The email came in on a Thursday afternoon. A producer from station KABC-AM 790 in Los Angeles wanted me to do a phone interview on Friday with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips for their popular morning drive talk show. The subject was figure skating. The topic was an incident between two skaters at the World Figure Skating Championships in Japan.
I co-starred with Jillian on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. She was a skater and I was one of the judges. No sooner did we meet on set than we became fast friends off the ice. Needless to say I was very excited to do the interview. First, it was Jillian but second she’s a great interviewer. It was a reunion of sorts as we haven’t seen each other since I moved back east in 2008. The moment the interview started we picked right back up where we left off all those years ago. You can listen to the interview at this link. Those few moments on air with Jillian brought back so many great memories from my time in LA.
As for the world of entertainment, last year I was cast in a documentary titled Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. As you see in this still, it was shot entirely in green screen. In the production these shots will be animated to recreate areas of the documentary for which no photos or film exist. From what I’ve seen, this looks like a brilliant documentary about an important part of American history after the Civil War. The documentary airs on PBS April 9 & 16. To learn more click here.
In just over a month principal photography begins on First Signal. Since I wrote the script in late 2017, it’s amazing how fast time has gone by. It was becoming real enough over the last month when certain props arrived, but when the Air Force Uniforms started to arrive last week it was then that we all could feel the day coming.
I decided to buy the uniforms rather than rent. Not only was it about the same price for the weeks we needed them, I look at the uniforms as a smart investment. First, we’re not constrained to a limited amount of time with them. What happens if we need to reschedule shoot dates past the rental period? What happens if after we wrap we want to do some pickup shots? With this acquisition, the budget is locked down.
With cast and crew complete, final props being created and actors going through fittings, it’s this moment in pre-production where things are fine-tuned and coordinated. One could say we’re rolling out of our Vehicle Assembly Building.
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.
Yes, the title of this post is a twist on the book Scarlett, Rhett and a Cast of Thousands, but I was reminded just the other day on what goes into making a feature film. It was early summer in 2013 and our world premiere date for Justice Is Mind was set for August 18, 2013. Yes, the film was edited and scored, but we were still under the gun on those numerous last minute items like color correction and sound mixing. The one thing left to finish was the closing credits. It wasn’t until I started to add everyone in when the number of names credited was finalized at 201. But add in the employees of our location partners and the number was well north of that. It’s true when they say it takes a village, or maybe in the case of Justice Is Mind a small battalion, to make a feature film
With our Second Anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, planning is well underway. As I’ve mentioned before, I treat every screening like it’s the first one. The deal with the theatre is secured; cast, crew, location and marketing partners are notified; a press release is sent and then there is the media pitch. My special thanks to the Worcester Herald and Examiner for their early coverage of the special day.
I am delighted to confirm that several of the stars, co-stars and featured performers have already confirmed their attendance. While many of us have traveled the theatrical release tour together, August 18 will mark for the first time in two years the coming together of those that I haven’t seen since the world premiere. Indeed, we are all looking forward to it.
But aside from a reunion of some of the cast and crew, it is about presenting Justice is Mind to new audiences. The work that goes into the production of a feature film is monumental. Indeed, some producers I know are starting to pull back on producing projects as they are time intensive. But when a film is finished, when you see it play in a theatre, your TV or even your smart phone, you realize at that moment that all the sleepless nights, self-doubt and over analysis is over. The work that has been put in by so many is being presented to the world. Thus, you want to do it again and again. At least I do.
The film industry is changing even more rapidly that it was when I first created the world of Justice Is Mind. But at the end of the day content is still king. There are now more platforms available to watch a film than ever before and they need product to fill their pipelines. Whether it’s a tentpole like the upcoming Star Wars (I can’t wait) or a truly independent film like Justice Is Mind, there is something for everyone.
The days are long. You feel there will never be an end in sight. But then there is that moment after the final rendering that the heart and soul of a cast of hundreds comes to life. For it has been the reception that Justice Is Mind has received that has led to the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust. By this time next week, the concept trailer will be released.
Justice Is Mind – The Second Anniversary Screening – August 18, 2015.
