Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Posts tagged “film financing

First Plan

First Signal‘s website

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.

Our eighth festival acceptance!

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.

General Reager arrives at Chievres Air Base

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. 

First Signal – another meeting

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.

Resolute.

First Signal – another revelation

Original Stock

vlcsnap-2017-11-19-12h38m29s207

This opening shot in First World was created by the director for another program. As he owned the footage, he used it for this scene.

Writing an original story is by no means an easy process. There are times when I think and rethink various elements to make sure they flow. Does this transition from that transition make sense? Am I carrying the story forward and adding something with each moment? Even though I’m writing fiction, I always ask myself would people act and respond this way in “real life”?

But at one point it starts to click. For this story it happened around page twenty. While I have the general outline for act one, two and three (Yes, I believe in the three act structure), it’s the journey these characters take that will make the story what it is.

vlcsnap-2017-11-19-12h41m21s155

This shot of the FBI in Washington, D.C. for Serpentine has also been seen in Madam Secretary.

But one thing that is easy, is creating worlds that are larger than they appear or you have the budget for.  With every film I’ve produced (and some commercials), I always use stock footage. From the White House in First World, to Reincar Scientific in Justice Is Mind to the FBI in Serpentine, it’s a simple purchase from one of the stock footage houses.

Most stock footage is very affordable. However, there are times when it can get pricey. Case in point was footage from the Nuremberg Trials after World War II in Justice Is Mind. In addition to the footage, I also had to obtain it at a certain aspect ratio.  But in today’s modern world of filmmaking, it’s amazing what’s available if you just look for it.

As this story largely takes place in one room, it will be stock footage that takes us out of the scene to illustrate certain moments of the story.  Why ask the Department of Defense if you can film a B-2 taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base if you can just acquire the footage for $79.

vlcsnap-2017-11-19-12h46m40s19

In Justice Is Mind one of the characters is leaving Germany for the United States.

I remember after Justice Is Mind was released, I was asked by someone in the industry if I went to Logan International Airport in Boston to film planes taking off.  I remember jokingly responding that it was a real pain in the ass to get over all the fences and position myself with a cameraman at the end of the runway. I think they thought I was serious. Oh well.

As I dove back further in the First World story and archives, I came across a time in 2008 when certain funding commitments were imminent for the production of the film (it was going to be part of a slate of films with a particular producer). But then the global recession took hold and literally decimated the film industry (particularly on the independent side).  At the time it was disappointing, but everything happens for a reason.

It’s interesting how one is turned to a particular story. When the idea came to me during my moments at the Naval Justice School about developing a story in a one location environment, something drew me back to First World. Was it the military aspects of that story? The fact that I’ve already created these characters? Who knows, the one thing I never ask myself is why. I just write.

Next scene.

vlcsnap-2017-11-19-12h47m40s96

Although Reincar Scientific is a fictional company, this building actually exists in Berlin, Germany.


Feature Presentation

IMAG1606

There is that moment in a theater when the words “Feature Presentation” come up just before the picture starts. Certainly as a theatregoer we’re excited to see the film, but as a filmmaker it’s a rush—particularly when it’s your movie.  That rush happened for me when Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program screened together at The Strand Theatre in March. Ask any filmmaker and they’ll tell you, there’s nothing like seeing your film on the silver screen.

But for all the accolades that come with making a feature film, there are significant challenges that theatregoers don’t necessarily concern themselves with. The recent articles on Broad Green and Open Road chronicle the times ahead for some. While the capital to produce is there, it’s the net return that’s the issue. Thus consolidation or, in the case of Broad Green, production shut down. In my view it comes down to a reasonable budget with a solid marketing plan tied to distribution. To turn a phrase from Ron Popeil you can’t “Make it and forget it”.

Zeb and Angelina in the Hotel

Producing my first film First World back in 2006. At the Commonwealth Hotel in Boston.

I met with a colleague a few weeks ago who wants to make his first feature film. He’s a talented filmmaker who has made some award winning short films. A short film is one thing, a feature is an entirely other animal. His concerns were numerous—completing the script, managing a crew, finance and distribution. Basically it comes down to taking that leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and your own capabilities. Yes, you rely on others, but as Luc Besson said you have to be the General of the Army. Look at any film in production from the low budget independent to the major studio release, the entire project revolves around the director. This isn’t to say that the director acts unilaterally, they too have to report to someone or at least adhere to a structure.

Serpentine behind the scenes 2

Behind the scenes of Serpentine: The Short Program.

As for structure and directing, I’m looking forward to returning as site supervisor for the Naval Justice School’s mock trial program in Newport, RI. Yes, it’s directing of a sort, but it’s just as much as adhering to the structure of their program. What I enjoy about this program is that it’s neither film nor stage, it gives me the opportunity to roleplay a character over multiple days without a set script rather a set of circumstances and situation. As director it’s generally to make sure that the actors have an understanding of this process as it’s not stage or film. There’s no call to action and cut, rather you are in character when in the school. My supervisory role is essentially making sure everyone shows up on time, answer related questions and to follow the rules of the base and the agency that has hired us.

ice-network

From behind the scenes to on screen. This scene is one of the primary media stills for Serpentine

One thing about this industry that I enjoy is the variety of opportunity it affords. Whether directing a film, writing a screenplay or working on a military base, it’s about being well-rounded. The one thing that has helped enormously with my work in Newport was the years I spent doing TV interviews (many live). While there was no script, there was a subject matter and certain facts I had to adhere to. My point is that whatever the work is, it’s about the accumulation of experience because who knows what that next part will be.

Casting.

imag1558

Back to Newport next month!


Mixed Zone

Mixed Zone

The mixed zone at the World Championships. This set will be seen at the “American Championships”.

Today I finished Act Two of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. With a story that traverses a season in the sport along with over 40 characters on and off the ice, this stage of the writing process is a point of reflection. It’s a point when I review my notes (there are 25 pages) and read the script from the beginning. I liken it to building a road. The “earthwork” has been done, but it needs to be paved. For me, the Final Act (or in this case Act Three and/or Four) is both the most exciting and nerve wracking. Why? Because the road has to lead to a destination — a conclusion.

Every writer works in their own way. And while books, seminars and industry experts dictate how you should do the process, I promise if you talked to ten different screenwriters you would get ten processes of mixed results. For me, I look at a character or story arc and see if it has evolved. Nothing is worse than watching a movie and not seeing a character or story resolution.  I’d rather take some extra time to get the last acts right than have audiences leaving disappointed or, worse, with a predictable ending.

vlcsnap-2014-11-14-10h13m01s6

The witness for the prosecution in Justice Is Mind. The turning point into the final act.

When I wrote Justice Is Mind the initial premise was someone facing their own memory at trial. But for anyone that has seen the movie, while that may be the central core, there’s a conflux of other activities going around it. In my view, nothing is linear in real life and it shouldn’t be in film. For me, I always love a good twist at the end or a surprise ending. Two of my favorites with surprise endings are The Sixth Sense and Witness for the Prosecution. Both films couldn’t be more different in genre, but they brilliantly pulled off an ending that I don’t think anyone saw coming. As of this moment, I believe I have the surprise ending all set for this story, but as it’s not written yet that can certainly change!

