I programmed SpaceX’s launch date into my calendar. The upcoming launch of the Falcon Heavy was an event I wasn’t going to miss! But as can often happen with a launch, the time (and even date) can change at a moment’s notice. When the launch time did change, I went to the gym. As the time ticked down, most of the news oriented stations started to report on what was either going to be an historic success or a catastrophic failure.
I soon found myself paying attention to who was watching and who wasn’t. Yes, there were a good number of people watching (particularly in my age group). But then there were those that just didn’t seem to care. Judge Judy and Dr. Phil are fine enough shows, but you only get one chance at seeing history in the making and remembering where you were at the time. While I remember seeing the later Apollo missions on TV, at four years old I was a bit too young to remember Apollo 11. To this day I still remember those grainy black and white images. But today’s broadcast was being carried in vivid HD.
Watching the Falcon Heavy liftoff from the same pad as Apollo 11 was epic. It reminded me of what’s possible when we join together to create greatness. It’s this type of science, cooperation, ingenuity and forward thinking that makes this country great not myopic politicians. Although the political winds of the Cold War set the space program on the course it achieved in the 1950s and 60s, it’s private enterprise that will take us on the next step of this final frontier.
There’s no question that my following of the space program led to my interest in science fiction. While the 60s had Star Trek (again, a bit before my time), my introduction to science fiction was in the 70s with such programs as UFO and Space: 1999. Each of those programs had a base on the Moon along with a fleet of ships.
Launching oneself into the world of screenwriting also carries its own set of risks (but not nearly as much as an actual rocket launch!), the primary one being the risk of getting a story wrong. Writing an original story is not an easy process. It takes time and research. When I set out to write a story, I usually do some baseline research so when I start to write I don’t need to stop until I reach that next point of needed additional research. When I wrote Justice Is Mind the first phase of research was around thought identification with the second phase being the legal process around a court proceeding. For First Signal, the majority of the research revolved around satellite communications and the Deep Space Network.
As the submission process continues for First Signal, I’ll also be having a meeting this week with a filmmaker. I recently saw some of his work and he had that number one thing that’s so important when working with a crew – inspiration. From my own projects to others, I’ve been on a variety of sets over the last year. And while inspiration is expected from actors, it’s just as important with members of a crew. You can easily see who’s on point and who needs a sharpening.
Last week I had my first pre-production meeting on First Signal. That meeting was with an actress friend I met last year at the Naval Justice School who inspired me to write the story. She will be playing one of the starring roles. At some point this week I will be posting for actors relative to a table read.
As we both talked about last week, what’s exciting is building a project from the ground up. I fondly remember the days when I first heard actors saying the lines I wrote for First World. But it’s when it all comes together for a feature that project takes on a different scope. Those pre-production meetings for Justice Is Mind were involved to say nothing of the number of auditions. While it’s important to cast the right actors for a role, I believe it’s equally important they are enthusiastic about the story.
When one considers the number of projects looking for attention, enthusiasm is critical. Anyone that has been part of my projects knows that I push them (and everyone involved) as far as possible. As leadership starts from the top down, so does enthusiasm. Let’s be honest, nothing is worse than working with someone on a project who is a Debbie Downer. This isn’t about drinking the Kool-Aid, it’s about having a positive attitude.
Speaking of positive developments, all the actor contracts came through for the next class at the Naval Justice School in March. I’m looking forward to a class reunion with some as well as working with new actors I cast in the project. What’s particularly exciting is that we have a retired NCIS Special Agent that will be playing an NCIS Special Agent. As I said to her this week, your resume reads like a Tom Clancy novel! But in all seriousness, it will be great to work with someone so knowledgeable on the subject.
As for knowledge, I’ve been seeing a wide variety of reports relative to First Signal. From buildings on the Moon to alien spacecraft taking off, it certainly helps when you see mainstream media reporting on a project you’re developing.
What I think is great about the independent film world are the sheer number of opportunities and distribution outlets now available to filmmakers. But that doesn’t mean putting all your eggs into one basket. Case in point The Sundance Film Festival. This article in Variety pretty much summed up this year’s festival and market.
I honestly can’t imagine producing a film in the high six or low seven figures and counting on a festival to bring in a distribution deal. When you consider how fractured audiences are now, producing something esoteric or polarizing isn’t going to secure a mainstream distribution deal. As I mentioned in an investor pitch this week, “while it’s easy to source the past performance of other films, we know there are simply no guarantees in this industry when it comes to a financial return.” And while there are no guarantees, why limit yourself geographically when there’s a whole nation out there looking for unique stories? That’s what audiences want, a solid story.
