Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Science

Space History

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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.”

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Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, was a mathematician at the Langley Research Center.

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.

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John Glenn in Friendship 7

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.

Liftoff.

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The launch of Friendship 7


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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The Intrepid

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The USS Intrepid in World War II. Now a museum ship in New York City.

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!

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The Galileo shuttle from Star Trek.

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.

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The Space Shuttle Enterprise.

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.

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The Concorde cabin.

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.

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In the cockpit of the Concorde.

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.”

Warp drive.

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With Lois Elfman.


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.


Minding The Future Today

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How I came up with the idea for Justice Is Mind is well known. I first saw a 60 Minutes broadcast that discussed ‘thought identification’ mind reading techniques being developed at Carnegie Mellon University. When Vernon Aldershoff and I screened Justice at Carnegie last April it was great having the opportunity to present the film at the very origins of its concept.  But it was when I read about MMT NeuroTech in an article titled “Mind Reader: Meet The Man Who Records and Stores Your Thoughts, Dreams and Memories”, where my attention was fully peaked. Indeed, the science fiction in Justice Is Mind will soon be science fact.

Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D.

Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D.

In this special edition of The Ashton Times, I asked Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D., the Founder and CSO of MMT Neurotech, about the process and science behind the article.

1) YOUR TECHNOLOGY RECORDS AND STORES MEMORIES, HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE BEFORE SUCH MEMORIES CAN BE DECODED INTO VIDEO FORM?

Decoding of memory into videos has been in existence for several years to some degree. A number of laboratories have shown this technique to be useful including those of UC Berkeley. MMT NeuroTech is working actively to make this available in the immediate future.

2) WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE COMMERCIAL AND MEDICAL BENEFITS OF THIS PROCESS?

Memory recording is in many ways similar to the marvelous sense of discovery and personal freedom that people experienced when Edison introduced voice recording in the late 1800’s. Prior to that there was no method of hearing a person’s voice after the words were spoken. There must have been a similar sense of wonder thousands of years ago when the written word was first introduced.

Once there is widespread awareness of memory recording, I think that many individuals will want to make recordings for themselves and for other people. Recording a memory is the only way to preserve the personal awareness permanently. Rather than recording the outer experience through photography, video or the written word, you can record the inner experience- your own actual experience. Back in the day of Edison, people did not initially know the many things that would be possible by recording a voice. It was beyond their understanding until it actually began to happen. Now we are able to preserve the actual memory of an event or personal thought rather than the general occurrence. Playback on a screen should be possible and we have plans for developing play back inside the mind.

Noncommercial medical applications will include preservation of memory in those individuals who are losing their memory with possible future reimplantation of those memories. Memory recording will help in the study of complex memory processes for development of new medications or devices to facilitate memory, and treat memory impairment.

Activation patterns during interrogation concerning recognition of the face of Saddam Hussein. Image: Courtesy MMT Neurotech.

Activation patterns during interrogation concerning recognition of the face of Saddam Hussein. Image: Courtesy MMT Neurotech.

3) DO YOU SEE SUCH PROCEDURES BEING USED IN COURTROOMS AS WE SAW IN
JUSTICE IS MIND?

I think that memory recording will follow the introduction of the use of functional MRI for interrogation and determination of truthful vs deceptive responses. This technique is already being offered by MMT Neurotech. However our justice system protects the individual from self-incrimination so forced fMRI for criminal prosecution will not be possible.

4) WHEN A PATIENT ELECTS TO HAVE THIS PROCEDURE, WHAT DO THEY GO THROUGH?

For recording memories, the individual must be able to undergo an MRI. While the MRI is being done, questions are read to the person about every 15 seconds and they are asked to think about and visualize their answers. The questions are determined by the person and given to the examiner to read. There can also be private questions that only the person knows. Examples might be ‘think of the earliest memory of your mother’ or ‘think about the most exciting moment in your life’. Celebrities, sports stars or politicians may want to record their experiences for fans to potentially download or for historians to access in the future.

A single memory scan can last long as 15-20 minutes and scans can be repeated as many times as a person might want to preserve as many memories as they wish. Unlike with the CT scan, with the MRI there is no radiation. The data is downloaded from the machine and sent to a computational neuroimaging center at MMT NeuroTech where the data is stored and interpreted. The final product eventually is made available to the client. Not everyone can undergo an MRI, but most people can do so easily.

