A few months ago I came across a casting notice for a book trailer. The name of the book was Heil Hitler, Herr Göd by A.P. Hofleitner and was based “on true-life memoirs” around a family in occupied Austria at the end of World War II. As this period of history has always been of interest to me, I submitted for the part of Herr Göd.
Shortly after getting cast, I started my research. When we think of the European conflict of World War II, generally we look at Germany and what was going on in Berlin. But how many times do we think of the average family just caught up in it? That was the genesis of the book.
Once I arrived to set I met director Rob Gooding and author/producer “Andy” Hofleitner (who, as fate would have it, I actually met earlier in the parking lot). Andy presented each of the actors and crew a signed copy of his book. It didn’t take long to realize the passion behind this project. Not only are the accounts in the book true, but the family in Austria is Andy’s. The author of the memoirs was his grandfather. The “props” used in the book trailer were the actual ones from the story with one piece signed by Hitler himself. The gravity of the story suddenly became real. To know that you are not only recreating moments in history, but are actually touching it.
A few days after the shoot I started to read the book. From page one Hofleitner brings the reader back in time to a family caught in the crossfire of war. The family is far from idyllic and this is what Hofleitner does so well. His words create real world, conflicted and complicated characters facing the impossible. But through it all they persevere under the most trying of circumstances. Hofleitner’s masterful way of setting up scenes and bringing the characters in had me riveted to the last word. There is an escape scene from a factory that was so brilliantly written it had this reader in the center of the conflict. To know as I was reading each word that each one of these moments really happened, one wonders how such atrocities could have happened in the first place. But they did and that’s why we must never forget lest history be repeated.
For me the most engaging character was Max. His voice from being on the front and witnessing the horrors of the war, brought reality home when he would recount stories in the seemingly quiet village the family resided. Imagine you are sitting in your back yard enjoying a drink and hearing horrors so far away they must be fictional…right? But then, in a moment, the roar of Allied bombers destroy the tranquility of the moment.
Book trailers are a smart marketing tool. To quote from C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter, “Whether you are traditional or indie published, it’s about reach, connection, and sales.” And that’s exactly what a book trailer does. It visualizes the story you are about to read.
The booking came through last week. I was cast as a NAZI officer in the upcoming feature film The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot. Other than the aforementioned designation, I didn’t know much about the part itself or even the film. Researching the film was easy enough, but the part remained elusive until I arrived on set.
Whether it’s a film of my own or one I’m cast in, I always arrive early. For me I like to get the lay of the land and get oriented to the surroundings, cast and crew. I knew this part was going to involve some sort of action when I found myself in hair and makeup getting a 1930s haircut. After being outfitted, I then learned what my part entailed.
For reasons of confidentiality I can’t divulge specifics. But let me just say this, my studies of World War II history, and in particular the rise and fall of The Third Reich, helped enormously. I only had to be told what the scene entailed and I understood what was involved with my character. I knew from that moment the mindset I had to find myself in and play it accordingly. There is no half way of playing a character like this, it must be 110% for authenticity. That moment of character happens when you put the uniform on to understand what it represented. At the end of the day we must never forget the atrocities of history dare they be repeated in the future.
As a filmmaker I was particularly impressed with the level of detail the director brought to this scene. He probably knew that certain details wouldn’t be seen on camera. But my guess is it wasn’t about that, it was about the actors believing they were in the moment. It is that type of detail that places directors like Robert D. Krzykowski above so many. It’s directors like this that you want to work with and give a performance that’s worthy of the efforts of so many on both sides of the camera. When the scene wrapped he thanked us all for being part of it.
When this scene was being produced I naturally couldn’t help but thinking of the time I directed Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind when he played a NAZI officer. I remember to this day the countless details from the uniform I ordered along with the action of the story itself. You only know if you got it right after it premieres. It was after the international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth when a few Jewish women came up to me after the screening to comment positively on how I struck the balance between that moment in history and the conclusion of the film.
The entire process of filmmaking is designed to provoke emotions. We either enjoy a film or we don’t. It’s called free will. Like we don’t burn books, we don’t ban movies. When Deadline reported that Gone with the Wind, in which Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award, was pulled from a theater in Memphis, TN because it was deemed insensitive, it’s clear that this theater and its patrons don’t want to understand history or the signal their action sends. Once you start going down this slippery slope, a return can be next to impossible.
By example I find, with the exception of Brokeback Mountain, most gay films to be ridiculous. It’s the same stereotypical story film after film after film. So you know what my answer is? I don’t watch them. There’s no mandate that because I’m gay I have to watch and support gay films. We either watch films that interest us or don’t watch. But the last thing we do is ban and sensor. Because there is one thing I do want–
This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Amazon in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Japan. Since the film was released in 2013, it has been my plan to get the film distributed in as many territories as possible. Considering part of the story takes place in Germany, and as our composer and sound mixer reside in the United Kingdom, it’s great to be able to bring the film to those markets. Also, it’s part of the long term plan to generate as much interest in the Justice Is Mind story as possible as the pitch process continues to further develop the project as a TV series. But, like all things in this industry, it’s about having more than one project in development as things take time.
