Thousands attended the Marché du Film Online. In a world of uncertainty, the entertainment industry came together to insure the continuation of this worldwide marketplace. Of all the industry events I’ve attended over the years, Marché had the best panels that not only informed on the current state of the industry but demonstrated innovative new business models and predictions for the years to come.
One innovation that ramped up exponentially during the crisis has been the virtual cinema. With the majority of movie theaters closed around the world, some distributors joined with cinemas for a virtual experience. Customers visit their theater’s website and order a movie to view online. The revenue is split between the theater and distributor. With one distributor reporting $700K in sales from 13 movies, the early adopters certainly did well. But as another distributor stated, the early novelty dropped considerably during the last month. With restrictions easing and people going out more, the “stay at home” audiences have drastically changed in numbers.
Another thing that distributors learned during the last few months is that content is truly king. Films that they couldn’t previously sell, suddenly started to sell. With the proliferation of VOD platforms and offerings, new content is critical. Two tech pioneers from the Czech Republic introduced Artinii. A service that screens films in alternative settings (outdoor non-theatrical venues such as a bar or restaurant).
But all this available content on VOD also brought the conversation back to data of who is searching for and watching what. With so much of this data controlled by individual companies, it was discussed that this data should be available to all distributors to give customers what they want regardless of the platform they are watching it on. Proponents said that it would benefit everyone from the distributor to the customer. Opponent VOD platforms want to protect their data to benefit their catalog of offerings. While I understand that the platforms want to protect their own customer data, I have to believe that a neutral third party could hold general data that could be used by the industry to ascertain what’s working and what isn’t. This is why the theatrical experience is critical — distributors know by ticket sales what films are resonating in what market. Needless to say, the data debate will be going on for some time.
The one thing the general public doesn’t know, is the system that brings films to audiences. Imagine the following: films are produced year one, year two they are in post and year three they wind up at a market (AFM, Cannes, etc.). A release date is set, advertising dollars are spent, the marketing and public relations machine goes into overdrive a buzz is generated. Then suddenly, without warning, the theaters shut and all marketing comes to a grinding halt. Honestly, I don’t even want to know the tens, if not hundreds, of millions that have been lost in this industry.
With some theatrical markets just opening and others in the opening planning stages, from what I heard audiences aren’t rushing back. One of the primary issues is that the system is holding back new films as nobody really wants to do a release to near empty theaters. It could also be assumed audiences don’t want to see old releases or they are still concerned about the crisis. There’s also the issue of capacity. With social distancing still employed, who can make any money on capacity limits? How can you plan a theatrical release strategy when reactionary Governors threaten to shut down states again? And, honestly, who wants to sit in a theater with a mask on for three hours? Seriously, how do you eat popcorn? I know I won’t return to a theater until masks are no longer required. Given the amount of information available, they are a prop that has no meaningful benefit in the mainstream. I want my choices of recreation to be enjoyable not overly regulated to satisfy the hysterics. In Canada and the UK they give you a choice. Hopefully, in the United States we will soon have freedom of choice (odd, I thought we did with something called our First Amendment…I digress).
It became quite clear during the market that release windows are rapidly changing between theatrical and VOD. The customer wants the choice on where, when and how to watch new releases. You might not want to go to a theater and pay $14, but you may pay $19 to watch it on premium VOD at home. Cinema, however, is going to be jammed in 2021 because of the films that are being held back this year. At the end of the day films are financed by distributors in advance…they need a return.
I will say this, theatrical is critical to a movie’s success. This is where substantive revenue is made. This is where substantial press is received. Without some sort of theatrical exposure, a film gets lost among VOD offerings. One of the most thoughtful discussions was how to properly advertise a film on a VOD platform. You can advertise a film as in theaters, but VOD specific advertising is still a nascent possibility. Recognition on the platforms is critical. Just putting a film on them isn’t enough. You need audience engagement and that largely comes from a theatrical release and the media.
A panel I particularly enjoyed was when a well-known producer covered the process of constructing a proper script and presenting the package to the industry (investors, sales agents, etc.). What I loved was her no-nonsense practical approach. This is an industry about continued learning and expanding your network. It’s about meeting and working with new people.
