Yesterday I attended the annual World War II Saturday at Battleship Cove. While there seemed to be less reenactors than last year, I found it just as engaging and interesting. If I come away with having learned a few more moments during that time in history, it’s well worth the visit.
By example, I learned some interesting details behind the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Sure, I was generally aware that the United States and China had some sort of cooperation during the war, but when it’s illuminated it puts it in perspective. That “perspective” continued after SACO dissolved which was followed by China’s civil war.
Speaking of China, Justice Is Mind has been picked up by China Mobile as a flat licensing deal. As I understand from our distributor, it’s now going through censorship and localization on their end. It will certainly be a milestone to break into the Chinese market. One does not need to be a filmmaker or read the industry trades to know that China is one of the leading film markets.
Given the tumultuous state of U.S. box office revenue this year, it’s imperative that these foreign markets are available to filmmakers. For Justice Is Mind and First World our primary foreign market is the United Kingdom. I have also noticed that viewership in Japan is picking up. But one driving force that continues to put films front and center is the importance of a marketing plan.
I can’t tell you how many times the marketing plan for an independent film seems to begin and stop at the industry trades. Never mind when you read the first cut to studio budgets seem to be in marketing. As I have often said you can have the greatest project in the world but if nobody knows about it nobody will care.
As soon as I finish writing a script, I start working on the marketing plan in terms of a target audience. With distributors relying more and more on filmmakers to assist in the marketing plan, there really needs to be one in place before the first scene is shot. With First World it was science fiction conventions. With Justice Is Mind it was law schools and universities that focused on neuroscience. With Serpentine: The Short Program it was the Ice Network. Yes, like the aforementioned, films have their primary target audience then they broaden out from there.
Amazon is a perfect example of that. Someone might have heard about Justice Is Mind from our primary plan, but found the film on Amazon. Their algorithm then points customers to other recommended films. At that point the plan is relatively complete. But it all starts with that primary plan to push consumer awareness then generally continues with social media and other digital marketing tactics on an ongoing basis.
It’s hard to believe that it was five years ago this month that we were producing Justice Is Mind. Yet here we are five years later with new markets opening. The greatest thing about the world of film is discovery. It doesn’t matter when the film was made, it’s about when a customer learns about it for the first time. In today’s world of VOD a film no longer has a shelf-life.
This past week I approached the near half way point in the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. And coincidently some great articles recently came out about the process of screenwriting, the spec market and a wonderful piece about Kevin Walker who wrote Se7en (one of my favorites). All three of these articles are a must read for those of us that write screenplays. But some of the biggest takeaways for me was Jason Buff’s INDIE FILM ACADEMY: Reverse Engineering Your Screenplay.
As I have often said, if you ask 100 people an opinion about your screenplay (or film) you will get 100 different opinions. Are you going to take all those opinions and redo your entire screenplay? Of course not and rightly so. But I promise you there are those selling their services that will talk to you like you’re a third grade moron. Why? Because they want to sell you something—their expertise. There are many great experts in this industry, but like all things Caveat Emptor applies “Let the buyer beware”.
I could not agree more with Jason when he wrote “As many successful screenwriters will tell you, there are no rules”. Of course you need some sort of structure in your screenplay. Your characters need to do something in the world you have built for them. I think the important thing to remember is that you are writing for an eventual audience, but it should also be a story that you want to see. I believe that’s where the word “passion” applies. As writers, we are passionate about our stories. If we aren’t, why should anybody else be?
I was a reader once for a film festival and it didn’t take me long to see who had passion and who “phoned it in”. Yes, it’s important to understand what EXT. and INT. mean, when to use (or usually not use) a parenthetical, flashback sequences, intercuts, etc. At the end of the day, the very end of the day, you have to simply assume that someone other than you is going to read your screenplay. Does it flow? Do the characters move from one action to another in a logical progression? That doesn’t mean that they don’t go against their own character, it just means that they move along in the story. Think about it in real life. We all know someone who for some odd reason does something out of character and then falls back into themselves. If it’s one thing contemporary audiences like it’s a twist.
Writing a screenplay, again in my view, should be an enjoyable experience. While it’s certainly not easy creating new worlds and characters, the joy is in that creation — you’ve created something from nothing. At one point in your story you’ll find that the characters start to talk to you. Thankfully, as I’m a Gemini and have a split personality, that Zodiac trait helps!