SPACE – LAGRANGE POINT TWO
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!
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.
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.
This morning I finished up the notes for the prequel to First World. The next step is to place it in Final Draft and iron it out. That’s generally the process I use when writing a script. I write out the scene structure and dialogue in Word first. I just find it 10x easier to make quick adjustments in Word before formatting in Final Draft. But when I take that next step in Final Draft that’s when the final story starts to take shape.
I’ve written a variety of scripts over the years. Some produced, some waiting for a deal, but this is one that I specially wrote to produce independently. In the end I’ve stayed with three locations and what will be a liberal use of stock footage. But unlike First World, I think this story has given me the opportunity to really create a solid backstory for two of the main characters. It also examines a presidency in crisis along with an out of control military leader.
As with Justice Is Mind, writing an original story is not easy. We receive our initial round of inspiration but then it’s up to us to figure out the rest. What I always aim to do is to have a beginning and ending in mind. Sure it may change some along the way, but if I have in mind the beginning of Act I and the ending of Act III, then I’m good to start. In my view an Act II should always be what I call “the mess” because that’s what the characters are trying to make sense of and resolve.
This story has a solid protagonist and antagonist. It was my goal to give each side not only a reason for their actions but the ability to carry them out. As a writer we wear many personality hats to create our stories. Many is the day when I thank God I’m working alone because I talk my dialogue out. I don’t think the strange looks from my cats qualifies as the need for being institutionalized, but if a neighbor randomly heard me talking like my characters I’d probably be visited by some sort of federal agency.
Once the first draft is done later this week I’ll be sending it to the actress that inspired me to write it. For me, it’s pretty easy to write a character when you model it on the actress that will play it. However, for the rest of the characters involved, one of my plans is for a table read. I never did that for Justice Is Mind owing to a variety of matters, not the least being the size of the cast, scheduling and time constraints. In the end that worked out fine. But with this project as the majority of the action takes place in a conference room and a field, it’s important to get the character interaction just right.
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.
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.
Last week I mentioned how producing a film is not rocket science, but writing about rocket science is a different story.
With Justice Is Mind I did an exhaustive amount of research on two fronts. The first was mind-reading technology with the second being the law as it applies to investigations and the courtroom. But at some point you reach a certain knowledge bank when you can start writing.
Once a project of mine is given the green light I bring it to experts to insure its veracity. Of course there’s creative licensing, but at the end of the day a rocket launches vertically not horizontally!
One of the things I enjoy the most about screenwriting is learning something new. Am I an expert on mind-reading, the legal profession and rocket science? Good heavens no. But I can certainly talk about it in the context in which it’s presented. That’s what filmmakers do. We present. We create a fictional world against fact. Sure, some stories are pure science fiction with no regard to science, but I like to root my stories in plausibility.
While I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind from a 60 Minutes story, did I ever actually think the science fiction I postulated in my story could become near science fact? As a storyteller I’m doing just that, telling a story. My feeling has always been that as long as the story is interesting, it will hold an audience.
We’ve all been reading the difficulty that films are having at the box office. There are countless discussions on why this is happening. I have my own theories, but what I truly believe it comes down to is having an interesting story that is well marketed.
When I was marketing Justice Is Mind the actors were brilliantly talented and on par with any A list actors you would see on the silver screen, but they were not A list from a public relations point of view. I couldn’t market the film with Starring So and So, but I could market the concept. The end result was audiences bought a ticket and came to our screenings. Some were nearly sold out while others saw an OK attendance. What it proved to all of us was that audiences will turn out for an interesting story.
Revisiting the First World story has also been interesting. In addition to my “rocket science” research, I had almost forgotten the mountain of work I have done on this project, from writing the original script, producing a short film version, writing a sequel and publishing a novella. It’s safe to say I have some well thought out characters to work with!
The weather in Newport last week could not have been nicer. On the drive home Friday, I was reflecting how fast time flies and the weather we had last December and March. Let’s just say it wasn’t very cooperative from black ice to blizzards! But this round could not have gone smoother. From the trials at the Naval Justice School where fourteen of us participated as role players in their mock trial program to evening festivities and touring, it was a great time all the way around.
As I discussed with one of the newer actors to the program, this is probably one of the most unique acting gigs they will do. It’s one thing role playing a character, it’s another interfacing with over sixty students, instructors and leadership at the school. It’s that depth of involvement that has many of us returning for every class.
