There is that moment during pre-production when suddenly you shift into a higher gear. That moment came this week with location scouting in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Personally, I find location scouting one of the most interesting parts of the filmmaking process.
After the actors are cast, it comes down to the location. Of course they have to be captured brilliantly by a talented crew, but finding the right location encompasses a variety of factors. Does the scheduling work between the location and film? Does it work geographically for the actors and crew? Does it fit to the story? Unless a set is custom built to the script, there are always story adjustments after a location is secured.
Just as I mentioned last week, one of my jobs is to make sure a location knows exactly what they are getting into when they sign on to a film project. I’ll be working on a proposal to one of the locations this week. For me it’s all about planning and efficiency. I personally can’t stand disorganization on sets. As they say, time is money either literally or figuratively and film sets are no exception.
The one thing I believe is critical is testing equipment at locations well prior to the start of production. Sadly, I have been on my share of sets where camera, sound and lighting were simply never tested until the first day of production. There simply are some things you really want to know in advance. Where are the outlets? Are there reflections? Is there signage that needs to be covered? Can the house lights dim? Any strange background noises during the sound check? That’s why it’s called pre-production!
But it’s not all about locations. Wardrobe is another important part of the process. First Signal calls for two unique sets of costuming for certain actors. Two are wearing U.S. Air Force uniforms and two are wearing Nehru styled suits. After finding a great vendor in Colorado, the Nehru suits arrived yesterday. Not only was the price fantastic, but the quality was solid. A few alterations and we will be good to go.
With more location scouting over the next couple of days, along with numerous other details, the pre-production process continues as we move forward towards the June 16 table read.
With First Signal’s table read set for June 16 at The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick, MA, the priorities are now turning towards locations. Of course there are numerous other details to attend to, but locations are the top of my list. Once I have the locations secured, I build out the rest of the production from there.
The one thing I have learned over the years is you never know what type of locations are available until you start talking to people. This past week I introduced First Signal to someone who operates a website that chronicles former Cold War bunkers and installations in New England. Then there was the pitch to certain government agencies in Massachusetts. In both instances, the parties got back to me the same day to discuss the possibilities. I look forward to some interesting tours in the next couple of weeks!
When I start the search for locations, it’s not just about filming, but establishing a marketing partnership. As I’ve learned over the years, a location is either eager to work with you or doesn’t want anything to do with a film. That works just fine for me. The last thing you want is to film in a location that isn’t supportive.
But as a filmmaker I also have the responsibility to be forthcoming on what a location can expect when filming commences. There will be the actors, crew and equipment. To those not familiar with the process it will appear to be chaotic and disorganized. There will be no glamour. There is no red carpet. Even when “action” is called, it’s only for a limited time before you hear “cut”. Then the process is repeated for another angle, then repeated for another…and another. With everything I’ve produced I always have someone come up to me and say, “I had no idea so much was involved.”
One thing that can be assured is that First Signal will have an epic score. Last week Daniel Elek-Diamanta, who scored both Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program, agreed to score First Signal! His work on my last two films was beyond brilliant. You can learn more about Daniel and listen to his work on his official website at this link.
I programmed SpaceX’s launch date into my calendar. The upcoming launch of the Falcon Heavy was an event I wasn’t going to miss! But as can often happen with a launch, the time (and even date) can change at a moment’s notice. When the launch time did change, I went to the gym. As the time ticked down, most of the news oriented stations started to report on what was either going to be an historic success or a catastrophic failure.
I soon found myself paying attention to who was watching and who wasn’t. Yes, there were a good number of people watching (particularly in my age group). But then there were those that just didn’t seem to care. Judge Judy and Dr. Phil are fine enough shows, but you only get one chance at seeing history in the making and remembering where you were at the time. While I remember seeing the later Apollo missions on TV, at four years old I was a bit too young to remember Apollo 11. To this day I still remember those grainy black and white images. But today’s broadcast was being carried in vivid HD.