5) GENERALLY, THIS SEEMS TO BE A FAIRLY NEW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. WE HAVE SEEN WHAT’S BEING DONE AT CARNEGIE MELLON FROM THE 60 MINUTES STORY, TO WHAT HAS BEEN DONE AT BERKELEY TO REVEAL CRUDE VIDEO IMAGES OF MEMORY. ARE SCIENTISTS LIKE YOURSELF WORKING TOGETHER ON THIS PROCESS OR IS IT MORE PROPRIETARY AT THIS POINT.

MMT NeuroTech does have significant proprietary processes. We are interested in university affiliations and have already established several corporate affiliations.

Henri Miller has the FVMRI process in Justice Is Mind.

Henri Miller has the FVMRI process in Justice Is Mind.


A New Platform

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Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man in Justice Is Mind.

This Thursday I announce that Justice Is Mind will go live on another VOD platform which has over 170 million users around the world. What’s so interesting to me is the constant ever changing world of film distribution. Most of the VOD platforms we are now on didn’t even exist when I wrote the business plan for Justice. Imagine where this business will be in the next five years.

Speaking of business plans, I’m about two-thirds completed with In Mind We Trust. While this plan certainly has many characteristics that are similar to SOS United States in terms of demographics and the Cold War overtures, there are of course numerous differences. It’s highlighting those differences in terms of marketing and public relations that will certainly aide the project as it moves forward.

Justice Is Mind arrives on a new VOD platform on Thursday.

Justice Is Mind arrives on a new VOD platform on Thursday.

One area that has sparked quite a bit of discussion has been the past-life reincarnation of Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind. In In Mind We Trust this area of the story is fully realized. How incredible was it that NBC News, and countless other media outlets, reported this past week about one ten year old boy who details a past life he had as a Hollywood actor. The report itself is fascinating and you can watch it at this link. Personally, I do believe in past lives. Like the research and science that’s part of “thought identification” mind-reading, this will be another area that I’ll be watching develop.

As for developments there is an upcoming movie called Women in Gold that stars Helen Mirren in which she plays a character who seeks to reclaim a piece of artwork that was stolen during The Third Reich, a claim that winds up at the Supreme Court. Based on a true story, there are the parallels between that film and Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust. In Justice, the painting in question is Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man that engages a conflict between Henri Miller and his father Joseph Miller. In In Mind We Trust, we learn the backstory of the painting and how it came into the possession of Henri Miller.

Just like in SOS United States an aircraft carrier from the United States arrives in the United Kingdom. Pictured -  USS Theodore Roosevelt will anchor off Stokes Bay, Gosport.

Just like in SOS United States an aircraft carrier from the United States arrives in the United Kingdom. Pictured – USS Theodore Roosevelt will anchor off Stokes Bay, Gosport.

Of course some things have changed from a business point of view, locally, here in Massachusetts. Our state’s film tax credit may soon disappear. In my view, the credit obviously, is a good thing. But as I understand the way our state’s tax credit is written, it does need an overhaul. An overhaul is one thing, but a termination is something else. The large studio productions that shoot in the state will just take their business to other states and an entire industry will simply atrophy. Many businesses have made significant investments that will have to be written off in terms of infrastructure and jobs. Simply, there has to be another alternative.

While we didn’t qualify for the state tax credit on Justice Is Mind, we would on In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World. If, by example, In Mind We Trust is produced for say around $100K plus on the low budget end, it won’t matter really if there’s a credit or not. But bring in a multi-million dollar budget with named talent and suddenly, and rightly so, you are looking elsewhere as it comes down to the overall project. Think about it. A film, even with a budget of $500,000, can earn a credit of 25%+. That’s not money you leave on the table, you simply take the table to another state or country that maximizes your capital.

Thursday announcement.

Reincarnation


The Federation

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This week the planet Earth lost one of its most beloved citizens – Leonard Nimoy who passed away at 83. Known around the world as “Mr. Spock” from Star Trek, it was Nimoy’s portrayal of the character that led so many of us to the world of science fiction and science.

I was too young to see the first run of the classic TV series, but was soon introduced to it in syndication in the 1970s along with the animated series.  Like so many it was the character of Mr. Spock and the ideals of what “The Federation” stood for that drew me to the world of Star Trek.

Although arguably Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is by far the best Star Trek film ever made, personally, I lean much more toward Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In that film Nimoy’s idea of the “Cold War” ending in space between the Federation and Klingon Empire, was much more appealing. It wasn’t just warp drive towards a space battle, it was a multi-layered story of differences between “worlds” and “species” interwoven with Shakespearian overtones and personal beliefs. When Captain Spock says, “There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China” that said it all.