When I was taking to a fellow filmmaker in England this past week, the one thing we talked about was distribution. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, as a former magazine publisher I directed the distribution and marketing of my magazines. The process has a variety of similarities. You deliver your finished product to a central source and it’s delivered to the outlets. But as I learned all those years ago, for every middleman there is a percentage given back. Sometimes a middleman is necessary, sometimes not so much.
To quote from Amazon Video Direct’s website “Helping content creators and visual storytellers reach millions of Amazon customers across hundreds of devices with the same distribution options and delivery quality available to major motion picture and television studios.” Why, unless a distributor was acquiring your film for a fee, would you just give Amazon your film to upload? With the tens of millions of customers that Amazon commands, I certainly understand why some distributors require Amazon to be part of their VOD platform mix. But with “platforms like Distribbr, Quivver, and Bitmax – what’s the benefit of going with a more ‘traditional’ distributor over those?”
Honestly, by the time I release my next film, self-distribution may just be the way to go. Unless a distributor brings me a fee and a marketing plan, why would I bother signing away the rights to my film when I can just deal directly with the VOD platforms? I have heard too many horror stories from filmmakers that were all excited a distributor was interested in their project only to receive a fraction of return even though their project was available on countless platforms. It’s sad and frustrating to hear these stories, because I know how much hard work and years of dedication goes into making a film.
As for new projects, the concept poster for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating is now being designed. With the script registered and URL reserved, the general plan is to formally announce the project in mid-late August. Nothing is more exciting than seeing those first images come to life. And for me that starts with the concept poster.
Of course, like building a house, this is the stage where the architectural plans are developed. In my view, a script is an evolving document based on a variety of factors until you lock it down just prior to pre-production when you lay the foundation for what you will ultimately see on the screen.
No the title of this week’s post isn’t a new TV series, but a character I introduced in Justice Is Mind that is greatly expanded upon in the sequel In Mind We Trust. And with EFM (European Film Market) currently underway in Berlin, Germany, it seemed particularly fitting.
Today marks one year since I wrote the first draft of the sequel. Yes, there have been some tweaks since then, but more of a decision on where to take the project. While Justice Is Mind was produced as a feature film, the next logical direction for the project is to present it as a TV series. I must have had that “in mind” when I wrote the sequel as it sets up the established characters from Justice Is Mind with new characters in a world where mind reading technology has permeated our way of life from the judicial system to immigration to employment and national security.
With Justice Is Mind released to positive reviews and In Mind We Trust written, I’ve been working on the story “bible” for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been down the TV series pitch process before with certain studios and production companies when my agent took out a series I conceived called Frozen Assets. It was essentially Dynasty meets figure skating and I worked with a leading writer of that famed TV show to shape the series. Being in pitch meetings is an interesting process and you really need to have your pitch rehearsed. I knew the sport, but this writer knew the industry. The show wasn’t picked up (figure skating was dying in the TV ratings at the time), but the experience was a real learning curve for me. On a side note my agent almost killed me when we pulled up to the Paramount gate and I said from the back seat of her car, “Jonesy! Hey, Jonesy!”
As for the industry, attention is on Berlin, Germany this week. Unlike Sundance which has turned into a showcase for studio productions and, in my view, lost its purpose as a haven for independent filmmaking, EFM is a unique film market to follow. It presents films from concept to completion. I might add that The Hollywood Reporter does a terrific job with their daily reports.
Reading the reports you can clearly see how the industry has changed the last couple of years. Sales agents want completed films and stars don’t guarantee any sort of success. I think Marc Gabizon of Wild Bunch said it perfectly when he stated in this article, “You see, film is a great business. It’s fascinating, but it’s also dangerous. You can’t forget about the risks, even when you’re successful — maybe especially then. There’s always a risk, but you have to make sure that if you have a flop, it doesn’t topple the whole company. Don’t bet the house on one or two titles.” By flop he was referring to Bradley Cooper’s Burnt.
While nothing is more exciting than announcing a new project, it does come down to risk. As a producer my job is to project a path of realistic profitability. As a director I need to deliver a solid and marketable project.
One trend I see coming out of EFM are the interesting political thriller type projects. This has been a consistent trend over the last couple of years and bodes well for SOS United States.
Last Monday I finished the first draft of the sequel to Justice Is Mind. By the early reports from those that have read it, they really enjoy the story. Certainly as a first draft there are edits, but all in all, I’m happy with it. It’s a continuation and expansion of the original story.
I think in the back of my mind I always had the idea for the sequel and planted clues all along the way in Justice Is Mind. Now with the sequel completed, it is also set up to continue as a pitch for a TV series.
