Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

SOS United States

Tital Shifts

The title card for First Signal

A couple of weeks ago I sent an update to the actors and crew of First Signal about what our release strategy may look like.  I believe, if all goes according to plan, our first theatrical screening will be sometime in October. I hope that follows with additional theatrical and festival screenings into the second quarter of 2021 with a VOD release around May. 

As someone who reads the trade publications, I see how release dates and general overall strategy is changing on a daily basis. This article in The Hollywood Reporter today, pretty much summed up the current state of the industry. Fortunately for First Signal, the film itself wrapped principal photography last year and just finished post in early June. So, all things considered, our release strategy hasn’t changed all that much.

I do believe one of the real issues that’s going to face this industry next year is available inventory of new product. With very little being produced over the last several months, eventually this empty space will catch up to the industry. I believe this is why we are seeing studios and distributors stagger their releases from the 3rd quarter of this year into 2021. They need commercial films to bring audiences back to theaters. Honestly, who really wants to see a previously released movie in a theater when you can watch it from the comfort of your sofa for a fraction of the price? Of course, I would love to see classics return to the silver screen. Particularly those from the 1930s, 40s and 50s!

So far, the festival market is going well for First Signal. I was delighted to receive a Best Director win from the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival last week. To receive an accolade of this stature from a festival is truly an honor. This is all about building a momentum so when First Signal goes to VOD, a hopeful following has built up for the film. From a media point of view, there is so much noise to cut through to get noticed.

A scene from “Operation Troy” in First Signal

The release strategy I’m looking to employ is the model I did with Justice Is Mind. It started with a world premiere followed by a limited theatrical and special event run before it went to VOD. My feeling with Justice, and now First Signal, was to follow the studio model. If it works for them, why try to reinvent the wheel? I just adapted it for the scale of my project. At the end of Justice Is Mind’s run, we had numerous media reports and reviews that helped propel the film when it was released on VOD.

On course.

Hoping to put SOS United States into production in 2021

One Sheet

Mark Lund-The Ashton Times - AFM Poster

In the entertainment industry it is the “one sheet” that advertises and promotes a film. In an instant the release of a one sheet sets the tone for a film that could be weeks, months or years from release. It is a form of media that should be carefully thought out. While it’s impossible to convey the entire story in a film poster, it should at least project a certain atmosphere.

When I was in post-production with Justice Is Mind my goal was to conceive of a poster that would represent the general story. With an MRI image in the background we see two sides of Henri Miller. One looking forward in the present world and the other looking backwards into World War II.  I had the general concept in mind when we were shooting so I had Vernon Aldershoff, the actor that plays Henri Miller, photographed accordingly.

With Serpentine, the story revolves around a figure skater caught up in a Cold War mystery. With a sheet of ice as the backdrop, a skater is centrally framed in Red Square to convey the premise of the story.  For SOS United States, the image of two F35’s flying in proximity to a cruise ship, dramatizes the accompanying tag line that says it all.

There are times when the production of a one sheet has to be as accurate as possible. First Signal was one of them.  While the science fiction aspect gives one a certain amount of creative freedom, some things need to be right. The Moon to Earth vantage point was modeled after the famed “Earthrise” picture taken from Apollo 8.  But it was the star field that needed to be accurate. Thankfully, Celestia, a 3D astronomy modeling program, was available (Special thanks to Daniel Elek-Diamanta for creating the poster and finding Celestia!).

Right after I registered for AFM, I was wondering what I could create to represent my various projects. While they each had their own branding and collateral (depending where they were in the production pipeline), I realized that I didn’t. Those that know me and my projects know what I create, but there is a whole industry universe out there that doesn’t.

I am therefore pleased to present the one sheet for The Ashton Times.  Designed by my longtime colleague and friend Adam Starr, it is designed to promote and illustrate the type of works I create. For the last couple of weeks it has been included in my industry communications and promoted on MyAFM and Cinando. As we are an industry of image, I think it’s important to create what we can to present our projects in the best possible light.

It seems fitting that I’m preparing to leave for AFM during the anniversary week when Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2014. That screening proved to me that you don’t have to be a major or mini studio or have A or B list actors in your film to have a marketable project. Indeed, you only need one thing…

…a good story.


New Perspective

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Battleship Cove.

I’ll never forget the day Adam Starr brought his drone to the set of Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the part in the story that called for a drone, I count myself lucky that Adam had one. In those days (2012) a drone for an independent film was a novelty. Adam had recently purchased a drone for a commercial shoot so thankfully he had one. As you can see from the image below, he did a great job. And with his VFX skills he transitioned from drone footage to special effects seamlessly.

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A drone shot in Justice Is Mind from 2012.

Last weekend was a bit of a drone adventure for me. After my successful shots at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center earlier in the month, I went to a WWII event at Battleship Cove. I go every year, but this time I brought my DJI Spark.  Although I’ve been working with the drone for a few months now, I never really put it through the paces. The image above was from the drone’s maximum height (without the remote controller). Yes, “Big Mamie” is a big ship! To watch the video, click this link.

The next day I went to Newport, RI and toured The Breakers. Although I took a picture of Marble House with the drone when I was at one of the “Cars & Coffee” shows, I had yet to video one of the Gilded Age “summer cottages.” After the tour I started to envision what I wanted to see from this great mansion that was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. For those that remember the opening credits of Dynasty, that was my motivation. To watch the video, click this link.

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The Breakers.

To answer what some of you may be thinking, yes, I always get permission to film at museums and the like. The drama you hear about drones is pretty much nonsense. Operating a drone is like driving a car. It’s called practice and being responsible.  If I’m not sure about something, I’m not going to try it. One of the cardinal rules is pretty simple—always be able to see your drone. Today’s drones have so many wonderful features built right into their programming. For mine, I can just tap “return to home” and that’s exactly what it does.

As part of SOS United States takes place on the USS Massachusetts, I’ve always wanted to do some filming at the museum. My interest in The Breakers was obvious. What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film such a grand residence? Because these two locations are so unique, my aim was to get two different looks if you will. But there are those moments when you kick yourself. I was approaching the low battery warning and had one more chance to get a shot at The Breakers. I hit “tap to fly” and the Spark was moving forward nicely. After a few moments I hit return to home. But I forgot to hit record when it was flying! Thankfully, I had enough footage.

Of course I originally purchased this drone for First Signal. Although actor and crew scheduling conflicts meant moving the film to 2019, this actually gives me more time to experience the capabilities of the Spark. There’s lots to shoot in the region!

As for First Signal, SOS United States, and my other projects, I always have a plan b. This November I’ll be traveling to the American Film Market. I haven’t been to Los Angeles since Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in 2014. It will be great to make new contacts and visit with friends and colleagues from my days in “Hollywood.”

Next shot.


The Aurora

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The Wappen Von Hamburg in 1958.

As a screenwriter one of the things I do prior to writing any story is research.  In SOS United States the fictional ocean liner in that story is called the Leviathan and is based on the famed ocean liner SS United States. But during this research I came across the MV Aurora and have been following this find ever since.

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Found on Craigslist.

Anyone that knows me, or follows this blog, is aware of my passion for ocean liners (past and present) along with preserved navy ships. For me the preferred way to holiday has always been by cruise ship or ocean liner. So when I learned that Christopher Willson was restoring a cruise ship from the 1950s, I naturally had to learn more about the Aurora. And let’s be clear, restoring a cruise ship is a project!

The Aurora was launched in 1955 as the Wappen von Hamburg. When you consider that she was the first cruise ship built by West Germany since World War II, that fact alone secures her place in history. After her launch the ship passed through a variety of cruise lines and operators until a literal ad on Craigslist caught the attention of Willson. The ship at that point was in a sorry state, but it was a calling for Willson to restore her to glory.

