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.
I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a filmmaker on the planet that isn’t affected by the current world crisis. The one saving grace with First Signal is that it was always scheduled to be in post-production during this time and won’t be finished until May anyway. Color grading and sound mixing is moving right along.
While we all monitor for the opening of the economy (it’s vital this happens as soon as possible), the question is when and how to ramp up marketing and distribution efforts. I will say this, after submitting First Signal a few weeks ago to two film festivals, I have formally stopped until the film is 100% complete. With future submissions I will also require an assurance that a film festival will not default their festival from live to online. I have ZERO interest in premiering First Signal online with a film festival. It will never happen.
I’m not surprised that only seven films took up Amazon’s virtual film fest offer. Unless Amazon’s screening fee was going to offset production costs, why bother. Any filmmaker can upload their film direct to Amazon, why dilute future distribution opportunities with an online premiere.
A few days ago a film festival I submitted to with a December event date, sent this long winded email stating generally that if people don’t feel comfortable attending or their theater isn’t available, they’ll make it online – and won’t refund submission fees. I frankly couldn’t believe the gall. I guess they’ll have to answer to the credit card companies who will chargeback the submission fees to the filmmakers. Having produced many live events, you as the organizer/promoter are responsible to execute what was contracted with the customer. If you don’t you must refund. It’s as simple as that.
I have never been a traditionalist. From publishing to filmmaking, I have always taken an unconventional approach. When I launched my figure skating magazine years ago, I was told it was never going to work as I needed to do this or that or whatever. Whether it was budget related or simply because I had a different idea, I executed the way I could to accomplish what I needed to do. I brought that same approach to filmmaking. When I produced First World and quickly learned that festivals wanted shorts under 15 min long, I found science fiction festivals, unique events and, yes, online (a fledgling platform called Hulu) to present my first film.
My point in all this is being able to pivot. For better or worse the world has changed in the last couple of months. I’m not going to try to roll a square rock up a hill, when I can slide it on rails at ground level to the same destination. As filmmakers we think unconventionally when we create our projects, the same should hold true for marketing and distribution.