August 18, 2013. Five years ago today I was in Albany, NY for the world premiere of Justice Is Mind. The idea for Justice came to me in 2010 when I came across a 60 Minutes story about Thought Identification “mind reading.” I was researching mind reading “computers” when I was writing the sequel to First World. Yes, I finished writing the sequel. But no sooner was my Final Draft software cooling down and it was fired up again to write Justice.
I’ve often written about the development of Justice. The endless pitch to producers and financiers started at the script stage. Then I produced a short film version Evidence to develop interest in the project. After a couple of theatrical screenings and media the financing came together to produce the feature. Let me just say that 2012 was a whirlwind of a year. But in the end, over 10 crew, 100+ actors and 15 locations came together. Even post production into 2013 went relatively smoothly. Justice enjoyed a limited theatrical run, screenings at law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth (yes, that was a highlight!). The film is now available worldwide on VOD.
When you’re an independent filmmaker the completion of a feature film is a milestone that should be enjoyed and celebrated. As I see with so many in this industry, they worry incessantly about the next project when working on the current one. There were only a couple of occasions during Justice when a few people tried to get out of commitments because of an audition or other project they wanted to be part of. I’ve always believed in giving your maximum to every project you’re involved in. You worry about the next one after the fact.
It’s one thing to attend a film premiere for someone else’s project, it’s entirely another to attend one for your own. For nearly two years after our world premiere, so many of us attended the screenings together. For a while we were like a traveling road show! These weren’t film festivals, they were theatrical screenings. There is nothing more gratifying as a filmmaker than seeing your film on a marquee next to mainstream “Hollywood” productions. You work like hell to make the film, but seeing it in the market is in one word – gratifying.
A feature film isn’t about the “cool” photos behind the scenes of making it, it’s about creating the world around it so when it’s released there’s a place in the market for it. An acting friend of mine last year coined the phrase “the milk carton movie” for those films he was involved in that never saw the light of day. There were essentially “missing.” I couldn’t even fathom making a movie that sits on a shelf waiting for someone else to decide its fate. Film festivals are fine enough if you get into the top tier from an awareness point of view, but as a filmmaker you don’t see ten cents of box office from them. More importantly why would I want to share the public relations spotlight with other films? I remember only too well when we had a screening for Justice at a major university and, unknown to me, there was a small film festival in town that weekend. A reporter said to me they only had so much space and simply couldn’t accommodate everyone. Well, thankfully our screening went well because it was marketed internally and had some scientific personalities attending. That was a lesson to be learned.
As I now venture into the world of First Signal, I look back on the days of Justice Is Mind with great fondness and realize what’s possible when the right team comes together. I’ll never forget what one of the stars of Justice said to me at our last theatrical screening in March, 2017 “This never gets old.”
No, it doesn’t.
From actors I’ve cast in past projects to learning about new talent in the region, since the notice went live I’ve been very encouraged by the quality of the submissions. However, for this project I’ll be reaching out to additional sources for certain roles. The goal of the table read isn’t just to hear the script, it’s also about casting possibilities for the feature film itself.
The character of Cedric Yonah is particularly important to the overall story. Not only does the actor need to be great at his craft, but he also must have a certain look. I can almost say that I’ve received enough quality submissions for all other characters, but I’m still looking for this one. This isn’t exactly “The search for Scarlett” but let’s just say the search is ongoing.
This reminds me of the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. As I understand from the development process, director Robert Wise didn’t want to have a recognizable actor walk out of the spaceship as it wouldn’t have been believable. But it had to be an actor with gravitas and a certain look. The casting of Michael Rennie as Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter was brilliant.
Casting is not an easy process. I remember the three hundred plus submissions for Justice Is Mind. While I was fortunate to find some of the leading roles from the short film version Evidence, there were numerous parts that I needed to cast. In as much as you want to see a quality audition, it’s also about how you get along with the actor during that brief time. I do believe it comes down to the sixty second impression.