Through the years I have been following this project, I continue to be amazed at the progress he and an army of volunteers have made in restoring this iconic piece of maritime history. Such efforts are a unique passion and should be applauded and supported by anyone that comes across such dedication.

Restoring a cruise ship from the 50s is not like restoring a house from the same time period. We’ve all seen the ridiculous modifications from the 60s and 70s in houses that have been thankfully done away with in the 21st century. But a cruise ship is different. Over her years the Aurora has had numerous, shall we say “changes” to her original design. But learning about Willson’s drive, ambition and progress bringing this ship back to life must be promoted.

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A grand staircase comes back to life.

While I certainly applaud the efforts to eventually restore the United States, Willson and his team are restoring the Aurora. One weld, one paint stroke at a time, the ship is returning to take her place alongside such historic liners as the Queen Mary and Rotterdam. In the case of those two liners from days past, someone had a vision to see that those vessels were saved from the fate of breakers or worse (remember what happened to the Queen Elizabeth?). But unlike those liners, there’s no hotel chain or municipality assisting in funding and promoting. It’s just Willson, his volunteers and related capital efforts to continue this important work.

All of us have seen the restoration of iconic buildings in our towns and cities. Nothing is grander when you see an old building restored to glory. Restoring a cruise ship from the 1950s is no different. In fact, it’s even more important. A ship, unlike a building, calls to you. Ask anyone who owns a boat or captains a ship and they’ll share their story. It’s clear the Aurora was calling Willson to save her. It knew her place in history and what it had to offer future generations. Personally, I’d rather sail on history than read about it in a book.

To the captain and crew of the Aurora, may the wind be at your back.

The Aurora today

The MV Aurora today.

Official Facebook Group. Includes updates, photos and videos.


Air Supremacy

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F-15 during the opening ceremonies.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with flight. Growing up in the 70s the Boeing 747 and Concorde were all the rage.  But my first glimpse of the United States military came from the 1980 film The Final Countdown starring Kirk Douglas.  That film was a brilliant combination of a narrative science fiction drama with the U.S. Navy and Air Force demonstrating real world capabilities. With this interest you can well imagine my excitement when I learned the Westfield International Air Show was returning to Massachusetts.

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C-5 Galaxy

From the “static” display of a C-5 Galaxy to the F-16 U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds, the air show programmers really outdid themselves this year. The show was appropriately titled “A Century of Airpower” as it featured such planes as a restored Douglas C-47 and B-25 bomber. In fact there was a whole cadre of planes from World War II.

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Douglas C-47

What was particularly moving for me was watching the C-47 perform the same mission it did 73 years ago when it dropped troops in the invasion of Normandy.  Watching this reenactment I can only imagine what it was like during the height of the war itself. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the sheer bravery of everyone involved in that mission.

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F-22 Raptor

But mission is what the United States military does better than any nation on this planet. One only has to attend one of these air shows to see the demonstration of these great aircraft and the men and women that make it all possible.

Yes, as an American, there is a great sense of pride seeing this all in action. But to be honest, it’s also about national and world security. Sure that last sentence may sound a bit over the top, but there needs to be a military superpower to insure that such global travesties like World War II never happen again or at minimum are contained.  As President George H. W. Bush would ask when our security was threatened, “Where are our aircraft carriers?”

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B-25 Mitchell

With a reported 50,000+ people attending over a two day period, of course I had to know someone at the show. In the early morning hours on Sunday I ran into Monty Lyons. Monty was featured in both Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program. Great seeing you Monty!

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With Monty Lyons.

If you haven’t attended an air show I encourage you to do so. We see and hear so much about what the military does but don’t generally have the opportunity to see it up close in such a setting. Of course the actual air show itself is something to see, but it’s the static displays where you can really learn and experience something new. From lectures on their technical capabilities to what they do on missions. Yes, some of this research has wound up in my screenplays such as First World and SOS United States.

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F-16 Fighting Falcon

In summary a special thanks to the 104th Fighter Wing and organizers of the Westfield International Airshow for another spectacular event. But more importantly it’s to the men and women that serve in our armed forces, the veterans and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, that have protected this nation and our way of live from its inception. Without them there is no United States.

America.

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The opening ceremonies.


New Direction

Denise Marco and Isabella Ramirez in Serpentine

Denise Marco and Isabella Ramirez in Serpentine.

This past week I was contracted to direct some commercial shoots through an ad agency. From a farm, to a school and a bank, each was a different experience. The talent for these shoots were “real” people not actors. The one thing that non-actors bring to a commercial for their own company is authenticity. If they don’t believe in what they’re selling who is? They also aren’t trying to create a character, they already are one.

All my films have had non-actors. In First World it was the equestrian. In Evidence it was a scientist as a court stenographer. In Justice Is Mind it was the pizza shop owner and MRI technicians. In Serpentine it was the skater and skating coach. In my view as long as you don’t ask for too much range, it usually works out fine. But that being said, it doesn’t matter if they are actors or non-actors, it all comes down to organization and coaching a performance.

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Brittany Wilkinson in First World.

There are some directors that are all about an obsessive amount of direction. I’ve seen this first hand as a performer. Sometimes I understand the level of detail they want, but often it’s just to demonstrate to everyone what title they hold on set. For me, if I don’t have any comment for an actor I’m directing that means it was OK with me. Particularly for non-actors, you have to find an emotional place for them to exist without thinking they are performing. For actors, who tend to analyze everything, I believe less is more. But in all cases, my one requirement is believability and when required a memorization of lines.

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Kim Merriam in Evidence.

In one of my films, one actor, who had the script for at least two months, arrived on set with almost no lines memorized. To say I was frustrated was beyond description, but the actor he played opposite was a true professional and thankfully picked up where he couldn’t. It was so bad, that we had to tape his lines to a window and shoot from an angle!

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Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier in Justice Is Mind.

As for lines, when I wrote Justice Is Mind the characters of Constance Smith and John Darrow had literal monologue after monologue and numerous other scenes with complex dialogue. But when Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier auditioned they brought such a realism to the characters that even I didn’t envision when I wrote the parts. It is no coincidence that I cast them opposite each other in Serpentine: The Short Program. At the end of the day, this is what a director lives for when casting—knowing you can cast actors without an audition.

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Paul Lussier and Kim Gordon in Serpentine: The Short Program.

This past week’s shooting reminded me of days long past when I directed my first TV commercial. It was a direct response spot for ESPN in the 1990s for the figure skating magazine I published. I fondly remember sitting in the editing booths with technicians going over one cut after another to a previously recorded narrator’s voice from a script I wrote. At the time I didn’t really know I was the director, but when I think about it they kept asking me if everything looked OK or if I wanted to try something different.  I now realize that they were training me on directing.

As they say, it all starts somewhere. And that’s what I told the talent I was interviewing this past week. Some may never be on-camera again, but there may be one or two who will remember the experience years from now when they are on network television.

Action.

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I just finished updates to SOS United States. This new poster was designed by Daniel Elek-Diamanta.


Now Voyager

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Ever since my mother introduced me to the story of the RMS Titanic and Titanic Historical Society, I have always been interested in the world of ocean liners. I have toured the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA twice (the second time they had a Titanic exhibit) and have sailed on the RMS Queen Mary 2.  One of my projects SOS United States is based around the story of an ocean liner. Of course it was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the MS Queen Elizabeth that has been a career highlight. Thus, you can imagine my excitement when I learned about the Ocean Liners exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

Last Tuesday, on my birthday, I drove to the museum to check out this exhibit and could not have been more impressed with the level of detail and information. The exhibit starts with how the cruise lines advertised and promoted their ships before moving on to engineering, artifacts and life on board during those heyday times of travel by ocean liner. The 1947 model of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which once adorned the New York offices of Cunard, was a featured display.

