With First Signal now accepted in eight film festivals, I am pleased where the project is going so far. We have had a couple of wins and finalist positions for the trailer which makes for a nice build up to the festivals considering the feature length version. Time will tell where the festivals will take us along with other theatrical and special event screenings.
The point of festivals and screenings is to develop interest in First Signal that goes beyond those that saw the film in a theater. It is about word of mouth and, hopefully, some choice media placements to develop a following for the film, so when the film goes to VOD, there’s a waiting audience. Like the journey of most films, that is the plan. What’s not in the plan is losing control of the film in a bad distribution deal.
For some years, I have heard from numerous filmmakers that after they sign a deal with a distributor or sales agent, they receive little to no money from sales of the film despite the grosses. In more instances than I can go into here, they sometimes wind up in court. The Dallas Buyers Club matter was relatively high profile, this article in Deadline hit the nail on the head and the collapse of Distribber had indie filmmakers taking solid note.
The last three contracts I reviewed were so heavy in the favor of the distributor/sales agent, that I could not see any path to profitability, yet they would hold the rights to my film for over ten years. Translation? Once I sign the rights away, I won’t have the rights to exhibit my own film. In each of my last three calls, they all talked glowingly about First Signal, promising encouraging sales estimates and things they can do for the film. But when pressed to offer those estimates (that I know are only estimates) and details in writing, they somehow were not available. Worse, on two occasions, the contracts stated they would have the rights to any sequel I write and work products. Was there ever a minimum gurantee? No. Was there a fancy computation of proposed acquisition price for a sequel that didn’t benefit me at all? Yes. Would I ever enter one of these contracts without some sort of minimum guarantee or entertainment lawyer reviewing my contact? Never. I generally remember this “atmosphere” when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. In the end I went with a wonderful digital aggregator that I will mention shortly.
Unless you are just making a film to put on a shelf, a film requires a distribution plan. It requires a plan that has some sort of path to profitability and/or the ability to leverage the film towards a larger project (sequel, etc.). There is nothing sadder when I hear from a filmmaker that has been taken by one of these companies. The years and capital they have spent to bring their projects to life only to be tied up with nefarious distribution expenses, horrid customer service or legal doubletalk. The last thing anyone wants is to get into litigation (one of the filmmakers I talked to was preparing to file action against his sales agent). Even more insulting two of the three companies I talked to stated that they would require Executive Producer credits. Let us be clear, I don’t care what industry you work in, nobody likes a coattail rider. You do not have the right to ask for a top credit on a film just because you are offering a contract. Period. Nothing is this world is free, most certainly not an Executive Producer credit to make you look like a prolific producer. I know Hollywood is all about smoke and mirrors, but I only tolerate that act on the silver screen not in the boardroom.
There is a silver lining to all of this. Yes, there are great sales agents and distributors. Yes, they do pay their filmmakers. But sadly, there are enough in the other camp that simply require substantive due diligence along with a crack lawyer to protect your interests. You may have heard the saying “Caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware. That could not be truer than in this industry. At the end of the day, we must just do our homework.
One area of this industry that has been part of the silver lining are the digital aggregators. If you have a film, want to see it on a variety of VOD platforms BUT also retain your rights, I highly recommend FilmHub. I’ve had Justice Is Mind with them since 2014. If you are looking for no upfront fees, payment every quarter and excellent customer service, then FilmHub just might be your answer. Will I place First Signal with them? It honestly depends on a variety of factors, as we are in the early days of the release plan. Our next steps are festival, theatrical and special event screenings that will commence in the 4th quarter of 2020.
I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a filmmaker on the planet that isn’t affected by the current world crisis. The one saving grace with First Signal is that it was always scheduled to be in post-production during this time and won’t be finished until May anyway. Color grading and sound mixing is moving right along.
While we all monitor for the opening of the economy (it’s vital this happens as soon as possible), the question is when and how to ramp up marketing and distribution efforts. I will say this, after submitting First Signal a few weeks ago to two film festivals, I have formally stopped until the film is 100% complete. With future submissions I will also require an assurance that a film festival will not default their festival from live to online. I have ZERO interest in premiering First Signal online with a film festival. It will never happen.