To quote one of my favorite films “Now, pull your own weight. I’ve taught you the technique, now use it. Forget you’re a hidebound New Englander. Unbend, take part, contribute. Be interested in everything – and everybody.”
This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.
My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.
In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed. But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.
As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.
Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles. After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously. After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.
The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.
As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States. For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.
Lights, camera, concept.
This past week, just as I finished some updates to SOS United States, the American Film Market began. No sooner does it start than this article in Deadline comes out lamenting the “slim pickings” and quoting a variety of industry executives from, “It’s the lightest market in memory. TV is definitely sucking up talent” to “It’s much tougher now to find those projects that have that clear theatrical profile.”
Attaching talent, even in the best of markets, has always been a challenge. But clear theatrical profile? How is that truly defined? Having secured a limited theatrical run with Justice Is Mind that had talented but unknown actors, I often wonder what metrics these “executives” use when measuring a film for commercial appeal. This has always been an industry where you had to think outside the box, particularly when you are introducing something new to the market.
There’s no question there has been a seismic shift in talent from film to TV, that’s why I have positioned In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, as a pilot for a TV series. Sure, it could be a standalone feature, but it just makes sense to have this option when presenting. I remember many years ago when I attended Mipcom listening to execs wishing they could bring some of the theatrical talent over to TV. This is an industry that shifts like the tides. It’s just a matter of product and timing.
Speaking of product, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by a “distributor” for Justice Is Mind for an “exclusive” deal in a major market. Sure I’m always interested in a new deal, but it has to make sense. No sooner did we conclude our initial call and documents arrived with the most ridiculous terms and requirements I have ever seen. Um, no, I will not reedit the opening and end credits of my film to include a laundry list of producers to make it look like you produced the film. Um, no, I will not upload my film for you to review to a mysterious website that can only be accessed by you after the fact. It was laughable. And if you say you have distributed hundreds of films, you best have a listing on IMDb. Just when you think you’ve seen everything you see something new.
As for timing, I never would have thought that after I wrote First World that China’s space program would truly boom the way it did or that the cyber attacks I present in SOS United States would become so front and center. When I first wrote Justice Is Mind that idea was born by one broadcast on 60 Minutes about ‘thought identification’ and my passion for a good legal drama. Could I have ever imagined the advances in mind reading technology and neurolaw? No, of course not.
In my view it’s impossible to time the market from an industry or consumer standpoint. If you have an idea for a new movie or TV series, just write it and then do everything you can to produce it. In the end, it all comes down to what the consumer wants and the way they want to watch it.
“Let them lead us.” SOS United States.
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.
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.
With the business plan for In Mind We Trust completed, work now begins again in earnest to market my slate of films for development, The one thing I have learned about this industry since I made First World, and during my time as a magazine publisher, is that investment can come from anywhere at any time. They key, as I learned with Justice Is Mind, is to be ready when the time is right.
Christopher Nolan said it best in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of weeks ago when talking about his career, “The thing that happens to a lot of people is that you get that opportunity, somebody says, ‘I really loved your film, what else do you have?’ And if you don’t have anything, or if you’ve just got vague ideas, it’s very difficult to take advantage of that moment, and that moment doesn’t come around again,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on it.” Obviously, I agree.
My feature length screenplay First World worked great to make the short film version in 2006. Yes, that project as a feature is years in development, but the short film version is in the market and the script award nominations have served as a great foundation. Just over the last couple of months, sales of the short film have tripled from this time last year and China is moving along at breakneck speed with their space program. Timing is better now to present. As this article on Hollywood.com shows, some projects just take time to develop.
The idea for SOS United States came to me when I was in the process of managing the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind. I’ve always loved the political thrillers made during the Cold War. The idea of developing a story that pits the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as they deal with a potential nuclear device on a commercial ocean liner bound for Boston, certain reflects the political and military tensions we see in the world today.
But it was the sequel to Justice Is Mind that called to me this past November. I always figured that, “someday I would write a sequel”. But I didn’t know it would develop so quickly. For me, when I get an idea I just need to run with it. The result is In Mind We Trust. With a story that reunites a number of the original characters from Justice with new characters against the world covert surveillance, government power, reincarnation and the horrors of World War II, the screenplay, like Justice Is Mind, is a demonstration of competing genres that I believe work well together. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “Mark Lund’s film is a thriller-gone-courtroom-drama-gone-sci-fi. Such extreme shifts in genre should not work. But they more than work in this case.”
