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Posts tagged “filmmaking

Virtual Market

First Signal is complete! What started as an idea in 2017 is now a completed feature film. The satisfaction of completing a film is like none other. When you consider the number of people and technical matters that go into the process, it’s project management bar none. While there are always difficult moments to overcome, as filmmakers we always come out on the other end wanting to do the process all over again. For when a film is complete, it truly is a piece of art. Not one that you hang on the wall, but one that you project on it.

The completion of First Signal arrives with additional film festivals that have accepted the trailer. I’m delighted to report that the trailer has won Best Trailer at the Crown Wood International Film Festival and Tagore International Film Festival. The trailer was also a finalist in the Prague International Monthly Film Festival. These early accolades create a wonderful foundation as I submit the feature film for festival consideration and implement the marketing and distribution plan.

This all comes of course as the entertainment industry is trying to right the ship in a sea of unprecedented uncertainty. Theaters are just now announcing plans to reopen at reduced capacity, production is slowly restarting and film markets have gone temporarily virtual. As for the latter, I’m registered for the Marche du Film that’s starting on Monday. I was looking forward to attending my first Cannes in person, but virtual will be fine for this year’s market. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “After all tomorrow is another day.”

I count myself lucky that we have been able to successfully navigate the post-production process of First Signal given the present situation. Although we had already planned to be in post-production during this time, one doesn’t plan for a worldwide upheaval that literally shuts down the world. Throughout this vortex, it was the dedicated post-production team of Daniel Groom, Daniel Elek-Diamanta, Adam Starr and Tim Haggerty that made the completion of First Signal possible. One member of our team went through a multi-country ordeal to get home and literally sent the final files the day before he was leaving. During the actual production of First Signal a couple of members were going through some very trying personal matters. It’s those types of efforts that give credence to, the show must go on!

The entertainment industry is resilient. We always find a way to overcome obstacles. Because if there is one thing the public wants, it’s entertainment. They want to escape into a story, experience new characters and visit their worlds. Since the dawn of theater neither war, famine, plagues or “out of this world” experiences have brought an end to this industry. If anything, it makes us work harder to do that one thing we all enjoy doing…

…create.


Launch Phase

Apollo 11 rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building

In the coming days I’ll be able to announce that post-production on First Signal is completed. With every inch closer to that accomplishment, I can’t help but think of the journey. It has been nearly three years from concept to competition. In hindsight I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Through all the fits and starts of locations, cast and crew, in the end everything worked out the way I hoped. As of this date the official trailer for First Signal has been selected by three film festivals!

However, another journey lies ahead. Fortunately, it’s a trip I’ve been on before – marketing and distribution. Yes, the plans include film festival submissions, distributor pitches, various screening opportunities and, I hope, some solid media interest in the “First World Universe.” With the world starting to reopen, the key will be to find partners that are interested in working with us. Like I did with Justice Is Mind, you want to work with those that want to work with you. I’ve always believed that distribution should be a partnership of cooperation, not just a take from any given side.

There’s no question that the entertainment industry has been financially decimated. I sadly know several people that have had to exit it permanently because of economic reasons (everyone needs to eat). While it’s encouraging to learn that production is starting to resume in certain parts of the world, some of the restrictions I see being proposed will only accomplish an increase in costs and time with nary a health benefit. Who is going to cover those increases when we are now in an economic depression? The economics of this whole situation is pretty simple. How is a distributor going to price a film when a sizable percentage of the global audience is on unemployment or reduced earnings? What it really comes down to is disposable income and what audiences are willing to spend to be entertained. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that we see a vibrant return to some sort of market normalcy (I refuse to use the phrase ‘new normal’). As movies have always been a form of escapism, I believe audiences will return sooner rather than later to the theatrical experience.

A mysterious shadow in First Signal

The remainder of 2020 and a good part of 2021 will be devoted to the marketing and distribution of First Signal. I know the film will find its audience and a solid distributor will present itself. For me, I always try to look at a situation with a spirit of optimism and to avoid those situations that attempt to drag me into some sort of milieu. I’d rather navigate out of a small port with an overcast, than attempt to sail through a busy port in the center of a storm.

I can thankfully say that First Signal isn’t tied to debt covenants or other financial obligations. One of the benefits of being the sole executive producer is that I’m largely only answerable to myself on the financial front. But a film isn’t designed to be made and relegated to a shelf. A film is produced to be seen and enjoyed by an audience. One of the primary responsibilities as executive producer is to insure that my film gets released. If anything a producer has a responsibility to the actors and crew that shared the vision. Because that’s what film is all about – a vision.

While we all enjoy seeing our favorite films on VOD, there’s nothing like the theatrical experience. You enter a vast room with anticipation; that leads to the dimming of lights and the initial roll of the opening credits and the crescendo of a score.


Next Phase

Both First Signal and First Launch start at the planet Shinar

With post-production on First Signal coming to an end, it seemed fitting that I finished a draft of the sequel early last week. Titled First Launch, the story picks up two years after events in First Signal.  While First Signal introduced the First World Universe in a very contained environment, First Launch is entirely the opposite. With the majority of primary characters returning, the logline “The President faces a military coup and extrasolar war when a covertly built second generation space shuttle reveals a worldwide military destined to confront an alien presence on Earth,” sets the story shortly before the 2016 Presidential election.

While I’m glad to have finished a draft to the sequel of First Signal, my priority is to see that First Signal properly exits post-production as I plan for general marketing and distribution. As for distribution, this past week I was approached by a theater to have First Signal screen in July. While I normally would have jumped at the opportunity, I honestly can’t commit one way or another until we learn when restrictions are being lifted. I do know one thing, so long as mask requirements (something I vehemently disagree with) are order of the day there’s no point, or joy, in having a theatrical screening. While our governor may employ Orwellian powers in Massachusetts, he has no power or jurisdiction of its citizens outside this tiny state. Thus, I’m looking at screening opportunities outside of New England and the country.

As today is Mother’s Day, here I am with my mother Eleanor on the MS Queen Elizabeth

I am, however, considering “attending” the virtual Cannes Marché du Film in June. As the fees are negligible, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try and see what comes of it. There’s no question that by the end of the summer, theaters worldwide will be open and the markets will endeavor to return to some sort of normalcy.

While the large theater chains can tap into a variety of reserves and credit lines, it’s the independent theaters that are most at risk during these perilous times. As their only source of revenue are ticket sales, the real concern in the industry is that some of them just won’t make it and that a vital link for independent films will simply disappear. Unless you have a robust concession, ticket sales alone just don’t carry theaters. Simply, the box office percentage that’s shared with the distributor just varies too greatly between films.

But with every economic upheaval, there is always a revelation of something new or in this case a return. How many of us remember drive-in movie theaters? I remember the days when we would all pile into the car, drive up to a parking spot, place a speaker on the side of the car and watch a film unfold on a giant screen. It’s no surprise, that moviegoers are starting to look at the drive-in as a solid alternative while the traditional theatrical experience is sorted.

Opportunity.


Right down the street from me, the entrance to the former Edgemere Drive-In


Course Correction

First Signal – color grade example.

I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a filmmaker on the planet that isn’t affected by the current world crisis. The one saving grace with First Signal is that it was always scheduled to be in post-production during this time and won’t be finished until May anyway.  Color grading and sound mixing is moving right along.

