I remember like it was yesterday when First Signal was on the festival circuit and I was reviewing and having conversations with distributors. The duplicity of so many with their endless fees and one-sided life-binding contracts combined with promises that frankly I knew where going to go nowhere, wasn’t exactly a recipe for lifting spirts. But it was the discussions I had with Indie Rights that presented the first honest and straightforward approach to film distribution that was truly a breath of fresh air. I knew going into it, that we were weren’t just handing First Signal over to them and that was the end of it. It was a partnership – they distributed while I marketed.
As Indie Rights continues to find outlets to distribute First Signal, I continue the marketing process. Although it has been a year since First Signal was released, the film is consistently performing on established outlets like Tubi and Amazon while finding new audiences on YouTube. With over 800,000 views in the last four months, YouTube is a platform that delivers solid advertising revenue to its filmmakers while delivering a global audience.
But the one thing I can definitively state today is that First Signal is technically in the black. While I didn’t “bet the ranch” from a budget POV, my investment was a solid one that I was hoping to eventually recoup. This milestone has given me confidence that one can be “in business” as an independent filmmaker. When I say independent filmmaker, I’m not talking about those that are connected to studios, mini-majors, millionaire investors or the like, I’m talking about those that look at their personal savings and investment accounts and say to themselves, “OK, I believe in this project. I’ll take the risk.” Fortunately, in the case of First Signal, the risk paid off.
As for the next risk, a filmmaker friend and I visited Battleship Cove last weekend. With the USS Massachusetts appearing prominently in one of the opening scenes of SOS United States, I’m starting to visualize the production coming together. But like First Signal, and Justice Is Mind, it will come down to finding a variety of key locations to make this political thriller come to life.
On reflection of this revenue milestone, it took over a decade to bring the First World Universe to life with First Signal. While there was the short film version of First World to introduce this new concept in 2007, it was the production of a feature film in First Signal that has truly started the franchise. With the positive feedback First Signal is receiving on YouTube as an audience indicator, developing this new sci-fi franchise for production has taken on a renewed purpose.
The idea for Justice is Mind came to me after I finished some writing on First World regarding Central’s (Central Encoding Neurological Transfer Recording and Library) ability to read minds that was originally inspired from a 60 Minutes story. And while I continue to develop the First World franchise, and work on securing a producing partner for the feature, I wanted to write something that could be produced on a micro-budget. Of course, in Hollywood terms, micro-budget is classed at anything under $500K. Justice is Mind has a total budget just north of $30,000.
It’s no secret that the independent film finance market was shattered during the economic crisis of 2008. Whole funds of capital dried up and projects just didn’t get produced. (Financing that was lined up for First World literally disappeared overnight). But what has been created during this economic downturn as an optional platform is digital distribution and video on demand. Justice is Mind was created exclusively for those avenues of release and return. Yes, by return, I’m talking about a return of investment to investors.
I truly believe that having a distribution deal in place before you lens the first scene is vital. Justice is Mind has secured that through IndieFlix. Sure, anyone that makes a motion picture has high hopes for it and emotions always run high. But the traditional methods of submitting to film festivals, getting selected by a festival and securing a theatrical distribution deal are slim. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity “cases” are rare at best. Of course it is the Another Earth’s that still give that system hope to filmmakers.
The film industry, like the print publishing industry I was once part of, has had to embrace new technologies and methods of doing business. This isn’t to say producers enjoy paying talent and crew less, it just means that the revenue economics aren’t there yet. And you can’t tell an investor “You give me $1 and I’ll give you back .50 in two years.” But the upside is, the entire production process has become easier with less barriers to entry and therefore more can be produced. In this case, less is most certainly more for both talent and crew.
And so another adventure begins. With my interest in producing a teaser trailer for Justice is Mind in late September/early October as a marketing tool to secure financing for the feature, I placed a listing on New England Film for crew. The response has been tremendous. The level of talent in New England has always been a boon to filmmakers and audiences alike. Should a crew be secured, a casting call notice will go out in the next couple of weeks.
Speaking of films, I highly recommend Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This is one of those rare moments in conventional Hollywood where they hit all the right notes. For those of us that have seen the original Planet of the Apes, starring the late Charlton Heston, you will appreciate this new addition to the franchise even more.