Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

video on demand

“Attending” Cannes

Thousands attended the Marché du Film Online. In a world of uncertainty, the entertainment industry came together to insure the continuation of this worldwide marketplace. Of all the industry events I’ve attended over the years, Marché had the best panels that not only informed on the current state of the industry but demonstrated innovative new business models and predictions for the years to come.

One innovation that ramped up exponentially during the crisis has been the virtual cinema. With the majority of movie theaters closed around the world, some distributors joined with cinemas for a virtual experience. Customers visit their theater’s website and order a movie to view online. The revenue is split between the theater and distributor. With one distributor reporting $700K in sales from 13 movies, the early adopters certainly did well. But as another distributor stated, the early novelty dropped considerably during the last month. With restrictions easing and people going out more, the “stay at home” audiences have drastically changed in numbers.

First Signal publicity shot

Another thing that distributors learned during the last few months is that content is truly king. Films that they couldn’t previously sell, suddenly started to sell. With the proliferation of VOD platforms and offerings, new content is critical. Two tech pioneers from the Czech Republic introduced Artinii. A service that screens films in alternative settings (outdoor non-theatrical venues such as a bar or restaurant).

But all this available content on VOD also brought the conversation back to data of who is searching for and watching what. With so much of this data controlled by individual companies, it was discussed that this data should be available to all distributors to give customers what they want regardless of the platform they are watching it on. Proponents said that it would benefit everyone from the distributor to the customer. Opponent VOD platforms want to protect their data to benefit their catalog of offerings. While I understand that the platforms want to protect their own customer data, I have to believe that a neutral third party could hold general data that could be used by the industry to ascertain what’s working and what isn’t. This is why the theatrical experience is critical — distributors know by ticket sales what films are resonating in what market. Needless to say, the data debate will be going on for some time.

First Signal‘s trailer was selected as a finalist in this festival

The one thing the general public doesn’t know, is the system that brings films to audiences. Imagine the following: films are produced year one, year two they are in post and year three they wind up at a market (AFM, Cannes, etc.). A release date is set, advertising dollars are spent, the marketing and public relations machine goes into overdrive a buzz is generated. Then suddenly, without warning, the theaters shut and all marketing comes to a grinding halt. Honestly, I don’t even want to know the tens, if not hundreds, of millions that have been lost in this industry.

With some theatrical markets just opening and others in the opening planning stages, from what I heard audiences aren’t rushing back. One of the primary issues is that the system is holding back new films as nobody really wants to do a release to near empty theaters. It could also be assumed audiences don’t want to see old releases or they are still concerned about the crisis. There’s also the issue of capacity. With social distancing still employed, who can make any money on capacity limits? How can you plan a theatrical release strategy when reactionary Governors threaten to shut down states again? And, honestly, who wants to sit in a theater with a mask on for three hours? Seriously, how do you eat popcorn? I know I won’t return to a theater until masks are no longer required. Given the amount of information available, they are a prop that has no meaningful benefit in the mainstream. I want my choices of recreation to be enjoyable not overly regulated to satisfy the hysterics. In Canada and the UK they give you a choice. Hopefully, in the United States we will soon have freedom of choice (odd, I thought we did with something called our First Amendment…I digress).

First Signal publicity shot

It became quite clear during the market that release windows are rapidly changing between theatrical and VOD.  The customer wants the choice on where, when and how to watch new releases. You might not want to go to a theater and pay $14, but you may pay $19 to watch it on premium VOD at home. Cinema, however, is going to be jammed in 2021 because of the films that are being held back this year. At the end of the day films are financed by distributors in advance…they need a return.

I will say this, theatrical is critical to a movie’s success. This is where substantive revenue is made. This is where substantial press is received. Without some sort of theatrical exposure, a film gets lost among VOD offerings. One of the most thoughtful discussions was how to properly advertise a film on a VOD platform. You can advertise a film as in theaters, but VOD specific advertising is still a nascent possibility. Recognition on the platforms is critical. Just putting a film on them isn’t enough. You need audience engagement and that largely comes from a theatrical release and the media.