Watching the Falcon Heavy liftoff from the same pad as Apollo 11 was epic. It reminded me of what’s possible when we join together to create greatness. It’s this type of science, cooperation, ingenuity and forward thinking that makes this country great not myopic politicians. Although the political winds of the Cold War set the space program on the course it achieved in the 1950s and 60s, it’s private enterprise that will take us on the next step of this final frontier.
There’s no question that my following of the space program led to my interest in science fiction. While the 60s had Star Trek (again, a bit before my time), my introduction to science fiction was in the 70s with such programs as UFO and Space: 1999. Each of those programs had a base on the Moon along with a fleet of ships.
Launching oneself into the world of screenwriting also carries its own set of risks (but not nearly as much as an actual rocket launch!), the primary one being the risk of getting a story wrong. Writing an original story is not an easy process. It takes time and research. When I set out to write a story, I usually do some baseline research so when I start to write I don’t need to stop until I reach that next point of needed additional research. When I wrote Justice Is Mind the first phase of research was around thought identification with the second phase being the legal process around a court proceeding. For First Signal, the majority of the research revolved around satellite communications and the Deep Space Network.
As the submission process continues for First Signal, I’ll also be having a meeting this week with a filmmaker. I recently saw some of his work and he had that number one thing that’s so important when working with a crew – inspiration. From my own projects to others, I’ve been on a variety of sets over the last year. And while inspiration is expected from actors, it’s just as important with members of a crew. You can easily see who’s on point and who needs a sharpening.
Yesterday was President Kennedy’s 100th birthday and it was celebrated by the over 4,500 that attended the Kennedy Library. The day’s long festivities even included a birthday cake for over 1,000 guests!
This was my third trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and it never disappoints. But given the current political climate in the United States, this visit was even more poignant.
The one thing that I took away from my visit yesterday was not only the enthusiasm of those that attended, but the messages that the museum offered. A world of hope, unity and democracy was what resonated with me. Look no administration is perfect and Kennedy’s had its issues, but at the end of the day civil rights, the arts, the space program and strong relations with our allies were the hallmarks that I reflect on.
I have been fortunate to have travelled most of Europe and have seen first-hand the good relations the United States projects to our allies. These weren’t just holidays, in most cases they were business trips where I worked with a variety of colleagues on numerous projects. Like Kennedy, I’ve been to the Brandenburg Gate but not when the wall was standing. For me, I drove in a convertible right under it. Or in this case, right through history.
At the Kennedy museum a piece of the Berlin wall stands alone in a corner. I can only imagine what the Berlin Wall looked like at the height of the Cold War never mind its intended purpose. We know from history that the building of walls does nothing to bring people together, it divides them.
I like to think that the word UNITED in the name of my country means more than just states but the world at large. On June 26, 1963 at the gate in Berlin, President Kennedy stated, “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
One of the highlights from yesterday was the performance by the United States Navy Band. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, hearing them play was truly something to be remembered.
But it’s important to remember that yesterday was Memorial Day. A day to remember those who died while serving in our armed services. Those that made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms of democracy today. Think for a moment living in a world where freedom of the press, religion, choice, assembly, and so many other rights that we take for granted not existing.
Today we live in a complicated world, but I wonder if it’s really any different from the world that existed during the Kennedy Administration. The difference today is that social media has illuminated all facets of society here in the United States and abroad. It’s what we do with that illumination as a country and as a society that will mark our place in history. As President Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
With posts for crew on New England Film, Stage 32 and the official website (casting for actors to follow soon), the Serpentine project is moving forward. While it’s always great to work with new people, I naturally reached out to those I’ve worked with on Justice Is Mind and First World. As so many of us see in this industry, it’s about established relationships while expanding your network. Yes, there are those I have worked with for years, while I know there will be new people I’ll meet thought this project.
So while I work on establishing a crew and securing locations based on a general idea of when we are going to shoot, there is the casting of the skater to play Suzanne Wilson. This is unlike any other actor I have ever cast. Not only does this skater have to have a “nationals” or “worlds” quality, but there is also the interest and ability to act along with necessary enthusiasm of making a film.