I was generally pleased with how First Signal was received during the Marché. Several sales agents requested a screener and one sent me a deal memo to review yesterday. In addition to submitting to a variety of festivals with 4th and 1st quarter events, I’m closely monitoring the reopening of theaters and other screening opportunities to plot strategy. Fortunately, First Signal wasn’t “caught” in the crisis from a release point of view. We were still in the fitting out phase.
In the end it was a great job by all concerned. The team behind the Marché du Film, turned the most prestigious film market in the world to a successful virtual event. But as all agreed, virtual markets won’t work for the long term. This is an industry that requires socializing. It requires in person meetings as that is the only way you can really decide if you want to work someone. You can be introduced on a video chat, but the real works starts when you meet in person.
First Signal is complete! What started as an idea in 2017 is now a completed feature film. The satisfaction of completing a film is like none other. When you consider the number of people and technical matters that go into the process, it’s project management bar none. While there are always difficult moments to overcome, as filmmakers we always come out on the other end wanting to do the process all over again. For when a film is complete, it truly is a piece of art. Not one that you hang on the wall, but one that you project on it.
The completion of First Signal arrives with additional film festivals that have accepted the trailer. I’m delighted to report that the trailer has won Best Trailer at the Crown Wood International Film Festival and Tagore International Film Festival. The trailer was also a finalist in the Prague International Monthly Film Festival. These early accolades create a wonderful foundation as I submit the feature film for festival consideration and implement the marketing and distribution plan.
This all comes of course as the entertainment industry is trying to right the ship in a sea of unprecedented uncertainty. Theaters are just now announcing plans to reopen at reduced capacity, production is slowly restarting and film markets have gone temporarily virtual. As for the latter, I’m registered for the Marche du Film that’s starting on Monday. I was looking forward to attending my first Cannes in person, but virtual will be fine for this year’s market. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “After all tomorrow is another day.”
I count myself lucky that we have been able to successfully navigate the post-production process of First Signal given the present situation. Although we had already planned to be in post-production during this time, one doesn’t plan for a worldwide upheaval that literally shuts down the world. Throughout this vortex, it was the dedicated post-production team of Daniel Groom, Daniel Elek-Diamanta, Adam Starr and Tim Haggerty that made the completion of First Signal possible. One member of our team went through a multi-country ordeal to get home and literally sent the final files the day before he was leaving. During the actual production of First Signal a couple of members were going through some very trying personal matters. It’s those types of efforts that give credence to, the show must go on!
The entertainment industry is resilient. We always find a way to overcome obstacles. Because if there is one thing the public wants, it’s entertainment. They want to escape into a story, experience new characters and visit their worlds. Since the dawn of theater neither war, famine, plagues or “out of this world” experiences have brought an end to this industry. If anything, it makes us work harder to do that one thing we all enjoy doing…
With post-production on First Signal coming to an end, it seemed fitting that I finished a draft of the sequel early last week. Titled First Launch, the story picks up two years after events in First Signal. While First Signal introduced the First World Universe in a very contained environment, First Launch is entirely the opposite. With the majority of primary characters returning, the logline “The President faces a military coup and extrasolar war when a covertly built second generation space shuttle reveals a worldwide military destined to confront an alien presence on Earth,” sets the story shortly before the 2016 Presidential election.
While I’m glad to have finished a draft to the sequel of First Signal, my priority is to see that First Signal properly exits post-production as I plan for general marketing and distribution. As for distribution, this past week I was approached by a theater to have First Signal screen in July. While I normally would have jumped at the opportunity, I honestly can’t commit one way or another until we learn when restrictions are being lifted. I do know one thing, so long as mask requirements (something I vehemently disagree with) are order of the day there’s no point, or joy, in having a theatrical screening. While our governor may employ Orwellian powers in Massachusetts, he has no power or jurisdiction of its citizens outside this tiny state. Thus, I’m looking at screening opportunities outside of New England and the country.
I am, however, considering “attending” the virtual Cannes Marché du Film in June. As the fees are negligible, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try and see what comes of it. There’s no question that by the end of the summer, theaters worldwide will be open and the markets will endeavor to return to some sort of normalcy.