However, what I still don’t understand is how simple submission instructions aren’t followed. When I submit for a project I make sure I follow the instructions to the letter (why wouldn’t I?). If you refuse to follow submission instructions, how are you going to be during filming? I kid you not I received a submission that literally said here is my IMDb link and Google me. Sorry, if you can’t submit a required headshot, resume and link to your reel you just get relegated to archive.
But this is just part of the development process. Every project takes on a life of its own. I always find it interesting where a project gets its start. First Signal started at the Naval Justice School. But Justice Is Mind actually got its start when I wrote the sequel to First World and was researching mind reading technology. Thus my discovery of the 60 Minutes story from 2009 on thought identification being developed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Four years after that story Justice Is Mind screened at CMU.
Last week I mentioned how producing a film is not rocket science, but writing about rocket science is a different story.
With Justice Is Mind I did an exhaustive amount of research on two fronts. The first was mind-reading technology with the second being the law as it applies to investigations and the courtroom. But at some point you reach a certain knowledge bank when you can start writing.
Once a project of mine is given the green light I bring it to experts to insure its veracity. Of course there’s creative licensing, but at the end of the day a rocket launches vertically not horizontally!
One of the things I enjoy the most about screenwriting is learning something new. Am I an expert on mind-reading, the legal profession and rocket science? Good heavens no. But I can certainly talk about it in the context in which it’s presented. That’s what filmmakers do. We present. We create a fictional world against fact. Sure, some stories are pure science fiction with no regard to science, but I like to root my stories in plausibility.
While I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind from a 60 Minutes story, did I ever actually think the science fiction I postulated in my story could become near science fact? As a storyteller I’m doing just that, telling a story. My feeling has always been that as long as the story is interesting, it will hold an audience.
We’ve all been reading the difficulty that films are having at the box office. There are countless discussions on why this is happening. I have my own theories, but what I truly believe it comes down to is having an interesting story that is well marketed.
When I was marketing Justice Is Mind the actors were brilliantly talented and on par with any A list actors you would see on the silver screen, but they were not A list from a public relations point of view. I couldn’t market the film with Starring So and So, but I could market the concept. The end result was audiences bought a ticket and came to our screenings. Some were nearly sold out while others saw an OK attendance. What it proved to all of us was that audiences will turn out for an interesting story.
Revisiting the First World story has also been interesting. In addition to my “rocket science” research, I had almost forgotten the mountain of work I have done on this project, from writing the original script, producing a short film version, writing a sequel and publishing a novella. It’s safe to say I have some well thought out characters to work with!
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.”
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.
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.
This past week, just as I finished some updates to SOS United States, the American Film Market began. No sooner does it start than this article in Deadline comes out lamenting the “slim pickings” and quoting a variety of industry executives from, “It’s the lightest market in memory. TV is definitely sucking up talent” to “It’s much tougher now to find those projects that have that clear theatrical profile.”
Attaching talent, even in the best of markets, has always been a challenge. But clear theatrical profile? How is that truly defined? Having secured a limited theatrical run with Justice Is Mind that had talented but unknown actors, I often wonder what metrics these “executives” use when measuring a film for commercial appeal. This has always been an industry where you had to think outside the box, particularly when you are introducing something new to the market.
There’s no question there has been a seismic shift in talent from film to TV, that’s why I have positioned In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, as a pilot for a TV series. Sure, it could be a standalone feature, but it just makes sense to have this option when presenting. I remember many years ago when I attended Mipcom listening to execs wishing they could bring some of the theatrical talent over to TV. This is an industry that shifts like the tides. It’s just a matter of product and timing.
Speaking of product, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by a “distributor” for Justice Is Mind for an “exclusive” deal in a major market. Sure I’m always interested in a new deal, but it has to make sense. No sooner did we conclude our initial call and documents arrived with the most ridiculous terms and requirements I have ever seen. Um, no, I will not reedit the opening and end credits of my film to include a laundry list of producers to make it look like you produced the film. Um, no, I will not upload my film for you to review to a mysterious website that can only be accessed by you after the fact. It was laughable. And if you say you have distributed hundreds of films, you best have a listing on IMDb. Just when you think you’ve seen everything you see something new.
