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Politics

The Brand

The bunker in First Signal.

Yesterday I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen in few years. The first thing he asked me was “How’s the writing going?” I told him about First Signal and a few other things going on. As he runs a successful business in Worcester, I asked him how the salon was.  He responded “Busy.” I really didn’t have to ask him that because I know his salon is always busy. He’s been working on building his brand for years.

It took some years to build my brand in figure skating and equally as long as a writer and filmmaker outside of the sport. Building a brand isn’t something that happens overnight. It builds from one project to another. However, we now live in a world where people think that having a large social media following is a brand.  Social media, in my view, is great for amplifying what you’re doing in the real world. But without a foundation of something, it’s just likes.

When I started to revive the First World Universe to write First Signal a few years ago, I realized after reviewing all my original material and the media we had at the time, that I created a unique brand. One with its own voice. With First Signal I finally had the opportunity to present this world as a feature film. The first in what I hope to be a series of films in the First World Universe.

With the trailer nearly complete, the marketing train will soon be leaving the station. Once it leaves it can’t come back. While post-production has been going on in earnest with countless notes with the editor, composer and VFX artist, I’ve been working out the marketing plans for the trailer and ultimately the feature.  All of us on the post-production team know how important it is for the trailer to present the film. At the end of the day it’s about selling the feature.

One of the primary sets in the sequel to First Signal is the Oval Office.

As for the First World Universe, I’m just over the thirty-page mark for the sequel. This is the story that takes place before the events in First World.  In my view, writing a sequel is no easy feat. You must balance the established characters and their stories with something new. I think one of the most interesting sequels was 2010 from the legendary 2001.  Starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren, 2010 created a wonderful “what if” possibility.

In the sequel to First Signal the following dialogue happens in the Oval Office

“Exactly. Now he’s operating covertly and illegally. If you lose and Reager legitimately controls the military and his commander in chief is complicit, history books won’t judge your actions today, because they’ll be none left. It will be the end of civilization.” – Elisabeth Seward, National Security Advisor to President Helen Colton

That dialogue derives from actions around Operation Troy in First Signal.

“General if I sign this. What’s the objective of Operation Troy?” – Helen Colton, President, United States of America.

“Identification.” – General John Reager, Commander, Air Force Space Command

This week I write the draft press release and email newsletter to announce the trailer. As for when the trailer will be released? Sometime in February

Coming Soon.

A VFX still from First Signal.

First Still

Capturing the essence of a movie usually starts with the one sheet (poster), followed by stills and then the trailer.  It’s about developing the film’s brand and the PR campaign around it. For First Signal, the first official one sheet was designed by Daniel Elek-Diamanta (who is also our composer). The poster represents the famed “Earthrise” photo from Apollo 8 along with some sort of alien satellite or ship between the Moon and Earth. As the First Signal story is rooted in the Apollo space program, I thought the blend of science fact with fiction would make for a compelling picture.

With editing well underway, the next step in the branding process is to tell First Signal’s story through carefully chosen stills. Quoting Arthur Brisbane from an article in 1911, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

Our first “picture” tells part of the First Signal story with Air Force One arriving in Brussels, Belgium. To the casual observer they just see Air Force One over a newscast. But for those that are following First Signal, they will see much more.  Not only does the still lend to the logline, an emergency meeting with the President, it represents the arrival of Earth’s most well-known plane. I say Earth’s because something else arrives later in the story. The rotating planet Earth in the chyron graphic is later identified as another world. But it’s the crisis in Ukraine that leads to a government conspiracy to thwart an insurgent military action that’s at the heart of the First Signal story.

Over the weeks and months ahead, the idea is to create a campaign to bring awareness to First Signal for its release in 2020. When you consider the tens of thousands of films made in any given year, the marketing and communications efforts need to be just as well thought out and planned as principal photography was. For First Signal it’s about building off our early press.

As for building, next week I start the research process for AFM. But prior to AFM, I’ll be presenting First Signal next week to some interested parties that are traveling to Toronto.  

Finally, I’m re-presenting First Signal’s one sheet now with credits. As you will see, it truly does take a village to make a motion picture. While a director has a vision and acts as conductor, they are only as good as their orchestra. 

Next still. 


The American Party

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The American flag that flew on the USS Massachusetts during Operation Torch.

Today is Independence Day in the United States. We refer to it as the Fourth of July. 241 years ago the United States declared its independence as a sovereign nation from the British Empire. As we know, the United Kingdom has been one of our strongest allies for over a century and is referred to as the “special relationship” between the two countries.

