No the title of this week’s post isn’t a new TV series, but a character I introduced in Justice Is Mind that is greatly expanded upon in the sequel In Mind We Trust. And with EFM (European Film Market) currently underway in Berlin, Germany, it seemed particularly fitting.
Today marks one year since I wrote the first draft of the sequel. Yes, there have been some tweaks since then, but more of a decision on where to take the project. While Justice Is Mind was produced as a feature film, the next logical direction for the project is to present it as a TV series. I must have had that “in mind” when I wrote the sequel as it sets up the established characters from Justice Is Mind with new characters in a world where mind reading technology has permeated our way of life from the judicial system to immigration to employment and national security.
With Justice Is Mind released to positive reviews and In Mind We Trust written, I’ve been working on the story “bible” for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been down the TV series pitch process before with certain studios and production companies when my agent took out a series I conceived called Frozen Assets. It was essentially Dynasty meets figure skating and I worked with a leading writer of that famed TV show to shape the series. Being in pitch meetings is an interesting process and you really need to have your pitch rehearsed. I knew the sport, but this writer knew the industry. The show wasn’t picked up (figure skating was dying in the TV ratings at the time), but the experience was a real learning curve for me. On a side note my agent almost killed me when we pulled up to the Paramount gate and I said from the back seat of her car, “Jonesy! Hey, Jonesy!”
As for the industry, attention is on Berlin, Germany this week. Unlike Sundance which has turned into a showcase for studio productions and, in my view, lost its purpose as a haven for independent filmmaking, EFM is a unique film market to follow. It presents films from concept to completion. I might add that The Hollywood Reporter does a terrific job with their daily reports.
Reading the reports you can clearly see how the industry has changed the last couple of years. Sales agents want completed films and stars don’t guarantee any sort of success. I think Marc Gabizon of Wild Bunch said it perfectly when he stated in this article, “You see, film is a great business. It’s fascinating, but it’s also dangerous. You can’t forget about the risks, even when you’re successful — maybe especially then. There’s always a risk, but you have to make sure that if you have a flop, it doesn’t topple the whole company. Don’t bet the house on one or two titles.” By flop he was referring to Bradley Cooper’s Burnt.
While nothing is more exciting than announcing a new project, it does come down to risk. As a producer my job is to project a path of realistic profitability. As a director I need to deliver a solid and marketable project.
One trend I see coming out of EFM are the interesting political thriller type projects. This has been a consistent trend over the last couple of years and bodes well for SOS United States.
As a screenwriter, we generally write what interests us. I’ve always been fascinated with science fiction, dramas and political thrillers. Justice Is Mind is principally an intense drama that combines a solid sense of mystery and science fiction elements, while First World is primarily a science fiction adventure. My latest screenplay is a political thriller set in New England. I draw my motivation from various real world events: Justice Is Mind—advanced MRI technology; First World—the Apollo space program; the political thriller—the Cold War.
Anyone that writes a screenplay wants to see it produced. Seriously, what’s the point of writing it if you don’t want to see it come to life. But ask ten screenwriters how they want to see their work produced and I promise you you’ll get ten different answers. For me, I want to produce my own work. Both First World and Justice Is Mind were first made as short films before I raised the money for the feature film version of Justice Is Mind. Honestly, I’m glad Justice Is Mind came to life as a feature film before First World. With what I learned during the process of producing Justice I can apply that to First World from a budget and production point of view.
A friend of mine on the west coast has written a few screenplays in different genres and is only interested in having someone else produce them. As he said to me last week, “I have no interest in producing or directing.” Those are career choices we make. But I look at it like this, there are thousands of screenplays being written that are looking for a production home. I know, because I receive at least one or two pitches a week from produced screenwriters. I’m not talking just about independently produced screenwriters, I’m talking about writers that have had major studios either option or produce their work at some point during their career. The point—everyone is looking for money. Sure, I’ll produce and/or direct someone else’s work, but I won’t actively seek financing for those projects. As I’ve said before, raising money is perhaps the biggest obstacle a producer faces.
Which brings me to the title of this post—timing. When you write a screenplay, you are just hoping that it’s timed right for the market, i.e. distributors and audiences. This is something that is almost impossible to predict so you just have to go with it and hope that by the time your project is finished the market is receptive to it. But I firmly believe that regardless of the genre, there are always audiences for great films.
The news from European Film Market in Berlin this past week could not be more excellent for Justice Is Mind. As the Hollywood Reporter reports in their story, Adult-Oriented Dramas on the Rise, films that target adult media-savvy women are in demand. One market insider tells the Hollywood Reporter, “Films that appeal to a female audience are broader in appeal because the women will take men along.”
With the rough cut of Justice Is Mind nearly complete, everything is moving along nicely for a mid-summer release. In addition to our wonderful online placements of the trailer, we have been invited to show the trailer at two events in the next four weeks. On February 24 at the Actors & Movie Fest in Boston and on March 5 at Upstate Independents in Albany, New York.
As for timing, at the request of one investment group that contacted me last week, time to send the business plan out on First World. Is the time right for this to be the next project? Only time will tell.