As for timing, I never would have thought that after I wrote First World that China’s space program would truly boom the way it did or that the cyber attacks I present in SOS United States would become so front and center. When I first wrote Justice Is Mind that idea was born by one broadcast on 60 Minutes about ‘thought identification’ and my passion for a good legal drama. Could I have ever imagined the advances in mind reading technology and neurolaw? No, of course not.
In my view it’s impossible to time the market from an industry or consumer standpoint. If you have an idea for a new movie or TV series, just write it and then do everything you can to produce it. In the end, it all comes down to what the consumer wants and the way they want to watch it.
“Let them lead us.” SOS United States.
This past week was another exciting one for both space history and the space program. From the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, to new images from New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto and the discovery of ‘Earth’s cousin’ Kepler 452b , NASA continues to excite and motivate a new generation just as it did back during the days of Apollo.
I have always loved the space program and, of course, science fiction. From Destination Moon in 1950 to Apollo 11 in 1969, we see time and time again the influences movies have in the real world and visa-versa.
The same can hold true for the science fiction of mind reading I postulate in Justice Is Mind. Just this week, two articles came out that not only further the conversation of neuroscience in the courtroom, but the actual real world implications of the science of mind reading.
In fact, the origins for Justice Is Mind are in the space program of the 1960s. When I was writing the sequel to First World, the idea came to me that on return to the installation on the Moon, inhabitants had to pass through a “mind reading like” device to gain entry. Thus some simple research brought me to a “thought-identification” story on 60 Minutes. The rest, as they say, is history. Justice Is Mind was written, produced and released with our second anniversary screening coming up on August 18.
Regarding the promotional efforts I do for First World, Justice Is Mind and SOS United States, it is always interesting to me to see which one gains the most traction. This past week First World spiked sharply with my Apollo 11 posts, SOS United States saw its highest impressions ever with the U.S. Embassy opening in Cuba and Justice Is Mind increased dramatically with a story titled, “Scientists Say They Can Read Your Mind, And Prove It With Pictures“.
Marketing a film takes time, consistency of message and perseverance. The major studios have the benefits of seemingly endless marketing budgets and A list actors. For a truly independent film like Justice Is Mind, it’s important to have a hook and to see what resonates with audiences. For this project, I have always seen consistent engagement when it comes to media related articles that have to do with mind reading and their real world applications in court or the perceived abuse by government.
When doing my follow calls to the media this week, the one thing that has resonated well was that the sequel is in development and that a concept trailer exists. We shall see how this all pans out in the next couple of weeks as we lead up to the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA.
In preparation for the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind on August 18, I’m going to Cinemagic tomorrow to give them the film. They’ll have our theatrical DVD and a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). The DCP was created for us by the Chatham Theatre. Sometime next week they’ll run the DCP test. Out of all the theatres which have screened the film, it looked and sounded the best in this theatre. While I know what the DVDs are capable of, I am looking forward to seeing the film in its highest possible resolution.
Since my last post, art is starting to imitate life. In SOS United States a Cyber Pearl Harbor by China takes out the United States power grid and military satellite communications. Last week the United States strongly believes that China is behind a cyber-attack that compromised millions of Americans. These weren’t just any Americans, the agencies targeted were the Office of Personal Management (OPM) and the Interior Department.
As part of the development process of SOS United States, I reached out to the media relations office of the National Security Agency a couple of weeks ago. This is the same process I did for First World when I contacted the Secret Service and the various universities and law schools for Justice Is Mind. For me, as a filmmaker and screenwriter, it’s important to get as many facts straight as possible. I believe adding reality brings believability and plausibility to a movie.
On a personal note, I have no problem with the work the NSA does. Unless you live under a rock and off the grid, we live in a very complicated world. A world that needs to be monitored for the safety of its citizens. As General Blair says in In Mind We Trust at a Congressional hearing, “Senator don’t talk to me about privacy when most of the planet posts their most intimate details voluntarily. You know as well as I that the next attack on the United States isn’t going to come over the pole as a nuclear device, it’s going to come from a computer.”