As for the United States and United Kingdom, this past weekend I traveled to the Maritime Museum in Fall River, MA (the museum is now part of Battleship Cove). After seeing the 1953 movie Titanic, I learned that the model from the movie was on display at the museum. And as Battleship Cove had some new exhibits, it was time for another visit.

It’s impossible not to learn about the many joint cooperative efforts between our countries over the centuries. The United States connection to the Belfast built RMS Titanic is well known along with the numerous campaigns during World War I and World War II. The USS Massachusetts participation in Operation Torch in November 1942 was a joint United States-United Kingdom invasion of French North Africa. And, yet, for all the reasons our countries have fought side by side for democracy against tyranny, both nations are facing internal political turmoil that is testing the very fabric of our respective constitutions.

As an American citizen I won’t opine on events across the pond, but here in this country today it is as much a celebration as it is a contradiction. Oh sure there’s the requisite barbeque or the spirited trips to the beach, but top of mind of the majority of Americans is the direction in which this country is going. Like the RMS Titanic’s inferior rudder that made the ship very hard to turn in a crisis, the United States is most certainly heading towards an iceberg that represents the internal strife we are experiencing. While on the surface it looks like we can avoid it, like an iceberg, the menace is what lies below the waterline.

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The 16 inch guns on the USS Massachusetts.

As I have been a member of both parties, I consider myself a moderate. Put simply, I believe in equal rights, not special rights. I believe in a strong military administered by the federal government, but that government has no business regulating my personal life. The current crisis isn’t so much about political party but extremists on both sides that are locked in a tug of war to win.  In earlier years, it was the moderates that kept the ship on an even keel. Sadly extremists often don’t want to understand the other side. But understanding is the first step in diplomacy in reaching an accord. A democracy is not about winning your point, it is about moderating it.

Perhaps the time has come to look at our friends across the pond for some lessons. In the United Kingdom, France and Germany they have a multi-party political system. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But for too long in the United States there has only had two choices (this one or that one).  Sure we have a nascent third party in this country, but it has about as much direction as the SS Californian did the night the RMS Titanic sank.

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The American flag on the stern on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy with the stern of the USS Massachusetts in the background.

But the one thing we do know is the United States is built on a solid foundation of laws and guiding principles. Sometimes we waiver and falter, but at the end of the day we know what this nation stands for and what it represents. Today is a tribute to the founding fathers of this country and what they laid down over two centuries ago that resonates even more today.

Bill of Rights.

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A Kennedy Anniversary

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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!

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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.

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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.

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President Kennedy on June 26, 1963 at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

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.

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The Kennedy Nixon debate exhibit.

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.

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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.”

Elections.

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An Exposition in Time

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World War II reenactors.

And so the new season started with a bang—literally.  Yesterday I attended the Massachusetts Military History Exposition in Orange, MA. This is the second year this group produced this show. While last year focused on World War II, this year’s outing represented a timeline of military history.  My favorite group was those representing the 16th century.

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Das Geld Fahlein

The group from the year 1528 called “Das Geld Fahlein” offered an excellent history on how troupes from those days were organized, compensated and fought. Imagine you are a knight in “shining armor” on a horse galloping towards several hundred of these 30 foot long spears and other types of sword defenses. It may have been low-tech even by 1528 standards but it did what it had to do—stop the enemy.

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World War II German field communications

Another area of interest to me has been about communications and infrastructure during World War II. I talked to a few reenactors at the German camp about some technical aspects of how they communicated back then. The distance limitation in radio communication and the shelf life of the field batteries was very interesting. Needless to say, there’s always something new to learn at these events.

Of course the highlight of these types of events are the battle reenactments.  While “Hollywood” would have multiple takes over a period of days if not weeks to shoot something like this, this is a one take moment. Once the action starts it just keeps going until there’s a victor.  Yesterday was also the first time I used Facebook Live. I broadcast the World War II battle and had viewers all over the country. You can watch the video at this link.

But through all the uniforms and equipment of wars long past, there is the educational component of these events that’s so important. It is through events like this that one learns about the issues of those times and what brought yesterday’s societies to conflict and then peace. Like my experiences last year attending these events, it’s the reenactors that bring them to life. Their depth of knowledge and passion is what makes for a most enjoyable experience.

As so many of my projects have some sort of military component to the story, while I have a great time at these events, it’s all about networking and learning about the talent involved. Why on earth would I seek to hire actors, get costumes and source equipment from the ground up if I could reach out to one of these groups?

Planning.

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Old Glory

 


The Network

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The Strand  has already started promoting our March 6 screening.

I have often stated that there is so much more into filmmaking than making the film itself. While one naturally wants a quality project that maximizes available resources, it’s also about getting the word out.  Although social media helps, there is nothing like a media placement that drives awareness and needed attention.  Thank you to the Ice Network and Community Advocate for that attention.

