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World War II

The Correspondent

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After AFM First Signal is back in pre-production with production commencing in May.

Sorting through the numerous business cards and materials I gathered at AFM, I began my follow ups a few days after I arrived home. The return correspondence has been very encouraging. For obvious reasons I won’t publish the names of the companies I’m talking with, but suffice to say things are moving in a positive direction for two of my projects. The devil is in the details of course, but as filmmakers we are used to countless details.

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At the American Heritage Museum.

As I begin to ramp up pre-production for First Signal with a May production start date, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker the other day about the importance of insuring there’s a market for our projects after we wrap production. There’s simply too much time and money involved to wind up on a shelf which translates to holding up a return on investment.

I’ve talked about this subject before when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was vital to me that Justice was introduced in a theatrical setting. While many submit to film festivals at considerable expense and wait for an acceptance (a practice that was frowned upon at AFM unless it’s an A level festival with potential buyers in attendance), I pushed for a theatrical run. The result was a limited run of 14 theatres, box office revenue, an international premiere on an ocean liner and substantive media placements. If I worked for years to get my film off the ground the last thing I’m going to do is pay $$$ to a second tier film festival. Then wait weeks (if not months) for a decision by a committee, then, if accepted, be at the mercy of a programmer to place my film in a time slot convenient to the festival, ceding box office revenue (filmmakers don’t receive a cut from festivals) and sharing in their public relations efforts with other films.  As you can imagine, the public relations and release strategy for First Signal is already in the planning stages.

Speaking of planning stages, I had the opportunity today to visit the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA at the Collings Foundation. Some of you may remember my trips to the Collings Foundation for their World War II reenactment event “Battle for the Airfield” or their “Wings of Freedom Tour” around the country.

Although they are in “preview” until their Grand Opening in April of 2019, what I saw today was truly outstanding. The museum represents the history of war in America. Although it starts with the Revolutionary War all the way to the War on Terror, the primary focus is generally on World War I and World War II.

The tour starts in the orientation theatre and then proceeds to two immersive experiences before advancing to the main exhibit hall. The first is the World War I exhibit complete with a trench you can walk through. From there you proceed to the World War II exhibit which features a Mercedes-Benz W31 and Panzer 1A. Click this link to learn about all the tanks, vehicles and artifacts that will be part of the museum when it reopens in the spring. Of course, as a filmmaker, their use of archival film to enhance the static displays was brilliantly done.

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Never Forget.

 


One Sheet

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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.


The War

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A few months ago I came across a casting notice for a book trailer. The name of the book was Heil Hitler, Herr Göd by A.P. Hofleitner and was based “on true-life memoirs” around a family in occupied Austria at the end of World War II. As this period of history has always been of interest to me, I submitted for the part of Herr Göd.

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Shortly after getting cast, I started my research. When we think of the European conflict of World War II, generally we look at Germany and what was going on in Berlin. But how many times do we think of the average family just caught up in it? That was the genesis of the book.

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Once I arrived to set I met director Rob Gooding and author/producer “Andy” Hofleitner (who, as fate would have it, I actually met earlier in the parking lot). Andy presented each of the actors and crew a signed copy of his book. It didn’t take long to realize the passion behind this project. Not only are the accounts in the book true, but the family in Austria is Andy’s. The author of the memoirs was his grandfather. The “props” used in the book trailer were the actual ones from the story with one piece signed by Hitler himself. The gravity of the story suddenly became real. To know that you are not only recreating moments in history, but are actually touching it.

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A few days after the shoot I started to read the book. From page one Hofleitner brings the reader back in time to a family caught in the crossfire of war. The family is far from idyllic and this is what Hofleitner does so well. His words create real world, conflicted and complicated characters facing the impossible. But through it all they persevere under the most trying of circumstances. Hofleitner’s masterful way of setting up scenes and bringing the characters in had me riveted to the last word. There is an escape scene from a factory that was so brilliantly written it had this reader in the center of the conflict. To know as I was reading each word that each one of these moments really happened, one wonders how such atrocities could have happened in the first place. But they did and that’s why we must never forget lest history be repeated.

For me the most engaging character was Max. His voice from being on the front and witnessing the horrors of the war, brought reality home when he would recount stories in the seemingly quiet village the family resided. Imagine you are sitting in your back yard enjoying a drink and hearing horrors so far away they must be fictional…right? But then, in a moment, the roar of Allied bombers destroy the tranquility of the moment.

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Heil Hitler, Herr Göd can be purchased on Amazon. To watch the book trailer, please visit this link.  To learn more about the author A. P. Hofleitner please visit his website here.