A panel I particularly enjoyed was when a well-known producer covered the process of constructing a proper script and presenting the package to the industry (investors, sales agents, etc.). What I loved was her no-nonsense practical approach. This is an industry about continued learning and expanding your network. It’s about meeting and working with new people.

I was generally pleased with how First Signal was received during the Marché. Several sales agents requested a screener and one sent me a deal memo to review yesterday.  In addition to submitting to a variety of festivals with 4th and 1st quarter events, I’m closely monitoring the reopening of theaters and other screening opportunities to plot strategy. Fortunately, First Signal wasn’t “caught” in the crisis from a release point of view. We were still in the fitting out phase.

In the end it was a great job by all concerned. The team behind the Marché du Film, turned the most prestigious film market in the world to a successful virtual event. But as all agreed, virtual markets won’t work for the long term. This is an industry that requires socializing. It requires in person meetings as that is the only way you can really decide if you want to work someone. You can be introduced on a video chat, but the real works starts when you meet in person.  

Live!

First Signal‘s sales card

First Market

IMAG0356

A panoramic picture of the field where First Signal will be shot.

As we are about one month away from First Signal’s table read on June 16, we had a location confirmation lock with the expansive field we needed. I couldn’t be more pleased with this location. It’s exactly what the script called for.

As this location is on private property I won’t reveal its location. With an outdoor location, private property is better to shoot on. Why? It’s about privacy. While I’m all about someone learning the process of making a film, the actual process of making one is time consuming detailed work. On private property you don’t have onlookers watching from the sidelines and getting in the frame of the shot. But it’s also about taking pictures and posting them to social media, etc. Unfortunately, the wrong picture can ruin an entire film. Anyone that works in the industry knows the general policies that go with on set photography.  Most sets have “still photographers” that take a variety of pictures that encompass an entire production.

isotopicsimi

In First Signal the opening credits travel from the Moon to the Earth.

While additional locations are being scouted, along with numerous other behind the scenes activity, the one thing I’m very cognizant of is the film market itself. There is no better market than Cannes to provide a fresh perspective on where the industry is going.  As Alex Walton of Bloom tells the Hollywood Reporter. “International distributors are in need of product, but they’re also incredibly cautious because they’re in need of the right product. There are fewer films, fewer packages and fewer things to buy, so when we approach Cannes now, even compared to five or six years ago, it is with a completely different mindset,” Adds Entertainment One CEO Darren Throop who tells the Hollywood Reporter, “The whole concept of buying a good package on the open market and reselling it to cinema, pay and TV — that whole model has changed. The very foundation of independent film has changed.”

The one thing that has changed in the last several years is the development of franchises and the sci-fi genre has pretty much been a solid bet.  As a director my job is to create a quality film that’s ready for the market. But as a producer I am making a bet on the market. It’s an interesting line to balance.

Dont publish

Directing Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind. In First Signal Vern plays General Reager.

But putting aside numbers, market share and all that comes after the fact, it is the process of making a film that’s the most exciting. Watching the actors and crew bring life to your story is tremendously satisfying. As a screenwriter we spend hours, weeks and months behind a computer coming up with, what we hope, is an interesting story. But it’s seeing that story emblazoned on the silver screen that makes the entire process a worthwhile endeavor.

Part of that process is equipment. Yesterday, I purchased a drone for a pivotal shot at the end of the film. But no sooner did I complete this purchase and I’m suddenly thinking of all the other creative areas we can use a drone in First Signal. This technology has changed so much since we used one in Justice Is Mind. Add to that the cost has come down exponentially. This is why the process of filmmaking is so enticing and exciting. The democratization of the entire process from creating to distributing has changed for the better.

Technology.

vlcsnap-2018-05-13-13h05m14s198

The drone shot at the end of Justice Is Mind.


Assembly Building

BB7PrP6-845x321

A discovery in First Signal. What does it mean?