While we all monitor for the opening of the economy (it’s vital this happens as soon as possible), the question is when and how to ramp up marketing and distribution efforts. I will say this, after submitting First Signal a few weeks ago to two film festivals, I have formally stopped until the film is 100% complete. With future submissions I will also require an assurance that a film festival will not default their festival from live to online.  I have ZERO interest in premiering First Signal online with a film festival. It will never happen.

I’m not surprised that only seven films took up Amazon’s virtual film fest offer. Unless Amazon’s screening fee was going to offset production costs, why bother. Any filmmaker can upload their film direct to Amazon, why dilute future distribution opportunities with an online premiere.

First Signal – private conversations

A few days ago a film festival I submitted to with a December event date, sent this long winded email stating generally that if people don’t feel comfortable attending or their theater isn’t available, they’ll make it online – and won’t refund submission fees. I frankly couldn’t believe the gall. I guess they’ll have to answer to the credit card companies who will chargeback the submission fees to the filmmakers. Having produced many live events, you as the organizer/promoter are responsible to execute what was contracted with the customer. If you don’t you must refund. It’s as simple as that.

I have never been a traditionalist.  From publishing to filmmaking, I have always taken an unconventional approach. When I launched my figure skating magazine years ago, I was told it was never going to work as I needed to do this or that or whatever. Whether it was budget related or simply because I had a different idea, I executed the way I could to accomplish what I needed to do. I brought that same approach to filmmaking. When I produced First World and quickly learned that festivals wanted shorts under 15 min long, I found science fiction festivals, unique events and, yes, online (a fledgling platform called Hulu) to present my first film.

My point in all this is being able to pivot. For better or worse the world has changed in the last couple of months. I’m not going to try to roll a square rock up a hill, when I can slide it on rails at ground level to the same destination.  As filmmakers we think unconventionally when we create our projects, the same should hold true for marketing and distribution.

Next plan.


The Rollout

Rollout of Apollo 11 to launchpad 39a

With the trailer edited and scored, we are in the rollout phase as the color grading commences.  As each day passes we are rolling closer and closer to the day when the trailer for First Signal is released. I don’t think I’ve prepared nearly as much for the release of any of my film projects. Yes, Justice Is Mind was obviously important to me, but with First Signal being my first feature film in the “First World Universe,” I want to make sure I reach who I need to reach.

When I was talking to an acting friend this past week, we started to talk about certain sci-fi series and movies and what we do and don’t like. For me, I’m not so much into spectacle but story. I’d rather watch a solid story than things getting blown up. Yes, sometimes you need to blow something up, but I feel it should be done within the context of the story, not just for show and tell.

Last weekend we had First Signal’s ADR session. Watching these talented actors bring their characters back was nice to see. It was also an opportunity to show them the trailer and opening credits. Aside from some stills, they haven’t had the chance to see anything since we wrapped last July. I know when I’m part of a project as an actor I anxiously await to see what the product will look like.

With audio complete, the provisional score nearly done, VFX being built and the film close to a lock, I can almost see the light at the end of the post-production tunnel. But this is where all the details come up. From polishing the edit and score, finishing the VFX, sound mixing and color grading, creating a film is an arduous task and all about project management.

One of my favorite “TV” series these past few years has been The Man in the High Castle on Amazon. The entire production on both sides of the camera was first rate.  When I started to write the sequel to First Signal it dawned on me the character of Major Sampson could parallel Juliana Crain.  In High Castle, Crain was instrumental in the resistance movement and played all sides to achieve her goals. In the sequel to First Signal, Sampson finds herself torn between three worlds – the President of the United States, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cedric Yonah the Premier of the Synedrion Council.  As of this morning I just hit the sixty-page mark and I think I know how I want it to end. I think!

As for films that have a military storyline, I saw 1917 last weekend. I can’t say enough great things about this film. From filming the entire story in one continuous shot, to the production values and acting, 1917 was truly a delight. The cinematography alone is reason enough to see this film. I can only imagine the pre-production planning!

I was reading an email newsletter this morning and the author talked about having to love the journey not only as a writer but as it pertained to sales. As a screenwriter, there is that moment when you feel these characters talking back to you as you type their dialogue and action their elements. When you’re filming your screenplay, you see these characters come to life. When you’re watching your story on the silver screen or your TV, you know you’ve made a sale. There is something immensely satisfying being in the lobby of a theatre when someone asks to buy a ticket to your film. Equally when you get notice that your film has been streamed.

The journey is a long one, with many highways and exits ahead. But it’s a journey that I have loved since I wrote my first screenplay in grade school.

Stay the course.


The Last Weekend

VFX begins for First Signal. The starfield for the end credits.

Before I started to write my last blog post for the year, I took a moment to review what I wrote this time last year and the year before. In 2017 it was “One project I’m excited for in the new year is the First World prequel I’m writing.” In 2018 it was “The pre-production process of First Signal continues towards a May launch.” For the end of 2019 I can proudly say post-production on First Signal is well underway.

The stars of First Signal.

I’ve often stated the word perseverance and what it means to never give up. I see so many projects being announced with great enthusiasm only to wither away. I’ve also stated that making a feature film is a task like none other. It’s about surrounding yourself with people that share your enthusiasm and vision. If it’s one thing I’ve learned this year is that it’s important to work with those that understand dedication and don’t just call it in. That dedication will be released in 2020 for all to see.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions or subscribe to the “New Year. New Me” philosophy. By example, I workout an hour a day seven days a week. I know next week the gym will packed. Over enthusiastic people trying to run a hundred miles an hour on a treadmill when they don’t even enjoy taking long walks. They don’t see results in a month, so they stop coming. They don’t know that to run on a treadmill you first have to learn to walk on one. That means showing up, taking small steps and watching your diet. In the entertainment industry I see the posts “My feature will be produced this year!” or “This year I’m going to star in a film!” Um, well, what did you do three months earlier? Just wait for the 1st of January to arrive? Did you look at your script and see how it could be adjusted to shoot on a budget you could afford? Did you see that part in a film but not submit? Remember in this industry there are no small parts. And more importantly it’s all about risk.

When you join a gym you risk not having the body of Adonis after six months. But you know what? After those six months you may have lost twenty pounds, feel and look better and no longer crave that evening pint of ice cream. When you write a script you risk not having it ever produced. But after you adjust for a budget you can afford, you could soon find yourself in post-production. When you decide to be an actor you don’t start as a star. You submit and submit and submit. You accept the roles you can, no matter the size, because that can lead to a starring role.

That happened to one of the stars of First Signal. He was my first choice, but I cast another actor who lived closer to our shooting location. The actor I originally wanted didn’t dismiss the project when I offered him a background role. He stayed interested. When the actor I cast flaked off and ghosted me, I offered the part to him. He breathed life into this character that I never thought possible.

This is an industry not only about accumulating experience but dedication and enthusiasm. If you have experience and are known to be dedicated and enthusiastic, you will be top of mind when a project comes to being. This just happened to me when I was contacted by a production company for a project coming up for a few days in January. It might not happen in the end, but at least I was contacted (with no agent involved).

Believe me I don’t look at this industry through rose colored glasses. We all have those days where it seems like we aren’t gaining any traction or making any progress. But I do believe if you stick with it and are persistent those chances improve tenfold.

See you at the premiere of First Signal in 2020!


Second Market

With Daniel Groom at AFM 2019.

