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Gone With the Wind

A Civilization Gone with the Wind

This past week First Signal went to picture lock. This is a milestone in any film as it means that we are in the home stretch of post-production. The next steps in the process are color grading and sound mixing. We are still on schedule for a May completion. However, just as I was going to register for The Marché du Film (Cannes), the market was postponed until possibly late June.

Prior to this postponement, film festivals, sporting events, theaters and all forms of gatherings were being cancelled around the world. Countries were closing their borders, entire industries shuttering, tens of millions suddenly out of work. Companies instructing their employees to work from home. Financial markets all but collapsing overnight. The stock market losing trillions every time the bell rang. The military called up. Elected officials instituting never to be believed powers. The Department of Justice looking to suspend Constitutional rights. No, this isn’t a movie this is reality on planet Earth.

The existence and livelihood of 7 billion people is being threatened by a virus that has a worldwide case count of 318,000 and 13,000 deaths. Another statistic that is only now getting discussed is how many have recovered — 96,000.  The question that begs to be asked is how long can this go on before the worldwide economy is permanently broken? A scientist friend remarked to me this week “that a good economy isn’t much good if everyone is sick.” My response was simple, “The sick need a good economy to get better. If we don’t switch it back on, there won’t be the capital to fix this problem.”

Yes, we certainly have some sort of new virus that needs to be sorted. Yes, people will die from it. But equally in the affirmative are the number of people that are recovering. The CDC states that from October – March 38,000,000 had the flu with 17,000,000 doctor visits, 390,000 hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths (these are all on the low end). Odd, I don’t recall the United States and world economy being shut down over this. But for some reason this new virus is going to “overwhelm” our hospitals. Who came up with that narrative? But one thing is a fact, this new virus has brought out the worst in humanity.

I’ve talked to a variety of people around the country and the world. None of them can believe we are in the present situation. We saw how fast governments and elected officials closed the world. We saw how fast the media (particularly cable news) and social media fed this frenzy. We saw how fast they stirred the world population into hysteria. We now see how civil liberties and constitutional guarantees are being threatened. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but for those of us that think, one does need to question what happened. Why now? What truly is the reason behind this?

For the few I know that have lived through World War II, the country was never like this. Yes, food was rationed, certain products just weren’t available and forget buying a car. But for some reason, this virus calls for a worldwide economic collapse. In general the world, particularly the United States, was enjoying a solid economy with record low unemployment. In a week, that ended.

At some point, hopefully soon, it will need to be decided to switch back on the economy. Because one thing is truly certain, people, companies and governments will run out of cash either during the shutdown or when the unemployment ranks swell into the tens of millions when those less fortunate will need government services such as food and housing just to survive.

It’s time for common sense.


A Civilization

Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland

It was sometime in the 1970s when I first saw Gone with the Wind. It must have been on TV as we didn’t have a VCR. The moment I saw this film it quickly became my favorite movie. The story, the actors, the sets, the music, it all worked on so many levels. Since that first viewing, I’ve watched it on laserdisc, DVD and streamed it. This afternoon I’ll see Gone with the Wind as it was intended – in a theatre.

Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh

What I always liked about the Gone with the Wind story was the sheer ambition of how it was made. From the “Search for Scarlett” to endless script rewrites to changes in directors, the production was fraught with issues. But in the end a masterpiece was created winning 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture. If you want to learn more about this epic film, I highly recommend the book Scarlett, Rhett, and a cast of thousands: The filming of Gone with the Wind.

Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable

There’s no question in my mind that Gone with the Wind inspired my interest in this industry. What I’ve always been particularly drawn to are the “movers and shakers” behind the camera. In the case of Gone with the Wind, it was producer David O. Selznick. For every film made there’s one person you can point to that is responsible for its existence. Oh sure, the actors and crew are vital, but they wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for the producer—that one person who sees the vision and takes the risk.

Clark Gable

Selznick International Pictures produced another one of my favorite films, Rebecca. It was Selznick who brought director Alfred Hitchcock over from England. That one decision that Selznick made led to films such as North by Northwest and Psycho.

While the opening sequence references “A Civilization gone with the wind,” another civilization that is long gone is the studio system that made it. Yes, Selznick International Pictures was somewhat independent, but it was the studio system that made Gone with the Wind possible (MGM provided half the budget).

As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this iconic picture, I look at the modern world of filmmaking. Although Selznick’s company disbanded decades ago, MGM is still around along with a literal handful of the legacy studios (sadly 20th Century Fox has been acquired by Disney). But the one thing that now prevails is the independent filmmaker. We chart our own course against a sea of seemingly endless possibilities and to destinations sometimes unknown.