But with another class over, it’s time to return focus on to other projects. That new idea I mentioned in my last blog post means I will be firing up Final Draft this week. While I won’t go into the premise just yet, it will largely be a one location drama. The genre—science fiction.
As a writer my ideas come from a particular moment or experience. With Justice Is Mind it came from writing the sequel to First World. For this story, I had a basic idea for it last year and wrote down some thoughts placed in a folder called, brace yourself, ideas. But it was over the last four weeks at the Naval Justice School when I started to think about it again and talked to one of the actresses who I already have in mind for a part. Perhaps it was also the fact that fourteen of us are either in a classroom or a courtroom that the idea started to blossom.
Like I told this actress, I generally can’t start writing a story until I have an ending in mind. I need to know where the journey will eventually end. Now, that may change at some point, but it’s something to work towards.
As for the genre, the numbers I’ve been gathering over the last several years just reaffirm the market interest in science fiction. Ten years after its release First World is still generating revenue. The psychological sci-fi of Justice Is Mind, combined with a dramatic story arc through a courtroom, is what brought audiences to theaters and now online.
But for this weekend it’s time to decompress from the last four weeks. However, I will leave you with one word that will be mentioned in this new story…
July 20 should be a national holiday because it marks an unprecedented milestone in the history of the human race – the day we set foot on the Moon in 1969.
Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to look at their home, the planet Earth, from 238,000 miles away. July 20, 1969 marked the very pinnacle of research, science and mankind’s determination to explore the unknown when Armstrong famously said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Yet, sadly, there are those ignorant dangerous fools that still believe the manned missions to the Moon were a hoax. Somehow an achievement that exceeded the mysterious building of the Great Pyramids was created by the Hollywood studios. It’s unbelievable to me in today’s day and age that such ignorance permeates our existence. When evidence is there for everyone to hear and see, they turn deaf and blind by deliberate choice. Some of these misguided morons have tried to post their so-called views on First World’s Facebook page. Thankfully it’s called a delete and ban.
Yes, as you can surmise I feel very strongly about the aforementioned. For if there is one thing the Apollo space program taught us was that anything is possible if we remain singularly focused on just such a mission. In the 1960s there’s no question that the United States government was motivated to compete against the then Soviet Union. Say what you want, but that was a healthy competition because the fruits of all those scientists lay in the very technology we enjoy today.
But decades before Apollo 11 there were the steps of over 300,000 allied soldiers that were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Battle of Dunkirk is well known as a substantial turning point in World War II and has been brought back to life by Hollywood.
Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk is most certainly a must-see film. But more importantly it is a history lesson for those that may not know the story. It is a story about what’s possible when faced with the impossible. How do you evacuate over 300,000 people off a beach? The answer was as miraculous as it was obvious—you mobilize a fleet of small civilian boats to effect a rescue.
While I greatly enjoyed Nolan’s version of Dunkirk, if anything because it reintroduced this critical moment in world history to 21st century audiences, I found myself enjoying the 1958 version better. For me it provided a larger backstory as it followed several characters between England and France until they arrived on the beaches of Dunkirk.
But whether you liked the 1958 version over the 2017 entry isn’t important. What’s important is that these films are watched. What’s important is that we learn from history. Who would have thought back in 1940 that the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany (and Japan) would someday become great allies in years to come? For it’s allies that truly unite mankind. Building off that first step on the Moon, modern day space programs are a coalition of cultures.
Yesterday was President Kennedy’s 100th birthday and it was celebrated by the over 4,500 that attended the Kennedy Library. The day’s long festivities even included a birthday cake for over 1,000 guests!
This was my third trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and it never disappoints. But given the current political climate in the United States, this visit was even more poignant.
The one thing that I took away from my visit yesterday was not only the enthusiasm of those that attended, but the messages that the museum offered. A world of hope, unity and democracy was what resonated with me. Look no administration is perfect and Kennedy’s had its issues, but at the end of the day civil rights, the arts, the space program and strong relations with our allies were the hallmarks that I reflect on.
I have been fortunate to have travelled most of Europe and have seen first-hand the good relations the United States projects to our allies. These weren’t just holidays, in most cases they were business trips where I worked with a variety of colleagues on numerous projects. Like Kennedy, I’ve been to the Brandenburg Gate but not when the wall was standing. For me, I drove in a convertible right under it. Or in this case, right through history.
