From actors I’ve cast in past projects to learning about new talent in the region, since the notice went live I’ve been very encouraged by the quality of the submissions. However, for this project I’ll be reaching out to additional sources for certain roles. The goal of the table read isn’t just to hear the script, it’s also about casting possibilities for the feature film itself.
The character of Cedric Yonah is particularly important to the overall story. Not only does the actor need to be great at his craft, but he also must have a certain look. I can almost say that I’ve received enough quality submissions for all other characters, but I’m still looking for this one. This isn’t exactly “The search for Scarlett” but let’s just say the search is ongoing.
This reminds me of the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. As I understand from the development process, director Robert Wise didn’t want to have a recognizable actor walk out of the spaceship as it wouldn’t have been believable. But it had to be an actor with gravitas and a certain look. The casting of Michael Rennie as Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter was brilliant.
Casting is not an easy process. I remember the three hundred plus submissions for Justice Is Mind. While I was fortunate to find some of the leading roles from the short film version Evidence, there were numerous parts that I needed to cast. In as much as you want to see a quality audition, it’s also about how you get along with the actor during that brief time. I do believe it comes down to the sixty second impression.
However, what I still don’t understand is how simple submission instructions aren’t followed. When I submit for a project I make sure I follow the instructions to the letter (why wouldn’t I?). If you refuse to follow submission instructions, how are you going to be during filming? I kid you not I received a submission that literally said here is my IMDb link and Google me. Sorry, if you can’t submit a required headshot, resume and link to your reel you just get relegated to archive.
But this is just part of the development process. Every project takes on a life of its own. I always find it interesting where a project gets its start. First Signal started at the Naval Justice School. But Justice Is Mind actually got its start when I wrote the sequel to First World and was researching mind reading technology. Thus my discovery of the 60 Minutes story from 2009 on thought identification being developed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Four years after that story Justice Is Mind screened at CMU.
In preparation for the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind on August 18, I’m going to Cinemagic tomorrow to give them the film. They’ll have our theatrical DVD and a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). The DCP was created for us by the Chatham Theatre. Sometime next week they’ll run the DCP test. Out of all the theatres which have screened the film, it looked and sounded the best in this theatre. While I know what the DVDs are capable of, I am looking forward to seeing the film in its highest possible resolution.
Since my last post, art is starting to imitate life. In SOS United States a Cyber Pearl Harbor by China takes out the United States power grid and military satellite communications. Last week the United States strongly believes that China is behind a cyber-attack that compromised millions of Americans. These weren’t just any Americans, the agencies targeted were the Office of Personal Management (OPM) and the Interior Department.
As part of the development process of SOS United States, I reached out to the media relations office of the National Security Agency a couple of weeks ago. This is the same process I did for First World when I contacted the Secret Service and the various universities and law schools for Justice Is Mind. For me, as a filmmaker and screenwriter, it’s important to get as many facts straight as possible. I believe adding reality brings believability and plausibility to a movie.
On a personal note, I have no problem with the work the NSA does. Unless you live under a rock and off the grid, we live in a very complicated world. A world that needs to be monitored for the safety of its citizens. As General Blair says in In Mind We Trust at a Congressional hearing, “Senator don’t talk to me about privacy when most of the planet posts their most intimate details voluntarily. You know as well as I that the next attack on the United States isn’t going to come over the pole as a nuclear device, it’s going to come from a computer.”
Speaking of In Mind We Trust, I am developing a concept trailer along with Justice Is Mind composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta. Originally, I was thinking it would be just about a minute long, but given the scope of the story we are expanding it to over two minutes. The first minute introduces elements in Justice Is Mind that propel the In Mind We Trust storyline.
Continuing with the development process, I was invited on Chris Denmead’s show Radio of Horror on WCUW 91.3 FM a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to the interview at this link where I talk about a wide variety of subjects around filmmaking. I met Chris when he participated in Justice Is Mind during the flashback wedding scene. As I’ve often said, this is an industry of networking and relationships.
Just as this week was coming to an end, I was alerted to this article in the Huffington Post stating “Scientists Can Read Your Mind Using These Images of the Brain”. It was great to read the latest news from Carnegie Mellon University’s research in this area and Dr. Marcel Just’s quotes. As some of you may know, I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind after seeing Dr. Just on a 60 Minutes story in 2009 that talked about ‘thought identification’. Justice Is Mind had the opportunity to screen at Carnegie last year.