While the large theater chains can tap into a variety of reserves and credit lines, it’s the independent theaters that are most at risk during these perilous times. As their only source of revenue are ticket sales, the real concern in the industry is that some of them just won’t make it and that a vital link for independent films will simply disappear. Unless you have a robust concession, ticket sales alone just don’t carry theaters. Simply, the box office percentage that’s shared with the distributor just varies too greatly between films.
But with every economic upheaval, there is always a revelation of something new or in this case a return. How many of us remember drive-in movie theaters? I remember the days when we would all pile into the car, drive up to a parking spot, place a speaker on the side of the car and watch a film unfold on a giant screen. It’s no surprise, that moviegoers are starting to look at the drive-in as a solid alternative while the traditional theatrical experience is sorted.
This past week First Signal went to picture lock. This is a milestone in any film as it means that we are in the home stretch of post-production. The next steps in the process are color grading and sound mixing. We are still on schedule for a May completion. However, just as I was going to register for The Marché du Film (Cannes), the market was postponed until possibly late June.
Prior to this postponement, film festivals, sporting events, theaters and all forms of gatherings were being cancelled around the world. Countries were closing their borders, entire industries shuttering, tens of millions suddenly out of work. Companies instructing their employees to work from home. Financial markets all but collapsing overnight. The stock market losing trillions every time the bell rang. The military called up. Elected officials instituting never to be believed powers. The Department of Justice looking to suspend Constitutional rights. No, this isn’t a movie this is reality on planet Earth.
The existence and livelihood of 7 billion people is being threatened by a virus that has a worldwide case count of 318,000 and 13,000 deaths. Another statistic that is only now getting discussed is how many have recovered — 96,000. The question that begs to be asked is how long can this go on before the worldwide economy is permanently broken? A scientist friend remarked to me this week “that a good economy isn’t much good if everyone is sick.” My response was simple, “The sick need a good economy to get better. If we don’t switch it back on, there won’t be the capital to fix this problem.”
Yes, we certainly have some sort of new virus that needs to be sorted. Yes, people will die from it. But equally in the affirmative are the number of people that are recovering. The CDC states that from October – March 38,000,000 had the flu with 17,000,000 doctor visits, 390,000 hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths (these are all on the low end). Odd, I don’t recall the United States and world economy being shut down over this. But for some reason this new virus is going to “overwhelm” our hospitals. Who came up with that narrative? But one thing is a fact, this new virus has brought out the worst in humanity.
I’ve talked to a variety of people around the country and the world. None of them can believe we are in the present situation. We saw how fast governments and elected officials closed the world. We saw how fast the media (particularly cable news) and social media fed this frenzy. We saw how fast they stirred the world population into hysteria. We now see how civil liberties and constitutional guarantees are being threatened. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but for those of us that think, one does need to question what happened. Why now? What truly is the reason behind this?
For the few I know that have lived through World War II, the country was never like this. Yes, food was rationed, certain products just weren’t available and forget buying a car. But for some reason, this virus calls for a worldwide economic collapse. In general the world, particularly the United States, was enjoying a solid economy with record low unemployment. In a week, that ended.
At some point, hopefully soon, it will need to be decided to switch back on the economy. Because one thing is truly certain, people, companies and governments will run out of cash either during the shutdown or when the unemployment ranks swell into the tens of millions when those less fortunate will need government services such as food and housing just to survive.
It’s time for common sense.
As we are about one month away from First Signal’s table read on June 16, we had a location confirmation lock with the expansive field we needed. I couldn’t be more pleased with this location. It’s exactly what the script called for.
As this location is on private property I won’t reveal its location. With an outdoor location, private property is better to shoot on. Why? It’s about privacy. While I’m all about someone learning the process of making a film, the actual process of making one is time consuming detailed work. On private property you don’t have onlookers watching from the sidelines and getting in the frame of the shot. But it’s also about taking pictures and posting them to social media, etc. Unfortunately, the wrong picture can ruin an entire film. Anyone that works in the industry knows the general policies that go with on set photography. Most sets have “still photographers” that take a variety of pictures that encompass an entire production.
