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The Screenplay

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“I want Spotlight to win” was my Facebook post last Sunday before the Oscars started. While 2016 yielded some excellent films (Trumbo, Bridge of Spies, The Martian and Woman in Gold), there was something about Spotlight that just felt right. Not only was the story itself important, along with the mechanics of quality investigative journalism, but you couldn’t have asked for finer actors either.  What was right from the beginning was the screenplay. In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Picture, it also won the first award of the evening for Best Original Screenplay.

As this article in The Hollywood Reporter stated, Spotlight took eight years to produce. But once Participant Media got involved as producer and with Open Road Films distributing, the rest, as they say was history. As Sierra/Affinity CEO Nick Meyer said, “the movie is the star now.” Indeed that star is the screenplay because as Tom Ortenberg said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “The theatrical marketplace is a roller coaster. And anybody who wants to play has to be prepared for that fact.”

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Justice Is Mind screened in theaters, law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth.

For all of us trying to make sense of the volatile nature of this industry, particularly when it comes to a theatrical release, it all comes down to the story. When I released Justice Is Mind into theaters, every one of our screenings was heavily marketed with an angle. We had to have an angle, because although we had a great cast and crew, nobody was a household name. The film had to sell itself. Thankfully, the media and audiences responded and the majority of our screenings were near or capacity audiences (there were no rentals).

But like the real “Spotlight” team at The Boston Globe did those years ago, writing a screenplay takes research and dedication.  When I recall the research I did for First World when it came to the space program, the criminal justice system and neuroscience for Justice Is Mind and various workings of the executive branch, military operations and intelligence agencies for SOS United States, that work laid the foundation of the story before I wrote one word of dialogue.  Of course we all want to see our screenplays come to life on the big screen, but as we saw with Spotlight, some things just take time. Why rush for quantity when you can have quality? In the case of Spotlight, that quality saw two Oscar wins.

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The National Security Agency plays a major role in In Mind We Trust and SOS United States.

Last week I finished the pitch document for Justice Is Mind as a TV series with the pilot In Mind We Trust already written. The process of getting some industry feedback has already begun. Having pitched a TV series around the sport of figure skating back in 2004, I’m familiar with the process. Of course, back around that time there were about 30 or so scripted series, now there are around 400. While times and processes have changed, it’s still all about coming up with the idea for a story.

As for changing times and figure skating, an idea came to me some months ago about a political thriller with figure skating as the backdrop to the storyline. Of course, it’s been some years since I actually attended a figure skating event. The last “Worlds” I attended as credentialed media was 2003 in Washington, D.C.  So with The Ashton Times credentialed, I will be attending Worlds in a few weeks.

Boston.

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In SOS United States the SS Leviathan is en route to Boston from Southampton, England.


Social Justice

"Especially, IN MIND WE TRUST, I really liked the concept." said a distributor this week.

“Especially, IN MIND WE TRUST, I really liked the concept.” said a distributor this week.

For those of us that market products in the modern world, we know that social media is a vital component for any marketing plan. But we also know the highs and lows that such platforms bring. This past week, I read a fascinating article titled Why Twitter’s Dying. While Twitter’s economics have been in the news as of late, the article spoke to a broader issue around social media platforms and the general abuse of its users. This article is really worth a read because everyone I talk to is thinking about the points this author raises.

Madam Secretary   MadamSecretary    TwitterBut while social media can have its pitfalls, it also can bring substantive rewards. Last Sunday I sent a tweet about my favorite show Madam Secretary. The official Twitter account for the show retweeted mine resulted in over 6,000 impressions.  Yes, pretty impressive for something that just took me about a minute to generate. But on the other side, when I was trying to locate a photo and went into the archive on Justice Is Mind’s Facebook page I found a horribly derogatory comment from an actor that auditioned for the film. Yes, I deleted it. Sadly, jealousy and bitterness is a large part of the abuse on these platforms. Social media, to quote Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, “It’s a sword. It cuts both ways.”

An outpouring of traditional and social media may save the SS United States.

An outpouring of traditional and social media may save the SS United States.

Certainly social media has assisted in marketing Justice Is Mind and my other projects, but the real driver is press. Anyone can post to social media (and even buy “likes”), but reporters are still the gatekeepers to their audiences, audiences built the old fashioned way by delivering content their customers want to read, customers that have either been acquired by a paid subscription, advertising or both. None of us in their right mind would pay for a social media platform, but we still pay for a subscription to a media outlet in one form or another. You are either going to shell out some money or sit through an ad. Content isn’t free.

But content is what this is all about isn’t it? If you don’t have interesting engaging content, nobody is going to care. Filmmaking is about developing content and we have seen a seismic shift in how it’s marketed and distributed. Just this week, Paramount Pictures announced a new release experiment of shortening the theatrical release window of the latest Paranormal Activity film before it goes to VOD. Will it work? Who knows because VOD numbers are a  guarded secret in the industry.

The Huffington Post. A promoted post on Facebook reached over 3,900.

Justice Is Mind in The Huffington Post. A promoted post on Facebook reached over 3,900.

While VOD is the primary gateway towards distribution for so many films, I strongly believe that a theatrical release of some sort is critical. Not only do reporters take a film more seriously if it’s “in theaters” but you are developing an audience along the way that can only help when you arrive on VOD. But like all things in this industry, you have new companies looking to exploit the promises of VOD distribution at the expense of the filmmaker. Yet again this week I received an email from a well-known distributor/aggregator claiming the benefits of working with them but paying upfront for distribution to platforms. Seriously upfront.

The film industry is just like the world of magazine and book publishing, companies promising the literal Moon without any skin in the game. As a well known writer said in her latest email newsletter about service companies in her industry, “They claim to make your journey easier, more profitable, give you access to people you’d never meet otherwise. What you don’t realize is that many of them are simply attempting to make a buck off your eagerness.”

Next Post.

Time flies. It was three years ago this past week that Justice Is Mind wrapped production.

Time flies. It was three years ago this past week that Justice Is Mind wrapped production.