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Book trailers are a smart marketing tool. To quote from C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter, “Whether you are traditional or indie published, it’s about reach, connection, and sales.” And that’s exactly what a book trailer does. It visualizes the story you are about to read.

Next project.

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The Tests

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Testing the drone over Quinsigamond State Park in Worcester, MA.

One thing I’ve often talked about is testing. Whether it’s a screen test prior to a theatrical screening or testing equipment prior to a live event, I’m adamant about testing prior to production or going live.

I still remember to this day, that despite testing equipment the day before, a major live event I produced years ago ran into a major technical problem during the show. What happened? Someone behind the scenes decided to “think” and change the program without consulting anyone. The result? A total screw up. Thankfully the embarrassment was resolved in short order and the venue credited us $14,000 for their mistake.

Production is time and money. If you don’t set aside time to rehearse, test and think things through, the results can be disastrous if not embarrassing.  In the past two weeks I have witnessed two major meltdowns with camera equipment during auditions. How does that happen in today’s day and age? And why don’t you have a backup system ready to go at a moment’s notice? It’s called preparedness.

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As for preparedness, I attended the Memorial Day services at Battleship Cove last Monday. Not only does this museum do a wonderful job in organization and presentation, it’s the location itself that brings forward the meaning of this national holiday. When you are standing on the deck of a battleship that fought in World War II, it doesn’t get any more real than that.

I’ve been to Battleship Cove on a several occasions. There’s always something new to learn and discover. When so many are engaged in the here and now, it’s important that we take the time to never forget how and why well over 50,000,000 perished in World War II.

With less than two weeks to go until First Signal’s table read, pre-production continues on a variety of fronts. At this stage of the production it’s more waiting to hear from certain parties for confirmations, etc.  I will say the DJI Spark continues to perform well for the required drone shots.

Shot list.

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At the USS Massachusetts. Mark 12 5″/38 caliber gun firing on Memorial Dy.


First Day

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Stock footage that was used in Serpentine.

After dealing with a massive snowstorm the day before, the first day back at the Naval Justice School went well. As this is my fifth time doing the program, these are like class reunions between the actors and staff. But with every new class, we have new actors join the program.

I can’t speak for other regions, but in New England the acting community really is about six degrees of separation. While I may not have worked directly with some of the new actors, the other actors have or are familiar with their work. What struck me interesting with one of the new actors was him telling me about a project of his own that he’s putting into production himself. Sound familiar?

While any actor, screenwriter, cinematographer, etc., wants to be hired, there’s nothing more satisfying than creating your own work. It truly is magical watching your performance, your words and your images come to life. But one does not magically snap their fingers to get a project off the ground. In the end it’s about partnering with good people that believe in bringing the project to life.

In addition to the casting notices going up this week for First Signal, location searches will also begin in earnest. As I mentioned to someone already involved in the project, the way I approach a location is to trade the opportunity to shoot with a mutual public relations and marketing plan. I’ve taken this approach with the films I’ve produced and, with the exception of $100 to shoot in church for Justice Is Mind, it has worked.

The last thing you do as an “independent” filmmaker is ask what their rate or how much they would charge. I promise you, you’ll get frustrated when you hear numbers that are impossible to meet. Worse, you meet them and go broke in the process. You want to work with people and companies that are excited about the project. But that excitement is not without responsibility.

On a set I am the first to arrive and the last to leave. Why? Because it’s my responsibility to insure that I leave a location the same way I found it. Case in point was the conference room we used in Serpentine. In the film, the location was at the FBI in Washington, D.C. In the real world that was the Aquarius board room at The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick, MA.

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A still from First World. The Presidential Suite at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston, MA.

That room worked out great in the film, but it needed to be dressed. I purchased Washington, D.C. images to cover up the posters on one wall and added The Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War era to highlight a certain moment in the story (it was also an Easter Egg for Justice Is Mind). How did the viewer know they were at the FBI? Stock footage the moment before that showed the exterior of the FBI. What’s interesting about that footage is that one of my favorite shows, Madam Secretary, has also used that same clip.

With the script breakdown for First Signal almost complete, look for a casting notice in the coming days. And that military exercise I mentioned last week? Looks like that contract is coming through.

Now casting.

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A still from Serpentine: The Short Program. The Brandenburg Gate pictured from the Cold War era, is also an Easter Egg in relation to Justice Is Mind and its star Vernon Aldershoff (standing). In Serpentine he played an FBI Assistant Director. In Justice Is Mind he played Henri Miller with part of his story originating in Berlin, Germany during WWII.