Through all this is the navigation of a changing industry and the needs, interests and wants of investors. As I learned from my original investor in my old publishing company, to my backers on Justice Is Mind, these things take patience and perseverance and being ready when the time is right. It’s about staying a course that is true to the projects and to never capitulate.
This weekend I hit page 110 of the sequel to Justice Is Mind. For the last several pages the characters and related plot points have been converging to an end point. It’s moments like this in my writing that I find myself going back to the beginning of the script to make sure I haven’t left anything out. But this is the first draft, and like any first draft, there will be edits.
As some may know, one of my favorite authors is Barbara Taylor Bradford who wrote A Woman of Substance. I came across an interview she did in Gotham last year on what some of her writing secrets are. She makes an outline that doesn’t go more than 10 pages. That’s generally about the same practice I employ. For me, I want to have an idea where the characters are going, but to give them flexibility if some new idea or plot twist comes up. In fact, I already adjusted the ending a bit for the sequel.
The one thing I don’t do is over edit. I really believe you can edit too much and water down what may have been OK in the first place. But this is all personal preference. Of course, if a project has been green lit there are those adjustments that sometimes you just need to make for a variety of reasons. I was looking at my first draft for Justice Is Mind back in 2010. I’ll just say this, thank God I changed the last ten pages!
But like Emma Harte in A Woman of Substance had her “Plan with a capital P”, I have the same thing with the “Justice Is Mind” project. It may take some time to implement, and I certainly won’t divulge it all here, but with a short and feature film completed, a sequel in development and notes for the fourth leg of this project, it’s moving. With each leg the goal is to continue to increase the profile of the project. Ambitious? Sure. But so was the feature film.
Speaking of the feature film, I’m pleased to report that Justice Is Mind can now be streamed on Roku through the new VHX channel. VHX just announced it last week. It’s certainly a great development and it just gives audiences more viewing options. I’m hoping to announce some additional distribution options for Justice Is Mind shortly.
On the political front I was more than delighted to read last week that relations between the United States and Cuba continue to thaw. In my political thriller SOS United States, it’s Cuba that comes to the aide of the United States. When I think of the number of times I have travelled in the Caribbean (mostly by cruise ship) only to see Cuba just over the horizon. It’s time this failed embargo is lifted.
And just as I was finishing up this blog post one of our supporters said, “You know when folks see a movie I don’t think they really get the work, the really hard work the writer has thinking up every word and making it come out sounding natural.” Suffice to say I appreciate those words!
From the writing of the screenplay, raising the money, producing, directing and marketing, audiences really have no idea what goes into the production of a film. And as Emily Best of Seed & Spark said in an article this week, “Every film is a business.” Because in today’s day and age of independent filmmaking, there is one thing you need to have.
The one thing I learned when publishing magazines is that your distributors, in all their forms, are your partners. Produce a good magazine and it will sell. Likewise, the same is true for a movie. But all this requires marketing on a day to day basis. A case in point, would be our last United States theatrical screening at the Chatham Orpheum theatre in September. It was a partnership between their theatre and Justice Is Mind. We both had one goal, sell as many tickets as possible and generate press. Not only did we have a great turnout and positive press, we also established a great post screening working relationship.
I’m delighted to announce that the Chatham Orpheum Post Production Services delivered our first DCP of Justice Is Mind last week! Some of you may be wondering what a DCP is. To quote Wikipedia, “A Digital Cinema Package (DCP) is a collection of digital files used to store and convey Digital cinema (DC) audio, image, and data streams.” While we always had our theatrical DVDs, now we have another theatrical option with DCP.
While I have yet to come across a theatre that can’t play from a DVD, it’s great that we now have a DCP option as the majority of theatres across the United States have converted to a digital format. I don’t profess to be an expert on this tech, but theatres do like to have this option. That being said, when Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 better than ½ the theatres we screened in still had not converted to digital. In the end, this just gives us another option. My special thanks to the Chatham Orpheum for their great work! To learn more about their DCP services please visit their website or email them at this address.
