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First Sequel

The destruction of Shinar in First Launch

Today I received notice that First Signal is a Semi-Finalist in the International Moving Film Festival in Iran. This marks our 21st film festival acceptance. I could not be more pleased with our results to date. What I’m particularly enjoying is the global reach of First Signal. From the United States to India; the United Kingdom to Russia; France to Iran, these are just some of the countries that selected First Signal for their festivals. What these festivals represent is a worldwide acceptance of the story in the film. I never wrote First Signal for one particular audience or demographic, I wrote it to appeal to a wide and culturally diverse audience.

There are thousands of festivals to submit to and a limited budget for submission fees. Too often we hear the same lecture about the importance of getting accepted to the top tier festivals. Worse media outlets continue to support that narrative. I read in Videomaker magazine last week that “the rest of them are worthless.” That pious elitism by inexperienced biased journalists in the industry does nothing but insult festivals and filmmakers. There are countless wonderful film festivals that make it their mission to review, accept and promote all types of films. This industry is about the voices of many not the few.

As First Signal has reached the halfway mark on the festival circuit, I’m excited to see what 2021 brings (I think we will all be glad to leave 2020!). There are many things from a marketing and promotion perspective that I hope to introduce next year. The goal is to develop some noise to cut through the traditional and social media clutter.

While First Signal continues into 2021, it’s time to look forward towards the sequel First LaunchThe President faces a military coup and extrasolar war when a covertly built second generation space shuttle reveals a worldwide military destined to confront an alien presence on Earth. First Launch takes place two years after the events in First Signal and weeks before the events in First World. I always let my screenplays “sit” for a bit before I write the synopsis. In my view a synopsis is probably the hardest thing to write. There are many ways to write a synopsis. I endeavor to keep mine to one page and not to give everything away. You can read the synopsis at this link.

It’s hard to believe that my idea for this “First World Universe” started in 2006 when I wrote First World. Here we are fourteen years later in 2020 with the start of that universe being First Signal. I remember like it was yesterday making the endless pitches for First World. I looked at the submission file the other day and it was staggering.  But when you are determined to do something you see it through as long as you possibly can. Sometimes things happen quickly, sometimes they can seem to take forever. But when a film project is finally realized, the time from concept to completion just evaporates.

Next World

Mixed Market

Wendy Hartman as President Helen Colton

Two weeks ago I attended my third AFM (American Film Market). While I enjoyed attending live the last couple of years, I met more “qualified” contacts during the virtual version. In addition to the requisite panels that discussed all things around the industry, it was the “Networking Pavilion” module that worked out great for so many of us.

When you entered the pavilion you essentially found yourself in a large ballroom with tables. You could view profiles of those sitting at a table and then decide if you wanted to join. When you sat at a table you could see and hear what others were saying but your mic and camera were off by default. This worked out well because on two occasions they were talking about subjects that I had no interest in. But if you liked the conversation, you could turn on your camera and mic to join.  Conversations were generally insightful, if not illuminating.

Depending on who you talked to the present crisis has either been a boon, bust or business reinvention. The winner in all of this has been VOD. The bust has clearly been theatrical. The reinvention are those that have adapted to the world we presently live in—notably virtual film festivals. But through it all, there still was that general feeling of excitement and positive energy. We all know this crisis will pass as it simply must. When it does, it’s full steam ahead on everything.

The virtual American Film Market

There seems to be two types of films that are thriving now and will continue to do so even after the crisis. The microbudgets that are nicely produced, with a solid story but a no name cast and the eight figure films with A list talent (oddly, story didn’t seem to be a focus).  The former doesn’t require an exorbitant return to be profitable, while the latter has A talent driving profitability.  

The takeaways from the market were numerous. With so many festivals going virtual, will they share their data on how well a film did when it screened online? Will virtual festivals share revenue with filmmakers? On film marketing, what’s the one still that represents your film (I think I’m still working on that with First Signal), IMDb TV is really making it, AVOD (Ad-Supported Video on Demand) is where the money is (can anyone say TUBI). I was particularly keen on the sales agent panel. What are the values of indie films in the current marketplace? While sales estimates are important, never go with the highest estimate. Sales agent commission is generally not less than 15%. However, those on the panel say 7-20% depending on what the contract expenses were. Finally, as one panelist said (and something I’ve been doing), conduct due diligence on sales agents – call client filmmakers to see if they are happy with the business arrangement. Of course, there are always a couple of panelists that should never be on a panel. One was so condescending I couldn’t believe how he was talking to the 250+ in attendance. Then he proceeded to hand out some incorrect nonsense on how to use IMDb. How these people get on a panel is beyond me. But all in all, it was a great experience with one panelist remarking something I’ve always believed in—no matter what you’ve done, you’re never done in your career.

In closing, I want to congratulate Wendy Hartman for winning the Best Actress award at the Canadian Cinematography Awards. Wendy was a last-minute replacement to play the role of Helen Colton, the President of the United States. To say she is the consummate professional would be an understatement. A wonderfully experienced and gifted actress who brought this character to life and propelled the story forward. It’s one thing when an actor plays a part, it’s another when an actor becomes the part. It was the subtle nuances that Wendy brought to the character that created believability.  

Madam President

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