Market Projection

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The USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove.

Yesterday I attended the annual World War II Saturday at Battleship Cove. While there seemed to be less reenactors than last year, I found it just as engaging and interesting. If I come away with having learned a few more moments during that time in history, it’s well worth the visit.

By example, I learned some interesting details behind the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Sure, I was generally aware that the United States and China had some sort of cooperation during the war, but when it’s illuminated it puts it in perspective. That “perspective” continued after SACO dissolved which was followed by China’s civil war.

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Justice Is Mind was picked up by China Mobile.

Speaking of China, Justice Is Mind has been picked up by China Mobile as a flat licensing deal. As I understand from our distributor, it’s now going through censorship and localization on their end. It will certainly be a milestone to break into the Chinese market. One does not need to be a filmmaker or read the industry trades to know that China is one of the leading film markets.

Given the tumultuous state of U.S. box office revenue this year, it’s imperative that these foreign markets are available to filmmakers.  For Justice Is Mind and First World our primary foreign market is the United Kingdom. I have also noticed that viewership in Japan is picking up.  But one driving force that continues to put films front and center is the importance of a marketing plan.

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Target marketing with Serpentine: The Short Program

I can’t tell you how many times the marketing plan for an independent film seems to begin and stop at the industry trades. Never mind when you read the first cut to studio budgets seem to be in marketing.  As I have often said you can have the greatest project in the world but if nobody knows about it nobody will care.

As soon as I finish writing a script, I start working on the marketing plan in terms of a target audience.  With distributors relying more and more on filmmakers to assist in the marketing plan, there really needs to be one in place before the first scene is shot. With First World it was science fiction conventions. With Justice Is Mind it was law schools and universities that focused on neuroscience. With Serpentine: The Short Program it was the Ice Network. Yes, like the aforementioned, films have their primary target audience then they broaden out from there.

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Target marketing with Justice Is Mind.

Amazon is a perfect example of that. Someone might have heard about Justice Is Mind from our primary plan, but found the film on Amazon. Their algorithm then points customers to other recommended films. At that point the plan is relatively complete. But it all starts with that primary plan to push consumer awareness then generally continues with social media and other digital marketing tactics on an ongoing basis.

It’s hard to believe that it was five years ago this month that we were producing Justice Is Mind. Yet here we are five years later with new markets opening. The greatest thing about the world of film is discovery. It doesn’t matter when the film was made, it’s about when a customer learns about it for the first time. In today’s world of VOD a film no longer has a shelf-life.

Plans.

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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.


The Steps of Mankind

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Neil Armstrong prepares to step foot on the Moon.

July 20 should be a national holiday because it marks an unprecedented milestone in the history of the human race – the day we set foot on the Moon in 1969.

Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to look at their home, the planet Earth, from 238,000 miles away. July 20, 1969 marked the very pinnacle of research, science and mankind’s determination to explore the unknown when Armstrong famously said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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Buzz Aldrin with the Eagle in the background.

Yet, sadly, there are those ignorant dangerous fools that still believe the manned missions to the Moon were a hoax. Somehow an achievement that exceeded the mysterious building of the Great Pyramids was created by the Hollywood studios.  It’s unbelievable to me in today’s day and age that such ignorance permeates our existence. When evidence is there for everyone to hear and see, they turn deaf and blind by deliberate choice. Some of these misguided morons have tried to post their so-called views on First World’s Facebook page. Thankfully it’s called a delete and ban.

Yes, as you can surmise I feel very strongly about the aforementioned. For if there is one thing the Apollo space program taught us was that anything is possible if we remain singularly focused on just such a mission. In the 1960s there’s no question that the United States government was motivated to compete against the then Soviet Union. Say what you want, but that was a healthy competition because the fruits of all those scientists lay in the very technology we enjoy today.

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Dunkirk 2017

But decades before Apollo 11 there were the steps of over 300,000 allied soldiers that were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Battle of Dunkirk is well known as a substantial turning point in World War II and has been brought back to life by Hollywood.

Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk is most certainly a must-see film. But more importantly it is a history lesson for those that may not know the story. It is a story about what’s possible when faced with the impossible. How do you evacuate over 300,000 people off a beach? The answer was as miraculous as it was obvious—you mobilize a fleet of small civilian boats to effect a rescue.