As Cmdr. Conner in Star Trek: Odyssey

As Cmdr. Conner in Star Trek: Odyssey

There’s no question that Star Trek has influenced my life.  While I was growing up in a small town, my best friend and I formed a club. Not just one club, but then associated member clubs that grew to 11 in three states – a Federation of sorts. While running my old publishing company we use to refer to it as “The Federation” owing to the reach the magazines had in every country along with its editors.  Perhaps the most fun I had with my admiration for Star Trek was being cast in a fan made series several years ago. I got to the wear the uniform and sit on the bridge of a Starship!

The city of Lunaria in First World

The city of Lunaria in First World

But it’s now in my writing that I create non-linear stories. Like in Star Trek VI, they are involved and branch out from a single starting point. With First World it starts from the Apollo 11 missions, in SOS United States a message in the desert, in Justice Is Mind it’s a mind reading procedure.  Like the Star Trek I grew up with and the later films (not JJ Abram’s), I write stories that make you think. That make you ask, what if? Indeed, In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, asks that very question.

So as I reflected this past week on the admiration I had for Leonard Nimoy and the influence Star Trek and the character of Mr. Spock had on me, we all can take comfort knowing that his creative works, indeed all our creative works, will…

Live long and prosper.

Justice Is Mind - The FVMRI process begins

The world of mind reading in Justice Is Mind


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.

 

 


Science Fact, Fiction and Beyond

The Elm

I am pleased to report that Justice Is Mind will have its next theatrical screening on May 19 at The Elm Draught House Cinema in Millbury, Massachusetts. This comes on top of our screening on April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania followed by May 4 at the science fiction convention Penquicon 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.

When the funding came together to produce Justice Is Mind back in 2012, I was only too familiar with the rapid changes engulfing the independent film industry with the decline of DVD, the rise of VOD and the challenges theatres faced with digital conversion. But change, in my view, is a good thing because it simply brings about new opportunity.

I’ve been a proponent of VOD ever since my short film First World ran on Hulu from 2009 to 2011. (It’s now available on Amazon Instant Video). Prior to the VOD release of First World, the film screened at 20 science fiction conventions in 6 countries. Some solid interviews were generated and it laid the foundation for the VOD release. It was a different time back then as social media was relatively non-existent with the exception of MySpace. During that time I simply utilized the tried and true public relations and marketing tools from my days as a magazine publisher. They worked then and they work now.

Penguicon 2014

When it comes to marketing a film, I do believe you need to have a hook. Some reason why a journalist will write about your film, buy a ticket at a theatre or stream your film.  None of this is easy and takes continuous promotion and pitches. Seriously gone are the days when you can “build it and they will come”. All of these screenings to live audiences on terra firma are building our foundation for VOD.

“VOD distribution is the ‘new’ DVD distribution at least in the US market.” That statement was part of a spot on post at the Independent Film Blog about marketing a VOD release. In today’s world of independent filmmaking, we know it’s not enough to write the script, raise the funding and produce the film. Filmmakers are also publicists and marketers.  Simply put, if we aren’t going to champion our own film, who is?

Over the next two months, Justice Is Mind will travel to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Massachusetts. From one of the world’s most prestigious universities, to one of the largest science fiction conventions to a theatre that is nearly a century old, each venue represents a unique audience to present the same film.

Press Release

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P.S. As some of you know, my best friend Kim Merriam (who played an FVMRI tech in the film) graciously allowed us to use her home as the Miller residence in Justice Is Mind.  As she is starting a new chapter in her life, she has put the house up for sale. You can view the listing here.


Now Booking

The Atlantic Magazine - Could the Government Get a Search Warrant for Your Thoughts?

In The Atlantic Magazine – Could the Government Get a Search Warrant for Your Thoughts?

With sound mixing complete and color correction underway, I am now focused almost exclusively on the marketing and distribution of Justice Is mind. I also have been finding a little time to write my political feature (up to page 40!) and follow up on some outstanding matters on First World. While it’s always good to have a variety of projects in various stages of development, I firmly believe, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, that focus is important.  In my case, Justice Is Mind is front and center on the priority list.

Earlier this week I added a second theatre to screen Justice. The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA welcomed us with open arms for the short film version Evidence in 2012. Now under new ownership, The Strand welcomed us back to screen the feature. The date – Monday, September 16th at 7 PM. Doors open at 6:15. Ticket prices are $5.50.

Yesterday, working with a filmmaker friend of mine in Ogunquit, ME, I secured our third screening venue at the Leavitt Theatre (date to be announced). My mother and I have been traveling to Ogunquit, ME for over twenty years and the opportunity to screen Justice in one of our favorite resort towns is truly excellent.

