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In Mind We Trust

Next Act

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In this prequel to First World, the story starts in Earth orbit.

Last week I hit page 30 on this prequel story to First World. The title and logline came to me about halfway through this initial draft. With notes for the next two acts generally outlined, I’m aiming to have a first draft completed in January.

It’s always interesting how these new projects start. The idea came to me in September when I was at the Naval Justice School (NJS) talking with a couple of the actors about developing a new story. For the last two weeks I’ve been back at NJS with most of the students returning for this next class.

For me it comes down to motivation. If I’m not motivated to write a story, it just won’t be written. I firmly believe that environs make all the difference.  When you are around other creative types and engaged in the kind of work you enjoy doing, it’s amazing how ideas start to generate with collaboration bringing new opportunities.

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Part of the story takes place at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Of course it’s one thing to write a screenplay, it’s another to produce it. This one is being written in the same fashion as Justice Is Mind, to produce independently without pitching to the industry. While there’s obviously nothing wrong with the industry pitch, that process goes in fits and starts. Hot one day, cold the other. Ask anyone in this industry and that’s just the way it is­­—if you take the traditional route.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s one thing to produce a feature film, it’s another to promote it. I have to know if I’m OK devoting the next 2-5 years of my life developing and promoting a project. Justice Is Mind was literally a five year commitment. From screenplay (2010), short film version (2011), production of the feature film (2012), release of the film (2013) and marketing (2013-2015). I still promote Justice of course, and I continue to pitch the sequel, In Mind We Trust, as the basis for a TV series.

The “First World” project is about developing a franchise. It always has been. But commitment is important in this industry. It’s not just about making the film, it’s about staying with it for the long haul. As I learned with the short film version of First World and Justice Is Mind, you never know where a project can take you. It was a series of pitches that saw First World have a premiere in India at their The First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction and Justice Is Mind having its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth.

The creation of a new story is always an adventure, a journey into the unknown. Believe me when I tell you, it’s a trip worth taking.

Next page.

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The First World story begins on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11’s Eagle landed on the Moon.


In Review

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In Mind We Trust – the Supreme Court who will soon hear arguments for a landmark mind reading case

Last week I had the opportunity to submit In Mind We Trust as a pilot for a TV or Web series. As some of you know, In Mind We Trust is the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the sequel a couple of years ago, I think the idea for a series was always in the back of my mind.

The question I had before I submitted was that the pilot might not make sense unless someone watches Justice Is Mind. The response back was pretty straight forward. “…to have a lot of unanswered questions at the end of a pilot script — it opens up the world any mysteries for the series.” Well if there’s questions they want, they’ll get it with this story!

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In Mind We Trust – What is Project Gateway?

It’s stories this industry wants and needs. Sure we read how the major studios are just focused on tentpoles (I loved Wonder Woman by the way), but the terrestrial networks and OTT services just continue to expand and need programming to fill their schedules. With Apple, Facebook, Vice and others actively moving to original series orders, the quest for stories continues.

The one piece of advice I was given when living in Los Angeles was to always have more than one project ready to present. I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but it makes total sense. Some may love sci-fi but have no interest in political thrillers. Others may not want something sports related, but are looking for a drama. Well, the latter fit the bill with In Mind We Trust.

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In Mind We Trust – questions from Justice Is Mind are answered about lost artwork from WWII

Personally, if I had my druthers, who wouldn’t want to see their concept set up at a Netflix or Amazon. When I see the production values of The Crown and The Man in the High Castle (two of my favorite shows), it’s just amazing where the industry has gone over the last several years.  But like anything in this business, it’s about time and in the case of a series—staffing.

Unlike a movie that can be staffed pretty quickly, a series requires an unprecedented amount of personnel. Just take a look at the end credits of a show or their listings on IMDB. These aren’t just one off projects like a movie, these are, if the show succeeds, long-term commitments. But before any of this is even remotely considered, it comes down to the story itself.

When I think of the number of mind-reading, privacy and intelligence agency articles being published on a regular basis, I certainly think In Mind We Trust has as good a chance as any of getting a review. Thankfully, the concept has already gone through some market testing with Justice Is Mind. From a theatrical release to media coverage and VOD, anyone looking at this project can already see it’s more than just words on a page.

Concepts.

In Mind We Trust-Poster Concept


New Season

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In Serpentine the climax of the story happens at the world figure skating championships in Moscow.

With Marche Du Film (Cannes) coming up, I always find it interesting to learn about the new players while reading about the fate of others. No doubt in the weeks ahead we will read in the trades about the big splash of a new company’s star driven acquisition or the sorry story of others that used to hold court on private yachts.  Having been to Cannes many years ago (not for the festival) the location is truly a stunning one to announce a major project.

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In First World all communication platforms in the United States are being monitored.

There is no question that this is an industry of flash. When you have good news to announce you do so publicly, loudly and in grand fashion. The whole point is to cut through the noise to get your project noticed. As I’ve said time and time again, this industry is as much about making motion pictures as it is about promoting them. This is why in so many cases when you see a production budget you multiply it by itself for marketing and public relations.

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In SOS United States an F35 from the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier goes to intercept an ocean liner that may have a nuclear bomb on board.

But then there are the rest of us that aren’t making $175 million motion pictures (at least not yet!). What filmmakers like me rely on is reliable consistent revenue from VOD. While so many players come and go in this industry, we rely on VOD platforms to be there year after year.  Although sites like Netflix are in a public relations battle with Cannes, Amazon is playing by the rules and, “was not coming to the South of France “looking to disrupt Cannes,” adding, “You have to approach Cannes on its own terms.”

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In Mind We Trust, SOS United States, Serpentine and First World center around Washington, D.C.

And while Cannes is one of the world’s greatest launching pads for a film, there are VOD sites like TubiTV that are also making waves. Just this past week the site announced a $20 million outside investment. Justice Is Mind has been on TubiTV for several months and has started to gain some solid traction. I’ve also noticed an increase in traffic for Justice on other VOD sites. All these upticks bode well for the industry as a whole. It shows that consumers are watching across a variety of platforms and it doesn’t matter if they are star driven $100 million plus budgets or films made for under $100K. At the end of the day audiences want to be entertained and they want the choice to be theirs.

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In SOS United States the SS United States returns as the Leviathan.

But as the industry enters a new season it’s a review of my current projects First World, SOS United States, Serpentine and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. Are my websites updated? Do they convey the current status of each project? You know what they say about first impressions, you only get one to make one.

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In Serpentine the FBI has been following a champion figure skater as part of an unresolved Cold War mystery.

There is, however, a cardinal rule that I live by. I never disclose who I’m talking to and who I submitted to. This is why I declined to respond to a local entertainment publication that reached out to me on one of my projects. This is like when actors announce who they just auditioned for (or what festivals a filmmaker submitted to). I promise you that doesn’t help you get the part any quicker. In fact, it can have an opposite result. The same holds true for behind the scenes conversations. Sure, the trades like to know what’s going on, but confidentiality is paramount.

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Where do they come from in First World.

However, I will say this. The world’s largest oversees mobile player picked up Justice Is Mind from our distributor earlier this year. But until it’s live, I’ll hold on the formal announcement.

Presentation.


Dinner and a Show

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At “Mr. Burns” at The Wilbury Theatre in Providence.

As the venerable Hannibal Lecter said, “Shall we say dinner and a show?”

Before we finished working at the Naval Justice School (NJS) several of us agreed to get together to see a play one of our fellow actors was in. Phoenyx Williams was certainly pulling double duty. Playing an NCIS Agent along with me during the day he would then travel back to Providence for nightly performances in the “Post-Electric Play” Mr. Burns (by Anne Washburn). Williams played the “electric” Mr. Burns.

But before the play, we met up for dinner at the excellent Federal Taphouse & Kitchen. Although it was exactly a week since we last saw each other at NJS, it was great catching up with new friends and sharing some interesting stories. I’ll just say this, lots of laughs! Of course the director in me is always mindful of the clock and we were soon on our way to the Wilbury Theatre for a 7:30 show.

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Phoenyx Williams in “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.