No the title of this week’s post doesn’t refer to a meeting hall, but the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This famed building assembled the Saturn V and Space Shuttle vehicles and will be home to the Space Launch System in the future.  Assembly building could also refer to the process of creating a film.

This past week I have been quietly talking to certain actors and crew about First Signal. While I mentioned last week the plan to produce this film in August, I’m purposely being quiet on who exactly is involved until after the fact. Yes, a few actors have already been cast and I started to reach out to crew.  Of course it’s exciting to bring a project to light, but there is a method to this “secrecy”.

Those that follow me have probably noticed that I haven’t published one line of dialogue, mentioned a proposed location or stated who is already with the project. For First Signal this is all about building a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign around this “First World” universe. Much like the careful thought and preparation that goes into the assembly of a space vehicle, the same holds true for a film (but not nearly as complicated!).

GPS-constellation-3D-NOAA

The Global Positioning Systems Directorate is part of the First Signal story.

With the number of films being created due to the democratization of the process of filmmaking, I believe it is imperative to have some sort of solid public relations and marketing campaign tied to your project. I did this with the magazines I published and have carried this discipline to my film projects. I say discipline because that’s what you need when making a movie. Yes, it’s all very exciting when you are on set and actually making a dream come to life, but the years, months, weeks and days leading up that moment is one of careful planning and execution. In particular, the genre of science fiction takes a certain amount of world building to make it original.

Of course what this also comes down to is making a project interesting for a consumer audience. This article in The Hollywood Reporter addressed the gamble films take with a box office release versus selling to Netflix. I firmly believe it was the limited theatrical release we had for Justice Is Mind that led to the majority of press reports and consumer awareness.

Honestly, unless a film has some sort of momentum owing to cast or concept, how do you differentiate one movie from another in the sea of video on demand? Do you hope it’s discovered on VOD or do you give it a consumer marketing push first with a theatrical release?  I’ll always believe the latter makes the most sense.

Components.

s70-54121

The Vehicle Assembly Building with a Saturn V rocket.


Film Markets

First World on hulu

When First World was on Hulu in 2008.

A few months ago I thought seriously about attending the American Film Market (AFM). Aside from the fact that I’m due for a visit to Los Angeles to catch up with friends and colleagues, there’s no question that networking opportunities at AFM are important to anyone in the industry.

Before I spend some thousands of dollars to attend (or on anything), one does have to be practical about it. Will there be a return? In my view, “Hollywood” is a year round industry and “pitching” isn’t married to a film market. But markets are something I’ve been tracking for several years and when The Hollywood Reporter starts its day 3 daily with the headline, “AFM Dealmakers in Revolt! ‘There’s Nothing for Us’”, I’m glad I didn’t make the trek.

SerpentineMarquee

It’s about the marquee.

I predicted that when Hulu came online that VOD would be the future for independent film. Now in 2017, Amazon and Netflix are the saviors of independent film. Television, whether terrestrial, cable or VOD, has taken so many A and B+ actors out of the independent film world to the more lucrative TV industry. So what’s left? Well, to quote from The Hollywood Reporter’s day 3 daily, “A lack of big-name, must-have projects is leading to plenty of grumbling at the market, with some buyers wondering if this year marks the ‘death knell’ for the indies. Says one frustrated insider: ‘It’s B-, C- and D-quality stuff’”.

If you read the dailies from the film markets you know the hundreds, if not thousands, of films that are looking for some sort of home. Something to recoup the investment that has been put up for someone’s dream. This is an industry of dreams envisioned and dreams realized. It’s important, for obvious reasons, that we keep the dream alive.

splash

Earth.

In my view the dream will be kept alive with a good story. Plain. Simple. To the point. Star driven independent films only do one thing, drive up the cost of the film with no guarantee of return at the box office. That’s fact, not fiction.