For me I was particularly interested in learning more about the SS United States. As some of you may know, in my story SOS United States the fictional SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. As she was partially funded by the United States government, she was designed for speed and conversion to a troop ship in times of conflict. The tank and plating models were fascinating. Then there were select pieces of her fittings that were truly spectacular. But seeing the Blue Riband trophy on display really illustrated her place in history.  The trophy was won by the SS United States in 1952 for recording the highest speed for westbound service in the Atlantic Ocean. She still holds that title today.

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From the first class lounge of RMS Titanic.

But for all the glitz and glamour of those days, there were those ocean liners that met unfortunate times. No story is more tragic and sad than that of the RMS Titanic.  When I entered one of the galleries I saw a piece of beautifully sculpted wood on one of the walls. It was from her first class lounge. Apparently it had washed up in Nova Scotia after her tragic sinking on April 15, 1912.  I found myself just staring at it and imagining the pomp and circumstance of those entering the lounge to enjoy a festive evening only to then picture the sheer horror as they tried to escape a doomed ship. We will never know what that was like, but this piece of living history is a reminder of those days long gone.

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From the RMS Olympic‘s Grand Staircase.

Another highlight was from Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic (known as “old reliable” as she was in service until 1935). Seeing the clock from her Grand Staircase was truly something. Considering this panel was identical on Titanic, it just makes that time in history all the more real when you see artifacts like this. There was other unique area of the exhibit that featured the entertainment industry. Select scenes from movies that took place on ocean liners; one of my favorites starring Bette Davis and Paul Henried in Now, Voyager.

But voyages by sea are still, in my view, the best way to travel. You arrive at the port of embarkation with your ship looming up in the near distance calling for attention. Soon you find yourself on board as your luggage is brought to you. And before you know it, you sail into your holiday. However, if your holiday is a New England one, visit the Peabody Essex Museum’s Ocean Liners exhibit. You’ll be glad you boarded.

Destinations.


New Season

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In Serpentine the climax of the story happens at the world figure skating championships in Moscow.

With Marche Du Film (Cannes) coming up, I always find it interesting to learn about the new players while reading about the fate of others. No doubt in the weeks ahead we will read in the trades about the big splash of a new company’s star driven acquisition or the sorry story of others that used to hold court on private yachts.  Having been to Cannes many years ago (not for the festival) the location is truly a stunning one to announce a major project.

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In First World all communication platforms in the United States are being monitored.

There is no question that this is an industry of flash. When you have good news to announce you do so publicly, loudly and in grand fashion. The whole point is to cut through the noise to get your project noticed. As I’ve said time and time again, this industry is as much about making motion pictures as it is about promoting them. This is why in so many cases when you see a production budget you multiply it by itself for marketing and public relations.

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In SOS United States an F35 from the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier goes to intercept an ocean liner that may have a nuclear bomb on board.

But then there are the rest of us that aren’t making $175 million motion pictures (at least not yet!). What filmmakers like me rely on is reliable consistent revenue from VOD. While so many players come and go in this industry, we rely on VOD platforms to be there year after year.  Although sites like Netflix are in a public relations battle with Cannes, Amazon is playing by the rules and, “was not coming to the South of France “looking to disrupt Cannes,” adding, “You have to approach Cannes on its own terms.”

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In Mind We Trust, SOS United States, Serpentine and First World center around Washington, D.C.

And while Cannes is one of the world’s greatest launching pads for a film, there are VOD sites like TubiTV that are also making waves. Just this past week the site announced a $20 million outside investment. Justice Is Mind has been on TubiTV for several months and has started to gain some solid traction. I’ve also noticed an increase in traffic for Justice on other VOD sites. All these upticks bode well for the industry as a whole. It shows that consumers are watching across a variety of platforms and it doesn’t matter if they are star driven $100 million plus budgets or films made for under $100K. At the end of the day audiences want to be entertained and they want the choice to be theirs.

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In SOS United States the SS United States returns as the Leviathan.

But as the industry enters a new season it’s a review of my current projects First World, SOS United States, Serpentine and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. Are my websites updated? Do they convey the current status of each project? You know what they say about first impressions, you only get one to make one.

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In Serpentine the FBI has been following a champion figure skater as part of an unresolved Cold War mystery.

There is, however, a cardinal rule that I live by. I never disclose who I’m talking to and who I submitted to. This is why I declined to respond to a local entertainment publication that reached out to me on one of my projects. This is like when actors announce who they just auditioned for (or what festivals a filmmaker submitted to). I promise you that doesn’t help you get the part any quicker. In fact, it can have an opposite result. The same holds true for behind the scenes conversations. Sure, the trades like to know what’s going on, but confidentiality is paramount.

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Where do they come from in First World.

However, I will say this. The world’s largest oversees mobile player picked up Justice Is Mind from our distributor earlier this year. But until it’s live, I’ll hold on the formal announcement.

Presentation.


Memory Avenue

IMAG1684I was walking down Park Avenue in New York City last Thursday on a way to a meeting and soon found myself strolling down memory lane. 3 Park Avenue started to loom higher and higher as I walked toward 20th street. It’s not the tallest building in the city by any measure, but the memory it holds for me was my first job in the big apple. The year was 1983 and it was a mailing list company. Of course it’s 2017 so I stopped to take a picture of the building and posted it to social media.

Time has flown since those early days. Did that first job help in my quest to become a magazine publisher years later? Did it lay some sort of foundation to my TV work? Then films? That of course is hard to tell, but I do believe every experience leads to another that builds to another. Some jobs we love and some we detest. At best we learn from the experience and move on. This first job was fine. It did teach me how mailing lists were sourced and sold.

The meeting I had was part of a larger goal of mine. Let’s just say that since I reactivated my SAG-AFTRA membership I’ve been looking into things.  But like so many I see on social media these days, I don’t broadcast every detail of my business activities until either a deal is done or it makes sense to do so. Seriously, why take the chance that a premature post could jeopardize a future opportunity (and don’t even get me started about those that take to social media complaining they didn’t get a part!)? Look none of us are perfect when it comes to social media. In the old days we would call our best friend and just rant on the phone, now it’s a quick post so the world can see…the world!

But while I was reflective of the past, I don’t live in it.  In those early days it was a literal production to get the word out on something. You had to hope that a radio station, newspaper or TV network picked up what you were pitching. Now you can broadcast live on social media. Indeed, it has democratized the world of promotion and is a godsend to the entertainment industry.

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With Lois Elfman at Dos Caminos in New York City.

Would I have been able to reach around the world with First World, Evidence, Justice Is Mind or Serpentine: The Short Program with the budget I had? Never. But like the days before social/electronic media, you still need a message. You just can’t post “watch me” you need to give someone a reason to in the first place. In my early days of publishing, my press releases would be faxed, now they are electronic. But they are press releases with the same general substance of title, summary and body.  The adage some things don’t change is true. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

As for things not changing, a trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without meeting Lois Elfman, my former business partner, for dinner. It was over dinner twenty years ago when I mentioned to Lois my intention to start a figure skating magazine. Now decades later it’s other projects. My thanks to her again for the great article about Serpentine she wrote for the Ice Network and securing the film’s distribution on their VOD platform.

Next post.

FilmPosters


Dinner and a Show

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At “Mr. Burns” at The Wilbury Theatre in Providence.

As the venerable Hannibal Lecter said, “Shall we say dinner and a show?”

Before we finished working at the Naval Justice School (NJS) several of us agreed to get together to see a play one of our fellow actors was in. Phoenyx Williams was certainly pulling double duty. Playing an NCIS Agent along with me during the day he would then travel back to Providence for nightly performances in the “Post-Electric Play” Mr. Burns (by Anne Washburn). Williams played the “electric” Mr. Burns.

But before the play, we met up for dinner at the excellent Federal Taphouse & Kitchen. Although it was exactly a week since we last saw each other at NJS, it was great catching up with new friends and sharing some interesting stories. I’ll just say this, lots of laughs! Of course the director in me is always mindful of the clock and we were soon on our way to the Wilbury Theatre for a 7:30 show.

