Over the weekend I attended another wonderful re-enactment event at the American Heritage Museum. The Battle of Bunker Hill was produced with enthusiastic re-enactors that brought to life one of the famed early battles in the American Revolutionary War. While I have attended numerous re-enactment events, these re-enactors went out of their way to engage with attendees to discuss this critical time in American history. Suffice to say I learned a few things!
While producing a movie is all about pre-production, rehearsals, etc., these re-enactment events are like watching a movie unfold in real time over several hours rather than months. Yes, most of these groups have all worked together, but their ability to produce this type of entertainment so quickly is impressive. For those of you in the New England area, the re-enactors from this past weekend will next perform at Old Sturbridge Village on August 6 &7.
This past week, First Signal received its quarterly VOD payment from Indie Rights. I could not be more pleased with our results to date. While I was reviewing the reports, I learned that First Signal secured a territory sale in South Korea. This is yet another milestone that First Signal has achieved. From our VOD placement, 1M+ views on YouTube and now a territory sale, First Signal is well on its way to achieving an awareness I only dreamed of.
Those of us that produce true independent feature films, do so because we love to tell stories. While we always hope for a return on our investment, it honestly isn’t top of mind. Yes, staying within a budget that has some hope for a return is important, but that cannot be the driver. The driving motivation to produce must first be a love of the craft.
I remember towards the end of principal photography on First Signal, that despite sweltering 100-degree heat, I was just vey excited to work those final days. Perhaps it was the realization that I knew the quality we produced the previous weeks, or it was getting into the rhythm of doing something that just felt natural. Whatever the reason, I do look forward to the day when I’m bringing my next project to life.
As for my next project, I completed my director reel a few days ago and will post it sometime this week. Having reviewed my previous five films and cutting out scenes that looked interesting, the challenge to select was just that: a challenge. The question begs to be asked, just what is a director reel? Having reviewed countless reels from other directors the question, in my view, is still unanswered. Some focus on cinematography, others focus on an intense scene or two, while some focused on visual effects. To be frank, they were all over the place.
In the end, I selected a variety of scenes and moments over a track of music that I believe reflect the scope of work I’ve produced over the years. For me, I wanted to show versatility in my directing ability. From conceiving a scene in outer space, to a confrontation between actors, to sports; my goal was to present a well-rounded view of my directing capabilities. While this reel doesn’t have a singular story arc per se, I think it does reflect that I like to tell stories that are unique in concept and execution.
I remember like it was yesterday when First Signal was on the festival circuit and I was reviewing and having conversations with distributors. The duplicity of so many with their endless fees and one-sided life-binding contracts combined with promises that frankly I knew where going to go nowhere, wasn’t exactly a recipe for lifting spirts. But it was the discussions I had with Indie Rights that presented the first honest and straightforward approach to film distribution that was truly a breath of fresh air. I knew going into it, that we were weren’t just handing First Signal over to them and that was the end of it. It was a partnership – they distributed while I marketed.
As Indie Rights continues to find outlets to distribute First Signal, I continue the marketing process. Although it has been a year since First Signal was released, the film is consistently performing on established outlets like Tubi and Amazon while finding new audiences on YouTube. With over 800,000 views in the last four months, YouTube is a platform that delivers solid advertising revenue to its filmmakers while delivering a global audience.
But the one thing I can definitively state today is that First Signal is technically in the black. While I didn’t “bet the ranch” from a budget POV, my investment was a solid one that I was hoping to eventually recoup. This milestone has given me confidence that one can be “in business” as an independent filmmaker. When I say independent filmmaker, I’m not talking about those that are connected to studios, mini-majors, millionaire investors or the like, I’m talking about those that look at their personal savings and investment accounts and say to themselves, “OK, I believe in this project. I’ll take the risk.” Fortunately, in the case of First Signal, the risk paid off.
As for the next risk, a filmmaker friend and I visited Battleship Cove last weekend. With the USS Massachusetts appearing prominently in one of the opening scenes of SOS United States, I’m starting to visualize the production coming together. But like First Signal, and Justice Is Mind, it will come down to finding a variety of key locations to make this political thriller come to life.
On reflection of this revenue milestone, it took over a decade to bring the First World Universe to life with First Signal. While there was the short film version of First World to introduce this new concept in 2007, it was the production of a feature film in First Signal that has truly started the franchise. With the positive feedback First Signal is receiving on YouTube as an audience indicator, developing this new sci-fi franchise for production has taken on a renewed purpose.