I’m not surprised that only seven films took up Amazon’s virtual film fest offer. Unless Amazon’s screening fee was going to offset production costs, why bother. Any filmmaker can upload their film direct to Amazon, why dilute future distribution opportunities with an online premiere.
A few days ago a film festival I submitted to with a December event date, sent this long winded email stating generally that if people don’t feel comfortable attending or their theater isn’t available, they’ll make it online – and won’t refund submission fees. I frankly couldn’t believe the gall. I guess they’ll have to answer to the credit card companies who will chargeback the submission fees to the filmmakers. Having produced many live events, you as the organizer/promoter are responsible to execute what was contracted with the customer. If you don’t you must refund. It’s as simple as that.
I have never been a traditionalist. From publishing to filmmaking, I have always taken an unconventional approach. When I launched my figure skating magazine years ago, I was told it was never going to work as I needed to do this or that or whatever. Whether it was budget related or simply because I had a different idea, I executed the way I could to accomplish what I needed to do. I brought that same approach to filmmaking. When I produced First World and quickly learned that festivals wanted shorts under 15 min long, I found science fiction festivals, unique events and, yes, online (a fledgling platform called Hulu) to present my first film.
My point in all this is being able to pivot. For better or worse the world has changed in the last couple of months. I’m not going to try to roll a square rock up a hill, when I can slide it on rails at ground level to the same destination. As filmmakers we think unconventionally when we create our projects, the same should hold true for marketing and distribution.
There has been a flurry of activity since First Signal wrapped principal photography in July. From editing, scoring, special effects to market preparation for the American Film Market, the work on a feature film hardly ends when the final “cut” is called. Post-production is where the puzzle of all the shots taken comes together. You only hope you have all the pieces! Thankfully, we do.
The one thing I’ve learned on this feature film, was that a long pre-production period was a good thing. There were casting changes that worked out for the best, ideal locations that came forward and research that proved invaluable during production and post-production. The one thing I’m glad I did during the pre-production process was attend AFM last year. It gave me a sense of how a film market operates and what to expect (or in some cases not to expect).
For AFM 2019 I have several meetings booked and several more sales agents/distributors that want to see a complete screener of First Signal. Certainly, these are all positive developments. However, as a filmmaker, the one thing you must believe in is your own film and not to be swayed by critics. One sales agent stated that I needed to introduce the “creature” early. As First Signal is a story driven science fiction film akin to Gattaca with the production style of Fail Safe, I declined that meeting (there is no “creature” in First Signal). In addition to an original story, what First Signal also offers is the start of a new science fiction series.
This weekend I picked up the sales cards/sell sheets for First Signal. A special thanks to Daniel Elek-Diamanta for the design! These sell sheets will be used like business cards during the market. What I aimed for with the sell sheet were select stills and copy that represented the story. While it’s impossible to present an entire film on such a piece of collateral, the goal is that of a trailer—promote the feature.
Out of the 82 page script, First Signal is edited up to page 76. The pieces of the puzzle are nicely coming together. Editing is a process all unto itself. It’s time consuming and detail oriented. It’s about pouring over hours of footage and audio to look for the best takes to build the story. A special thanks also to our editor (and director of photography) Daniel Groom for his work.
As I head into the last two weeks before I leave for AFM, there will be meeting preparations, practicing my pitch and finalizing the schedule. I’ll still never forget the first time I walked into the lobby of the Lowes Hotel last year—everything I saw was about the world of independent film. It’s an ideal market to network, get the latest insight and to present your project to the industry.
It is amazing to me how much this industry has evolved from my first film. When I released First World in 2007 Amazon had just announced video on demand the year before with Netflix just announcing a streaming service. Of course theatrical and DVD were still major revenue sources. But it was when I saw First World on the nascent Hulu that I knew the world of filmmaking would change forever. Yes, theatrical is still the primary revenue source, but we all know what happened to DVD. As I employed when I was a magazine publisher, I think it’s important to test and try new release and market technologies to reach audiences the way they want to watch your film.
Last Sunday First Signal wrapped principal photography. The final shot seemed particularly appropriate. It was a POV from Major Sampson (Patience McStravick). With Daniel Groom on camera, Patience guiding his shoulders to mirror her character and myself directing, it was that moment when I remembered the day all three of us met at a Starbucks in January 2018 to discuss First Signal. None of us could have foreseen the journey that was to lie ahead. While pre-production was fraught with fits and starts, the train of principal photography not only ran on time, but finished five production days ahead of schedule.
