Since my last post, First Signal has been accepted as an official selection in the Bucharest Film Awards and Aasha International Film Festival. To date, this makes eleven festivals that have accepted either the trailer or feature. I have to say I’m very encouraged by these early results. While there’s no guarantee of acceptance to any festival, I remain hopeful that First Signal will continue to be discovered by film festivals around the world.
Although I had planned to start screening First Signal independently of film festivals in October, I have put that plan off until 2021 and will wait and see how the film does during its festival run. Since I’ve submitted to additional festivals over the last few weeks that have a United States or world premiere requirement, any independent screening would jeopardize acceptance.
The theatrical market is the lifeblood of the film industry. While PVOD has demonstrated great promise during the last few months, theatrical is the key to success. Without theatrical, certain types of films either simply won’t get made or will be done so with dramatically reduced budgets. Sadly, some states have enacted the most draconian and restrictive requirements for theatres I’ve ever seen, while some (Los Angeles and New York) aren’t open at all. These types of restrictions do nothing except ruin industries while promoting fear to keep people out of indoor gatherings. I’ve never subscribed to those narratives.
The bright side to all of this is that smart states and countries have very relaxed if not completely opened their economies. They smartly treat citizens like adults and not like children. What this means is the obvious, businesses and creative industries will flock to these destination points. We all know enough now to know what is reasonable about events from the last few months. But, sadly, there are those governments that, for some odd reason, what to keep control of their citizens. Those citizens will simply move as no reasonable person wants to live under any form of totalitarianism.
I continue to remain optimistic that 2021 will return the world to normalcy. Some say the world will never be the same again. Some live in a world of such pessimism that optimism is like a foreign language to them. There are those times you have to look far down the tunnel to see a glimmer of light. But when that light is found, I prefer to be with those that share that destination. Life is too short, to waste on those that want to hold you back in their world of darkness.
While I do some repositioning with First Signal’s marketing plan for the festival market, an idea came to mind the other day for an offshoot story that would focus on one of the characters that is introduced in First Launch. This is a character that I introduced in First World, but never fully explored. Between my archive and what I have of this character in First Launch, my aim would be to create a stand-alone story that would expand the “First World Universe” and compliment the sequel.
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.