When I attended the American Film Market this past November presenting First Signal and my other projects, I couldn’t help but think of the ambitions of so many under one roof striving to present their “motion picture” to new civilizations.

Tomorrow, is today.  


First Casting

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Michael Rennie stars as  Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

No this isn’t the first casting notice I’ve ever posted, but it is for First Signal. The casting notice for the table read can be found on New England Film and on this website.

From actors I’ve cast in past projects to learning about new talent in the region, since the notice went live I’ve been very encouraged by the quality of the submissions. However, for this project I’ll be reaching out to additional sources for certain roles. The goal of the table read isn’t just to hear the script, it’s also about casting possibilities for the feature film itself.

The character of Cedric Yonah is particularly important to the overall story.  Not only does the actor need to be great at his craft, but he also must have a certain look. I can almost say that I’ve received enough quality submissions for all other characters, but I’m still looking for this one.  This isn’t exactly  “The search for Scarlett” but let’s just say the search is ongoing.

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Ed Bishop as Commander Straker in U.F.O. 

This reminds me of the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. As I understand from the development process, director Robert Wise didn’t want to have a recognizable actor walk out of the spaceship as it wouldn’t have been believable. But it had to be an actor with gravitas and a certain look. The casting of Michael Rennie as Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter was brilliant.

Casting is not an easy process. I remember the three hundred plus submissions for Justice Is Mind. While I was fortunate to find some of the leading roles from the short film version Evidence, there were numerous parts that I needed to cast. In as much as you want to see a quality audition, it’s also about how you get along with the actor during that brief time.  I do believe it comes down to the sixty second impression.

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Casting for First Signal‘s table read has commenced.

However, what I still don’t understand is how simple submission instructions aren’t followed. When I submit for a project I make sure I follow the instructions to the letter (why wouldn’t I?). If you refuse to follow submission instructions, how are you going to be during filming? I kid you not I received a submission that literally said here is my IMDb link and Google me. Sorry, if you can’t submit a required headshot, resume and link to your reel you just get relegated to archive.

But this is just part of the development process. Every project takes on a life of its own. I always find it interesting where a project gets its start. First Signal started at the Naval Justice School. But Justice Is Mind actually got its start when I wrote the sequel to First World and was researching mind reading technology. Thus my discovery of the 60 Minutes story from 2009 on thought identification being developed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Four years after that story Justice Is Mind screened at CMU.

The journey.

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With Vernon Aldershoff and Dr. Marcel Just at Carnegie Mellon University.


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.


Character History

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Directing Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind.

The booking came through last week. I was cast as a NAZI officer in the upcoming feature film The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot. Other than the aforementioned designation, I didn’t know much about the part itself or even the film. Researching the film was easy enough, but the part remained elusive until I arrived on set.

Whether it’s a film of my own or one I’m cast in, I always arrive early. For me I like to get the lay of the land and get oriented to the surroundings, cast and crew. I knew this part was going to involve some sort of action when I found myself in hair and makeup getting a 1930s haircut. After being outfitted, I then learned what my part entailed.

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Margaret Miller discovers a dark family secret in Justice Is Mind.

For reasons of confidentiality I can’t divulge specifics. But let me just say this, my studies of World War II history, and in particular the rise and fall of The Third Reich, helped enormously. I only had to be told what the scene entailed and I understood what was involved with my character. I knew from that moment the mindset I had to find myself in and play it accordingly. There is no half way of playing a character like this, it must be 110% for authenticity. That moment of character happens when you put the uniform on to understand what it represented. At the end of the day we must never forget the atrocities of history dare they be repeated in the future.

As a filmmaker I was particularly impressed with the level of detail the director brought to this scene. He probably knew that certain details wouldn’t be seen on camera. But my guess is it wasn’t about that, it was about the actors believing they were in the moment. It is that type of detail that places directors like Robert D. Krzykowski above so many. It’s directors like this that you want to work with and give a performance that’s worthy of the efforts of so many on both sides of the camera. When the scene wrapped he thanked us all for being part of it.

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An 80 year conflict is resolved between father and son in Justice Is Mind.

When this scene was being produced I naturally couldn’t help but thinking of the time I directed Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind when he played a NAZI officer. I remember to this day the countless details from the uniform I ordered along with the action of the story itself. You only know if you got it right after it premieres. It was after the international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth when a few Jewish women came up to me after the screening to comment positively on how I struck the balance between that moment in history and the conclusion of the film.

The entire process of filmmaking is designed to provoke emotions. We either enjoy a film or we don’t. It’s called free will. Like we don’t burn books, we don’t ban movies. When Deadline reported that Gone with the Wind, in which Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award, was pulled from a theater in Memphis, TN because it was deemed insensitive, it’s clear that this theater and its patrons don’t want to understand history or the signal their action sends. Once you start going down this slippery slope, a return can be next to impossible.