Shooting First Signal these last few months has been nothing less than thrilling for me. Oh sure, as director you worry about countless things, but when you see the progress and quality being produced from one day to the next, those worries quickly evaporate. Those pre-production matters that sought to derail the train are nothing more than a distant memory. Of course no vision comes to life without a dedicated cast, crew and location partners. Without their tireless efforts First Signal would still be just that—a vision.
The vision for First Signal was nicely magnified by some wonderful press over the last several weeks. WMUR-TV, The Concord Monitor, The Athol Daily News and the Greenfield Recorder all visited set (The Hippo did a great piece that you can find in my previous post). I couldn’t be more thankful for their coverage. It isn’t just about producing a film, it’s about getting it noticed. When you consider the tens of thousands of films that are made a year, having media support, particularly at this stage, is paramount.
Throughout the production process and this past week, I have kept the contacts I made at AFM last year informed about our progress. While one during production was keenly interested in First Signal, another got back to me last night and wants to see some footage as soon as possible for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). In addition to the festival itself, Toronto is one of the major film markets.
This is what producing a film is all about – distribution. Putting aside getting an actual deal for your film, there are simply so many platforms to distribute and market you really need a distributor to navigate this labyrinth.
Putting together the puzzle that was created during production, is now the purview of our editor and the rest of the post production team. This is where the tone and style of the film come to life. We’ve already decided on a color scheme and I’m pretty close on what I’d like to see for a score. While I’m overseeing post-production, I’ll be working on branding and other marketing aspects. Yes, making a film is thrilling, but seeing it come to life in the consumer market is where it matters.
In closing, thank you to all those that have supported this project. Your support over these months have made First Signal possible.
Sorting through the numerous business cards and materials I gathered at AFM, I began my follow ups a few days after I arrived home. The return correspondence has been very encouraging. For obvious reasons I won’t publish the names of the companies I’m talking with, but suffice to say things are moving in a positive direction for two of my projects. The devil is in the details of course, but as filmmakers we are used to countless details.
As I begin to ramp up pre-production for First Signal with a May production start date, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker the other day about the importance of insuring there’s a market for our projects after we wrap production. There’s simply too much time and money involved to wind up on a shelf which translates to holding up a return on investment.
I’ve talked about this subject before when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was vital to me that Justice was introduced in a theatrical setting. While many submit to film festivals at considerable expense and wait for an acceptance (a practice that was frowned upon at AFM unless it’s an A level festival with potential buyers in attendance), I pushed for a theatrical run. The result was a limited run of 14 theatres, box office revenue, an international premiere on an ocean liner and substantive media placements. If I worked for years to get my film off the ground the last thing I’m going to do is pay $$$ to a second tier film festival. Then wait weeks (if not months) for a decision by a committee, then, if accepted, be at the mercy of a programmer to place my film in a time slot convenient to the festival, ceding box office revenue (filmmakers don’t receive a cut from festivals) and sharing in their public relations efforts with other films. As you can imagine, the public relations and release strategy for First Signal is already in the planning stages.
Speaking of planning stages, I had the opportunity today to visit the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA at the Collings Foundation. Some of you may remember my trips to the Collings Foundation for their World War II reenactment event “Battle for the Airfield” or their “Wings of Freedom Tour” around the country.
Although they are in “preview” until their Grand Opening in April of 2019, what I saw today was truly outstanding. The museum represents the history of war in America. Although it starts with the Revolutionary War all the way to the War on Terror, the primary focus is generally on World War I and World War II.
The tour starts in the orientation theatre and then proceeds to two immersive experiences before advancing to the main exhibit hall. The first is the World War I exhibit complete with a trench you can walk through. From there you proceed to the World War II exhibit which features a Mercedes-Benz W31 and Panzer 1A. Click this link to learn about all the tanks, vehicles and artifacts that will be part of the museum when it reopens in the spring. Of course, as a filmmaker, their use of archival film to enhance the static displays was brilliantly done.
For years I have followed the film markets, but none so closely as the American Film Market (AFM). As an independent filmmaker and screenwriter, I think it’s important to stay informed on the latest trends and news. As we are “indie” it’s too easy to operate in our respective vacuums without the benefit of new voices. That ended last week when I attended AFM in Santa Monica, California.