On Thursday I returned from my second attendance at the American Film Market (AFM). By all accounts, it went well. This year I was accompanied by Daniel Groom, First Signal’s director of photography and editor. He was also representing his own feature film Alternate Ground.

AFM 2019 at the Loews Santa Monica. All the hotel rooms are converted to offices.

My attendance at AFM in 2018 was generally a fact-finding trip and learning how a film market works. Yes, I had meetings, but it was more to promote projects in development, like First Signal, and to represent my first feature film Justice Is Mind. It’s important to note that AFM is not a film festival. Yes, AFM has screenings, but they are mostly for buyers and sales agents.  AFM is one of a handful of film markets around the world. Simply put, these markets are where deals are done for independent filmmakers.

The Oval Office at the Reagan Library.

Preparing to attend a film market is the same as pre-production on a film – preparation. You research who you want to meet, make a pitch and hope for a meeting. Like an actor preparing for a part, you rehearse, memorize and have talking points. If you can’t articulate your own film, it’s hard to expect sales agents and buyers to take any interest. In a curious twist, I was in a meeting when someone wanted to present their film regarding locations they were looking for. Oddly, they couldn’t really present the logline or what the general concept was.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach.

I would say my last meeting at AFM was the probably the best one of the market. First, they were specifically looking for films like First Signal. I met with the principal of the company and two representatives. In their suite, I was able to make a complete pitch for First Signal. From development, production to goals for a series of films in the First World Universe. I stressed the importance of marketing and kept an open mind on their points, some of those points being working with them to plan for a rollout in upcoming markets.

The Grand Salon on the Queen Mary.

There is another point that’s stressed at AFM and that’s professionalism. From scheduling meetings in advance to how to introduce your projects when you don’t have a meeting scheduled. All in all, my experience was positive. But here I was in a booked meeting with a sales agent when another filmmaker arrived, interrupted my meeting and pretty much insisted the agent give them a few minutes. The agent mentioned they were in a meeting, but this filmmaker didn’t care. I just looked at this filmmaker blankly taking it all in.  When the agent returned and apologized, the first thing I said was you don’t need to apologize for someone else. I’ll just say this—it’s all about first impressions.

At the Griffith Observatory with Los Angeles in the distance.

In the end, AFM 2019 was a great market for what I was representing. This industry is rapidly changing from an economic point of view. The differences between 2018 and 2019 were apparent and stark. It’s truly about being adaptable and going with the flow. Having worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen the advent of digital change. I knew some years ago that VOD/streaming was going to truly be the primary revenue driver for most independent filmmakers. That reality is now here.

The USS Iowa.

But as you will see from my pictures, my trip wasn’t all business. From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, to the Queen Mary, Griffith Observatory and the USS Iowa, I always enjoy my visits to “Hollywood.” I also discovered a new navigation app called Waze. Given the traffic challenges in LA (although I think they’re worse in Boston), I highly recommend it!

Next steps.

Boarding Air Force One at the Reagan Library.

The Arrival

General Reager arrives at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium

There has been a flurry of activity since First Signal wrapped principal photography in July. From editing, scoring, special effects to market preparation for the American Film Market, the work on a feature film hardly ends when the final “cut” is called. Post-production is where the puzzle of all the shots taken comes together. You only hope you have all the pieces! Thankfully, we do.

The one thing I’ve learned on this feature film, was that a long pre-production period was a good thing. There were casting changes that worked out for the best, ideal locations that came forward and research that proved invaluable during production and post-production. The one thing I’m glad I did during the pre-production process was attend AFM last year. It gave me a sense of how a film market operates and what to expect (or in some cases not to expect).

A secret meeting begins.

For AFM 2019 I have several meetings booked and several more sales agents/distributors that want to see a complete screener of First Signal. Certainly, these are all positive developments. However, as a filmmaker, the one thing you must believe in is your own film and not to be swayed by critics.  One sales agent stated that I needed to introduce the “creature” early. As First Signal is a story driven science fiction film akin to Gattaca with the production style of Fail Safe, I declined that meeting (there is no “creature” in First Signal).  In addition to an original story, what First Signal also offers is the start of a new science fiction series.

This weekend I picked up the sales cards/sell sheets for First Signal. A special thanks to Daniel Elek-Diamanta for the design! These sell sheets will be used like business cards during the market. What I aimed for with the sell sheet were select stills and copy that represented the story. While it’s impossible to present an entire film on such a piece of collateral, the goal is that of a trailer—promote the feature.

In the beginning.

Out of the 82 page script, First Signal is edited up to page 76.  The pieces of the puzzle are nicely coming together. Editing is a process all unto itself. It’s time consuming and detail oriented. It’s about pouring over hours of footage and audio to look for the best takes to build the story.  A special thanks also to our editor (and director of photography) Daniel Groom for his work.

As I head into the last two weeks before I leave for AFM, there will be meeting preparations, practicing my pitch and finalizing the schedule. I’ll still never forget the first time I walked into the lobby of the Lowes Hotel last year—everything I saw was about the world of independent film. It’s an ideal market to network, get the latest insight and to present your project to the industry.  

First World on Hulu

It is amazing to me how much this industry has evolved from my first film. When I released First World in 2007 Amazon had just announced video on demand the year before with Netflix just announcing a streaming service. Of course theatrical and DVD were still major revenue sources. But it was when I saw First World on the nascent Hulu that I knew the world of filmmaking would change forever. Yes, theatrical is still the primary revenue source, but we all know what happened to DVD. As I employed when I was a magazine publisher, I think it’s important to test and try new release and market technologies to reach audiences the way they want to watch your film.  

AFM


Last Shot

Conor Timmis (l-Cedric Yonah), Chris Goodwin (James Griffin) and Patience McStravick (Major Sampson).

Last Sunday First Signal wrapped principal photography. The final shot seemed particularly appropriate. It was a POV from Major Sampson (Patience McStravick). With Daniel Groom on camera, Patience guiding his shoulders to mirror her character and myself directing, it was that moment when I remembered the day all three of us met at a Starbucks in January 2018 to discuss First Signal.  None of us could have foreseen the journey that was to lie ahead. While pre-production was fraught with fits and starts, the train of principal photography not only ran on time, but finished five production days ahead of schedule.

Filming in the field.

Shooting First Signal these last few months has been nothing less than thrilling for me.  Oh sure, as director you worry about countless things, but when you see the progress and quality being produced from one day to the next, those worries quickly evaporate. Those pre-production matters that sought to derail the train are nothing more than a distant memory. Of course no vision comes to life without a dedicated cast, crew and location partners. Without their tireless efforts First Signal would still be just that—a vision.

Yefim Somin (l-President Tupolov), Wendy Hartman (President Colton) and Lindy Nettleton (Prime Minister Colby).

The vision for First Signal was nicely magnified by some wonderful press over the last several weeks.  WMUR-TV, The Concord Monitor, The Athol Daily News and the Greenfield Recorder all visited set (The Hippo did a great piece that you can find in my previous post). I couldn’t be more thankful for their coverage. It isn’t just about producing a film, it’s about getting it noticed. When you consider the tens of thousands of films that are made a year, having media support, particularly at this stage, is paramount.

Lindy Nettleton returned to the role of Prime Minister Colby in First Signal after first playing it in First World in 2007.