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Dunkirk 1958

While I greatly enjoyed Nolan’s version of Dunkirk, if anything because it reintroduced this critical moment in world history to 21st century audiences, I found myself enjoying the 1958 version better. For me it provided a larger backstory as it followed several characters between England and France until they arrived on the beaches of Dunkirk.

But whether you liked the 1958 version over the 2017 entry isn’t important. What’s important is that these films are watched. What’s important is that we learn from history. Who would have thought back in 1940 that the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany (and Japan) would someday become great allies in years to come? For it’s allies that truly unite mankind. Building off that first step on the Moon, modern day space programs are a coalition of cultures.

United Nations.

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The International Space Station. A coalition of nations.


The American Party

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The American flag that flew on the USS Massachusetts during Operation Torch.

Today is Independence Day in the United States. We refer to it as the Fourth of July. 241 years ago the United States declared its independence as a sovereign nation from the British Empire. As we know, the United Kingdom has been one of our strongest allies for over a century and is referred to as the “special relationship” between the two countries.

As for the United States and United Kingdom, this past weekend I traveled to the Maritime Museum in Fall River, MA (the museum is now part of Battleship Cove). After seeing the 1953 movie Titanic, I learned that the model from the movie was on display at the museum. And as Battleship Cove had some new exhibits, it was time for another visit.

It’s impossible not to learn about the many joint cooperative efforts between our countries over the centuries. The United States connection to the Belfast built RMS Titanic is well known along with the numerous campaigns during World War I and World War II. The USS Massachusetts participation in Operation Torch in November 1942 was a joint United States-United Kingdom invasion of French North Africa. And, yet, for all the reasons our countries have fought side by side for democracy against tyranny, both nations are facing internal political turmoil that is testing the very fabric of our respective constitutions.

As an American citizen I won’t opine on events across the pond, but here in this country today it is as much a celebration as it is a contradiction. Oh sure there’s the requisite barbeque or the spirited trips to the beach, but top of mind of the majority of Americans is the direction in which this country is going. Like the RMS Titanic’s inferior rudder that made the ship very hard to turn in a crisis, the United States is most certainly heading towards an iceberg that represents the internal strife we are experiencing. While on the surface it looks like we can avoid it, like an iceberg, the menace is what lies below the waterline.

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The 16 inch guns on the USS Massachusetts.

As I have been a member of both parties, I consider myself a moderate. Put simply, I believe in equal rights, not special rights. I believe in a strong military administered by the federal government, but that government has no business regulating my personal life. The current crisis isn’t so much about political party but extremists on both sides that are locked in a tug of war to win.  In earlier years, it was the moderates that kept the ship on an even keel. Sadly extremists often don’t want to understand the other side. But understanding is the first step in diplomacy in reaching an accord. A democracy is not about winning your point, it is about moderating it.

Perhaps the time has come to look at our friends across the pond for some lessons. In the United Kingdom, France and Germany they have a multi-party political system. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But for too long in the United States there has only had two choices (this one or that one).  Sure we have a nascent third party in this country, but it has about as much direction as the SS Californian did the night the RMS Titanic sank.

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The American flag on the stern on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy with the stern of the USS Massachusetts in the background.

But the one thing we do know is the United States is built on a solid foundation of laws and guiding principles. Sometimes we waiver and falter, but at the end of the day we know what this nation stands for and what it represents. Today is a tribute to the founding fathers of this country and what they laid down over two centuries ago that resonates even more today.

Bill of Rights.

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An Exposition in Time

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World War II reenactors.

And so the new season started with a bang—literally.  Yesterday I attended the Massachusetts Military History Exposition in Orange, MA. This is the second year this group produced this show. While last year focused on World War II, this year’s outing represented a timeline of military history.  My favorite group was those representing the 16th century.

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Das Geld Fahlein

The group from the year 1528 called “Das Geld Fahlein” offered an excellent history on how troupes from those days were organized, compensated and fought. Imagine you are a knight in “shining armor” on a horse galloping towards several hundred of these 30 foot long spears and other types of sword defenses. It may have been low-tech even by 1528 standards but it did what it had to do—stop the enemy.

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World War II German field communications

Another area of interest to me has been about communications and infrastructure during World War II. I talked to a few reenactors at the German camp about some technical aspects of how they communicated back then. The distance limitation in radio communication and the shelf life of the field batteries was very interesting. Needless to say, there’s always something new to learn at these events.

Of course the highlight of these types of events are the battle reenactments.  While “Hollywood” would have multiple takes over a period of days if not weeks to shoot something like this, this is a one take moment. Once the action starts it just keeps going until there’s a victor.  Yesterday was also the first time I used Facebook Live. I broadcast the World War II battle and had viewers all over the country. You can watch the video at this link.