As this was my first AFM, I followed their how to work AFM guide. Several weeks prior to the start of AFM, I researched companies that might be interested in hearing more about my projects. I curated a list and then sent an email of introduction that included a brief (title/logline) of my projects for consideration of a meeting. By the time I arrived in Santa Monica, I had several meetings confirmed. In addition, I made sure my Cinando profile was completed along with the MyAFM section of AFM’s website. The completion of my profiles and subsequent postings in MyAFM conversations resulted in a few companies reaching out to me for meetings.
My industry badge granted me access for four days that began on Saturday. But as the director in me wants to get the lay of the land prior to “arriving on set,” I landed in Los Angeles on Thursday and picked up credentials on Friday. I knew that the start of the market for me on Saturday would mean putting on my acting hat. The days and weeks of memorizing the loglines and synopsis of my projects along with talking points was soon going to be put to the test. As an actor, I wouldn’t think of arriving to set without knowing my lines, attending a film market is no different. If you don’t take the time to know your own projects, why should anyone else take their time? As attendee’s schedules are booked up well in advance, AFM is all about maximizing time.
The Lowes Hotel is entirely converted for the market (you can’t enter the hotel without the proper credentials). When you enter the lobby you are soon greeted by representatives of the industry trades with the dailies, see throngs of attendees going to and fro and banners representing the myriad of companies that are bunted on the multi-floor balcony railings. What were hotel rooms before the market, are now offices. You have arrived at AFM.
Over the course of two days, meetings with producers and production companies in the United States, Canada, Germany and Romania resulted in positive experiences. Then there were the various film commissions from Russia, Georgia and Japan that also asked for meetings. On Saturday night at the official carousel cocktail reception, casual conversations resulted in meeting two producers with substantial credits (there was a specific request for China related stories – First World anyone?).
But what I do want to stress is that you can’t go into the market thinking “what can you do for me” it’s more about “what can I do for them.” Think about it, is the screenplay I have going to be a good fit for “X” production company or producer? One company I met with wasn’t interested in science fiction, but wanted to see my political thrillers. In the reverse, one producer was very keen on developing science fiction franchises and requested information on the “First World” universe. In both those cases, they asked for scripts. It pays to have a variety of projects to offer.
These meetings are also about building relationships for the long haul. All the meetings and interactions I had were positive, with the exception of one. In that case, it didn’t take long for me to realize that one was just playing the posture and poser game (he didn’t even have a business card). Yes, while AFM is all about meeting the right people and developing a network, you do have to be judicious on who you interact with.
But here’s an interesting twist of fate. Years ago I pitched Justice Is Mind to a distributor that passed on the project. For AFM, this company reached out to me about First Signal. When I was meeting with them and Justice Is Mind came up and their original pass, they presented a new division for digital distribution and asked me for a screening link. As for First Signal, the number of companies looking to get involved at the script stage is a market trend. This is an industry about product and intellectual property and that’s exactly what AFM is all about.
Now it’s about the follow up. The continuation of introductions, conversations and presentations that started at AFM. One thing that’s always excited me about this industry are the possibilities of what’s next. Because for this filmmaker, there will be a next AFM next year. As for AFM, a special thanks to Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director at AFM, for creating a welcoming atmosphere for first time attendees and his informative presentation at the AFM Orientation.
After AFM I had the opportunity to visit Eastern Costume. I was introduced to Eastern by the costume supervisor on Madam Secretary regarding Air Force Uniforms for First Signal. Another special thanks to Ian Brown, Military Technical Advisor, for a three hour tour. Whatever you need for your film, Eastern Costume has it!
Of course, my trip to Los Angeles wasn’t all business. I had some great reunions with friends along with some requisite touring. Seeing the Endeavour Space Shuttle and the King Tut exhibit at the California Science Center was truly exciting. But my favorite place to visit is the Griffith Observatory. From the wonders of science and space to its expansive views of the city, it was wonderful way to spend my last night in the city at…
…the top of the world.
In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.
The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.
This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film. In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.
With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office. For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.
We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.