While additional locations are being scouted, along with numerous other behind the scenes activity, the one thing I’m very cognizant of is the film market itself. There is no better market than Cannes to provide a fresh perspective on where the industry is going. As Alex Walton of Bloom tells the Hollywood Reporter. “International distributors are in need of product, but they’re also incredibly cautious because they’re in need of the right product. There are fewer films, fewer packages and fewer things to buy, so when we approach Cannes now, even compared to five or six years ago, it is with a completely different mindset,” Adds Entertainment One CEO Darren Throop who tells the Hollywood Reporter, “The whole concept of buying a good package on the open market and reselling it to cinema, pay and TV — that whole model has changed. The very foundation of independent film has changed.”
The one thing that has changed in the last several years is the development of franchises and the sci-fi genre has pretty much been a solid bet. As a director my job is to create a quality film that’s ready for the market. But as a producer I am making a bet on the market. It’s an interesting line to balance.
But putting aside numbers, market share and all that comes after the fact, it is the process of making a film that’s the most exciting. Watching the actors and crew bring life to your story is tremendously satisfying. As a screenwriter we spend hours, weeks and months behind a computer coming up with, what we hope, is an interesting story. But it’s seeing that story emblazoned on the silver screen that makes the entire process a worthwhile endeavor.
Part of that process is equipment. Yesterday, I purchased a drone for a pivotal shot at the end of the film. But no sooner did I complete this purchase and I’m suddenly thinking of all the other creative areas we can use a drone in First Signal. This technology has changed so much since we used one in Justice Is Mind. Add to that the cost has come down exponentially. This is why the process of filmmaking is so enticing and exciting. The democratization of the entire process from creating to distributing has changed for the better.
With Marche Du Film (Cannes) coming up, I always find it interesting to learn about the new players while reading about the fate of others. No doubt in the weeks ahead we will read in the trades about the big splash of a new company’s star driven acquisition or the sorry story of others that used to hold court on private yachts. Having been to Cannes many years ago (not for the festival) the location is truly a stunning one to announce a major project.
There is no question that this is an industry of flash. When you have good news to announce you do so publicly, loudly and in grand fashion. The whole point is to cut through the noise to get your project noticed. As I’ve said time and time again, this industry is as much about making motion pictures as it is about promoting them. This is why in so many cases when you see a production budget you multiply it by itself for marketing and public relations.
But then there are the rest of us that aren’t making $175 million motion pictures (at least not yet!). What filmmakers like me rely on is reliable consistent revenue from VOD. While so many players come and go in this industry, we rely on VOD platforms to be there year after year. Although sites like Netflix are in a public relations battle with Cannes, Amazon is playing by the rules and, “was not coming to the South of France “looking to disrupt Cannes,” adding, “You have to approach Cannes on its own terms.”
And while Cannes is one of the world’s greatest launching pads for a film, there are VOD sites like TubiTV that are also making waves. Just this past week the site announced a $20 million outside investment. Justice Is Mind has been on TubiTV for several months and has started to gain some solid traction. I’ve also noticed an increase in traffic for Justice on other VOD sites. All these upticks bode well for the industry as a whole. It shows that consumers are watching across a variety of platforms and it doesn’t matter if they are star driven $100 million plus budgets or films made for under $100K. At the end of the day audiences want to be entertained and they want the choice to be theirs.
But as the industry enters a new season it’s a review of my current projects First World, SOS United States, Serpentine and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. Are my websites updated? Do they convey the current status of each project? You know what they say about first impressions, you only get one to make one.
There is, however, a cardinal rule that I live by. I never disclose who I’m talking to and who I submitted to. This is why I declined to respond to a local entertainment publication that reached out to me on one of my projects. This is like when actors announce who they just auditioned for (or what festivals a filmmaker submitted to). I promise you that doesn’t help you get the part any quicker. In fact, it can have an opposite result. The same holds true for behind the scenes conversations. Sure, the trades like to know what’s going on, but confidentiality is paramount.
However, I will say this. The world’s largest oversees mobile player picked up Justice Is Mind from our distributor earlier this year. But until it’s live, I’ll hold on the formal announcement.
It was back in 2011 and I was casting the short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence. The starring character of Henri Miller was pivotal. He had to have an air of sophistication and mystery, while also being an “everyman”. As a director, you are auditioning for me the moment you walk into the room. And god help you if you submitted a headshot from the last century or to quote a colleague of mine, “generously photoshopped” the way you want to look. Neither was the case with Vernon Aldershoff. He looked like his headshot and was the look I had in mind for the character of Henri Miller. Of course, the next question rolling through my head was, “Jesus, I hope he can act.” Well, the rest is history. He starred in both the short and feature version of the film.