By example I find, with the exception of Brokeback Mountain, most gay films to be ridiculous. It’s the same stereotypical story film after film after film. So you know what my answer is? I don’t watch them. There’s no mandate that because I’m gay I have to watch and support gay films.  We either watch films that interest us or don’t watch. But the last thing we do is ban and sensor. Because there is one thing I do want–

Choices.

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My favorite film of all time.


New Credits

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Serpentine is on schedule for a February 2017 release.

From the World Figure Skating Championships to the Naval Justice School, 2016 has been a whirlwind of a year. And between these events was the figure skating political thriller Serpentine. From script, to production to media coverage, Serpentine has certainly set the stage for 2017.

I’m never one to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead I look at what was accomplished in any given year. For me, there needs to be at least the creation of a new project or perhaps some interesting acting or on camera work. Thankfully for 2016 there was a bit of both.

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With Ari Zakarian and Christine Brennan at World’s.

Of course we had this thing in the United States called a presidential election. But you can’t define your entire existence over who won or lost. Putting aside that it narrows your world and opportunities, the country goes on no matter who wins or loses. The great thing about the American presidency is every four years we change hands (sometimes). As Scarlett O’Hara would say, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

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How half the United States felt after the election. But, indeed, tomorrow is another day!

As for another day, post production on Serpentine is moving right along and on schedule. We are into the second draft of the edit and I signed off on the opening credits VFX sequence yesterday.  And generally speaking a good amount of the film has been scored. The post-production process of any film (short or feature), takes coordination. Are all the parties on the same page? Is communication flowing from one department to the next? I’ll say this there is a comfort level working with the same parties that brought Justice Is Mind to life.

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Serpentine received front page coverage in the Telegram & Gazette with the story syndicated around the United States.

In addition to Serpentine, 2017 will usher in some personal changes. I renewed my membership in SAG-AFTRA a couple of months ago for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say I see more trips to NYC next year. One of the benefits to membership is being able to vote in the SAG Awards and getting DVD screeners. Like the election, I’ll just leave it as what film isn’t getting my vote.

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At a WWII Weekend.

But for any given year it comes down to moving the needle just a bit in the direction I want to go in. I don’t try to push for the “all or nothing” approach as that can just set you up for disappointment. Do I outline goals for the near year? Certainly. Are they resolutions? No. Frankly, I’ve never understood those that proclaim with all the caps they can on social media at the start of any year that they’re going to quit X or move to Y! Um, how about just do it for yourself whenever and see where it goes. You won’t know until YOU try not when your “friends” approve.

Sure there’s been some disappointments this year. It wasn’t all champagne and caviar. But there’s no point dwelling on the past or those that tried to check all these bags of drama onto my ship (sorry we’re full up!). Like the car accident I was in. As I thankfully walked away, you just move on (cue Scarlett O’Hara again with score).

In closing it was great to see the reach of this blog across the world for another year. Your support of these words is very much appreciated. And to you and yours across this great planet…

Happy New Year!

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The reach of The Ashton Times in 2016. Thank you for your support!


Henri, Margaret and a Cast of Hundreds

Cinemagic Justice

Yes, the title of this post is a twist on the book Scarlett, Rhett and a Cast of Thousands, but I was reminded just the other day on what goes into making a feature film. It was early summer in 2013 and our world premiere date for Justice Is Mind was set for August 18, 2013. Yes, the film was edited and scored, but we were still under the gun on those numerous last minute items like color correction and sound mixing. The one thing left to finish was the closing credits. It wasn’t until I started to add everyone in when the number of names credited was finalized at 201. But add in the employees of our location partners and the number was well north of that. It’s true when they say it takes a village, or maybe in the case of Justice Is Mind a small battalion, to make a feature film

With our Second Anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, planning is well underway. As I’ve mentioned before, I treat every screening like it’s the first one. The deal with the theatre is secured; cast, crew, location and marketing partners are notified; a press release is sent and then there is the media pitch. My special thanks to the Worcester Herald and Examiner for their early coverage of the special day.

I am delighted to confirm that several of the stars, co-stars and featured performers have already confirmed their attendance. While many of us have traveled the theatrical release tour together, August 18 will mark for the first time in two years the coming together of those that I haven’t seen since the world premiere. Indeed, we are all looking forward to it.

But aside from a reunion of some of the cast and crew, it is about presenting Justice is Mind to new audiences. The work that goes into the production of a feature film is monumental. Indeed, some producers I know are starting to pull back on producing projects as they are time intensive. But when a film is finished, when you see it play in a theatre, your TV or even your smart phone, you realize at that moment that all the sleepless nights, self-doubt and over analysis is over. The work that has been put in by so many is being presented to the world. Thus, you want to do it again and again. At least I do.