Last Sunday my friend Kim Merriam and I went on a day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Aside from knowing Kim since we first met as teens at the local figure skating club, Evidence and Justice Is Mind were both shot at her house. As I’ve toured every Newport Mansion at least twice, I left it to her to pick which one to tour. She selected my favorite mansion – Rosecliff.
Rosecliff is particularly special to me. Having first visited the mansion with my mother in the early 1980s and being the location for The Great Gatsby and other films, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan there for the cover of the figure skating magazine I used to publish. It also gave me some additional ideas for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating that I will be formally announcing this week with the launch of the website.
In the story there are two starring characters, a champion figure skater and the president of the national governing body. While the former has been struggling financially, the latter, in addition to her skating responsibilities, runs a multi-national industrial concern. The setting for her estate should be a grand one like a Rosecliff. On a side note, in early 2017 Rosecliff will be featuring an exhibition to all the films that have been shot at the mansion. That will be a must see!
As an independent filmmaker, it’s about laying the foundation for all aspects of a new project well in advance. From visiting possible locations to talent, crew, etc. This week I began reaching out to colleagues I used to work with regularly in the sport to introduce them to the project before the announcement. It was one thing when I went to World’s this year in Boston telling people I had an idea, it’s another to send them a completed script.
It was great working with Adam Starr over the last few weeks to create the first concept poster of the project. In addition to being an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, I’ve worked with Adam since my days as a magazine publisher. From producing my first corporate video back in the day to his special effect work on Justice Is Mind, he really knows how to take an idea and run with it.
When he created the official poster for Justice Is Mind, my idea for the concept was pretty straight forward. I wanted to incorporate an MRI scan along with a picture of Henri Miller looking towards the future and the reincarnated Wilhelm Miller looking towards the past. He pretty much got it on the first pass.
Writing an original story takes time. It is not something that is just thrown together for the sake of rushing a project to market. For me it’s about developing and creating a project that’s long remembered after its initial release. Isn’t this the whole reason why we get into screenwriting and filmmaking – to tell original stories?
For those that follow me on social media you’ll see me post a “Now watching…” comment usually followed by a film produced between the 1930s and 1970s. I gravitate towards those decades as that’s when original stories were told to great fanfare without the special effects being the story. Thankfully with the democratization of the film industry from production to distribution, filmmakers have the opportunity to tell their stories outside the Hollywood system.
INT. ICE RINK – OPENING CREDITS
It was back in 2011 and I was casting the short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence. The starring character of Henri Miller was pivotal. He had to have an air of sophistication and mystery, while also being an “everyman”. As a director, you are auditioning for me the moment you walk into the room. And god help you if you submitted a headshot from the last century or to quote a colleague of mine, “generously photoshopped” the way you want to look. Neither was the case with Vernon Aldershoff. He looked like his headshot and was the look I had in mind for the character of Henri Miller. Of course, the next question rolling through my head was, “Jesus, I hope he can act.” Well, the rest is history. He starred in both the short and feature version of the film.
This past weekend I attended his surprise 50th birthday party at a golf club. While Vern was playing golf with his son Dmitri, who played his on screen son Gary Miller, Vern’s wife Jackie turned the clubhouse into a Hollywood theme along with posters of Justice Is Mind and a step and repeat (red carpet). On the golf course I heard that Dmitri faked a hip injury to get Vern to bring him back to the clubhouse. As I see Vern and Dmitri pull up to the clubhouse in the golf cart, Dmitri is going through the only act of injury with Vern buying it. I wanted to yell “Cut!”. Let me just say that Dmitri’s acting was beyond excellent. Talk about a long take! But the look on Vern’s face when he entered the clubhouse and realized he had been taken was priceless!
During the celebrations Vern was talking to family and friends in attendance and referenced how much the entertainment industry is about rejection, but that it only takes one person to say yes. In regard to Justice Is Mind, that person was me. But in as much as I said yes, it was also Vern and the countless others that said yes to me and to an untested project.
The Justice Is Mind project is now over five years strong. Through the writing, production and distribution, so many of us have become friends and have kept in contact. Yes, I’m looking forward to working with many of the actors and crew from Justice on my next project. In fact, with one project I’m working on now I don’t even know if auditions will be necessary. Why? Because I plan to offer parts and positions to those I’ve worked with previously. I don’t need to worry about on screen chemistry or whether or not these folks get along.