This past week Lois Elfman, my former business partner, wrote a great article for the Ice Network.  This article was particularly important for a variety of reasons. First, in addition to the article itself, the Ice Network will also be streaming Serpentine: The Short Program after our March 6 premiere at the Strand Theatre. Second, from 1993 – 2004 Lois and I published a figure skating magazine. For nearly a decade it reigned as the world’s largest under our leadership. There wasn’t a skater, official, ISU member nation or skating club that didn’t know about it. But the Ice Network is today what we published yesterday. Indeed, it was an honor to see this article on their site as it reaches the sport on a worldwide basis.

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It also important to mention that there was a third party to this story, albeit a bit behind the scenes this time. That would be acclaimed skating coach Thomas J. McGinnis who also was our business partner at the skating magazine. Tommy not only saw the vision I had for the magazine at the very beginning, but for Serpentine as well. Thus his much appreciated Executive Producer credit you will see when the film is released.

A film release not only consists of a marketing plan but a test. This past week I went to the Strand Theatre for a DVD test of Serpentine: The Short Program and a DCP test of Justice Is Mind. While the Strand screened Justice back in 2013 from a DVD, we now have the film in a DCP format. Both tests went great. I’ll say this, out of all the theaters I have screened Justice Is Mind the Strand presents the best picture and sound.  There is nothing like seeing your film come to life on the big screen and that thrill was just as exciting with Serpentine.

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The screen test of Serpentine at the Strand Theatre.

Serpentine: The Short Program also got the green light from Amazon Instant Video this week. I say green light because that’s literally what happens with the circles on the Amazon platform when everything is cleared to go. We did have one red light as our original poster submission just said Serpentine. It had to also include The Short Program. Starting on March 7 the film will be available on Amazon in the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria.

Finally, I will conclude this post with the importance of art. On Friday night my mother and I saw the acclaimed National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine at the famed Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA. Part of the program included Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak. One of my particular favorites.  The strength, precision and passion in which the symphony played under the direction of Theodore Kuchar presented one of the most exciting symphony performances I have even seen.

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Mechanics Hall before the sold out audience arrived.

I say strength because unless you live on another planet the continued existence of Ukraine hangs in the balance with the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea to say nothing of the armed conflict on their Eastern border. I simply ask every American reading this blog, how would you feel if another country walked across our border and occupied part of our country? The proud history of the Ukrainian people existed long before the United States was even a thought. While this historic national symphony of a challenged peoples tours our great country, isn’t it time the United States helped restore the greatness of another before it’s too late?

Conduct music not war.

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A 2014 photo from the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine’s website.


World Building

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Kim Gordon stars as Marlene Baxter the president of the American Figure Skating Federation in Serpentine.

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.

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Since her mother disappeared five years ago the FBI has been following Suzanne Wilson.

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.

United States.

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Above The Fold

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Ice and Espionage. That was the title of the article about Serpentine that appeared on the cover this week of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  While so much of our media is consumed online, there is nothing like a printed newspaper.

It was last Monday when I started to get Google Alerts that the article that ran the previous week in the MetroWest Daily News had been picked up by the Associated Press. The article was published by outlets all over the United States. But seeing it “above the fold” on the front cover of a newspaper was not only particularly special but important for our promotional efforts.

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Paul Lussier as Philip Harrison, a mysterious sponsor, and Kim Gordon as Marlene Baxter, the President of the American Figure Skating Federation, in Serpentine.

In as much as I am a filmmaker, I’m a marketer. As I’ve stated before, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing if nobody knows about it. I’ve often used the word herculean to describe the process of making a film. The same thing can be said about securing press. It’s one thing  after a film is released, but at this early stage of Serpentine it’s even more welcome to promote the overall concept of the film – the sport of figure skating meets the Cold War.

As a former magazine publisher, I can see why they wanted some counter editorial on the cover. But coverage that worked from a reader interest point of view. Considering the political atmosphere in the United States that has polarized both sides, it makes sense to bring to readers an interesting project that just happens to have government intrigue in its storyline. It also lends credence to the fact, that figure skating, despite its challenges in the ratings over the last decade, still holds interest by general audiences. I saw this first hand at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston and there are more than a few figure skating films and TV projects in development (I, Tonya anyone?).

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Philip Harrison’s Bentley was supplied to the production by Foley Motorsports of Shrewsbury, MA

Of course the next steps to bring Serpentine to life is the post-production process. Having handed over the hard drive to our editor, conversations with our special effects supervisor and listening to score elements by our composer, the process is moving along nicely. Our aim is for a mid-February 2017 release on Amazon Prime along with select theatrical performances and promotion.