When I wrote Justice Is Mind my goal from day one was to produce it myself (with investors of course). Sure, I presented it to some production companies, but the feedback was unreal. There is this assumption that after you do all the hard work you somehow need their help. Here is a recent email I received from a production company, “I didn’t had the chance to look in details at the project as they seem to be in too early stage for us. Don’t hesitate to keep us posted when you will have a budget, cast, financial plan.” Putting aside the horrid grammar, the question begs to be asked, “And I need you why after I’ve done all this work?” The answer is simple, I don’t need you.

Dont publish

Directing Justice Is Mind.

Producing a film is not rocket science. You just need a good script and capital. Done. Yes, it is that simple. The “rocket science” comes up if you’ve never produced because there are countless details you need to know, particularly when it comes to post-production (sound engineering anyone?). It also can get involved if you decide to use a named actor and have to deal with the myriad issues around that. Seriously, at the end of the day a filmmaker just wants to see their dream come to life. Having produced four films (3 shorts and 1 feature) and seeing them come to life on the silver screen is a feeling like none other.

Tomorrow I start to write this new feature with the same production aim as Justice Is Mind. The title of this new feature may have the word First in it, but thankfully it will be the fifth.

Page One.

churchill-war-rooms-museum-london-alamy

A secret meeting.


First Decade

atranta

The view of Earth from Lunaria in First World.

Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.

Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.

tsein

In First World China launches Tsien One to the Moon in 2018.

In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.

After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.

The Ashton last night

Getting ready for a First World screening in Los Angeles in 2007.

Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!

First World on hulu

After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.

But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.

First World on Amazon

First World on Amazon Prime in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.

Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.

vlcsnap-2017-05-07-10h10m55s91

Some special effect work with closed caption file.

Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…

numbers.


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.

IMAG1685

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


Follow Up

strand-premiere

I will say one thing about frequent snowstorms in New England. It gives one plenty of time to follow up and organize. This is that time of year when one looks at their weather app not for the sun or rain, but when the next storm is coming. But go to a local grocery store the day before and you might think it’s the second coming, the day after a nuclear attack or other such apocalypse. If you’re visiting from out of the region when a storm is on the horizon, it really is something to see.

As for what’s on the horizon that would be the premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program on March 6 at the Strand Theatre and our VOD premiere on Amazon and other platforms on March 7. It’s a multi-layered marketing plan with a dual local and national push. But if it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s about the follow up.

cast-and-crew-sturbridge-serpentine

The day we wrapped principal photography on Serpentine: The Short Program. Sturbridge, MA November 6, 2016.

Whenever I pitch the media it always starts with an email. This gives an editor or reporter time to consider what I’m presenting. Sometimes coverage comes from just the email pitch. But I’ve found that a follow up call a few days later puts a personal touch to it. In today’s world of the endless pitch combined with the challenge of resources afforded by most outlets, a phone call can make the difference.

I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that we are bombarded by media alerts, postings, email and text on a non-stop basis when we first wake up. What’s important and what isn’t. What gets attention and what doesn’t. I do believe that when you put the personal touch of a call to what you’re presenting, it makes you stand out a bit more than the rest. Just this past week, I had some great conversations with editors about Serpentine and other interesting subjects.

vlcsnap-2017-02-11-09h22m07s251

Completing the closed captions on Serpentine for Amazon.

This is the time of year of the awards shows and the film markets like Berlin. As I normally do when the markets are running, I read the daily reports in The Hollywood Reporter. They give a great insight into trends and what is and isn’t selling. It’s always interesting to me to follow a film from concept to film market to theatrical release. This is not a quick process by any means. As I’ve often said, the actual production of the film is the easy, and fun, part. It’s the pre and post production along with the release strategy that is the most time consuming. But being snowed in does give one plenty of time.

Interviews.

serpentine-march-6-strand


Market Placement

vlcsnap-2016-06-20-11h16m22s114

As in First World a motorcade will be used in the figure skating political thriller.