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Phoenyx Williams in “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.

Although most of us had been briefed on the synopsis, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. The premise from their website states, “After the collapse of civilization, a group of survivors share a campfire and begin to piece together the plot of “The Simpsons” episode “Cape Feare” entirely from memory.” It started at the campfire and then went on to two additional acts with two intermissions. I have to confess, I’ve never watched The Simpsons.

As a writer, producer and director I’ve certainly created experimental work. But with experimental work comes risk. While the story wasn’t for me (as one of the actors in the play said to me this play is either for you or isn’t), the acting, writing and production itself was excellent. Although I didn’t care for the story, the execution was brilliant and the actors are wonderfully talented.  The “fun” highlight was when the actors moved the audience (we were on risers with wheels!). In conclusion, the third act was owned by Williams. He nailed it.

Whether it’s stage or film, this entire industry is an experiment of some sort or another. I applaud anyone that creates an original work and doesn’t try to duplicate someone else’s efforts. I hear time and time again from filmmakers and actors who try so hard to be like this filmmaker or this actor. How about creating your own brand? You can be sure that I want to see what Anne Washburn comes up with next and I’ll be following these actors!

As for next, this past week was also about reorganizing my projects. With Serpentine: The Short Program released, my focus goes back to promoting that project along with In Mind We Trust (the sequel to Justice Is Mind), First World and SOS United States. I say now what I’ve said before, projects do not come to fruition overnight.  It takes abject dedication to bring a work to life. Whether that be a play, movie or performing career.

But with every new experience comes a new idea.

Concept.

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Long Program

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Northstar Ice Sports in Westborough, Massachusetts will serve as a primary location for Serpentine.

Setting up a new project like Serpentine is one of details. It starts with the script where you generally write in isolation.  But when you make the decision to produce, that’s when a film takes on an entirely new dimension as it becomes project management with location partners, crew, actors and a variety of other participants.

This past week the location for the ice rink was confirmed along with the actors that will play Suzanne Wilson and her coach Elizabeth Rogers. The latter has a great backstory that I will soon share. Let’s just say that my experience in figure skating has come full circle from the time I first set foot on the ice.

Certain other actors have been confirmed along with crew. Over the next several days the aim is to confirm the rest of the crew while posting for actors and securing the final two locations. My plan is to formally announce the cast, crew and location partners via press release by October 1. Should our plans stay on track, the goal is to start principal photography at the end of October.

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Will be posting for Serpentine cast this week.

Like Justice Is Mind, and somewhat with SOS United States, when I started to write Serpentine my aim was always to produce the project. While it certainly helped that I had a background in the sport, when one decides to produce it’s a commitment.  One that starts long before and long after the production wraps. Serpentine started in January 2016 and will continue long into 2017 and well into 2018 and beyond should the feature move forward. There are no shortcuts in this industry.

I’m reminded of this commitment every day with First World, Justice Is Mind and SOS United States. With First World and Justice Is Mind released, there is the regular social media and general promotion. Both are doing extremely well on Amazon Prime in all their territories while SOS United States is still being reviewed by a production company (one that regularly produces).

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Justice Is Mind arrives on TubiTV!

Filmmaking is not like the old Ron Popeil motto of “Set it, and forget it!” once a film is completed. Promotion, in the age of VOD, is ongoing. Take this week for example, Justice Is Mind just arrived on TubiTV. As all of us associated with Justice Is Mind are reminded, four years ago this month we were filming and yet the project continues to reach new audiences through platforms like TubiTV. Platforms that didn’t exist when we were filming Justice Is Mind.

TubiTV reminds me of Hulu in its early days. It’s an advertiser supported VOD platform that doesn’t require a monthly or annual membership like Netflix (or Amazon for Prime). What’s important in the world of film distribution is to give audiences as many choices as possible on how, when and where they want to watch a film. Today, three years after release, Justice Is Mind can be watched on your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone and an array of other devices and platforms.

Speaking of platforms of a different nature, it looks like after twenty years I’ll need to get my skating legs underneath me again for Serpentine.

Next steps.

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First Draft

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The political thriller around the sport of figure skating culminates at a World Championships in Moscow.

After six months of research and writing I finished the first draft for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating. From the tranquility of local skating rinks to the power capitals of the world, the story centers around a champion figure skater, her mysterious new sponsor and the president of the “American Figure Skating Federation” as they traverse a Cold War mystery that has engulfed the skater’s family since the 1970s. While the title of the story will soon be revealed, the working logline is as follows, “A champion figure skater finds herself in a decade’s long government conspiracy involving her missing mother and a Cold War mystery that culminates at the world championships.”

Writing an original story takes time, at least for me. I move the process along, but don’t rush it. I let the characters speak to me and the settings they are in. While the story started and ended the way I had originally planned, I always find it interesting how suddenly the idea comes for this character to do this or that character to do that. In the end, I like to see characters evolve.

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In the story, an official draw turns into a media spectacle when questions are hurled at officials and skaters that nearly derails a sensitive negotiation between two world powers.

Since SOS United States went under review some months ago, I’ve had the time to devote to this project, a project that I’m planning to put into production the way Justice Is Mind came to market. Some have asked how this process moves forward. First, the script is now being read by my trusted attorney for the last twenty five years. In addition to trusting his judgment and comments, it’s also for legal purposes. Over the week the script will get registered at the Writers Guild of America and then at the U.S. Copyright Office. After WGA registration the script will roll out to a select group for their comments.

During the script review process a concept poster will be produced along with website registration and a preliminary design. The project will be formally announced once the concept poster is complete along with a synopsis. I usually let a project sit for a week or two after a first draft before I tackle the synopsis. It’s not so much as a challenge to write, but you need to decide what to write. I never like giving away the whole story because in the end the synopsis is also a promotional tool. In Justice Is Mind we don’t learn the outcome of the trial, just that the situation is dire. If you want to know what happens, I say watch the movie.

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The FBI has been investigating the skater’s family since the late 1970s following a Cold War incident in West Germany that concludes at the World Championships in present day Moscow.

But following the Justice Is Mind model, will be the production of a short film version to develop interest and present the production aspects of the intended feature, in this case, the first ten pages of the script that introduces the primary characters and their world. By the end of next week, or first of the following, I will be reaching out to several actors and crew that I have worked with on First World and Justice Is Mind. This will be in addition to reaching out to area skating rinks that I’m familiar with and other locations.

Of course, critical to the process will be the interest of a skater who can project the starring role on and off the ice. A tall order? We shall see. The one thing that will not happen is using a double. It was one thing in Justice Is Mind when an equestrian was used in the advanced riding scenes, but even the actress that played that part was a rider.  Yes, I’ll be looking for a “Lynn-Holly Johnson” type. On the production side, there will be the filming of the skating sequences and having them look as dynamic and exciting as possible. I already have color scheme in mind that will play out throughout the production.

Yes, this is a very exciting time but having been down this path before with Justice Is Mind it’s all about planning, production and execution.

On the ice.

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With Mary Wexler (Judge Wagner) at the Massachusetts premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2013. The short film version, Evidence, premiered at this theater in 2012.


Independent Audience

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Writing the final act of the figure skating political thriller.

“Not paying enough attention to the script.” I couldn’t agree more when I first read that statement attributed by Arnon Milchan of New Regency on The Tracking Board. Time and time again I read in the trades, or general consumer press, about the issues a film has faced because of the script. In so many of these cases it seems that a script was rushed to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. But as I posted this past week on Facebook, no amount of A list actors can rescue an ill-conceived script.

The article that Milchan was quote in revolved around the dearth of the mid-budget movie. I fondly remember the variety of movies that studios used to distribute in mainline theaters that didn’t revolve around a comic book, endless sequel or rehash of something we already saw (like the latest Star Trek and Star Wars films). But thanks to determined filmmakers, great films like Trumbo, Spotlight and The King’s Speech are being made and, honestly, always will be. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience to support it from financing to distribution.