If the cyber-attack on Sony and subsequent pull of The Interview from the major chains demonstrated anything, it is that theatres are your partners and communication is key. While VOD is of course important, I still believe in the release model of theatrical distribution first followed by VOD. I think trying to marginalize theatres is a mistake. I read this past week about a film that got into Sundance, didn’t receive a distribution deal they thought was worth anything and is now is trying to fund a theatrical release by renting theatres and “then fans can pay what they want to see the film”. Aside from not agreeing with four walling (renting) for a variety of reasons, a pay what you want is a horrible precedent to set. In all our theatrical screenings, audiences paid whatever the general ticket price was for that theatre and market.
Margins in this business are squeezed enough for everyone. Do you admit someone to watch a movie in a theatre for $1 when the person behind them was going to pay $10? As my business partner said the other day there is an issue with perception in value. Yes, for VOD, the $1.99 rental is pretty standard. But the economics of that rate for a theatrical screening (via paying what you want) just won’t cover costs. Because what this all comes down to is how do investors get paid back when margins are so thin. It’s just simple economics of cost and revenue.
As I hit the 100 page mark of the sequel to Justice Is Mind this weekend, I truly wonder what the marketplace will be like by the time that film is released.
This morning I was reading the Hollywood Reporter’s excellent profile on filmmaker Christopher Nolan. I loved his quote, “If you want to make a calling card, you go to Kinkos. You don’t spend three years of your life putting a film together”. That could not be truer when making a feature film.
For the Justice Is Mind “project” it started in 2010 with the script, 2011 with the short, 2012 with the feature and 2013 to the present for the release and general marketing. Simply put, filmmaking is a long tail business. Yes, it’s all very exciting and “cool” to be shooting a film, but these are projects that we are married to for years. By example, my first short film First World was produced in 2006 and released in 2007. It’s 2015 and revenue is still coming in on monthly basis. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the value in a film library. I just have three films in my library, but imagine a company with hundreds of titles all earning some sort of revenue on a monthly basis.
With First World under consideration and SOS United States completed at the script stage, I just passed the 95 page mark on the sequel (yes, I have a title) to Justice Is Mind. The story, is much bigger in terms of scope. Instead of a trial in Massachusetts, we are at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. Am I ready to release the title and logline? Not yet. While I’m happy where the story is going, I always remain “open minded” on direction.
For me writing and developing a story is like playing chess. The pieces of your story might move in a typical fashion at the start, and just when you think I’m going to give you what you want, I’m going to turn it. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “And this is when the film changes gear for one last time, turning into a science fiction tale – unexpectedly and viciously.” Yes, there will be a couple of unexpected turns in the sequel. But like Justice Is Mind, the clues start early.
One of the reasons why I admire Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker is because he creates original stories that resonate (I loved Inception). Personally, I’m really over the homogenized films that are created to appeal to the widest possible audience, but don’t tell a story. Seventy years later Laura is still a great film. Likewise with the 1968 production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s what we call long tail!
According to the Hollywood Reporter 2014 box office was down 5% from last year marking the biggest drop off in nine years. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. I just know from the audiences that saw Justice Is Mind, they want original stories. I understand the economics of why a studio spends $150 million on one motion picture, but imagine dividing that budget by 10? We know there are all kinds of original stories just waiting to be told. In the end it comes down to what audiences want to see and how they want to watch.
Yes, I have gone to Kinkos. To print scripts.
Another AFM is over. Aside from attendance being up, I’m not sure how much has changed from last year (or even the year before). We all know that foreign sales agents want top talent so they can sell internationally and VOD is disruptive. This “disruption” if you will has been in the works for years. But like the bygone days of magazine publishing when publishers refused to accept the internet, if one thing has changed this year it is that the industry has finally woken up to the reality that VOD is where this industry is and where it’s going for the foreseeable future. At the click of a mouse consumers will decide what they want and when they want it. But regardless of the trends it does come down to telling a story first and, oh yes, on a reasonable budget.
The foundation of every movie starts with the screenplay. In all this “noise” about the state of the industry it still surprises me how suddenly the screenplay becomes a sidebar in the conversations. How many times do we read about this “A lister” or that “A lister” attached to such and such a project. A lot of excitement, press, accolades and then the film comes out and it just doesn’t resonate with audiences…for whatever reason…and never recoups their budget. This is one trend that’s terrible for the industry. While the A lister may go to win an award for best performance, someone or some company is adding up losses. And losses are never good in any business.