The film industry is changing even more rapidly that it was when I first created the world of Justice Is Mind. But at the end of the day content is still king. There are now more platforms available to watch a film than ever before and they need product to fill their pipelines. Whether it’s a tentpole like the upcoming Star Wars (I can’t wait) or a truly independent film like Justice Is Mind, there is something for everyone.

The days are long. You feel there will never be an end in sight. But then there is that moment after the final rendering that the heart and soul of a cast of hundreds comes to life. For it has been the reception that Justice Is Mind has received that has led to the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust. By this time next week, the concept trailer will be released.

Justice Is Mind – The Second Anniversary Screening – August 18, 2015.

Tickets now on sale.

Tickets now on sale at the  Cinemagic box office or online.

Tickets now on sale at the Cinemagic box office or online.


I’m An American

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Yes, I am an American and proud of it. But it’s also dialogue from one of my favorite films Citizen Kane. Here’s a film made in 1941 by a 25 year old director by the name of Orson Wells. Citizen Kane is arguably one of the greatest films ever made. The film was controversial at the time because it was largely discussed that it was about William Randolph Hearst who owned an empire of newspapers. Hearst was so enraged by the film’s perceived comparison to his life that he made countless efforts to ban it.

July 4, 2015 – Independence Day here in the United States. Unless you live under a rock or just arrived from another planet, the world knows the fierce patriotism that engulfs our entire nation during this time, and rightly so.  To be an American means to be able to have a voice. A voice of expression without fear of persecution from the state.

But it is the state of the film and TV industry in our country that perhaps gives us the greatest voice around the world. Yes, we have the world’s largest and best military and we forever give thanks to the men and women in uniform that defend the ideals of this country here and abroad. But it is our entertainment industry that shines a light on what it is to be an American. No matter your station in life, your political or religious beliefs, there is a film or TV series for you.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Those that know me, know what I like when it comes to my viewing pleasure. I tend to gravitate to films that tell a story with larger than life characters, but also ones that have some sort of message (apologies to Louis B Mayer).  Films that highlight World War II and the Cold War tend to get my attention as they present the human spirit against the conflicts of mankind as they look to sort out the trials of hope against tyranny. But the one thing I have a zero tolerance for is the banning of films or TV shows.

When Judgment at Nuremberg was made it set forth to illustrate the atrocities of World War II that were perpetrated by judges in NAZI Germany.  Was the film controversial? Yes, in some circles. But where did the film have its world premiere? Berlin, the former capital of the Third Reich that is now the capital of a unified Germany. My point? As controversial as it may have been at the time, it was important to present the film in a setting to spark conversation because if there is one lesson we must never forget from World War II is – to never forget.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

In the United States these past couple of weeks, we have had to sadly relive the horrors of a Civil War that ended 150 years ago after the execution of innocents at a church in Charleston. At issue, of course, is the Confederate Flag. In my view it represents sedition and the enslavement of a people. To the view of others it represents a way of life that has long past. While I most certainly don’t condone the flag of another country (one we defeated) flying over United States state capitol buildings, the outright ban of it and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t helping the larger conversation. Sadly, our country was founded on slavery. It is part of our history that so many want to forget, but we cannot forget. We cannot erase our history, but we learn from it the best we can and try to form a more perfect union.  But when TV Land reacted by pulling the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard this past week, that wasn’t the answer.

My favorite movie of all time - Gone With the Wind.

My favorite movie of all time – Gone With the Wind.

History teaches us what happened when a certain country started to burn books, films and destroy artwork.  If you don’t know what the country was, it was referenced earlier in this post. As Americans we cherish our right to choose, our right to live life free from oppression. My favorite film is Gone With the Wind. Yet, the calls to have that film banned by the overzealous is just an ignorant reaction. And to be frank, I don’t give a damn about those voices.

This is America. We don’t ban films and TV shows if we don’t like them we simply don’t watch them. I can tell you I find plenty of films and TV shows offensive, I’m not going to launch a boycott. I’m simply not going to support them. Do we really want to bring back the Hayes Code? Do we want to go back to McCarthyism?  Do we want to be oppressed? I think not.

But putting aside my position on freedom of speech and expression, I have had the good fortune to be able to travel a good part of this small “pale blue dot” of a planet we live on called Earth. Indeed, our planet is a fragile one as is our society. One that we must all take care of. But throughout all my travels, there is a certain pride I feel when I pull out my passport or tell people where I’m from.

The United States of America.

Earth. As seen from NASA's Cassini spacecraft through Saturn's rings on July 19, 2013

Earth. As seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft through Saturn’s rings on July 19, 2013.