As I was driving to Pittsburgh last Sunday for our screening the following day at Carnegie Mellon University, I had plenty of time to think. For me, I’m always planning ahead. Projecting that next plan for Justice Is Mind and other projects I have in development. Ask anyone who has worked with me, or even remotely knows me, I don’t live in the past but simply reflect on it.
The following day as I arrived at Carnegie Mellon University and saw Vernon Aldershoff’s truck (Vern stars as Henri Miller) I realized another milestone had been achieved for the film—we were screening at the very heart of what inspired me to write Justice Is Mind in the first place. From our world premiere in Albany last August to our screening at Carnegie, each one of our screenings is carefully planned, coordinated and executed by a varied team of enthusiasts that make them happen.
Meeting Dr. Marcel Just, and some members of his team, was very inspiring as he talked about some of the latest research they were conducting. Prior to the screening we had a tour of the Brain Imaging Center. It was fascinating to see first-hand where this research was conducted.
Walking into Baker Hall’s Giant Eagle Auditorium there were nearly eighty people in attendance. My sincere thanks to Shilo Rea, the Director of Media Relations for the College of Humanities & Social Sciences, for doing such a masterful job at bringing this screening to life. For the first time in the screening of the film we had an intermission to break for pizza and refreshments sponsored by the school. After the screening, I had a great Q&A with a diverse audience in attendance. From academics, students and administrators to film enthusiasts, indeed the screening could not have gone better.
On the way back from Pittsburgh, my focus turned to our May 19 screening at The Elm Draught House Cinema in Millbury, MA. But before that screening occurs, by the time I publish this post Justice Is Mind will be screening at Penguicon in Detroit. The tour continues!
Our marketing for May 19 is moving along nicely. We had a great write up in the Yankee Shopper and Pizza Post has again sponsored a radio spot to promote the screening. Reflecting on our past screenings, it truly does come down to partnerships to make these happen. With just over two weeks to go until The Elm believe me the follow up and marketing continues right up to the day.
Looking forward, our VOD distributor mentioned to me yesterday that Justice should be available within the next 2-12 weeks depending on the platform. Indeed, as we have been receiving requests for Justice from a variety of different countries, it will be exciting to present Justice to a global audience.
But even while we move towards VOD, our theatrical and event screenings are continuing in earnest. On that note, I’m looking forward to announcing a unique international screening in the next couple of weeks.
Tomorrow I leave before the crack of dawn for a nearly nine hour road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the April 29 screening of Justice Is Mind at Carnegie Mellon University. We have screened Justice at two universities, but Carnegie is different. This is where the idea for Justice Is Mind was born from a 60 Minutes broadcast about ‘thought identification’. Yes, I’m pretty excited. I’m also excited to report that Vernon Aldershoff, who stars as Henri Miller, will be joining me!
This past week I was reflecting on all our screenings to date. From theatres, law schools and science fiction conventions, each have their own atmosphere. From the actors and crew to the audience that attends. Indeed, those that attend Monday’s screening at Carnegie will represent an entirely new audience. And this is what it’s all about, building an audience.
The one thing I have read over and over again is the importance of building audience prior to VOD and DVD. Simply put, the number of films that are entering the VOD world is astronomical. When you have filmmakers like Joss Whedon and Jeff Lipsky placing their films in the digital world rather than “traditional” distribution routes, it does further the discussion that VOD has replaced DVD as the real revenue generator for independent films. More importantly, traditional distribution methods are changing in favor of filmmakers and audiences.
I do, however, disagree with the blanket statement by Jeff Lipsky that, “Independent American films are largely considered anathema to foreign distributors these days.” While I will agree that foreign distributors are hell bent on “stars” and “commercial” projects, the $35+ million bath foreign (and domestic) distributors are taking on Transcendence proves yet again that their model simply needs to change. Audiences want a good story. Period. Like Lipsky’s films that found US distribution but no international, foreign distributors have told me Justice wasn’t commercial enough because we didn’t have a “star”. They are seriously laboring under a monumental misconception of reality that will keep Justice out of the foreign marketplace. Do they know that some of the leading VOD platforms, like Vimeo, can be accessed anywhere in the world and that traditional and social media is the fuel that drives audiences? On that note, I’m working on finalizing a very unique international deal that I hope to announce in the next couple of weeks. Like others before me and after me, we just circumvent gatekeepers.
It’s often reported in the trades about being inventive when making an independent film. But the same holds true for distribution. What about unique ways and interesting venues to bring a film to an audience? Yes, you can get your film into a theatre. Yes, you can get your film screened at a university. Yes, you can get your film distributed online. There is a tremendous amount of work involved and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be done.
