As Jodie Foster told The Hollywood Reporter this past week, “The hardest part is getting the green light, getting the movie going.” From financing, locations, crew and talent, moving a project to green light status is a major undertaking. Reading the dailies coming out of Cannes this week there is a host of industry adjustments. From distributors looking for new ways to grab audiences, to Amazon launching a YouTube like service .to the availability of A list actors when so many are committed to “superhero” movies. Yet again another era of change in an ever changing industry. But at some point you just have to throw caution to the wind and do it.
A few days ago I crossed the 60 page mark in the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. My aim is to have a complete first draft by the end of June. I’ve already started to reach out to a couple of key people I’ve worked with over the years on availability later on this summer.
For me it comes down to visualizing not just the film but the market in which it’s going to exist in. This is why I always write a business plan as part of the development process. Bottom line, I need to know there’s a market for the story and/or a target demographic. For Justice Is Mind it was older audiences and a few films that fell into the type of audience I was going after—Fringe meets Law & Order in a Gattaca setting. With SOS United States the story is set in a contemporary world of conflict between nations and shadow governments that can best be compared to Seven Days in May meets Clear and Present Danger.
But with this new story I’m writing, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that the sport of figure skating has a base of enthusiasts and participants that can be marketed to. For me it comes down to not just creating “another skating movie” but one that builds off that base with a story that revolves around a decade’s long Cold War mystery that culminates at the world figure skating championships. What it really comes down is marketing to an alternative audience.
As producer Charles Cohen told The Hollywood Reporter regarding the niche he targets, “It’s a mature audience that’s seeking an alternative to the typical Hollywood production — your big tentpole picture. People who are crying out for Marigold Hotel or Philomena or Brooklyn. Films that harken back to the ’60s and ’70s, which deal with real issues.” I could not agree more. As I learned with Justice Is Mind audiences want an alternative.
Perhaps the biggest news this past week was Amazon’s new Video Direct Service that takes direct aim at YouTube. I’ve been working with Amazon’s CreateSpace and through our distributor for Amazon Prime for several years. Amazon, in my view, is one the best places independent filmmakers have to showcase their work to a wide audience (they also own IMDb). Unlike some of these “curated” platforms that you barely hear about, Amazon’s algorithm approach puts the decision firmly in the hands of the consumer.
But there’s another thing that Amazon also gets right and that’s its approach to theatrical screenings. They know that a quality theatrical screening makes all the difference to just another VOD release. Having had a theatrical release for Justice Is Mind it also helps enormously with press and building an audience. While I’ve been a proponent of VOD for years, the film industry is steeped in the tradition of the theatrical release and rightly so. As a filmmaker, there is nothing more exhilarating than seeing your movie on the marquee and having it come to life in a theater.
For those that follow me on Facebook and Twitter there is nothing unusual about me offering a one word status update “writing”. It usually happens on weekends when I write this blog, but it was primarily for a new screenplay I was writing through a good part of 2013 and early this year. With Justice Is Mind in theatrical release, an idea suddenly came to me about an idea for a political thriller. It was the same for Justice Is Mind when I was working on First World. The idea just happens and then before I know it, I fire up Final Draft and start writing.
I am pleased to present the political thriller SOS United States – A visit by the Prime Minister turns into a political crisis when the President learns that a nuclear bomb is on an ocean liner heading to Boston.
Inspired by the Cold War political thrillers Fail Safe and Seven Days in May with the contemporary pacing of Clear and Present Danger, I have always enjoyed this genre of film that revolves around government conspiracies, intrigue and deception. Another one to add to this would be Advise and Consent.
With SOS United States announced, my efforts begin in earnest to raise the capital to produce the film ($300,000). This isn’t a project that I plan to shop around to option, this is a film that I plan to direct. That being said, it all starts with the concept poster. The poster you see here was designed by the talented Jestyn Flores of Pixel Eight Design. I met Jestyn through Shannon McNamara. Shannon plays the court clerk in Justice Is Mind. Yes, it is a small world!
But while all this was going on, there was something else I was waiting for—another review of Justice Is Mind was scheduled to publish on Saturday night. While I was working on the closed captions file for our VOD distributor (Kinonation), this coming review was top of mind. With our VOD release coming up, along with our international premiere, the goal, naturally, is to secure positive press. After I finished the closed captions file (Zencaptions is great!) and uploaded it to Kinonation I went over to the reviewers website and there it was.
“It’s Mark Lund’s writing that makes these interactions what they are, for there is so much intelligence in the dialogue.” When I read this part of Angeliki Coconi’s review of Justice Is Mind on Unsung Films there was a moment when I almost started to cry. Yes, for all the Swedish stoicism I project, it’s my French half that takes over in moments like this. There is nothing more satisfying than having your work acknowledged. But in addition to my work, I always like when a reviewer calls out actors for their performances. In the case of this review it was Kim Gordon (District Attorney Constance Smith), Paul Lussier (Henri Miller’s lawyer) and Carlyne Fournier (Dr. Eve Pullman). When I think of the hours they put in to develop and prepare these very involved, and dialogue heavy, characters, I just want to thank them again (and all the actors and crew) for making Justice Is Mind possible.
When I think of the hours, days, weeks and months I have sat behind a computer writing, researching, re-writing, printing, presenting, etc., reviews from Frisco Kid, The Barnstable Patriot and now Unsung Films, makes this process all the more worthwhile. But it has been the local press that has fired up interest in the film, from the Spencer New Leader to Worcester Magazine to the Nashua Telegraph, which brings audiences into buildings that translate to word of mouth, social media, etc. It’s all part the plan to present Justice Is Mind and now SOS United States to the widest possible audience.
Of course, I am not so taken with our accomplishments to date to know that there will not be some difficult navigating down the road. Indeed, for all the red carpets, there are those business issues I’ve had to deal with along the way (some not so pleasant). There will be those that love what you do and there will be the detractors. Indeed it can get very hot in the kitchen, but that just means that something is cooking.
On the bridge.