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Posts tagged “Boston

Actors and Agencies

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Tomorrow I’ll be attending The Westfield International Airshow. Part of SOS United States takes place at an air force base in Massachusetts. In the film the Concorde is seen as the “Air Force One” of the Prime Minister of the U.K.

This past week served to be an interesting one not only working with a variety of actors on the set of a movie filming in Boston, but in the selection process for the third outing at the Naval Justice School in September.

When the inquiry came in from the casting company about background work, I was interested because they also wanted to use my car in the film. My first Pontiac Solstice appeared in Justice Is Mind. My second, if it makes the cut, will appear in I Feel Pretty. I particularly liked how they “dressed” my car with New York State tags.

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My first Pontiac Solstice in Justice Is Mind.

But like the first time I did background work, it’s an opportunity for me to meet new actors and crew. I also wanted to see how they staged and used cars in a large scale production. With the camera setup, it didn’t take long to figure out why the cars were parked across the street.

As a director of course I take this all in on numerous levels. For me it’s like a vacation. I don’t have to worry about anything except showing up and doing what I’m told. Sure I felt a bit like Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations, but this wasn’t my ship I was just part of the crew. I will say this, the catering was excellent. Yes, I will judge your production, film or whatever by the type of food you serve. And if it ends with a great cup of coffee, that’s another star in my book.

But booking is where things turned for the next class at the Naval Justice School.  As Site Supervisor, sort of like director, I don’t make the final casting decision but I do recommend. As I mentioned to an actor earlier this week, “Those decisions are made in Washington.” It wasn’t gravitas on my end, the agencies that book the actors are based in the D.C. area.

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My second Pontiac Solstice with “New York State” tags.

I am always happy to recommend talent for other productions. If I’ve worked with you and the relationship was a positive one, those recommendations come easy. But if someone I know recommends an actor I haven’t worked with, I’ll forward the information if I like what I see with the caveat that I’ve never worked with this person before. This entire industry is a network. You never know who knows who and it is a terribly small world. It is that small world of industry contacts that had me sign with a new talent agency in New York this week.

While I have representation in the Boston market, I’ve been looking for a national reach for a few months. Let’s just say that some of the conversations and meetings have been beyond interesting and make for great cocktail conversation. But in the case of this new agency, we knew the same talent from a show I worked on over ten years ago, FOX’s Skating with Celebrities.

My point is this. It’s important to be nice whenever you can. Yes, there are sometimes difficult if not impossible people in this industry, but no gig lasts forever. This is an industry of moments and you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Recommendation.

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When I was on Skating with Celebrities in 2006.


World Reunion

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Philippe Candeloro and Lynn Plage.

As I was driving to Boston on Wednesday to attend my first World Figure Skating Championships since 2003, there was the fair share of wondering, and a bit of apprehension, how things would go. In years long past, there was a series of things I had to accomplish from interviews, to pictures, to attending the right functions and even going to the right official hotel bar post events (and perhaps the coveted invite to the after party). It was a tried and true agenda that served me well. But that was well over a decade ago when the sport was at its height in popularity in the United States. But now, there was no agenda just observation. To turn a phrase, I needed to get a lay of the ice.

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Ari Zakarian and Christine Brennan.

I passed through the same security gate that I long remember from attending the Stars on Ice and Champions on Ice tours.  The former is still with the sport but vastly abbreviated, the latter is sadly gone. Indeed, I knew that the “studio system” of the sport had long passed. But like the Hollywood of yesterday, motion pictures are still made, they are just presented differently. And different is the current state of the sport of figure skating. But it is the familiar faces of those off the ice that have always made the sport tick.

After riding a freight elevator to the 9th floor (this is the slowest elevator in the world, best bring a snack) to the media center I soon saw Lynn Plage. Lynn is the sport’s consummate publicist who has promoted, guided and mentored more skaters, events and journalists than I could ever count. No sooner did we exchange the mutual reunion greetings and obligatory “catching up” and it was like we picked up where we left off those years ago.

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Tonia Kwiatkowski.