But with VOD platforms on the exponential rise, budgets simply need to be adjusted as the DVD market has collapsed. I absolutely agree with AFM’s Managing Director Jonathan Wolf when he said, “We’ve got 50 companies who are in what we call mini-booths, where they only spend $3,900 for the space yet they’re bringing films and having a commercially acceptable experience. If you can make a couple films for $300,000 and sell each for $600,000, you have a business.” My political thriller SOS United States has a budget just north of $300,000.
I read a great story in IndieWire this week titled “Why It’s a Great Time to Be an Independent Filmmaker” by Naomi McDougall Jones. She could not be more right when stating, “I believe there are those who crave what I crave as an audience member; to be genuinely surprised; to have my own prejudices exploded; to leave the theater altered from whom I was when I went in.” These are the same comments I’ve heard from audience members that have seen Justice Is Mind.
Justice Is Mind and Jones’s film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, are apples and oranges in genre, but share the same type of approach to the market. We have a theatrical run, press and VOD. It’s all very doable. But it’s also work done the old fashioned way. It takes time (lots of it), research and effort.
But if there is one new trend from AFM this year that’s a major positive are the new distributors entering the market. With studios focusing on tentpoles they have created a need for the rest of the market. As Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk tells Variety, “The majority of filmmakers have to be interested in a new model for releasing indie films, and you could not say that two or three years ago.”
And so as I write the sequel to Justice Is Mind and present First World and SOS United States for investment and development, I too believe this is a great time to be an independent filmmaker. It just takes the three ‘p’s I have often mentioned: plan, perseverance and patience.
It was one year ago yesterday that Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in Beverly Hills, California and it was just over a week ago that we had our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. In a sea of films looking for attention, my goal since day one with Justice was to make every attempt to stand out from the crowd. Just take a read of the AFM dailies, there are a dizzying amount of films looking for attention and distribution.
I have never been one to follow the crowd. I don’t believe in doing what everyone else does just to be “in” or perceived as “popular”. Conformity has never been my strong suit. Ask anyone that has followed my career from publishing to film, I have always carved a niche for my projects.
I believe the verdict is in on Justice Is Mind. Having been screening the film theatrically for over a year the majority of audiences and reviewers have enjoyed the film. Audiences didn’t care about the “star power” of the characters. They just wanted to see a good story. Honestly, I don’t know why distributors (particular foreign sales agents) don’t understand that as well. On the Queen Elizabeth that was the test. An international audience from all over the world that applauded when the film ended. It wasn’t about the stars in the film, it was about the story in the film. Thankfully, the industry is changing and rightly so.
Unbelievably the trend as of late is that there’s plenty of capital but not enough bankable talent to sell the films into foreign markets. One industry executive quoted in Variety stated “From a financing perspective, it’s never been better. But it’s not about the money; it’s about the talent. The challenge right now in the independent market is getting talent to commit and stay committed”. But films are still being financed. One look at an AFM daily or the thousands of films that are produced every year contradicts that assertion. I think what this comes to is looking for the perfect project. Dear God we know that doesn’t exist because there’s one factor that no actor, producer, director, distributor, sales agent or investor can gauge…the audience.
With the rise of VOD, theaters hungry for films that tell a good story (the building in China is off the charts) and unique screening opportunities (like we did with Justice on the Queen Elizabeth), Justice Is Mind proved that a quality story works in the market from theatrical, VOD and special events. All this without “star” actors. When I was publishing many years ago I was told time and time again that nobody would read my magazines without known writers. Really? That’s why I had the number one magazines in our market. Don’t follow the crowd, make the crowd.
As a diehard fan of cinema from classics to contemporary, I have nothing against “stars” but projects shouldn’t be defined around “A” list talent. We all know that at the end of the day it comes down to what the audience wants.
Perhaps the best advice I ever received was to have a few different projects at the ready because you really don’t know what will resonate at the right time. I have First World, a science fiction epic; Justice Is Mind, a psychological sci-fi thriller and SOS United States, a political thriller. With Justice Is Mind produced and distributed, today I continue to market that film while presenting First World and SOS United States to interested parties to secure production. Tomorrow, I start to write the sequel to Justice Is Mind.
Since Justice Is Mind premiered last August I’ve been interviewed by a variety of reporters. Whether they were about the legal aspects, the loss of privacy or the science fiction of the FVMRI procedure, each one of these interviews had a particular angle. For the record, I am beyond thankful for each article. As a former magazine publisher I know how inundated editors and reporters are from the countless pitches they receive. When they take the time to write about our independent film it makes this journey all the more special.
