Whenever I secure a theatrical screening, one of my goals is to obtain local press to bring awareness to the event. Sure, there’s the requisite social media engagement and Facebook event. But there’s nothing like securing media placements. This week the Sturbridge Villager wrote a terrific cover story on Serpentine and our upcoming premiere at the Strand Theatre on March 6. Not only did reporter Olivia Richman capture the essence of the film, but my background in the sport and passion for filmmaking.
It is about passion when a theatrical screening is on the horizon. For the thousands of independent films that get made every year only a sliver receive any sort of theatrical release or even one time screening. To fully capture that exposure I always seek to have the events “officially” photographed. I’m delighted to report that David Bruno of David Bruno Event Photography will be our official photographer for the evening.
Further to the above it also simply comes down to organization. By the time the day of the event arrives my aim is to actually enjoy the evening rather than running around at the last minute trying to rectify something. This is why I no longer participate in some third party events unless they are produced by professionals. I recall one science fiction convention I was at five years ago when despite my assurance that they had a DVD projector, screen and speakers set up, they didn’t. Compounding the issue was some volunteer lecturing me that their failure was my responsibility. Understand these words, if you dare to put on the hat of producer it is your responsibility to make sure things run smoothly.
As for distribution, next week I transfer Serpentine: The Short Program to the Ice Network. I have to say it will be great to see Serpentine on both Amazon Prime and the Ice Network. With Amazon being available to over 60 million and the Ice Network reaching figure skating enthusiasts around the world, the VOD distribution plan will bring the awareness this project needs to develop as a feature film.
Of course all these efforts with Serpentine remind me of the days when I first produced Evidence which led to production of Justice Is Mind. In some ways it seems like it was years ago (it was), in others it seems like it was yesterday. Because if it’s the one thing I endeavor to do is to promote my projects at whatever stage they are in. There are regular updates to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, pitches for development, media and presentations for distribution and screenings.
Over the course of any given week I get Google Alerts on various subjects I track. One of them, no surprise, is for mind reading. When I received an alert for a recent article in MustTech News I pitched them Justice Is Mind for coverage. I was delighted to receive an email from them about a wonderful review they posted yesterday – “A must-watch film for those in love of thrill and science fiction!” That works!
And it’s back to work next week at the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI. I have to say I’m looking forward to falling back into the character of an NCIS Agent and working with some new actors and JAG students. Out of all the performance work I’ve done, this is the most unique. Not only is this a great acting opportunity from a role-playing point of view, but you learn something in the process about how the legal services work in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Back to base.
In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.
The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.
This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film. In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.
With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office. For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.
We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.
Setting up a new project like Serpentine is one of details. It starts with the script where you generally write in isolation. But when you make the decision to produce, that’s when a film takes on an entirely new dimension as it becomes project management with location partners, crew, actors and a variety of other participants.
This past week the location for the ice rink was confirmed along with the actors that will play Suzanne Wilson and her coach Elizabeth Rogers. The latter has a great backstory that I will soon share. Let’s just say that my experience in figure skating has come full circle from the time I first set foot on the ice.
Certain other actors have been confirmed along with crew. Over the next several days the aim is to confirm the rest of the crew while posting for actors and securing the final two locations. My plan is to formally announce the cast, crew and location partners via press release by October 1. Should our plans stay on track, the goal is to start principal photography at the end of October.
Like Justice Is Mind, and somewhat with SOS United States, when I started to write Serpentine my aim was always to produce the project. While it certainly helped that I had a background in the sport, when one decides to produce it’s a commitment. One that starts long before and long after the production wraps. Serpentine started in January 2016 and will continue long into 2017 and well into 2018 and beyond should the feature move forward. There are no shortcuts in this industry.
I’m reminded of this commitment every day with First World, Justice Is Mind and SOS United States. With First World and Justice Is Mind released, there is the regular social media and general promotion. Both are doing extremely well on Amazon Prime in all their territories while SOS United States is still being reviewed by a production company (one that regularly produces).
Filmmaking is not like the old Ron Popeil motto of “Set it, and forget it!” once a film is completed. Promotion, in the age of VOD, is ongoing. Take this week for example, Justice Is Mind just arrived on TubiTV. As all of us associated with Justice Is Mind are reminded, four years ago this month we were filming and yet the project continues to reach new audiences through platforms like TubiTV. Platforms that didn’t exist when we were filming Justice Is Mind.