Regarding Amazon, it looks like they will soon be taking the route of Netflix as they seek to roll out their service in 200 countries. Obviously, as a filmmaker, this comes as great news. Since my films went up on all of Amazon’s platforms the exposure and viewership has increased substantially. And unlike some VOD services, Amazon pays filmmakers on every transaction. It’s a business model that works for all concerned. For the consumer they make the choice of what to watch without someone acting as a curator. For the filmmaker it offers an opportunity to showcase your hard work to a global audience. Honestly, there’s no point in doing this if it’s just going to sit on a shelf!

The post production process is one of organization and creativity. Take for example our composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta. Like his efforts on Justice Is Mind, he starts before he has seen one second of footage. Our collaboration begins with conversations about the story and the general atmosphere. He so hit the target the other day that I placed his score with some of the footage to see how it would work. Suffice to say, it brought Serpentine to life and will probably be the general theme of the film.

Page One.

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Idea and Consent

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Gene Tierney explains how the Senate works in Advise & Consent (1962).

Yesterday, I arrived at the Boston Marriott Copley Place and did something I haven’t done in 14 years – I picked up a media credential at a World Figure Skating Championships. The procedure was the same. I checked in at credentialing, gave my name, proceeded to another station, showed a government ID with photo, they took my picture, printed the credential and I was done. It reminded me of voting. (Political side note: I believe, strongly, that you must have a government issued photo ID to vote.)

Having long accomplished what I wanted to in the sport from my publishing and TV work (yes I skated and coached as well…long ago!), who would have thought an idea would have come to mind with the sport as the backdrop. For this week it’s about reporting solely from an observation point of view and for inspiration as the story I’m writing culminates at a “worlds”.

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Justice Is Mind was inspired by a 60 Minutes story on thought identification.

I’m not entirely sure where the inspiration for this new story came from. I know with Justice Is Mind it was from watching a 60 Minutes broadcast on thought identification. For SOS United States it was the Cold War aspects of the real SS United States ocean liner coupled with the political thriller movies of the 1960s.

Of course the sport itself has changed dramatically over the last 14 years. All you have to do is read this article by Christine Brennan in USA Today to get a feel for where the sport was and now where it isn’t. Sure, there will be tens of thousands of fans in attendance this week. Sure, the official hotels and arena are dressed and set designed to showcase this beautiful sport. Indeed, it is beautiful to watch. If it’s filmed right there’s nothing like the grace and power of a performance on ice, coupled by the drama off the ice. Sadly it’s the millions outside the storied walls of the rinks that have long left the sport.

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The idea for SOS United States came from my interest in the Cold War and political thrillers.

The reasons are many, but the writing was on the wall after the 2002 judging scandal and the subsequent change in the scoring system. Long gone is the 6.0 system. It was a system the general public understood and could be marketed. But now a system is in place that supports anonymous judging. Yes, for those that have never followed anything in the sport, you read that right. I’ll just say this, it may not be good for the long term viability of an Olympic sport, but it makes for a great plot point in a political thriller.

One of my favorite films is Otto Preminger’s Advise & Consent. There’s a masterful scene that takes place in the Senate in which the glorious Gene Tierney explains to two visiting dignitaries how the Senate works. You can be sure, that there will be a similar scene in my story in an attempt to explain the judging system. As I was leaving credentialing yesterday and saw someone approaching me who I hadn’t seen in years, suddenly another Preminger classic that starred Tierney came to mind. In the film Laura,  newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb) was describing a party scene, “It was the usual roundup of b-stars and nondescript characters.”

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“It was the usual roundup of b-stars and nondescript characters.” – Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944)

INT. ICE RINK  – OPENING CREDITS


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.


Congressional Hearings

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In every film there is the inciting incident. That moment (or moments) that drives the story in Act 1 from the established world of the characters to a turning point when the characters have to “act” to drive the story in Act 2. In Justice Is Mind it’s when Henri Miller collapses on his property. In SOS United States it’s when we learn there is a nuclear bomb on an ocean liner. In First World it’s when we learn what Apollo 11 discovered on the Moon. In the sequel to Justice Is Mind it’s when….sorry can’t reveal that yet!

There is one area of Justice Is Mind that has resonated universally well with audiences and those were the courtroom scenes.  In the United States I live in a country of perpetual congressional hearings. I swear they should have their own network! In Justice Is Mind we learn that there were congressional hearings that approved the FVMRI procedure. In the sequel, a new round of congressional hearings is now underway. As a writer it will be interesting to explore this process and how it works. Much like I had to do with the courtroom scenes in Justice Is Mind, it comes down to research. In addition to how congressional hearings are administered, I’ve also been revisiting fringe science in terms of mind-reading and DNA sequencing. Suffice to say it’s been an interesting journey so far.