And while there are the publicists there are also the journalists. The sport has many fine journalists that regularly cover the sport, but there is the quintessential reporter of them all, Christine Brennan of USA Today. I met Christine at my first World Championships in Birmingham, England in 1995. We shared a train down to London after the event and she taught me the “pyramid” in writing. These are life lessons and moments you never forget.

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Christine Brennan, Jirina Ribbens (Exec. Director Ice Theatre of New York) and David Baden.

Arriving at the media seating I was soon greeted by Ari Zakarian. In those early days I needed a “foreign correspondent” who was everywhere and knew the European and Russian world of the sport. I armed him with a pager and the reports flowed in. In those pre-internet days, it was all about print for the latest news. Now an agent to skaters, event producer and country representative, his days of hard work traversing the globe had paid off.

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Sheryl Franks.

As for agents, like the importance of having a solid publicist to promote the skaters and sharp journalists to report on them, there is David Baden of IMG. I’ve known so many agents over the years, particularly those that work in “Hollywood”, but no agent works harder for his clients than David. But David also was the consummate collaborator. I can’t tell you how many marketing partnerships I worked on with David, partnerships that worked for all concerned. At the end of the day, it’s about building a mutual business.

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Kim Merriam and Beth-Anne Duxbury.

Of course there is the one component that all publicists, journalists, agents and producers need and those are the skaters themselves. I’m not just talking about technically proficient skaters, I’m talking about those that have a personality. Those that understood that it wasn’t enough to just to land the jump you had to present yourself just as much off the ice as on. Philippe Candeloro is such a skater and it was great working with him on one of my skating cruises. Running into him and Tonia Kwiatkowski, another skating cruise alum, fondly reminded me of when we boarded Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas for a skating event at sea! (Cruise ships and events. Does this sound familiar? Justice Is Mind’s international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth).

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Moira North.

Indeed, the teams of people I worked with during my days publishing a figure skating magazine, most certainly led to my work as a filmmaker. Working with actors (skaters), crew (productions) and marketing/PR elements in the sport most certainly paved the way. But there was a path before that was the foundation of what I do today.

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Dick Button.

A couple of weeks ago Sheryl Franks and Elin Schran sent me a Facebook event invite for a reunion party at World’s.  This was one, if any, of the few social events happening during World’s but my invitation was a maybe until I committed to attend. Of all the parties I have been to over the years in skating, this one, I think, may have won the Gold medal.

My best friend Kim Merriam and I were the first ones to arrive (Kim was one the producers on Justice and we used to skate together back in the early 80s). But soon, skaters and coaches I worked with locally started to arrive, then the personalities from the legendary Dick Button, Tenley Albright, Ken Shelley and Paul Wylie, to venerable producers of Broadway and skating events (some on cruise ships!), to choreographers, coaches and those that have long linked the sport behind the scenes with their executive experience and philanthropy. One of these great links is Moira North who founded The Ice Theatre of New York. Coordinating their annual gala one year during my New York City days was a real eye opener on how to run an event. Lots of lessons learned!

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Darlene Parent.

As for lessons, I’ll never forget my first credentialed event as a member of the media. It was called Skates of Gold and was held at the old Boston Garden back in 1993. It was at the post event reception that I first met Dick Button. I remember mustering up the courage to introduce myself and mentioned I was going to start a figure skating magazine. He graciously smiled and said, “How very good for you.” For anyone that knows Dick you can picture the response! He soon became one of our biggest supporters and a friend.

One of the absolute highlights of the party for me was seeing my old skating coach Darlene Parent. When I lived in New York City in the 1980s and got up at 4 in the morning to skate (before I went to work at TIME magazine), I trained at the old Sky Rink. Not only was Darlene my skating coach she was also the chef and made us breakfast after our lessons. She would literally show us moves while flipping an egg (you can’t make this stuff up!).

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Ken Shelley.