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First World on Amazon in Japan.

As I come up towards the end of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating, there is the continued promotion of either projects completed or in development. In my post last week I talked about my “special relationship” with the UK.  A few days after my post, I was nicely surprised when Daniel Elek-Diamanta sent me a re-imagined look for the SOS United States concept poster. While I wanted the first concept poster to reflect the vintage era of the ocean liner, this one presents the same view but with a contemporary look. When developing a new project, it’s all about promotion and this concept poster really captures it!

In the world of filmmaking, particularly as an independent filmmaker, it’s all about promotion and getting the word out. It’s about exploring every avenue of distribution and pitching your project. We all look around to see what other filmmakers have done to promote their projects, but what works for one film may not work for another. But there are some distribution avenues that are just a no brainer – Amazon.

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Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind, will soon be on Amazon.

When Amazon announced their new Amazon Video Direct program I could not be more excited. Although First World was available in the United States for some years, I now had the ability to have it in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Last week it went live in those countries. Yesterday, I uploaded all the necessary digital assets for Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind (the feature is with a distributor). The process was painfully simple to reach an audience in the tens of millions.

But when I saw someone post on their Facebook page, “I fear my work will get lost in a sea of titles and get drowned out by larger studios.” That’s a defeating position to take. Once it’s live on Amazon it’s just a matter of external promotion through social media and other channels. Amazon operates on an algorithm of suggested films. All it takes is a few people to find your project on Amazon and it will just continue to grow. While there are other VOD platforms popping up every day, they rely on the filmmaker to bring the audience whereas Amazon already has the audience. Yes, you’re in a sea of films. But I’d rather be in an ocean than a puddle.

Now sailing.

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A contemporary concept poster for SOS United States by Daniel Elek-Diamanta.


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.


The Alternative Factor

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Part of the figure skating story I’m developing goes back to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

As Jodie Foster told The Hollywood Reporter this past week, “The hardest part is getting the green light, getting the movie going.” From financing, locations, crew and talent, moving a project to green light status is a major undertaking. Reading the dailies coming out of Cannes this week there is a host of industry adjustments. From distributors looking for new ways to grab audiences, to Amazon launching a YouTube like service .to the availability of A list actors when so many are committed to “superhero” movies. Yet again another era of change in an ever changing industry. But at some point you just have to throw caution to the wind and do it.

A few days ago I crossed the 60 page mark in the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. My aim is to have a complete first draft by the end of June. I’ve already started to reach out to a couple of key people I’ve worked with over the years on availability later on this summer.

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Justice Is Mind – Fringe meets Law & Order in a Gattaca setting.

For me it comes down to visualizing not just the film but the market in which it’s going to exist in. This is why I always write a business plan as part of the development process. Bottom line, I need to know there’s a market for the story and/or a target demographic.  For Justice Is Mind it was older audiences and a few films that fell into the type of audience I was going after—Fringe meets Law & Order in a Gattaca setting. With SOS United States the story is set in a contemporary world of conflict between nations and shadow governments that can best be compared to Seven Days in May meets Clear and Present Danger.

But with this new story I’m writing, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that the sport of figure skating has a base of enthusiasts and participants that can be marketed to. For me it comes down to not just creating “another skating movie” but one that builds off that base with a story that revolves around a decade’s long Cold War mystery that culminates at the world figure skating championships.  What it really comes down is marketing to an alternative audience.

As producer Charles Cohen told The Hollywood Reporter regarding the niche he targets, “It’s a mature audience that’s seeking an alternative to the typical Hollywood production — your big tentpole picture. People who are crying out for Marigold Hotel or Philomena or Brooklyn. Films that harken back to the ’60s and ’70s, which deal with real issues.” I could not agree more. As I learned with Justice Is Mind audiences want an alternative.

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As in Seven Days in May, a shadow government emerges in SOS United States.

Perhaps the biggest news this past week was Amazon’s new Video Direct Service that takes direct aim at YouTube. I’ve been working with Amazon’s CreateSpace and through our distributor for Amazon Prime for several years. Amazon, in my view, is one the best places independent filmmakers have to showcase their work to a wide audience (they also own IMDb). Unlike some of these “curated” platforms that you barely hear about, Amazon’s algorithm approach puts the decision firmly in the hands of the consumer.

But there’s another thing that Amazon also gets right and that’s its approach to theatrical screenings.  They know that a quality theatrical screening makes all the difference to just another VOD release. Having had a theatrical release for Justice Is Mind it also helps enormously with press and building an audience. While I’ve been a proponent of VOD for years, the film industry is steeped in the tradition of the theatrical release and rightly so. As a filmmaker, there is nothing more exhilarating than seeing your movie on the marquee and having it come to life in a theater.

Silver Screen

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Watching Justice Is Mind come to life at a test screening at a theater in Maine.


The Proof

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Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Robin Ann Rapoport as Margaret Miller in the short film Evidence in 2011.

This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.

My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.

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Aldersoff and Rapoport reprised their roles in the feature film Justice Is Mind in 2013.

In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed.  But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.

As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.

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The President’s motorcade arrives in First World in 2007.

Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles.  After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously.  After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.

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A fan made trailer for First World.

The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.

As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States.  For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.

Lights, camera, concept.

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The concept poster for SOS United States.


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


Third Act

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In Justice Is Mind the third act begins with a witness for the prosecution.

There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t come across an article or two that offers advice or tips of the trade or some other moniker about steps to “success” in the industry. I come from the point of view that what works for me, might not work for others and visa versa. Because this industry is built on creatives, we all tend to think differently and have different approaches to accomplishing our goals.

There was a pretty interesting article on IndieWire this week about screenwriting. I generally agreed with most of it except for one key point. First, I absolutely agree with Francis Ford Coppola about knowing your ending or at least having a fairly solid idea of where you want the story to wind up.

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In SOS United States the story starts and ends with a shadow government. This still from the political thriller Seven Days In May (1964).

When I wrote Justice Is Mind I pretty much knew where I wanted the story to end – a confrontation between father and son that nobody saw coming. For SOS United States it ends where it starts – albeit with a decisive decision by the President and Prime Minister. For me, I generally need to know where the highway ends because that’s what a script is—a road trip.

However, I absolutely disagree with Oliver Stone about not putting time into a script and just writing a treatment. A treatment or even a simple pitch might work for certain agents, production companies or studios where someone like Stone is a known entity, but a properly written script shows the talent of the screenwriter. Some people are very good story tellers, but writing a script is a completely different animal. Also, and I could easily be wrong here, I have yet to see a festival or contest promote, “And the best treatment award goes to….”  Yes, I do write a treatment of sorts when I start to put together a story, but it’s never more than five pages and certainly not a document I’d ever show someone!

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One of the final scenes in First World as depicted in the short film version.

But perhaps the most valuable piece of advice was from Mark Duplass. It is a point I have ruthlessly exploited myself when it came to First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind – “Teach yourself to be more than a writer.” I love to write. I love to come up with story ideas. I’m pretty proud of my three screenplay nominations (hopefully more down the road!). But I had to prove myself – someway, somehow.

Over the years I got to know a lot of talented actors, cinematographers, special effects experts, etc. My years of experience running a publishing company with a distribution operation obviously helped enormously when “running” a film.  So I taught myself theatrical and VOD distribution. I talked to theatres, Hulu in their early days, and others. Nobody will care what I make if it doesn’t get seen. And to drive an audience to a building or a website it comes down to marketing and public relations. If you can write a screenplay you can write a press release. If you can direct an actor you can pitch the media.