TubiTV reminds me of Hulu in its early days. It’s an advertiser supported VOD platform that doesn’t require a monthly or annual membership like Netflix (or Amazon for Prime). What’s important in the world of film distribution is to give audiences as many choices as possible on how, when and where they want to watch a film. Today, three years after release, Justice Is Mind can be watched on your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone and an array of other devices and platforms.
Speaking of platforms of a different nature, it looks like after twenty years I’ll need to get my skating legs underneath me again for Serpentine.
On August 18, 2016 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its third anniversary. The same week that will see the website completed for the figure skating political thriller I’ll be announcing soon. Some ask where does the time go, for me it’s about taking the time to develop projects that I’m passionate about.
When I was writing Justice Is Mind back in 2010 writing a political thriller around the sport of figure skating was the furthest from my mind. The same could be said about Justice Is Mind when I was writing First World in 2006. As a screenwriter, it’s the idea that first calls to me and then if it sticks around a while I start to write those first few pages of a screenplay. I’m not one that writes a story using index cards, beet sheets or other devices, rather I let the story unfold as I build characters and the world they live in.
When I look at my dashboard on Amazon Video Direct and see how my films are doing across all their territories, yes, it’s a pretty cool feeling. Just like when you see your film screen in a theater. There is that sense of accomplishment that all involved in the project can share. Because, making a film is a project that does involve a village.
It is precisely because it takes a village that developing a new project takes a considerable amount of planning. Part of that planning is visiting possible locations, meeting with potential talent and laying the foundation before I seek to bring on a crew. This past week I had a great meeting at Northstar Ice Sports and from that meeting went to a local competition at the Cape (one that I competed in myself many years ago!).
I forget how small a world the sport is. No sooner do I arrive and I see one of the judges who I used to talk to regularly when I was actively involved in the sport. We still to this day reminisce about our time together at an International Skating Union Congress in Davos, Switzerland back in the 90s. I was one of the few members of the media to attend and she was moving up the ranks in the judging system. It was also nice running into a couple of coaches I haven’t seen in a while. All in all it was a great time.
This morning I was reading C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter and there was a particular passage that really stood out, “We should strive to be in awe of our work, and awe-struck by others. Instead of production, maybe we ought to focus on our power to seek and create awe. After all, wouldn’t you rather be remembered for the one, lone book than the fact you published a lot of forgettable stories? Or maybe you can find a place in the middle, but to do so, you need to slow down and think about the quality you produce.” I couldn’t agree more with her statement as it greatly applies to filmmakers.
If you’ve ever sat through the end credits of film you see the number of people that were involved that made the film come to life. Unlike a stage production that can be tweaked along the way once you wrap a film, it’s up to creative editing, or god forbid expense reshoots if you didn’t get what you wanted in the first place. I can thankfully say we didn’t need to do any reshoots on Justice Is Mind.
While there won’t be a special theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind this week, there will be online promotion to further introduce the film to a worldwide audience and build momentum for the sequel In Mind We Trust.
Indeed, while past projects continue to be promoted and marketed a new one is about to be announced.
This past week I finished watching season one of The Man in the High Castle. Between the story, acting, production values and world building, it has to be one the best, if not innovative, shows I have ever seen. This groundbreaking series from Amazon yet again demonstrates that the streaming services have arrived. When you watch a “TV show” produced by and for a streaming service that exceeds the quality of cable TV, you can see how “cord cutting” has come into being.
But like so many TV series and films, it was interesting to learn that The Man in the High Castle was in development for years. It just demonstrates that persistence and patience is again the key to moving forward in this industry as nothing happens overnight. When Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind, went live on Amazon in the US, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria this week, I was reminded by one of the actors that Evidence was five years old. Justice Is Mind was written in 2010, followed by the production of Evidence in 2011 and the feature film version in 2012. Since Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 the marketing has been ongoing. Why? Because the next goal is a TV series around the concept. When will that happen? In this industry, that would be anybody’s guess.
An editor from one of the industry trades recently posted the following to their Facebook profile, “The hardest part about this industry is even when you find your champions, so much of your success is out of their control. They can work their asses off to help you, but they’re still climbing Mount Everest while dragging a dozen anvils behind them.” The point is obvious, this is an industry that works on teams. All you have to do is look at the cast and crew lists on IMDb to see the staggering number of people involved. For Justice Is Mind that number was well over 100.
A friend of mine recently said to me, that I write what I can produce. That’s partially true. Justice Is Mind was written exclusively with the idea that I might be able to pull this off within my own network of contacts. Whereas a project like First World requires substantial resources with my political thriller SOS United States falling in the middle. Even the short film version of First World had a cast and crew of over 25.