Speaking of In Mind We Trust, I am developing a concept trailer along with Justice Is Mind composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta. Originally, I was thinking it would be just about a minute long, but given the scope of the story we are expanding it to over two minutes. The first minute introduces elements in Justice Is Mind that propel the In Mind We Trust storyline.
Continuing with the development process, I was invited on Chris Denmead’s show Radio of Horror on WCUW 91.3 FM a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to the interview at this link where I talk about a wide variety of subjects around filmmaking. I met Chris when he participated in Justice Is Mind during the flashback wedding scene. As I’ve often said, this is an industry of networking and relationships.
Just as this week was coming to an end, I was alerted to this article in the Huffington Post stating “Scientists Can Read Your Mind Using These Images of the Brain”. It was great to read the latest news from Carnegie Mellon University’s research in this area and Dr. Marcel Just’s quotes. As some of you may know, I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind after seeing Dr. Just on a 60 Minutes story in 2009 that talked about ‘thought identification’. Justice Is Mind had the opportunity to screen at Carnegie last year.
How I came up with the idea for Justice Is Mind is well known. I first saw a 60 Minutes broadcast that discussed ‘thought identification’ mind reading techniques being developed at Carnegie Mellon University. When Vernon Aldershoff and I screened Justice at Carnegie last April it was great having the opportunity to present the film at the very origins of its concept. But it was when I read about MMT NeuroTech in an article titled “Mind Reader: Meet The Man Who Records and Stores Your Thoughts, Dreams and Memories”, where my attention was fully peaked. Indeed, the science fiction in Justice Is Mind will soon be science fact.
In this special edition of The Ashton Times, I asked Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D., the Founder and CSO of MMT Neurotech, about the process and science behind the article.
1) YOUR TECHNOLOGY RECORDS AND STORES MEMORIES, HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE BEFORE SUCH MEMORIES CAN BE DECODED INTO VIDEO FORM?
Decoding of memory into videos has been in existence for several years to some degree. A number of laboratories have shown this technique to be useful including those of UC Berkeley. MMT NeuroTech is working actively to make this available in the immediate future.
2) WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE COMMERCIAL AND MEDICAL BENEFITS OF THIS PROCESS?
Memory recording is in many ways similar to the marvelous sense of discovery and personal freedom that people experienced when Edison introduced voice recording in the late 1800’s. Prior to that there was no method of hearing a person’s voice after the words were spoken. There must have been a similar sense of wonder thousands of years ago when the written word was first introduced.
Once there is widespread awareness of memory recording, I think that many individuals will want to make recordings for themselves and for other people. Recording a memory is the only way to preserve the personal awareness permanently. Rather than recording the outer experience through photography, video or the written word, you can record the inner experience- your own actual experience. Back in the day of Edison, people did not initially know the many things that would be possible by recording a voice. It was beyond their understanding until it actually began to happen. Now we are able to preserve the actual memory of an event or personal thought rather than the general occurrence. Playback on a screen should be possible and we have plans for developing play back inside the mind.
Noncommercial medical applications will include preservation of memory in those individuals who are losing their memory with possible future reimplantation of those memories. Memory recording will help in the study of complex memory processes for development of new medications or devices to facilitate memory, and treat memory impairment.
3) DO YOU SEE SUCH PROCEDURES BEING USED IN COURTROOMS AS WE SAW IN
JUSTICE IS MIND?
I think that memory recording will follow the introduction of the use of functional MRI for interrogation and determination of truthful vs deceptive responses. This technique is already being offered by MMT Neurotech. However our justice system protects the individual from self-incrimination so forced fMRI for criminal prosecution will not be possible.
4) WHEN A PATIENT ELECTS TO HAVE THIS PROCEDURE, WHAT DO THEY GO THROUGH?