Although most of us had been briefed on the synopsis, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. The premise from their website states, “After the collapse of civilization, a group of survivors share a campfire and begin to piece together the plot of “The Simpsons” episode “Cape Feare” entirely from memory.” It started at the campfire and then went on to two additional acts with two intermissions. I have to confess, I’ve never watched The Simpsons.

As a writer, producer and director I’ve certainly created experimental work. But with experimental work comes risk. While the story wasn’t for me (as one of the actors in the play said to me this play is either for you or isn’t), the acting, writing and production itself was excellent. Although I didn’t care for the story, the execution was brilliant and the actors are wonderfully talented.  The “fun” highlight was when the actors moved the audience (we were on risers with wheels!). In conclusion, the third act was owned by Williams. He nailed it.

Whether it’s stage or film, this entire industry is an experiment of some sort or another. I applaud anyone that creates an original work and doesn’t try to duplicate someone else’s efforts. I hear time and time again from filmmakers and actors who try so hard to be like this filmmaker or this actor. How about creating your own brand? You can be sure that I want to see what Anne Washburn comes up with next and I’ll be following these actors!

As for next, this past week was also about reorganizing my projects. With Serpentine: The Short Program released, my focus goes back to promoting that project along with In Mind We Trust (the sequel to Justice Is Mind), First World and SOS United States. I say now what I’ve said before, projects do not come to fruition overnight.  It takes abject dedication to bring a work to life. Whether that be a play, movie or performing career.

But with every new experience comes a new idea.

Concept.

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Anniversary Launch

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Justice Is Mind had its world premiere in Albany, New York on August 18, 2013.

On August 18, 2016 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its third anniversary. The same week that will see the website completed for the figure skating political thriller I’ll be announcing soon. Some ask where does the time go, for me it’s about taking the time to develop projects that I’m passionate about.

When I was writing Justice Is Mind back in 2010 writing a political thriller around the sport of figure skating was the furthest from my mind. The same could be said about Justice Is Mind when I was writing First World in 2006. As a screenwriter, it’s the idea that first calls to me and then if it sticks around a while I start to write those first few pages of a screenplay. I’m not one that writes a story using index cards, beet sheets or other devices, rather I let the story unfold as I build characters and the world they live in.

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First World now on Amazon Prime worldwide.

When I look at my dashboard on Amazon Video Direct and see how my films are doing across all their territories, yes, it’s a pretty cool feeling. Just like when you see your film screen in a theater. There is that sense of accomplishment that all involved in the project can share. Because, making a film is a project that does involve a village.

It is precisely because it takes a village that developing a new project takes a considerable amount of planning. Part of that planning is visiting possible locations, meeting with potential talent and laying the foundation before I seek to bring on a crew. This past week I had a great meeting at Northstar Ice Sports and from that meeting went to a local competition at the Cape (one that I competed in myself many years ago!).

I forget how small a world the sport is. No sooner do I arrive and I see one of the judges who I used to talk to regularly when I was actively involved in the sport. We still to this day reminisce about our time together at an International Skating Union Congress in Davos, Switzerland back in the 90s. I was one of the few members of the media to attend and she was moving up the ranks in the judging system. It was also nice running into a couple of coaches I haven’t seen in a while. All in all it was a great time.

This morning I was reading C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter and there was a particular passage that really stood out, “We should strive to be in awe of our work, and awe-struck by others. Instead of production, maybe we ought to focus on our power to seek and create awe. After all, wouldn’t you rather be remembered for the one, lone book than the fact you published a lot of forgettable stories? Or maybe you can find a place in the middle, but to do so, you need to slow down and think about the quality you produce.” I couldn’t agree more with her statement as it greatly applies to filmmakers.

If you’ve ever sat through the end credits of film you see the number of people that were involved that made the film come to life. Unlike a stage production that can be tweaked along the way once you wrap a film, it’s up to creative editing, or god forbid expense reshoots if you didn’t get what you wanted in the first place. I can thankfully say we didn’t need to do any reshoots on Justice Is Mind.

While there won’t be a special theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind this week, there will be online promotion to further introduce the film to a worldwide audience and build momentum for the sequel In Mind We Trust.

Indeed, while past projects continue to be promoted and marketed a new one is about to be announced.

Standby.

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At the world premiere. Some of the over 200 cast, crew, location and marketing partners that brought Justice Is Mind to life.


Design Plan

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Justice Is Mind on Amazon in Germany.

This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Amazon in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Japan. Since the film was released in 2013, it has been my plan to get the film distributed in as many territories as possible. Considering part of the story takes place in Germany, and as our composer and sound mixer reside in the United Kingdom, it’s great to be able to bring the film to those markets. Also, it’s part of the long term plan to generate as much interest in the Justice Is Mind story as possible as the pitch process continues to further develop the project as a TV series. But, like all things in this industry, it’s about having more than one project in development as things take time.

When I was taking to a fellow filmmaker in England this past week, the one thing we talked about was distribution. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, as a former magazine publisher I directed the distribution and marketing of my magazines. The process has a variety of similarities.  You deliver your finished product to a central source and it’s delivered to the outlets. But as I learned all those years ago, for every middleman there is a percentage given back. Sometimes a middleman is necessary, sometimes not so much.

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This week I will start to reach out to ice rinks.

To quote from Amazon Video Direct’s website “Helping content creators and visual storytellers reach millions of Amazon customers across hundreds of devices with the same distribution options and delivery quality available to major motion picture and television studios.” Why, unless a distributor was acquiring your film for a fee, would you just give Amazon your film to upload? With the tens of millions of customers that Amazon commands, I certainly understand why some distributors require Amazon to be part of their VOD platform mix. But with “platforms like Distribbr, Quivver, and Bitmax – what’s the benefit of going with a more ‘traditional’ distributor over those?”

Honestly, by the time I release my next film, self-distribution may just be the way to go. Unless a distributor brings me a fee and a marketing plan, why would I bother signing away the rights to my film when I can just deal directly with the VOD platforms? I have heard too many horror stories from filmmakers that were all excited a distributor was interested in their project only to receive a fraction of return even though their project was available on countless platforms. It’s sad and frustrating to hear these stories, because I know how much hard work and years of dedication goes into making a film.

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Part of the story takes place at the Defense Intelligence Agency where one of the main characters worked.

As for new projects, the concept poster for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating is now being designed. With the script registered and URL reserved, the general plan is to formally announce the project in mid-late August. Nothing is more exciting than seeing those first images come to life. And for me that starts with the concept poster.

Of course, like building a house, this is the stage where the architectural plans are developed. In my view, a script is an evolving document based on a variety of factors until you lock it down just prior to pre-production when you lay the foundation for what you will ultimately see on the screen.

Blueprint.

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The Reincar Scientific building in Justice Is Mind is actually the Deutsche Bahn Skyscraper at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany.


The Trades

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In this new political thriller, the climax of the story happens at a world figure skating championships.

Being a filmmaker, I’m an avid reader of the industry trades. From The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire to several email newsletters (SSN Insider is my favorite). In general, I look to get a feel for the industry and where it may be going. As I’ve written about in earlier posts, navigating this industry is like being on the bridge of a ship and deciding what port to sail into. The choices are numerous and in some cases smartly promoted. One of these choices was a film festival.

I attended my first film festival back in 2007 when First World was nominated for best screenplay out of over 80 submissions at the California Independent Film Festival. Having placed in the top 5 for this contest it was a total thrill to attend, network and then hear the title of my first screenplay announced as a finalist in a theater.  I didn’t win the Slate Award but it was honor enough to be nominated. It was at this festival that I realized I had developed a new trade.

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Robin Ann Rapoport and Vernon Aldershoff (seated right) starred in the short and feature film version of Justice Is Mind.

In this industry it seems just natural that you start to pick up new trades. You may start as a writer or an actor and before you know it you may be producing and directing your first short film. You start to get into some festivals, perhaps some theatrical exhibition and then score some media. Soon thereafter you realize you want to make your first feature film. Every level of this industry takes time and patience and despite what one might read in the trades, none of this happens overnight.