Throughout the production process and this past week, I have kept the contacts I made at AFM last year informed about our progress. While one during production was keenly interested in First Signal, another got back to me last night and wants to see some footage as soon as possible for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). In addition to the festival itself, Toronto is one of the major film markets.  

Stephanie Eaton (l-Elisabeth Seward) and Wendy Hartman (President Colton).

This is what producing a film is all about – distribution.  Putting aside getting an actual deal for your film, there are simply so many platforms to distribute and market you really need a distributor to navigate this labyrinth.

Putting together the puzzle that was created during production, is now the purview of our editor and the rest of the post production team. This is where the tone and style of the film come to life. We’ve already decided on a color scheme and I’m pretty close on what I’d like to see for a score. While I’m overseeing post-production, I’ll be working on branding and other marketing aspects. Yes, making a film is thrilling, but seeing it come to life in the consumer market is where it matters.

In closing, thank you to all those that have supported this project. Your support over these months have made First Signal possible.

Next steps.

With Patience and Dan on our last day of principal photography.

First Day

Patience McStravick as Major Sampson and Conor Timmis as Cedric Yonah.

The train has left the station. I’ve often used that phrase to describe what happens on the first day of principal photography. There is nothing quite like that first day. You wonder if you’ve missed anything in the planning process because film production is all about details. Every day of principal photography is an event unto itself. But after months of pre-production, the First Signal train left on schedule.

I always arrive early to any set, but particularly so when it’s my own project. I view it as my job to have everything at the ready for the cast and crew. Last Monday our call time wasn’t until 9 AM, but I arrived at 7:30. One thing I had to do was to turn my “United States” car into a “Foreign” one. That meant changing my Massachusetts license plates into Belgian (First Signal takes place in Belgium).

Major Ellen Sampson and Paul Noonan as General John Reager.

After one of the staff at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center arrived early, I was able to load in my stuff and wait for the crew and actors to arrive. It didn’t take long for 9 AM to approach and then one by one they started to arrive. Before I knew it, we were ready to go with our first shot.

By the end of the day we largely accomplished what we wanted to. All the necessary indoor scenes, promotional photos and some key outside drone footage were shot. Although we still have a couple of drone shots to complete, the day by all measures, was a success. I can’t thank the crew, cast and staff at the Discovery Center enough for making First Signal’s first day a positive one.

Of course there are still many days to go until principal photography is over. Today, I’m putting the final touches on our shoot for next weekend that involves Senator Hadrian and General Reager. Weather permitting we will also be shooting a scene in their Observatory. Then there is the pre-planning for the primary conference room scenes with the majority of the actors the following weekend.

The one thing I want to reference from our shoot last Monday were the actors that played Secret Service agents. I’ve worked with two of them before on my own projects and as an actor. The other three I met through our casting notices. For one, this was his first film. For another, he was in the army. For another, he had a great eye for costuming. It was through their collective experience and efforts that brought an authenticity to their scenes.  

There is nothing more exciting as a writer than seeing your words come to life through the process of film. When you combine great talent on both sides of the camera, against the backdrop of an ideal set, that’s when magic is made.

On a closing note, I want to particularly thank Patience and Dan for your efforts, dedication and friendship. I remember that day at the Naval Justice School when Patience and I first talked about a story that would largely take place in one location. Then, on her introduction, our first meeting with Dan at a Starbucks to talk about the possibilities.

The days are long, the lists are endless, but in the end there is a product everyone involved in can be proud of—a feature film.

Next shot.

Wendy Hartman as President Helen Colton (c) and Stephanie Eaton as National Security Advisor Elisabeth Seward with the Secret Service. Lead agent David Afflick (left of President).

The Production

My U.S. car with Belgian plates for a scene in First Signal.

The final days leading up to principal photography are ones that give the word “multitasking” a whole new meaning. Throw in a last minute casting and that brings it to a new dimension.  But as I look at my lists, what I’m crossing off and what we have left to do, things are moving along.

I’m also pleased to announce that Wendy Hartman will play President Helen Colton in First Signal. Although I’ve known of Wendy’s work for some time, we haven’t had the opportunity to work together. But the one thing I have admired is her dedication to any project she becomes a part of. Welcome Madam President!

It would have been too easy to throw the towel in when I received the news that someone was pulling out this close to the start of production, but I have never been one to throw a towel. When you reach a certain point in this process you just double down and pursue all avenues.

After the auditions in Nashua I drove up to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center for a last minute location check. Our first day of shooting will involve just two locations, but it’s those last minute looks that are important. While visiting I had the most fascinating conversations with a few of the staffers about all things science and science fiction. They showed me some of the new shows in the planetarium. Every time I visit the Center I “discover” something new.

One area art direction I did some work on this past week was having Belgian license plates created for the first scenes we are shooting. I believe in authenticity and making every effort to get it right. A special thanks to Adam Starr for creating the plates and to my friends at FedexOffice for bringing them to life.

With some final fittings this week and picking up the tailored Air Force Uniforms, First Signal will soon be filming.

Paul Noonan being fitted for his Air Force uniform.

From when I started writing the script in 2017 to where we are today, I think of the journey and dedication of so many to see this project through. I can’t help but be reminded of when I started to put this “First World” universe together back in 2006 with the screenplay First World, to the short film version in 2007 to a near greenlight of the feature film version in 2008 until the economy crashed. It was from my writings in First World that the genesis for Justice Is Mind was born. That project seemed a lifetime ago until I was driving home yesterday and actually drove by one of the restaurant locations in New Hampshire we used in that film.

I believe this quote from Theodore Roosevelt sums up what many of us feel in this industry when a project finally moves forward after years in development –  “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Call sheet.

A First Signal location at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.

The Morning

Check out my interview on the show at this link.

The email came in on a Thursday afternoon. A producer from station KABC-AM 790 in Los Angeles wanted me to do a phone interview on Friday with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips for their popular morning drive talk show. The subject was figure skating. The topic was an incident between two skaters at the World Figure Skating Championships in Japan. 

I co-starred with Jillian on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. She was a skater and I was one of the judges. No sooner did we meet on set than we became fast friends off the ice. Needless to say I was very excited to do the interview. First, it was Jillian but second she’s a great interviewer. It was a reunion of sorts as we haven’t seen each other since I moved back east in 2008. The moment the interview started we picked right back up where we left off all those years ago. You can listen to the interview at this link. Those few moments on air with Jillian brought back so many great memories from my time in LA.

A still from Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

As for the world of entertainment, last year I was cast in a documentary titled Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. As you see in this still, it was shot entirely in green screen. In the production these shots will be animated to recreate areas of the documentary for which no photos or film exist. From what I’ve seen, this looks like a brilliant documentary about an important part of American history after the Civil War. The documentary airs on PBS April 9 & 16. To learn more click here.  

In just over a month principal photography begins on First Signal. Since I wrote the script in late 2017, it’s amazing how fast time has gone by. It was becoming real enough over the last month when certain props arrived, but when the Air Force Uniforms started to arrive last week it was then that we all could feel the day coming.

Some of the patches arriving for First Signal.

I decided to buy the uniforms rather than rent. Not only was it about the same price for the weeks we needed them, I look at the uniforms as a smart investment. First, we’re not constrained to a limited amount of time with them. What happens if we need to reschedule shoot dates past the rental period? What happens if after we wrap we want to do some pickup shots? With this acquisition, the budget is locked down.