In the sequel. A grand indictment of the legal system.

In the sequel – a grand indictment of the legal system.

With a few investor conferences scheduled this week, it should be an interesting one for SOS United States and First World as well. A screenplay, in my view, is like an architectural drawing. There it sits while one proposal after another is submitted to secure funding to break ground and build something new. Indeed, that’s the way Justice Is Mind was built.  And really is this process any different from that of an actor going on an audition?  Like an actor wanting to secure a part in a solid production, the same thing holds true with securing an investor for a film. It’s more than just talent and capital, it’s about long-term partnerships.

The NSA is featured positively in SOS United States. In the real world a UK organization revealed that British intel agencies access NSA information. ,

The NSA is featured positively in SOS United States. In the real world a UK organization revealed that British intel agencies access NSA information. 

I read an article in one of the trades some months ago where a producer mentioned something along the lines of “do I want to be in business with these people for five plus years”. That really is what this industry comes to…a long tail approach.  Sure, you have your “premiere” but the business continues long after that.  Just this past week I had a couple of conversations with schools that may be interested in screening Justice Is Mind and there are more VOD platforms coming online soon. Building your new architectural wonder may be the fun part, but then you have to have it occupied.

Speaking of building, that’s what I’m doing with the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When it’s completed I’ll have a slate of three films ready for production.  I’m writing the sequel not only because I want to, but because some people have queried me on a sequel. Why not have something at the ready or at least in the works?

But like a building, a screenplay just can’t be thrown together. It has to be carefully constructed. And like the original story in Justice Is Mind, the sequel isn’t just an addition it has to tower on its own.

In First World we see Orion ready to launch. This week NASA is set to launch the first test flight of the Orion capsule.

In First World we see Orion ready to launch. This week NASA is set to launch the first test flight of the Orion capsule.

 

 


A Sovereign Iraq

I remember where I was in March 2003 when the United States and United Kingdom declared war on Iraq and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein – Washington, DC.  At the time I was publisher of International Figure Skating magazine and was attending the World Figure Skating Championships. I was also promoting my first book Frozen Assets. When one media opportunity after another was cancelled and news of war filled the airwaves, our world was changing – again.

To be sure, since September 11, 2001, America was living in a paranoid state. Our once genteel existence, long protected by two massive oceans, was compromised. Our feeling of “homeland” security shattered. Nobody attacks the United States of America and we were going to do whatever it took to regain our stature. Indeed, we had that right. America saved this world on no less than three occasions with World War I, World War II and The Cold War. As the last remaining superpower on this planet we were not going to be defeated by a handful of terrorists be they domestic or international.

But with great power, comes great responsibility. And while most Americans wanted to restore pride, there were those in power that rode this wave of paranoia to a state that nearly destroyed the ideals this country was founded on and was fighting for on the other side of the world – democracy. A dictator long past once said “The art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.” Left unchecked, history has a terrifying way of repeating itself. Thankfully, we elect our Presidents for a maximum of eight years.

There’s no question that Iraq had to be handled. Hussein had to be removed from power. The no fly zone established after the Gulf War made sense at the time, but was nothing more than a band aid on a greater problem in the region. Iraq was a pressure cooker and was going to implode at some point anyway. As we have seen this past year across the Middle East, revolutions are toppling backward regimes with nascent democracies coming to fruition. In time, the same probably would have happened to Iraq.

There is a certain irony about a country not even two hundred and fifty years old, seeking to bring democracy to a country and a region that is known as the Cradle of Civilization with its origins dating to the 6th millennium BC.

Iraq occupies a significant amount of land referred to in ancient times as Mesopotamia. Sumerian, the earliest written language was founded in this region, along with advances in mathematics and astronomy. For it was the Babylonians that first observed the motions of the planet Venus in the 2nd millennium BC. Yet, four thousand years later, the United States Mariner 2 was the first space probe to reach that planet.

Although the Iraq Museum and several ancient sites were badly looted during the war, with the United States taking some heavy criticism on their failure to protect the treasures of this ancient land, I have to hope that someone somewhere postulated that there is a global responsibility to protect and restore this region.

In this modern world, all sovereign nations have the right to govern themselves. This past week, with the United States formally ending the Iraq War, we turn a new leaf towards the future. As we thank our military for not only ridding this world of a dictator, but for bringing hope to a region that gave birth to civilization on this great planet, we know there is some frame of order to America’s actions over the last eight years with history being the final judge.