One thing that never happens overnight is film financing. It doesn’t matter what your station is in the industry. Film financing, in particular, is very nuanced. As for my projects, I’ve fully funded some and have had investors (public and private) in others. In one case I used crowdfunding. Larger projects, if they can attract the right talent, can also achieve pre-sales. But that’s being challenged owing to certain bankable “A” list availability to commit to a project before one scene is even shot. But one area that I’m particularly excited about is equity crowdfunding. There have been numerous articles on the subject, so I would do your own searches. That being said, it offers filmmakers yet again another option–and port?

With First World, In Mind We Trust and SOS United States in various stages of review and development, the one thing I have committed to is producing the first ten pages of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating as a promotional vehicle. As some may recall, I made a short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence. The point of that short was to not only develop interest in the project but to bring together an initial cast and crew to insure that various aspects work.

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In SOS United States the story starts and ends around the ocean liner SS Leviathan. The ocean liner is modeled after the famed liner SS United States.

What are the primary challenges with this new project? A figure skater that can do a couple of triple jumps and can act. No matter how it has been done before, using a double for either the extreme close ups of a jump or distance shots just doesn’t work. A skater has a particular way they stand on the ice along with body type.  The other part of this short is developing some new techniques to film a skating program that truly captures the grace, style and power that a skater projects. In essence I want the audience to experience the program not just see it.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of course is developing an original story. As I enter the closing of the second act to this political thriller, I remember where I was at the time when writing Justice Is Mind. At this moment I’m literally living with the characters and all the plots and subplots. But rather than taking the easy way out on their resolution, I will let the story sit for a few days and let the story speak back to me.

Revelation.

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From First World the city of Lunaria on the Moon.


First Act

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Act I ends in an ice rink. Practicing alone at night all is going well until suddenly the music goes off followed by the lights.

Yesterday I finished the draft of the first act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. For me the first act is always the hardest. This is where you are “world building”, introducing your characters and setting up the story to eventually “turn” into why you’re telling it in the first place.

In SOS United States it’s the revelation of a potential nuclear bomb on an ocean liner heading to Boston. In First World, it’s the revelation of the classified mission of the Apollo space program. In Justice Is Mind it’s the revelation of a memory that cannot be immediately explained. In this new screenplay I’m writing, it’s the revelation that the skater’s family is somehow linked to a multi-decade Cold War mystery. From these revelation points, each of these stories moves into the next act.

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An F35 from the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier goes to intercept an ocean liner that may have a nuclear bomb on board.

Personally, I enjoy what’s called the “second act” the most. This is where I like to see all kinds of involved character developments and subplots. Of course, as screenwriters, we are inundated with one article or expert after another stating either the rigidity of the three act structure or the opposite.  My stories tend to run about four acts. I do believe in a mid-point or splitting of the second act. In Justice Is Mind the true mid-point is when Henri Miller’s kindergarten teacher reveals something from his past that sets the course for another character to act while the main story continues toward its conclusion.

As a screenwriter I don’t believe in following a prescribed set of rules per see. But that being said, you do need a beginning, middle and end. Is this three acts? Four? Sometimes five? That’s really up to the writer and the story they are telling. In my view, some require less while others more.  How I learned to write was pretty straight forward. I read the screenplays of my favorite films (some more popular than others). The one common thing they all had was a resolution, an ending that if a sequel was never made the story could exist on its own.

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Act 2 in Justice Is Mind splits at this scene.

Being a filmmaker is a multi-disciplined endeavor. From continued marketing of  First World (short) to Justice Is Mind, to presenting the feature film version of First World and SOS United States for development, to pitching Justice Is Mind as a TV series, the process is an endless one. And while I enjoy those aspects of the process, writing a screenplay keeps up my creative energies.

While I reference the word discipline, the other is also patience. Writing a screenplay, getting it produced and distributed is a multi-year process and isn’t for everyone. I remember coming across a documentary filmmaker a couple of years ago who told me flat out he hated the distribution process and that he just wanted it “done” to move on to the next project. We all look forward to our next project, but if your previous one fizzled in distribution, I don’t see how that helps future projects.

This is why you just need to stay a course. It’s not easy by any stretch. Some days are smooth sailing and others you just want to abandon ship, but in the end it’s about staying at your post and seeing your ship back to port.

All clear.

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In First World, both short and feature, the Prime Minister informs the President about the classified mission of the Apollo space program.


The Screenplay

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“I want Spotlight to win” was my Facebook post last Sunday before the Oscars started. While 2016 yielded some excellent films (Trumbo, Bridge of Spies, The Martian and Woman in Gold), there was something about Spotlight that just felt right. Not only was the story itself important, along with the mechanics of quality investigative journalism, but you couldn’t have asked for finer actors either.  What was right from the beginning was the screenplay. In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Picture, it also won the first award of the evening for Best Original Screenplay.

As this article in The Hollywood Reporter stated, Spotlight took eight years to produce. But once Participant Media got involved as producer and with Open Road Films distributing, the rest, as they say was history. As Sierra/Affinity CEO Nick Meyer said, “the movie is the star now.” Indeed that star is the screenplay because as Tom Ortenberg said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “The theatrical marketplace is a roller coaster. And anybody who wants to play has to be prepared for that fact.”

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Justice Is Mind screened in theaters, law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth.

For all of us trying to make sense of the volatile nature of this industry, particularly when it comes to a theatrical release, it all comes down to the story. When I released Justice Is Mind into theaters, every one of our screenings was heavily marketed with an angle. We had to have an angle, because although we had a great cast and crew, nobody was a household name. The film had to sell itself. Thankfully, the media and audiences responded and the majority of our screenings were near or capacity audiences (there were no rentals).

But like the real “Spotlight” team at The Boston Globe did those years ago, writing a screenplay takes research and dedication.  When I recall the research I did for First World when it came to the space program, the criminal justice system and neuroscience for Justice Is Mind and various workings of the executive branch, military operations and intelligence agencies for SOS United States, that work laid the foundation of the story before I wrote one word of dialogue.  Of course we all want to see our screenplays come to life on the big screen, but as we saw with Spotlight, some things just take time. Why rush for quantity when you can have quality? In the case of Spotlight, that quality saw two Oscar wins.

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The National Security Agency plays a major role in In Mind We Trust and SOS United States.

Last week I finished the pitch document for Justice Is Mind as a TV series with the pilot In Mind We Trust already written. The process of getting some industry feedback has already begun. Having pitched a TV series around the sport of figure skating back in 2004, I’m familiar with the process. Of course, back around that time there were about 30 or so scripted series, now there are around 400. While times and processes have changed, it’s still all about coming up with the idea for a story.

As for changing times and figure skating, an idea came to me some months ago about a political thriller with figure skating as the backdrop to the storyline. Of course, it’s been some years since I actually attended a figure skating event. The last “Worlds” I attended as credentialed media was 2003 in Washington, D.C.  So with The Ashton Times credentialed, I will be attending Worlds in a few weeks.

Boston.

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In SOS United States the SS Leviathan is en route to Boston from Southampton, England.


The Man From Berlin

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The Man from Berlin (Lee Simonds) in Justice Is Mind with Dr. Eve Pullman (Carlyne Fournier)

No the title of this week’s post isn’t a new TV series, but a character I introduced in Justice Is Mind that is greatly expanded upon in the sequel In Mind We Trust. And with EFM (European Film Market) currently underway in Berlin, Germany, it seemed particularly fitting.

Today marks one year since I wrote the first draft of the sequel. Yes, there have been some tweaks since then, but more of a decision on where to take the project. While Justice Is Mind was produced as a feature film, the next logical direction for the project is to present it as a TV series. I must have had that “in mind” when I wrote the sequel as it sets up the established characters from Justice Is Mind with new characters in a world where mind reading technology has permeated our way of life from the judicial system to immigration to employment and national security.