This past weekend I attended his surprise 50th birthday party at a golf club. While Vern was playing golf with his son Dmitri, who played his on screen son Gary Miller, Vern’s wife Jackie turned the clubhouse into a Hollywood theme along with posters of Justice Is Mind and a step and repeat (red carpet). On the golf course I heard that Dmitri faked a hip injury to get Vern to bring him back to the clubhouse. As I see Vern and Dmitri pull up to the clubhouse in the golf cart, Dmitri is going through the only act of injury with Vern buying it. I wanted to yell “Cut!”. Let me just say that Dmitri’s acting was beyond excellent. Talk about a long take! But the look on Vern’s face when he entered the clubhouse and realized he had been taken was priceless!
During the celebrations Vern was talking to family and friends in attendance and referenced how much the entertainment industry is about rejection, but that it only takes one person to say yes. In regard to Justice Is Mind, that person was me. But in as much as I said yes, it was also Vern and the countless others that said yes to me and to an untested project.
The Justice Is Mind project is now over five years strong. Through the writing, production and distribution, so many of us have become friends and have kept in contact. Yes, I’m looking forward to working with many of the actors and crew from Justice on my next project. In fact, with one project I’m working on now I don’t even know if auditions will be necessary. Why? Because I plan to offer parts and positions to those I’ve worked with previously. I don’t need to worry about on screen chemistry or whether or not these folks get along.
When I read these stores on IndieWire about Tribeca and Cannes that discuss distribution and the market, I am reminded about the challenges this industry faces. But nothing is more challenging than casting the right actors or securing a solid crew. I don’t care how great the screenplay is, without them breathing life into it your project goes nowhere.
Of course you always bring new people into the fold. That’s what this industry is all about. Meeting new people and expanding your horizons. It’s an industry of risk and chances but more importantly opportunity. If you look at my projects from First World, to Evidence to Justice Is Mind, you will see some familiar names.
There is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than seeing your film come to life in a theatre. It is in that moment that the memories of its development and production come to light. The months you spent writing the script and the time it took to raise the funding to make the film. And just after you hear “that’s a wrap”, more work begins until you have a completed project. Oh yes, then there is marketing and distribution. Welcome to my world.
This past Thursday was the DCP screen test of Justice Is Mind at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Although I was more than pleased with our theatrical DVDs, the clarity and crispness of the DCP was incredible. We’ve screened at two of their theatres before, but this was the first time I saw a DCP of the film. Some of you may be asking, what the hell is a DCP?
A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. It’s what theatres now generally receive from the studios, distributors and filmmakers. While I have yet to come across a theatre that cannot play a DVD, the default standard now is DCP. And my thanks again to the Chatham Orpheum theatre for making our DCP.
On August 18 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary with a special event screening at Cinemagic. Although this will be our 21st screening, I treat each screening like it’s the first one. I still feel like a kid in a candy store when I see Justice come to life on the big screen. The day I don’t feel that way is the day I set sail from this industry. I was particularly reflective when I was reviewing the last five minutes of the film and the credits started to roll. When you see over 200 names and companies, you quickly realize it takes a small army to make a film.
But this is an industry that never rests. Since the world premiere of Justice in 2013, I have written the political thriller SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. The pitch process is just as much on the front lines now as it was when I was presenting Justice in 2011. Just this week, I pitched First World to a producer that I thought for sure would have been interested (Chinese investor). It was a quick pass. Instead he asked what else I have in my slate and is now looking at SOS United States and In Mind We Trust.
Just as Justice Is Mind came together, the same formula and efforts apply to my other projects. At the end of the day, not only do you need to find the right producing partners, but almost literally the planets need to line up just right. It’s one thing to follow a film market like Cannes, AFM and Toronto and read about X projects that got picked up, funded or whatever. What is never talked about are the countless projects looking for some sort of home. Thankfully, Justice Is Mind has found a home.
So as I ramp up marketing plans for the 2nd Anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind, writing Winds of Fall continues while presentations move forward on SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust.