As for a mix of things, there was a great practical article in Forbes titled How To Finance An Independent Film by Bryan Sullivan. While I’ve known about these steps for some time, it was nice to see a “drama” free article just present the facts.  Often with the trades or some of the bloggers I follow (or used to follow), there’s this air of judgment or bias in their reporting that does nothing but lecture. This is an industry of creatives that develop stories for an audience. And while there most certainly are standard ways to accomplish that, the last thing we need to hear are “You can’t do this” or “You can’t do that” when it comes to building projects.  Bottom line, all projects and their path to market take different roads.

witness-for-prosecution

Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution.

I’ll admit there is a certain satisfaction in creating an original story. In the case of this story around the sport of figure skating, it’s worked out well so far that I was involved in the sport in so many different areas. From skating (I passed that Junior Free before the rule changes!), to teaching, to publishing a magazine for the sport to TV analyst work, I can say that this story travels from learn to skate, to receptions to the world championships with the FBI and NSA steadfastly involved that builds a story that takes us around the world.

Representing the United States.

42

Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.


The Trades

DSC_0976 (1)

In this new political thriller, the climax of the story happens at a world figure skating championships.

Being a filmmaker, I’m an avid reader of the industry trades. From The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire to several email newsletters (SSN Insider is my favorite). In general, I look to get a feel for the industry and where it may be going. As I’ve written about in earlier posts, navigating this industry is like being on the bridge of a ship and deciding what port to sail into. The choices are numerous and in some cases smartly promoted. One of these choices was a film festival.

I attended my first film festival back in 2007 when First World was nominated for best screenplay out of over 80 submissions at the California Independent Film Festival. Having placed in the top 5 for this contest it was a total thrill to attend, network and then hear the title of my first screenplay announced as a finalist in a theater.  I didn’t win the Slate Award but it was honor enough to be nominated. It was at this festival that I realized I had developed a new trade.

vlcsnap-2014-11-17-10h15m35s104

Robin Ann Rapoport and Vernon Aldershoff (seated right) starred in the short and feature film version of Justice Is Mind.

In this industry it seems just natural that you start to pick up new trades. You may start as a writer or an actor and before you know it you may be producing and directing your first short film. You start to get into some festivals, perhaps some theatrical exhibition and then score some media. Soon thereafter you realize you want to make your first feature film. Every level of this industry takes time and patience and despite what one might read in the trades, none of this happens overnight.

One thing that never happens overnight is film financing. It doesn’t matter what your station is in the industry. Film financing, in particular, is very nuanced. As for my projects, I’ve fully funded some and have had investors (public and private) in others. In one case I used crowdfunding. Larger projects, if they can attract the right talent, can also achieve pre-sales. But that’s being challenged owing to certain bankable “A” list availability to commit to a project before one scene is even shot. But one area that I’m particularly excited about is equity crowdfunding. There have been numerous articles on the subject, so I would do your own searches. That being said, it offers filmmakers yet again another option–and port?

With First World, In Mind We Trust and SOS United States in various stages of review and development, the one thing I have committed to is producing the first ten pages of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating as a promotional vehicle. As some may recall, I made a short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence. The point of that short was to not only develop interest in the project but to bring together an initial cast and crew to insure that various aspects work.

ssus_05[1]

In SOS United States the story starts and ends around the ocean liner SS Leviathan. The ocean liner is modeled after the famed liner SS United States.

What are the primary challenges with this new project? A figure skater that can do a couple of triple jumps and can act. No matter how it has been done before, using a double for either the extreme close ups of a jump or distance shots just doesn’t work. A skater has a particular way they stand on the ice along with body type.  The other part of this short is developing some new techniques to film a skating program that truly captures the grace, style and power that a skater projects. In essence I want the audience to experience the program not just see it.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of course is developing an original story. As I enter the closing of the second act to this political thriller, I remember where I was at the time when writing Justice Is Mind. At this moment I’m literally living with the characters and all the plots and subplots. But rather than taking the easy way out on their resolution, I will let the story sit for a few days and let the story speak back to me.

Revelation.

atranta

From First World the city of Lunaria on the Moon.


The Alternative Factor

15775d2

Part of the figure skating story I’m developing goes back to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

As Jodie Foster told The Hollywood Reporter this past week, “The hardest part is getting the green light, getting the movie going.” From financing, locations, crew and talent, moving a project to green light status is a major undertaking. Reading the dailies coming out of Cannes this week there is a host of industry adjustments. From distributors looking for new ways to grab audiences, to Amazon launching a YouTube like service .to the availability of A list actors when so many are committed to “superhero” movies. Yet again another era of change in an ever changing industry. But at some point you just have to throw caution to the wind and do it.

A few days ago I crossed the 60 page mark in the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. My aim is to have a complete first draft by the end of June. I’ve already started to reach out to a couple of key people I’ve worked with over the years on availability later on this summer.

vlcsnap-2015-04-17-10h07m27s82

Justice Is Mind – Fringe meets Law & Order in a Gattaca setting.

For me it comes down to visualizing not just the film but the market in which it’s going to exist in. This is why I always write a business plan as part of the development process. Bottom line, I need to know there’s a market for the story and/or a target demographic.  For Justice Is Mind it was older audiences and a few films that fell into the type of audience I was going after—Fringe meets Law & Order in a Gattaca setting. With SOS United States the story is set in a contemporary world of conflict between nations and shadow governments that can best be compared to Seven Days in May meets Clear and Present Danger.

But with this new story I’m writing, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that the sport of figure skating has a base of enthusiasts and participants that can be marketed to. For me it comes down to not just creating “another skating movie” but one that builds off that base with a story that revolves around a decade’s long Cold War mystery that culminates at the world figure skating championships.  What it really comes down is marketing to an alternative audience.

As producer Charles Cohen told The Hollywood Reporter regarding the niche he targets, “It’s a mature audience that’s seeking an alternative to the typical Hollywood production — your big tentpole picture. People who are crying out for Marigold Hotel or Philomena or Brooklyn. Films that harken back to the ’60s and ’70s, which deal with real issues.” I could not agree more. As I learned with Justice Is Mind audiences want an alternative.

seven-days-in-may

As in Seven Days in May, a shadow government emerges in SOS United States.

Perhaps the biggest news this past week was Amazon’s new Video Direct Service that takes direct aim at YouTube. I’ve been working with Amazon’s CreateSpace and through our distributor for Amazon Prime for several years. Amazon, in my view, is one the best places independent filmmakers have to showcase their work to a wide audience (they also own IMDb). Unlike some of these “curated” platforms that you barely hear about, Amazon’s algorithm approach puts the decision firmly in the hands of the consumer.

But there’s another thing that Amazon also gets right and that’s its approach to theatrical screenings.  They know that a quality theatrical screening makes all the difference to just another VOD release. Having had a theatrical release for Justice Is Mind it also helps enormously with press and building an audience. While I’ve been a proponent of VOD for years, the film industry is steeped in the tradition of the theatrical release and rightly so. As a filmmaker, there is nothing more exhilarating than seeing your movie on the marquee and having it come to life in a theater.

Silver Screen

IMAG0660

Watching Justice Is Mind come to life at a test screening at a theater in Maine.


The Proof

vlcsnap-2014-04-07-15h29m21s229

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Robin Ann Rapoport as Margaret Miller in the short film Evidence in 2011.

This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.

My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.

vlcsnap-2014-04-20-09h15m19s169

Aldersoff and Rapoport reprised their roles in the feature film Justice Is Mind in 2013.