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The clash of intelligence agencies in In Mind We Trust

With Justice Is Mind released to positive reviews and In Mind We Trust written, I’ve been working on the story “bible” for the last couple of weeks.  I’ve been down the TV series pitch process before with certain studios and production companies when my agent took out a series I conceived called Frozen Assets. It was essentially Dynasty meets figure skating and I worked with a leading writer of that famed TV show to shape the series. Being in pitch meetings is an interesting process and you really need to have your pitch rehearsed. I knew the sport, but this writer knew the industry. The show wasn’t picked up (figure skating was dying in the TV ratings at the time), but the experience was a real learning curve for me. On a side note my agent almost killed me when we pulled up to the Paramount gate and I said from the back seat of her car, “Jonesy! Hey, Jonesy!”

As for the industry, attention is on Berlin, Germany this week. Unlike Sundance which has turned into a showcase for studio productions and, in my view, lost its purpose as a haven for independent filmmaking, EFM is a unique film market to follow. It presents films from concept to completion. I might add that The Hollywood Reporter does a terrific job with their daily reports.

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In Mind We Trust solves one of the greatest mysteries of World War II

Reading the reports you can clearly see how the industry has changed the last couple of years. Sales agents want completed films and stars don’t guarantee any sort of success. I think Marc Gabizon of Wild Bunch said it perfectly when he stated in this article, “You see, film is a great business. It’s fascinating, but it’s also dangerous. You can’t forget about the risks, even when you’re successful — maybe especially then. There’s always a risk, but you have to make sure that if you have a flop, it doesn’t topple the whole company. Don’t bet the house on one or two titles.” By flop he was referring to Bradley Cooper’s Burnt.

While nothing is more exciting than announcing a new project, it does come down to risk. As a producer my job is to project a path of realistic profitability. As a director I need to deliver a solid and marketable project.

One trend I see coming out of EFM are the interesting political thriller type projects. This has been a consistent trend over the last couple of years and bodes well for SOS United States.

The markets.

In Mind We Trust-Poster Concept

Preliminary concept poster for In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind


Set Course

Fail Safe

As in Fail Safe (1964), the majority of SOS United States takes place in bunkers.

Being in the entertainment industry is about navigation. It’s knowing when to set course for a destination, entering course corrections and when you need to retreat—sometimes at high speed (“General quarters! All hands man your battle stations!”). Those that know me, know that I’m a person of lists. For me it’s my navigation chart. Some things I act on daily, others are listed for future missions.

One mission that was accomplished this past week was securing the registration of U.S. Copyright for a foreign filmmaker. While this director knew they needed a copyright, particularly a U.S. one, they needed someone who had some experience, particularly in film. My last post talked about establishing networks and this is exactly where this new business relationship came from—a longtime colleague.

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As in Seven Days In May (1964), a shadow government is revealed in SOS United States.

It’s one thing to charge a fee for a specific service. We do that in our everyday lives, from oil changes to dining out. But it’s something else when someone tries to charge for “access” “introductions” or worse “promises”.  Let me turn a phrase from President Nixon, “Let me making this perfectly clear there are no promises in the entertainment industry.” Sadly, this a trend that continues to expand unchecked.  From casting directors hosting “acting workshops” to producers offering a menu of services. Let me be clear again, these are only avenues for revenue on their end not work on your end.

This past week I encountered another producer selling services. When I made the initial pitch I appreciated the quick response. I soon found out why. While I was referred to the person that heads up their “production department” the conversion we had a couple of days later was such a waste of time. Had to love when he said they weren’t taking on any new projects and then referred me to a laundry list of their services to gain access to their contacts. Funny, I thought you weren’t taking on new projects? If that wasn’t insulting enough this “producer” had ZERO enthusiasm and wasn’t engaged at all (he also mentioned they had overhead to cover). If you’re trying to sell something at least try to be enthusiastic. Reminded me of a well-known theater chain based in Texas who wouldn’t screen Justice Is Mind because we didn’t have a DCP at the time but then had the balls to have their rental office try to get me to four wall one of their theatres (we don’t four wall). I have been called lots of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.  Short of it a network is built on relationships not purchased contacts.

Wednesday  Jan. 13  2016   UK Gadget NewsAs for networks, there is a trend in social media that is picking up great steam.  More and more paper.li users are sharing posts relative to SOS United States and Justice Is Mind. Just this past week, both films were picked up by these “papers”.  What I love about paper.li is the users curate interesting coverage in a great presentation. Check out these papers here and here.

The one thing this industry is all about is presentation and there are a few things on my list that are getting closer and closer for execution. There is one element that continues to present a project as serious because it means that the filmmakers are committed beyond the written word…

concept trailer.

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When the crisis hits in SOS United States, the President, Prime Minister of the UK and their military advisers soon find themselves in a bunker (still from Fail Safe 1964).


The Network

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On The John J. Fahey Show on Friday night.

This past December my good friend, writer and soap opera expert, Gerard J. Waggett, pitched me to John Fahey to appear on The John J. Fahey Show. Where did the pitch happen? At a bus stop where they ran into each other (they originally first met at their local library).

It reminded me of the time I mentioned Gerry to a literary agent I met during my first TV appearance on The Montel Williams Show back in 1994. That introduction resulted in a multi-book deal for Gerry. How did I get on The Montel Williams Show? My business partner at International Figure Skating, editor/writer Lois Elfman, heard about the upcoming “Tonya & Nancy” episode and pitched me to one of the producers.  I’ll never forget the day I was set to travel to New York for the taping. They were going to fly me from Worcester to the city but inclement weather prevented it. So what did I do? I got in my car and drove in the bad weather to New York. A TV camera was waiting!

This is an industry that is built on long-term relationships. People that you work with on your first projects that you continue to work with because you can count on them and know their work. Case in point Adam Starr. I first met Adam when I was publishing magazines. One of the first videos I produced was a promotional video for my company (I need to get that VHS tape digitized). With Adam as director, along with Lois as one of the producers, we went on to make First World. For Justice Is Mind the actor that played the President in First World returned as George Katz in Justice Is Mind. As for Adam Starr? He produced over 170 special effects for the film.

No sooner did I arrive at BNN (Boston Neighborhood Network) for the live broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show, when I saw  Tomek Doroz at one of the control stations. Tomek was Justice Is Mind’s digital imaging technician as well as a production assistant. He was also instrumental in securing a couple of our locations (we had our church and junkyard!). Needless to say when I gave him a clip of Justice to play during the show I was giving it back to the person who was not only the first person to see footage being created for the film, but also to make sure it was OK from a technical point of view. The network continues.

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With Gail Sullivan and Mary Wexler for PAC TV.

I have always found cable access stations a great way to reach a targeted audience. One of the first cable access stations I was on was Crown City News in California back in 2007 where I talked about First World. I met host Anthony Smiljkovich through Jillian Barberie at the local FOX station. And where did I meet Jillian? When we both starred on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. Although Jillian couldn’t make the Los Angeles premiere of Justice Is Mind, Anthony and his boyfriend were there along with First World star Angelina Spicer.

Of course, one of my favorite cable access appearances was on Plymouth’s PAC-TV for Justice Is Mind. Arranged by Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in the film, they did a wonderful job promoting our screening at Plimoth Cinema and presenting the concept of the film. Gail, Mary Wexler (who plays Judge Wagner) and I had a great time that day reliving the early days of the film.

Friday night’s broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show could not have gone better. In addition to showing an extended clip of Justice Is Mind, I talked publicly for the first time on TV about my political thriller SOS United States. What I particularly liked about the show was the live format. I’ve always enjoyed doing live TV over taped because you are truly in the moment with no worry about being edited. Of course you have to watch what you say! One of the highlights was when a caller phoned and praised Justice. Indeed, it’s about introducing your projects to new audiences.

Although John will formally post the show on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms, I see one intrepid viewer already did. You can watch the show at this link for…

Broadcast.

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SOS United States first mentioned on TV this past week on The John J. Fahey Show.


Launch Plan

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In SOS United States the ocean liner SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. In 2015 the retired ocean liner was saved from scrapping.

Too often we read about the resolutions and promises people make as they enter a new year. The end of one year and the birth of another does seem like the time to reflect on the past and hope for the future. But there is one thing that needs to be the driving force – a plan.