Justice Is Mind - world premiere - August 18 - The Palace Theatre, Albany, NY

Justice Is Mind – world premiere – August 18 – The Palace Theatre, Albany, NY

Early on in the process of developing Justice, while the film will more than likely find it’s “revenue” home on VOD and other digital platforms, I wanted to secure some sort of theatrical run for Justice even if it means I go “door to door” because we all know that seeing your film on the big screen is what’s it’s all about. But more importantly, it’s not just about giving these theatres your DVD and saying thank you, it’s about promotion. I know I have my work cut out for me as it’s my job to promote the film as much as possible so all parties benefit.

A recent article in USA Today talked about the challenges these independent theatres face in the wake of converting to digital. All three theatres that are screening Justice were built in the 1920s and 30s. There is such grand history in this industry—born from the silent era to the digital one.  It’s important that we support them and preserve their history and place in the industry. I can’t help when I walk through these theatres to wonder who else walked these same steps to show their work. This week I’ll continue my “selling” Justice to theatres.

Justice Is Mind - September 16 - The Strand - Clinton, MA

Justice Is Mind – September 16 – The Strand – Clinton, MA

But while I deal with the traditional side of the process, I am also dealing with the contemporary digital side and evaluating the best route timing wise on when Justice will appear on certain platforms. Every filmmaker has a different agenda and different goals. Mine are pretty simple, maximum distribution for maximum return. I think that approach makes the most sense and lord knows there are all kinds of ways to get there. I’ll just say this, keep a solid POV on your wallet.

I came across one “distributor” this week who said, seriously, if you pay us $30,000 we will get you into some theatres and handle your promotion and accounting.  Another, even more insulting, for $2,000 we give you one day in our theatre and for an additional $1,500 we can promise you a review in a leading newspaper (damn you bought off a journalist!).  Scary the kind of ventures and vultures that are out there. Sounds like the “consultants” I came across in publishing that promised you “at the checkout” magazine placement. Ahhhh the promises and representations in this business. Thank you I’ll just pick up the phone and call the theatres direct and save myself all those kickbacks in the process.

While digital distribution makes the world of independent filmmaking possible from a return point of view (I like my monthly deposit from Amazon for my short films!), there is nothing more accepting than being in a theatre that is going to screen your work. This is where the business started and this is where the work needs to be seen.

On a closing note, this story just published in The Atlantic magazine “Could the Government Get a Search Warrant for Your Thoughts” could not be more timely for the upcoming release of Justice Is Mind.

Time to make some history.

T-minus 21 days.

Justice Is Mind - The Leavitt Theatre - Ogunquit, ME - date to be announced.

Justice Is Mind – The Leavitt Theatre – Ogunquit, ME – date to be announced.


Flight Plan

The opening credits.

The opening credits.

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).

Not a NASA control station. Justice Is Mind being sound mixed.

Not a NASA control station. Justice Is Mind being sound mixed by Visionary Sound.

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.

FVMRI operations center inspired by NASA's mission control.

FVMRI operations center inspired by NASA’s mission control.

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.

A memory on trial in Justice Is Mind.

A memory on trial in Justice Is Mind.

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.

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder of the Apollo Lunar Module to become the first human to step foot on the surface of the Moon.

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder of the Apollo Lunar Module to become the first human to step foot on the surface of the Moon.


Transitions

The FVMRI operations center with completed special effects.

The FVMRI operations center with completed special effects.

As I prepare to release a clip from Justice Is Mind, I was reminded again this week that the entertainment industry is yet again going through a transition. With another VFX production house leaving film, state tax credits in flux, online streaming pioneer Hulu up for sale and companies like Tugg and Gathr gaining traction for theatrical release of independent films, the word transition seems appropriate if not nearly descriptive enough of the change sweeping through the industry locally and throughout the world.

In today’s day and age of real time change with social media, it seems like everyday someone is presenting a new way to finance, produce, distribute, market and publicize a film. There is a race to embrace it all, to discover that new magic formula, to make money, to reinvent the wheel of a century old industry. But in the end, you do have to produce a quality motion picture and be cognizant of the real world. I honestly wonder who is involved in some of these new backward film “ventures”. In a leading industry trade this week, some moron actually said with bravado in an overly produced video presentation it’s harder to distribute your film than get it financed. Seriously? And you live on what planet?

Dr. Pullman receives an encrypted text.

Dr. Pullman receives an encrypted text.