This past week I was interviewed by a reporter who asked me what my motivation was to make Justice Is Mind given how hard this industry is. My answer came quick, “To see it accomplished.” When one thinks of the numerous obstacles one must overcome to produce, complete and distribute a feature film, there is an innate sense of satisfaction seeing a project years in the making go from thought to screen. I remember sitting next to my best friend and her husband who backed the film in Albany, NY at our world premiere, and being beyond excited to see the start of Justice Is Mind on the big screen. Indeed, I know this excitement was shared with the over 200 people involved to make Justice Is Mind a reality.
As I’ve said before, I’ll say again, navigating this industry is not easy by any stretch. No matter what side of the camera you are on, the competition is endless. I shudder to think how many times we all heard the word “no” throughout our respective journeys. A couple of weeks ago when a parent asked me what advice I could offer his son who wanted to be an actor, I offered the same answer a producer gave me when I was 18, “You have to want this industry more than anything.” Watch the movie All About Eve when the character Bill Sampson sums up what it takes.
The next two months will be nicely busy for Justice Is Mind. With our Cape Cod premiere on September 18 at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, the Viewster Online Film Festival from September 11-25 and our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, the journey continues. Part of this journey was the Chatham Orpheum Theater’s press release. Check it out at this link.
And while Justice Is Mind is introduced to new audiences, I continue to present First World and SOS United States. When I set out to write a screenplay, I write a story that’s interesting to me. Who would have thought that when Justice Is Mind was released that mind-reading and loss of privacy would be so front and center in the news. With First World it has been interesting to see where China is today with their space program versus when I wrote the script in 2006. As for SOS United States, who could have guessed that the military situations I presented in that story are so prevalent now. But putting that all aside, if it’s one thing I learned about investors, the pitch process is never the same as they all have different motivations. Adaptability is key.
The voyage continues.
I wasn’t at all surprised last week to see the news reports that the United States military was finding counterfeit electronic parts in its supply chain that have been made in China. Our politicians shouldn’t be surprised either.
America’s politicians are so busy worrying about, yet again, another election that the business of the United States and its position as a world power are quickly eroding to second world status. It’s automatic with our two-party system – we just can’t have a politician talk about the importance of the business of America we have to have their party affiliation tacked on. Guess they aren’t worth listening to unless you can identify them as a D, R…or maybe even…dare I say it…I.
So what’s happened these past couple of weeks? China has not only launched a military reconnaissance satellite but successfully accomplished its first “space docking” in Earth orbit. Sure, the United States and then Soviet Union accomplished these great feats in the 1960s, but we can’t forget why they succeeded in the first place. Both our countries were knee-deep in the Cold War and were determined to best each other no matter what the cost. The result? Through our paranoia of each other and our ideals, we developed technology and related advances in science that have greatly benefitted all of mankind. History is being repeated all over again.
Why are we, the United States, not fully cooperating with China? Oh, wait, that’s right. China has that awful record of human rights violations. Sure, I’ll give you that China fails on a variety of fronts in that arena, but is the United States any better? Let’s see, we have unyielding unemployment, poverty, riots in the streets, protestors in most major cities, our veterans that defend our democracy are treated horribly and in the center of it all a two-party political system that is driving a knife through the very fabric that made this country great and a world power in the first place – innovation.
America it is time to innovate again. Not just domestically, but globally. It’s time to abolish this ridiculous sanctions limit on aeronautical engineers cooperating with the Chinese. Is our country so naïve to think that the thousands of engineers that have been furloughed from America’s space program are going to wait around for a D, R or I to get things moving again?
America you can have your cake and eat it too. You know you are capable of negotiating anything and everything when you want too. You’ve done it before you can do it again. Remember what President Reagan said “Trust, but verify.” That’s all we need to do with China.
On the eve of insolvency of the United States of America, the landing of the space shuttle Atlantis on July 21 brought to a close a thirty year program of tremendous progress in science, space exploration and international cooperation. It also reminded me of what America is capable of when it sets its collective mind to accomplish something great. Sadly, my country has lost its greatness in a sea of politics.