When I read these stores on IndieWire about Tribeca and Cannes that discuss distribution and the market, I am reminded about the challenges this industry faces. But nothing is more challenging than casting the right actors or securing a solid crew. I don’t care how great the screenplay is, without them breathing life into it your project goes nowhere.
Of course you always bring new people into the fold. That’s what this industry is all about. Meeting new people and expanding your horizons. It’s an industry of risk and chances but more importantly opportunity. If you look at my projects from First World, to Evidence to Justice Is Mind, you will see some familiar names.
This past December my good friend, writer and soap opera expert, Gerard J. Waggett, pitched me to John Fahey to appear on The John J. Fahey Show. Where did the pitch happen? At a bus stop where they ran into each other (they originally first met at their local library).
It reminded me of the time I mentioned Gerry to a literary agent I met during my first TV appearance on The Montel Williams Show back in 1994. That introduction resulted in a multi-book deal for Gerry. How did I get on The Montel Williams Show? My business partner at International Figure Skating, editor/writer Lois Elfman, heard about the upcoming “Tonya & Nancy” episode and pitched me to one of the producers. I’ll never forget the day I was set to travel to New York for the taping. They were going to fly me from Worcester to the city but inclement weather prevented it. So what did I do? I got in my car and drove in the bad weather to New York. A TV camera was waiting!
This is an industry that is built on long-term relationships. People that you work with on your first projects that you continue to work with because you can count on them and know their work. Case in point Adam Starr. I first met Adam when I was publishing magazines. One of the first videos I produced was a promotional video for my company (I need to get that VHS tape digitized). With Adam as director, along with Lois as one of the producers, we went on to make First World. For Justice Is Mind the actor that played the President in First World returned as George Katz in Justice Is Mind. As for Adam Starr? He produced over 170 special effects for the film.
No sooner did I arrive at BNN (Boston Neighborhood Network) for the live broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show, when I saw Tomek Doroz at one of the control stations. Tomek was Justice Is Mind’s digital imaging technician as well as a production assistant. He was also instrumental in securing a couple of our locations (we had our church and junkyard!). Needless to say when I gave him a clip of Justice to play during the show I was giving it back to the person who was not only the first person to see footage being created for the film, but also to make sure it was OK from a technical point of view. The network continues.
I have always found cable access stations a great way to reach a targeted audience. One of the first cable access stations I was on was Crown City News in California back in 2007 where I talked about First World. I met host Anthony Smiljkovich through Jillian Barberie at the local FOX station. And where did I meet Jillian? When we both starred on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. Although Jillian couldn’t make the Los Angeles premiere of Justice Is Mind, Anthony and his boyfriend were there along with First World star Angelina Spicer.
Of course, one of my favorite cable access appearances was on Plymouth’s PAC-TV for Justice Is Mind. Arranged by Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in the film, they did a wonderful job promoting our screening at Plimoth Cinema and presenting the concept of the film. Gail, Mary Wexler (who plays Judge Wagner) and I had a great time that day reliving the early days of the film.
Friday night’s broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show could not have gone better. In addition to showing an extended clip of Justice Is Mind, I talked publicly for the first time on TV about my political thriller SOS United States. What I particularly liked about the show was the live format. I’ve always enjoyed doing live TV over taped because you are truly in the moment with no worry about being edited. Of course you have to watch what you say! One of the highlights was when a caller phoned and praised Justice. Indeed, it’s about introducing your projects to new audiences.
Although John will formally post the show on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms, I see one intrepid viewer already did. You can watch the show at this link for…
Although Justice Is Mind has been on Amazon Prime for over a year, last night was the first time I saw it on a TV half the size of my car (My Pontiac Solstice even appears in the film). While I’ve seen the film countless times on my computer during the production phase, and at every theatrical screening, seeing it in this context was a new experience. I may be a bit bias of course, but the quality of the picture and sound was probably the best I’ve ever seen it. When I think of the numerous QC (Quality Control) checks we had to go through, seeing it in this format brings another round of applause to the cast and crew and the technology of VOD.