Bottom line, if the industry survived United States v. Paramount Pictures in 1948, it will survive anything being thrown at it now. For me, I believe this is one of the most exciting times to be a filmmaker. In our hands we have the power to produce and distribute economically. Our work can be seen by audiences. Of course that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges when evaluating all these new transitional ventures. For me it comes down to being practical. If I’m going to actually pay you, what are you going to do for my film? Don’t give me smoke and mirrors, because I’ll bring one of those large wind machines and you will be…I’ll just say it…Gone With the Wind.

With Justice Is Mind I see the premise of the story itself going through an interesting transition from science fiction to fact. As most know, I was inspired to write the story after seeing a 60 Minutes broadcast about ‘thought identification’. Once I put the feature into pre-production and spoke to Dr. Marcel Just at Carnegie Mellon University (the scientist who was interviewed on the 60 Minutes show), he mentioned that they have been quite “busy” since that 2009 taping and that the science fiction I postulated in Justice could be reality “within seven to ten years.” My reaction was the same as Constance Smith’s in Justice, “Now that’s fascinating Dr.”

Pre-trial motions.

Pre-trial motions.

But when I read this week that researchers in Japan have built a mind reading machine using MRI technology and the Obama Administration is seeking $100 million to unlock the secrets of the brain, suddenly I’m seeing a favorable “market” transition towards revenue.  Naturally, I’ll be sure to send  President Obama a DVD screener of Justice Is Mind. You think I’m kidding?  I did send Laura Bush a copy of my first book Frozen Assets in 2002 and received a lovely letter from her. To quote a former president, let me make this perfectly clear, it’s not about politics it’s about promotion.

And that really is what this industry has always been about – promotion. From the studio system of yesterday to social media today, it’s all about promoting your film. Thankfully, in today’s electronic world independent filmmakers have those economic tools to promote (For a fleeting moment I’m imaging what David O. Selznick would have done with a Twitter account!).

So while the physical product of film may be made up of stills, we know this is an industry that doesn’t sit still.

wh_brain_mapping_infographic_2013_0


Great Expectations

A foreign company's medical procedure.

A foreign company’s medical procedure.

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!).

Stands trial in the United States.

Stands trial in the United States.

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.

And a revelation.

And brings forth a revelation.

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.

Liftoff of Falcon 9 and Dragon to the International Space Station

Liftoff of Falcon 9 and Dragon to the International Space Station

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!


Hold the Dream

L-r: Vernon Aldershoff, Robin Ann Rapoport, John Depew, Monique Mercogliano-Battista, Maria Natapov, Toula Coin and Mark Lund

January 20, 2012. World premiere of Evidence. L-r: Vernon Aldershoff, Robin Ann Rapoport, John Depew, Monique Mercogliano-Battista, Maria Natapov, Toula Coin and Mark Lund

With 2012 coming to a close, it’s time for a bit of reflection. At this time last year, I was in post-production with the short film Evidence. Today, it’s post-production for the feature film version Justice Is Mind. Suffice to say it’s been a pretty good year. But ending on a positive note is not without its challenges.

After the short film premiered at the Strand Theatre on January 20, 2012, along with several subsequent screenings, the process began in earnest to secure the funding to produce the feature. I’ve been down this path before with First World. You need to hone your logline, synopsis, have a polished script and a business plan. Raising money is a road a filmmaker generally travels alone. The presentations seem endless but that’s just part of the process.  For it is a dream that all filmmakers hold on to – the search for funding can take you to the ends of the Earth.

Funding secured. Mark Lund with Mary Wenninger in Texas in May 2012.

May 2012. Funding secured. Mark Lund with Mary Wenninger in Texas.

The one thing I have learned is to surround yourself with good, if not great, people. These are people whose opinions you trust and who you want to work with. With each production, event or project I’ve been involved in this circle has grown. It’s not about simple networking (which let’s be honest, can be highly overrated), it’s about that group of people you associate yourself with that will not only bring your dreams to life but theirs as well—mutual passion.

After casting over 35 actors and securing crew, rehearsals begin on August 4 for Justice Is Mind.

August 4, 2012. After casting over 35 actors and securing crew, rehearsals begin for Justice Is Mind.

So while my travels didn’t take me to the ends of the Earth to raise the funding to produce Justice Is Mind, they did take me to Houston, Texas where you could say I struck oil. I traveled there on business as a marketing consultant for a construction and intelligent parking solutions company owned by my best friend’s husband. Both Mary Wenninger and Stefan Kneiling knew that I ran a media company for over ten years, but their number one question to me was, “How big an organization or event have you run?” The question was a good one because producing a film (especially during principal photography) is generally nothing more than project management.  My thanks again to Mary and Stefan for their support of this project that has not just realized my dream, but the dreams of so many involved in Justice Is Mind.