As one elite skater I talked with this past week rightly asked, “How long does this take to film?” As this skater has been a part of a nationals and has competed internationally, sure they have seen TV cameras. But that’s a one take show. I explained the wide, mid, close and insert shots. The camera angles, lighting, sound and, depending on a variety of factors, several takes of the same scene (personally I don’t believe in more than four). In short, it can be a bit overwhelming for a novice as it is a repetitive process.
While the “Search for Suzanne” continues, my advice to anyone that wants to get involved in this industry is to visit a set. Perhaps the easiest way to get involved is to submit to student films at local colleges that offer film programs (they always need people). Some say to be an extra in a “big movie” but I don’t agree with that as the nuances of the process are lost when you are part of a cattle call. Student films can be a lot of fun and a real eye opener. Just remember as they are student films it can very much be learn as you go and the end result can vary widely and wildly. I’ve been involved in some excellent student films and others that I will never post!
But as they say it has to start somewhere. My first TV appearance was on The Montel Williams Show in 1994. A very nice production assistant knew it was my first time on TV and pretty much told me what to expect in terms of the process. I promise you, the more you see the process the more things you pick up. After a while you learn what everyone does and why they do it.
Speaking of acting, one of my favorite museums Battleship Cove hosted a World War II event yesterday with various exhibits and reenactors. Not only is it a great history lesson, but the passion these actors have for their craft are truly Tony worthy.
After seven months of writing and research, along with attending a World Figure Skating Championships this past March for inspiration, I announced my latest project on Friday. Serpentine – A champion figure skater finds herself in a government conspiracy involving her missing mother and a Cold War mystery that culminates at the world championships in Moscow. The official website can be found at this link.
The name of the project came to me the first week I started to write it. In figure skating the word “serpentine” is used throughout a variety of areas from figures to footwork, to spiral sequences and generally consists of an “S” type of pattern. Serpentine is also mentioned in cryptography and as a code word. For this project the title Serpentine links all aspects of this story.
For independent filmmakers it’s one thing to write the screenplay and come up with a title, but then there are numerous aspects that need to be addressed prior to launch – writing a logline and synopsis, building a website, sending the script to trusted sources for review and comment, registering the script with the Writers Guild of America and U.S. Copyright Office and submitting the title to IMDb and other sources (thank you Rotten Tomatoes!). Then comes development and bringing the project to life.
Those that follow me on social media or this blog, know some of the groundwork that I’ve been developing. In as much as it’s important to keep a public face, there are those countless conversations and presentations that go on behind the scenes that are not discussed publicly until they are a done deal. Remember Justice Is Mind’s international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth? That was months in discussion before the approved press release. I could have announced Serpentine months ago, but I wasn’t finished with the screenplay and had to ascertain a variety of areas within the sport to see if I wanted to move forward. But forward we are moving.
I could not be more encouraged by the response Serpentine has received since Friday. But suffice to say the next couple of weeks will be inordinately busy. From developing location deals to securing talent, I plan to post this week for cast and crew. The goal is to produce the short sometime in October with an early 2017 release. If all goes well, the idea is to produce the feature in 2017 with release after the Winter Olympics in 2018.
Does this plan sound remotely familiar? It should. I produced a short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence in 2011. The release of the short in 2012 led to the production of the feature film later that year with a 2013 release. In the case of Serpentine, the plan is produce the first ten pages of the script that introduces the primary characters and storyline.
Before I close this post, I want to thank those that have supported me in developing this story. Your words of encouragement and comments on the project have been greatly appreciated over the past weeks and months.
But foremost in those thanks goes to Adam Starr who designed the concept poster you see below. I have been working with Adam since 2000 on numerous projects. In fact, the first project he did for me was a corporate promotional video for my old publishing company. In terms of posters Adam designed First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. To learn more about Adam and the story behind the poster, please visit the website.