But through all the uniforms and equipment of wars long past, there is the educational component of these events that’s so important. It is through events like this that one learns about the issues of those times and what brought yesterday’s societies to conflict and then peace. Like my experiences last year attending these events, it’s the reenactors that bring them to life. Their depth of knowledge and passion is what makes for a most enjoyable experience.

As so many of my projects have some sort of military component to the story, while I have a great time at these events, it’s all about networking and learning about the talent involved. Why on earth would I seek to hire actors, get costumes and source equipment from the ground up if I could reach out to one of these groups?

Planning.

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Old Glory

 


New Credits

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Serpentine is on schedule for a February 2017 release.

From the World Figure Skating Championships to the Naval Justice School, 2016 has been a whirlwind of a year. And between these events was the figure skating political thriller Serpentine. From script, to production to media coverage, Serpentine has certainly set the stage for 2017.

I’m never one to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead I look at what was accomplished in any given year. For me, there needs to be at least the creation of a new project or perhaps some interesting acting or on camera work. Thankfully for 2016 there was a bit of both.

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With Ari Zakarian and Christine Brennan at World’s.

Of course we had this thing in the United States called a presidential election. But you can’t define your entire existence over who won or lost. Putting aside that it narrows your world and opportunities, the country goes on no matter who wins or loses. The great thing about the American presidency is every four years we change hands (sometimes). As Scarlett O’Hara would say, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

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How half the United States felt after the election. But, indeed, tomorrow is another day!

As for another day, post production on Serpentine is moving right along and on schedule. We are into the second draft of the edit and I signed off on the opening credits VFX sequence yesterday.  And generally speaking a good amount of the film has been scored. The post-production process of any film (short or feature), takes coordination. Are all the parties on the same page? Is communication flowing from one department to the next? I’ll say this there is a comfort level working with the same parties that brought Justice Is Mind to life.

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Serpentine received front page coverage in the Telegram & Gazette with the story syndicated around the United States.

In addition to Serpentine, 2017 will usher in some personal changes. I renewed my membership in SAG-AFTRA a couple of months ago for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say I see more trips to NYC next year. One of the benefits to membership is being able to vote in the SAG Awards and getting DVD screeners. Like the election, I’ll just leave it as what film isn’t getting my vote.

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At a WWII Weekend.

But for any given year it comes down to moving the needle just a bit in the direction I want to go in. I don’t try to push for the “all or nothing” approach as that can just set you up for disappointment. Do I outline goals for the near year? Certainly. Are they resolutions? No. Frankly, I’ve never understood those that proclaim with all the caps they can on social media at the start of any year that they’re going to quit X or move to Y! Um, how about just do it for yourself whenever and see where it goes. You won’t know until YOU try not when your “friends” approve.

Sure there’s been some disappointments this year. It wasn’t all champagne and caviar. But there’s no point dwelling on the past or those that tried to check all these bags of drama onto my ship (sorry we’re full up!). Like the car accident I was in. As I thankfully walked away, you just move on (cue Scarlett O’Hara again with score).

In closing it was great to see the reach of this blog across the world for another year. Your support of these words is very much appreciated. And to you and yours across this great planet…

Happy New Year!

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The reach of The Ashton Times in 2016. Thank you for your support!


The Battle

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“Battle for the Airfield” The Collings Foundation

This past week was another busy one as pre-production moves along for Serpentine. But today was a visit to The Collings Foundation production of “Battle for the Airfield”. To quote from their website, “There will be over 300 re-enactors representing several branches of Allied and Axis military participating in an amazing re-enactment.” The event did not disappoint.

Although it was raining, the announcer reminded us all that wars are not always fought on warm sunny days. Indeed, it was like watching a conflict in real time. Unlike a movie set with constant calls of “action” and “cut”, there was no stopping once the action did start. When the tanks started to roll the re-enactment was just as good if not better than any Hollywood production. The filmmaker in me wished I had cameras recording it for some upcoming production. All I could think of was the battle scene in 1953’s War of the Worlds!

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At The Verve, Crowne Plaza Natick. The Aquarius Boardroom.

Just prior to the start of the battle, the national anthem was played. I’ve heard our anthem played in many venues, but there’s something special to hear it against a military backdrop with veterans present. When I think of the tens of millions that have sacrificed themselves for this country, this American proudly stands and turns to honor our flag and all those that have defended it.

