It’s been just over a year since I completed my political thriller SOS United States. Like all my screenplays, I revisit them after some months for various edits. Part of the general premise revolves around a cyber-attack on the nation’s power grid that also cripples military satellites. Imagine my response when Emmy and Peabody Award winning journalist Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” was released last week. As Koppel stated on CBS This Morning, Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin had told him, “It’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when.” Needless to say, Koppel’s book will now be part of my “general” pitch with SOS United States.
As American’s we like to think we are number one, that we are an invincible. Sure, we lead in many areas, including our military capability, but unless you are truly living off the grid we all remember the Sony Entertainment hack and one drive down most streets in our nation says – fix me. It’s always a positive when a journalist like Koppel shines a light on something we take for granted – electricity. Remember 1953’s War of the Worlds when the phone went dead after the initial alien attack took out the power lines? “That’s funny the phone isn’t on the same circuit as the lights.”
As for film, the American Film Market (AFM) starts next week. Their website boasts, “2,000 new films and projects”. You should see the catalogs of sales agents and the hundreds and hundreds of films that are represented. One does have to truly wonder how to stand out in the crowd. But stand out we must. Because, let’s be honest, it’s our project first before someone else’s.
It should be interesting to see how AFM resonates after Toronto’s tepid market. There’s no question that the recent box office troubles of Steve Jobs, Burnt and Our Brand is Crisis will be over analyzed and discussed. As filmmakers we are told by the “experts” that you need to attach stars to pre-sell into foreign markets, raise capital and secure distribution. But how many times do we see the absence of the consumer equation in this formula? It doesn’t matter what star you have in your film if the story isn’t there audiences won’t buy it.
Case in point I watched Marathon Man yesterday. Now there is a film that has stars and story. Imagine seeing the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier bring a film to life with the incomparable Dustin Hoffman along with the great Roy Scheider and the, what I believe, was the American debut of Marthe Keller. Watching the DVD special features, the passion of all involved truly made this film resonate at the box office in 1976, a film which still holds up today as a classic crime thriller.
This industry is a marathon. It’s easy to read about this great deal and that great deal, but we very rarely get the entire back story of the years it took to get to that point. By example, just this past week, two years after our initial release, a distributor in one of the world’s largest film markets, reached out to me about Justice Is Mind for VOD. It’s all at the preliminary stage, but it proves that long term marketing and promotion is effective.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010 I had no idea that the science of mind reading and its related legal and ethical implications would present itself in the real world the way it did (Pamela Glasner’s article in The Huffington Post pretty much sums it up). There’s no question this public awareness helps when I market the film.
In the sequel, In Mind We Trust, part of the storyline picks up from the end of Justice Is Mind – lost artwork from WWII. In the story it’s revealed that Wilhelm Miller worked in transportation whose responsibility was to ship stolen artwork via train, artwork that disappeared at the end of the war and begins to resurface through the Miller family.
It is oddly ironic that over the last few weeks there has been substantive media attention to an alleged underground NAZI gold train that disappeared at the end of the war. Apparently, a death bed confession revealed its whereabouts. There’s no question that there are countless unresolved mysteries from that time period. And the stealing of artwork, gold and other treasures during the war is another horrid atrocity that the world continues to face and rightly so. Now that Poland’s military is involved in the search, we should have a resolution one way or the other sooner rather than later.
But then we move forward in time to First World and SOS United States. When I wrote First World back in 2006 sure China had ambitious plans with their space program. But I had no idea it would move along at the pace it has. There’s no question, that unless something substantive happens to China’s economy, that country will land a man on the Moon. Much like the space race when the Soviet Union successfully put Sputnik in orbit, it was a wake-up call to the United States. And wake-up our country did by landing a man on the Moon in 1969. Curious how Russia announced this past week they are going to the Moon. Something tells me that China and Russia will soon be cooperating.
This of course brings us to SOS United States. Although China is moving along at a rapid clip, they are disadvantaged in certain areas of military might, particularly in aircraft carrier development, thus the conflict in my political thriller around the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and her ordnance.
But it is the continued cyber-attacks by groups in China directed against United States interests that really is the crux of the world we live in and a major plot element in SOS United States. And let us not forget how Chinese warships entered United States waters off Alaska this week.
In my view, every film whether the subject is good, bad or indifferent needs some sort of hook. Something that will pull the audience in from the real world while they escape into the narrative world of a movie.
This past weekend I hit the halfway point in writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind. While I have the general story all laid out and have introduced a variety of new characters, there are always those moments when writing that you need to think through a particular plot point or how something is going to be done. There is also that point in my writing when the characters start to converge and their respective storylines travel a certain path.
On that path, I’ve had to do a wide variety of research on the CIA, NSA, FISA Court and other institutions as they relate to the overall system of intelligence gathering in the United States and around the world. For those that may have been living off the planet last week, it was hard to miss the ramifications of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It’s clear, there’s a lot of polarization around the Senate’s report.
As a writer my goal is not to have an agenda that points in one direction or another, but to present a story that elicits questions. In First World, as President Kennedy once said, are we destined for the planets beyond? In SOS United States, what happens if we do downsize our military? And last, but certainly not least, in Justice Is Mind where does our right to privacy begin and end? Yes, I write about issues. But I seek to do it in a way that brings constructive questions and debates.
Of course as I write these stories of fiction, I do find it more than interesting that certain plot points are fast becoming a reality. In First World, China has ramped up its planned missions to the Moon. In Justice Is Mind, the ability to produce memories in video form is being tested and commercialized. But what is of particular interest to me at the moment is SOS United States and my postulation about a cyber-attack that brings down the nation’s military satellites and power grid. The fallout of the cyber-attack on Sony Entertainment Pictures, in my view, is far worse than the CIA report for a variety of reasons. Whatever did or didn’t happen within the CIA will never truly be known, but Sony’s data breach is simply unprecedented.
This all being said, we live in an interesting time. But really is this time any different than the decades before? It’s just more prevalent with social media and a 24/7 news cycle. But at the end of the day, it gives writers like me a lot of material.
It wasn’t all writing this weekend. For the first time I read a solid practical “no nonsense” article about crowdfunding on IndieWire in regard to Dear White People’s successful campaign. It reminded me in many ways of how Justice Is Mind came to being. I produced a short film version in 2011 and by 2012 the feature film was financed due to those short film efforts. For the sequel, now that we have established a foundation and audience, I’m fairly certain the plan will include both crowdfunding and some equity.