In the entertainment industry planning is the foundation of everything. From the script to production to marketing, the only way to get things done is to make a plan and to stick with it. For me it starts with my weekly lists; the daily posts to the social media pages I manage, the Google alerts that assist in public relations/marketing, the pitches to investors, the plans for productions, etc.  Like NASA, I’ve always believed in shooting for the Moon (and beyond). But we all know that NASA’s plan wasn’t just a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University in 1962. It was long term planning that resulted in Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon in 1969.

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In an August post this still from Justice Is Mind reached 3,900+. For 2016 screening presentations continue.

Nothing is more disheartening when you ask someone about a project they were all excited about months ago with more social media posts than you can track, only to inquire and you get their stoic face of “how dare you ask.” When someone asks me “how are your projects coming along” my response is pretty standard “they’re moving along.” That means that I have been doing at least the following: writing/editing the script, pitching projects to investors, working on concept art, talking to agents/managers, etc. Sadly, people only think you’re doing something when you have a tripod set up with a camera. What they don’t know is that when you reach that point you have, hopefully, established a solid foundation because even more work is ahead after you wrap that last scene – post production, distribution and marketing. Believe me when I tell you that Justice Is Mind had a five year long plan of writing (2010), production (2012) and distribution/marketing (2013-present). Without a plan none of our achievements would have taken place.

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In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World center around Washington, D.C.

The one I always compete against is myself. I look at one project I accomplished and want to make the next one better.  I think they call that progress. Yes, the plans I have for SOS United States, In Mind We Trust and First World are ambitious. But there does reach a point with any given project when you can see it happening. I remember when this threshold started to approach with Justice Is Mind. Is it a culmination of planned and sustained efforts? Being in the right place at the right time? Or, to quote the late Maximilian Schell, “This an industry of chances and luck.” In my view it’s about being “present” and in the moment. In an industry filled with those looking for attention, you have to make a plan that calls for it.

As for attention, I want to take a moment to thank my readers. Every year I receive an audience report from WordPress. I’m pleased to announce that this blog is read in 92 countries.  Curiously, the most active post for 2015 was A Narrative. In that post I talk about writing the last pages of In Mind We Trust. Indeed they were written in 2015 for 2016 presentations.

New Audiences.

Your 2015 year in blogging

Thank you to my readers. This blog was read in 92 countries!


The Spotlight

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Spotlight. A must see film.

As 2015 comes to a close, it seems fitting to reflect on the past year as we look forward to 2016. The title of my end of year post is not only about the industry but about the movie Spotlight – “The true story of how The Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.”  Having been a magazine publisher and now a filmmaker, Spotlight is an unprecedented film that must be seen. Simply put Spotlight presents the importance of investigative journalism as a filmmaking triumph.

On a personal level, I sadly know more than a few victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. On a knowledge level, very few people in Massachusetts didn’t know about this travesty in one form or another. You either heard about it, or knew a victim. But it was the “Spotlight” team at The Boston Globe that brought light to the darkness of so many. Spotlight is more than just another great movie, it represents the power of film and reminds us about the vital role that journalists have in a democracy. They are the voice for the voiceless.

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Some of the cast and crew of Justice Is Mind at the second anniversary screening on August 18, 2015 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA.

I write passionately about this because when I was a magazine publisher there were more than a few times when I was pressured by the “powers that be” to silence a story by intimidation.  I never caved in. I worked for my readers, not for some institution.

2015 has been a great year for film. From Spotlight, Trumbo, The Martian to the return of Star Wars, there was something for everyone. I almost feel sorry for The Academy. They have some really hard choices to make. But what it proves is that independent film, despite industry reports, is alive and well. This year proved, yet again, that original ideas still flourish.

The highlight for me this year was the 2nd anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind this past August. In addition to a reunion of the cast and crew, our 21st screening was another reminder that audiences want to see original works and they don’t care if those involved are household names. They just want to be entertained.

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“Arrested Memory” Justice Is Mind was featured in The Huffington Post in 2015.

Perhaps the icing on the cake was the volume of media that covered the event from Worcester Magazine to our first international coverage in The Huffington Post. As Pamela Glasner stated in her article, “Justice Is Mind takes on less of a sci-fi feeling and more of a ‘forward-thinking documentary’ feeling.” All these efforts have been part of a long-term marketing plan to continue to introduce the film to new audiences. You can be sure, there are plans in the works for the 3rd anniversary screening.

This past year I continued to polish my political thriller SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind.  When you consider the current political climate around the world and advances in mind-reading technologies, both of these projects continue to be well timed. There are significant efforts around both of these projects that I plan to introduce next year.

If there is one thing I learned in 2015 is that you have to continuously reach out to expand your networks because you’ll never know what’s possible until you try. From direct discussions with private equity groups and hedge funds to presenting new projects to relaunching my personal website and some new clients, this has been a most interesting year.

But as Constance Smith says in Justice Is Mind, “I didn’t promise you an easy case.” Nothing in this industry is easy. It is work done the old fashioned way like an investigative journalist. You research, email, telephone and network. As producer John Davis (The Blacklist) told The Hollywood Reporter about what his father Marvin Davis (who once owned 20th Century Fox) taught him, “Get your ass out of bed. Work your ass off. And when you drill 80 straight dry holes, which he did, make sure you drill the 81st, which he would also do and hit the mother lode.”

2016.

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Worcester Magazine. Mark Lund, writer and director of Justice is Mind, with Jamie Blash a horse trainer at Four Winds Farm. Blash appeared in the movie as a horse trainer.


Foreign Affairs

Star Wars

Star Wars unites a world in this galaxy.

Russia. Spain. Taiwan. First, the email came in from a colleague if I could assist a filmmaker in Spain to register his film in the United States. That was followed by a university in Taiwan that wanted to license Justice Is Mind. As the week drew to a close a distributor in Russia approached us about a VOD for Justice in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

In the world of filmmaking “chain of title” is critical to establish a variety of documented steps of ownership rights to a film. As a former magazine publisher, I’ve been working with copyright matters for years. Sadly, I’ve seen some projects that don’t take this matter seriously. If you don’t have a properly established chain and necessary releases, it can severely complicate matters when it comes to dealing with a distributor. The chain starts with registering the script. Believe me it’s worth the fee.

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Justice Is Mind. In Berlin, Germany a Russian agent secures the FVMRI technology from Dr. Pullman.

The next chain of events this week came when I was contacted by a university in Taiwan that wanted to have Justice Is Mind for their library. Obviously, I was flattered and directed them to the variety of download and streaming options for the film. I even pitched them to screen the film like we did at some domestic universities here in the United States. It will be interesting to follow this development. Perhaps it could serve as a model for international university screenings.

On Thursday we received an offer for Justice Is Mind from a distributor in Russia that wants to distribute our film on a variety of VOD platforms in that part of the world. While I’m still reviewing the agreement, unlike some other recent distributors that approached us, this one appears to be pretty buttoned up. This is when I go back to my magazine experience and a phrase from President Reagan “Trust but verify” when it comes to foreign companies. I don’t say this because of the United States/Russian connection that Reagan was referring to during the Cold War, but from a business point of view with independent verification aka “due diligence.” Because once you sign on the dotted line and transfer the film assets, it’s done.

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First World. The Prime Minister informs the President about the secret missions of the Apollo space program.

What has been very interesting for 2015 is how much the film industry has changed on the global stage. Everything from financing to production to distribution has literally taken a 180 degree turn. Some will say for the better, some for the worse. It all depends on your point of view. Film Specific had an interesting take on all of this last week. Their webinar can be found here. But if there is one thing that prevails in all of this it’s marketing. Yes, I’ve written about this before. In my view it’s marketing on all fronts, from presenting new projects to potential investors such as SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, to the continued marketing of established projects such as First World and Justice Is Mind. As I’ve said before, consistency is key for the long term.

Of course while all this was going on, I was patiently awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I remember sitting in a theater in 1977 and seeing Star Wars come to life. Was it that moment that I wanted to be a filmmaker? I don’t know. All I do know is that with all the issues the world is facing right now it’s great to see a film that brings everyone together in a unifying force to enjoy a medium that the world over appreciates.

The movies.


The Commonwealth

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The courtroom scenes in Justice Is Mind were filmed at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover.