At the Kennedy museum a piece of the Berlin wall stands alone in a corner. I can only imagine what the Berlin Wall looked like at the height of the Cold War never mind its intended purpose. We know from history that the building of walls does nothing to bring people together, it divides them.
I like to think that the word UNITED in the name of my country means more than just states but the world at large. On June 26, 1963 at the gate in Berlin, President Kennedy stated, “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
One of the highlights from yesterday was the performance by the United States Navy Band. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, hearing them play was truly something to be remembered.
But it’s important to remember that yesterday was Memorial Day. A day to remember those who died while serving in our armed services. Those that made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms of democracy today. Think for a moment living in a world where freedom of the press, religion, choice, assembly, and so many other rights that we take for granted not existing.
Today we live in a complicated world, but I wonder if it’s really any different from the world that existed during the Kennedy Administration. The difference today is that social media has illuminated all facets of society here in the United States and abroad. It’s what we do with that illumination as a country and as a society that will mark our place in history. As President Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.
Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.
In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.
After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.
Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!
After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.
But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.
First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.
Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.
Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…
I have been a space enthusiast ever since I was kid. I remember to this day some of the last Apollo missions to the moon, a time in our nation’s history when the United States achieved great accomplishments, when we worked through the problem to solve the impossible. But while the 1960s was a time America moved forward in the direction of science, it was far from forward when it came to civil rights.
Last night I saw the acclaimed Hidden Figures to a packed audience at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA. I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I heard about it. The story itself can best be summed up by its logline, “The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.”
The balance in story that director Theodore Melfi achieved between the rapid progress of the space program contrasting to the glacial pace of civil rights, created not only a must see film but one with a lasting message of hope. Hidden Figures is a movie that champions the possibilities of the human race when working towards a common goal, in this case the space race between the United States and Soviet Union. Indeed this is a movie for the history books, one that will be long remembered decades after its release.
But long remembered was another character in the film, astronaut John Glenn. This past week Glenn was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It was on February 20, 1962 that he boarded Friendship 7 at Cape Canaveral. It was this pivotal moment in the fledgling space program that was prominently featured in Hidden Figures.
Perhaps the one thing that made last night’s screening so memorable was the reaction of the audience when the credits started to roll—applause. When a film moves an audience to such a degree that they enthusiastically applaud that does make the journey for all those involved in making the film a worthwhile endeavor.
As I have often said, movies need to be seen in a theater. While I’ve been a champion of VOD since its inception, it is the theatrical experience that creates the event. In that moment a group of complete strangers (usually) get together for a single purpose—to be entertained.
In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.
The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.
This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film. In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.
With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office. For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.
We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.
When I was living in New York City in the 1980s there was ship docked a couple of avenues away that I would sometimes notice. In those days it was a dawn walk down 10th avenue in the morning on my way to Sky Rink before I went to work at Time magazine. That ship was the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid.
Last week I traveled to the city to spend the day at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. I’m not sure if there is another museum in the world that offers an aircraft carrier from World War II, the Concorde, the Space Shuttle Enterprise and the Galileo shuttle from the famed TV series Star Trek. Needless to say among the array of exhibits there’s plenty to do!
When I was researching and writing both First World and SOS United States there was so much at the museum that touched on these stories. Not only do both involve aircraft carriers, the basis for First World is the 1960s space program and the return of the Concorde in SOS United States as Commonwealth One for the Prime Minister of the UK. It’s one thing researching a subject, it’s entirely another to experience them in real life.
Of course, being a Star Trek fan, I know the museum is getting a Star Trek exhibit in July. What I didn’t know is when I walked into the Space Shuttle pavilion I would see the Galileo shuttle from the TV show! I had just watched a documentary on the group of fans that saved this storied piece of TV history from a piece of discarded junk to a restored prop of broadcast quality. Yes, it was a total geek out moment seeing this iconic prop.
As for history, I remember seeing the Space Shuttle Enterprise on TV when it did its atmospheric tests in the 70s. Although I saw the Space Shuttle Discovery some years ago at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the way the museum has the Enterprise displayed along with its related history and exhibits made the pavilion one of the highlights of my visit.
When I was at the museum I took two guided tours, Pacific War: USS Intrepid in WWII and Concorde a Supersonic Story. For the respective price of $15 and $20, they were wonderfully informative and were essentially private tours. For WWII it was another guest and myself. The tour was all the more interesting as the other guest was a veteran of the Korean War. If it wasn’t for those brave men and women that serve in our military, we would be living in an unrecognizable world today.