But to those Americans and Iraqis that perished in defense of freedom, they have not died in vain. Indeed, their heroic steps of yesterday mark giant leaps for mankind on this planet and beyond.


Don’t Be Surprised America

I wasn’t at all surprised last week to see the news reports that the United States military was finding counterfeit electronic parts in its supply chain that have been made in China.  Our politicians shouldn’t be surprised either.

America’s politicians are so busy worrying about, yet again, another election that the business of the United States and its position as a world power are quickly eroding to second world status. It’s automatic with our two-party system –  we just can’t have a politician talk about the importance of the business of America we have to have their party affiliation tacked on. Guess they aren’t worth listening to unless you can identify them as a D, R…or maybe even…dare I say it…I.

So what’s happened these past couple of weeks? China has not only launched a military reconnaissance satellite but successfully accomplished its firstspace docking” in Earth orbit. Sure, the United States and then Soviet Union accomplished these great feats in the 1960s, but we can’t forget why they succeeded in the first place. Both our countries were knee-deep in the Cold War and were determined to best each other no matter what the cost. The result? Through our paranoia of each other and our ideals, we developed technology and related advances in science that have greatly benefitted all of mankind. History is being repeated all over again.

Why are we, the United States, not fully cooperating with China? Oh, wait, that’s right. China has that awful record of human rights violations. Sure, I’ll give you that China fails on a variety of fronts in that arena, but is the United States any better?  Let’s see, we have unyielding unemployment, poverty, riots in the streets, protestors in most major cities, our veterans that defend our democracy are treated horribly and in the center of it all a two-party political system that is driving a knife through the very fabric that made this country great and a world power in the first place – innovation.

America it is time to innovate again. Not just domestically, but globally. It’s time to abolish this ridiculous sanctions limit on aeronautical engineers cooperating with the Chinese. Is our country so naïve to think that the thousands of engineers that have been furloughed from America’s space program are going to wait around for a D, R or I to get things moving again?

America you can have your cake and eat it too. You know you are capable of negotiating anything and everything when you want too. You’ve done it before you can do it again. Remember what President Reagan said “Trust, but verify.” That’s all we need to do with China.

America if we don’t extend the olive branches of cooperation to China don’t be surprised if Tranquility Base has a new tenant. Afterall First World is supposed to be science fiction.


My Country, ‘Tis of Fault?

When I was driving home this weekend after finishing my work on the film Noah, I was reflecting on the tremendous drive, determination and ambition filmmakers Anthony and Jimmy Deveney (twin brothers) were putting into directing and producing their first feature film. For any of us that have been in business for ourselves, we know it takes steadfast determination and focus to lift a project from idea to reality. It is not for the faint at heart especially when our own capital is at risk.

Yet when I arrived home Sunday night and checked the news, Congress was still set to default with the future of the United States because they couldn’t make a decision on the debt ceiling. A spending situation they created entirely themselves over the last few decades – a situation that impacts every person and corporation, not only in this country but well beyond its shores. In all honesty, if entrepreneurs operated companies the way Congress operates the government of the United States, they wouldn’t have a business.

Consider entrepreneur and PayPal founder Elon Musk. Launching SpaceX in 2002, his company has secured a contract worth over $1.6 billion with NASA to resupply the International Space Station along with other space development contracts. When NASA had to come out and say, “we are going to pay our bills” it speaks volumes to where we are today as a nation. With the retirement of the space shuttle and the ramping up of commercial space partners like SpaceX, NASA is in “pre-production” with the next phase of the space program. There is no way SpaceX could continue its partnership with NASA (and the United States) on an IOU. No matter what your entrepreneurial station is economically; banks, shareholders and creditors expect entrepreneurs to pay their bills, we expect the United States to pay theirs.

The film Noah represents so many aspects of this country. From its founding history rooted in slavery, to all that is possible when one person decides to make a difference. It is a film created by two brothers and brought to life by talent and crew who understand the story and its significance. But beyond the story of Noah itself, it is the product of the American dream to create, build and innovate.

So to turn a quote, “That’s what we are doing for our country. Now what is our country going to do for us?”

♦ ♦ ♦

P.S. The Deveney brothers have set up a Kickstarter campaign for Noah. As of this posting they have raised $755 of their $2,000 goal. This is a great film and one that must be seen. A contribution of only $100 gets you a producer credit.


Uniting America

On the eve of insolvency of the United States of America, the landing of the space shuttle Atlantis on July 21 brought to a close a thirty year program of tremendous progress in science, space exploration and international cooperation. It also reminded me of what America is capable of when it sets its collective mind to accomplish something great. Sadly, my country has lost its greatness in a sea of politics.