In Justice Is Mind the fictional trial was The Commonwealth v. Henri Miller. In reality Justice Is Mind was primarily filmed in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This past week, Justice Is Mind’s editor Jared Skolnick, who is also an award winning filmmaker, was featured in an article titled “Hey, Hollywood and Bollywood — how about Valleywood?” The story in The Valley Advocate stated that Jared “makes movies in the Valley because this is where he’s from and where he began building his professional network.” The same holds true for me. Even when I was living in Los Angeles in 2007 and cast the two leads in First World in the “Golden State” of California, I filmed the project in Massachusetts? Why? Because this is where I’m from.

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The Secretary of State’s Washington, D.C., apartment in First World was filmed at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.

Having lived in both New York City and Los Angeles, I can certainly understand the desire to be at the epicenter of the entertainment industry. Having been on a network TV show, a city like Los Angeles can be very exciting when you are working on the high end of the industry. I know numerous actors (some I’ve trained) and filmmakers who have left Massachusetts for the hope of fame and fortune. I firmly believe if you have the desire and will to move to these cities you should. You will never know until you try.  For me, I’m glad I had my experience in both these great cities, positive ones from a career point of view, but my creative energy and the launching of all my projects has originated in Massachusetts.  It’s not something I set out to do, it just happened that way. My new personal website, www.markashtonlund.com, chronicles the journey.

Case in point, the making of First World and Justice Is Mind. Both of these projects were enormously ambitious between the number of talent involved and needed locations. I had to work in a region where I knew the people and their general enthusiasm about being part of the film.  Why film in a location that will require permitting, location fees and local regulations just to look cool, when you can film somewhere else for free working with enthusiastic location partners in exchange for promoting their business?

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Preliminary plans for SOS United States call for the opening scene to be filmed on the USS Massachusetts in Fall River.

For me, as I did with Justice Is Mind, once I give the green light to a project I like to move along at reasonable pace in pre-production. Simply put, time is money whether literally or figuratively.  As some may have noticed from postings to this blog, I have generally already scouted most of the locations for SOS United States and to some degree for In Mind We Trust.

But as we have seen from the latest film markets, the greatest challenge filmmakers on all levels have is in securing production financing for their projects and a return on investment.  You don’t have to be a fortune teller to recognize that it always comes down to equity and what the investor wants. To say there has been an about face in film financing you just have to revisit articles that the trades wrote around the latest American Film Market and then there was this blog post over at Film Specific. But there is one piece to “The Commonwealth” financing pie that keeps films in the state.

Tax credits.

Mark Lund   Producer. Director. Writer. TV Personality.

I launched a new personal website this week. Check out http://www.markashtonlund.com


Prime Directive

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In SOS United States military grade lasers are installed on the SS Leviathan and take on F35s.

Although Justice Is Mind has been on Amazon Prime for over a year, last night was the first time I saw it on a TV half the size of my car (My Pontiac Solstice even appears in the film).  While I’ve seen the film countless times on my computer during the production phase, and at every theatrical screening, seeing it in this context was a new experience.  I may be a bit bias of course, but the quality of the picture and sound was probably the best I’ve ever seen it.  When I think of the numerous QC (Quality Control) checks we had to go through, seeing it in this format brings another round of applause to the cast and crew and the technology of VOD.

As a filmmaker, I’ve worked with Amazon for years. They are by far, in my experience, the most filmmaker friendly of all the VOD services. In addition to paying on a monthly basis, their algorithm technology ensures that customers that may be interested in your film are made aware of it. Of course, I’ve been marketing First World and Justice Is Mind on a regular basis to drive traffic to our listings on Amazon and other VOD platforms. Simply put the old adage of “if you build it they will come” doesn’t work, it comes down to marketing.

Amazon Prime

On Amazon Prime.

Regarding marketing and distribution, there was an interesting article on IndieWire this week about self-distribution. Having been a magazine publisher, distribution for me is second nature. But I know way too many filmmakers that hate it. Look, I get it. You just wanted to make your film and it took every resource you knew to accomplish that.  With First World and Justice Is Mind now released, there’s just a regular program to keep the conversation going in whatever venue, media outlet or platform I can reach. But now, I’m back to the foundation building process with In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, and SOS United States. Making a film is like building a house—it all starts with a foundation.

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In In Mind We Trust the CIA is at the center of a clandestine mind reading program with Reincar Scientific.

As for the foundations of the industry, there is some serious seismic activity going on.  From Variety’s “Why Good Films Are Failing at the Box Office in Awards Season” to the Hollywood Reporter’s “Harvey Weinstein on the Awards Season Crunch: “Everybody Cannibalized Each Other,” one has to wonder what state the industry will be in a year from now from a business point of view. That business starts with economics when someone, or some company, funds these visions.  As I’ve stated before, I’ll state again, it does come down to a return on investment. I’ve never understood why the industry cannibalizes itself for an award at the expense of profitability. In all seriousness, I personally don’t care what film wins what award, I’m just interested in the film itself.

Audiences aren’t stupid, they want to see quality films. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if someone sees a film in a theater, they will look for it on a platform like Amazon. Of course in “the old days” that conversation was around DVDs. Remember when films would go “straight to DVD”?  Now some go straight to VOD.  If there is one word that drives this industry and its resiliency it’s innovation.  It’s innovation that gives filmmakers and audiences choices on where and how to watch a film.

On screen.

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In First World, China launches a manned mission to the Moon in 2018. In the real world, China’s space program is launching forward.

 

 


State Secrets

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In Witness for the Prosecution the ending was a guarded secret in production.

Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy that is truly far far away, inhabitants of the planet Earth are eagerly awaiting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to hit theaters on December 18. We’ve seen the trailers, the stills and countless articles speculating on the story itself, but the latter is truly nothing less than a state secret – and well it should be. This past week on IndieWire even Mark Hamill stated, “I’m Not Even Authorized To Tell You I’m In Episode VII.”

When I was booked on Skating with Celebrities back in 2005 all of us involved in that show, including the studio audience, were sworn to absolute secrecy by an iron clad contract. The show was produced live to tape and then aired in early 2006. Yes, everyone I knew asked me in one way or another who won. Some were downright angry I didn’t confess the results and some were, ready, offended. Like I cared.  You don’t risk an entire production and litigation to satisfy one person, who will tell another and so on.

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In Justice Is Mind this key witness for the prosecution turns the case.

There were so many things I learned on that show that I have taken to my filmmaking work. Like my contract with FOX, the agreements I put in place for Justice Is Mind had a photography and non-disclosure clause. Most were totally fine with it, but it did strike some as overly controlling. My on camera work up until Skating with Celebrities was mostly live so there was no need for a non-disclosure, but you quickly learn the reasons why such things are necessary. Think about it, do you want to risk giving away the ending to a project that has been years in development and lessen its commercial appeal? Even now, I don’t allow clips to be manipulated or edited without my written approval.

We very much live in a “look at me” society with social media leading the charge. Sadly, I see so many posts about submissions, meetings and auditions that I would want to keep off the radar. What if your film doesn’t get accepted? That meeting falls apart? You don’t get cast? At any given time I have more irons in the fire than I can sometimes keep track of (thank god I have my lists!). Unfortunately, premature announcements can derail a deal that may have come to fruition if given enough time.

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On FOX’s Skating with Celebrities in 2006. We all signed a strict non-disclosure agreement.

One such deal that was months in the making was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Imagine if I had breathed a word of it prior to it being a done deal. Cunard just simply could have said they declined to screen the film, I would have had serious embarrassment written all over my face to say nothing of tarnishing the brand of a film I have worked on for years.  In the end the timing worked out great. The deal came through right before one of our screenings. I announced it publicly in May 2014 prior to our screening at the Elm Draught House Cinema.

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Great to see Justice Is Mind number 2 to Star Wars: The Force Awakens on this list.

Perhaps one of the most famous plot secrets was around one of my favorite films Witness for the Prosecution.  In addition to director Bill Wilder holding the last ten pages of the film from the actors until it was shot, the end credits of the film features the following “The management of this theatre suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” Starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, I highly recommend this 1957 classic.

But one thing that’s not secret was discovering that Justice Is Mind was named number two on a user created IMDb list. What film was number one on that list? Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Black budget.

