Anyone that follows the entertainment industry knows that the entire playbook on how films are being released and marketed has been thrown out. Last year, films that were slated for a theatrical release went direct to the streamers. Others held back until there was a thaw in the global crisis. Some released last year. Some…. Well, you get the picture…literally.
For First Signal, once the film was complete last year, I started with the film festival market. This worked out well from a brand building point of view. The majority of festivals were virtual and did a wonderful job at marketing and promoting. As the festival run was coming to an end, I planned for our world theatrical premiere to be followed by a couple of more screenings before we went to VOD. I wanted to capitalize on the press we had to date and the social media presence we were developing from the festivals.
First Signal’s VOD release through our distributor Indie Rights could not have gone smoother. Within the first week we hit the top ½ 1% of all films listed on IMDb, there was a dip the following week, but by week three we were trending again in the top 1%. How this all translates from a revenue point of view I won’t know for some months. While marketing continues in earnest to promote our VOD efforts, I see no reason why theatrical can’t also be part of the mix. In my view, it’s about giving customers choices on how they want to experience a film.
I am delighted to announce that First Signal will have its Massachusetts premiere on Sunday, June 27 at 2 PM at the historic Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA! You can read our official press release at this link. The June 27th screening will mark my fourth film at the Strand. I remember like it was yesterday when my short film Evidence screened after J. Edgar. It was a thrill beyond words to see this short film come to life on the silver screen. While I certainly hoped to make the feature length version of Justice Is Mind, I had no idea that I would be screening the completed feature at the Strand two years later.
My point to all of this, is simple. Whether it’s VOD, theatrical, a special event, film festival or other venue, each moment should be seized because at the end of the day they all complement each other. With tens of thousands of films vying for eyeballs and attention from consumers and the media, every action that can bring attention to a film can only be a good thing.
As for attention, I’m also pleased to announce that First Signal won Best Screenplay and Writing at the Harrogate Film Society Festival Features in the United Kingdom. It’s very exciting just to be accepted to a festival, but to win is a true honor. Because when a film reaches the win stage, it has gone through many levels of vetting and review. In essence, it’s a vindication that as a filmmaker you’re on the right track.
Of course, one can never rest on their “laurels” as new projects need to be realized. That same week of First Signal’s win, my political thriller screenplay SOS United States won Best Screenplay at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Film Festival. As I’m making every effort to raise the capital to produce this story next year, each accolade is another step towards that goal.
Two weeks ago I attended my third AFM (American Film Market). While I enjoyed attending live the last couple of years, I met more “qualified” contacts during the virtual version. In addition to the requisite panels that discussed all things around the industry, it was the “Networking Pavilion” module that worked out great for so many of us.
When you entered the pavilion you essentially found yourself in a large ballroom with tables. You could view profiles of those sitting at a table and then decide if you wanted to join. When you sat at a table you could see and hear what others were saying but your mic and camera were off by default. This worked out well because on two occasions they were talking about subjects that I had no interest in. But if you liked the conversation, you could turn on your camera and mic to join. Conversations were generally insightful, if not illuminating.
Depending on who you talked to the present crisis has either been a boon, bust or business reinvention. The winner in all of this has been VOD. The bust has clearly been theatrical. The reinvention are those that have adapted to the world we presently live in—notably virtual film festivals. But through it all, there still was that general feeling of excitement and positive energy. We all know this crisis will pass as it simply must. When it does, it’s full steam ahead on everything.
There seems to be two types of films that are thriving now and will continue to do so even after the crisis. The microbudgets that are nicely produced, with a solid story but a no name cast and the eight figure films with A list talent (oddly, story didn’t seem to be a focus). The former doesn’t require an exorbitant return to be profitable, while the latter has A talent driving profitability.
The takeaways from the market were numerous. With so many festivals going virtual, will they share their data on how well a film did when it screened online? Will virtual festivals share revenue with filmmakers? On film marketing, what’s the one still that represents your film (I think I’m still working on that with First Signal), IMDb TV is really making it, AVOD (Ad-Supported Video on Demand) is where the money is (can anyone say TUBI). I was particularly keen on the sales agent panel. What are the values of indie films in the current marketplace? While sales estimates are important, never go with the highest estimate. Sales agent commission is generally not less than 15%. However, those on the panel say 7-20% depending on what the contract expenses were. Finally, as one panelist said (and something I’ve been doing), conduct due diligence on sales agents – call client filmmakers to see if they are happy with the business arrangement. Of course, there are always a couple of panelists that should never be on a panel. One was so condescending I couldn’t believe how he was talking to the 250+ in attendance. Then he proceeded to hand out some incorrect nonsense on how to use IMDb. How these people get on a panel is beyond me. But all in all, it was a great experience with one panelist remarking something I’ve always believed in—no matter what you’ve done, you’re never done in your career.
In closing, I want to congratulate Wendy Hartman for winning the Best Actress award at the Canadian Cinematography Awards. Wendy was a last-minute replacement to play the role of Helen Colton, the President of the United States. To say she is the consummate professional would be an understatement. A wonderfully experienced and gifted actress who brought this character to life and propelled the story forward. It’s one thing when an actor plays a part, it’s another when an actor becomes the part. It was the subtle nuances that Wendy brought to the character that created believability.