Since First World and Evidence went worldwide on Amazon, it has been interesting to see new audiences discovering these projects. That is the glorious thing about streaming. Your project is discoverable. But in each of these projects, they had some sort of theatrical and exhibition push prior to their online premier. It’s this type of audience development that propelled them forward online.
The one thing I remember when writing Justice Is Mind is that I could visualize it happening. The same is holding true for this political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. Of course there are elements that raise the bar from my last feature, from filming on ice performances to “dressing” an arena to look like a “world championship”. But like the Justice Is Mind project, the plan is to first produce a short film version to not only generate interest in the project, but to develop a team that can see it through.
“Not paying enough attention to the script.” I couldn’t agree more when I first read that statement attributed by Arnon Milchan of New Regency on The Tracking Board. Time and time again I read in the trades, or general consumer press, about the issues a film has faced because of the script. In so many of these cases it seems that a script was rushed to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. But as I posted this past week on Facebook, no amount of A list actors can rescue an ill-conceived script.
The article that Milchan was quote in revolved around the dearth of the mid-budget movie. I fondly remember the variety of movies that studios used to distribute in mainline theaters that didn’t revolve around a comic book, endless sequel or rehash of something we already saw (like the latest Star Trek and Star Wars films). But thanks to determined filmmakers, great films like Trumbo, Spotlight and The King’s Speech are being made and, honestly, always will be. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience to support it from financing to distribution.
As I come up towards the end of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating, there is the continued promotion of either projects completed or in development. In my post last week I talked about my “special relationship” with the UK. A few days after my post, I was nicely surprised when Daniel Elek-Diamanta sent me a re-imagined look for the SOS United States concept poster. While I wanted the first concept poster to reflect the vintage era of the ocean liner, this one presents the same view but with a contemporary look. When developing a new project, it’s all about promotion and this concept poster really captures it!
In the world of filmmaking, particularly as an independent filmmaker, it’s all about promotion and getting the word out. It’s about exploring every avenue of distribution and pitching your project. We all look around to see what other filmmakers have done to promote their projects, but what works for one film may not work for another. But there are some distribution avenues that are just a no brainer – Amazon.
When Amazon announced their new Amazon Video Direct program I could not be more excited. Although First World was available in the United States for some years, I now had the ability to have it in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Last week it went live in those countries. Yesterday, I uploaded all the necessary digital assets for Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind (the feature is with a distributor). The process was painfully simple to reach an audience in the tens of millions.
But when I saw someone post on their Facebook page, “I fear my work will get lost in a sea of titles and get drowned out by larger studios.” That’s a defeating position to take. Once it’s live on Amazon it’s just a matter of external promotion through social media and other channels. Amazon operates on an algorithm of suggested films. All it takes is a few people to find your project on Amazon and it will just continue to grow. While there are other VOD platforms popping up every day, they rely on the filmmaker to bring the audience whereas Amazon already has the audience. Yes, you’re in a sea of films. But I’d rather be in an ocean than a puddle.
This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Hoopla. To quote from their Facebook page, “hoopla digital partners with public libraries across North America to provide online and mobile access to videos, music and audiobooks. Enjoy thousands of movies, TV shows, videos, music and audiobooks that library card holders can borrow from their public library.” As I wanted to get Justice Is Mind into libraries at some point, our placement on Hoopla just took care of that across the United States.
When I say some point, I talk about a possible DVD for Justice Is Mind. Yes, on the back burner, is the possibility of making a DVD for Justice. I say possibly, because anyone that’s involved on the distribution side of the industry knows that profits in this sector have sunk like the Titanic (particularly for indie-films). Just go into any Wal-Mart and see the studio quality films in the $5 bin or even more market reality when you see a studio film at a dollar store for well a dollar. Because digital distribution doesn’t really involve a manufacturing component, it’s simply easier to execute on a domestic and international level. But believe me there are costs involved for VOD. Let’s just say that closed captioning in languages other than English gets a bit pricey.
There was a pretty good article on IndieWire this week titled “You Can’t Bulls—t’ And 6 More Revelations On How To Market An Indie Film.” I could not agree more with this statement “Even in the age of VOD, nothing beats the theatrical experience.” As I saw with Justice Is Mind in terms of audience and media placements, nothing does beat a theatrical experience. Simply, when you gather a group of people into a room to see a film it becomes a shared experience. There wasn’t one screening of Justice in which attendees didn’t ask questions or discuss the film after in the lobby.