As a filmmaker, I’ve worked with Amazon for years. They are by far, in my experience, the most filmmaker friendly of all the VOD services. In addition to paying on a monthly basis, their algorithm technology ensures that customers that may be interested in your film are made aware of it. Of course, I’ve been marketing First World and Justice Is Mind on a regular basis to drive traffic to our listings on Amazon and other VOD platforms. Simply put the old adage of “if you build it they will come” doesn’t work, it comes down to marketing.
Regarding marketing and distribution, there was an interesting article on IndieWire this week about self-distribution. Having been a magazine publisher, distribution for me is second nature. But I know way too many filmmakers that hate it. Look, I get it. You just wanted to make your film and it took every resource you knew to accomplish that. With First World and Justice Is Mind now released, there’s just a regular program to keep the conversation going in whatever venue, media outlet or platform I can reach. But now, I’m back to the foundation building process with In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, and SOS United States. Making a film is like building a house—it all starts with a foundation.
As for the foundations of the industry, there is some serious seismic activity going on. From Variety’s “Why Good Films Are Failing at the Box Office in Awards Season” to the Hollywood Reporter’s “Harvey Weinstein on the Awards Season Crunch: “Everybody Cannibalized Each Other,” one has to wonder what state the industry will be in a year from now from a business point of view. That business starts with economics when someone, or some company, funds these visions. As I’ve stated before, I’ll state again, it does come down to a return on investment. I’ve never understood why the industry cannibalizes itself for an award at the expense of profitability. In all seriousness, I personally don’t care what film wins what award, I’m just interested in the film itself.
Audiences aren’t stupid, they want to see quality films. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if someone sees a film in a theater, they will look for it on a platform like Amazon. Of course in “the old days” that conversation was around DVDs. Remember when films would go “straight to DVD”? Now some go straight to VOD. If there is one word that drives this industry and its resiliency it’s innovation. It’s innovation that gives filmmakers and audiences choices on where and how to watch a film.
As filmmakers we draw inspiration from other films, life events or experiences to create. It’s been well reported that Gene Roddenberry was inspired by Forbidden Planet to create Star Trek and that George Lucas was inspired by Flash Gordon (and other films) to develop Star Wars.
For me, the inspiration to create First World came from film and television. Two of my favorite science fictions films are The Day the Earth Stood Still and Capricorn One. Then there is the iconic TV show Space: 1999. Sadly, Capricorn One has been largely forgotten but for anyone who wants to see a good space conspiracy thriller with some great actors and cinematography, it’s a must watch.
As for SOS United States, I’ve always loved a good political thriller especially those from the Cold War. Discovering Seven Days in May and Fail Safe along with my love for ocean liners, I created a political thriller that is starting to gain some traction. With political thrillers on the rise, coupled with current world events, the timing is good.
Of course, for those that have seen Justice Is Mind you know what my primary inspirations were – Law & Order, The Andromeda Strain, Fringe and, yes, Dynasty. In so many ways, the genre mix in Justice Is Mind is reflective of what we are seeing today – especially on TV. As for my inspiration for In Mind We Trust? That would simply be Justice Is Mind and a conflux of current events.
It’s one thing making your film but it’s another getting to market. When the aforementioned films were made they were simply distributed by a studio. Pretty standard in those days. Ask any independent filmmaker and you not only have to be the creative behind the script, but a distributor and marketer at the same time.
Reading about the various challenges filmmakers faced at Tribeca to bring their films to market along with a myriad of interesting comments by Julianne Moore about independent films at CinemaCon, while there is tremendous opportunity to get your film in front of an audience, the navigation of this industry on the distribution front continues to intensify and diversify.
There was a pretty good article titled The Distribution Equation on Cultural Weekly that is worth a review. The big question I would love answered is why would independent films with limited theatricals runs sign with a distributor (for theatrical) if that was going to create a loss against the title of your film? It simply makes zero sense from a business point of view. Justice Is Mind has had 12 theatrical screenings and has grossed $13,357. Our total out of pocket costs were just over $500 (mostly from printing posters). On my end it costs nothing but time to present Justice Is Mind to theatres, write a press release and pitch the media. For me, from a business point of view, it’s much more important to show profitability than perception of “we signed with so and so”. “So and so” might look good on paper but red ink is still red ink.
This past week I pitched Justice Is Mind to another eight theatres. Yes, we have had a great run to date theatrically for our independent film, but why not make the pitch. You never know who’s going to say yes.