On the ice. Representing…
After six months of research and writing I finished the first draft for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating. From the tranquility of local skating rinks to the power capitals of the world, the story centers around a champion figure skater, her mysterious new sponsor and the president of the “American Figure Skating Federation” as they traverse a Cold War mystery that has engulfed the skater’s family since the 1970s. While the title of the story will soon be revealed, the working logline is as follows, “A champion figure skater finds herself in a decade’s long government conspiracy involving her missing mother and a Cold War mystery that culminates at the world championships.”
Writing an original story takes time, at least for me. I move the process along, but don’t rush it. I let the characters speak to me and the settings they are in. While the story started and ended the way I had originally planned, I always find it interesting how suddenly the idea comes for this character to do this or that character to do that. In the end, I like to see characters evolve.
Since SOS United States went under review some months ago, I’ve had the time to devote to this project, a project that I’m planning to put into production the way Justice Is Mind came to market. Some have asked how this process moves forward. First, the script is now being read by my trusted attorney for the last twenty five years. In addition to trusting his judgment and comments, it’s also for legal purposes. Over the week the script will get registered at the Writers Guild of America and then at the U.S. Copyright Office. After WGA registration the script will roll out to a select group for their comments.
During the script review process a concept poster will be produced along with website registration and a preliminary design. The project will be formally announced once the concept poster is complete along with a synopsis. I usually let a project sit for a week or two after a first draft before I tackle the synopsis. It’s not so much as a challenge to write, but you need to decide what to write. I never like giving away the whole story because in the end the synopsis is also a promotional tool. In Justice Is Mind we don’t learn the outcome of the trial, just that the situation is dire. If you want to know what happens, I say watch the movie.
But following the Justice Is Mind model, will be the production of a short film version to develop interest and present the production aspects of the intended feature, in this case, the first ten pages of the script that introduces the primary characters and their world. By the end of next week, or first of the following, I will be reaching out to several actors and crew that I have worked with on First World and Justice Is Mind. This will be in addition to reaching out to area skating rinks that I’m familiar with and other locations.
Of course, critical to the process will be the interest of a skater who can project the starring role on and off the ice. A tall order? We shall see. The one thing that will not happen is using a double. It was one thing in Justice Is Mind when an equestrian was used in the advanced riding scenes, but even the actress that played that part was a rider. Yes, I’ll be looking for a “Lynn-Holly Johnson” type. On the production side, there will be the filming of the skating sequences and having them look as dynamic and exciting as possible. I already have color scheme in mind that will play out throughout the production.
Yes, this is a very exciting time but having been down this path before with Justice Is Mind it’s all about planning, production and execution.
On the ice.
Today I finished Act Two of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. With a story that traverses a season in the sport along with over 40 characters on and off the ice, this stage of the writing process is a point of reflection. It’s a point when I review my notes (there are 25 pages) and read the script from the beginning. I liken it to building a road. The “earthwork” has been done, but it needs to be paved. For me, the Final Act (or in this case Act Three and/or Four) is both the most exciting and nerve wracking. Why? Because the road has to lead to a destination — a conclusion.
Every writer works in their own way. And while books, seminars and industry experts dictate how you should do the process, I promise if you talked to ten different screenwriters you would get ten processes of mixed results. For me, I look at a character or story arc and see if it has evolved. Nothing is worse than watching a movie and not seeing a character or story resolution. I’d rather take some extra time to get the last acts right than have audiences leaving disappointed or, worse, with a predictable ending.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind the initial premise was someone facing their own memory at trial. But for anyone that has seen the movie, while that may be the central core, there’s a conflux of other activities going around it. In my view, nothing is linear in real life and it shouldn’t be in film. For me, I always love a good twist at the end or a surprise ending. Two of my favorites with surprise endings are The Sixth Sense and Witness for the Prosecution. Both films couldn’t be more different in genre, but they brilliantly pulled off an ending that I don’t think anyone saw coming. As of this moment, I believe I have the surprise ending all set for this story, but as it’s not written yet that can certainly change!