Speaking of old glory, the flag will be part of the set dressing for our FBI conference room scene at The Verve, Crowne Plaza. On Thursday I visited the hotel for a site visit. The room looked just as great in real life as it did in the pictures I saw prior to my visit.

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Serpentine welcomes Foley Motorsports of Shrewsbury, MA.

A site visit is another one of the critical components to pre-production as there are usually things that need some sort of adjustment or that may have changed. In this case, a couple of posters to cover up artwork on the opposite wall and a movie screen has replaced the TV screen. Actually the movie screen is better as it gives us more room in post-production for images that our VFX specialist will put in. A special thank you to Lynne Luongo, The Verve’s General Manager, for the personal tour!

Earlier in the week I was reading the script again for other creative components. One scene has a character leaving in a car—a car that will be getting a fair amount of screen time. As this character comes forward to sponsor a skater in the story, I wanted something high end that said wealth.

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Although there are countless dealerships in the area, there is only one luxury dealer I wanted to approach to see if they might be interested in working with us. When I visited Foley Motorsports website, I was thrilled to see that they have direct staff contacts, including owner RJ Foley. After his review of my presentation, I’m delighted to report that Foley Motorsports will be providing a luxury vehicle for Serpentine. Now, here’s fate for you, his daughter used to be a figure skater and will be appearing as an FBI Agent at The Verve!

As for figure skating I visited Northstar Ice Sports again this week to work out some additional details on our upcoming shoot and to skate again. Yes, I’m getting the skating legs back underneath me to assist in the production when we start to shoot the on ice scenes. It is interesting being back in a rink again and on the same ice as my first coach Denise Marco, who is not only the Executive Director of Northstar but will be playing Elizabeth Rogers in Serpentine.

Full circle.

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Inside The Collings Foundation hangar.


War Weekend

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Flame throwing tanks at WWII Weekend.

Having grown up in the 1970s and 80s there was an entertainment medium called the mini-series that produced some terrific programming.  When I attended WWII Weekend yesterday, I was reminded of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Perhaps it was these two great mini-series that got me interested in the Second World War. For those that follow me on social media or this blog, you know I often tour museums like Battleship Cove or attend events like WWII Weekend. When I was in Albany, New York a couple of week ago I toured the now museum ship USS Slater.

For those of you that may be interested, I highly recommend WWII Weekend. This was my first time attending this event and I have to say they did a masterful job. To quote from their website, “WWII Weekend is one of New England’s premier living history events, providing the public with an interactive, educational and fun WWII experience that is difficult to come by. Participants will have the chance to examine and learn about multiple different kinds of World War 2 vehicles and weapons, as well as how the soldiers of that era lived, by walking through Allied and Axis encampments and interacting with the reenactors.”

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At the WWII Weekend.

First, I believe it’s important to take the time to occasionally experience one of these events or attend one of these museums. Even though our present world is currently gripped with a variety of regional conflicts, I think it’s important to remember that at two points in the last century nearly every country in the world was engaged in a world war. For me personally, it’s about learning something new and inspiration for my writing.

When I brought Justice Is Mind back to World War II, the amount of research I did was on the same level as that of the courtroom scenes and experimental science behind mind reading technology.  It was after our international premiere on the MS Queen Elizabeth that several guests came up to me and complimented how we handled that element of the story, particularly the very end. Although that area of the screenplay was pretty well vetted, it only matters how it’s received by the public after it’s produced. With a film, there’s generally only one chance to get it right. To quote Bill Sampson in All About Eve after a film is released “You’re in a tin can.”

Although the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating doesn’t go back to WWII, when I was looking at field communications equipment at the WWII Weekend yesterday, a certain angle occurred to me which I could take with this story. In this new story codes and encryption are a key element to the final act.

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Axis powers field communications from World War II.

The one thing I enjoy the most about being a writer is the research. Whether it’s learning about historical events and how they can be woven into a particular plot or about certain technologies and how they shape a story. Who would have thought that a program on “thought identification” on 60 Minutes would have resulted in Justice Is Mind?

Of course, as a filmmaker, one of the exhibits I found truly fascinating was all the vintage cameras. In today’s world we simply hold up our cell phone and roll as much “film” as you generally want. In those days they may have had to deal with springs and cameras the size of large bricks, but filmmakers and photographers from that era produced groundbreaking work under often arduous conditions.

Remembrance.

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Vintage cameras at the WWII Weekend.