Mark Duplass’s quote really sums up my career to date, “My advice is, go ahead and write the best script you can make. Your favorite script. Don’t even think about creative limits. Don’t even think about budgetary limits. Then, go write something that can absolutely be made for under $10,000.” In my world, that would be First World ($2 million+) to Justice Is Mind (>$25,000).

Now streaming Justice Is Mind.

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The original theatrical poster for the short film first of First World (2007).


The Man From Berlin

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The Man from Berlin (Lee Simonds) in Justice Is Mind with Dr. Eve Pullman (Carlyne Fournier)

No the title of this week’s post isn’t a new TV series, but a character I introduced in Justice Is Mind that is greatly expanded upon in the sequel In Mind We Trust. And with EFM (European Film Market) currently underway in Berlin, Germany, it seemed particularly fitting.

Today marks one year since I wrote the first draft of the sequel. Yes, there have been some tweaks since then, but more of a decision on where to take the project. While Justice Is Mind was produced as a feature film, the next logical direction for the project is to present it as a TV series. I must have had that “in mind” when I wrote the sequel as it sets up the established characters from Justice Is Mind with new characters in a world where mind reading technology has permeated our way of life from the judicial system to immigration to employment and national security.

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The clash of intelligence agencies in In Mind We Trust

With Justice Is Mind released to positive reviews and In Mind We Trust written, I’ve been working on the story “bible” for the last couple of weeks.  I’ve been down the TV series pitch process before with certain studios and production companies when my agent took out a series I conceived called Frozen Assets. It was essentially Dynasty meets figure skating and I worked with a leading writer of that famed TV show to shape the series. Being in pitch meetings is an interesting process and you really need to have your pitch rehearsed. I knew the sport, but this writer knew the industry. The show wasn’t picked up (figure skating was dying in the TV ratings at the time), but the experience was a real learning curve for me. On a side note my agent almost killed me when we pulled up to the Paramount gate and I said from the back seat of her car, “Jonesy! Hey, Jonesy!”

As for the industry, attention is on Berlin, Germany this week. Unlike Sundance which has turned into a showcase for studio productions and, in my view, lost its purpose as a haven for independent filmmaking, EFM is a unique film market to follow. It presents films from concept to completion. I might add that The Hollywood Reporter does a terrific job with their daily reports.

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In Mind We Trust solves one of the greatest mysteries of World War II

Reading the reports you can clearly see how the industry has changed the last couple of years. Sales agents want completed films and stars don’t guarantee any sort of success. I think Marc Gabizon of Wild Bunch said it perfectly when he stated in this article, “You see, film is a great business. It’s fascinating, but it’s also dangerous. You can’t forget about the risks, even when you’re successful — maybe especially then. There’s always a risk, but you have to make sure that if you have a flop, it doesn’t topple the whole company. Don’t bet the house on one or two titles.” By flop he was referring to Bradley Cooper’s Burnt.

While nothing is more exciting than announcing a new project, it does come down to risk. As a producer my job is to project a path of realistic profitability. As a director I need to deliver a solid and marketable project.

One trend I see coming out of EFM are the interesting political thriller type projects. This has been a consistent trend over the last couple of years and bodes well for SOS United States.

The markets.

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Preliminary concept poster for In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind


America’s Flagship

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Artist concept of the United States by Crystal Cruises.

What I love about screenwriting is the research that goes with it. When I wrote First World I learned about the Apollo space program, the Kennedy and Nixon administrations, the Roswell incident and how parts of the United Nations operate. For Justice Is Mind it was the science of mind-reading (“thought identification”), reincarnation, and complex legal issues from the introduction of evidence based on new science to the construction of a criminal trial. Whenever I write science fiction, I think it’s important to have it rooted in plausibility or at least have it explained with a sense of realism (Star Trek is great for that).

The basis for my political thriller SOS United States has always been around this premise – the possibility that an ocean liner may have a nuclear device on board. Where did the idea come from? I’ve always been interested in the Cold War and count Fail Safe and Seven Days in May as two of my favorite movies of the time.  Add that interest to my passion for ocean liners and SOS United States was born. It was my mother that first got me interested in ocean liners in the 1970s with our membership in the Titanic Historical Society (Yes, Titanic is one of my favorite films).

SS United States Conservancy

With premise in mind I started my research. The ocean liner in my story needed to be fast, luxurious and military-like. It didn’t take long to discover the SS United States. Built in 1952 the luxury liner “was designed as part of a top-secret Pentagon program during the Cold War, which stipulated it could be quickly converted from a luxury liner into a naval troopship in the event of a war.” Needless to say I found my ship.  And found her I did. Since the SS United States was retired in 1969 she has been laid up all over the world and is currently docked in Philadelphia. More than once the ship was almost scrapped.

In my original notes the idea was that some company purchased the SS United States and refurbished her. But I quickly discounted that as unrealistic. Instead, I researched the United States Lines and discovered their early flagship the SS Leviathan. With that name, and the original blueprints of the SS United States, a company built a “state of the art” luxury liner, equipped with offensive capability to defend against pirating with a maximum speed of over 50 MPH.  I guess my original notes proved to be something more than an idea.

Seven-Days-In-May-11

As in Seven Days in May, a military insider reveals the shadow government to the President in SOS United States.

Last week in New York City, Crystal Cruises, a luxury cruise line, “announced it will save “America’s flagship,” the SS United States, and embark on the enormous undertaking of bringing the ship into compliance with the latest standards, and returning her to oceangoing service.” While I figured some sort of redevelopment plan would be put forward, as was done with the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, the fact that the SS United States will actually sail again as a luxury liner just proved once again that if you stay true to your mission with persistence and patience the impossible can become a reality. My congratulations to the dedication of SS United States Conservancy to save and preserve the ship and to the visionary leadership of Crystal Cruises to see the SS United States return to the high seas.

Suddenly the world premiere of SOS United States on the SS United States just became a little more possible. I remember sailing on the Queen Mary 2 in 2007 and saying to my mother how grand it would be to have one of my films screen on an ocean liner. After years of planning and determination, Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, 2014.

All Aboard

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SOS United States first mentioned on TV this past week on The John J. Fahey Show.


The Mission

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The SS United States may soon return to New York City.

I remember the mission I was on when I wrote First World in 2006. It was a commitment and passion to learn the craft of screenwriting, research a project and then, to quote this recent article in Script magazine, “write the hell out” of it. Those early efforts resulted in three screenplay nominations and the production of a short film version that screened in several countries. Indeed, I was on a mission.

We live in a world of instant gratification.  But that world is a fantasy in the entertainment industry. Someone at some point at some place at some time dedicated years (or decades) to make their project a reality.

Just this week the tireless efforts of the SS United States Conservancy seems to have led to a deal to save the majestic and historic SS United States ocean liner. The redevelopment of the famed liner will be announced in New York City this week. Anyone that has been following their efforts knows this has not been smooth sailing. Thankfully an impassioned plea by the Conservancy to save the ship from the breakers a few months ago brought much needed worldwide attention and donations to the storied liner. The same passion and commitment holds true in the entertainment industry.

Justice the palace

At the time of its world premiere in Albany in 2013, Justice Is Mind was a four year mission.

After I wrote Justice Is Mind I remember the endless pitches, presentations, blind alleys, dubious investors and bad advice.  But it was at one point during the process that I remember going through the same thing in publishing a decade plus prior when trying to raise capital for that venture. That deal clicked at one point just like Justice Is Mind did. But in both cases there was a commonality – I produced these projects myself with investors. That’s the direction I now take.

Would it be grand if “Hollywood” wanted to take one of my projects and run with it? Of course. But Hollywood as we now know it, because the industry is fragmented and decentralized, is everywhere. Audiences don’t care where or how a film came together, they just want to be entertained. It’s really that simple. It was the same with magazines. I was told over and over again that nobody would take me seriously unless we published out of New York. I lived in New York and worked in publishing (TIME magazine). Sure, it was cool. But expensive. In the end, I published market leading magazines based in Worcester, Massachusetts. Readers and theater audiences don’t care where a project originates from.