This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Hoopla.  To quote from their Facebook page, “hoopla digital partners with public libraries across North America to provide online and mobile access to videos, music and audiobooks. Enjoy thousands of movies, TV shows, videos, music and audiobooks that library card holders can borrow from their public library.” As I wanted to get Justice Is Mind into libraries at some point, our placement on Hoopla just took care of that across the United States.

When I say some point, I talk about a possible DVD for Justice Is Mind. Yes, on the back burner, is the possibility of making a DVD for Justice. I say possibly, because anyone that’s involved on the distribution side of the industry knows that profits in this sector have sunk like the Titanic (particularly for indie-films). Just go into any Wal-Mart and see the studio quality films in the $5 bin or even more market reality when you see a studio film at a dollar store for well a dollar. Because digital distribution doesn’t really involve a manufacturing component, it’s simply easier to execute on a domestic and international level. But believe me there are costs involved for VOD. Let’s just say that closed captioning in languages other than English gets a bit pricey.

hoopla

Justice Is Mind is now available on Hoopla.

There was a pretty good article on IndieWire this week titled “You Can’t Bulls—t’ And 6 More Revelations On How To Market An Indie Film.” I could not agree more with this statement “Even in the age of VOD, nothing beats the theatrical experience.” As I saw with Justice Is Mind in terms of audience and media placements, nothing does beat a theatrical experience. Simply, when you gather a group of people into a room to see a film it becomes a shared experience. There wasn’t one screening of Justice in which attendees didn’t ask questions or discuss the film after in the lobby.

When I set out to write a new screenplay I’m already thinking of how the project will be placed in the market. What angles does it have that I can pitch to a theater, distributor, school or convention? First World was a pretty straight forward science fiction film. But as a psychological sci-fi thriller, Justice Is Mind is a bit of a genre hybrid. But the one common theme was the ethics around mind reading and it’s possible, if not probable, ramifications on society.

atranta

First World will soon be expanding its VOD options.

While some in the industry complain that there are too many movies being made, I believe there’s never enough. Because there are always those hidden gems that one can discover and promote. The gem in the world of distribution is in fact VOD. When you have library after library of films available to stream instantly, they certainly take up less space than a DVD! But don’t get me wrong, I do love my DVD collection.

It’s these new platforms like Hoopla that offer a terrific new avenue of options to Amazon and Netflix (Justice is on Amazon). More importantly, and call me old fashioned, Hoopla works with libraries. When you have traditional publishing working with digital publishing, the experience can only be a positive one because it yet again gives the customer that one thing they want – choices.

Now streaming.

Justice Is Mind official movie website

The VOD and theatrical screening options for Justice Is Mind.


The Alternative Factor

15775d2

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.

vlcsnap-2015-04-17-10h07m27s82

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.

seven-days-in-may

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

IMAG0660

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


The Proof

vlcsnap-2014-04-07-15h29m21s229

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.

vlcsnap-2014-04-20-09h15m19s169

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.

vlcsnap-2015-12-13-10h10m13s65

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.

vlcsnap-2013-12-03-12h55m32s159

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.

SOSposter (704x1024)

The concept poster for SOS United States.


Foreign Affairs

Star Wars

Star Wars unites a world in this galaxy.

Russia. Spain. Taiwan. First, the email came in from a colleague if I could assist a filmmaker in Spain to register his film in the United States. That was followed by a university in Taiwan that wanted to license Justice Is Mind. As the week drew to a close a distributor in Russia approached us about a VOD for Justice in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

In the world of filmmaking “chain of title” is critical to establish a variety of documented steps of ownership rights to a film. As a former magazine publisher, I’ve been working with copyright matters for years. Sadly, I’ve seen some projects that don’t take this matter seriously. If you don’t have a properly established chain and necessary releases, it can severely complicate matters when it comes to dealing with a distributor. The chain starts with registering the script. Believe me it’s worth the fee.

vlcsnap-2014-12-08-09h22m51s133

Justice Is Mind. In Berlin, Germany a Russian agent secures the FVMRI technology from Dr. Pullman.