With cast and crew complete, final props being created and actors going through fittings, it’s this moment in pre-production where things are fine-tuned and coordinated. One could say we’re rolling out of our Vehicle Assembly Building.

T-minus.

Apollo 11 leaving the VAB Launch Complex 39-A

A Civilization

Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland

It was sometime in the 1970s when I first saw Gone with the Wind. It must have been on TV as we didn’t have a VCR. The moment I saw this film it quickly became my favorite movie. The story, the actors, the sets, the music, it all worked on so many levels. Since that first viewing, I’ve watched it on laserdisc, DVD and streamed it. This afternoon I’ll see Gone with the Wind as it was intended – in a theatre.

Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh

What I always liked about the Gone with the Wind story was the sheer ambition of how it was made. From the “Search for Scarlett” to endless script rewrites to changes in directors, the production was fraught with issues. But in the end a masterpiece was created winning 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture. If you want to learn more about this epic film, I highly recommend the book Scarlett, Rhett, and a cast of thousands: The filming of Gone with the Wind.

Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable

There’s no question in my mind that Gone with the Wind inspired my interest in this industry. What I’ve always been particularly drawn to are the “movers and shakers” behind the camera. In the case of Gone with the Wind, it was producer David O. Selznick. For every film made there’s one person you can point to that is responsible for its existence. Oh sure, the actors and crew are vital, but they wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for the producer—that one person who sees the vision and takes the risk.

Clark Gable

Selznick International Pictures produced another one of my favorite films, Rebecca. It was Selznick who brought director Alfred Hitchcock over from England. That one decision that Selznick made led to films such as North by Northwest and Psycho.

While the opening sequence references “A Civilization gone with the wind,” another civilization that is long gone is the studio system that made it. Yes, Selznick International Pictures was somewhat independent, but it was the studio system that made Gone with the Wind possible (MGM provided half the budget).

As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this iconic picture, I look at the modern world of filmmaking. Although Selznick’s company disbanded decades ago, MGM is still around along with a literal handful of the legacy studios (sadly 20th Century Fox has been acquired by Disney). But the one thing that now prevails is the independent filmmaker. We chart our own course against a sea of seemingly endless possibilities and to destinations sometimes unknown.

When I attended the American Film Market this past November presenting First Signal and my other projects, I couldn’t help but think of the ambitions of so many under one roof striving to present their “motion picture” to new civilizations.

Tomorrow, is today.  


Second Test

Arrival shot at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center

No sooner did we finish our first pre-production test on January 26 at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center did we plan our second one for March 4. This was going to be more than a handful of shots and walkthrough. Our second test would involve lighting, sound and set construction.

I believe pre-production is the most important aspect of planning a film. It is this phase where even the slightest detail gets ironed out. How does the set look? Is the audio clear? What lens will work best for this shot? Because before you know it, the first day of production has arrived and you can only hope you covered all your bases.

The primary set of First Signal

When we first arrived, the main room we were going to shoot in was empty like a clean slate. One by one we brought the tables in and configured them to the set I had envisioned. There is that surreal experience as a screenwriter when you see a set coming to life that until that moment has only existed as words on a page.

One other critical component to our test was in camera special effects. So often in our modern world of filmmaking when we see a screen or monitor in a movie it’s shot with the actors without an image. The image, or special effect, is then put in during the post-production process. That was largely the case with Justice Is Mind when all 170 special effects were put in during post-production. In camera special effects for Justice wouldn’t have been practical as the majority had to be custom designed. For First Signal, the presentation that takes place during the primary scene is largely a slide presentation of still images. Thankfully that portion of the test was successful.

Paul Noonan will play General Reager in First Signal

When we go into production I want the actors to actually look at something real. Not only does it help them get into the moment of their character, but it greatly assists with eyeline and saves an enormous amount of time in post-production. There is also something authentic about the lighting from a projector that can be used to enhance a particular character or moment.

The idea for doing in-camera special effects for this scene came from the movie Fail Safe. In the scenes at the Pentagon the image we see is rear projection. But in the command center it’s actually front projection. I can only imagine what the pre-production process was like on that film never mind the timing the actors and crew had to accomplish on set as that effect was film not a still image.  

Patience McStravick will play Major Sampson in First Signal

With our interior work completed we moved outside for a combination of drone and ground based photography. This is the scene where one of the major characters arrives at a “military base.” I’ve previously taken drone footage of the Discovery Center, but this was my first time tracking a vehicle. It’s all about practice!

Fail Safe

Suffice to say First Signal’s second test went great. None of this would have been possible without the expertise and dedication of Daniel Groom, the Director of Photography; Patience McStravick, one of the producers who stars as Major Sampson and Paul Noonan who stars as General Reager. And a special thanks to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. To turn their phrase, thank you for having us in your “universe.”

As we plan for an end of April start date with one dress rehearsal prior, some critical components of the production started to arrive this week…

…props.

A replica of the Apollo 11 plaque

First Schedule

The shot list is complete and a preliminary schedule was worked out yesterday. It now goes to the actors, crew and the location partners for review. From what starts as a one person exercise writing a screenplay (I use Final Draft) now turns into project management. I can at least add another checkmark on my task list. But make no mistake, just because I checked off an item doesn’t mean that it’s completed.

One thing I realized years ago when I was publishing magazines was the importance of organization. In those early days being late meant paying heavy fees. In this industry it means that something doesn’t or can’t be filmed. Case in point the Air Force uniforms that we need. Do I buy them or rent them? While I have pricing for a purchase, I’m waiting to hear from the costume company. One thing I learned from producing Justice Is Mind is advanced planning when it comes to costumes.

Vernon Aldershoff as Wilhelm Miller in Justice Is Mind.

In Justice Is Mind one of the actors had to be outfitted as an SS officer. I ordered the uniform from a Chinese company and it was shipped well in advance of our shoot dates. Although tracking showed that it arrived in the United States I still hadn’t received it yet. Finally, I talked to customs and got the “opinionated” custom agent on the phone who asked why I needed such an outfit. After I directed some choice words to him and cited certain regulations, the uniform arrived in time for our shoot.

While I look back at the scheduling for the number of events and films I’ve produced over the years, I realized I’m starting to develop an interesting inventory of wardrobe and props. I still have the original Nehru styled jackets worn in First World along with the briefing file the Prime Minster shows the President. It might not be bad to add Air Force uniforms to the collection.

The Nehru styled jacked in First World.

In closing, NASA announced this week that the Mars rover Opportunity ended after a 15 year mission. When we consider the science this rover discovered over its decade plus mission, it truly paved the way for new “opportunities” as plans for an eventual manned mission to Mars come to fruition. For an original mission that wasn’t supposed to last more than 90 days, it is a testament in time, patience, research and excellence to all those in NASA that worked on this project.  

Opportunity’s first self portrait celebrating the
5000th Martian Day.

Its stories like Opportunity that remind me of the day I first looked through a telescope and saw our neighbors in the solar system.

Observatory.

One scene to be shot will take place in the Observatory at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.


First Test

Setting up a test shot.

The date was set weeks ago – January 26. It was the day we were holding auditions for the final two characters in First Signal. From the moment I posted the auditions, I was encouraged by the quality of responses. When the day came the actors didn’t disappoint. I was uniquely impressed that many of them were off book. Impressed, because the sides I send aren’t just the standard two pages you usually receive for an audition (one of the sides even included a monologue). Frankly, I’ve never understood why so many auditions are based off the two page side. It’s even worse when those two pages only have like three or four lines for the part you’re auditioning for. Regardless of what side of the camera you’re on, I don’t believe you can properly ascertain a project based off a two page side.