Tickets now on sale.
Tonight, the entertainment industry comes together en masse for The 87th Academy Awards “The Oscars”. Personally, I’m rooting for either The Imitation Game or The Grand Budapest Hotel to take Best Picture. The one thing I always wonder when I see the nominee list for the Academy Awards, is the journey these “projects” took to reach the pinnacle of the entertainment industry.
The Imitation Game took years to develop. Purchased as a spec script by Warner Bros. for Leonardo DiCaprio in 2011 and then going through some “development hell” it finally came out the way it did. Can we honestly see anyone besides Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing?
Developing a film project can take years…many years. The casual observer of this industry only knows what they see in the theatres and the related award shows. But there was someone, perhaps a small group, that had to champion these projects forward. Had to convince a studio, sales agents and related distributors that their project was worthwhile. Had to convince investors to take the long shot that this project would net positive cash flow down the road. There is no gamble bigger than making a feature film, but on the other side there’s nothing more rewarding when it’s completed and seeing it in a movie theatre.
When I wrote First World in 2006 and condensed into a short film in 2007 to promote the feature film concept, I had no plans to write Justice Is Mind at that time. But when the idea came to me in 2010 to write Justice I took what I learned from First World and produced a short, Evidence, to gather interest in the concept. But from day one in writing Justice Is Mind, I wrote with the idea that I would produce and direct this film on a manageable budget.
This week I read a great story on No Film School “Keys to Film Financing: Keep Creativity in Your Heart, but Dollar Signs in Your Eyes” written by the brilliant folks at Buffalo 8 Productions. Their statement, “By getting your first project made and seen you’ll have more leverage your next time around to tell a bigger story and avoid the pitfalls that early stage writers often find in the development hell that permeates economically challenging films,” could not be more true. The sequel to Justice Is Mind is a bigger story and will command a higher budget.
It is impossible to time a film for the market. Simply, even in the best of circumstances, from script to screen can take about two years. But that being said, it all comes to promotion and marketing. And, as my business partner in Justice Is Mind mentioned to me, it’s about having product – i.e. scripts. Because at the end of the day that’s where it all starts.
“In the sequel to Justice Is Mind, acclaimed journalist Margaret Miller now finds herself in the crosshairs of the United States government. Desperate to save her husband Henri…” Announcing the title and synopsis to the sequel…
A year ago this week I was in the final days of preparing for the world premiere of Justice Is Mind on August 18, 2013 at the Palace Theatre in Albany, NY. The film itself was completed and pressed to our theatrical DVDs the week earlier. I knew the majority of the cast and crew would be coming and we were able to secure some local media.
After Justice Is Mind wrapped production on October 13, 2013 we entered the post-production phase. The film needed to be edited, scored, special FX needed to be built, sound mixed, color corrected and a variety of other post production matters. When I considered the number of locations (15), actors (over 120), special FX (170) and a host of other matters, Justice Is Mind was not a “small” feature by any standard. I’ve produced before, but Justice Is Mind was by far my most ambitious project to date. The journey from script to screen may simply result in a DVD or digital file, but for anyone wanting to make their own feature film the details are in the middle and beyond.
Since our world premiere on August 18, Justice Is Mind has had the good fortune to screen in theatres, at universities and science fiction conventions throughout North America. Ambition did not just exist in post-production nor end after our world premiere. The ambition and efforts of so many involved in the project resulted in an independent film that stood out from the crowd.
When you consider that over 50,000 films are produced in any given year, I can’t help but be proud of our results to date. According to IMDB Justice Is Mind was ranked as the 8th “Highest Independent Film Released in 2013”, 42nd “Top US Grossing Independent Film Feature Films Released in 2013” and 48th “Most Popular Independent Film Feature Films Released In 2013”. Over on Box Office Mojo, out of ALL films released in 2013 (including studios), our film finished 538 out of 687. Am I bragging? I’m doing what all major studios and the independents do, I’m promoting. I’m advertising our progress to date. If the majors do this so can the “true” independents that need all the social media and print space we can get. These efforts have resulted in the upcoming international premiere of Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29. I’m also hoping to announce a domestic theatrical screening that’s scheduled for September.