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Finishing edits to In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, this week.


Observation Deck

The SS United States may go to Brooklyn. Imagine the world premiere of SOS United States on the ship.

The SS United States may go to Brooklyn. Imagine the world premiere of SOS United States on the ship.

This post might be observed as a continuation of The Cold Call.  As I’ve previously discussed, whether you are a studio, production company or independent filmmaker, you need investors to realize your projects.  As I stated in my opening remarks at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, without them you don’t have a project. It doesn’t matter how great it is.

Over the last few weeks, I have discovered a not so pleasant revelation of investors (hedge funds, private equity, etc.) that used to be involved in the industry but aren’t any longer.  The reasons stem from lack of returns, revenue transparency or, worse, misrepresentation. These investors that used to invest millions now invest elsewhere, and for good reason.

As filmmakers we are creators, visionaries that can illuminate a project without showing one frame on the screen. It’s what we do.  It’s not only the investor we have to sell; but the actors, crew, location, marketing partners, distributors, etc. But there is also a business side that needs to be observed to make these dreams happen in the first place.

""The controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations." More articles coming out supporting the storyline in Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust.

“The controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.” More articles coming out supporting the storyline in Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust.

The one thing I have learned with investors over the years from publishing to filmmaking is what I call an alignment of common interests. Yes, you want funding, but you also want some sort of engagement. When I was publishing magazines, my investors had a vested interest in the industry we covered. In filmmaking it can be anything from the subject of the film, the mechanics of the process or simply a pure investment play to generate a return. But in my view, it just comes down to being honest and, to be blunt, not a bullshit artist.

Yes, I will tell you point blank that I can make $1,000 look like $50,000 on screen and back it up with the talent involved and technology shop talk. But I will not tell you that we will get selected for Sundance and all rights deal that includes a wide theatrical release. But what I will state is how I accomplished a theatrical run and VOD distribution for Justice Is Mind. I’ll then mention the various companies I would use to facilitate this process for the next project. In other words, transparency.

If a teen can hack the CIA's directors personal email, then the storyline in SOS United States is not only plausible by real.

If a teen can hack the CIA’s directors personal email, then the storyline in SOS United States is not only plausible but real.

As I filmmaker I couldn’t have asked for better investors in Justice Is Mind.  First, as they are in business for themselves, they were realists and enjoyed both the excitement and challenges that come with any new business. And a film, even a low budget indie, is a business.

The one area they found particularly interesting was distribution. Rightly so, they wanted to know how Justice Is Mind was going to market. While the business plan spelled out our primary method at the time, during the production of Justice Is Mind a company I was going to work with changed their business model that didn’t align with ours. This is when it comes down to adaptability and looking for new avenues. Those avenues led us to a limited theatrical run, an international premiere on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, solid media coverage and VOD distribution. Yes, we all want more, but the one thing this industry takes is time—time to build relationships, new projects and getting them to market.

Full ahead.

With my two investors at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind.

With my two investors at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind.


The Inspiration

In SOS United States The Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.

In SOS United States the Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.

With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in full swing, I enjoy reading the dailies and the state of the industry. What was a relatively unusual trend is that The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire all generally reported that this market may be a slower one due to a conflux of trends; from the availability of cast driven projects to disappointments at the box office from previous festival sales. Truth be told, there is no crystal ball to predict what will resonate with audiences.

But if there is one thing that has to resonate with me, it’s inspiration. If I am not inspired by the subject matter, if I don’t believe in the material, if I can’t envision it on the screen, I can’t get behind it. One only has to witness the disaster that was the latest iteration of Fantastic Four. The film was a forced project for the sake of “rights” rather than passion.

In Justice Is Mind mind reading technology finds a a defendant on trial for a double murder he doesn't remember committing.

In Justice Is Mind mind reading technology finds a a defendant on trial for a double murder he doesn’t remember committing.

With all my projects they are driven by something that inspired me. Whether it was the Apollo space program for First World, mind reading technology for Justice Is Mind or government conspiracies in SOS United States, it is the underlying material that motivates and inspires me.  It’s not enough for me to be a filmmaker, I must be a promoter as well. Because if I don’t believe in the project why should anybody else.

This past week I ran into someone at my gym who has seen my films and he asked “How do I do it?” He was asking about the recent press we had around the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind. My response was pretty quick, “Because I believe in it.”  I know how Justice has resonated with audiences. I know what their reactions have been after the screenings. But it was also coming up with an angle for the latest media push – second anniversary, positive audience reactions and a sequel in development with In Mind We Trust.  It gave the media something to tell their audiences.

In In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, the secretive FISA Court finds itself in the middle of mind reading conspiracy.

In In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, the secretive FISA Court finds itself in the middle of a mind reading conspiracy with the NSA and CIA.

And this is what the industry is all about – the audience. I sometimes think this vital attribute is missed by the vacuum atmosphere of festivals. An audience at a film festival is vastly different from one at the local theater. At a festival you are probably a cinephile or industry executive and will see just about anything, but it’s the real world of the local theater that shines light on what an audience wants to see.

As The Hollywood Reporter stated, “Despite a challenging climate for indie film financing” projects are getting done because of valuable co-productions. Indeed this is an industry about partnerships. I learned this when our location partners for Justice Is Mind also became valuable marketing partners. It’s about inspiring others to see your vision.

New developments.

In First World a covert military operation aims to stop China's first manned mission to the Moon.

In First World a covert military operation aims to stop China’s first manned mission to the Moon.


Five Year Mission

Gail Sullivan as Helen Granger with Robin Ann Rapoport as Margaret Miller in Justice Is Mind.

Gail Sullivan as Helen Granger with Robin Ann Rapoport as Margaret Miller in Justice Is Mind.

No this post isn’t about the five year mission about the Starship Enterprise (I love Star Trek), it’s about the concept, development, launch and marketing of an independent feature film called Justice Is Mind.

With our second anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic, it’s hard to believe that five years has gone by since I first started to write the screenplay.  From the screenplay, to the short film Evidence to the feature Justice Is Mind, it is a journey I would do again in a heartbeat.

Charles Laughton and Walter Pidgeon in Advise & Consent (1962).

In the Senate. Charles Laughton and Walter Pidgeon in Advise & Consent (1962).

This past week Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in Justice Is Mind commented on Facebook, “How many movies are showing after two years? Just the classics, which means this one is definitely a classic!” Those words meant a lot.  But it also meant something else that’s very important to remember, just because a film is released once and isn’t part of the “studio system” doesn’t mean that it can’t be released again and again.

Visiting the replica of the Senate at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate last weekend.

Visiting the replica of the Senate at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate last weekend.

Will Justice Is Mind become a true classic? Only time will tell. But the glorious thing about filmmaking now is that video on demand makes longevity possible.  Gone are the days when a film is made and forgotten (unless it develops a cult like following). For me, it’s all about discovery.  While I love contemporary independent films like The King’s Speech and The Imitation Game, it’s classics like Laura and Advise & Consent that are true finds for me.  Then there is my passionate interest in 1950s science fiction (add The 27th Day to my list). But in the here and now there is Justice Is Mind to market.

This past week I finished up my interviews with the regional press. What will they report on? That’s up to them. But like I said last week, I try to always provide some sort of newsworthy hook. From the concept of the film, our screenings to date, the anniversary and the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust, all the reporters had their own take.

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One asked if I would have done anything differently. Yes, there is one thing. I wouldn’t have wasted good money listening to “experts” about film festival submissions, I would have just planned a theatrical release from day one. Thankfully, I got wind of the festival world before our world premiere so I started working feverishly on our theatrical release in the summer of 2013. If you want to read an excellent article about the film festival world, check out this article.  Bottom line, unless it’s a film market (Toronto, etc.), I’d much rather have my film screen in theaters dedicated to my film (with audiences paying for tickets) rather than having to play in a chorus with others. Sorry, I’m an “independent” filmmaker.

So as I continue to work on the final leg of the marketing and public relations push for Justice Is Mind’s second anniversary screening on August 18 at Cinemagic, I’m reaching the apex of the screenplay I’m adapting from the book Winds of Fall. Actually, that’s timing pretty good for a first draft to be finished by the fall.