Patience McStravick in the observatory.

I have some cardinal rules I follow when holding auditions. First, you send sides well in advance of the audition. Two, you include some background on the character with the sides. Three, and this is perhaps the most important, you don’t change the sides in the audition room (there is one local casting company that does that regularly and it infuriates me–I’ve stopped auditioning for them).  For me, it’s about respecting the actor’s time and preparation. As a director, it’s about seeing a quality audition.  To learn more about the cast (and some of the crew) of First Signal please visit our IMDb page.

The following day Daniel Groom (Director of Photography), Patience McStravick (Producer and Major Sampson) and I went to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center for our first day of testing. After a successful day of auditions, we were all in good spirits driving up to the Discovery Center as we knew we had the actors we wanted. We now could get down to the business of pre-production. For First Signal, we’re taking extra steps in pre-production to insure, to the best of our ability, a smooth production.

It’s one thing scouting a location, it’s another to film in it. From interesting angles, to lighting, to electrical, there are so many numerous things that go into the pre-production process.  Since I knew we were going to film First Signal at the Discovery Center, I’ve had so many ideas come to mind to bring this project to life.

Daniel Groom and Patience McStravick

In First Signal the Discovery Center will act as a European air force base. When General Reager arrives we will see a full size replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket. Once inside he passes by an XF8U-2 Crusader Jet. Considering that the First Signal story is rooted in the space program of the 1960s and two of its main characters are in the air force, the Discovery Center is the perfect backdrop.

Daniel Groom and Patience McStravick

But it’s not just about what’s best for First Signal, it’s about promoting the Discovery Center itself. Long after the final “cut” is called, the Discovery Center will forever be featured in a film that will be seen for generations to come.  Those that know me, know I’m a passionate believer in the space program and all those that make “space” possible. That, in so many ways, is what makes the Discovery Center so special – it’s about discovery.

T-minus.

A drone shot I took of The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH.

Last Days

37550551_640759909613857_1545604007928528896_nAs the pre-production process of First Signal continues towards a May launch, I always take the last weekend of any given year and reflect on what I was able to accomplish. The key as I’ve learned over the years is to not spread yourself too thin. I mentioned in my last post, it’s about quality rather than quantity.

 

One project that I will always be immensely proud of is my work with the Naval Justice School. Acting and directing that project was a true honor. I never viewed it as just another acting gig but rather my small way of giving back to those that serve in our great military. What I always conveyed to the actors was the importance of “staying on script” as the mock trial program was one of the last exercises these law students had before they were deployed.

 

The contractor for that program then retained me to write a training script for the military. I can’t go into too many details publicly, but it gave me an opportunity to broaden my screenwriting skills while again giving back. When I learned that my script is now part of the orientation program at one of the largest military bases in the country, well, that was another honor.

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Outside of the military contracts, my acting work led me to some unique projects. At this stage of my career, a project has to be interesting. It’s not about the check, it’s about the scope. I also need to believe in those that are behind the project. Do they have a vision? Will they see it through to the end? I’m proud to say that the projects I have been part of in 2018 had both scope and vision. There’s nothing more exciting as an actor than working with passionate filmmakers.

 

Speaking of passion, one of the most exciting things I did this year was drone photography. As some of you may know, I purchased a drone for First Signal. From the beaches of Ogunquit to the mansions of Newport to museums in Concord and Quincy, more doors opened than I could have possibly imagined.

 

One of those doors of course was the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH. It’s no secret that I love museums, but museums that focus on space, science and aviation are my favorites. When I first walked through the door at the Discovery Center this gem of a museum offered a bit of everything to this enthusiast. But it’s when I asked permission to do some drone photography that more doors opened—the door to First Signal.

 

Of course the biggest project to come out of 2018 has been First Signal. Undertaking the production of a feature film is a task like none other, but I’ve been through it already with Justice Is Mind and other projects.  After ten years in development from the First World story, and as the first in a series, it’s important to get as many things right as possible. Nothing is worse than when a project is rushed into production and you feel like something is off. But when things do come together as you envision, that’s when a project becomes exciting.

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The one thing I strive for is enthusiasm and a positive outlook. But anyone that works in this industry knows it’s not easy. There’s always some sort of obstacle, setback or situation to overcome. But it’s also about perseverance, persistence and above all patience.

2019.

Mark Lund-The Ashton Times - AFM Poster


Launch System

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A Mercury Capsule at The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.

No, this post isn’t about NASA’s new launch system but the systems created to produce the independent feature film First Signal.  Since I returned from AFM a month ago the pre-production process has ramped up for a May 2019 production start date.

The process of bringing a film to life is one of organization and planning. Whatever I’ve produced, from magazines, commercials, events and films, the more I can execute in pre-production the easier the actual production is. Once production starts the train has left the station. You can only hope you’ve laid all the necessary tracks to complete the journey.

These tracks begin with rounding out the cast. Starting next weekend and into early 2019, auditions will commence for a few roles. With the majority of our filming taking place at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, we can now plan accordingly from a production point of view.

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The CATSAT satellite at The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center

However, before one scene is even shot, I’ve already started to lay out the general plans for First Signal’s marketing and release. While these plans may ultimately change, I think it’s important to have a good idea where you want to go so when you get to that destination you’re prepared. There’s simply too much time and money involved to not think of release plans. One thing is certain, in this age of independent film, you have to take the long view. Anyone going into this industry looking to make a quick impression (or buck) is in the wrong business.  Case in point Justice Is Mind: released in 2013 to a limited theatrical run and now available on Amazon Prime and other outlets, it’s still being pitched for other opportunities and promoted on social media.

With First Signal’s URL reserved and social media already active, one of my next steps is to build the website. Although I was aware of it before I attended AFM, the one thing I was cognizant of was the countless number of films in various stages of production all looking for attention. Being a filmmaker isn’t just about shooting the film, you also need to be the marketing communications department. It’s simply one of the many hats you have to wear. Trust me, distributors will ask about your films online presence.

Next station.

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The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH.


The Correspondent

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After AFM First Signal is back in pre-production with production commencing in May.

Sorting through the numerous business cards and materials I gathered at AFM, I began my follow ups a few days after I arrived home. The return correspondence has been very encouraging. For obvious reasons I won’t publish the names of the companies I’m talking with, but suffice to say things are moving in a positive direction for two of my projects. The devil is in the details of course, but as filmmakers we are used to countless details.

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At the American Heritage Museum.

As I begin to ramp up pre-production for First Signal with a May production start date, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker the other day about the importance of insuring there’s a market for our projects after we wrap production. There’s simply too much time and money involved to wind up on a shelf which translates to holding up a return on investment.

I’ve talked about this subject before when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was vital to me that Justice was introduced in a theatrical setting. While many submit to film festivals at considerable expense and wait for an acceptance (a practice that was frowned upon at AFM unless it’s an A level festival with potential buyers in attendance), I pushed for a theatrical run. The result was a limited run of 14 theatres, box office revenue, an international premiere on an ocean liner and substantive media placements. If I worked for years to get my film off the ground the last thing I’m going to do is pay $$$ to a second tier film festival. Then wait weeks (if not months) for a decision by a committee, then, if accepted, be at the mercy of a programmer to place my film in a time slot convenient to the festival, ceding box office revenue (filmmakers don’t receive a cut from festivals) and sharing in their public relations efforts with other films.  As you can imagine, the public relations and release strategy for First Signal is already in the planning stages.