Having always been a fan of the Concorde, I saved what turned out to be a private tour until the end of the day. If you grew up in the 70s the Concorde was all over the news. Simply put she was so far ahead of her time that just to see the plane was a cool experience. I first saw Concorde in 1985 on my first trip to London as she was taxing at Heathrow. As I understand it from the terrific guide I had, this is one of the few Concordes in the world that you can actually go into. When I was sitting in the passenger seats I was just thinking to myself about the amazing conversations and deals that went down in the cabin during her time in service.
As for time, I met up with my former business partner Lois Elfman for a wonderful dinner at Bistro Citron (highly recommended!). I first met Lois during my days in New York City at the offices of the Ice Theatre of New York (for insiders Moira’s loft). As many know we went on to launch a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating that we proudly built into the world’s largest with an “intrepid” team.
Speaking of building, I just completed the second act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating “If she skates the way she did at sectionals she’s going to worlds. And the Federation can’t stop it.”
When I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010 I had no idea that the science of mind reading and its related legal and ethical implications would present itself in the real world the way it did (Pamela Glasner’s article in The Huffington Post pretty much sums it up). There’s no question this public awareness helps when I market the film.
In the sequel, In Mind We Trust, part of the storyline picks up from the end of Justice Is Mind – lost artwork from WWII. In the story it’s revealed that Wilhelm Miller worked in transportation whose responsibility was to ship stolen artwork via train, artwork that disappeared at the end of the war and begins to resurface through the Miller family.
It is oddly ironic that over the last few weeks there has been substantive media attention to an alleged underground NAZI gold train that disappeared at the end of the war. Apparently, a death bed confession revealed its whereabouts. There’s no question that there are countless unresolved mysteries from that time period. And the stealing of artwork, gold and other treasures during the war is another horrid atrocity that the world continues to face and rightly so. Now that Poland’s military is involved in the search, we should have a resolution one way or the other sooner rather than later.
But then we move forward in time to First World and SOS United States. When I wrote First World back in 2006 sure China had ambitious plans with their space program. But I had no idea it would move along at the pace it has. There’s no question, that unless something substantive happens to China’s economy, that country will land a man on the Moon. Much like the space race when the Soviet Union successfully put Sputnik in orbit, it was a wake-up call to the United States. And wake-up our country did by landing a man on the Moon in 1969. Curious how Russia announced this past week they are going to the Moon. Something tells me that China and Russia will soon be cooperating.
This of course brings us to SOS United States. Although China is moving along at a rapid clip, they are disadvantaged in certain areas of military might, particularly in aircraft carrier development, thus the conflict in my political thriller around the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and her ordnance.
But it is the continued cyber-attacks by groups in China directed against United States interests that really is the crux of the world we live in and a major plot element in SOS United States. And let us not forget how Chinese warships entered United States waters off Alaska this week.
In my view, every film whether the subject is good, bad or indifferent needs some sort of hook. Something that will pull the audience in from the real world while they escape into the narrative world of a movie.
Exactly one month from today Justice Is Mind will celebrate its Second Anniversary on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Actors and crew continue to RSVP their attendance, traditional and social media is picking up, photographers are confirmed and the theater has the film. Believe me there’s still plenty to do with the media follow ups and general marketing push, but the event is tracking well. For me it comes down to planning and organization. Time moves quickly and before you know it you are seeing your event come up on the horizon.
When I was writing In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, there were a few things I wanted to make sure the sequel captured. First, the Miller family was still the nucleus of the primary story while key plot points from part one (Justice Is Mind) were expanded. In the case of In Mind We Trust it was the government’s involvement with mind reading and their partnership with Reincar Scientific. Also, when you consider TV shows like The Blacklist, Fringe, etc., audiences enjoy what I call “intelligent intrigue”.
I am pleased to present the concept trailer for In Mind We Trust. The trailer can be watched on Vimeo or YouTube. My aim with the concept trailer was to introduce elements from Justice Is Mind that carry forward into the sequel In Mind We Trust. From part one we know the United States government and intelligence agencies are, for some reason, involved with mind reading technology. The answers become clear in the sequel, thus the concept trailer sheds some light on where the story will go. And as the U.S. Supreme Court has now become the defacto policy maker in our government, the concept trailer, like the screenplay, ends at America’s highest court in the land.