Principal photography of Justice Is Mind begins on August 24, 2012.

August 24, 2012. Principal photography of Justice Is Mind begins.

Regardless of what our politicians do about the “fiscal cliff”, the American dream will not fall off with it. Passion, innovation and building, no matter what times we live in, finds a way to grow. I may have held this dream to produce for over thirty years, but it just proves that anything is possible. So when 2013 comes to a close, I plan to be writing about the newly released feature film Justice Is Mind. As I’ve quoted before from Space: 1999The impossible just takes a little longer…that’s all!

Principal photography of Justice Is Mind wraps on October 13, 2012.

October 13, 2012. Principal photography of Justice Is Mind wraps.

The official poster is released on November 9, 2012.

November 9, 2012. The official poster is released.

P.S. Sadly the science fiction community lost Gerry Anderson the creator of Thunderbirds, UFO and Space: 1999 and countless other sci-fi TV series and movies this past week. In the 1970s I watched with great excitement as Commander Straker (UFO) and Koenig (Space: 1999) led their troupes through unknown worlds. Thank you Mr. Anderson for inspiring so many with your vision of tomorrow.


Official Selection

Since the funding was announced to produce Justice Is Mind last month, there has been a flurry of activity around the entire project. As a filmmaker, it’s great to see a film begin to take on a life of its own. Of course in that process there are a mountain of details to attend to. In addition to securing the cast and crew, there are the locations and the nuances to detail so that when principal photography starts all things are in place—or damn close to it!

Our posting on New England Film for actors yielded over 300 responses across several states. I was delighted to see so many familiar faces from the work I’ve done over the last several years as both an actor and producer. But discovering new talent during the audition and casting process is always exciting. Make no mistake about it while New York and Los Angeles may claim to be the entertainment centers of the country, New England is a treasure drove of talent on both sides of the camera. Our call for crew has also brought an unprecedented quality in submissions. With callbacks taking place on July 7, and with crew discussions ongoing, look for our announcement of cast and crew soon.

In addition to the people that will bring Justice Is Mind to life, it is the locations that truly make the look of a production jump off the screen. A few weeks ago I traveled to Rotterdam, New York at the request of one of our starring actors to scout locations (thanks Vern!). There is something to be said about the welcoming atmosphere of a small town and the enthusiasm of the world of film. The same can be said for a restaurant in the town of Oxford we worked with on the short film and a two restaurant group I just visited in New Hampshire this past Friday.

Producing a low-budget feature film is no easy task. You are asking actors, crew and locations to work with you largely as a project of passion and belief in what everyone is aiming to accomplish – a quality motion picture that will be well received in the market.  But for anyone that has worked with me on previous projects, there is one element that they know I bring to the table – promotion and marketing. Yes, I am relatively relentless when it comes to the promotion of projects I’m involved with (it’s also what I do for a living). While the immediate situation may not yield a market level payout, everyone rides along on the promotion train, shares in the rewards and leverages this project for the next gig and the next and so on. I did that in figure skating which eventually led to a gig on network TV show (FOX’s Skating with Celebrities). This is why we are offering points to the majority of actors and crew on this project. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know I wouldn’t mind receiving a check every quarter for a project I did a couple of years past. It’s a reminder that the work you did mattered and that someone is going to bat for you. Just as important, your work is being seen.

On the side of promotion and distribution, I am delighted to announce that IndieFlix released Justice Is Mind: Evidence on June 19. The short is now available digitally for all those to view and enjoy. And on the film festival front, Evidence has been accepted to the Scinema 2012 Festival of Science Film in Australia and the Chicon 7 Independent Film Festival in Chicago.  With our acceptance to these festivals, we are making some artwork updates to the Justice Is Mind: Evidence DVD. Look for that release later on this month.

To the actors and crew who have submitted, to the location stakeholders who have welcomed and considered our production, to our distributor IndieFlix and to the film festivals that have accepted us, I say thank you. To Mary Wenninger and Stefan Knieling, who backed the feature, and to my Producer/AD, Jess Killam and her organizational skills and knowledge—it goes without saying that absent your support the production of the feature film Justice Is Mind would not be possible.


Nothing is Impossible

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller

As some of you may remember, I was cast in a short sci-fi film last year titled Approved by Durjaya. Set in a dystopian future in which people are segregated by their job, I am pleased to announce that Approved is having its premiere in Boston this evening. I look forward to catching up with the actors and crew and seeing the final result of this work.