In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed.  But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.

As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.

vlcsnap-2015-12-13-10h10m13s65

The President’s motorcade arrives in First World in 2007.

Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles.  After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously.  After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.

vlcsnap-2013-12-03-12h55m32s159

A fan made trailer for First World.

The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.

As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States.  For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.

Lights, camera, concept.

SOSposter (704x1024)

The concept poster for SOS United States.


Third Act

vlcsnap-2015-11-22-11h23m33s117

In Justice Is Mind the third act begins with a witness for the prosecution.

There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t come across an article or two that offers advice or tips of the trade or some other moniker about steps to “success” in the industry. I come from the point of view that what works for me, might not work for others and visa versa. Because this industry is built on creatives, we all tend to think differently and have different approaches to accomplishing our goals.

There was a pretty interesting article on IndieWire this week about screenwriting. I generally agreed with most of it except for one key point. First, I absolutely agree with Francis Ford Coppola about knowing your ending or at least having a fairly solid idea of where you want the story to wind up.

seven11

In SOS United States the story starts and ends with a shadow government. This still from the political thriller Seven Days In May (1964).

When I wrote Justice Is Mind I pretty much knew where I wanted the story to end – a confrontation between father and son that nobody saw coming. For SOS United States it ends where it starts – albeit with a decisive decision by the President and Prime Minister. For me, I generally need to know where the highway ends because that’s what a script is—a road trip.

However, I absolutely disagree with Oliver Stone about not putting time into a script and just writing a treatment. A treatment or even a simple pitch might work for certain agents, production companies or studios where someone like Stone is a known entity, but a properly written script shows the talent of the screenwriter. Some people are very good story tellers, but writing a script is a completely different animal. Also, and I could easily be wrong here, I have yet to see a festival or contest promote, “And the best treatment award goes to….”  Yes, I do write a treatment of sorts when I start to put together a story, but it’s never more than five pages and certainly not a document I’d ever show someone!

atranta

One of the final scenes in First World as depicted in the short film version.

But perhaps the most valuable piece of advice was from Mark Duplass. It is a point I have ruthlessly exploited myself when it came to First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind – “Teach yourself to be more than a writer.” I love to write. I love to come up with story ideas. I’m pretty proud of my three screenplay nominations (hopefully more down the road!). But I had to prove myself – someway, somehow.

Over the years I got to know a lot of talented actors, cinematographers, special effects experts, etc. My years of experience running a publishing company with a distribution operation obviously helped enormously when “running” a film.  So I taught myself theatrical and VOD distribution. I talked to theatres, Hulu in their early days, and others. Nobody will care what I make if it doesn’t get seen. And to drive an audience to a building or a website it comes down to marketing and public relations. If you can write a screenplay you can write a press release. If you can direct an actor you can pitch the media.

Mark Duplass’s quote really sums up my career to date, “My advice is, go ahead and write the best script you can make. Your favorite script. Don’t even think about creative limits. Don’t even think about budgetary limits. Then, go write something that can absolutely be made for under $10,000.” In my world, that would be First World ($2 million+) to Justice Is Mind (>$25,000).

Now streaming Justice Is Mind.

First World Poster

The original theatrical poster for the short film first of First World (2007).


Set Course

Fail Safe

As in Fail Safe (1964), the majority of SOS United States takes place in bunkers.

Being in the entertainment industry is about navigation. It’s knowing when to set course for a destination, entering course corrections and when you need to retreat—sometimes at high speed (“General quarters! All hands man your battle stations!”). Those that know me, know that I’m a person of lists. For me it’s my navigation chart. Some things I act on daily, others are listed for future missions.

One mission that was accomplished this past week was securing the registration of U.S. Copyright for a foreign filmmaker. While this director knew they needed a copyright, particularly a U.S. one, they needed someone who had some experience, particularly in film. My last post talked about establishing networks and this is exactly where this new business relationship came from—a longtime colleague.

seven11

As in Seven Days In May (1964), a shadow government is revealed in SOS United States.

It’s one thing to charge a fee for a specific service. We do that in our everyday lives, from oil changes to dining out. But it’s something else when someone tries to charge for “access” “introductions” or worse “promises”.  Let me turn a phrase from President Nixon, “Let me making this perfectly clear there are no promises in the entertainment industry.” Sadly, this a trend that continues to expand unchecked.  From casting directors hosting “acting workshops” to producers offering a menu of services. Let me be clear again, these are only avenues for revenue on their end not work on your end.

This past week I encountered another producer selling services. When I made the initial pitch I appreciated the quick response. I soon found out why. While I was referred to the person that heads up their “production department” the conversion we had a couple of days later was such a waste of time. Had to love when he said they weren’t taking on any new projects and then referred me to a laundry list of their services to gain access to their contacts. Funny, I thought you weren’t taking on new projects? If that wasn’t insulting enough this “producer” had ZERO enthusiasm and wasn’t engaged at all (he also mentioned they had overhead to cover). If you’re trying to sell something at least try to be enthusiastic. Reminded me of a well-known theater chain based in Texas who wouldn’t screen Justice Is Mind because we didn’t have a DCP at the time but then had the balls to have their rental office try to get me to four wall one of their theatres (we don’t four wall). I have been called lots of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.  Short of it a network is built on relationships not purchased contacts.

Wednesday  Jan. 13  2016   UK Gadget NewsAs for networks, there is a trend in social media that is picking up great steam.  More and more paper.li users are sharing posts relative to SOS United States and Justice Is Mind. Just this past week, both films were picked up by these “papers”.  What I love about paper.li is the users curate interesting coverage in a great presentation. Check out these papers here and here.

The one thing this industry is all about is presentation and there are a few things on my list that are getting closer and closer for execution. There is one element that continues to present a project as serious because it means that the filmmakers are committed beyond the written word…

concept trailer.

fsafe02

When the crisis hits in SOS United States, the President, Prime Minister of the UK and their military advisers soon find themselves in a bunker (still from Fail Safe 1964).


The Network

the John J. Fahey Show   co host  Jim Saya   1 8 2   YouTube

On The John J. Fahey Show on Friday night.

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.

Plantation

With Gail Sullivan and Mary Wexler for PAC TV.

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…

Broadcast.

SOSposter (704x1024)

SOS United States first mentioned on TV this past week on The John J. Fahey Show.


Launch Plan

SS-United-States-bw

In SOS United States the ocean liner SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. In 2015 the retired ocean liner was saved from scrapping.

Too often we read about the resolutions and promises people make as they enter a new year. The end of one year and the birth of another does seem like the time to reflect on the past and hope for the future. But there is one thing that needs to be the driving force – a plan.

In the entertainment industry planning is the foundation of everything. From the script to production to marketing, the only way to get things done is to make a plan and to stick with it. For me it starts with my weekly lists; the daily posts to the social media pages I manage, the Google alerts that assist in public relations/marketing, the pitches to investors, the plans for productions, etc.  Like NASA, I’ve always believed in shooting for the Moon (and beyond). But we all know that NASA’s plan wasn’t just a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University in 1962. It was long term planning that resulted in Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon in 1969.

Justice Is Mind - the trial begins

In an August post this still from Justice Is Mind reached 3,900+. For 2016 screening presentations continue.