A Rasmussen Report poll said that 50% of respondents thought the space shuttle was worth it with a CNN poll reporting that over 50% thought it was bad for America to end the space shuttle program. America is at the precipice. Does our nation continue to lead? Or are we going to be led?

One doesn’t have to be a political scientist to know that China is now in the economic driver’s seat. Their ownership of $1 trillion plus of our bonds is surely going to hold court in the debt ceiling issues of the United States, and they are most certainly going to eventually be “left seat” in manned space exploration. I strongly predict that the United States will be reaching out to China to service the International Space Station because, mark my word; some myopic politician will botch the deal with Russia to continue servicing the ISS while NASA is in the Apollo/space shuttle valley of the 1970s.

As the United States “reset” their relationship with Russia, our government must “reset” the way it operates constitutionally. The time has come. I’m not advocating a change to a dictatorship, but you’d have to be living under a rock not to realize that Washington, DC is in perpetual “special interest” gridlock. There simply has to be a better way.

It’s time for the words United and States to stand together again so that we can all take another “giant leap.”


Let Them Find Us

With the final mission of the space shuttle program launching this Friday, July 8 with Atlantis’s scheduled lift off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:26 EDT, the debate begins on what is truly the next step for NASA and indeed our long term goals in space exploration on a planetary scale.

We have the grand and fantastic International Space Station, a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in development, unmanned spacecraft exploring every facet of our solar system while discovering new worlds beyond our own and an exciting commercial space program being led by SpaceX. But what NASA really needs is a budget set in stone, law and time that spells out exactly where the agency is going to go without interference from the whims of a new American President.

In my view, there really have been only three Presidents that understood the importance of setting long term goals for the agency – Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan.

When the Apollo program ended in the early 1970s, the next phase for NASA was well underway with the space shuttle when Nixon announced the program in 1972. Of course a few years earlier, it was Wernher von Braun who said at the time of the Apollo 11 launch “You give me 10 billion dollars and 10 years and I’ll have a man on Mars.”

Back then NASA had direction and long term goals. I’m not saying we don’t have that to some degree now, nor were the 1960s and 70s not fraught with budgetary issues, but NASA’s direction cannot be decided every four years. NASA needs, at least, a 10 year plan that cannot be changed once it’s approved by Congress.

Of course, what I have always found uniquely interesting in the history of the space program is its origins from the 1930s and The Third Reich. For it was that impoverished nation of Germany that conceived the Silbervogel – a winged aircraft that, to some degree, gave birth to what evolved into the United States space shuttle.

One has to truly wonder what inspired those scientists to create what they did given their resources at the time. Could there have been some outside influence perhaps? After all, we are talking about the invention of new applications in science and technology.

I, for one, believe in the ancient astronaut theories. In addition to the general concept of First World being built around it, there are simply too many unanswered questions regarding the abrupt jump in technology and the development of modern civilization. Something, someone or some action had to be responsible. While evidence certainly exists of some sort of interference in our society, an answer has not revealed itself.

Over at Space.com, Andrei Finkelstein, Russian astronomer and director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Applied Astronomy Institute in St. Petersburg, said “The genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms.”

We have discovered over 1,000 extrasolar planets and with the success of the Kepler space telescope are discovering more everyday. Now that we know where these otherworld planets are, we can turn SETI’s radio antennas to very specific areas of the cosmos to listen.

But with SETI’s budget slashed and its Allen Telescope Array offline, how can we listen to possible signals from alien civilizations if they are aimed at Earth? SETI needs just $200,000 to start listening again.

I leave you with this thought. Why have Earth’s space programs morphed into a thousand different directions with no clear goal? Haven’t we all noticed that we have these great tools in science and technology but no coherent global program to unite these platforms in a mission of revelation? I’m not talking Biblical Revelation here, but the revelation in knowledge and understanding.

The answers we seek are probably already here, but we need the organization to find them – or maybe to let them find us.


Now Voyager…For Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

When I was visiting Space.com this morning, I was reminded of the opening paragraph of Covenant. One can only wonder if a civilization in the Camelopardalis constellation will intercept Voyager 1 when it reaches that part of space in the next forty thousand years. Even more interesting, where will our civilization on Earth be in that time?

I frankly don’t subscribe to the doomsday theorists on how and when life on this planet will end. As we all know, life on Earth has evolved, been destroyed and re-evolved again over millions of years. When we stop to think that dinosaurs walked this Earth tens of millions of years ago, I think we can safely say that life on this planet will always exist in some form.

