It should come as no surprise that I monitor First Signal (and Justice Is Mind) on a regular basis. This involves checking their respective IMDb and social pages along with various searches. In today’s world, it’s too easy for a page to get hacked, manipulated or commented on that requires a correction. But then there are the moments that yield good news.
This past week First Signal went live on Vudu. To quote from Wikipedia, “Vudu is an American digital video store and streaming service owned by Fandango Media.” Fandango, and their subsidiary Rotten Tomatoes, are leading services of film listings, ticket sales, review aggregators, streaming services and related information. With Vudu’s listing, this brings First Signal’s platforms to six representing global reach.
As I reflect on the reach that First Signal now has, I was reminded about a day on set when one of the actors asked me if First Signal would get released. Sadly, in the independent film world, it happens more often than not, that films are not released. I promised this actor that as my name was at the top of this film, it would get a release.
When we learned last week about the cancellation of Batgirl with its $90 million budget, the general response was, “They already spent $90 million just release it to digital.” First, there are countless reasons why this film may never see the light of day. I believe The Critical Drinker hit the nail on the head on why Batgirl was shelved. If the film was going to get a theatrical release, they would have to spend tens of millions more to market it. For a digital release, the general reasoning was quality of the film from test audiences. In their view, the studio would rather take a tax-deductible loss over bad reviews, audience displeasure and a very probable public box office bomb. But whatever the true reason is, film cancellations do happen.
For me, I truly believe this process starts with a sound script that when reviewed is looked at for the entertainment value, not the delivering of a message or particular point of view. The latter should be relegated to documentaries, when you know from the get-go what you’re getting into. Audiences are particular. Their currency in cash and promotion is invaluable. As a screenwriter and filmmaker, my goal is to entertain across a targeted genre and demographic. As Samuel Goldwyn famously said, “If I want to send a message I’ll use Western Union.”
A few days ago I released my Director Reel. You can imagine the challenge in reviewing hours of footage and seeking to select scenes that represent my work. At the end of the day, this is an industry of opinion, review and judgment. We aim to entertain with the ideas we create in our minds. The work in bringing these ideas to life is a challenge like none other. But when everything comes together from the completion of the film to embracement of audiences, it is a challenge worth accepting.
This past week First Signal premiered on The Roku Channel. With Roku, First Signal is now available on five major VOD platforms and is virtually available anywhere in the world. While I was certainly hoping for a solid distribution deal when I was producing First Signal, I honestly had no idea where the film was going to go. The one thing I was sure of, is that the film had to be placed properly if I was to continue developing and producing films.
On the subject of producing, over the last couple of months I’ve been participating in a variety of seminars and discussions on film financing. While the industry has changed from a technology (production) and distribution POV, the world of film financing is still populated with the usual characters and discussions – i.e., if you pay for services, you have a better chance of success.
Before I get into the weeds on film financing, let me break it down. When I say film financing, I’m talking about raising a couple of million (or more) to produce a feature film or a series. The “dream” way is that an agent, producer or production company discovers your work and sets up the project. The way that takes “work work” is pitching and presenting your project to the aforementioned entities. This is where the usual characters and discussions apply.
While there are many qualified, talented and connected people that are selling their services and introductions, all I can say is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. When you listen to these people there is a narrative that populates the majority – if you don’t do it their way, you won’t be successful. While listening is important, at the end of the day you just must throw caution to the wind and produce. There is no easy path to producing. Whether you do it yourself or in partnership with others, the risk and reward are the same. The only difference is the dollars – are they yours or someone that’s investing in you.
One thing I learned when revisiting this world of film financing, is that I discovered that some folks that were pitching their projects over ten years ago are still pitching and paying along the way. How much money do you need to spend on contests, experts, etc. to get that perfect approval? You could spend from here to next never and still not get a green light. But one thing you can do, is listen, research, plan and then produce – on your own. I’ve taken this approach on five occasions with three shorts and two features. Had I waited for all the planets to align, my two feature films, Justice Is Mind and First Signal, would still only exist as a script.
Although I’m often approached by filmmakers on a variety of topics, I never sell my services. What works for me, might not work for you. What I do contribute is my experience. Some may like my approach, while others might find it too direct.
All this being said, while I continue to pitch and present, I’m actively working on self-producing my next project. I can’t wait for next never!