Nothing is more disheartening when you ask someone about a project they were all excited about months ago with more social media posts than you can track, only to inquire and you get their stoic face of “how dare you ask.” When someone asks me “how are your projects coming along” my response is pretty standard “they’re moving along.” That means that I have been doing at least the following: writing/editing the script, pitching projects to investors, working on concept art, talking to agents/managers, etc. Sadly, people only think you’re doing something when you have a tripod set up with a camera. What they don’t know is that when you reach that point you have, hopefully, established a solid foundation because even more work is ahead after you wrap that last scene – post production, distribution and marketing. Believe me when I tell you that Justice Is Mind had a five year long plan of writing (2010), production (2012) and distribution/marketing (2013-present). Without a plan none of our achievements would have taken place.

United_States_Capitol_-_west_front

In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World center around Washington, D.C.

The one I always compete against is myself. I look at one project I accomplished and want to make the next one better.  I think they call that progress. Yes, the plans I have for SOS United States, In Mind We Trust and First World are ambitious. But there does reach a point with any given project when you can see it happening. I remember when this threshold started to approach with Justice Is Mind. Is it a culmination of planned and sustained efforts? Being in the right place at the right time? Or, to quote the late Maximilian Schell, “This an industry of chances and luck.” In my view it’s about being “present” and in the moment. In an industry filled with those looking for attention, you have to make a plan that calls for it.

As for attention, I want to take a moment to thank my readers. Every year I receive an audience report from WordPress. I’m pleased to announce that this blog is read in 92 countries.  Curiously, the most active post for 2015 was A Narrative. In that post I talk about writing the last pages of In Mind We Trust. Indeed they were written in 2015 for 2016 presentations.

New Audiences.

Your 2015 year in blogging

Thank you to my readers. This blog was read in 92 countries!


The Commonwealth

vlcsnap-2014-12-18-11h02m42s4

The courtroom scenes in Justice Is Mind were filmed at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover.

In Justice Is Mind the fictional trial was The Commonwealth v. Henri Miller. In reality Justice Is Mind was primarily filmed in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This past week, Justice Is Mind’s editor Jared Skolnick, who is also an award winning filmmaker, was featured in an article titled “Hey, Hollywood and Bollywood — how about Valleywood?” The story in The Valley Advocate stated that Jared “makes movies in the Valley because this is where he’s from and where he began building his professional network.” The same holds true for me. Even when I was living in Los Angeles in 2007 and cast the two leads in First World in the “Golden State” of California, I filmed the project in Massachusetts? Why? Because this is where I’m from.

vlcsnap-2015-12-13-10h11m03s87

The Secretary of State’s Washington, D.C., apartment in First World was filmed at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.

Having lived in both New York City and Los Angeles, I can certainly understand the desire to be at the epicenter of the entertainment industry. Having been on a network TV show, a city like Los Angeles can be very exciting when you are working on the high end of the industry. I know numerous actors (some I’ve trained) and filmmakers who have left Massachusetts for the hope of fame and fortune. I firmly believe if you have the desire and will to move to these cities you should. You will never know until you try.  For me, I’m glad I had my experience in both these great cities, positive ones from a career point of view, but my creative energy and the launching of all my projects has originated in Massachusetts.  It’s not something I set out to do, it just happened that way. My new personal website, www.markashtonlund.com, chronicles the journey.

Case in point, the making of First World and Justice Is Mind. Both of these projects were enormously ambitious between the number of talent involved and needed locations. I had to work in a region where I knew the people and their general enthusiasm about being part of the film.  Why film in a location that will require permitting, location fees and local regulations just to look cool, when you can film somewhere else for free working with enthusiastic location partners in exchange for promoting their business?

BC-CoveNBridge1d

Preliminary plans for SOS United States call for the opening scene to be filmed on the USS Massachusetts in Fall River.

For me, as I did with Justice Is Mind, once I give the green light to a project I like to move along at reasonable pace in pre-production. Simply put, time is money whether literally or figuratively.  As some may have noticed from postings to this blog, I have generally already scouted most of the locations for SOS United States and to some degree for In Mind We Trust.

But as we have seen from the latest film markets, the greatest challenge filmmakers on all levels have is in securing production financing for their projects and a return on investment.  You don’t have to be a fortune teller to recognize that it always comes down to equity and what the investor wants. To say there has been an about face in film financing you just have to revisit articles that the trades wrote around the latest American Film Market and then there was this blog post over at Film Specific. But there is one piece to “The Commonwealth” financing pie that keeps films in the state.

Tax credits.

Mark Lund   Producer. Director. Writer. TV Personality.

I launched a new personal website this week. Check out http://www.markashtonlund.com


Prime Directive

Laser-Warfare-US-Air-Force-1024x682

In SOS United States military grade lasers are installed on the SS Leviathan and take on F35s.

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.

Amazon Prime

On Amazon Prime.

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.

CIA

In In Mind We Trust the CIA is at the center of a clandestine mind reading program with Reincar Scientific.

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.

On screen.

china-moon-launch-1-space

In First World, China launches a manned mission to the Moon in 2018. In the real world, China’s space program is launching forward.

 

 


New Course

The Prime Minister arrives on Commonwealth One to meet with the President.

The Prime Minister arrives on Commonwealth One to meet with the President…

Let’s make one thing clear, no matter the state of the markets there will always be films because filmmakers are a determined bunch. As independent filmmakers, we abhor gatekeepers, don’t follow the rules and can generally spot a bullshit artist before they even get onto our radar screen (as a former magazine publisher I’m really good at the latter). Yet, although the industry is changing at lightning speed, there is a still a rigidity to change at the expense of the consumer and filmmaker.

Meeting with the President in a bunker in New York State.

…in a bunker in New York State.

The reports coming out of the American Film Market were beyond telling, “It’s the lightest market in memory” “We can’t keep making films for the same size of budget. It can’t be the distributors taking all the risk. The talent has to learn to bring down their fees and bring down the budget. Take a share of the backend and share the risk” “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

None of this should be a surprise as the market indicators have been there for years. While some brilliant independent films like The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, Dallas Buyers Club and Woman in Gold have done excellent, this recent story in Variety titled, “Why Are Oscar Contenders Flopping at the Box Office?” reflects a new reality. Simply put, talent needs to take backend risks and budgets need to come down considerably or producers will not finance. The red carpet should represent accomplishment not red ink.

Intelligence reveals that a nuclear bomb may be on the SS Leviathan heading to Boston.

Intelligence reveals that a nuclear bomb may be on the SS Leviathan heading to Boston.

I have always believed that it’s story first. Without a solid story, talent can’t breathe life into it. It’s story that gives you the hook with the media. I proved this for years as a magazine publisher and with Justice Is Mind.  Sure there are the literal handful of actors that will garner media attention and move audiences to theaters. And sometimes, like we saw in the aforementioned films (along with recent Bridge of Spies), all the ingredients were there – story, talent and crew.  But when you read that there were only 10 “bankable” films out of 2,000 at AFM, you can’t help but feel for those producers and filmmakers that are sitting on completed projects waiting to find a home.

As I’ve stated before I will state again, I firmly believe that a theatrical release is critical. First, the media is more apt to report on a film that’s in a theater. Second, it builds audience awareness. Third, it generates real revenue. Sorry, while I love the art of filmmaking, I’m a capitalist.

F35

The Prime Minister orders in the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and F35s to stop the ship.