As for a mix of things, there was a great practical article in Forbes titled How To Finance An Independent Film by Bryan Sullivan. While I’ve known about these steps for some time, it was nice to see a “drama” free article just present the facts. Often with the trades or some of the bloggers I follow (or used to follow), there’s this air of judgment or bias in their reporting that does nothing but lecture. This is an industry of creatives that develop stories for an audience. And while there most certainly are standard ways to accomplish that, the last thing we need to hear are “You can’t do this” or “You can’t do that” when it comes to building projects. Bottom line, all projects and their path to market take different roads.
I’ll admit there is a certain satisfaction in creating an original story. In the case of this story around the sport of figure skating, it’s worked out well so far that I was involved in the sport in so many different areas. From skating (I passed that Junior Free before the rule changes!), to teaching, to publishing a magazine for the sport to TV analyst work, I can say that this story travels from learn to skate, to receptions to the world championships with the FBI and NSA steadfastly involved that builds a story that takes us around the world.
Representing the United States.
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.
Russia. Spain. Taiwan. First, the email came in from a colleague if I could assist a filmmaker in Spain to register his film in the United States. That was followed by a university in Taiwan that wanted to license Justice Is Mind. As the week drew to a close a distributor in Russia approached us about a VOD for Justice in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
In the world of filmmaking “chain of title” is critical to establish a variety of documented steps of ownership rights to a film. As a former magazine publisher, I’ve been working with copyright matters for years. Sadly, I’ve seen some projects that don’t take this matter seriously. If you don’t have a properly established chain and necessary releases, it can severely complicate matters when it comes to dealing with a distributor. The chain starts with registering the script. Believe me it’s worth the fee.
The next chain of events this week came when I was contacted by a university in Taiwan that wanted to have Justice Is Mind for their library. Obviously, I was flattered and directed them to the variety of download and streaming options for the film. I even pitched them to screen the film like we did at some domestic universities here in the United States. It will be interesting to follow this development. Perhaps it could serve as a model for international university screenings.
On Thursday we received an offer for Justice Is Mind from a distributor in Russia that wants to distribute our film on a variety of VOD platforms in that part of the world. While I’m still reviewing the agreement, unlike some other recent distributors that approached us, this one appears to be pretty buttoned up. This is when I go back to my magazine experience and a phrase from President Reagan “Trust but verify” when it comes to foreign companies. I don’t say this because of the United States/Russian connection that Reagan was referring to during the Cold War, but from a business point of view with independent verification aka “due diligence.” Because once you sign on the dotted line and transfer the film assets, it’s done.
What has been very interesting for 2015 is how much the film industry has changed on the global stage. Everything from financing to production to distribution has literally taken a 180 degree turn. Some will say for the better, some for the worse. It all depends on your point of view. Film Specific had an interesting take on all of this last week. Their webinar can be found here. But if there is one thing that prevails in all of this it’s marketing. Yes, I’ve written about this before. In my view it’s marketing on all fronts, from presenting new projects to potential investors such as SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, to the continued marketing of established projects such as First World and Justice Is Mind. As I’ve said before, consistency is key for the long term.
Of course while all this was going on, I was patiently awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I remember sitting in a theater in 1977 and seeing Star Wars come to life. Was it that moment that I wanted to be a filmmaker? I don’t know. All I do know is that with all the issues the world is facing right now it’s great to see a film that brings everyone together in a unifying force to enjoy a medium that the world over appreciates.
To be a theatrical marketer you just have to do what I do when I go to the movies these days—you find someplace to sit in the lobby and look at theatergoers. I’ve worked in consumer marketing in one form or another for over twenty years and it just comes down to patterns. First, as a magazine publisher and then as a filmmaker. In the former, I targeted the fans of a particular sport (age didn’t really matter), but in the latter it’s a demographic.