Of course, I want to thank Daniel Elek-Diamanta for the tremendous score he wrote for the concept trailer. The gravitas of his score just brings the entire concept trailer to life. Those of you that have been following Justice Is Mind know that Daniel scored the entire film. Indeed, as one of our actors said recently, it’s worth the price of the ticket just to hear his score. For those of you that can’t make our screening on August 18, please visit www.justiceismind.com for VOD viewing options.
But the real new horizon this week was not a movie, it was the actual New Horizons interplanetary spacecraft and successful Pluto flyby on July 14. The word “stunning” doesn’t even begin to describe the quality of the images New Horizons set back to Earth.
I was a bit too young (4) to appreciate the Apollo 11 Moon landing, but the excitement shared around the world about New Horizons encounter with Pluto was truly one for the history books. From NASA’s scientific achievement to the sheer enthusiasm of audiences around the world waiting and watching for those early pictures. I can only imagine how the New Horizons team felt when they were waiting for the spacecraft to communicate after its closest flyby. Nearly ten years in space, and years of planning before that, and you are waiting for a signal, until…
New Horizons phoned home.
To learn more about New Horizons and its historic mission to Pluto, please click this link.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
On Thursday, November 7 at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA at 6:30 PM Justice Is Mind will have its west coast premiere. For me, it will be a combination of a reunion and a return to a city I lived in for three years from late 2005 through early 2008.
The word reunion has been in my orbit the last couple of days. While Justice Is Mind was having its Vermont premiere at The Tiny Theatre in Poultney, VT last night, my best friend, and Justice executive producer, Mary Wenninger and I attended our 30th high school reunion. Organized by Sheila Mandeville, who also played the jury forewoman in Justice, it was surreal visiting with classmates I haven’t seen in thirty years. We graduated in 1983. Who would have thought that all those years ago, we would be involved in a feature film!
Moving towards the present, on Thursday there will be another reunion of sorts with my entertainment attorney and friend Arnold Peter, Angelina Spicer, who starred in my first film First World, along with a variety of friends I haven’t seen since I left the city. Social media keeps us electronically connected, but there’s nothing like a real life visit to properly catch up.
While the next few days will be filled with confirmations, last minute emails, phone calls and general preparation for what will, no doubt, be a grand evening on Thursday, there is certainly a class reunion atmosphere that has enveloped around Justice. With most of our screenings, there has been some “class” presence. Last night in VT it was Ken Holmes and Tom Pomfret (the contractors) that played host. At our reunion, Sheila brought a projector and screen that played Justice in the background. Like so many of us, my interest in the industry started in the high school drama club. My dream then to produce a feature film was finally realized.
Being excited about our screening in Los Angeles would be an understatement. I’m glad Vernon Aldershoff (Henri Miller) and Michele Mortensen (Maria Miller) will be joining in the festivities and sharing the experience. Sure, there will be many familiar faces in the audience, but it will be good to know there are those that have shared in the journey since the beginning.
Developing, producing and distributing a feature film is a journey in and of itself. Having read another article this week from a “Hollywood star” about the difficulties and challenges of getting a feature film made, with Justice completed I intend to enjoy the ride for as long as possible.
If I researched it right, it was Theodore Roosevelt that said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
So while Justice Is Mind is playing Thursday night in a theatre in the entertainment capital of the world, I will reflect on my senior year in high school standing on a stage dreaming that someday, somehow, I was going to make a feature film.
As we are coming into the final four weeks until the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, I have been reflecting over the last few days on how this entire project started and the journey to this moment.
It was 2010 when I was writing the sequel to First World when I began researching the “possibility” of mind reading machines for part of that story. Learning of fMRI procedures and discovering the 60 Minutes Thought Identification program, Justice came to life through my passion for courtroom dramas (Judgment at Nuremberg, Witness for the Prosecution) and science fiction (Gattaca and Fringe). I also love the procedural format (Law & Order).
With script in hand and my business plan complete the journey began to find the funding. Ask any screenwriter the pitch process is arduous, time intensive and honestly depressing. Simply put, even if you get past the gatekeepers who accept submissions or have your agent/rep submit, you still have to convince your first point of contact (which you always hope is a producer) to, at minimum, option your screenplay. Thus even with some option money in your pocket, you still have to wait to see if they are going to produce your dream…I mean story. I know some screenwriters that are totally fine with that process. They write, get paid and move on to the next writing project. They don’t care if their story is produced. But for me, I want to see all that work move from script to screen. As a writer there’s nothing like seeing your work come to life.