When I set out to write a new screenplay I’m already thinking of how the project will be placed in the market. What angles does it have that I can pitch to a theater, distributor, school or convention? First World was a pretty straight forward science fiction film. But as a psychological sci-fi thriller, Justice Is Mind is a bit of a genre hybrid. But the one common theme was the ethics around mind reading and it’s possible, if not probable, ramifications on society.
While some in the industry complain that there are too many movies being made, I believe there’s never enough. Because there are always those hidden gems that one can discover and promote. The gem in the world of distribution is in fact VOD. When you have library after library of films available to stream instantly, they certainly take up less space than a DVD! But don’t get me wrong, I do love my DVD collection.
It’s these new platforms like Hoopla that offer a terrific new avenue of options to Amazon and Netflix (Justice is on Amazon). More importantly, and call me old fashioned, Hoopla works with libraries. When you have traditional publishing working with digital publishing, the experience can only be a positive one because it yet again gives the customer that one thing they want – choices.
This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.
My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.
In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed. But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.
As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.
Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles. After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously. After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.
The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.
As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States. For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.
Lights, camera, concept.
Although Justice Is Mind has been on Amazon Prime for over a year, last night was the first time I saw it on a TV half the size of my car (My Pontiac Solstice even appears in the film). While I’ve seen the film countless times on my computer during the production phase, and at every theatrical screening, seeing it in this context was a new experience. I may be a bit bias of course, but the quality of the picture and sound was probably the best I’ve ever seen it. When I think of the numerous QC (Quality Control) checks we had to go through, seeing it in this format brings another round of applause to the cast and crew and the technology of VOD.
As a filmmaker, I’ve worked with Amazon for years. They are by far, in my experience, the most filmmaker friendly of all the VOD services. In addition to paying on a monthly basis, their algorithm technology ensures that customers that may be interested in your film are made aware of it. Of course, I’ve been marketing First World and Justice Is Mind on a regular basis to drive traffic to our listings on Amazon and other VOD platforms. Simply put the old adage of “if you build it they will come” doesn’t work, it comes down to marketing.
Regarding marketing and distribution, there was an interesting article on IndieWire this week about self-distribution. Having been a magazine publisher, distribution for me is second nature. But I know way too many filmmakers that hate it. Look, I get it. You just wanted to make your film and it took every resource you knew to accomplish that. With First World and Justice Is Mind now released, there’s just a regular program to keep the conversation going in whatever venue, media outlet or platform I can reach. But now, I’m back to the foundation building process with In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, and SOS United States. Making a film is like building a house—it all starts with a foundation.
As for the foundations of the industry, there is some serious seismic activity going on. From Variety’s “Why Good Films Are Failing at the Box Office in Awards Season” to the Hollywood Reporter’s “Harvey Weinstein on the Awards Season Crunch: “Everybody Cannibalized Each Other,” one has to wonder what state the industry will be in a year from now from a business point of view. That business starts with economics when someone, or some company, funds these visions. As I’ve stated before, I’ll state again, it does come down to a return on investment. I’ve never understood why the industry cannibalizes itself for an award at the expense of profitability. In all seriousness, I personally don’t care what film wins what award, I’m just interested in the film itself.
Audiences aren’t stupid, they want to see quality films. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if someone sees a film in a theater, they will look for it on a platform like Amazon. Of course in “the old days” that conversation was around DVDs. Remember when films would go “straight to DVD”? Now some go straight to VOD. If there is one word that drives this industry and its resiliency it’s innovation. It’s innovation that gives filmmakers and audiences choices on where and how to watch a film.
I am pleased to announce that Justice Is Mind is now available on the theatrical distribution platform Tugg! To quote their website, “Tugg is a web-platform that lets YOU bring the movies you want to your local theater.” Tugg is a dynamic theatrical service that I have been aware of for the last couple of years.
For those of you that follow this blog, you know that Justice Is Mind has had a successful theatrical run. Out of 20 screenings to date, 12 have been theatrical. As none of these theatres have been rented (1 was sponsored), with an average attendance capacity of over 80% for each screening, we know the demand is there. What drove ticket sales? Promotion, media, networking and legwork. Each theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind averaged $1,113 per screen.
The simple difference with Tugg is the following; instead of the vast majority of tickets being sold the day of a screening, they are sold in advance. By example, let’s say someone wants to screen Justice Is Mind at their local theatre and they live in the Midwest. They request a screening at this link and then promote using the various tools that Tugg offers, combined with their marketing efforts and whatever marketing assistance we can provide. Once the threshold of tickets are sold in advance (it varies by theatre), the screening is confirmed and the promoter receives 5% of the ticket sales. It’s a win win for everyone. Why? Because if by some chance not enough tickets are sold in advance by a certain date, the screening doesn’t happen and nobody is charged. To learn more, please visit this link and our listing on Tugg for more information.
When Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth last October, several of the guests remarked that they wished our film was playing at their local theatre. Tugg is the program that can make that happen!
The world of filmed entertainment, and in particular independent filmmaking, continues to undergo all kinds of market stresses. I talked about some of those issues last week and Variety outlined a host of them in an article titled Broken Hollywood. But I also truly believe that today the independent filmmaker has all kinds of opportunities to get their work seen. Justice Is Mind is a prime example of what’s possible; a theatrical run, convention and university screenings along with an international premiere on an ocean liner. Combine those screenings with various VOD platforms, including Amazon Prime and VHX, and the distribution mix works. With our arrival on Tugg, more VOD platforms on the way along with some additional screening plans being worked on, our efforts are far from over.
Speaking of efforts, the first draft of the sequel to Justice Is Mind is nearly complete with the story’s arrival at the Supreme Court. I’ll announce the completion of the first draft and then there will be the requisite edits before I can send the script out for review. Thus another reason to continue promoting part one – Justice Is Mind.
As I approach the final pages of the sequel to Justice Is Mind (I’m at 116), I’m entering what is probably the most involved plot aspects of the story; providing closure to one of the greatest mysteries of World War II, the resurrection of Henri Miller and a landmark Supreme Court case. All of this takes research and, what I call, “fictional plausibility”. For me I take known facts and provide a fictional twist. This is nothing new in screenwriting, but I do believe that if factual history is attached it should be honored before fiction is applied.
Speaking of screenwriting, I was reading Peter Bart’s latest column in Variety titled “Hollywood No Longer Shows It Has the Write Stuff”. He goes on to say, sadly, that studios and some filmmakers are omitting thanks to that one person that needs to be thanked—the screenwriter. How many times do we hear the word “collaborative” in this industry? Well, the screenwriter is the reason why everyone in on set. Simply put, you can’t build a house without a foundation.
Bart quoted from one of my favorite directors, Billy Wilder, “I like to believe that narrative movement can be achieved eloquently and elegantly without shooting from a hole in the ground, without hanging the camera from a chandelier and without the camera dolly dancing a polka.” This isn’t to take away from great cinematography, and I do love my “Hitchcock” wide shots, but without a quality screenplay it just doesn’t matter what you shoot. This is why I’m such a fan of classic films. And give me a political thriller from the 1960s any day!
Speaking of industry trades, there was a great interview with Voltage Pictures president Nicolas Chartier in The Hollywood Reporter where he talked about piracy and the state of the industry. The one thing he said that struck me was, “the DVD business is dead.” I agree. I was in a Dollar Store yesterday and saw a bin of DVDs for sale for only $1. Yes, some were films I never heard of, but plenty had star power behind them. Sure DVDs are still sold, but you have to wonder what’s left for the filmmaker after all the expenses.
For years I have been a supporter of Video on Demand. VOD is simply one of the most dynamic and exciting distribution opportunities for filmmakers. With a responsible budget, it is a way to make money on a consistent basis. I could not be more pleased with Justice Is Mind’s placement on Amazon Prime and VHX (among others). Traffic continues to build on a daily basis.
But that traffic just didn’t materialize overnight. We aren’t The Interview with the world media behind us. No, what has largely been responsible was our theatrical run along with the numerous special event screenings including our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. Along the way we developed an audience, press and significant online entries. While a screenplay is the foundation to a solid film, a theatrical run is the foundation for VOD. It’s an equation that works.
So as I write the last pages of the sequel, I am hoping to soon announce our participation in a theatrical program that could bring Justice Is Mind to a theatre near you.
I’ll still never forget that day when I stumbled upon that famed 60 Minutes broadcast on “thought identification” that eventually led me to writing Justice Is Mind. As some of you know, I was actually researching mind reading technology for a sequel to First World. Who would have thought in 2010 I would be sitting here the last couple of months in 2014 and writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind.
Writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind has been an experience. Up to page 25, with a mountain of notes, it has been interesting revisiting characters I haven’t really thought much about since I wrote Justice Is Mind back in 2010. Sure, I dealt with the characters when filming the feature but by that point the script had been written, vetted and ready to go. I don’t’ believe in on set rewrites unless a scheduling emergency comes up that forces an adjustment. In my view, you write a screenplay with a sense of quiet and imagine the characters doing this and that. A film set, by design, is a noisy experience and really isn’t conducive to writing creatively.
