Over the last few weeks I have been reviewing SOS United States and breaking down the script by location for a cost analysis. While I would love nothing more than to realize a multi-million-dollar budget to produce this political thriller “Hollywood” style, I’m also a realist. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it could literally take years (if ever) to achieve that type of production.
As I’m often on a weekly call with a filmmaker organization, I hear the same stories from exasperated screenwriters. Their stories all fall along the same lines; their screenplay has done well in festivals, it has been reviewed and analyzed by industry experts, a comprehensive look book has been created along with a filmed teaser. One screenwriter filmed the first 20 minutes of their 90-minute screenplay to show what it would look like as a finished product. You can imagine I wondered why they just didn’t produce the whole thing?
This all being said, I am breaking down SOS United States to produce as an independent film akin to what I accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal. As the script has been well received by film festivals winning a variety of awards, and has been read among my peers, I’m confident about the story. The rest? Well, it’s about securing cooperative locations along with a talented cast and crew. If the following months go well, hopefully SOS United States will be in production by early Summer 2023 with a 2024 release date.
While I work on SOS United States for production, First Signal continues to do well in the market. With our YouTube placement alone garnering over 1.1 million views, the audience and interest in the First World Universe is certainly there. Those that support the film regularly asks me when the sequel will be released. For First Report and First Launch, I am aiming to secure outside production financing as I believe the “franchise” deserves it for the next phase.
But there is one thing that all films require—a fair and equitable marketplace for our product. Over the last several weeks there has been considerable drama around the release of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. It has been reported that Amazon spent between $715 million to $1 billion on the project. One can appreciate they want to protect their product. But the one thing that can’t be controlled are audiences. Amazon’s attempt to do that by suspending ratings and reviews on Rings of Power has created an unlevel playing field in addition to an unfair business practice.
As I learned from the release of First Signal in particular, audiences either love your film or hate it with a smattering of “middling” reviews. While I would love for Amazon/IMDb to remove all reviews below a 7, I know that isn’t going to happen. But Amazon/IMDb did just that for Rings of Power. At one point First Signal had more reviews on IMDb than Amazon’s new $1 billion dollar property.
As an independent filmmaker we are told time and time again that a high rating and solid reviews will lead to more distribution opportunities. The work I have put in to keep First Signal’s rating as high as possible has been, to use a word I often use in this industry, herculean. But to see a company like Amazon manipulate ratings and reviews to benefit one of their properties at the expense of the rest of us that promote the Amazon machine, is just a horrid business practice—but now it is a precedent that Amazon alone has created.
One of Amazon’s baseless defenses is that because the series is well reviewed, audiences therefore by edict must love it. But then you look at The Terminal List that was beyond panned by critics but loved by audiences. As Amazon has established the precedent, perhaps they should remove the critics?
My point to all this is a simple one and is a lesson from history we should all remember – when you attempt to silence voices you only give them a larger platform to speak.
This past week First Signal premiered on The Roku Channel. With Roku, First Signal is now available on five major VOD platforms and is virtually available anywhere in the world. While I was certainly hoping for a solid distribution deal when I was producing First Signal, I honestly had no idea where the film was going to go. The one thing I was sure of, is that the film had to be placed properly if I was to continue developing and producing films.
On the subject of producing, over the last couple of months I’ve been participating in a variety of seminars and discussions on film financing. While the industry has changed from a technology (production) and distribution POV, the world of film financing is still populated with the usual characters and discussions – i.e., if you pay for services, you have a better chance of success.
Before I get into the weeds on film financing, let me break it down. When I say film financing, I’m talking about raising a couple of million (or more) to produce a feature film or a series. The “dream” way is that an agent, producer or production company discovers your work and sets up the project. The way that takes “work work” is pitching and presenting your project to the aforementioned entities. This is where the usual characters and discussions apply.
While there are many qualified, talented and connected people that are selling their services and introductions, all I can say is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. When you listen to these people there is a narrative that populates the majority – if you don’t do it their way, you won’t be successful. While listening is important, at the end of the day you just must throw caution to the wind and produce. There is no easy path to producing. Whether you do it yourself or in partnership with others, the risk and reward are the same. The only difference is the dollars – are they yours or someone that’s investing in you.
One thing I learned when revisiting this world of film financing, is that I discovered that some folks that were pitching their projects over ten years ago are still pitching and paying along the way. How much money do you need to spend on contests, experts, etc. to get that perfect approval? You could spend from here to next never and still not get a green light. But one thing you can do, is listen, research, plan and then produce – on your own. I’ve taken this approach on five occasions with three shorts and two features. Had I waited for all the planets to align, my two feature films, Justice Is Mind and First Signal, would still only exist as a script.
Although I’m often approached by filmmakers on a variety of topics, I never sell my services. What works for me, might not work for you. What I do contribute is my experience. Some may like my approach, while others might find it too direct.
All this being said, while I continue to pitch and present, I’m actively working on self-producing my next project. I can’t wait for next never!