 


Original Program

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Desperate to save her husband, Margaret Miller retains a private investigator. Notice the mark on the whiteboard in the upper right hand corner. Justice Is Mind

I only subscribe to a handful of writing and filmmaking newsletters. In today’s day and age anyone can have a newsletter, but what it really comes down to is content.  Many years ago my former business partner recommended that I subscribe to C. Hope Clark’s FundsforWriters. The amount of useful and insightful information about the world and industry of freelance writing is nearly unlimited. For me, I always enjoy Hope’s “EDITOR’S THOUGHTS” and the featured article. I was honored when Hope asked me to write the featured article for this week’s newsletter. Titled “From Bookstore to Theater, Turning Your Book into a Movie”, you can read my article at this link.

Writing an original story is not easy by any stretch and we all approach our stories differently. But in each and every case, there is that one moment when we are inspired to write that one word or phrase that will ultimately result in a book a movie or both. When I wrote a screenplay for a friend last year based on his book, there was a road map of sorts, a foundation in which to build off the primary story. The book was the original idea, the screenplay was the adaptation. A couple of weeks ago at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, a friend of mine was passionately telling me about an original story that they want to turn into a movie.

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Roy Scheider and Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man.

And therein lies that one word that drives us creatives – passion. I can only speak for myself when it comes to writing an original story, but passion is the number one driving force for me.  When you are “world building” an original story, if you aren’t excited about the concept why should anyone else be? I was having dinner with a friend last night who mentioned the complexities of the Justice Is Mind story and how it compared to a particular author and the movies that followed. The comment was very flattering.

For me, I like a complex story. A story that isn’t paint by number, but one that you need to watch more than once. I like characters that are multi-dimensional or suddenly change their tone. Take for example Margaret Miller in Justice Is Mind. In the beginning we see a concerned wife who happens to be a novelist. Suddenly in her desperate attempt to save her husband she goes against type by retaining a dubious private investigator to steal what she wants.

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Having spent over three decades in the sport of figure skating in a variety of capacities, I suppose it had to be inevitable that I would conceive of a story around the sport. When talking about the concept a couple of weeks ago, I referenced the political thriller Marathon Man that starred Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. But there is another movie, a bit obscure, that is having another influence on this story—the conspiracy thriller Executive Action that starred Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. I say obscure, because when you look up the film you’ll see what happened when it was initially released.

In the end the goal, of course, is to write a story that audiences will enjoy. For me films are a living legacy. Long after their creatives are gone, a film lives on. One of my favorite thrillers is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938).

But before I vanish into this new world I’m writing, I’ll leave you with a sample piece of dialogue from an FBI supervisor, “If I know this much you can bet that someone else sure as hell does. Because suddenly, there’s a concerted effort to get Wilson’s daughter to the World Championships in a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.”

Act 1

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One of the final scenes in the story takes place at a World Championships.


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.

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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.


Real World

From the In Mind We Trust concept trailer.

“Portrait of a Young Man” from Justice Is Mind as seen in the concept trailer for In Mind We Trust. The painting has been missing since World War II.

When I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010 I had no idea that the science of mind reading and its related legal and ethical implications would present itself in the real world the way it did (Pamela Glasner’s article in The Huffington Post pretty much sums it up).  There’s no question this public awareness helps when I market the film.

In the sequel, In Mind We Trust, part of the storyline picks up from the end of Justice Is Mind – lost artwork from WWII. In the story it’s revealed that Wilhelm Miller worked in transportation whose responsibility was to ship stolen artwork via train, artwork that disappeared at the end of the war and begins to resurface through the Miller family.

China's Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft.

China’s Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft.

It is oddly ironic that over the last few weeks there has been substantive media attention to an alleged underground NAZI gold train that disappeared at the end of the war.  Apparently, a death bed confession revealed its whereabouts.  There’s no question that there are countless unresolved mysteries from that time period. And the stealing of artwork, gold and other treasures during the war is another horrid atrocity that the world continues to face and rightly so.  Now that Poland’s military is involved in the search, we should have a resolution one way or the other sooner rather than later.

But then we move forward in time to First World and SOS United States. When I wrote First World back in 2006 sure China had ambitious plans with their space program. But I had no idea it would move along at the pace it has. There’s no question, that unless something substantive happens to China’s economy, that country will land a man on the Moon. Much like the space race when the Soviet Union successfully put Sputnik in orbit, it was a wake-up call to the United States. And wake-up our country did by landing a man on the Moon in 1969. Curious how Russia announced this past week they are going to the Moon. Something tells me that China and Russia will soon be cooperating.

In SOS United States the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is targeted by a foreign power.

In SOS United States the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is targeted by a foreign power.