My original business plan for Justice Is Mind didn’t even call for a theatrical release. I soon realized not only the value of a theatrical release, but that theaters and audiences want to see something different. With Justice Is Mind they saw an engaging story brought to life by talented actors, filmmakers and crew. It wasn’t some theory that we brought audiences into a theatre with a public relations hook and grassroots marketing, it was a fact. It’s time to do it again.

With domestic surveillance ordered by the President, the National Security Agency soon reveals a clandestine military plot in his own government.

With domestic surveillance ordered by the President, the National Security Agency soon reveals a clandestine military plot in his own government.

While I have been presenting my slate of films to potential producers and financiers, my findings have been trending towards one particular project—SOS United States.  From real world events around surveillance, cyber-attacks and shadow governments, to various TV series and films that center around political thrillers, this project is resonating the most.

An earlier threat not to intercept the SS Leviathan becomes a reality when the United States power grid comes under a cyber attack and military satellites go dark.

An earlier threat not to intercept the SS Leviathan becomes a reality when the United States power grid comes under a cyber attack and military satellites go dark.

Having completed updates to the script last week, I’ve already started to source locations and marketing partners along with a media plan. While there has been some general interest on the equity side, it may take the same course I took with Justice Is Mind to go from script to screen – crowdfunding.

Full ahead.

To resolve the crisis the President and Prime Minister order a drone strike into a neutral country.

On the eve of a military unification treaty between the United States and United Kingdom, the President and Prime Minister order a drone strike to neutralize the crisis.


The Markets

As in the movie Fail Safe, the majority of SOS United States takes place in war rooms and bunkers.

As in the movie Fail Safe, the majority of SOS United States takes place in war rooms and bunkers.

This past week, just as I finished some updates to SOS United States, the American Film Market began. No sooner does it start than this article in Deadline comes out lamenting the “slim pickings” and quoting a variety of industry executives from, “It’s the lightest market in memory. TV is definitely sucking up talent” to “It’s much tougher now to find those projects that have that clear theatrical profile.”

Attaching talent, even in the best of markets, has always been a challenge. But clear theatrical profile?  How is that truly defined? Having secured a limited theatrical run with Justice Is Mind that had talented but unknown actors, I often wonder what metrics these “executives” use when measuring a film for commercial appeal. This has always been an industry where you had to think outside the box, particularly when you are introducing something new to the market.

Justice Is Mind has benefited from mind advances in mind reading technology  and neurolaw.

Justice Is Mind has benefited from mind advances in mind reading technology and neurolaw.

There’s no question there has been a seismic shift in talent from film to TV, that’s why I have positioned In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, as a pilot for a TV series. Sure, it could be a standalone feature, but it just makes sense to have this option when presenting. I remember many years ago when I attended Mipcom listening to execs wishing they could bring some of the theatrical talent over to TV.  This is an industry that shifts like the tides. It’s just a matter of product and timing.

Speaking of product, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by a “distributor” for Justice Is Mind for an “exclusive” deal in a major market.  Sure I’m always interested in a new deal, but it has to make sense. No sooner did we conclude our initial call and documents arrived with the most ridiculous terms and requirements I have ever seen. Um, no, I will not reedit the opening and end credits of my film to include a laundry list of producers to make it look like you produced the film. Um, no, I will not upload my film for you to review to a mysterious website that can only be accessed by you after the fact. It was laughable. And if you say you have distributed hundreds of films, you best have a listing on IMDb. Just when you think you’ve seen everything you see something new.

Just like in First Word, China continues its missions to the Moon.

Just as in First Word, China continues its missions to the Moon.

As for timing, I never would have thought that after I wrote First World that China’s space program would truly boom the way it did or that the cyber attacks I present in SOS United States would become so front and center.  When I first wrote Justice Is Mind that idea was born by one broadcast on 60 Minutes about ‘thought identification’ and my passion for a good legal drama. Could I have ever imagined the advances in mind reading technology and neurolaw? No, of course not.

In my view it’s impossible to time the market from an industry or consumer standpoint. If you have an idea for a new movie or TV series, just write it and then do everything you can to produce it. In the end, it all comes down to what the consumer wants and the way they want to watch it.

“Let them lead us.” SOS United States.

A possible reprieve for the S.S. United States.


Observation Deck

The SS United States may go to Brooklyn. Imagine the world premiere of SOS United States on the ship.

The SS United States may go to Brooklyn. Imagine the world premiere of SOS United States on the ship.

This post might be observed as a continuation of The Cold Call.  As I’ve previously discussed, whether you are a studio, production company or independent filmmaker, you need investors to realize your projects.  As I stated in my opening remarks at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, without them you don’t have a project. It doesn’t matter how great it is.

Over the last few weeks, I have discovered a not so pleasant revelation of investors (hedge funds, private equity, etc.) that used to be involved in the industry but aren’t any longer.  The reasons stem from lack of returns, revenue transparency or, worse, misrepresentation. These investors that used to invest millions now invest elsewhere, and for good reason.

As filmmakers we are creators, visionaries that can illuminate a project without showing one frame on the screen. It’s what we do.  It’s not only the investor we have to sell; but the actors, crew, location, marketing partners, distributors, etc. But there is also a business side that needs to be observed to make these dreams happen in the first place.

""The controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations." More articles coming out supporting the storyline in Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust.

“The controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.” More articles coming out supporting the storyline in Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust.

The one thing I have learned with investors over the years from publishing to filmmaking is what I call an alignment of common interests. Yes, you want funding, but you also want some sort of engagement. When I was publishing magazines, my investors had a vested interest in the industry we covered. In filmmaking it can be anything from the subject of the film, the mechanics of the process or simply a pure investment play to generate a return. But in my view, it just comes down to being honest and, to be blunt, not a bullshit artist.

Yes, I will tell you point blank that I can make $1,000 look like $50,000 on screen and back it up with the talent involved and technology shop talk. But I will not tell you that we will get selected for Sundance and all rights deal that includes a wide theatrical release. But what I will state is how I accomplished a theatrical run and VOD distribution for Justice Is Mind. I’ll then mention the various companies I would use to facilitate this process for the next project. In other words, transparency.

If a teen can hack the CIA's directors personal email, then the storyline in SOS United States is not only plausible by real.

If a teen can hack the CIA’s directors personal email, then the storyline in SOS United States is not only plausible but real.

As I filmmaker I couldn’t have asked for better investors in Justice Is Mind.  First, as they are in business for themselves, they were realists and enjoyed both the excitement and challenges that come with any new business. And a film, even a low budget indie, is a business.

The one area they found particularly interesting was distribution. Rightly so, they wanted to know how Justice Is Mind was going to market. While the business plan spelled out our primary method at the time, during the production of Justice Is Mind a company I was going to work with changed their business model that didn’t align with ours. This is when it comes down to adaptability and looking for new avenues. Those avenues led us to a limited theatrical run, an international premiere on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, solid media coverage and VOD distribution. Yes, we all want more, but the one thing this industry takes is time—time to build relationships, new projects and getting them to market.

Full ahead.

With my two investors at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind.

With my two investors at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind.


Social Justice

"Especially, IN MIND WE TRUST, I really liked the concept." said a distributor this week.

“Especially, IN MIND WE TRUST, I really liked the concept.” said a distributor this week.