The next chain of events this week came when I was contacted by a university in Taiwan that wanted to have Justice Is Mind for their library. Obviously, I was flattered and directed them to the variety of download and streaming options for the film. I even pitched them to screen the film like we did at some domestic universities here in the United States. It will be interesting to follow this development. Perhaps it could serve as a model for international university screenings.

On Thursday we received an offer for Justice Is Mind from a distributor in Russia that wants to distribute our film on a variety of VOD platforms in that part of the world. While I’m still reviewing the agreement, unlike some other recent distributors that approached us, this one appears to be pretty buttoned up. This is when I go back to my magazine experience and a phrase from President Reagan “Trust but verify” when it comes to foreign companies. I don’t say this because of the United States/Russian connection that Reagan was referring to during the Cold War, but from a business point of view with independent verification aka “due diligence.” Because once you sign on the dotted line and transfer the film assets, it’s done.

vlcsnap-2014-04-04-10h13m25s249

First World. The Prime Minister informs the President about the secret missions of the Apollo space program.

What has been very interesting for 2015 is how much the film industry has changed on the global stage. Everything from financing to production to distribution has literally taken a 180 degree turn. Some will say for the better, some for the worse. It all depends on your point of view. Film Specific had an interesting take on all of this last week. Their webinar can be found here. But if there is one thing that prevails in all of this it’s marketing. Yes, I’ve written about this before. In my view it’s marketing on all fronts, from presenting new projects to potential investors such as SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, to the continued marketing of established projects such as First World and Justice Is Mind. As I’ve said before, consistency is key for the long term.

Of course while all this was going on, I was patiently awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I remember sitting in a theater in 1977 and seeing Star Wars come to life. Was it that moment that I wanted to be a filmmaker? I don’t know. All I do know is that with all the issues the world is facing right now it’s great to see a film that brings everyone together in a unifying force to enjoy a medium that the world over appreciates.

The movies.


The Summer

In the August 28, 2015 edition of the Sturbridge Villager.

In the August 28, 2015 edition of the Sturbridge Villager.

Although summer doesn’t formally end until September, it’s the end of August when many of us reflect on what we’ve done. For some reason summer says you have to do things. Personally, the summer is just another set of months for me, albeit it’s warmer! But from some cool day trips, to planning the 2nd anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind to adapting a book into a screenplay, I would say my summer has been pretty complete if not complex.

YidioRegarding Justice Is Mind’s screening on August 18, I had a pleasant surprise this past week. Although I knew she took some pictures and asked a few questions, I didn’t know the reporter from the Sturbridge Villager was planning a follow up story.  But follow up she did when this story appeared in the Sturbridge and Charlton Villager along with the Webster Times. My thanks to Olivia Richman and her enthusiastic post-screening coverage of Justice Is Mind!

Our record media coverage of this screening certainly helped our VOD placements. Just after the screening Yidio, a video aggregator, sent out a notification that “Justice Is Mind is Hot”. The only way that was possible is if an inordinate number of people were watching and/or searching for the film. I’ll certainly take it!

This past weekend marked another milestone. I finished the adaption of Winds of Fall into a screenplay. My work on this project was actually mentioned in the Sturbridge Villager two weeks ago when they ran a story on Al Mercado’s new book.  This is a story that is entirely character driven and largely set in the late 1960s. More on this project as it develops.

Slate

As for projects, with fall around the corner, it’s also time to make sure First World, SOS United States and In Mind We Trust are up to date along with their respective business plans. The summer is a great time to write and update, but it’s the fall months where new activity really starts in the film world. Anyone involved in film finance knows this is a process. Presentations made months ago can suddenly start to yeild conversations.

It has been interesting. For the last few years, my summers have largely been planning stages while the fall has seen the most activity. In 2012 it was the making of Justice Is Mind, in 2013 it was the primary theatrical run, in 2014 it was the international premiere, let’s see what the next few months brings.

The Fall.

In the August 28, 2015 edition of the Sturbridge Villager.

In the August 28, 2015 edition of the Sturbridge Villager.