Naturally, I’ve had more than a few inquiries on what the sequel will be about. Without giving away too much, the sequel picks up three months after the original story. Yes, there are familiar characters from the original, but already I’ve introduced a few new characters. The one thing I do before I set out to write a screenplay is to have an ending. Justice Is Mind always had the ending it did. I’m not saying I’m so rigid that I would never change an ending, but having one at the start, for me, provides a light at the end of the tunnel to work towards. And, thankfully, the title of the sequel came to me a few days ago.
Regarding Justice Is Mind, I’m pleased to announce that we are also now streaming on IndieReign! This brings us to four platforms that are streaming the film with additional platforms coming online soon. This is why the time has come to write a sequel. Justice Is Mind is not only in the market, but throughout our screenings and the comments I’ve heard there are a variety of parts that resonate with the audience. In fact, there were two audience members from two different screenings that said the comments they did that caused the direction I’m taking for the sequel.
This also represents a new time for First World and SOS United States. I’m actively presenting both projects to interested parties for development. The one thing I try very hard to do is to not get lost in all the noise associated with this industry. It’s very easy to get absorbed about VOD, SVOD, this trend, that trend, A list today, C list tomorrow, etc. In the end it comes to one word and one word only – equity. Whether you are producing a low budget feature like Justice Is Mind or something in the few millions like First World, part, or most of the equity (translation cash), must be put up before a project will proceed. As I mentioned last week, all movies start with the screenplay. Where they go from there is up to the market.
I’ve always enjoyed both the creative and business side of the entertainment industry. I find it just as much fun to write a cool scene as it is to negotiate a screening and pitching it to the press. I guess there is another word that is applicable to my work.
As my mother and I prepare to leave for Europe this week for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, I was more than pleased to see that Justice received three excellent reviews and some great comments on Amazon.
We are over a year out from our world premiere and yet activity around Justice Is Mind continues. This isn’t by sheer happenstance, it’s because I keep marketing the film. There have been so many articles in the trades as of late on adjusting release strategies based on windowing from theatrical to VOD. For me, I just keep marketing and promoting.
Sure, I have other projects I’m promoting like First World and SOS United States for development, but how long does a social media post take or a pitch to a media outlet or even a theater? I also plan to start writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind next month, so continued awareness is great for a variety of reasons.
When I read comments like, “Justice is Mind is a lot more compelling than I had anticipated. It had my attention” Movie Waffler, “The greatest strength Justice Is Mind has is in making you think” Fraking Films and “Mr. Lund has put up well-balanced and paced movie about a probable future” Examiner, these reviews certainly are a motivator. But it was a fan from Amazon that reached out to me with a wonderful email that stated in part, “your ability to make such an intriguing and important film, with fabulous continuity, honesty, realism, and passion deserves attention and recognition” that really made my day. Of course you aren’t going to please everyone and any filmmaker that thinks they are going to lives in fantasyland. But as a consummate optimist I just focus on the positive.
Positive, of course, is the upcoming international premiere of Justice Is Mind. Yes, as you can imagine I’m more than excited for this screening. First, the opportunity to present the film to a completely new audience is great, but the setting itself is one that is not only truly unique but my preferred method of travel. Ever since I can remember I’ve had a passion for the history of ocean liners and that bygone era of travel. Now modernized with a fleet of three ships that sail the world to exotic ports of call, no brand does it better than Cunard. With over a century and a half of leading the industry, Cunard blends yesterday and today with its grand fleet of ocean liners. I’ll do my best to post pictures from the sailing.
Speaking of pictures, I had the opportunity to go back in front of the camera this week for an appearance on The Folklorist. This Emmy award winning series has produced some amazing content since their inception and has featured a variety of actors that I have worked with over the years. For this episode, I had the great pleasure to work with Jeffrey Phillips. Not only did he play the President in the short film version of First World but I also cast him as George Katz in Justice Is Mind. Yes, whenever I see him I call him “Mr. President”. I also had a great time working with Kathy LaShay Berenson who played one of the Reincar Scientific executives and Gale Argentine who played the emergency room doctor in Justice Is Mind. Indeed, it is a small world. The episode is scheduled to air on November 6. It will also stream on their website at this link.
In a few short weeks, Justice Is Mind will have its International Premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, for more reasons that I can count, I am looking forward to this trip. And with my PowerPoint filmmaking seminar completed and all the other details attended to, it just comes down to the final organization before I leave for Rome.