In regard to screenings, Justice Is Mind: Evidence will have its fifth presentation at Balticon 46 on May 25. I’m delighted to announce that Vernon Aldershoff, who plays Henri Miller, will be joining me at the screening and for the Q&A immediately after. I always enjoy the Q&A sessions after a film an what an audience sees. When you are part of producing a film you see the end product one way, but an audience can have an entirely different “take.” But at that point to quote Bill Sampson in All About Eve, “…you’re in a tin can.”

For so many reasons I’m looking forward to Balticon and my visit to the Washington, DC area. At Balticon I’ll be speaking on and moderating a variety of panels. Prior to the screening of Evidence on Friday, I’ll be reading from some of my past works. I think I may read from First World: Covenant the prequel novella I published last year. As First World had its first screening at Balticon five years to the day of Evidence, bringing back First World seems appropriate.

On Saturday May 26, Balticon attendees will find me on the Self-Publishing, Casting Calls, Screenwriting/Directing, Low Budget Filmmaking, Hi Tech v Low Tech panels and an autograph session in the afternoon. I’m excited about these panels, because I know there is so much talent out there that wants to get their product to market. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry doesn’t make it easy and there are countless misconceptions that I think sadly preclude many from putting dream to paper. As Gerald Simmonds, former executive of the World Space Commission in Space: 1999 said, “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

Regarding science fiction, I was talking to one of the country’s leading neurologists last week about the sci-fi in Justice Is Mind where MRI technology can read memory in video form. As he stated to me, “Your timeframe is pessimistic.” My response included a bit of a pause when I said, “Well from today how long do you think it will be until MRI technology can read memory in video form?” When he responded 7-10 years I was simply amazed. But on hindsight, it all makes sense. In my view, mankind is reaching towards an apex of understanding when it comes to not only the science of inner space (the mind) but that of outer space as well. One does not have to be a neurologist or rocket scientist to see that as we come to better understand our universe, there is a clash with those groups (often religious based) that are frightened of the truth. I seem to recall the Vatican having a field day with some guy called Galileo.

Of course, before Galileo there was another wonder called Leonardo da Vinci. One can only imagine what that great mind of his envisioned when he designed an early glider. While he may not have imagined the glide of the Space Shuttle Discovery, I can say with all fact that I can’t wait to see Discovery at the Smithsonian.

As for a longstanding dream of my own, I learned last week that nothing is impossible it just took a little longer.


A Percent for Greatness

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.


Our Curiosity

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.”


Another World

When 50 new alien planets are announced in one day, it’s OK to stop everything and blog about it. It’s moments like these in the cosmic scheme of things that can make our day-to-day matters seem trivial, but we know they aren’t. One of my favorite quotes from Space: 1999 bears repeating “There is some frame of order.” What that order truly is none of us really know. Maybe “something” knows on the newly discovered super-Earth HD 85512b that orbits the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the constellation Vela? At 35 million light years away it’s in our cosmic neighborhood.

Hundreds of years ago Europeans looked over the Atlantic Ocean and wondered what existed beyond its own shores. Today it was the European Southern Observatory that looked into the vastness of space and discovered these new lands of tomorrow.

Imagine the day when man lands not just on the shores of a distant continent but on a world not of his birth.

 

 

 


A World of Time

When I wrote the original draft of First World in 2006, I had no idea I would be converting it to a book five years later – never mind a series of them. But those are the journeys in time we take. What’s interesting to me, are the countless additional ideas I had at the time when writing the screenplay that I now can fit into a book. It wasn’t because I didn’t think they wouldn’t be visually interesting, but when writing a script on spec, unless you’re James Cameron, you really are confined to a certain page limit.

In Synedrion, I theorized the possibility that, at some point in time, satellites will not only be able to render images of the inside of buildings, but can do so in three dimensions with nearly life-like quality. Thus, the Eighth Synedrion Council watching President Kennedy as he delivers his famous 1961 address to Congress in VEC – the Virtual Earth Control room.

This technology, while maybe not yet in three dimensional form, partially exists today. According to an article on CNET, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, wants technologies that render “complete situational awareness”  through buildings. My guess is that they already have it as part of their Advanced Space Systems program.

NASA’s Terra satellite already maps the topography of the planet. And in 2007 the Bush Administration approved a plan for “21st-century spycraft…that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.”

Speaking of time, last night I watched one of my favorite movies The Time Machine. Starring the dashing Rod Taylor and the beautiful Yvette Mimieux, H.G. Wells’ story of a machine that can go forward and backward in time, is a classic. Forget the remake, the 1960 version is the one you want to see.