For those of us that market products in the modern world, we know that social media is a vital component for any marketing plan. But we also know the highs and lows that such platforms bring. This past week, I read a fascinating article titled Why Twitter’s Dying. While Twitter’s economics have been in the news as of late, the article spoke to a broader issue around social media platforms and the general abuse of its users. This article is really worth a read because everyone I talk to is thinking about the points this author raises.

Madam Secretary   MadamSecretary    TwitterBut while social media can have its pitfalls, it also can bring substantive rewards. Last Sunday I sent a tweet about my favorite show Madam Secretary. The official Twitter account for the show retweeted mine resulted in over 6,000 impressions.  Yes, pretty impressive for something that just took me about a minute to generate. But on the other side, when I was trying to locate a photo and went into the archive on Justice Is Mind’s Facebook page I found a horribly derogatory comment from an actor that auditioned for the film. Yes, I deleted it. Sadly, jealousy and bitterness is a large part of the abuse on these platforms. Social media, to quote Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, “It’s a sword. It cuts both ways.”

An outpouring of traditional and social media may save the SS United States.

An outpouring of traditional and social media may save the SS United States.

Certainly social media has assisted in marketing Justice Is Mind and my other projects, but the real driver is press. Anyone can post to social media (and even buy “likes”), but reporters are still the gatekeepers to their audiences, audiences built the old fashioned way by delivering content their customers want to read, customers that have either been acquired by a paid subscription, advertising or both. None of us in their right mind would pay for a social media platform, but we still pay for a subscription to a media outlet in one form or another. You are either going to shell out some money or sit through an ad. Content isn’t free.

But content is what this is all about isn’t it? If you don’t have interesting engaging content, nobody is going to care. Filmmaking is about developing content and we have seen a seismic shift in how it’s marketed and distributed. Just this week, Paramount Pictures announced a new release experiment of shortening the theatrical release window of the latest Paranormal Activity film before it goes to VOD. Will it work? Who knows because VOD numbers are a  guarded secret in the industry.

The Huffington Post. A promoted post on Facebook reached over 3,900.

Justice Is Mind in The Huffington Post. A promoted post on Facebook reached over 3,900.

While VOD is the primary gateway towards distribution for so many films, I strongly believe that a theatrical release of some sort is critical. Not only do reporters take a film more seriously if it’s “in theaters” but you are developing an audience along the way that can only help when you arrive on VOD. But like all things in this industry, you have new companies looking to exploit the promises of VOD distribution at the expense of the filmmaker. Yet again this week I received an email from a well-known distributor/aggregator claiming the benefits of working with them but paying upfront for distribution to platforms. Seriously upfront.

The film industry is just like the world of magazine and book publishing, companies promising the literal Moon without any skin in the game. As a well known writer said in her latest email newsletter about service companies in her industry, “They claim to make your journey easier, more profitable, give you access to people you’d never meet otherwise. What you don’t realize is that many of them are simply attempting to make a buck off your eagerness.”

Next Post.

Time flies. It was three years ago this past week that Justice Is Mind wrapped production.

Time flies. It was three years ago this past week that Justice Is Mind wrapped production.


Plot Point

The Martian. A brilliant must see film.

The Martian. A brilliant must see film.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love science fiction movies. It’s hard to say what are my favorites, but last night I did add one to that list – The Martian. There are so many films that have revolved around Mars, but The Martian really did it right–from a captivating story to real world science. Although there were many aspects of the film I enjoyed, one plot point that I thought was terrific was the cooperation between NASA and the CNSA (China National Space Administration). If you’re on the fence about seeing The Martian jump off and go see it, you’ll be glad you did.

The cooperation between NASA and the CNSA is also a major plot point in First World when China announces its first manned mission to the Moon four years ahead of schedule. When I first introduced the story back in 2007, who would have thought that China’s space program and film industry would be booming to such a degree. At some point in the future I feel it is inevitable, and rightly so, that the United States and China will cooperate on space exploration – especially when it comes to a manned mission to Mars.

China and the United States cooperate in space exploration. In First World it's the Moon. In The Martian it's Mars.

China and the United States cooperate in space exploration. In First World it’s the Moon. In The Martian it’s Mars.

With the Toronto International Film Festival concluded and the American Film Market starting in a few weeks, it’s always interesting to see what comes out from industry trends to sales. It was well reported that Toronto was a slow market, but it could be just the opposite at AFM. But what we do know is that audiences will turn out for a great story and a trend can change overnight. So many films that revolved around Mars have fared poorly, but The Martian has reversed that trend.

The one thing I learned some years ago was to have a slate of projects ready to present at a moment’s notice as you never really know what’s going to resonate when you pitch. Case in point was Justice Is Mind. It was packaged as a low-budget independent as opposed to First World which has a multi-million dollar budget. With In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind completed and with some minor updates to my political thriller SOS United States, it’s always interesting to see what project gets attention over the other.

A great story and update about the SS United States in Secret Philly.

A great story and update about the SS United States in Secret Philly.

And now on a business note. Like the producer I mentioned last week that gets unsolicited scripts sent for review, this week I received a random instant message from someone I’ve known for years asking me to introduce them to managers and agents. It took me by total surprise, as, 1) I’ve never seen this person’s work, 2) To the best of my knowledge this person has never been nominated or won an award for their screenwriting, 3) It wasn’t personally addressed as “Hi Mark…” at least pretend you know me. My advice is the same as advice that has been given to me, 1) Enter your screenplay in contests. I did this for First World it opened some doors and established credibility, 2) If you want to pitch an actor or their reps just do it. Send a brief introduction with a logline. Some have their own production companies. If you want an agent or manager call them and see what their submission policy is and 3) Personalize your introduction.

Presentation.

From a World War  II pilot to a guard in a concentration camp in Justice Is Mind, another story about reincarnation in the Daily Mail.

From a World War II pilot to a guard in a concentration camp in Justice Is Mind, another story about reincarnation in the Daily Mail.


Industry Weekend

In SOS United States Air Force One and the Concorde appear together at Westover Air Reserve Base. Pictured: Museum of Flight.

In SOS United States Air Force One and the Concorde appear together at Westover Air Reserve Base. Pictured: Museum of Flight.

From an unreleased film to the latest cameras, this was a most interesting weekend. At the invitation of Jared Skolnick (who was our editor on Justice Is Mind), I attended the Massachusetts premiere of Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. This was a great documentary on why this 1994 film was produced but never released. Director Marty Langford did an excellent job at bringing this infamous story to life. Check out their website at this link with some additional information here.

Being a science fiction fan, I heard about this story in bits and pieces. And being a filmmaker, I couldn’t help but watch this documentary and feel for the cast and crew that were involved. When I produced Justice Is Mind one of our locations was a nearby warehouse. While I didn’t tell many of the actors and crew at the time, in one corner were the remains of a set from an unreleased film that shot at this location a couple of years earlier. In the film industry, an unreleased film is akin to archeologists discovering a lost city. There are always questions, but most remain unanswered.

The Reincar Scientific boardroom in Justice Is Mind was set in Berlin, Germany.

The Reincar Scientific boardroom in Justice Is Mind was set in Berlin, Germany. The actual location was at a warehouse in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. 

But at the Mass Media Expo yesterday, many of my questions were answered. Before attending an industry event, I always ask myself the following – am I going to learn something new; be introduced to people and vendors I may want to do business with or hear from industry insiders that reinforce what I’m doing or perhaps some new trends or ideas that I can apply. In all three cases I came away with something. The schedule from the expo can be found at this link.