Justice Is Mind is now in the international market. Since our arrival on, VHX, Viewster and Amazon (with other VOD platforms to follow), our film has left its domestic home for an international audience. Our screening on the Queen Elizabeth will be the launch event. I cannot think of a more fitting setting than an ocean liner in the Mediterranean Ocean. For the first time in the history of the film, those in the audience will have no direct connection to the movie other than their interest in seeing it. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about as a filmmaker. Introducing your work to new audiences.
The process of marketing Justice Is Mind internationally started back in 2011 when the short film version was produced. Did I know where Justice Is Mind was eventually going to go? No, of course not. No filmmaker has a crystal ball that can predict the future. What we do have is hope, ambition and determination and work tirelessly to accomplish what we do.
But as I’ve learned from our theatrical screenings, reviews and articles, every film needs to have some sort of hook to target and reach an audience. Theatrical screenings have been pivotal to Justice. With each one I learn something new whether it be demographics or areas of the film that resonate with an audience. Live screenings give a filmmaker a chance to interact with an audience that VOD will never really be able to do. While VOD is the revenue generator for independent film, it’s the theatrical audiences that are the driving force.
There have been so many discussions on the pros and cons of theatrical and VOD, particularly when it comes to windows. I can easily see the point of the theatres. Why would they want a film to also be available on VOD the same day it’s released in theaters? From a filmmakers point of view, it comes down to revenue and getting a maximum return on a limited marketing budget. This is a conversation and debate that will long continue.
This past week I made a variety of presentations for First World and SOS United States. And while making these pitches, I offered a hook on why I think they are marketable commercial projects. For First World, there is a new space race between governments and corporations. For SOS United States, we have a global military coalition targeting a variety of worldwide situations.
But until those projects get funded, the marketing focus is on Justice Is Mind. Just yesterday a great mini-feature was published on Fraking Films. Always nice when a story starts, “Today I’m excited to share with you a great looking indie film called Justice Is Mind.”
Although Justice Is Mind has been on Amazon Prime Instant Video for over a week, our “official” press release and email newsletter went out yesterday. With our social media efforts as part of the Viewster Online Film Festival and our theatrical screening in Chatham last week, I didn’t want this milestone to get lost. You can read our press release at this link.
Indeed this was a milestone. Having Justice Is Mind on both Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant Video in SD and HD formats opens up a world of possibilities. Getting on to Amazon Instant Video is a very straightforward process, but Amazon Prime is a different story. Simply, Amazon has to approve your film and I didn’t know what was going to happen until the film went live. But with this approval we are now in front of another 20+ million that subscribe to Amazon Prime. A special thanks to KinoNation our VOD distributor.
In addition to Amazon, Justice Is Mind is available on VHX and Reelhouse with bonus material and, at least until October 13, Viewster. I was more than pleased with our participation in Viewster’s festival. We generated some great conversations in the comments section and had a solid social media presence. Hopefully we will be able to extend our placement on Viewster. Additional VOD platforms will be coming online soon.
This past week I was working on my filmmaking seminar that will take place on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth a few days before our International Premiere on October 29. When I was looking at the PowerPoint slides I was reflecting on the journey Justice Is Mind has taken from concept to screen. That’s what makes this business so exciting and such a rollercoaster. From the quiet times of planning to the highs of a screening.
Over the last several weeks, I have been presenting both SOS United States and First World for development. And like Justice Is Mind, I know this journey can take some time to accomplish. Not a week goes by when I read in the trades of a film that took time to come to fruition. For some projects its months, for some its years. And once a film is made, you are still with the project for years after. I was reading about one producer in the trades who said something on the order of, “When I decide to invest in a film I have to ask myself do I want to be in business with that person for five years or more.” It’s true, because the journey of a film doesn’t stop at the world premiere, in fact that’s when it begins again.
Point in fact, no sooner did my email newsletter go out and a major science fiction convention reached out to screen Justice Is Mind in January, 2015. How did this connection come about? I screened First World with them in 2008. As I’ve said before, I’ll say again, this is an industry about building long-term relationships.
What I learned when publishing magazines, I have taken to my filmmaking work. There’s no limit on where you can present your project. What it comes down to is determination, dedication, perseverance and a team that believes in the work, and more importantly, you.
As a filmmaker, there’s nothing more exciting than attending a theatrical screening of your film. But the Cape Cod Premiere of Justice Is Mind this past Thursday at the Chatham Orpheum was particularly special. Why? I had two sets of family attending this screening. My real family and the “Justice” family.