Since I wrote First World back in 2006, and produced a short film version in 2007, I’ve known for some years that attendees of the science fiction convention circuit generally skewed in my age group (I was born in 1965). So when I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010, I thought it would generally appeal to an older audience who may have counted TV series like Law & Order as their favorites along with films like The Andromeda Strain and the more contemporary Gattaca. The theatrical release of Justice Is Mind proved my theory when the majority of those that attended our screenings were 40+ and evenly split between men and women.
Of course, when you’re writing a screenplay it’s all guesswork isn’t it? Despite the best laid plans you really have no clue how it’s going to do. Yes, studios and some filmmakers do test screenings, but unless you are going to poll the entire country you just have to hope your film will find an audience through your marketing plan. But one demographic that is doing exceeding well are older audiences. Before there was Netflix, Amazon, and even Blockbuster, we went to the movies. Seeing a movie in a theater was an experience you weren’t going to get on television. I’m not discounting the importance of the younger generation that of course goes to the movies, but the generation I’m in is a bit more predictable – they want to see great stories come to life on the big screen.
As for great stories, I saw Trumbo this week and just thought it was a brilliant film. For me, I’ve always been interested in stories that revolve around the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Cold War. Throw both of those interests in and I’ll be the first to buy a ticket! Trumbo did not disappoint. Considering the ground it covered in 124 minutes, the story really captured a time in Hollywood and a political climate in the United States all those decades ago that I believe we are feeling now in the 21st century. You know what they say about history, it has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
As an article in The Wall Street Journal stated this week, there is a booming business in grown up films. When the $600,000 budgeted film Grandma returns $7 million in box office, that’s a serious profit and a business model that works.
S.O.S. United States. The call went out by the SS United States Conservancy this week and was answered by media around the world. From The New York Times, to The Telegraph to CBS, the famed ocean liner SS United States may be auctioned by the end of the month and scrapped unless a buyer, developer or investors save America’s flagship. As the conservancy’s Executive Director Susan Gibbs stated to CBS, “We have never been closer to saving the ship and never closer to losing her”.
After World War II, the United States government realized the value ocean liners could bring when Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were converted into troop ships during the war. Partially funded by the government, the SS United States keel was laid in 1950 and was launched in 1951. A technological marvel, she projected American pride around the world and shattered speed records during her sea trials sailing through the ocean at 38 knots or 44 miles per hour. She won the eastbound and westbound Blue Riband for speed records in 1952 and still, to this day, holds the westbound title. So advanced were her propellers and steam turbine engines, they were classified Top Secret until the 1970s. In the event of war, she could quickly be converted to a troop ship for 15,000 soldiers.
Of course, with jet travel literally taking off in the 1960s, the SS United States along with the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were withdrawn from service. While the Queen Elizabeth was lost in a mysterious fire in Hong Kong, the Queen Mary is still with us as a museum ship in Long Beach, California. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Queen Mary on a few occasions. That liner still projects to this day a symbol of an era that should be remembered, not scrapped.
I have long wanted to write a story that revolved around an ocean liner. A story that also enveloped the complexities of world governments and the atmosphere of the Cold War, but set in the present. In SOS United States we learn that the “world’s fastest ocean liner” is heading to New York and may, or may not, have a nuclear device on board. Modeled after the SS United States, the ship is called the SS Leviathan. In the real world the SS Leviathan was originally called the Vaterland until it was seized by the United States government after World War I and became the flagship of the United States Lines; the same line that would eventually build the SS United States. It was maritime engineer William Francis Gibbs who renovated the Leviathan and who went on to design his dream ship the SS United States. Entirely self-taught, he devoted himself to this singular passion.
And now that same passion has been picked up by his granddaughter Susan Gibbs. Her tireless efforts, determination and commitment to save this ship reflects the best in America—pride.
Stated Gibbs, “It’s our shared history as a nation.”
SS United States
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 Thursday I announce that Justice Is Mind will go live on another VOD platform which has over 170 million users around the world. What’s so interesting to me is the constant ever changing world of film distribution. Most of the VOD platforms we are now on didn’t even exist when I wrote the business plan for Justice. Imagine where this business will be in the next five years.