The mission continues.

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The Concept

From the In Mind We Trust concept trailer.

From the In Mind We Trust concept trailer.

When I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010 I don’t recall thinking about a sequel. It’s hard enough getting a feature film made in the first place, never mind a continuation of the original story. But no sooner was Justice Is Mind released in 2013 than ideas started to come together from one of the underlying plots in the film – the government’s involvement with mind reading and one family’s search for the truth. After about four months of intense research and writing, In Mind We Trust was complete.

One of the more popular ways to bring projects to life is with a concept trailer also known as “proof of concept”. One of the most popular of these trailers was for a project called The Leviathan. I love high concept sci-fi and this had it in spades. By all reports it looks like The Leviathan will be turned into a feature film.

The concept trailer links Justice Is Mind to In Mind We Trust with stolen NAZI artwork.

The concept trailer links Justice Is Mind to In Mind We Trust with stolen artwork from World War II.

In Mind We Trust is not only high concept, it also involves the intricacies of intelligence agencies, past life regression, stolen artwork and complex legal issues around the Fourth Amendment. The aim with the concept trailer is to distill it down to just over a minute and to find just the right video clips to make it work. In my search for clips, the ones I thought were going to be impossible to find showed up on the first search, while some I expected to be easy took me a few days. But in the end, I believe I have a workable presentation. At 2:36 the concept trailer starts with Justice Is Mind and then introduces the key elements of In Mind We Trust. The plan is to release it just prior to Justice Is Mind’s 2nd anniversary screening on August 18 at Cinemagic.

As for the upcoming 2nd anniversary screening on August 18, things are moving forward nicely. Tickets went on sale this past week, some listings are showing up and Pizza Post is back on board with their special promotion (ticket purchasers get a dollar for dollar redemption).  Look for our press release next week.

Tickets now on sale for Justice Is Mind's second anniversary screening.

Tickets now on sale for Justice Is Mind‘s second anniversary screening.

There was a great article in MovieMaker magazine this week about the 2015 Produced By conference in Los Angeles.  You can read the article at this link. For me, there were so many excellent takeaways. From, “Don’t be afraid to cold call or email”, “Partnerships with companies”, “A great script is the foundation for any project” and “Never produce a project you don’t feel good about”.

But perhaps the most important statement at the conference was, “The one thing that was said in ALL panels regardless of the topic. CONTENT IS KING!! At the end of the day, all that matters is what’s on screen or going to be on screen.”

In development.

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Screen Test

From the screen test at Cinemagic last week.

From the screen test at Cinemagic last week.

There is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than seeing your film come to life in a theatre. It is in that moment that the memories of its development and production come to light. The months you spent writing the script and the time it took to raise the funding to make the film. And just after you hear “that’s a wrap”, more work begins until you have a completed project. Oh yes, then there is marketing and distribution. Welcome to my world.

This past Thursday was the DCP screen test of Justice Is Mind at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Although I was more than pleased with our theatrical DVDs, the clarity and crispness of the DCP was incredible. We’ve screened at two of their theatres before, but this was the first time I saw a DCP of the film. Some of you may be asking, what the hell is a DCP?

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Dmitri Aldershoff as Gary Miller in the opening scene.

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Dmitri Aldershoff as Gary Miller in the opening scene.

A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. It’s what theatres now generally receive from the studios, distributors and filmmakers. While I have yet to come across a theatre that cannot play a DVD, the default standard now is DCP. And my thanks again to the Chatham Orpheum theatre for making our DCP.

On August 18 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary with a special event screening at Cinemagic. Although this will be our 21st screening, I treat each screening like it’s the first one.  I still feel like a kid in a candy store when I see Justice come to life on the big screen. The day I don’t feel that way is the day I set sail from this industry. I was particularly reflective when I was reviewing the last five minutes of the film and the credits started to roll. When you see over 200 names and companies, you quickly realize it takes a small army to make a film.

Kim Gordon as District Attorney Constance Smith.

Kim Gordon as District Attorney Constance Smith.

But this is an industry that never rests. Since the world premiere of Justice in 2013, I have written the political thriller SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind.  The pitch process is just as much on the front lines now as it was when I was presenting Justice in 2011.  Just this week, I pitched First World to a producer that I thought for sure would have been interested (Chinese investor). It was a quick pass. Instead he asked what else I have in my slate and is now looking at SOS United States and In Mind We Trust.

Just as Justice Is Mind came together, the same formula and efforts apply to my other projects. At the end of the day, not only do you need to find the right producing partners, but almost literally the planets need to line up just right. It’s one thing to follow a film market like Cannes, AFM and Toronto and read about X projects that got picked up, funded or whatever. What is never talked about are the countless projects looking for some sort of home. Thankfully, Justice Is Mind has found a home.

So as I ramp up marketing plans for the 2nd Anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind, writing Winds of Fall continues while presentations move forward on SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust.

Next Move.

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National Security

Justice Is Mind will have its Second Anniversary screening on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge.

Justice Is Mind will have its Second Anniversary screening on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge.

In preparation for the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind on August 18, I’m going to Cinemagic tomorrow to give them the film. They’ll have our theatrical DVD and a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). The DCP was created for us by the Chatham Theatre. Sometime next week they’ll run the DCP test. Out of all the theatres which have screened the film, it looked and sounded the best in this theatre. While I know what the DVDs are capable of, I am looking forward to seeing the film in its highest possible resolution.

Since my last post, art is starting to imitate life. In SOS United States a Cyber Pearl Harbor by China takes out the United States power grid and military satellite communications.  Last week the United States strongly believes that China is behind a cyber-attack that compromised millions of Americans. These weren’t just any Americans, the agencies targeted were the Office of Personal Management (OPM) and the Interior Department.

From the concept trailer of SOS United States. Now working on a concept trailer for In Mind We Trust.

From the concept trailer of SOS United States. Now working on a concept trailer for In Mind We Trust.

As part of the development process of SOS United States, I reached out to the media relations office of the National Security Agency a couple of weeks ago. This is the same process I did for First World when I contacted the Secret Service and the various universities and law schools for Justice Is Mind. For me, as a filmmaker and screenwriter, it’s important to get as many facts straight as possible. I believe adding  reality brings believability and plausibility to a movie.

On a personal note, I have no problem with the work the NSA does. Unless you live under a rock and off the grid, we live in a very complicated world. A world that needs to be monitored for the safety of its citizens. As General Blair says in In Mind We Trust at a Congressional hearing, “Senator don’t talk to me about privacy when most of the planet posts their most intimate details voluntarily. You know as well as I that the next attack on the United States isn’t going to come over the pole as a nuclear device, it’s going to come from a computer.”

In the studio with Chris Denmead.

At WCUW 91.3 FM with Chris Denmead.

Speaking of In Mind We Trust, I am developing a concept trailer along with Justice Is Mind composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta. Originally, I was thinking it would be just about a minute long, but given the scope of the story we are expanding it to over two minutes. The first minute introduces elements in Justice Is Mind that propel the In Mind We Trust storyline.

Continuing with the development process, I was invited on Chris Denmead’s show Radio of Horror on WCUW 91.3 FM a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to the interview at this link where I talk about a wide variety of subjects around filmmaking. I met Chris when he participated in Justice Is Mind during the flashback wedding scene. As I’ve often said, this is an industry of networking and relationships.

Just as this week was coming to an end, I was alerted to this article in the Huffington Post stating “Scientists Can Read Your Mind Using These Images of the Brain”. It was great to read the latest news from Carnegie Mellon University’s research in this area and Dr. Marcel Just’s quotes. As some of you may know, I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind after seeing Dr. Just on a 60 Minutes story in 2009 that talked about ‘thought identification’. Justice Is Mind had the opportunity to screen at Carnegie last year.

Full Circle.

At the Sole Proprietor restaurant. Celebrating my 50th and my mother's 77th birthdays last weekend.

At the Sole Proprietor restaurant. Celebrating my 50th and my mother’s 77th birthdays last weekend.