First and foremost the attending producers have long stated what I’ve advocated. Being nice goes a long way and the search for funding is work done the hard way – cold calling, networking, etc. As I’ve long learned, if you don’t ask, if you don’t present, if you don’t market, how will anyone know what you want to do. The one thing I was stunned to hear, but not surprised, is how one producer gets blind pitched with a script attached! Look everyone wants to get their project off the ground, but a simple email of introduction with logline suffices as a preliminary introduction. As for being nice? I remember my first TV appearance on the Montel Williams show in 1994. A production assistant brought me coffee and was very attentive. She knew I was a basket case of nerves. In 2002 when I was reporting for CNN and other networks during the Winter Olympics, this assistant was now a producer.

That same location in First World at a military base in England.  Here the President meets with the Prime Minister.

That same location in First World at a military base in England. Here the President meets with the Prime Minister.

The drone panel was pretty much what I wanted to hear. From regulations, to safety, new technologies and the companies in this space that operate locally, I now know who I’ll be reaching out to in the next couple of weeks about SOS United States.

But when it comes to technology and viewing habits, the panel on mobile content and storytelling was just that “telling”. Like it or not films are being watched on smartphones and tablets. And to those naysayers that say films should be shorter rather than longer, this expert panel stated that length isn’t the issue it’s the scene cuts that are speeding up. One only has to watch the TV series Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder to see this in action.

We look at others in the industry for viewpoints, new technologies to realize our concepts and a network of talent on both sides of the camera to execute. In the end we tell our story the way we want to tell it.

Act one. Scene one.

The opening scene of SOS United States is a secret meeting of government and military leaders from around the world.

The opening scene of SOS United States is a secret meeting of government and military leaders from around the world.


The Cold Call

The USS Massachusetts BB-59 at Battleship Cove.

The USS Massachusetts BB-59 at Battleship Cove.

Whether it’s an investor, theater or media outlet, it all starts with a cold call or cold pitch. I have always taken the position “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.  Sure we can all hope to be discovered at a “Schwab’s” or positing a proof of concept video to YouTube, but in the end it truly comes down to a pitch and then the presentation.

I have long discovered that it’s easier to pitch the office of a qualified investor than it is to a “Hollywood” production company. Why? A production company is fielding countless projects and they need that one thing to move any project forward—cash.  I also have long believed in charting my own course rather than following the same route everyone else takes. Put it another way, I’d rather pull my car up to the front door than park blocks away.

Road Warrior Voices reports that the Concorde may return to flight.

Road Warrior Voices reports that the Concorde may return to flight.

Just this morning I was watching a video on IndieWire by writer/director Charlie Kaufman about his film Anomalisa (impressive wins at the Venice Film Festival). When asked why there was so much time between his projects, the Oscar winner stated freely a variety of challenges and that his film was made outside of the “studio system” and didn’t go the conventional route. The point? It doesn’t matter your credentials, this business takes a steady hand of determination and patience. Kaufman went on to mention that he was on this project for three years (his team also raised some funds on Kickstarter).

As some of you know, my political thriller SOS United States sees the Concorde fly again. Just yesterday an article on Road Warrior Voices revealed a determined group of investors and enthusiasts that may just bring the Concorde back. I’ve been following the steadfast voices behind this movement for the last couple of years. Their resolve, like those behind the SS United States ocean liner, is impressive. And, yes, I will be informing the group behind this hopeful return of the Concorde about SOS United States – with a cold pitch!

A drone shot from Justice Is Mind.

A drone shot from Justice Is Mind.

From script (2010), to short (2011), to feature (2012) to release (2013), Justice Is Mind has been a five year project. I remember those early days of pitching to the “establishment”. Why not. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do because everyone else is doing it? Sure, a deal can happen. But in the end, producing it independently outside of any system has brought far greater returns on so many levels.

Next week there’s an industry event taking place in Boston. I’m largely planning to attend because of a panel around drones. We used a drone in Justice Is Mind for the climatic end scene, but SOS United States calls for a substantial amount of drone shots. Imagine skimming close above the ocean only to rise up to take in the gravitas of the USS Massachusetts battleship as the President of the United States addresses the nation.

Big picture.

SOSposter (704x1024)


The Inspiration

In SOS United States The Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.

In SOS United States the Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.

With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in full swing, I enjoy reading the dailies and the state of the industry. What was a relatively unusual trend is that The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire all generally reported that this market may be a slower one due to a conflux of trends; from the availability of cast driven projects to disappointments at the box office from previous festival sales. Truth be told, there is no crystal ball to predict what will resonate with audiences.

But if there is one thing that has to resonate with me, it’s inspiration. If I am not inspired by the subject matter, if I don’t believe in the material, if I can’t envision it on the screen, I can’t get behind it. One only has to witness the disaster that was the latest iteration of Fantastic Four. The film was a forced project for the sake of “rights” rather than passion.

In Justice Is Mind mind reading technology finds a a defendant on trial for a double murder he doesn't remember committing.

In Justice Is Mind mind reading technology finds a a defendant on trial for a double murder he doesn’t remember committing.

With all my projects they are driven by something that inspired me. Whether it was the Apollo space program for First World, mind reading technology for Justice Is Mind or government conspiracies in SOS United States, it is the underlying material that motivates and inspires me.  It’s not enough for me to be a filmmaker, I must be a promoter as well. Because if I don’t believe in the project why should anybody else.

This past week I ran into someone at my gym who has seen my films and he asked “How do I do it?” He was asking about the recent press we had around the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind. My response was pretty quick, “Because I believe in it.”  I know how Justice has resonated with audiences. I know what their reactions have been after the screenings. But it was also coming up with an angle for the latest media push – second anniversary, positive audience reactions and a sequel in development with In Mind We Trust.  It gave the media something to tell their audiences.

In In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, the secretive FISA Court finds itself in the middle of mind reading conspiracy.

In In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, the secretive FISA Court finds itself in the middle of a mind reading conspiracy with the NSA and CIA.

And this is what the industry is all about – the audience. I sometimes think this vital attribute is missed by the vacuum atmosphere of festivals. An audience at a film festival is vastly different from one at the local theater. At a festival you are probably a cinephile or industry executive and will see just about anything, but it’s the real world of the local theater that shines light on what an audience wants to see.

As The Hollywood Reporter stated, “Despite a challenging climate for indie film financing” projects are getting done because of valuable co-productions. Indeed this is an industry about partnerships. I learned this when our location partners for Justice Is Mind also became valuable marketing partners. It’s about inspiring others to see your vision.

New developments.

In First World a covert military operation aims to stop China's first manned mission to the Moon.

In First World a covert military operation aims to stop China’s first manned mission to the Moon.


Screen Test

From the screen test at Cinemagic last week.

From the screen test at Cinemagic last week.

There is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than seeing your film come to life in a theatre. It is in that moment that the memories of its development and production come to light. The months you spent writing the script and the time it took to raise the funding to make the film. And just after you hear “that’s a wrap”, more work begins until you have a completed project. Oh yes, then there is marketing and distribution. Welcome to my world.

This past Thursday was the DCP screen test of Justice Is Mind at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Although I was more than pleased with our theatrical DVDs, the clarity and crispness of the DCP was incredible. We’ve screened at two of their theatres before, but this was the first time I saw a DCP of the film. Some of you may be asking, what the hell is a DCP?