A Rasmussen Report poll said that 50% of respondents thought the space shuttle was worth it with a CNN poll reporting that over 50% thought it was bad for America to end the space shuttle program. America is at the precipice. Does our nation continue to lead? Or are we going to be led?
One doesn’t have to be a political scientist to know that China is now in the economic driver’s seat. Their ownership of $1 trillion plus of our bonds is surely going to hold court in the debt ceiling issues of the United States, and they are most certainly going to eventually be “left seat” in manned space exploration. I strongly predict that the United States will be reaching out to China to service the International Space Station because, mark my word; some myopic politician will botch the deal with Russia to continue servicing the ISS while NASA is in the Apollo/space shuttle valley of the 1970s.
As the United States “reset” their relationship with Russia, our government must “reset” the way it operates constitutionally. The time has come. I’m not advocating a change to a dictatorship, but you’d have to be living under a rock not to realize that Washington, DC is in perpetual “special interest” gridlock. There simply has to be a better way.
It’s time for the words United and States to stand together again so that we can all take another “giant leap.”
China’s ambitious space program and military development seemed to have caught some countries, including the United States, by surprise. Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised at all to read that President Obama would be interested in partnering with China on a manned mission to Mars. Frankly, I don’t see one nation (never mind a commercial space company) pulling it off in the economic climate of the early 21st century. From a technology point of view, NASA could certainly put man on Mars. But the International Space Station proved that partnering is the way to go. It just makes sense from a cost sharing and technology point of view.
It is indeed unfortunate that China is absent from the International Space Station (although, I read that they wanted to be involved). This lack of participation has only solidified their resolve to build their own space station called Tiangong-1. To quote a NASA official in the article it’s a “potent political symbol.” I respectively disagree on that point. It’s time to put politics aside and look at the greater good. Trust me, if China develops an economical launch system the international commercial contracts will fast come their way.
When I was developing First World, my research revealed some mentions that China was hoping to achieve a manned mission to the Moon by 2020. In looking to apply some plausibility to the First World story, I theorized that China could possibly accomplish this goal by 2018 if they were motivated to accelerate their efforts if their sovereignty was threatened. That threat being their discovery, during the Beijing Olympics, that a unified covert military insurgency was operating in most of the world’s military organizations.
As I begin to write Synedrion this weekend, the sequel to Covenant, readers will be introduced to President Robert Anderson who discovers, not only the classified missions of the Apollo space program, but the fact that a large part of this military insurgency lies within United States Armed Services – a realization that propels cooperation between China and the United States on a global and off-world scale.
Finally, we welcome home the space shuttle Endeavour after a fantastic mission to the International Space Station. And back to the science fiction front, I’m really looking forward to X-MEN: First Class this weekend.
I am pleased to announce that First World: Covenant has been published. My first ebook went live on Amazon yesterday afternoon.
For those of you that may not be familiar with First World, the story is set in the year 2018 when China announces its first manned mission to the Moon which sets forth the unraveling of a worldwide cover-up that began when Apollo 11 discovered a domed installation in the Sea of Tranquility, and with it, the origins of mankind.
Covenant is a prequel novella that takes place twenty-four hours prior to the events in First World: Revelation. Covenant revolves around four characters that each have a stake in the coming of a new world order and provides some additional background to the primary story that starts in Revelation. The synopsis can be found on the Covenant page and in the official press release.
The First World story really began in 2006 with one scene. I just imagined being on the beach when suddenly these space-like ships appear out of nowhere. OK, now where did I want the story to go.
Ever since I can remember, I have loved science fiction. I’m particularly fond of the classics from the 1950’s. I have also been fascinated with the number of conspiracy theories surrounding the Apollo missions. It’s hard to believe that some people actually think we never went to the Moon. So then where did these Saturn V rockets go?
Another area of interest of mine has been the various religious beliefs that are held by most of the human population on this planet and the governments that, let’s face it, control the population.
When I started to “pen” First World one of my other goals was to ground the story in history and major events. You’ll see what I mean when you read Covenant.
Since 2006, First World: Revelation has placed in three writing contests at leading film festivals, been produced as a short film that has screened at twenty science fiction conventions in over six countries and is running on Hulu.com through the IndieFlix channel (Yes, I am working on securing production of the feature-length version). As I mention in the acknowledgments, the words Thank You don’t nearly express my gratitude for all those that have supported this…adventure!
I hope you enjoy Covenant. I look forward to your comments.