The extended synopsis of Justice Is Mind partially reads “…counsel, family and friends search two continents for answers.” While we aren’t searching for answers, Justice Is Mind is most certainly a two continent production. With editing and special effects taking place in the United States, scoring and sound mixing is happening in the United Kingdom. Having traveled to the UK numerous times I’m enjoying the international development of Justice Is Mind, because that’s where this film is soon going…international.
Last week the film festival submission process began. I have to say the portal Withoutabox is pretty excellent. I loath filling our forms (especially by hand) and that’s exactly what I would have to do for each film festival if Withoutabox didn’t exist. I’ve been using Withoutabox since 2007 when I produced First World. You enter all your key information once, select the festival, pay the fee and Withoutabox transmits your film. For those festivals that don’t use the “secure online screener” you send in a DVD. It’s a great streamline process. Coming from a production background any process that enables a smooth operation is good for me.
We’ve also started to receive significant interest from various film festival and film organizations in India. Of course, this is an excellent development…but now we wait. We wait for the “notify date” after we submit to see if our film, a labor of over two years and two hundred people, is accepted. The one thing I have learned years ago is that once you submit you just have to let go of that submission. I’ve seen a trend with filmmakers promoting on their websites and social pages that they are “In Consideration” by this festival and that festival after they submit. Good heavens…and what happens if you don’t get accepted?
So what do you do while you are waiting? You promote your film any which way you can. In the case of Justice Is Mind, in addition to screenings at sci-fi conventions and law schools, we are reaching out to independent theatres and small chains to exhibit. Simply, you can’t put all your eggs into one basket. Some will argue that you shouldn’t show your film anywhere until film festivals get back to you. Honestly, I don’t know where this misinformation comes from or starts. Most festivals I have come across have stated that while some most certainly like to have the title “World Premiere” they are also interested in films that have some sort of following or foundation. Think about it from their perspective. They have to sell tickets too and it’s infinitely easier to sell a ticket to something that can not only be found by a Google search but has some sort of following and social media presence.
As filmmakers we are operating in an ever changing industry. Being adaptable is critical. I do my best to keep up with industry trends through the trades and certain websites (like Slated and Film Specific). This past week I read a very interesting article in Salon by one film producer I admire Lynda Obst (Contact, Sleepless in Seattle, The Siege). During her meeting with Peter Chernin she quoted him as saying, “I think the two driving forces [of what you’re calling the Great Contraction] were the recession and the transition of the DVD market.” She continued his quote, “It was partially driven by the recession, but I think it was more driven by technology.”
This was no surprise to me since our distributor stopped selling DVDs two years ago. I learned money could be made when I had First World on hulu (now it’s on Amazon..and yes I get paid a monthly check). While I’ll always continue to be a steadfast promoter of the importance of film being seen in theatres, technology continues to evolve and offers tremendous new opportunities for filmmakers.
As filmmakers we all believe that our project deserves the best. Indeed, if we aren’t going to champion our own project who is? But like the title of this post, Dickens’s novel was met with mixed reviews. In the world of entertainment, it’s all about the review, the acceptance of our work. And part of that world revolves around being accepted into a film festival.
IndieWire always has excellent, if not practical, articles that solidly pertain to the world of independent filmmaking. Fair Trade for Filmmakers: Is It Time For Festivals To Share Their Revenue? suggested that film festivals pay filmmakers to screen their films once accepted. Frankly, I think this is an excellent idea. Filmmakers need to get paid for their work. There are investors somewhere and probably actors and crew waiting for their cut of the pie. Of course the argument by the film festivals is that they barely get by financially (some sort of Hollywood-like accounting?) and are offering a platform for a filmmakers work to be seen. As one poster ignorantly claimed, “the solvency/insolvency of a festival itself is actually irrelevant if their very existence is almost entirely dependent on insolvent films and insolvent filmmakers.” But trust me the argument for and against is as old as the three act structure of a screenplay (and, yes, I still believe in the three act structure!).
However now I will be practical, every business venture has risks and filmmaking is no different than any other industry. What it comes down to is producing a solid product (and that has nothing to do with budget) and steering clear of bad advice. 1) You don’t put all your eggs in the distribution basket by ONLY submitting to festivals. Whoever told you to do that doesn’t know how distribution works. 2) After you submit to festivals, you don’t post on your website what festivals you submitted to—seriously a local filmmaker did that. So then what do you tell people when you haven’t been accepted? 3) Festivals are a marketing and public relations platform. Know how to write a press release. If you can write a script, you can write a press release—just apply the three act structure and you’ll be fine.
I was talking to my entertainment attorney a couple of weeks ago to catch up and to get a sense of what’s really going on in the industry beyond the trades and rhetoric. The one thing he told me is that the industry is pretty much all over the place. Nobody knows where the next great film is going to come from and the world of distribution is continuing to change. What we do know is that audiences are simply yearning for quality films.
While the cost to produce has come down with technology, that has had consequences to companies that support the system—the VFX industry is at a crossroads. When you have a film like Life of Pi win the Oscar for best visual effects, but the company that created the visual effects (Rhythm & Hues) goes into bankruptcy (MPC worked on and shared the award with Rhythm & Hues), something is seriously wrong with the economic picture. Who’s “write”? As Addison DeWitt said in All About Eve, “ Too bad, we’re gonna miss the third act. They’re gonna play it offstage.” Like festivals and the distribution chain for filmmakers, this is another critical part of the industry that is in an evolutionary state.
Putting aside the headlines and debates, for me seeing the trailer for Justice Is Mind on TVGuide.com this week just continued to confirm the acceptance of independent film on a stage that largely was the province of studio level or “mini-majors” projects. Yes, as independent filmmakers we are in charge of our own destiny, but that also means navigating a constantly changing industry and the great expectations of one group—the audience.
P.S. On a side note, I want to thank NASA for offering me a social media credential to cover the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) launch at Kennedy SpaceCenter this past week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it owing to some other commitments, but I look forward to the next opportunity. My congratulations to NASA and SpaceX for a great launch!