This of course brings us to SOS United States. Although China is moving along at a rapid clip, they are disadvantaged in certain areas of military might, particularly in aircraft carrier development, thus the conflict in my political thriller around the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and her ordnance.

But it is the continued cyber-attacks by groups in China directed against United States interests that really is the crux of the world we live in and a major plot element in SOS United States. And let us not forget how Chinese warships entered United States waters off Alaska this week.

In my view, every film whether the subject is good, bad or indifferent needs some sort of hook. Something that will pull the audience in from the real world while they escape into the narrative world of a movie.

New World.

Cyber attacks inside the United States that have been directed from China.

Cyber attacks inside the United States that have been directed from China.


I’m An American

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Yes, I am an American and proud of it. But it’s also dialogue from one of my favorite films Citizen Kane. Here’s a film made in 1941 by a 25 year old director by the name of Orson Wells. Citizen Kane is arguably one of the greatest films ever made. The film was controversial at the time because it was largely discussed that it was about William Randolph Hearst who owned an empire of newspapers. Hearst was so enraged by the film’s perceived comparison to his life that he made countless efforts to ban it.

July 4, 2015 – Independence Day here in the United States. Unless you live under a rock or just arrived from another planet, the world knows the fierce patriotism that engulfs our entire nation during this time, and rightly so.  To be an American means to be able to have a voice. A voice of expression without fear of persecution from the state.

But it is the state of the film and TV industry in our country that perhaps gives us the greatest voice around the world. Yes, we have the world’s largest and best military and we forever give thanks to the men and women in uniform that defend the ideals of this country here and abroad. But it is our entertainment industry that shines a light on what it is to be an American. No matter your station in life, your political or religious beliefs, there is a film or TV series for you.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Those that know me, know what I like when it comes to my viewing pleasure. I tend to gravitate to films that tell a story with larger than life characters, but also ones that have some sort of message (apologies to Louis B Mayer).  Films that highlight World War II and the Cold War tend to get my attention as they present the human spirit against the conflicts of mankind as they look to sort out the trials of hope against tyranny. But the one thing I have a zero tolerance for is the banning of films or TV shows.

When Judgment at Nuremberg was made it set forth to illustrate the atrocities of World War II that were perpetrated by judges in NAZI Germany.  Was the film controversial? Yes, in some circles. But where did the film have its world premiere? Berlin, the former capital of the Third Reich that is now the capital of a unified Germany. My point? As controversial as it may have been at the time, it was important to present the film in a setting to spark conversation because if there is one lesson we must never forget from World War II is – to never forget.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

In the United States these past couple of weeks, we have had to sadly relive the horrors of a Civil War that ended 150 years ago after the execution of innocents at a church in Charleston. At issue, of course, is the Confederate Flag. In my view it represents sedition and the enslavement of a people. To the view of others it represents a way of life that has long past. While I most certainly don’t condone the flag of another country (one we defeated) flying over United States state capitol buildings, the outright ban of it and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t helping the larger conversation. Sadly, our country was founded on slavery. It is part of our history that so many want to forget, but we cannot forget. We cannot erase our history, but we learn from it the best we can and try to form a more perfect union.  But when TV Land reacted by pulling the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard this past week, that wasn’t the answer.

My favorite movie of all time - Gone With the Wind.

My favorite movie of all time – Gone With the Wind.

History teaches us what happened when a certain country started to burn books, films and destroy artwork.  If you don’t know what the country was, it was referenced earlier in this post. As Americans we cherish our right to choose, our right to live life free from oppression. My favorite film is Gone With the Wind. Yet, the calls to have that film banned by the overzealous is just an ignorant reaction. And to be frank, I don’t give a damn about those voices.

This is America. We don’t ban films and TV shows if we don’t like them we simply don’t watch them. I can tell you I find plenty of films and TV shows offensive, I’m not going to launch a boycott. I’m simply not going to support them. Do we really want to bring back the Hayes Code? Do we want to go back to McCarthyism?  Do we want to be oppressed? I think not.

But putting aside my position on freedom of speech and expression, I have had the good fortune to be able to travel a good part of this small “pale blue dot” of a planet we live on called Earth. Indeed, our planet is a fragile one as is our society. One that we must all take care of. But throughout all my travels, there is a certain pride I feel when I pull out my passport or tell people where I’m from.

The United States of America.

Earth. As seen from NASA's Cassini spacecraft through Saturn's rings on July 19, 2013

Earth. As seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft through Saturn’s rings on July 19, 2013.