Indeed, this week has been a world reunion and great trip down memory lane. But in the here and now in 2016, like the entertainment industry itself, the sport of figure skating is going through a transition. A transition that has seen its fan base seismically erode. Some say it’s the change in scoring. Some say it’s because the United States hasn’t produced “stars” like it once used to. Some say it’s because there was a saturation of sameness back in the heyday of the 1990s. Some say there wasn’t enough innovation.  What’s the answer? Perhaps a bit of all those reasons. But something tells me that this downward trend could possible see a bit of reverse.

One only has to see the enthusiasm of the Japanese and Russian audiences to know that the sport is alive and well in those markets. I have seen video excerpts of a figure skating event in Russia that literally presented the sport as “Cirque du Soleil” on ice. These events were sold out. But there was something else that was nearly sold out as well—the events this week at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Is this a new trend? It could be.

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Dennis Grimaldi.

If you told me 14 years ago that the United States would medal in ice dancing I would have laughed in your face. But here we are in 2016 with Maia Shibutani / Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock / Evan Bates winning the silver and bronze medals respectively. While the United States men did a glorious job, it’s all about the quad. I wish I could say it wasn’t but it is.

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It was so great seeing Michelle Kwan again.

As for an electrifying moment, Ashley Wagner’s win of the silver medal ended the 10 year drought of an American woman winning a medal at the world championships.  Skating last to a capacity audience you could just tell with every second passing this was going to be a performance best for Wagner.  Her gracious enthusiasm at the press conference reminded me of earlier days. Could those days be returning? One thing is for sure, this is a sport about personalities and Wagner certainly understood that off ice is just as important as on.

In the end this is a sport that endures. It is owned by no one but graced by everyone. It is these collective contributions that have always given the sport its edge and vibrancy. That may sound like a colloquialism, but this sport will never be judged by a stopwatch and because of that uniqueness it earns a special place as both sport and art.  And just like Hollywood itself, figure skating is about performance and box office. Some pictures do well and some…well…you get the point.

As for the entertainment industry, having accomplished what I wanted to this past week, I return to writing my political thriller around the sport and art of figure skating.

Finally, I just have one thing to say to the organizers of the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships and all those that made it a memorable event.

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Ashley Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, at the press conference.


Idea and Consent

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Gene Tierney explains how the Senate works in Advise & Consent (1962).

Yesterday, I arrived at the Boston Marriott Copley Place and did something I haven’t done in 14 years – I picked up a media credential at a World Figure Skating Championships. The procedure was the same. I checked in at credentialing, gave my name, proceeded to another station, showed a government ID with photo, they took my picture, printed the credential and I was done. It reminded me of voting. (Political side note: I believe, strongly, that you must have a government issued photo ID to vote.)

Having long accomplished what I wanted to in the sport from my publishing and TV work (yes I skated and coached as well…long ago!), who would have thought an idea would have come to mind with the sport as the backdrop. For this week it’s about reporting solely from an observation point of view and for inspiration as the story I’m writing culminates at a “worlds”.

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Justice Is Mind was inspired by a 60 Minutes story on thought identification.

I’m not entirely sure where the inspiration for this new story came from. I know with Justice Is Mind it was from watching a 60 Minutes broadcast on thought identification. For SOS United States it was the Cold War aspects of the real SS United States ocean liner coupled with the political thriller movies of the 1960s.

Of course the sport itself has changed dramatically over the last 14 years. All you have to do is read this article by Christine Brennan in USA Today to get a feel for where the sport was and now where it isn’t. Sure, there will be tens of thousands of fans in attendance this week. Sure, the official hotels and arena are dressed and set designed to showcase this beautiful sport. Indeed, it is beautiful to watch. If it’s filmed right there’s nothing like the grace and power of a performance on ice, coupled by the drama off the ice. Sadly it’s the millions outside the storied walls of the rinks that have long left the sport.

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The idea for SOS United States came from my interest in the Cold War and political thrillers.

The reasons are many, but the writing was on the wall after the 2002 judging scandal and the subsequent change in the scoring system. Long gone is the 6.0 system. It was a system the general public understood and could be marketed. But now a system is in place that supports anonymous judging. Yes, for those that have never followed anything in the sport, you read that right. I’ll just say this, it may not be good for the long term viability of an Olympic sport, but it makes for a great plot point in a political thriller.