For recording memories, the individual must be able to undergo an MRI. While the MRI is being done, questions are read to the person about every 15 seconds and they are asked to think about and visualize their answers. The questions are determined by the person and given to the examiner to read. There can also be private questions that only the person knows. Examples might be ‘think of the earliest memory of your mother’ or ‘think about the most exciting moment in your life’. Celebrities, sports stars or politicians may want to record their experiences for fans to potentially download or for historians to access in the future.
A single memory scan can last long as 15-20 minutes and scans can be repeated as many times as a person might want to preserve as many memories as they wish. Unlike with the CT scan, with the MRI there is no radiation. The data is downloaded from the machine and sent to a computational neuroimaging center at MMT NeuroTech where the data is stored and interpreted. The final product eventually is made available to the client. Not everyone can undergo an MRI, but most people can do so easily.
5) GENERALLY, THIS SEEMS TO BE A FAIRLY NEW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. WE HAVE SEEN WHAT’S BEING DONE AT CARNEGIE MELLON FROM THE 60 MINUTES STORY, TO WHAT HAS BEEN DONE AT BERKELEY TO REVEAL CRUDE VIDEO IMAGES OF MEMORY. ARE SCIENTISTS LIKE YOURSELF WORKING TOGETHER ON THIS PROCESS OR IS IT MORE PROPRIETARY AT THIS POINT.
MMT NeuroTech does have significant proprietary processes. We are interested in university affiliations and have already established several corporate affiliations.
Just prior to any screening of Justice Is Mind there is the usual set of nerves. Will audiences show up? Will they like the film? I also say a few words to the audience prior to the start of the film. Each one of these “opening statements” is a bit different but they always end when I introduce the concept of Justice Is Mind starting with “Imagine a not too distant future…” Someone asked me how I’m able to talk to audiences like this. Simply, I rehearse what I’m going to say. That’s what this industry is all about no matter what side of the camera you are on – the rehearsal and the performance.
After having a pre-event drink with my former classmates from grade school, I went over to the theatre at 5:30. Although that was an hour and a half before the film started, there’s a system I like to employ – meet with the photographers and get a feel for the surroundings. Every theatre is different and each has its own atmosphere.
It didn’t take long for audiences to arrive. From childhood friends to new supporters who read the media coverage we had in print and on the radio. For me, it’s always great to see the “JIM family” arrive. By that I mean the actors and crew that have traveled this journey with me for nearly two years. This was our tenth theatrical screening and there is a certain camaraderie among us that makes these screenings thoroughly enjoyable for all in attendance. And in attendance did they come. We set a new single screening record for Justice Is Mind with 159 in attendance and $1,570 in box office. To see photos from the event click album one and two.
The process of filmmaking is really a set of impossibilities that you overcome. Writing the story, raising the money, producing the film and, finally, distributing. This is an industry where the odds are against you from day one because of the quasi creative, entrepreneurial and business aspect that a film needs to have. But with 10 theatrical screenings under our belt, I updated our IMDB listing to include The Ashton Times as a theatrical distributor because, frankly, that’s what we’ve been doing that wouldn’t be done any different than with a traditional theatrical distributor. We strike a deal with the theatre (we don’t rent), pitch the local media, set up targeted promotions and engage social media.
Just prior to the start of the film I announced that Justice Is Mind will be screening on April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). For those of you that have followed this project for the last few years, I was inspired to write this story when CMU’s Dr. Marcel Just was interviewed on a 60 Minutes story about mind reading using fMRI techniques. With Dr. Just opening the film along with both of us having a Q&A with audiences after, this is one of those honors in life that doesn’t come along often.
Writing. The foundation of all things. For all of us that write creatively we are initially inspired by something. For Justice Is Mind it was 60 Minutes. For First World it was the Apollo space program. For SOS United States it was our current political climate.
There was a moment on Monday when I was standing just outside the theatre and a few final folks were walking in. As I opened the door for them it was in that instant when a strong sense of appreciation waved over. From the first word to an open door.