Speaking of planning stages, I had the opportunity today to visit the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA at the Collings Foundation. Some of you may remember my trips to the Collings Foundation for their World War II reenactment event “Battle for the Airfield” or their “Wings of Freedom Tour” around the country.

Although they are in “preview” until their Grand Opening in April of 2019, what I saw today was truly outstanding. The museum represents the history of war in America. Although it starts with the Revolutionary War all the way to the War on Terror, the primary focus is generally on World War I and World War II.

The tour starts in the orientation theatre and then proceeds to two immersive experiences before advancing to the main exhibit hall. The first is the World War I exhibit complete with a trench you can walk through. From there you proceed to the World War II exhibit which features a Mercedes-Benz W31 and Panzer 1A. Click this link to learn about all the tanks, vehicles and artifacts that will be part of the museum when it reopens in the spring. Of course, as a filmmaker, their use of archival film to enhance the static displays was brilliantly done.

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Never Forget.

 


My AFM

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The Lowes Hotel in Santa Monica.

For years I have followed the film markets, but none so closely as the American Film Market (AFM). As an independent filmmaker and screenwriter, I think it’s important to stay informed on the latest trends and news. As we are “indie” it’s too easy to operate in our respective vacuums without the benefit of new voices. That ended last week when I attended AFM in Santa Monica, California.

As this was my first AFM, I followed their how to work AFM guide.  Several weeks prior to the start of AFM, I researched companies that might be interested in hearing more about my projects. I curated a list and then sent an email of introduction that included a brief (title/logline) of my projects for consideration of a meeting. By the time I arrived in Santa Monica, I had several meetings confirmed. In addition, I made sure my Cinando profile was completed along with the MyAFM section of AFM’s website. The completion of my profiles and subsequent postings in MyAFM conversations resulted in a few companies reaching out to me for meetings.

My industry badge granted me access for four days that began on Saturday. But as the director in me wants to get the lay of the land prior to “arriving on set,” I landed in Los Angeles on Thursday and picked up credentials on Friday.  I knew that the start of the market for me on Saturday would mean putting on my acting hat. The days and weeks of memorizing the loglines and synopsis of my projects along with talking points was soon going to be put to the test. As an actor, I wouldn’t think of arriving to set without knowing my lines, attending a film market is no different. If you don’t take the time to know your own projects, why should anyone else take their time? As attendee’s schedules are booked up well in advance, AFM is all about maximizing time.

The Lowes Hotel is entirely converted for the market (you can’t enter the hotel without the proper credentials). When you enter the lobby you are soon greeted by representatives of the industry trades with the dailies, see throngs of attendees going to and fro and banners representing the myriad of companies that are bunted on the multi-floor balcony railings. What were hotel rooms before the market, are now offices. You have arrived at AFM.

Over the course of two days, meetings with producers and production companies in the United States, Canada, Germany and Romania resulted in positive experiences. Then there were the various film commissions from Russia, Georgia and Japan that also asked for meetings. On Saturday night at the official carousel cocktail reception, casual conversations resulted in meeting two producers with substantial credits (there was a specific request for China related stories – First World anyone?).

But what I do want to stress is that you can’t go into the market thinking “what can you do for me” it’s more about “what can I do for them.” Think about it, is the screenplay I have going to be a good fit for “X” production company or producer? One company I met with wasn’t interested in science fiction, but wanted to see my political thrillers. In the reverse, one producer was very keen on developing science fiction franchises and requested information on the “First World” universe. In both those cases, they asked for scripts. It pays to have a variety of projects to offer.

These meetings are also about building relationships for the long haul. All the meetings and interactions I had were positive, with the exception of one. In that case, it didn’t take long for me to realize that one was just playing the posture and poser game (he didn’t even have a business card). Yes, while AFM is all about meeting the right people and developing a network, you do have to be judicious on who you interact with.

But here’s an interesting twist of fate. Years ago I pitched Justice Is Mind to a distributor that passed on the project. For AFM, this company reached out to me about First Signal. When I was meeting with them and Justice Is Mind came up and their original pass, they presented a new division for digital distribution and asked me for a screening link. As for First Signal, the number of companies looking to get involved at the script stage is a market trend. This is an industry about product and intellectual property and that’s exactly what AFM is all about.

Now it’s about the follow up. The continuation of introductions, conversations and presentations that started at AFM. One thing that’s always excited me about this industry are the possibilities of what’s next. Because for this filmmaker, there will be a next AFM next year. As for AFM, a special thanks to Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director at AFM, for creating a welcoming atmosphere for first time attendees and his informative presentation at the AFM Orientation.

After AFM I had the opportunity to visit Eastern Costume.  I was introduced to Eastern by the costume supervisor on Madam Secretary regarding Air Force Uniforms for First Signal. Another special thanks to Ian Brown, Military Technical Advisor, for a three hour tour. Whatever you need for your film, Eastern Costume has it!

Of course, my trip to Los Angeles wasn’t all business. I had some great reunions with friends along with some requisite touring. Seeing the Endeavour Space Shuttle and the King Tut exhibit at the California Science Center was truly exciting. But my favorite place to visit is the Griffith Observatory. From the wonders of science and space to its expansive views of the city, it was wonderful way to spend my last night in the city at…

…the top of the world.

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At the Griffith Observatory


Uniform Code

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First World – The presidential suite at The Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.

Last week I talked about lists. Well this week I was able to cross off, or at least through, one thing on my list – uniforms.

Whenever I plan to put a script into production I go through it with a fine tooth comb to break down exactly what’s needed.  For First Signal the Nehru styled suits for two of the characters have been secured for some weeks. Personally, I thought it was going to be a bit of a challenge to get the look I wanted with the budget I set for costumes. I soon discovered there were numerous manufacturers that offered countless styles and ranges in price. In the end I got what I wanted for that look.

FBI Conference Room-Serpentine

Serpentine – The Aquarius boardroom at The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick.

But there was one type of uniform that was proving a bit elusive–Air Force officer service dress. Yes, a good number of regional costume shops had air force officer uniforms. They would have worked fine if our story was set in the early 1990s. But as First Signal is set in the year 2014, we needed a contemporary look.

To start I discounted contacting the big costume houses that work with “Hollywood” budgeted films and TV shows. My thinking was why on Earth would they want to work with an indie film on the scale of First Signal? So contacting the official uniform suppliers to the Air Force began in earnest. But in the majority of cases you need to be authorized military personnel to make a purchase from those companies.   So short of purchasing items piecemeal on eBay and the like, this was a major item on my list that wasn’t budging.

Denise Marco and Isabella Ramirez in Serpentine

Serpentine – Northstar Ice Sports in Westborough.

When I saw the season finale of Madam Secretary and the number of military uniforms that were used on that episode, I decided I had to take a different route. I went to their listing on IMDbPro to see who was in charge of costuming. No sooner did I contact one of the wardrobe supervisors via LinkedIn did he get back to me with companies and contact names. Yes, these were the big costume houses on the west coast.

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Justice Is Mind – Four Winds Equestrian Center in Oxford.