One of my favorite scenes was when Taylor’s character, H. George Wells, goes into the library of the Eloi city in the year 802701 only to discover that books no longer exist (those that did crumpled in his hands from extreme age) and that data was stored in ring CD-like devices. Curious how such change in technology is happening now in the Earth year of 2011.

As I’ve said before, what I enjoy the most about the classic science fiction made in the 1950s and 60s (and some in the 70s) is the story they told through dialogue. Of course, they tried their best to deliver visual greatness (This Island Earth took two years to create the special effects). Regarding stories that center on time, one hidden gem (forget the sets) is Journey to the Center of Time.

In closing, the trailer for Approved by Durjaya has been released and I start work on a new film in Boston next weekend titled Noah. More on that project next time.


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.


I Need Mach 4 Now!

The Paris Air Show is known as the worlds largest and for good reason. Not only is it the oldest, but it acts as a grand exhibit hall to the latest and greatest in aviation. This year, however, the talk was all about the ZEHST – The Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport.

Since the Concorde last flew about eight years ago, the commercial aviation market has stayed subsonic. While it might be nice to fly in the luxury of the A380, it saddens me that there’s no longer a choice if you want to fly supersonic.

EADS, the parent company of Airbus, introduced the ZEHST concept. The idea is that it will be able to fly at Mach 4 with over 100 passengers at over 100,000 feet and make the journey from New York to Tokyo in only 2.5 hours.

There’s no question that the ambition is an impressive one. But will it ever fly? From what I’ve read, EADS claims it could have a working model by 2020 and be in the market by 2050. I wish we could go back to the heady days of Apollo and Concorde when we decided to just do something great. The science and engineering are there so to quote Nike “Just do it!”

So I was over at my favorite web site Space.com this morning and saw that NASA has recovered some missing Moon dust that was scheduled to be auctioned last month.

As the article states, the United States government classifies lunar samples as national treasures and well it should. Aside from the fact that these objects are from another world, they were brought back to this one by man for all of mankind to study and learn from. I for one believe it should be illegal for anyone to try to sell lunar objects.

Finally, for those of you that don’t subscribe to my email newsletter or missed it on Facebook or Twitter, last month yours truly was cast in a short science fiction film called Approved by Durjaya. The film “centers around a dystopian society in which there are strict rules enforced by a higher authority and each citizen is assigned to a group that determines their job and subsequently their life.” I play one of the two protagonists. The film is scheduled for release in December.

In closing, I’m also running a promotion for First World: Covenant. For those of you that purchased the ebook, I am offering a FREE autographed cover of Covenant that would be suitable for framing. Details can be found in my latest email newsletter.


In Gravity We Trust

In the First World universe the primary method of transportation by the Lunarians is the Arctran (Anti-gravity Robotic Command Transport Rapid Aeronautic Navigation). Styled like the retired Concorde, with the length of a 747 and in “Boeing Silver,” an Arctran’s primary function is to act as transportation between Central’s four Earth bases and the domed installation on the Moon, Lunaria. Of course no fictional story would be complete without putting the Arctrans to the test of combat, something they were never designed to do – well, maybe they’ve had some modifications along the way.

Anti-gravity propulsion is certainly nothing new in science fiction. One of my favorite movies that used anti-gravity as a plot device was The First Men in the Moon (1964). The one thing that I love about science fiction from the 1950s and 60s is that they try to explain the science behind the science fiction. In The First Men in the Moon, a scientist by the name of Joseph Cavor invents Cavorite – a gravity blocking substance with the properties of Helium. When this substance is applied to an object it defies the laws of gravity and propels itself. In the film, Cavor uses Cavorite painted blinds on his spacecraft (a sphere) to navigate. Imagine if it was that simple

In the real world, the last seventy years has seen a variety of research into the harnessing of anti-gravity technologies. During the Third Reich, Die Glocke was allegedly some sort of “Bell” that resisted gravity with electromagnetic propulsion. The only proof of whatever did actually exist is a test rig.

For years it has been speculated and reported that Boeing has been working on anti-gravity propulsion with the code name GRASP – Gravity Research for Advanced Space Propulsion. When we consider that the black technology computers used during the Apollo space program are now household technology, I think we can safely speculate that there are propulsion systems being tested that the public has yet to witness.

Next weekend I’ll be at the Rhode Island Air Show, maybe I’ll arrange for an Arctran to make an appearance. Better still, maybe our military would like to surprise us with something new.


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