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Dmitri Aldershoff as Gary Miller in the opening scene.

Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Dmitri Aldershoff as Gary Miller in the opening scene.

A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. It’s what theatres now generally receive from the studios, distributors and filmmakers. While I have yet to come across a theatre that cannot play a DVD, the default standard now is DCP. And my thanks again to the Chatham Orpheum theatre for making our DCP.

On August 18 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary with a special event screening at Cinemagic. Although this will be our 21st screening, I treat each screening like it’s the first one.  I still feel like a kid in a candy store when I see Justice come to life on the big screen. The day I don’t feel that way is the day I set sail from this industry. I was particularly reflective when I was reviewing the last five minutes of the film and the credits started to roll. When you see over 200 names and companies, you quickly realize it takes a small army to make a film.

Kim Gordon as District Attorney Constance Smith.

Kim Gordon as District Attorney Constance Smith.

But this is an industry that never rests. Since the world premiere of Justice in 2013, I have written the political thriller SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind.  The pitch process is just as much on the front lines now as it was when I was presenting Justice in 2011.  Just this week, I pitched First World to a producer that I thought for sure would have been interested (Chinese investor). It was a quick pass. Instead he asked what else I have in my slate and is now looking at SOS United States and In Mind We Trust.

Just as Justice Is Mind came together, the same formula and efforts apply to my other projects. At the end of the day, not only do you need to find the right producing partners, but almost literally the planets need to line up just right. It’s one thing to follow a film market like Cannes, AFM and Toronto and read about X projects that got picked up, funded or whatever. What is never talked about are the countless projects looking for some sort of home. Thankfully, Justice Is Mind has found a home.

So as I ramp up marketing plans for the 2nd Anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind, writing Winds of Fall continues while presentations move forward on SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust.

Next Move.

Justice Is Mind-2nd Anniversary-Social Media


In Partnership

The SS United States sailing

In SOS United States the ocean liner is modeled after the famed SS United States and called the SS Leviathan.

Unless you are living under the proverbial rock, all of us involved in the industry are paying close attention to Cannes. For me, I’m always interested in the business of distribution and marketing because at the end of the day you have to get your film seen.  With VOD distribution all the rage, there’s no wonder that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is being so widely quoted—and rightly so.

As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, on any given week there are numerous things I try to accomplish for my projects. From pitching, to writing, to editing, to marketing, there’s always something going on.  But this week, things jumped ahead.

Justice Is Mind will soon arrive on additional VOD platforms with the sequel In Mind We Trust in development.

Justice Is Mind will soon arrive on additional VOD platforms with the sequel In Mind We Trust in development.

With Justice Is Mind successfully distributed, my attention has largely turned to my current slate of projects with First World, SOS United States and In Mind We Trust. While I continue to market Justice Is Mind on a daily basis, the goal is to secure the necessary partnerships to bring the next project forward. That goal took several steps forward this week with a great Skype meeting with a producer and his team in the United Kingdom.  From my days in publishing, to our recent partnership with Cunard Line for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the Queen Elizabeth, I’ve always enjoyed working with colleagues “across the pond”.

The one thing any filmmaker will tell you is that this is an industry of partnerships and collaboration. From the actors, crew, location, marketing and distribution partners, over two hundred people from two countries were involved in Justice Is Mind. For good reason, I keep in touch with most of them. One of those reasons is a new project I’m working on.

My friend Alberto Mercado is a published author and a wonderful photographer. Al photographed Justice Is Mind’s screenings in Sturbridge and Millbury. His photos were such a hit they soon started to show up as headshots on IMDB and Facebook.

A few weeks ago at a party at his house we started talking about the “mechanics” of filmmaking. The conversation was not dissimilar to one I had with my investors in Justice Is Mind back in 2012.  Al wanted to see one of his books made into a motion picture. He attended several of Justice Is Mind’s theatrical screenings, including my short film Evidence, so he knew what my capabilities were. But was there a story? Indeed there was. A great story. One that I wanted to tell.

Oddly enough, Al thought I was reading his book A Rose for Essie Mae when in fact I was reading Winds of Fall.  In the end, he was glad I read Winds instead.  So I am pleased to announce that I have been commissioned to write a screenplay adaption of Alberto Mercado’s book Winds of Fall and to direct the feature. The plan is to complete the script this summer with Al financing the production for either this fall or spring.

Like the funding that came together for Justice Is Mind, the road to the Skype meeting, our screening on the Queen Elizabeth and the journey to bring Winds of Fall to the big screen, you just don’t know where the next opportunity is going to come from.  As the late actor Maximilian Schell said, this is an industry of chances.

Next Chapter.

One of the original First World posters in 2007. Sales on Amazon have surged over the last few months.

One of the original First World posters in 2007. Sales on Amazon have surged over the last few months.


Sea Trial

The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in SOS United States.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in SOS United States.

It has become a common practice in the entertainment industry to create “proof of concept” trailers and short films to promote projects past the written word of the script (sometimes there’s not even a script!).  With more and more projects looking for attention, a thoughtful concept trailer can most certainly advance a project.

Yesterday morning, Daniel Elek-Diamanta, the composer of Justice Is Mind, sent me just over :30 of music he scored. We’ve been talking about SOS United States for several months and when it comes to composing music, we have always been on the same page. It was like this with Justice Is Mind. In August, 2012 he was sending me samples of music well before one frame of the film was shot. What you hear in the final cut of Justice was largely agreed to well in advance. Suffice to say, it’s a great collaboration and I highly recommend him as a composer.

The concept trailer for First World.

The concept trailer for First World.

I’ve been wanting to create some sort of video for SOS United States past our concept poster. The moment I heard Daniel’s sample the idea came to mind. You can view the concept trailer at this link. The general premise of SOS United States is relatively straight forward. An ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean may have a nuclear bomb on board. The only military vessel in the vicinity is the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier during her sea trials.

As I have some preliminary producer meetings this week, the concept trailer for SOS United States is well timed.  But that being said, I’m sure the subject of budget, casting, etc., will come up.  On the face of it, it looks like the Massachusetts Film Tax Credit is here to stay – for now anyway. But as these producer meetings are happening “across the pond” the UK offers some of the best incentives along with a vibrant infrastructure.

A scene similar to this appears in In Mind We Trust.

A scene similar to this appears in In Mind We Trust.

This past week a very rare article was published around an independent film called Papadopoulos & Sons. What was rare about it was the breakdown of financials. Honestly, that short of working for a distributor, these numbers are seldom known, never mind released.  There’s a variety of pros/cons for releasing numbers. Yes, box office results are largely public, but VOD, TV, etc. are usually held very close to the chest.  In this filmmakers view it’s because the deals for these platforms not only differ for each film, but there are myriad proprietary contracts involved that can limit public dissemination from a competition point of view.

What this article does fully document are the fees involved in film distribution and the realities of revenue that come back to the financiers. This is why being realistic about a film budget is so important. Yes, you want the film to look and sound great with a stellar cast and crew, but at the end of the day it’s about revenue.

So while I start to market the concept trailer for SOS United States, I may look to do the same for In Mind We Trust.  Before I forget, check out the concept trailer for First World at this link.

Full Ahead

SOSposter (704x1024)