Thursday was our 12th theatrical screening (19th overall) and over the past year various cast members (and some crew) have attended the screenings. These reunions are always terrific. Sure, we all have our own lives, but the screenings are a reunion of friends as we celebrate something we all worked on together. For so many of us involved in this project, producing a feature film was a dream come true. It’s moments like this that should be enjoyed.
Also in attendance was my real family as well. In addition to my mother who played a member of the jury, my cousin, who lives in Dennis, and her brother and his wife who were visiting from Minnesota, joined the festivities. As I shot my first short film (First World) in Dennis at my cousin’s house in 2006, it was nice to show them where this journey as a filmmaker has taken me over the years.
But our screening last week was just different. For me it felt like one big party. I think this was due in large part to the atmosphere of the Chatham Orpheum itself. An intimate, state of the art venue that seats 147. In addition, there’s a full restaurant/bar in the lobby that just creates this social atmosphere of excitement around the experience of watching a movie. Add in friends and family and presto…party!
We are now entering the last four days of the Viewster Online Film Festival. In addition to being able to watch Justice Is Mind for FREE at this link, you can also vote, share and comment. Viewers also have the opportunity win a FREE trip to London for two! I have to say I think Viewster has done a fantastic job with this online film festival. For a film like Justice Is Mind we are able to present it to the world, for Viewster it brings in new audiences to their site. It’s a win-win for all involved.
With Justice Is Mind now available on Amazon and shortly coming online to other VOD platforms, I now focus on the upcoming international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth for the end of October. Although my PowerPoint presentation for the filmmaking seminar I’m hosting onboard has been done for a few weeks, now I work on my narration.
The one thing I love about movies is the discovery aspect. Sure Justice Is Mind is still being actively marketed, but how about when someone comes across it twenty years from now? One of my favorite courtroom dramas is Witness for the Prosecution. Made in 1957, I first came across the film several years ago. Thankfully with the proliferation of VOD, movies are discoverable with a simple search on what you are interested in watching.
Of course development continues for SOS United States and First World. For every filmmaker there is that journey to secure investment. But now that I’ve traveled this road once already, I have a better map on direction. Because if there’s one thing that’s always changing direction, it’s the film industry.
The high seas.
Who would have thought that just over a year after our world premiere we would be part of worldwide online contest, have a theatrical screening, go live on one of the world’s largest VOD platforms and have an international premiere in just over a month on an ocean liner? What this tells me is that all films are not created equal in terms of “following the book of distribution” and that sometimes things just take time to build. But to say I am thankful to the cast, crew, theaters, reporters and distributors that have worked with us would be a vast understatement. And then there are the audiences that have supported Justice Is Mind since the beginning. From a social post to attending a screening, without an audience a project will goes nowhere.
On Thursday, September 11, Justice Is Mind went live on Viewster’s Online Film Festival. Click this link to watch for FREE. In addition you can vote, comment and participate with social media for the opportunity to win a free trip for two to London! For those of you that will share our link socially, Viewster asks that you include the hashtag #VOFF. Please hashtag #JUSTICEISMIND as well! Our official press release can be found at this link.
And this coming Thursday, September 18, Justice Is Mind will have its Cape Cod Premiere at the Chatham Orpheum Theater. While this will be our 19th screening, for me personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the “Justice family” again. Indeed, I was quoted about that in the Cape Cod Times this past week in a great article of support for the screening. I’ve been involved in so many productions and events over the years but, for some reason, Justice is special. The reporter asked me about this and my response was pretty straight forward, all of us involved were on a collective mission to see the project all the way to the end. I know I’ve set the bar high for my next film, but that’s what this industry is all about raising the bar. Speaking of bar, they have one at the Chatham Orpheum. I will most certainly be having a drink…or two!
I also wanted to extend a thank you to the Cape Cod Chronicle and the Worcester Herald for their coverage of our September 18 screening. Supportive media are a driving component to building audiences.
But it was this morning that Justice Is Mind went live on its first major VOD platform through Kinonation. I’m pleased to announce that Justice is available on Amazon Prime and Instant Video. Now in addition to Viewster’s 18 million plus, we are part of a platform with Amazon that not only delivers 20 million plus through Amazon Prime, but another countless millions through Amazon Instant Video. For anyone that has purchased anything through Amazon, or sells on Amazon, we are all aware of the power of this platform. Like Viewster, Amazon is algorithm based. The more views, comments (good or bad), likes, shares, etc. helps a film succeed. I can only speak from experience working with them on First World. A special thanks to Roger Jackson and his team at Kinonation. Filmmakers, check them out. They are great to work with.
Next stop…The Chatham Orpheum Theater!