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SOS United States will have the look and feel of Fail Safe (1964). Pictured: Strategic Air Command.

There was a certain sense of satisfaction when I returned to Los Angeles in 2013 for the West Coast Premiere of Justice Is Mind. A film, born out of Worcester and filmed primarily in central Massachusetts was screening in the entertainment capital of the world. “Hollywood” is as much an atmosphere as it is a corporate entity comprised of all manner of divisions. All “Hollywood” wants is the audience because the larger the audience the larger the revenue.

For those of you on a mission in this industry, I encourage you to read Jeanne Veillette Bowerman’s article in Script magazine. Above all else you need to be passionate about your work while keeping an open mind on collaboration.

Next pitch.

Justice is Mind-44

At the west coast premiere of Justice Is Mind in Beverly Hills, California.


The Submission

The start of the film

Addressing over three hundred people that attended the world premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2013.

 “We are each the authors of our own lives, Emma. We live in what we have created. There is no way to shift the blame and no one else to accept the accolades.”
― Paul McGill in Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance

There have been many times that I have referred to this one quote from my favorite book. I even used it as a dedication of sorts in my book Frozen Assets.  We all have books that we love and in the case of A Woman of Substance it is the character Emma Harte. In essence she grew up with nothing, worked hard, achieved great success against family strife and bulldozed her enemies along the way. It’s Barbara Taylor Bradford’s vivid writing that brings her world building and characters to life.  And if you want to see one of the greatest book to mini-series adaptions click this link at Amazon.

And that brings me to the entertainment industry. I have been part of the industry in one form or another for over twenty years.  I have made over 300 TV appearances and co-starred on a network TV show. I founded and published the world’s largest figure skating magazine for over a decade and produced a feature film in 2013 (Justice Is Mind), that was the 8th highest rated independent feature film on IMDb that year. Equal to that success was the epic loss of my publishing company in a brutal hostile takeover. That was an experience that I will never forget as it focused me relentlessly on one thing – resolve.

Those of us involved in the entertainment industry know it’s filled with rejections, hopes dashed and dreams that can turn into nightmares. But we also know that when an opportunity strikes it can shine light on your talent like you never thought possible. I’ve had both and, to be honest, it made me the person I am today. I will go to the ends of the Earth (and beyond!) to build a project and promote all associated to help further their own careers and goals. But cross me, take advantage of my work or try to claim it as your own and you will see a combined Emma Harte and Alexis Carrington Colby come out in full swing. It’s not pretty but always well documented. At this stage of my career I can be your best friend or your worse enemy. It’s your choice. Sadly someone this week chose the latter.

IMDb  Highest Rated  Independent Film  Feature Films Released In 2013 December

Justice Is Mind the 8th Highest Rated “Independent Film” released in 2013.

What I’m about to write is both a public statement and a warning to writers and creatives the world over. There are opportunists that look for shortcuts. People that don’t want to do the hard work but take advantage of yours.  I promise you there are no shortcuts in this industry. Don’t let anybody kid you or tell you otherwise, everything starts with the written word. The writer is the foundation of all things in this industry. Without us actors, crew and the very machine that runs the industry comes to a grinding halt.

Like any independent filmmaker I am always pitching and presenting my work. Last weekend I sourced some agents and managers on Backstage.com. Unless they have a no unsolicited submissions policy, my pitch is pretty straight forward – brief intro of my experience, select loglines and links for more information. In essence a tight query.

Within hours I heard back from one manager that stated, “Thanks Mark. Can you send me a writing sample?” I responded in kind with a variety of links and my script for SOS United States. Now before someone says I shouldn’t have done that there are a few things to remember. First, the script is registered at the WGA (Writers Guild of America). Second, a professional doesn’t steal they review. Some, like an agency that reviewed First World last year, have you sign a submission agreement (fairly standard). Others, it’s just an email. Honestly, in all my experience and what I have seen, trying to get someone to sign a non-disclosure is a non-starter. It doesn’t work and just turns prospects off as it starts from a legal posture. However, in full disclosure, SOS United States has been sent to sales agents and industry representatives for review. Some are still reviewing, some have passed that’s just the way this process works. But what follows with this “agent” needs to be disclosed, because I really think I saw it all until this episode. So in the spirit of screenwriting, I will present it in three acts.

ACT 1 – SUBMISSION

THE AGENT

Thanks Mark.  How did you hear about us?  SOS United States sounds intriguing.  I will try to give it a read this week.

MARK LUND

I heard about you from Backstage.com under agents and managers. Thank you for your comments on SOS United States. I call it a cross between Fail Safe and Seven Days in May (1964) meet Clear and Present Danger.

THE AGENT

Have the studios seen it?

MARK LUND

No they haven’t.

THE AGENT

Great, we’ll get back to you soon.  Thanks again for sending.  I am actually from Massachusetts as well.  Always looking for stories set there.

MARK LUND

Sounds great. What a small world. Yes, we have great locations here in Massachusetts (and a great tax credit).

ACT II – PASSED

THE AGENT

While conceptually it is very interesting, I think there is too much going on, too much information and in general it’s not easy to follow. I think you need to streamline the information and simplify in order for this to be effective. A film like the first Wall Street, took something complex and made it easy for most people to understand. I think that should be the goal for you as well. If you decide to work on it, I’m happy to take a look again but right now it is unfortunately a pass for us. Thanks again and stay in touch.

MARK LUND

I appreciate the review.

We now pause in our story for the intermission. First, pay careful note to the film that this “agent” mentioned as it plays out when we return to our regular programming. Second, while having a project passed on is disappointing, no writer should immediately jump to their desk for a rewrite just because one person passed. You notice there are no notes with his comment. In all my communications with industry representatives this is where the conversation should have ended. Someone passes, you say thank you and everyone moves on. Brace yourselves as we now return to the program. I have XXXX out the name of the writer and the name of his father, but note again the film that this “agent” referenced and you can fill in the blanks.

ACT III – LAWYER

THE AGENT

If you are interested, I might be able to get XXXX (the son of XXXX and a very talented writer) to do a rewrite.  It would probably cost around 10k.  XXXX is really into shadow governments and has done a great amount of research for other projects that dealt with them. Check him out online.  He’s pretty famous.  Let me know what you think.

MARK LUND

That would be a pass for me. I’m not interested in having my screenplay rewritten by someone else, give them credit and pay for it in the process. That’s nuts! Also, fame in this industry doesn’t impress me. I’ve done enough TV myself.

THE AGENT

XXXX has a brand name in film which helps open a lot of doors.  I think a draft by XXXX would help it for sure.  It would give the project some momentum and strengthen the script.  He also produces and directs but he’s not a big enough name to direct something this big. He can also be helpful as a producer.  If the script was in shape, we could take it straight to Warner Brothers where we are producing two movies with.  But the script needs work.

MARK LUND

I’m copying my attorney on this entire trail. This is lunacy. I see approaching you through your listing on Backstage.com was a mistake. You first pass on the project and then come back with a studio name. Like I’m supposed to be all excited. To add insult to injury you name a writer who, by your own admission, can’t get a project like this off the ground. Jesus, you must really think I’m desperate. You are ordered to delete SOS United States from your files. If you feel it is necessary to contact me again, contact Mr. Barry Bachrach.

THE AGENT

(who included Barry in the cc)

Whatever dude, calm down.  I was just making a suggestion on how I could make your project better.  Please don’t contact me again.

Now let’s do some fact checking.  First, let IMDb be your best friend. This “agent” has not produced a feature film. That doesn’t matter in the great context of things, but if you are producing something it shows up on IMDb if it’s in production (especially studio productions). Does he have projects in development at a studio? It’s possible, but nothing is listed and it’s the oldest trick in the book to throw a studio name out. I’ve been in studio pitch meetings I know how the process works.