After months of presenting to production companies and hearing things like “it’s not for us”, “we’ve seen similar” (you know what translates to) or my favorite “we’re working on something just like this” (seriously run from those companies and keep your correspondence), the funding came together from two of the most unlikely sources – my best friend Mary and her husband Stefan. Ever since I was in grade school I have dreamed of producing a motion picture and now it was going to happen.
But as I’ve said before, producing a film is not for the faint at heart (no matter what the budget is) and is a business. Mary and Stefan knew I used to run a media company and that I’ve managed direct reports. But while they loved the story, I had a business plan that was “reasonable” and not filled with fluff (there was zero mention of Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch). Just practical numbers on indie films of the same budget class and available distribution data. But I really credit the production of my first short film First World in 2007 to making all this possible as I was able to combine my practical business background to a film (albeit a short one). When I was publishing magazines I handled our newsstand distribution. Film distribution has a variety of similarities – you have to deliver the product, you only get a percentage of the retail price, there are middlemen and each deal is different. After screening at over 20 sci-fi conventions in numerous countries, First World was picked up for distribution by IndieFlix and ran on Hulu for well over a year.
Now a mission control like atmosphere has taken over the project. Justice has left the vehicle assembly building and we are on the crawling transporter to LC 39. Launch control center is manned by our editor, sound mixer, director of photography, composer and other technical personnel. Final operating systems are in place and are being tested.
And while the aforementioned is the atmosphere I’m feeling for Justice right now, it is a tribute to the Apollo 11 space program for on this day back in 1969 our world was forever changed when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon and said, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
T-minus 28 days.
As filmmakers we all believe that our project deserves the best. Indeed, if we aren’t going to champion our own project who is? But like the title of this post, Dickens’s novel was met with mixed reviews. In the world of entertainment, it’s all about the review, the acceptance of our work. And part of that world revolves around being accepted into a film festival.
IndieWire always has excellent, if not practical, articles that solidly pertain to the world of independent filmmaking. Fair Trade for Filmmakers: Is It Time For Festivals To Share Their Revenue? suggested that film festivals pay filmmakers to screen their films once accepted. Frankly, I think this is an excellent idea. Filmmakers need to get paid for their work. There are investors somewhere and probably actors and crew waiting for their cut of the pie. Of course the argument by the film festivals is that they barely get by financially (some sort of Hollywood-like accounting?) and are offering a platform for a filmmakers work to be seen. As one poster ignorantly claimed, “the solvency/insolvency of a festival itself is actually irrelevant if their very existence is almost entirely dependent on insolvent films and insolvent filmmakers.” But trust me the argument for and against is as old as the three act structure of a screenplay (and, yes, I still believe in the three act structure!).
However now I will be practical, every business venture has risks and filmmaking is no different than any other industry. What it comes down to is producing a solid product (and that has nothing to do with budget) and steering clear of bad advice. 1) You don’t put all your eggs in the distribution basket by ONLY submitting to festivals. Whoever told you to do that doesn’t know how distribution works. 2) After you submit to festivals, you don’t post on your website what festivals you submitted to—seriously a local filmmaker did that. So then what do you tell people when you haven’t been accepted? 3) Festivals are a marketing and public relations platform. Know how to write a press release. If you can write a script, you can write a press release—just apply the three act structure and you’ll be fine.
I was talking to my entertainment attorney a couple of weeks ago to catch up and to get a sense of what’s really going on in the industry beyond the trades and rhetoric. The one thing he told me is that the industry is pretty much all over the place. Nobody knows where the next great film is going to come from and the world of distribution is continuing to change. What we do know is that audiences are simply yearning for quality films.
While the cost to produce has come down with technology, that has had consequences to companies that support the system—the VFX industry is at a crossroads. When you have a film like Life of Pi win the Oscar for best visual effects, but the company that created the visual effects (Rhythm & Hues) goes into bankruptcy (MPC worked on and shared the award with Rhythm & Hues), something is seriously wrong with the economic picture. Who’s “write”? As Addison DeWitt said in All About Eve, “ Too bad, we’re gonna miss the third act. They’re gonna play it offstage.” Like festivals and the distribution chain for filmmakers, this is another critical part of the industry that is in an evolutionary state.
Putting aside the headlines and debates, for me seeing the trailer for Justice Is Mind on TVGuide.com this week just continued to confirm the acceptance of independent film on a stage that largely was the province of studio level or “mini-majors” projects. Yes, as independent filmmakers we are in charge of our own destiny, but that also means navigating a constantly changing industry and the great expectations of one group—the audience.
