The progress toward a milestone I was tracking happened early last week. First Signal was viewed over 1,000,000x on YouTube. When Indie Rights, our distributor, placed First Signal on the site I honestly didn’t know how it would be received. What I did know, that unlike Amazon and Tubi, I would know how many viewed the film and then there would be the public comments. It didn’t take long for me to discover that First Signal found its true audience on YouTube.
This is one of those milestones that all of us associated with the film can be proud of. Who would have thought that a truly independent film such as First Signal would receive so much attention and solid commentary. Suffice to say, I could not be more pleased. Of course, the goal is to build on this popularity when I introduce the First World Universe to producers.
One thing I have learned about releasing and marketing an independent film is that the process is ongoing. The model I follow is what I see the studios do (of course on a much smaller budget!). There is the primary marketing push leading up to and during the theatrical run. Then another big push for the VOD release followed by steady promotion to keep the film visible. And that really is the goal, to stay visible.
When you consider the number of films just being released on Amazon, Tubi, Netflix and YouTube alone, staying visible is a challenge. Visibility in the eyes of the consumer requires a consistent message. In the case of a film, I’m asking for someone to watch it. Some may watch immediately on release, while others may take months to decide only to do so because they see a steady bit of marketing.
Another project I am actively working on is my director’s reel. While my personal website has a variety of on camera reels, I realized I don’t have a reel that illustrates my work as a director. For the last month I have been watching all my films and selecting scenes that I believe look interesting. Once I finish the selection process, I’ll aim to put together some sort of storyboard so when the reel is viewed it’s just not random clips, but imagery that ties into some sort of cohesive story set to a score.
Reviewing all my films has certainly been a trip down memory lane. I was living in Los Angeles when I put together the short film version of First World. Thankfully, I worked with a talented filmmaker and VFX wiz by the name of Adam Starr to bring it all together. Then there was the short film, Evidence, to see if my concept about mind-reading technology in the courtroom sparked interest. Within a year of the completion of that short the feature length version of Evidence, Justice Is Mind was in production. Justice was no small production with over two hundred people involved on both sides of the camera! But then my interest returned to figure skating when I produced the short film version of my political thriller Serpentine with The Short Program. Perhaps someday that project will be produced as a feature.
But not everything in this business happens immediately. I produced First World in 2006 and it took until 2019 to bring the First World Universe to life with the production of the first feature film in the series – First Signal. During a lunch with an agent friend while I was at the American Film Market in 2019, he remarked my steadfastness and commitment to see this new franchise come to life. You see, we had a lunch in 2005 when I completed the screenplay for First World. Let me just say, that time does fly by!
This past week First Signal premiered on The Roku Channel. With Roku, First Signal is now available on five major VOD platforms and is virtually available anywhere in the world. While I was certainly hoping for a solid distribution deal when I was producing First Signal, I honestly had no idea where the film was going to go. The one thing I was sure of, is that the film had to be placed properly if I was to continue developing and producing films.
On the subject of producing, over the last couple of months I’ve been participating in a variety of seminars and discussions on film financing. While the industry has changed from a technology (production) and distribution POV, the world of film financing is still populated with the usual characters and discussions – i.e., if you pay for services, you have a better chance of success.
Before I get into the weeds on film financing, let me break it down. When I say film financing, I’m talking about raising a couple of million (or more) to produce a feature film or a series. The “dream” way is that an agent, producer or production company discovers your work and sets up the project. The way that takes “work work” is pitching and presenting your project to the aforementioned entities. This is where the usual characters and discussions apply.
While there are many qualified, talented and connected people that are selling their services and introductions, all I can say is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. When you listen to these people there is a narrative that populates the majority – if you don’t do it their way, you won’t be successful. While listening is important, at the end of the day you just must throw caution to the wind and produce. There is no easy path to producing. Whether you do it yourself or in partnership with others, the risk and reward are the same. The only difference is the dollars – are they yours or someone that’s investing in you.
One thing I learned when revisiting this world of film financing, is that I discovered that some folks that were pitching their projects over ten years ago are still pitching and paying along the way. How much money do you need to spend on contests, experts, etc. to get that perfect approval? You could spend from here to next never and still not get a green light. But one thing you can do, is listen, research, plan and then produce – on your own. I’ve taken this approach on five occasions with three shorts and two features. Had I waited for all the planets to align, my two feature films, Justice Is Mind and First Signal, would still only exist as a script.
Although I’m often approached by filmmakers on a variety of topics, I never sell my services. What works for me, might not work for you. What I do contribute is my experience. Some may like my approach, while others might find it too direct.
All this being said, while I continue to pitch and present, I’m actively working on self-producing my next project. I can’t wait for next never!