For me, I’ve been doing this for years. When I operated my publishing company sure we had traditional paid subscribers, advertising and newsstand. But there was always the events. I was always trying to create something unique that would bring attention to our magazine. Is it really any different with a film?
See you in Pittsburgh!
Last night I watched the classic Murder on the Orient Express. I have always been a fan of movies that center on a train with one of my particular favorites being The Lady Vanishes. I suppose it’s no surprise that each of these classics were directed by two of my favorites, Sidney Lumet and Alfred Hitchcock respectively. Needless to say I thought Murder on the Orient Express was just brilliant.
When I first started to write screenplays and then produce and direct, perhaps the best advice I was ever given was to simply watch well made films and read their associated screenplays. In all honesty, doesn’t that make the most sense?
One of the compliments I’ve received by the actors in Justice Is Mind and the audiences that have seen it is on the dialogue itself. Scary, I was actually at an industry mixer last year where some “expert” stated to attendees to only write dialogue at a max of 140 characters. Um, people don’t speak Twitter. Just watch one episode of the hit TV show Scandal. The editing is quick, but the character interactions always have a great arc of dialogue.
On Friday my email newsletter and press release went out announcing our next three screenings – April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University, May 4 at Peguicon and May 19 at the Elm Draught House Cinema. The Justice Is Mind tour continues across the United States at three different venues with three distinct audiences. This is what I call the road show before we go public – video on demand (VOD). But to be clear, our theatrical and special event screenings will continue as live screenings and VOD complement each other.
A few days ago an up and coming actor said to me, “I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes trying to steer the ship.” As I mentioned to a variety of people during the production of Justice Is Mind, my prior experience running a publishing company helped enormously when it came to organization and execution. In today’s world, a filmmaker really does have to be on the bridge navigating all the changing waters of this industry. Someday I suspect this actor will be on his own bridge after some years of experience watching others – it’s what I did and continue to do.
Speaking of being on the bridge, the poster concept art for SOS United States is coming along nicely. It’s very exciting when a new project is being developed. For me, after the screenplay and business plan, having a concept poster created really starts to bring a project to life.
It was a producer who I met when I was living in Los Angeles that talked to me about balancing multiple projects. That while one was moving along you should have others in development. But the key was not to get overloaded so that you never leave port with either. It’s really only the last couple of months that I’ve been able to cast an eye onto SOS United States while Justice Is Mind is riding along the tracks of distribution on its way to new audiences.
Next stop. Pittsburgh.
I am pleased to report that Justice Is Mind will have its next theatrical screening on May 19 at The Elm Draught House Cinema in Millbury, Massachusetts. This comes on top of our screening on April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania followed by May 4 at the science fiction convention Penquicon 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.
When the funding came together to produce Justice Is Mind back in 2012, I was only too familiar with the rapid changes engulfing the independent film industry with the decline of DVD, the rise of VOD and the challenges theatres faced with digital conversion. But change, in my view, is a good thing because it simply brings about new opportunity.
I’ve been a proponent of VOD ever since my short film First World ran on Hulu from 2009 to 2011. (It’s now available on Amazon Instant Video). Prior to the VOD release of First World, the film screened at 20 science fiction conventions in 6 countries. Some solid interviews were generated and it laid the foundation for the VOD release. It was a different time back then as social media was relatively non-existent with the exception of MySpace. During that time I simply utilized the tried and true public relations and marketing tools from my days as a magazine publisher. They worked then and they work now.
When it comes to marketing a film, I do believe you need to have a hook. Some reason why a journalist will write about your film, buy a ticket at a theatre or stream your film. None of this is easy and takes continuous promotion and pitches. Seriously gone are the days when you can “build it and they will come”. All of these screenings to live audiences on terra firma are building our foundation for VOD.
“VOD distribution is the ‘new’ DVD distribution at least in the US market.” That statement was part of a spot on post at the Independent Film Blog about marketing a VOD release. In today’s world of independent filmmaking, we know it’s not enough to write the script, raise the funding and produce the film. Filmmakers are also publicists and marketers. Simply put, if we aren’t going to champion our own film, who is?
Over the next two months, Justice Is Mind will travel to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Massachusetts. From one of the world’s most prestigious universities, to one of the largest science fiction conventions to a theatre that is nearly a century old, each venue represents a unique audience to present the same film.
P.S. As some of you know, my best friend Kim Merriam (who played an FVMRI tech in the film) graciously allowed us to use her home as the Miller residence in Justice Is Mind. As she is starting a new chapter in her life, she has put the house up for sale. You can view the listing here.
