
Yesterday, I attended the Ghost Ship Harbor event at the USS Salem. My friend Sheila and I had a great time at this well produced night of fright. Yes, I screamed more than she did! The production values alone are worth the trip…if you dare.
Since my last post I’ve traveled to a variety of events; a World War 1 reenactment, the USS Salem and “Cars and Coffee” at Fort Adams in Newport. Although I’ve always been someone who takes a fair amount of pictures, I now find myself looking to tell a story through some sort of video. Sure, it’s the filmmaker in me that wants to tell a story, but I can tell it’s all leading up to something else.
That’s the great thing about this industry. First, we have so many tools at our disposal. No longer are we limited to the cost of entry to the trade, when the barriers have come so far down economically. What it comes down to is our respective imaginations to create or even better—experiment.
Yesterday when I was leaving Fort Adams I drove down a street back to town I’ve taken numerous times. But this time I stopped. I wanted to capture some sort of drone shot of Newport with all the sailboats. As I walked towards the water I noticed something in the near distance. I soon found myself at the statue of Jean-Baptiste Donatien pointing towards Newport. Needless to say I did a few takes and will be creating a video shortly that starts with this French nobleman.
The one thing that usually happens when I’m shooting with my DJI Spark are the inevitable conversations I have with total strangers. So many hear about drones, but to actually see one in action is still relatively rare. Yesterday, two tradesmen that were rebuilding the pyramid next to the statue of Donatien started asked me a variety of questions. From range, to types of shots, to cost, to how it’s operated, I’m always happy to offer what I can in response. This particular encounter worked out great as I lost my sunglasses in the area shortly thereafter. After they saw me walking around several times clearly looking for something, they offered to help. In total Sherlock Holmes reconstructive fashion, they showed me where I walked and low and behold one of them found the sunglasses!
Over the years I’ve met so many interesting people through my films and other projects. The one thing I don’t think you can be in this business is an extrovert. This is an industry of engagement and introducing others to new experiences and your work. Sadly, I know some talented people that are very gifted but rely on others do to their promotion. By example I met someone several weeks ago who built a great website, but then stated they didn’t share it to social media because they don’t like to promote themselves. In a total defeatist tone, they continued by saying, they just weren’t good at it. What’s the point in creating something if you aren’t going to promote it? This doesn’t mean you have to be a braggart, but it’s OK to say “I’m pleased to present my new website.”
Speaking of websites, before I started doing my “pre-production” work leading up to AFM in November, I found some of mine needed updates. Thankfully, with development platforms like Wix or WordPress we can now build and update our own websites that don’t require a bank of programmers.
I’ll never forget the day Adam Starr brought his drone to the set of Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the part in the story that called for a drone, I count myself lucky that Adam had one. In those days (2012) a drone for an independent film was a novelty. Adam had recently purchased a drone for a commercial shoot so thankfully he had one. As you can see from the image below, he did a great job. And with his VFX skills he transitioned from drone footage to special effects seamlessly.
Last weekend was a bit of a drone adventure for me. After my successful shots at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center earlier in the month, I went to a WWII event at Battleship Cove. I go every year, but this time I brought my DJI Spark. Although I’ve been working with the drone for a few months now, I never really put it through the paces. The image above was from the drone’s maximum height (without the remote controller). Yes, “Big Mamie” is a big ship! To watch the video, click this link.
The next day I went to Newport, RI and toured The Breakers. Although I took a picture of Marble House with the drone when I was at one of the “Cars & Coffee” shows, I had yet to video one of the Gilded Age “summer cottages.” After the tour I started to envision what I wanted to see from this great mansion that was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. For those that remember the opening credits of Dynasty, that was my motivation. To watch the video, click this link.
To answer what some of you may be thinking, yes, I always get permission to film at museums and the like. The drama you hear about drones is pretty much nonsense. Operating a drone is like driving a car. It’s called practice and being responsible. If I’m not sure about something, I’m not going to try it. One of the cardinal rules is pretty simple—always be able to see your drone. Today’s drones have so many wonderful features built right into their programming. For mine, I can just tap “return to home” and that’s exactly what it does.
As part of SOS United States takes place on the USS Massachusetts, I’ve always wanted to do some filming at the museum. My interest in The Breakers was obvious. What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film such a grand residence? Because these two locations are so unique, my aim was to get two different looks if you will. But there are those moments when you kick yourself. I was approaching the low battery warning and had one more chance to get a shot at The Breakers. I hit “tap to fly” and the Spark was moving forward nicely. After a few moments I hit return to home. But I forgot to hit record when it was flying! Thankfully, I had enough footage.