When I first started to contemplate the sequel there were a variety of things that I knew would encompass a continuation. First, the sequel would start where the original left off. With a sequel you have to assume that some won’t see the original so you need some background to carry it forward. As I’ve publicly stated, Henri Miller has not been killed. It’s his resurrection that bridges the world of science and mysticism. From intelligence agencies, to secret courts, to scientific companies and the exploits of the Miller family, the story concludes at the Supreme Court of the United States.
The majority of the characters from Justice Is Mind return, but it’s in the sequel where we learn more about them and their various motivations. Combining the original characters with a variety of new voices, brings a new story to life that travels from New England, to Washington, DC, to Germany, Russia and Italy. From Senator Caraway leading the congressional investigation into pre-life memories to General Blair of Joint Special Operations Command on terrorism in Washington, DC to the President of Reincar Scientific. But through all this, the story centers around the Miller family. From the horrors of World War II to the present, the secrets of the Miller family are revealed in vivid detail.
In all my writing and research over the years, I can’t remember tackling something as involved as the sequel to Justice Is Mind. From past life regression, to intelligence operations, to the secretive FISA court, to Germany in World War II and studying case law and procedure for the Supreme Court of the United States. Personally, that’s one area of writing I enjoy – the research. You wind up learning things that you would probably never know unless you experienced it personally or actually wrote about it. While a satisfying experience, it is a labored one. This is why I’m such an advocate for laying the foundation with a complete and vetted script. The last thing I want to think of during production is the story, I just want to shoot.
While Justice Is Mind has 42 speaking parts (not including extras), the sequel has 61 with Margaret and Henri Miller leading in the number of dialogues and scenes. In so many ways the production of Justice Is Mind was a proving ground in terms of what was possible to accomplish. The sequel takes it up a deserving few notches – Margaret, Henri and Cast of Hundreds. Yes, a slight turn in title to a book about the making of my favorite film of all time –Gone With the Wind. For those that love that movie, I highly recommend Scarlett, Rhett, and a cast of thousands: The Filming of Gone With the Wind.
Those that follow me know me well enough that I’ve already started the process of developing the sequel for production. But that being said, a few observations of the New England entertainment market. We need a TV series in the region that incorporates a diverse set of talent – both known and unknown. As Justice Is Mind proved, talent on both sides of the camera need not be a household name for success.
What’s next? Synopsis.
With the final mission of the space shuttle program launching this Friday, July 8 with Atlantis’s scheduled lift off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:26 EDT, the debate begins on what is truly the next step for NASA and indeed our long term goals in space exploration on a planetary scale.
We have the grand and fantastic International Space Station, a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in development, unmanned spacecraft exploring every facet of our solar system while discovering new worlds beyond our own and an exciting commercial space program being led by SpaceX. But what NASA really needs is a budget set in stone, law and time that spells out exactly where the agency is going to go without interference from the whims of a new American President.
In my view, there really have been only three Presidents that understood the importance of setting long term goals for the agency – Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan.
When the Apollo program ended in the early 1970s, the next phase for NASA was well underway with the space shuttle when Nixon announced the program in 1972. Of course a few years earlier, it was Wernher von Braun who said at the time of the Apollo 11 launch “You give me 10 billion dollars and 10 years and I’ll have a man on Mars.”
Back then NASA had direction and long term goals. I’m not saying we don’t have that to some degree now, nor were the 1960s and 70s not fraught with budgetary issues, but NASA’s direction cannot be decided every four years. NASA needs, at least, a 10 year plan that cannot be changed once it’s approved by Congress.
Of course, what I have always found uniquely interesting in the history of the space program is its origins from the 1930s and The Third Reich. For it was that impoverished nation of Germany that conceived the Silbervogel – a winged aircraft that, to some degree, gave birth to what evolved into the United States space shuttle.
One has to truly wonder what inspired those scientists to create what they did given their resources at the time. Could there have been some outside influence perhaps? After all, we are talking about the invention of new applications in science and technology.
I, for one, believe in the ancient astronaut theories. In addition to the general concept of First World being built around it, there are simply too many unanswered questions regarding the abrupt jump in technology and the development of modern civilization. Something, someone or some action had to be responsible. While evidence certainly exists of some sort of interference in our society, an answer has not revealed itself.
Over at Space.com, Andrei Finkelstein, Russian astronomer and director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Applied Astronomy Institute in St. Petersburg, said “The genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms.”
We have discovered over 1,000 extrasolar planets and with the success of the Kepler space telescope are discovering more everyday. Now that we know where these otherworld planets are, we can turn SETI’s radio antennas to very specific areas of the cosmos to listen.
But with SETI’s budget slashed and its Allen Telescope Array offline, how can we listen to possible signals from alien civilizations if they are aimed at Earth? SETI needs just $200,000 to start listening again.
I leave you with this thought. Why have Earth’s space programs morphed into a thousand different directions with no clear goal? Haven’t we all noticed that we have these great tools in science and technology but no coherent global program to unite these platforms in a mission of revelation? I’m not talking Biblical Revelation here, but the revelation in knowledge and understanding.
The answers we seek are probably already here, but we need the organization to find them – or maybe to let them find us.