For those of us that are independent filmmakers we are inundated with more and more information on the direction of this business. In my point of view it comes down to what’s best for your own project and not the dictates of others. Coming off our highest theatrical attendance, I actually received an email from a filmmaker, who of course was selling their services, claiming “…you can forget a theatrical release if you don’t have a named actor.” Putting aside the fact that Justice Is Mind has had 10 theatrical screenings to date, this claim just smacks of sheer ignorance because there are simply too many films that have disproved this. Certainly named actors are a great assist for foreign sales, but how many articles and statistics have stated otherwise particularly when it comes to domestic sales?
There was a great article that was posted on Truly Free Film about the number of bad deals out there for filmmakers. Again, in my view, it just comes down to being careful because once you sign away your rights they are gone. Every filmmaker has different goals and objectives with their project. The great thing about this industry now is the number of ways to get your film seen by audiences. Because at the end of the day nothing else matters if audiences are not embracing your film.
As we are finalizing our VOD plans with a distributor, our box office gross numbers were also released this week to demonstrate the commercial appeal of Justice Is Mind as platforms consider the film. Our theatrical screenings have afforded us the opportunity to generate media and a following prior to VOD release. I did a simple search on Google today under “Justice Is Mind” movie and over 600,000 results were returned. What’s the makeup for all these entries? Who knows, but I think it shows that our independent film has some legs to stand on. When I read that an estimated, 50,000 films are made year, I’ll take our 538 rank for the past 365 days.
Over the course of any given week I see the relentless promotion some filmmakers do with their projects and my work on Justice Is Mind is no exception. The only magic to this business is hard work with the goal that audiences will enjoy your film. With Justice I could not be more thankful to the cast, crew, location and marketing partners that keep pushing this project forward. Just this week, through the introduction of someone part of Justice, we had another test screening at a theatre. I hope to announce that date soon.
What I find exciting in this business is the inventiveness you see with filmmakers to make their projects a reality. From writing, producing and distributing, there’s always something new to be learned and experienced. On that note, I’m particularly looking forward to our next screening at Carnegie Mellon University on April 28.
Justice in Pittsburgh!
Just prior to any screening of Justice Is Mind there is the usual set of nerves. Will audiences show up? Will they like the film? I also say a few words to the audience prior to the start of the film. Each one of these “opening statements” is a bit different but they always end when I introduce the concept of Justice Is Mind starting with “Imagine a not too distant future…” Someone asked me how I’m able to talk to audiences like this. Simply, I rehearse what I’m going to say. That’s what this industry is all about no matter what side of the camera you are on – the rehearsal and the performance.
After having a pre-event drink with my former classmates from grade school, I went over to the theatre at 5:30. Although that was an hour and a half before the film started, there’s a system I like to employ – meet with the photographers and get a feel for the surroundings. Every theatre is different and each has its own atmosphere.
It didn’t take long for audiences to arrive. From childhood friends to new supporters who read the media coverage we had in print and on the radio. For me, it’s always great to see the “JIM family” arrive. By that I mean the actors and crew that have traveled this journey with me for nearly two years. This was our tenth theatrical screening and there is a certain camaraderie among us that makes these screenings thoroughly enjoyable for all in attendance. And in attendance did they come. We set a new single screening record for Justice Is Mind with 159 in attendance and $1,570 in box office. To see photos from the event click album one and two.
The process of filmmaking is really a set of impossibilities that you overcome. Writing the story, raising the money, producing the film and, finally, distributing. This is an industry where the odds are against you from day one because of the quasi creative, entrepreneurial and business aspect that a film needs to have. But with 10 theatrical screenings under our belt, I updated our IMDB listing to include The Ashton Times as a theatrical distributor because, frankly, that’s what we’ve been doing that wouldn’t be done any different than with a traditional theatrical distributor. We strike a deal with the theatre (we don’t rent), pitch the local media, set up targeted promotions and engage social media.
Just prior to the start of the film I announced that Justice Is Mind will be screening on April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). For those of you that have followed this project for the last few years, I was inspired to write this story when CMU’s Dr. Marcel Just was interviewed on a 60 Minutes story about mind reading using fMRI techniques. With Dr. Just opening the film along with both of us having a Q&A with audiences after, this is one of those honors in life that doesn’t come along often.
Writing. The foundation of all things. For all of us that write creatively we are initially inspired by something. For Justice Is Mind it was 60 Minutes. For First World it was the Apollo space program. For SOS United States it was our current political climate.
There was a moment on Monday when I was standing just outside the theatre and a few final folks were walking in. As I opened the door for them it was in that instant when a strong sense of appreciation waved over. From the first word to an open door.