Has this been an easy journey to date? Absolutely not. Even with these results, one still has to deal with a provincial attitude that permeates in an industry that is resistant to change. But there are the progressives. Those that understand about consumer demand. Those that look at the aforementioned results and simply conclude—audiences want to see this film. Consumer demand is front and center when it comes to Video on Demand.
With our Video on Demand launch on VHX in July, Justice Is Mind has just gone up on Reelhouse and will soon be available on other VOD platforms. Celebrating our anniversary week, Justice Is Mind can be streamed at $2.99 or purchased for $5.99 at Reelhouse. Over at VHX you can buy the feature film for $2.99 or our deluxe package of videos (including the feature) for $5.99. Enter the special coupon code ANNIVERSARY on the buy option at Reelhouse or deluxe option at VHX and save an additional $3 for a total purchase price of only $2.99.
Full steam ahead.
Yesterday Justice Is Mind had its world online premiere on VHX! You can view our listing at this link. If you select the Deluxe Package be sure to enter promo code: JUSTICEPREORDER for a $2 discount with your final price being only $7. With over 3.5 hours of programming that includes the feature film, original short film, clip from the feature along with a compilation video of our screenings across the United States, I personally think it’s a great value. Your purchase also supports the independent filmmaker!
With traffic to the site increasing throughout the day and orders coming in from Boston to Buenos Aries, I’m pretty pleased with our initial results. Through VHX alone, Justice Is Mind is available in over 200 countries. But the marketing doesn’t stop because we are on one platform. Nor does the drive to push Justice Is Mind to market. There’s no magic switch when you go live on one site or several VOD platforms (additional platforms will be online soon). Sure, there’s the discovery process, but there’s also the direct push to those platforms. For a $20 investment on Facebook, our promoted post reached over 8,000 people. But like this blog, Facebook is just one part of the marketing mix. It has to be, there are simply too many films vying for attention. My overall goal is to make Justice Is Mind discoverable and then deliverable on whatever platform you want to watch it on.
As we still own the rights, Justice Is Mind continues its theatrical run. In addition to our upcoming international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, I have been invited to meet with a theatre tomorrow for a possible screening opportunity in September. How did they hear about us? Word of mouth and the press we have secured in connection with our past screenings. Taking social media out of the equation entirely, positive word of mouth and press, in my view, are still two of the most powerful ways to get a film noticed. Our screenings have been successful because of these two initiatives.
This weekend will be an interesting one for me as I will be visiting my cousins at the Cape where I filmed First World back in 2006. It was eight years ago when I stood on Corporation Beach in Dennis, MA making my first film with Adam Starr. In some ways it seems like ages ago, in another it seems like yesterday. Who would have thought I would return all those years later with a completed feature film that will probably screen at a nearby town. Yes, it’s all about perseverance and patience.
After my posting last week, I received a comment asking me how I took Justice Is Mind from a short film to feature. The off the cuff response? Not easy! But in all reality it comes down to patience, perseverance and above all planning.
There are a variety of films that go from short to feature. Some on the low budget side, like Justice Is Mind, and some on studio level. One example that comes to mind is the 2004 production of Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. In that example Kerry Conran produced a short film of what he wanted to do (mostly all blue screen) and then through a series of events eventually connected with producer Jon Avnet who brought funding to the feature film.
I bring up the aforementioned example because for any of us that want to produce a feature film, you have to start somewhere. And that usually means self funding your project as a short film and then seeking out private equity, soft financing (tax credits, sponsorship), etc. to bring your larger projects to life.
I’ve produced two short films First World (2007) and Justice Is Mind: Evidence (2011). Both were designed to act as a calling card for my producing and writing but also as a capital raise effort to produce the feature length versions. While First World has screened all over the world and had a few 11th hour “green light” possibilities, the size of the budget ($2 million as independent and more like $30 million for “studio” level) coupled with the global economic crisis that took out a lot of film financing in 2008/9 (including financing for First World), put that project in turnaround.