One of my favorite films is Otto Preminger’s Advise & Consent. There’s a masterful scene that takes place in the Senate in which the glorious Gene Tierney explains to two visiting dignitaries how the Senate works. You can be sure, that there will be a similar scene in my story in an attempt to explain the judging system. As I was leaving credentialing yesterday and saw someone approaching me who I hadn’t seen in years, suddenly another Preminger classic that starred Tierney came to mind. In the film Laura,  newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb) was describing a party scene, “It was the usual roundup of b-stars and nondescript characters.”

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“It was the usual roundup of b-stars and nondescript characters.” – Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944)

INT. ICE RINK  – OPENING CREDITS


The Theater

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A pitch for First World goes out this week. 

Innovation or disruption – Forbes has a nice comparison with this article. As an entrepreneur, I’m all about looking at an industry and seeing how a new product can be developed, launched and marketed. But innovation and the popular word “disruption” does need to coexist within an establishment of some sort.

Case in point when I developed a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating in 1993, I was told time and time again “don’t do it”. Why? Because at the time the sport was just used to small fan based publications that narrowly reported on the sport as an “industry”. I saw it as something for the general consumer audience that watched the sport on television and responded to direct response commercials and frequented newsstands.

At times it was like pushing a square rock up a mountain, but push I did and it soon became the world’s largest magazine for the sport at a time when figure skating was exploding in popularity. Losing the title in a boardroom battle in 2004 certainly wasn’t a career highlight, but in hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened to me because both publishing and figure skating were rapidly sinking as an industry. In “Titanic” terms I left the “ship” at Cherbourg at the apex of our influence and wasn’t on the bridge watching the ship sink.

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Imagine as the SS Leviathan in SOS United States.

Every industry goes through some sort of course correction and while print is still with us, the news is largely relegated to the web and companies either adjusted or failed. The same holds true for the entertainment industry. As filmmakers our projects are made digitally. Gone are the days of producing on film. While there are some directors that still insist on the medium, the bottom line is the invention and distribution of digital media have enabled filmmakers like myself to produce. I’m not interested in nostalgia if it means I’m relegated to the unemployment line.

When I produced Justice Is Mind I was determined to get it in to theaters. I was told time and time again I needed to go through a booker or distributor. Well unless they had a contractual lock on a theater, I discovered that theaters are all approachable. They simply require a few logical things. 1) The film meets a professional standard point of view, 2) You act as distributor and provide them with the necessary “media” of DVD/DCP, posters and artwork, 3) You will market the hell out of it to drive audiences to the theater.  The latter is actually, in all honesty, the most important. Nobody cares about your film unless you tell them to care and give them a reason to go to theater (or watch it online).

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At the Cape Cod Premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2014.

These past couple of weeks we have seen this new disruptive technology called Screening Room. Just do a search and you’ll see the myriad of industry and consumer articles. While I’m all about creating something new to drive audiences, this technology is a terrible idea. We know the moment a film is released to theaters it’s pirated. Now, imagine a service in which you can skip the theater and watch it at home the day it’s released. The image and sound is captured at a higher quality and then uploaded to the net. I for one cannot imagine an entertainment industry without the theater.

I think Netflix and Amazon finally realized that after they buy a film it needs a theatrical release component or it will simply get lost in the world of VOD. Sure it might be seen by millions on their platforms, but will anybody know? And while I’m the biggest supporter of VOD, the net of the issue is that when a film is in a theater it is considered by the press and the public differently. It is packaged, presented and showcased. It brings people together in forum that can’t be replicated in a living room. The media we secured for Justice Is Mind can be directly attributed to our theatrical release.

As for figure skating, and so many sports, while TV ratings have been challenged and fragmented, there is still an enthusiastic audience of supporters that attend the events – like a theatrical release. It is those supporters that will be at the World Figure Skating Championships in a couple of weeks in Boston—supporters that may be interested in the political thriller I’m now writing around the sport.

New audiences.

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Looking forward to attending in a couple of weeks.