Over the last few weeks I have been reviewing SOS United States and breaking down the script by location for a cost analysis. While I would love nothing more than to realize a multi-million-dollar budget to produce this political thriller “Hollywood” style, I’m also a realist. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it could literally take years (if ever) to achieve that type of production.
As I’m often on a weekly call with a filmmaker organization, I hear the same stories from exasperated screenwriters. Their stories all fall along the same lines; their screenplay has done well in festivals, it has been reviewed and analyzed by industry experts, a comprehensive look book has been created along with a filmed teaser. One screenwriter filmed the first 20 minutes of their 90-minute screenplay to show what it would look like as a finished product. You can imagine I wondered why they just didn’t produce the whole thing?
This all being said, I am breaking down SOS United States to produce as an independent film akin to what I accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal. As the script has been well received by film festivals winning a variety of awards, and has been read among my peers, I’m confident about the story. The rest? Well, it’s about securing cooperative locations along with a talented cast and crew. If the following months go well, hopefully SOS United States will be in production by early Summer 2023 with a 2024 release date.
While I work on SOS United States for production, First Signal continues to do well in the market. With our YouTube placement alone garnering over 1.1 million views, the audience and interest in the First World Universe is certainly there. Those that support the film regularly asks me when the sequel will be released. For First Report and First Launch, I am aiming to secure outside production financing as I believe the “franchise” deserves it for the next phase.
But there is one thing that all films require—a fair and equitable marketplace for our product. Over the last several weeks there has been considerable drama around the release of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. It has been reported that Amazon spent between $715 million to $1 billion on the project. One can appreciate they want to protect their product. But the one thing that can’t be controlled are audiences. Amazon’s attempt to do that by suspending ratings and reviews on Rings of Power has created an unlevel playing field in addition to an unfair business practice.
As I learned from the release of First Signal in particular, audiences either love your film or hate it with a smattering of “middling” reviews. While I would love for Amazon/IMDb to remove all reviews below a 7, I know that isn’t going to happen. But Amazon/IMDb did just that for Rings of Power. At one point First Signal had more reviews on IMDb than Amazon’s new $1 billion dollar property.
As an independent filmmaker we are told time and time again that a high rating and solid reviews will lead to more distribution opportunities. The work I have put in to keep First Signal’s rating as high as possible has been, to use a word I often use in this industry, herculean. But to see a company like Amazon manipulate ratings and reviews to benefit one of their properties at the expense of the rest of us that promote the Amazon machine, is just a horrid business practice—but now it is a precedent that Amazon alone has created.
One of Amazon’s baseless defenses is that because the series is well reviewed, audiences therefore by edict must love it. But then you look at The Terminal List that was beyond panned by critics but loved by audiences. As Amazon has established the precedent, perhaps they should remove the critics?
My point to all this is a simple one and is a lesson from history we should all remember – when you attempt to silence voices you only give them a larger platform to speak.
When I was notified this week that SOS United States was a finalist for Best Feature Screenplay in AFIN International Film Festival, I was thrilled. The last several weeks have been good to my political thriller screenplay with festivals “boarding” the concept.
It’s one thing to write a screenplay, it’s another to develop it. When I wrote SOS, I was coming off the release and marketing of Justice Is Mind – my first feature film. For me, I need to be in the valley of quiet before I start to write another screenplay. When I’m actively producing or releasing a film, I find there are simply too many distractions to properly concentrate to allow new characters and stories to come to life. Likewise, it would be a disservice to the marketing and release of a film if my attention was on writing another story. At the end of the day, we are creating and marketing a brand. I’ve always believed that each component needs to be taken as seriously as the other.
As I near the 80-page mark in my latest screenplay in The First World Universe, I find that my writing process is starting to change. As this story tracks two other storylines along with the primary line, I find after I write out a particular scene in Word, I need to let it sit for a day or two so other thoughts come to mind. Once some of these new strings to the story come forward, it’s another round in Word before I go to Final Draft. I applaud those that can write in Final Draft from the get-go. For me, I’m thinking in so many voices and moments so rapidly that I need to type as fast as I’m thinking. Someone asked me recently, how I came up with the latest idea. It originates with this one line from First Signal.
Of course, there is one thing that every filmmaker looks forward to and that’s the quarterly payment from the distributor. My two feature films are placed with two different distributors while my three shorts are placed direct. When I think how much the world of film distribution has changed in the last ten years it just boggles my mind.
When Justice Is Mind was released in 2013, theatrical was humming, traditional media was plentiful, social media was growing and Amazon was the place to be for VOD. Flash forward to the present and while the mechanics are still there, the metrics and dynamics have changed dramatically. I’ll say this, as Justice Is Mind has been on both SVOD and AVOD platforms for some time, I can say without a doubt that AVOD platforms (Tubi) are the revenue generators for independent film. In the next couple of weeks First Signal will receive its first distributor payment. It will be very interesting to see performance by platform when compared to its marketing spend and promotion.