But Justice Is Mind was designed to be produced for under $30k. After I produced and released the short film version (> $2k), I began what seemed to be endless presentations to producers and investors. It’s an arduous task of perpetual non-responses, to “no’s” to those that will string you along because they know you need the capital. But at the end of the day you have product to show – a short film that probably represents the salient portions of the larger story you want to tell. Having a short film also demonstrates that you are serious about your project and have risked your own money.
There are, however, some very practical things you want to do before you venture into producing a feature film. Do you have a business plan? Is there a distribution strategy? Do you have a target audience for your film? In regards to the latter, if your short film hasn’t generated that much excitement you might want to evaluate the feature. Finally, is your script shored up? Have you had it read by some industry professionals that you trust? In my case, I have about a half dozen people that read my scripts. Some are honest friends who tell me exactly what they think and some of them are industry professionals. They have either produced at a studio/production company or represent writers. And get ready, rewrites are simply part of the process.
If after producing your short film, you are successful in raising the capital to produce the feature there are a few things I would also highly recommend. While it may seem as a no brainer, organization is critical in time, people and budget. This is where I have seen so many projects fall of the track. Just stay true to your beliefs in what’s really needed to bring your vision to life and you should be fine. On the side of the actual producing of your feature, you’ll want to at least work with a crew that you have worked with before. I was fortunate to be able to work with some of the crew from the short for the feature. The level of comfort helps enormously while you settle into new working relationships.
As for pre-production, seriously take the time to get everything as lined up as best you can. Our financing came in late May and I took three months to prep for the feature. Do everything you can to secure your locations on trade in exchange for a credit and public relations support (we only paid $100 to a church). Trust me your budget and investors will be thanking you.
Finally, be sure to communicate regularly with your cast and crew on project status, timelines, etc. There is a final group to also involve in your communications and those are your backers. Without them your dream is on paper rather than on the silver screen.
With our first poster currently in the design phase and having written the trailer this week, there is one group that needs to be thanked for their participation in Justice Is Mind—the over 50+ extras. Without their support, Justice would have resulted in a much “smaller” look for it was the extras that gave the film the scope it needed in the areas of the story that called for it most.
For actors working as an extra it can be both a rewarding and daunting experience. There can be a lot of waiting around and in some cases (especially the studio level films) you may never actually be seen on camera. Sure, on the studio films you are getting a day rate, but it’s not about the money it’s about the craft. On Justice I wanted the actors participating as extras to know that I endeavored to not only make sure they were seen on camera, but that their very participation was vital to the film.
Case in point the Board of Directors of Reincar Scientific. When I was updating the script, I added a few scenes that were intercut over the testimony of Dr. Eve Pullman, the inventor of the FVMRI procedure. Logically, the company that funded this process would be following the story intently. After posting for executive “extras” on New England Film and with the assistance of Carlyne Fournier who played Dr. Even Pullman, not only did we have enough members for the board—but it was standing room only!
Another example of actors coming together was in the courtroom scenes for both the jury and the audience. After another round of promotion to constitute a full jury, Mary Wexler, who plays Judge Wagner in Justice Is Mind, was just terrific. We were in the enviable position of having more actors than we needed for the jury. From the bench, Mary took the reins as a judge would to ask prospective jurors questions—in this case their availability for the days needed on set. For those extras that didn’t make it on the jury, their participation as extras in the courtroom audience was just as vital.
I would also like to take this occasion to mention Sheila Mandeville Grant who played the jury forewoman. Sheila and I went to school together in Spencer, MA and graduated the same year. She has been such a wonderful supporter of my projects over the years. In the case of Justice her daughter Kelly Grant and Kelly’s boyfriend Nicholas Boyle participated as jurors. The David Prouty High School (alright I’ll just age myself) class of 1983 was a big part of Justice Is Mind—Mary Wenninger (our financial backer with her husband Stefan) also graduated the same year.
From the wedding of Margaret Carpenter to Henri Miller, to the FVMRI Operations Center, the actors that participated in Justice Is Mind as extras brought an enthusiasm to their roles that increased the dimension of the story on a variety of levels.
This director sends you an “extra” thank you and for bringing “justice” to your part.