Of course I originally purchased this drone for First Signal. Although actor and crew scheduling conflicts meant moving the film to 2019, this actually gives me more time to experience the capabilities of the Spark. There’s lots to shoot in the region!
As for First Signal, SOS United States, and my other projects, I always have a plan b. This November I’ll be traveling to the American Film Market. I haven’t been to Los Angeles since Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in 2014. It will be great to make new contacts and visit with friends and colleagues from my days in “Hollywood.”
A few months ago while searching for First Signal locations I came across The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH. A museum that honors Alan Shepard and Christa McAuliffe with a “mission is to inspire every generation to reach for the stars, through engaging, artful and entertaining activities that explore astronomy, aviation, earth and space science” is right up my alley of interests.
Last Sunday I took a day trip to visit the museum. When you first arrive you are greeted by a 1:1 scale model of the Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7) that launched Alan Shepard to space. When you see a life size replica of the space program standing in front of you, it puts those early years of the space program into perspective.
For space and science enthusiasts, this museum really gets it right. You’re first greeted by a NASA funded tribute wall to Alan Shepard and Christa McAuliffe before proceeding to the main exhibits. Some of the exhibits include the experimental XF8U-2 Crusader Jet, the Mercury capsule and developmental path and images of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The resolution of the images this satellite has captured make you feel that you are actually on the Moon. Stunning doesn’t even begin to describe what you’re staring at. Considering that part of First Signal’s story revolves around satellites, I found the CATSAT story to be particularly interesting.
Of course no science museum is complete without a planetarium. The Discovery Center’s 103 seat theater did not disappoint! I arrived just in time for the Take Flight show that brilliantly animated the history and science of aeronautics. After the show, there was the space shuttle simulator (it’s not easy!) that was very engaging. But I felt like I was in a scene from The Andromeda Strain when I took a picture of myself in infrared. Between the static exhibits and the interactive, the museum really has something for everyone. One thing I enjoy the most about developing new projects like First Signal is the research. It takes you to places that you might not normally go.
While I was at the museum, I couldn’t help but remember the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger that took the life of all seven astronauts (including Christa McAuliffe). It reminded me of a quote I used in First World from President Reagan’s memorial speech about the accident. In one line he summed up what the dedicated men and women in the space program represent, not only to the United States but the world.
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
– President Ronald Reagan; Houston, TX; January 31, 1986
August 18, 2013. Five years ago today I was in Albany, NY for the world premiere of Justice Is Mind. The idea for Justice came to me in 2010 when I came across a 60 Minutes story about Thought Identification “mind reading.” I was researching mind reading “computers” when I was writing the sequel to First World. Yes, I finished writing the sequel. But no sooner was my Final Draft software cooling down and it was fired up again to write Justice.
I’ve often written about the development of Justice. The endless pitch to producers and financiers started at the script stage. Then I produced a short film version Evidence to develop interest in the project. After a couple of theatrical screenings and media the financing came together to produce the feature. Let me just say that 2012 was a whirlwind of a year. But in the end, over 10 crew, 100+ actors and 15 locations came together. Even post production into 2013 went relatively smoothly. Justice enjoyed a limited theatrical run, screenings at law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth (yes, that was a highlight!). The film is now available worldwide on VOD.
When you’re an independent filmmaker the completion of a feature film is a milestone that should be enjoyed and celebrated. As I see with so many in this industry, they worry incessantly about the next project when working on the current one. There were only a couple of occasions during Justice when a few people tried to get out of commitments because of an audition or other project they wanted to be part of. I’ve always believed in giving your maximum to every project you’re involved in. You worry about the next one after the fact.
It’s one thing to attend a film premiere for someone else’s project, it’s entirely another to attend one for your own. For nearly two years after our world premiere, so many of us attended the screenings together. For a while we were like a traveling road show! These weren’t film festivals, they were theatrical screenings. There is nothing more gratifying as a filmmaker than seeing your film on a marquee next to mainstream “Hollywood” productions. You work like hell to make the film, but seeing it in the market is in one word – gratifying.
A feature film isn’t about the “cool” photos behind the scenes of making it, it’s about creating the world around it so when it’s released there’s a place in the market for it. An acting friend of mine last year coined the phrase “the milk carton movie” for those films he was involved in that never saw the light of day. There were essentially “missing.” I couldn’t even fathom making a movie that sits on a shelf waiting for someone else to decide its fate. Film festivals are fine enough if you get into the top tier from an awareness point of view, but as a filmmaker you don’t see ten cents of box office from them. More importantly why would I want to share the public relations spotlight with other films? I remember only too well when we had a screening for Justice at a major university and, unknown to me, there was a small film festival in town that weekend. A reporter said to me they only had so much space and simply couldn’t accommodate everyone. Well, thankfully our screening went well because it was marketed internally and had some scientific personalities attending. That was a lesson to be learned.