It’s hard to believe that the 2nd Anniversary of the world premiere of Justice Is Mind is coming up on August 18. I am, therefore, delighted to announce that Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts on August, 18, 2015!
To say time flies by would be an understatement. This is particularly true when you are doing the day to day marketing of a feature film. August 18 will mark the 21st screening since our world premiere. While Justice is available on VOD, there is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than to see your work on the big screen. And with Justice now also available in DCP (Digital Cinema Package) thanks to the Chatham Theatre, for the first time we may be seeing the film at its highest resolution. I thought our theatrical DVDs were great, but seeing a DCP sample of Justice several months ago was truly incredible.
It’s interesting when you set out to make a film, because you just don’t know what market forces and conditions are going to exist when your film is released. Case in point women in film. Who would have thought that the inequities of women in leading roles in films would be at such a forefront in the media? Thankfully, Justice Is Mind is evenly split between men and women. For me as a screenwriter it just makes sense from an overall “reality” point of view. As Reese Witherspoon told the Hollywood Reporter at the Produced By conference the other day, “I was just reading scripts, and the scripts were sort of diminishing. I just started to notice they were making less movies for women, and that meant less parts for women.” Thus, Witherspoon started to produce films a few years ago.
Speaking of women in film, Mary Wexler, who plays Judge Wagner in Justice Is Mind and is one of our producers, posted a wonderful article in New England School of Law Alumni Magazine about her work as a lawyer, involvement in the film and mention of the sequel In Mind We Trust. Her quote, “Justice allowed me to combine my love of acting and my passion for the law,” said it all for me.
Above all else, filmmaking is a passion. Yes, there is the important economic and commercial side, but at the end of the day filmmaking is just pure fun. For me whether I’ve been on set as a TV personality, actor, producer or director, I’ve loved every moment of it. Now having been fortunate enough to see a feature film of my own produced, and the journey it can take you on, yes, I plan to do this again..and again.
Just yesterday I passed the 30 page mark on the screenplay adaption of Winds of Fall, while some possible producing and financing partners are reviewing SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust. This is not an easy industry by any stretch of the imagination and is one of patience. When I read that over 30,000 films were being marketed at Cannes in some capacity or another, thankful for our accomplishments to date with Justice Is Mind doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.
Unless you are living under the proverbial rock, all of us involved in the industry are paying close attention to Cannes. For me, I’m always interested in the business of distribution and marketing because at the end of the day you have to get your film seen. With VOD distribution all the rage, there’s no wonder that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is being so widely quoted—and rightly so.
As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, on any given week there are numerous things I try to accomplish for my projects. From pitching, to writing, to editing, to marketing, there’s always something going on. But this week, things jumped ahead.
With Justice Is Mind successfully distributed, my attention has largely turned to my current slate of projects with First World, SOS United States and In Mind We Trust. While I continue to market Justice Is Mind on a daily basis, the goal is to secure the necessary partnerships to bring the next project forward. That goal took several steps forward this week with a great Skype meeting with a producer and his team in the United Kingdom. From my days in publishing, to our recent partnership with Cunard Line for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the Queen Elizabeth, I’ve always enjoyed working with colleagues “across the pond”.
The one thing any filmmaker will tell you is that this is an industry of partnerships and collaboration. From the actors, crew, location, marketing and distribution partners, over two hundred people from two countries were involved in Justice Is Mind. For good reason, I keep in touch with most of them. One of those reasons is a new project I’m working on.
My friend Alberto Mercado is a published author and a wonderful photographer. Al photographed Justice Is Mind’s screenings in Sturbridge and Millbury. His photos were such a hit they soon started to show up as headshots on IMDB and Facebook.
A few weeks ago at a party at his house we started talking about the “mechanics” of filmmaking. The conversation was not dissimilar to one I had with my investors in Justice Is Mind back in 2012. Al wanted to see one of his books made into a motion picture. He attended several of Justice Is Mind’s theatrical screenings, including my short film Evidence, so he knew what my capabilities were. But was there a story? Indeed there was. A great story. One that I wanted to tell.
Oddly enough, Al thought I was reading his book A Rose for Essie Mae when in fact I was reading Winds of Fall. In the end, he was glad I read Winds instead. So I am pleased to announce that I have been commissioned to write a screenplay adaption of Alberto Mercado’s book Winds of Fall and to direct the feature. The plan is to complete the script this summer with Al financing the production for either this fall or spring.