Speaking of business plans, I’m about two-thirds completed with In Mind We Trust. While this plan certainly has many characteristics that are similar to SOS United States in terms of demographics and the Cold War overtures, there are of course numerous differences. It’s highlighting those differences in terms of marketing and public relations that will certainly aide the project as it moves forward.
One area that has sparked quite a bit of discussion has been the past-life reincarnation of Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind. In In Mind We Trust this area of the story is fully realized. How incredible was it that NBC News, and countless other media outlets, reported this past week about one ten year old boy who details a past life he had as a Hollywood actor. The report itself is fascinating and you can watch it at this link. Personally, I do believe in past lives. Like the research and science that’s part of “thought identification” mind-reading, this will be another area that I’ll be watching develop.
As for developments there is an upcoming movie called Women in Gold that stars Helen Mirren in which she plays a character who seeks to reclaim a piece of artwork that was stolen during The Third Reich, a claim that winds up at the Supreme Court. Based on a true story, there are the parallels between that film and Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust. In Justice, the painting in question is Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man that engages a conflict between Henri Miller and his father Joseph Miller. In In Mind We Trust, we learn the backstory of the painting and how it came into the possession of Henri Miller.
Of course some things have changed from a business point of view, locally, here in Massachusetts. Our state’s film tax credit may soon disappear. In my view, the credit obviously, is a good thing. But as I understand the way our state’s tax credit is written, it does need an overhaul. An overhaul is one thing, but a termination is something else. The large studio productions that shoot in the state will just take their business to other states and an entire industry will simply atrophy. Many businesses have made significant investments that will have to be written off in terms of infrastructure and jobs. Simply, there has to be another alternative.
While we didn’t qualify for the state tax credit on Justice Is Mind, we would on In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World. If, by example, In Mind We Trust is produced for say around $100K plus on the low budget end, it won’t matter really if there’s a credit or not. But bring in a multi-million dollar budget with named talent and suddenly, and rightly so, you are looking elsewhere as it comes down to the overall project. Think about it. A film, even with a budget of $500,000, can earn a credit of 25%+. That’s not money you leave on the table, you simply take the table to another state or country that maximizes your capital.
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.
When I was visiting Space.com this morning, I was reminded of the opening paragraph of Covenant. One can only wonder if a civilization in the Camelopardalis constellation will intercept Voyager 1 when it reaches that part of space in the next forty thousand years. Even more interesting, where will our civilization on Earth be in that time?
I frankly don’t subscribe to the doomsday theorists on how and when life on this planet will end. As we all know, life on Earth has evolved, been destroyed and re-evolved again over millions of years. When we stop to think that dinosaurs walked this Earth tens of millions of years ago, I think we can safely say that life on this planet will always exist in some form.
But that does not mean that we shouldn’t take responsibility for our time in the here and now. Believe me if the dinosaurs could have deflected an asteroid to avoid their extinction they would have. Not only do we have the technology to deflect an asteroid, but the very real capability of taking care of this planet environmentally and its people.
Someday, I truly believe, that the Golden records on the Voyager spacecraft will be played by another space faring civilization. Imagine their excitement to realize that they are not alone in the universe.
But there was a time in contemporary memory where life on this planet nearly extinguished itself.
During the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union’s installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba nearly ignited Earth into a war that would have ended all wars. Thankfully, the Soviet Union blinked and we are still here today to talk about it. As one student said in the theatre, “My God, we almost killed ourselves.” That student was a high school senior. History doesn’t have to repeat itself in the present if we know the past.
It has recently been publicized that President Kennedy had a lot of misgivings about committing the United States to the herculean ambition of putting man on the Moon. Sure it was motivated by the Sputnik moment, sure it was motivated by beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, but Kennedy was a realist and knew full well that the United States had a lot of pressing domestic issues that needed to be addressed from both a humanitarian and cost point of view. But this is what made his presidency so legendary, to think in the here and now and the tomorrows yet to come.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” — President Kennedy before a Joint Session of Congress, 25 May 1961