SS-United-States-bw

SOS United States will sail under my direction.

Second, yes, this “writer” is the son of a “famous filmmaker” but is not represented by the “big” agency stated on his IMDb profile (I called the agency and checked) or nominated for any awards in screenwriting (I have been). This “writer” has three representatives listed. After learning that the second representative agency is out of business, I finally did reach his representative by phone with the third listing. The purpose of my call was to let this person know that their client was being represented by other parties, perhaps fraudulently, and to advise them of the situation. After a very pleasant phone call, I forwarded the entire email trail that included Barry’s information. Now, everyone has been notified.

Now let’s also make something else perfectly clear, I don’t know what this “agents” game was, but he lost. This is an industry where opportunists run rampant.  They look for people desperate to be part of the industry. I am not one of them and that was this “agents” fatal error.

Let’s, for a moment, look at just how ridiculous this scenario was. It was proposed that I pay $10,000 to an unqualified writer with a famous father to take my idea and screenplay and turn it into something for them. And what’s in it for me? Oh, yes, the wonderful opportunity to be out $10,000 while someone else takes all the glory and credit for my work. You can only imagine the flurry of four letter words that I want to type here.

The one thing you never do in this industry is pay for access. It doesn’t work. This industry is built on relationships. If this “agent” was truly an industry professional the scenario would have been more along these lines, “I like SOS United States and feel it has some promise. What I’d like to do is show it to “so and so” at Warner’s. Just know that they may want to bring in another writer.” But that wasn’t the case. This “agent” was just looking for their own opportunity at my expense creatively and financially.

Should I have vetted this “agent” a bit better? Perhaps. Hindsight is always 20/20. But one never knows what opportunities exist unless you present. That is the risk we all take as creatives.

In the end SOS United States is out there. Did this “agent” delete it? I don’t know. Did they forward it? I don’t know. But what I do know is that with this post and my actions to protect myself legally and through notification to the “writers” representatives, I have documented this action.  The one thing this “agent” should know is that I track this industry. Remember, I’m also a journalist. I also have my sources and contacts in the industry and if I get wind of anything, I will turn a quote from Taken.

“I don’t know what you want. But what I do have is a particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over many years. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

Public Relations.

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The concept poster for SOS United States.

Trivia note: Liam Neeson starred in A Woman of Substance and Taken.

If you want to know the name of this agent, you can private message me on Facebook or Twitter.


Set Course

Fail Safe

As in Fail Safe (1964), the majority of SOS United States takes place in bunkers.

Being in the entertainment industry is about navigation. It’s knowing when to set course for a destination, entering course corrections and when you need to retreat—sometimes at high speed (“General quarters! All hands man your battle stations!”). Those that know me, know that I’m a person of lists. For me it’s my navigation chart. Some things I act on daily, others are listed for future missions.

One mission that was accomplished this past week was securing the registration of U.S. Copyright for a foreign filmmaker. While this director knew they needed a copyright, particularly a U.S. one, they needed someone who had some experience, particularly in film. My last post talked about establishing networks and this is exactly where this new business relationship came from—a longtime colleague.

seven11

As in Seven Days In May (1964), a shadow government is revealed in SOS United States.

It’s one thing to charge a fee for a specific service. We do that in our everyday lives, from oil changes to dining out. But it’s something else when someone tries to charge for “access” “introductions” or worse “promises”.  Let me turn a phrase from President Nixon, “Let me making this perfectly clear there are no promises in the entertainment industry.” Sadly, this a trend that continues to expand unchecked.  From casting directors hosting “acting workshops” to producers offering a menu of services. Let me be clear again, these are only avenues for revenue on their end not work on your end.

This past week I encountered another producer selling services. When I made the initial pitch I appreciated the quick response. I soon found out why. While I was referred to the person that heads up their “production department” the conversion we had a couple of days later was such a waste of time. Had to love when he said they weren’t taking on any new projects and then referred me to a laundry list of their services to gain access to their contacts. Funny, I thought you weren’t taking on new projects? If that wasn’t insulting enough this “producer” had ZERO enthusiasm and wasn’t engaged at all (he also mentioned they had overhead to cover). If you’re trying to sell something at least try to be enthusiastic. Reminded me of a well-known theater chain based in Texas who wouldn’t screen Justice Is Mind because we didn’t have a DCP at the time but then had the balls to have their rental office try to get me to four wall one of their theatres (we don’t four wall). I have been called lots of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.  Short of it a network is built on relationships not purchased contacts.

Wednesday  Jan. 13  2016   UK Gadget NewsAs for networks, there is a trend in social media that is picking up great steam.  More and more paper.li users are sharing posts relative to SOS United States and Justice Is Mind. Just this past week, both films were picked up by these “papers”.  What I love about paper.li is the users curate interesting coverage in a great presentation. Check out these papers here and here.

The one thing this industry is all about is presentation and there are a few things on my list that are getting closer and closer for execution. There is one element that continues to present a project as serious because it means that the filmmakers are committed beyond the written word…

concept trailer.

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When the crisis hits in SOS United States, the President, Prime Minister of the UK and their military advisers soon find themselves in a bunker (still from Fail Safe 1964).


Launch Plan

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In SOS United States the ocean liner SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. In 2015 the retired ocean liner was saved from scrapping.

Too often we read about the resolutions and promises people make as they enter a new year. The end of one year and the birth of another does seem like the time to reflect on the past and hope for the future. But there is one thing that needs to be the driving force – a plan.

In the entertainment industry planning is the foundation of everything. From the script to production to marketing, the only way to get things done is to make a plan and to stick with it. For me it starts with my weekly lists; the daily posts to the social media pages I manage, the Google alerts that assist in public relations/marketing, the pitches to investors, the plans for productions, etc.  Like NASA, I’ve always believed in shooting for the Moon (and beyond). But we all know that NASA’s plan wasn’t just a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University in 1962. It was long term planning that resulted in Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon in 1969.

Justice Is Mind - the trial begins

In an August post this still from Justice Is Mind reached 3,900+. For 2016 screening presentations continue.

Nothing is more disheartening when you ask someone about a project they were all excited about months ago with more social media posts than you can track, only to inquire and you get their stoic face of “how dare you ask.” When someone asks me “how are your projects coming along” my response is pretty standard “they’re moving along.” That means that I have been doing at least the following: writing/editing the script, pitching projects to investors, working on concept art, talking to agents/managers, etc. Sadly, people only think you’re doing something when you have a tripod set up with a camera. What they don’t know is that when you reach that point you have, hopefully, established a solid foundation because even more work is ahead after you wrap that last scene – post production, distribution and marketing. Believe me when I tell you that Justice Is Mind had a five year long plan of writing (2010), production (2012) and distribution/marketing (2013-present). Without a plan none of our achievements would have taken place.

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In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World center around Washington, D.C.

The one I always compete against is myself. I look at one project I accomplished and want to make the next one better.  I think they call that progress. Yes, the plans I have for SOS United States, In Mind We Trust and First World are ambitious. But there does reach a point with any given project when you can see it happening. I remember when this threshold started to approach with Justice Is Mind. Is it a culmination of planned and sustained efforts? Being in the right place at the right time? Or, to quote the late Maximilian Schell, “This an industry of chances and luck.” In my view it’s about being “present” and in the moment. In an industry filled with those looking for attention, you have to make a plan that calls for it.

As for attention, I want to take a moment to thank my readers. Every year I receive an audience report from WordPress. I’m pleased to announce that this blog is read in 92 countries.  Curiously, the most active post for 2015 was A Narrative. In that post I talk about writing the last pages of In Mind We Trust. Indeed they were written in 2015 for 2016 presentations.

New Audiences.

Your 2015 year in blogging

Thank you to my readers. This blog was read in 92 countries!