Like the funding that came together for Justice Is Mind, the road to the Skype meeting, our screening on the Queen Elizabeth and the journey to bring Winds of Fall to the big screen, you just don’t know where the next opportunity is going to come from. As the late actor Maximilian Schell said, this is an industry of chances.
Since Justice Is Mind had its world premiere on August 18, 2013, we have been very fortunate to secure media placements in connection with our screenings. While social media is part of the mix, it is only one ingredient in the recipe. Simply put a third party story drives audiences and awareness. These placements do not come automatically. A press release is written, the media is sourced and then the pitch is made. Each outlet has a defined set of criteria from frequency to what their audience wants. As a former magazine publisher, I remember what used to get my attention and what was quickly discarded. What I find is that it usually comes down to timing and if a subject matter is going to be interesting to their readership.
As we are now moving towards VOD and foreign screenings, I’ve started to present Justice to reviewers for consideration. Just having a film on a VOD platform isn’t enough, you seriously have to light a fire of awareness to drive traffic (just like our theatrical screenings).
When William Meeker of Frisco Kid at the Movies was interested in reviewing Justice, I was really looking forward to what he thought about the film. His reviews are thoughtful, detailed and thorough. I’m pleased to present his review of Justice Is Mind at this link.
With his four star review, as a filmmaker, I particularly enjoyed his statement, “Lund’s screenplay achieves Hunter’s recommended individualism by setting these topics in the context of relevant and important sociopolitical issues currently being debated in the United States.” Suffice to say, these are the points I wanted to make in the film. But it’s not just about what I enjoyed, it’s the whole evaluation of the film that really made his review stand out.
Our May 19 screening at The Elm Draught House Cinema is coming up soon and with that we turn to local media, most of which is scheduled to run this coming week. First, I could not be more thankful to Bob Leveillee of Pizza Post for his support. From the radio spot he is running, to the local media in connection with his business. While the phrase “win win” is terribly overused in the world of business, this is a perfect example of how it should work—Justice Is Mind and Pizza Post increase their awareness and customer base through mutual cooperation. In an overly complicated world of “buzzwords” on how to market (particularly a film), it really comes down to a tried and true concept of joint benefit. As I’ve so often had to say to those that try to over analyze the world of marketing, “We aren’t launching a space shuttle, we are [fill in the blank].”
Speaking of the space shuttle, I am back to presenting First World and SOS United States to producers and investors. On that note an investor who has financed film projects has requested both scripts and business plans. This is a journey that every filmmaker makes. It is a journey that takes time, planning and above all patience. With Cannes underway we are already seeing some very interesting, but not surprising, reports in the Hollywood Reporter “Take Note, Hollywood: The New Movie Money is Here” and “Cannes: Fewer Star-Fueled Projects Are Coming to a Lean Market.”
“I am particularly impressed with the strong performance of…” – Frisco Kid at the Movies.
With Cannes in full swing and Justice Is Mind continuing down the post-production track, it seemed fitting to tour a new film studio this past week. No I didn’t travel to Los Angeles, I drove about 35 minutes to Devens, MA where a $35 million state of the art film studio is being built. Appropriately called New England Studios the phase 1 complex is scheduled to open late summer. With four sound stages, production offices and a mill building, the tour reminded me of stories I read about the early days of Hollywood and those pioneering risk takers.
Filmmaking is all about risk. Whether you own physical assets such as a studio or have sat behind a computer writing a script, you have invested some sort of time and money to live your dream. But unlike other industries, this is a sexy business. Ask anyone that has seen their name come up in the credits in a theatre and the most common word to describe the felling is—cool! But in the end, it does come down to a return on investment.
As Cassian Elwes told The Hollywood Reporter this week, financing a film through a combination of equity, tax incentives and foreign pre-sales provides a “guaranteeable return.” Combined with the powerful allure of the movie business, that makes the film an attractive investment. He went on to talk about the superrich, but you don’t have to be superrich to enter this industry you just need to be thoughtful and have a plan.