As I now venture into the world of First Signal, I look back on the days of Justice Is Mind with great fondness and realize what’s possible when the right team comes together. I’ll never forget what one of the stars of Justice said to me at our last theatrical screening in March, 2017 “This never gets old.”
No, it doesn’t.
A few months ago I came across a casting notice for a book trailer. The name of the book was Heil Hitler, Herr Göd by A.P. Hofleitner and was based “on true-life memoirs” around a family in occupied Austria at the end of World War II. As this period of history has always been of interest to me, I submitted for the part of Herr Göd.
Shortly after getting cast, I started my research. When we think of the European conflict of World War II, generally we look at Germany and what was going on in Berlin. But how many times do we think of the average family just caught up in it? That was the genesis of the book.
Once I arrived to set I met director Rob Gooding and author/producer “Andy” Hofleitner (who, as fate would have it, I actually met earlier in the parking lot). Andy presented each of the actors and crew a signed copy of his book. It didn’t take long to realize the passion behind this project. Not only are the accounts in the book true, but the family in Austria is Andy’s. The author of the memoirs was his grandfather. The “props” used in the book trailer were the actual ones from the story with one piece signed by Hitler himself. The gravity of the story suddenly became real. To know that you are not only recreating moments in history, but are actually touching it.
A few days after the shoot I started to read the book. From page one Hofleitner brings the reader back in time to a family caught in the crossfire of war. The family is far from idyllic and this is what Hofleitner does so well. His words create real world, conflicted and complicated characters facing the impossible. But through it all they persevere under the most trying of circumstances. Hofleitner’s masterful way of setting up scenes and bringing the characters in had me riveted to the last word. There is an escape scene from a factory that was so brilliantly written it had this reader in the center of the conflict. To know as I was reading each word that each one of these moments really happened, one wonders how such atrocities could have happened in the first place. But they did and that’s why we must never forget lest history be repeated.
For me the most engaging character was Max. His voice from being on the front and witnessing the horrors of the war, brought reality home when he would recount stories in the seemingly quiet village the family resided. Imagine you are sitting in your back yard enjoying a drink and hearing horrors so far away they must be fictional…right? But then, in a moment, the roar of Allied bombers destroy the tranquility of the moment.
Book trailers are a smart marketing tool. To quote from C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter, “Whether you are traditional or indie published, it’s about reach, connection, and sales.” And that’s exactly what a book trailer does. It visualizes the story you are about to read.
The development of a film property isn’t just about the actual filming, it’s about creating imagery, branding and a marketing campaign. Long after you type the first word of your script, it’s the first image associated with the story that everyone remembers. How many times do we read about a project in development or one that has long ago been filmed, until we see an image associated with it? First Signal is much more to me than just another film project. It’s about setting the right tone and creating the “world” of First Signal.
Although I had a general idea of what I wanted to see in a promotional poster, I had no idea that Daniel Elek-Diamanta was thinking along the same lines. Daniel, as some of you know, is an accomplished composer. He brilliantly scored Justice Is Mind and Serpentine. Unless he’s not available, he knows he’s always my number one. Weeks ago he agreed to score First Signal. In addition to his talent scoring films, he’s also a brilliant graphic designer. When he sent me a surprise draft of a promotional poster for First Signal it’s like he read my mind (Justice Is Mind?).
I am therefore pleased to present the first promotional poster for First Signal by Daniel Elek-Diamanta! Inspired by the famed Earthrise photo from Apollo 8, with a star field created by Celestia an open source virtual 3D astronomy program, the poster was released today on IMDb and social media.
Also launching today is First Signal’s official url www.firstsignalmovie.com. The site presently points to First Signal’s Facebook page, but will soon be directed to a custom designed website. The footage has already been selected with Daniel working on an introductory score.
Standing out in this industry is a herculean task. Sure, I go to my social media feeds and I see what’s going on locally. But it truly comes down to making a national and international push for a project. I’ve never had any interest in being a “popular local.” For me, it’s about someone discovering my films who lives far away from where it was created.
When Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth back in 2014, nobody on the ship, aside from my mother, knew me or anything about the film. All they knew what was in the daily communique. Those passengers were my most important audience. Thankfully the screening was, I’ll say it, smooth sailing.
I also received word this week that the Department of Defense is formally reviewing First Signal for possible cooperation. As some of you may know, the military has entertainment liaison offices that work with the industry. Although First Signal is science fiction, there are numerous elements to the story that are based in the real world. And like the legal aspects of Justice Is Mind, I think it’s important to insure the military and science aspects are properly vetted.
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.
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.
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.
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.