But that does not mean that we shouldn’t take responsibility for our time in the here and now. Believe me if the dinosaurs could have deflected an asteroid to avoid their extinction they would have. Not only do we have the technology to deflect an asteroid, but the very real capability of taking care of this planet environmentally and its people.

Someday, I truly believe, that the Golden records on the Voyager spacecraft will be played by another space faring civilization. Imagine their excitement to realize that they are not alone in the universe.

But there was a time in contemporary memory where life on this planet nearly extinguished itself.

When I was touring the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum last week I was well aware of the event but hadn’t actually seen the newscasts – The Cuban Missile Crisis.

During the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union’s installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba nearly ignited Earth into a war that would have ended all wars.  Thankfully, the Soviet Union blinked and we are still here today to talk about it. As one student said in the theatre, “My God, we almost killed ourselves.” That student was a high school senior. History doesn’t have to repeat itself in the present if we know the past.

It has recently been publicized that President Kennedy had a lot of misgivings about committing the United States to the herculean ambition of putting man on the Moon. Sure it was motivated by the Sputnik moment, sure it was motivated by beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, but Kennedy was a realist and knew full well that the United States had a lot of pressing domestic issues that needed to be addressed from both a humanitarian and cost point of view. But this is what made his presidency so legendary, to think in the here and now and the tomorrows yet to come.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” — President Kennedy before a Joint Session of Congress, 25 May 1961


It’s Time To Partner With China

China’s ambitious space program and military development seemed to have caught some countries, including the United States, by surprise. Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised at all to read that President Obama would be interested in partnering with China on a manned mission to Mars. Frankly, I don’t see one nation (never mind a commercial space company) pulling it off in the economic climate of the early 21st century. From a technology point of view, NASA could certainly put man on Mars. But the International Space Station proved that partnering is the way to go. It just makes sense from a cost sharing and technology point of view.

It is indeed unfortunate that China is absent from the International Space Station (although, I read that they wanted to be involved). This lack of participation has only solidified their resolve to build their own space station called Tiangong-1. To quote a NASA official in the article it’s a “potent political symbol.” I respectively disagree on that point. It’s time to put politics aside and look at the greater good. Trust me, if China develops an economical launch system the international commercial contracts will fast come their way.

When I was developing First World, my research revealed some mentions that China was hoping to achieve a manned mission to the Moon by 2020. In looking to apply some plausibility to the First World story, I theorized that China could possibly accomplish this goal by 2018 if they were motivated to accelerate their efforts if their sovereignty was threatened. That threat being their discovery, during the Beijing Olympics, that a unified covert military insurgency was operating in most of the world’s military organizations.

As I begin to write Synedrion this weekend, the sequel to Covenant, readers will be introduced to President Robert Anderson who discovers, not only the classified missions of the Apollo space program, but the fact that a large part of this military insurgency lies within United States Armed Services – a realization that propels cooperation between China and the United States on a global and off-world scale.

Finally, we welcome home the space shuttle Endeavour after a fantastic mission to the International Space Station. And back to the science fiction front, I’m really looking forward to X-MEN: First Class this weekend.

 


Space Place

Since First World: Covenant went live on Amazon, I’ve been rolling out the press release and tracking the results. I was very pleased to see a nice listing on Locus Online this morning. Locus is a fantastic science-fiction/fantasy magazine (both their print and online versions).

A few years ago when the short film version of First World had its premier in India at the First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction, Locus mentioned the project back then. When developing something new (especially science fiction), every news item and mention helps to get the word out.  On that note, I’m developing a page for The Ashton Times that links to some of the press the project has had since its inception. (Inception, now there was a great original science fiction movie!)

As for the space exploration front, I have to say I’m feeling a bit sad when I see these pictures of the space shuttle Endeavour at the International Space Station. We know there is only one more space shuttle mission left and then that program will be retired. But what a program it has been…over 30 years!

The advancements in science, space exploration and knowledge of our universe have increased on so many levels over the lifetime of the space shuttle program. I wish the Congress of the United States would stop complaining about the cost of the space program. It’s about the net result to human knowledge which always translates to more jobs in space and right here on Earth.

Thankfully, we now have a vibrant commercial space program in active operation with companies like Space X, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace.  Someday these new companies and  government space agencies will unite together to form…dare I say it…a federation? But for now they each need to prove their respective place in space.  Honestly, what I’m the most excited about is the Skylon spaceplane.  Once you’ve seen the shuttle land…well…you get the point.

For those of you that have the Nook (or the Nook applications), First World: Covenant has been “processing” for the last 48 hours. I’ll tweet when it’s live.