The welcoming reception I received from Eastern Costume put aside my preconceived anxiety about contacting one of these companies.  To say they are knowledgeable about costumes would be an understatement. After sending them some pictures of the types of Air Force service dress uniforms I was looking for, they gave me a rundown on prices that will work for First Signal. Is it a bit more than I budgeted? Certainly. But in this case anything less than a contemporary look just wouldn’t have worked.

Justice Is Mind - The FVMRI process begins

Justice Is Mind – MRI Center in Haverhill.

The search, however, continues for a suitable location. The one thing I have done with all my films is to secure locations via a trade marketing partnership. It’s a pretty straight forward process that works great for everyone. A location allows us the opportunity to film and I promote and market the location.  Well after the actors and crew have left, a location sees themselves promoted regularly on social media, mentioned in the press, credited at the end of the film, on official sites and other entitlements that benefit all concerned long after “That’s a wrap” is called. I have no doubt that a suitable location will be secured. But there are always surprises in this business. Like when you believe you have a deal and suddenly it goes from trade to a $10,000 plus fee! Um no thanks, I’ll keep looking! The one thing I have long learned in this business is never be desperate to do a deal. I look for partners not takers.

Conference

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Justice Is Mind – The Massachusetts School of Law in Andover.


Desk Set

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The cover photo on First Signal‘s Facebook page.

Since First Signal’s table read last Saturday there has been a flurry of activity behind the scenes. From location scouting between Massachusetts and New Hampshire to waiting to hear from the Department of Defense on production assistance, the pre-production process of a feature film is a myriad of activity that gives new meaning to one word – lists.

With our aim to secure the final locations in the next ten days, those working on the pre-production side will see their respective lists grow exponentially. As I believe organization is critical to any production, keeping a well ordered list means that you’re one step closer to the start of production.

Speaking of productions, this past week was an interesting one from the acting side of things.  When I was auditioning for a film in Boston, I ran into one of the actors that I cast in First Signal. I think we were reading for the same part! To quote Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, “The world is small, but Boston is big”.  Suffice to say we shared some interesting stories while waiting to be called.  The one thing I’ve learned about the New England market, is that there are a number of us that operate on both sides of the desk. Personally, I prefer it that way as it gives me a fresh perspective on the business.

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In First Signal a Milstar satellite receives an alien signal.

However, it was all business on Friday when I was at Charles River Media Group.  A few weeks ago I was cast in a book promo/trailer. The book is not a work of fiction, but fact. The story takes place in Austria during World War II.  The producer, who is also the author, gave all the actors a personally signed copy. I started to read the book last night and it’s a page turner. I’ll write up the project once the production releases stills.

This was my first time working with this director (who was also the director of photography). From the costuming he sourced to the way he directed the shoot, his style was engaged and calming. The actors were tremendously professional and took their respective parts seriously. The end product should be stunning.

Indeed this market is a small one. No sooner did I arrive and I recognized one of the actors I worked with from the Joint Base Cape Cod exercises. Although another actor doesn’t know it yet, when the time comes I plan to reach out to him to see if he’d like to play one of the secret service agents in First Signal.

This week I also launched the Facebook and Twitter accounts for First Signal. Suffice to say I was encouraged by the response. These are only the first steps towards developing the overall marketing communications plan for the project.

Checklist.

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Location scouting in Lowell.


First Summit

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The table read is set in the Jupiter room at The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick, MA.

Whenever I’m involved in the production of an event, I always arrive early. First, I hate to be rushed. Second, it’s about setting everything up.  Finally, I like to just sit and take it all in for a few moments. I don’t meditate. It’s about quiet time. Because the time for this event was starting shortly before 11 AM – the table read for First Signal.

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Patience McStravick and Adam LaFramboise.

This journey didn’t just start when I wrote the script for First Signal, it started back in 2006 when I wrote First World. When you write a screenplay you never really know where it’s going to go or who is going to be involved. But when I was watching Lindy Nettleton reprieve her character of Allison Colby, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from First World, I was not only enormously thankful for her return, but the realization of the journey this project has taken since those early days.

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Kim Gordon, Lindy Nettleton and Yefim Somin.

As a writer, there is something surreal about watching actors bring your characters to life. I’ll admit, when I was writing First Signal I had several actors in mind for certain parts. There’s a reason why you see filmmakers work with the same actors because you know what you’re going to get in a performance. But then there is also the excitement about working with new actors and crew. They bring things to the table that you just don’t see. Not because you don’t want to, but as the writer you tend to have blinders on to keep the train of the story on a certain track.

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Stephanie Eaton and Kim Gordon (that’s me in the back).

Case in point when Vernon Aldershoff and Adam LaFramboise were in a confrontational moment. Vern suggested the line of “You can sit down” or “Sit down” before his character answers Adam’s. As I mentioned to the room, I have no problem with such additions (or deletions) if it adds to the vibrancy of the story. As a filmmaker you have to let a story breathe. The key, is to make sure it’s remembered by the actors and then noted by the director. Yes, I made a variety of notes from yesterday’s table read and will be following up with the actors and crew.

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Vernon Aldershoff and Paul Noonan.

This is the first time I’ve held a table read and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t just about hearing the words come to life, it was about the actors and crew meeting each other and getting familiar with their respective styles. In the end it’s about chemistry for the next time we are all together it will be on set.

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Phoenyx Williams enters the scene.

It’s impossible to thank the actors and crew enough for believing in First Signal.  Your dedication and talent means a first rate production. And from their hosting of First Signal’s auditions in April to yesterday’s table read, my thanks is also greatly extended to The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick. Indeed, a film has many behind the scenes partners. Each one of them is part of the production engine that finds its way to the silver screen.

Action.

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Testing the drone with Patience McStravick at the location of the field.


The Tests

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Testing the drone over Quinsigamond State Park in Worcester, MA.

One thing I’ve often talked about is testing. Whether it’s a screen test prior to a theatrical screening or testing equipment prior to a live event, I’m adamant about testing prior to production or going live.

I still remember to this day, that despite testing equipment the day before, a major live event I produced years ago ran into a major technical problem during the show. What happened? Someone behind the scenes decided to “think” and change the program without consulting anyone. The result? A total screw up. Thankfully the embarrassment was resolved in short order and the venue credited us $14,000 for their mistake.

Production is time and money. If you don’t set aside time to rehearse, test and think things through, the results can be disastrous if not embarrassing.  In the past two weeks I have witnessed two major meltdowns with camera equipment during auditions. How does that happen in today’s day and age? And why don’t you have a backup system ready to go at a moment’s notice? It’s called preparedness.

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As for preparedness, I attended the Memorial Day services at Battleship Cove last Monday. Not only does this museum do a wonderful job in organization and presentation, it’s the location itself that brings forward the meaning of this national holiday. When you are standing on the deck of a battleship that fought in World War II, it doesn’t get any more real than that.

I’ve been to Battleship Cove on a several occasions. There’s always something new to learn and discover. When so many are engaged in the here and now, it’s important that we take the time to never forget how and why well over 50,000,000 perished in World War II.

With less than two weeks to go until First Signal’s table read, pre-production continues on a variety of fronts. At this stage of the production it’s more waiting to hear from certain parties for confirmations, etc.  I will say the DJI Spark continues to perform well for the required drone shots.

Shot list.

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At the USS Massachusetts. Mark 12 5″/38 caliber gun firing on Memorial Dy.