Even for a film on the scale of Justice Is Mind I have endeavored to bring a “studio” operation-like quality to the entire production. There is another entire structure to getting a film into the market which we see at film markets such as Cannes. Reading the daily reports coming out of Cannes you can just feel the excitement. Film slates are getting financed (Hayden Christensen’s Glacier Films did well), new film finance companies are being launched and there seems to be some solid buying. Of course then there are the horror stories of films that pre-sold last year that lost, for whatever reason, the top talent that got the project sold in the first place. As I’ve said before, this is not an industry for the faint at heart.
With sound mixing commencing on Justice and the last third of the special effects being built (there are over 200), the end of post-production is certainly in sight. With the film edited, the process of scoring, sound effects, ambiance and mixing is just as detailed a process as any. I could not be more thankful to our post-production team for the job they are doing.
And this is where I come back to New England Studios. I’m fairly confident this project never would have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for our 25% film tax incentive. Some filmmakers at an industry event in Boston just bitched that producers shouldn’t follow the tax incentives. I say then you need to leave this industry because unless you are financing things yourself, filmmakers need every damn incentive to produce their motion pictures. Thankfully, Senator Michael O. Moore wrote to me and said, “…I will not support any legislation brought before the Senate to cap the production incentive.”
While I certainly hope to someday produce a film on the sound stages of New England Studios, the one thing I was happy to hear is their desire to develop a complete infrastructure of like-minded businesses around the studio. Having lived in Los Angeles, I can tell you there’s nothing like being around the studio atmosphere of creativity. One just doesn’t wake up and become a movie mogul. It takes time, incentive and a conducive structure.
Of course, I couldn’t help but be reminded about one of my favorite sci-fi TV shows when touring New England Studios. In U.F.O. an ultra secret organization called S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters of the Alien Defense Organization) has its headquarters 80 feet under Harlington-Straker Studios. With a base on the Moon and support aircraft around the world, their often used statement is apropos to our local film industry and the current state of post-production for Justice Is Mind.
On positive track.
This past week was another milestone for Justice Is Mind – film sales agents wanted to know more about the film. These sales agents represent and sell films into foreign markets and are constantly inundated with pitches from producers. As these agents are preparing to leave for Cannes next week, I was even more pleased as they took time out of their schedules to respond to my inquiry. In fact, it was a bit humbling.
Although I plan to attend AFM in the fall, I wasn’t planning to attend Cannes for a variety of reasons. First, my focus has to be on the completion of Justice Is Mind. As we are in the final stages of post-production, it’s imperative that I stay in communication with the team. This is my first feature film and it just needs to be done right without distraction. The palm pressing, networking and parties will come after the film is complete. That being said, you also have to keep the fires lit and stay top of mind to those that are interested. Thankfully, I soon learned that someone I have worked with for years will be attending Cannes. Thus, Justice Is Mind will have representation and meetings can be scheduled.
What’s interesting about the three sales agents is the diversity of the projects they represent. From Oscar winners, to vertical integration to genre specific, they all work with filmmakers from theatrical, to foreign sales, to broadcast, DVD and digital platforms. And these are just the three that I’m in direct communication with. As our representative will be meeting with additional distributors and agents with their other clients, other possibilities could present themselves.
Of course, at some point a decision will need to be made on who to sign with. There are so many factors that come into play with decisions like this. What rights do you sign off? How long is the contract for? What deliverables are needed? The questions are endless. But once you sign and transfer the rights of your film, it’s done. This is why it’s so important to have people in your network that understand the ins and outs of contracts specific to this industry. Thankfully I have an entertainment attorney that I’ve worked with for years who is not only an expert in the industry, but a good friend whom I trust 100%.
As producer it’s my job to make sure that we secure the best deal possible for Justice. But as director I also have to make sure that the artistic vision is complete to make such a deal possible. Just this weekend, I was transmitting additional pictures for some VFX shots, addressing some processing matters regarding the build out of other shots and listening to the completed score and various sound effects. Again, welcome to the world of independent filmmaking – the wearing of many hats!
What’s also important during this process is to convey to agents that you aren’t a one picture producer. For them, it’s about building relationships for the long term and working with filmmakers not only on the present project but the next project (one of them is also reviewing First World) and the next. But through all the activity this week, there was one development that most certainly brought a smile to my face.
The Hollywood Reporter listed Justice Is Mind.