P.S. On a side note, I want to thank NASA for offering me a social media credential to cover the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) launch at Kennedy SpaceCenter this past week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it owing to some other commitments, but I look forward to the next opportunity. My congratulations to NASA and SpaceX for a great launch!
With Justice Is Mind: Evidence having its first screening at a science fiction convention on Sunday, April 8 at Olympus 2012 in London, UK and with both Justice Is Mind and First World being pitched to investors this week, I wonder if it’s just coincidence or happenstance that I’ve been reading more about funding issues surrounding NASA and the space program in general.
It has always been my view, that aside from having the greatest military in the world, the United States space program is by far humanity’s pinnacle achievement. “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind.” The wording on the plaque left on the Moon by Apollo 11 was to usher in a new beginning. But even when men from the planet Earth were walking on the Moon bringing peace to another world, our military was fighting in Vietnam to prevent the spread of another war on Earth, albeit a cold one that heated to a regional conflict that lasted just shy of twenty years.
There’s no question that the United States, and other world governments, are having financial issues and are in a constant state of distraction with the war on terror. When our country was viciously attacked over ten years ago a chain of events commenced that by necessity distracted America. As our country did in 1941 and during other conflicts up to 2001, our mantra has always been to stop and defend America first – no matter what the cost. Make no mistake America will always defend its ideals of freedom and democracy and to hell with any country or movement that dares to test us. We can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy – you pick.
But with the United States winding down its conflicts to focus on the homeland, it’s time to focus on greatness again. And that greatness has been rooted in our space program. The historically proven discoveries and knowledge it brings along with the jobs it creates both domestically and internationally are reasons enough to properly fund America’s space program. When we consider that only .5% of the U.S. federal budget is allocated for NASA, something is seriously wrong with this math. Imagine what 1% could bring?
Just as of this writing, planetary science missions are being cut by 20% including a major Mars program. And for the first time in NASA’s history we no longer can launch an astronaut into space. This is not the America that I know. But we need a President that understands America’s leadership in space reflects its leadership on Earth. Obama can be that president. It most certainly won’t be any of the GOP nominees as they are more concerned with abolishing the separation of church and state rather than understanding a multi-stage separation to Earth orbit and beyond.
As President Ronald Reagan said during a state of the union address in 1984, “America has always been greatest when we dared to be great. We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain. Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade.”
In 1993, Russia, Europe and the United States merged their space station programs to create the International Space Station.
Yesterday at 10:02 a.m. EST, NASA successfully launched the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. The car size Curiosity rover will travel 354 million miles through space before reaching the Red Planet next August.
In addition to its sheer size, Curiosity is an engineering marvel. Equipped with a laser to identify the building blocks of life, the 1 ton rover sports 10 scientific experiments including the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Imagine a scientist on Earth being able to see color pictures as small as 12.5 microns of Martian rocks and soil.
I was watching Curiosity’s launch online with a friend of mine in Canada. As we both worked together on a Star Trek fan film, it’s safe to say we have a passion for space exploration. When he commented on how it’s unfortunate that more people don’t get excited about these launches, it just reminded me of how most just don’t understand the space program and the great benefits it has bestowed on all of us on Earth. I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate ignorance because it’s too much to comprehend or just an unwillingness to want to know and more importantly learn.
I have sadly heard people say that all this “space money” should go to health care. Really? I want to say to these naysayers do you have any idea the advances in medical science that came out of the Apollo space program alone? CAT scanners, kidney dialysis, advances in computing and cardiovascular conditioning that improved physical therapy used in sports and medical rehabilitation centers. Believe me it’s a long list, but you get the point.
And let us not forget the countless jobs and industries that the space program supports and creates. As President Kennedy said during his famed speech at Rice University in 1962, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” And it was President Reagan who echoed the benefits of space exploration, “Our progress in space, taking giant steps for all mankind, is a tribute to American teamwork and excellence. Our finest minds in government, industry and academia have all pulled together. And we can be proud to say: We are first; we are the best; and we are so because we’re free.”
Although they may have had other motivations at the time, one has to wonder if Leif Erickson, Christopher Columbus, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark knew what their explorations would yield for the futures of tomorrow. But one thing has to be certain – they must have all had a “curiosity” for unknown discoveries.
And that’s our challenge, “We’re still pioneers.”