I remember like it was yesterday when First Signal was on the festival circuit and I was reviewing and having conversations with distributors. The duplicity of so many with their endless fees and one-sided life-binding contracts combined with promises that frankly I knew where going to go nowhere, wasn’t exactly a recipe for lifting spirts. But it was the discussions I had with Indie Rights that presented the first honest and straightforward approach to film distribution that was truly a breath of fresh air. I knew going into it, that we were weren’t just handing First Signal over to them and that was the end of it. It was a partnership – they distributed while I marketed.
As Indie Rights continues to find outlets to distribute First Signal, I continue the marketing process. Although it has been a year since First Signal was released, the film is consistently performing on established outlets like Tubi and Amazon while finding new audiences on YouTube. With over 800,000 views in the last four months, YouTube is a platform that delivers solid advertising revenue to its filmmakers while delivering a global audience.
But the one thing I can definitively state today is that First Signal is technically in the black. While I didn’t “bet the ranch” from a budget POV, my investment was a solid one that I was hoping to eventually recoup. This milestone has given me confidence that one can be “in business” as an independent filmmaker. When I say independent filmmaker, I’m not talking about those that are connected to studios, mini-majors, millionaire investors or the like, I’m talking about those that look at their personal savings and investment accounts and say to themselves, “OK, I believe in this project. I’ll take the risk.” Fortunately, in the case of First Signal, the risk paid off.
As for the next risk, a filmmaker friend and I visited Battleship Cove last weekend. With the USS Massachusetts appearing prominently in one of the opening scenes of SOS United States, I’m starting to visualize the production coming together. But like First Signal, and Justice Is Mind, it will come down to finding a variety of key locations to make this political thriller come to life.
On reflection of this revenue milestone, it took over a decade to bring the First World Universe to life with First Signal. While there was the short film version of First World to introduce this new concept in 2007, it was the production of a feature film in First Signal that has truly started the franchise. With the positive feedback First Signal is receiving on YouTube as an audience indicator, developing this new sci-fi franchise for production has taken on a renewed purpose.
Finding the right producer for a film is like casting the right actor. If you don’t get it right, the film falls apart. With a 51% film festival selection rate, SOS United States has been well received on the circuit. Prior to the script’s film festival run it had been read by a variety of people in and out of the industry. With those early comments in hand, some adjustments were made. But at the end of the day a script is the vision of its writer.
For those that have watched my films or read my work, my stories are involved not simple. They ask the audience to think and reflect. This is why I watch films and series that have very involved storylines. Films created by Christopher Nolan and author John le Carré are my inspiration. To be frank, I don’t have any interest in creating “simplified” work. It’s just not the type of entertainment I’m interested in creating.
Case in point I recently had a meeting with a producer I was looking forward to speaking with. Before I make a pitch, I just don’t look at a producer as a funding source but one that has produced films that could generally fall into the genre of the story I’ve written—in this case SOS United States.
The meeting started off on a positive note with the exchange of pleasantries. When we started talking about the script, this producer did make some solid observations about changing the villain country in light of recent world events, moving up the timeline a couple of years and some other salient points. But then it sadly become clear that this person only skimmed the script and then wanted to stamp their personal opinions on certain matters that made no sense to the story.
In this industry when a script is being reviewed, it often comes back with notes. I believe notes should identify true issues in a script not as fodder for personal opinions or spite. Is there a plot hole? A lack of character development? Is the intended story plausible? Has the story gone off track? Dialogue issues? But when a note or comment is conveyed that is just personal, and even spiteful, that’s when I lose interest in who I’m talking to. I’d rather see a project of mine go unproduced, rather than have it twisted into something I don’t recognize just for the sake of having it produced. Frankly, I couldn’t direct something I don’t believe in and have my name on it.
Like my search for finding the right distributor for First Signal, the same holds true when finding the right producing partner. While it’s important to be enthusiastic about your projects, the key is not to be desperate to do a deal for the sake of a deal. Oh, when I think of some of the ridiculous things some distributors said for First Signal. From you need to have a monster to sign this contract with a quarter of a century term. How easy some make it to say – no thanks. In the end First Signal found a great distribution partner with Indie Rights.
In a few weeks I’m visiting one of the locations that will be featured in SOS United States. It’s a location that inspired me to write this story in the first place. Perhaps like I eventually accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal, something will come to mind that will enable me to produce SOS United States as an independent project through The Ashton Times.