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.
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.
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.
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.
This week I completed a first draft of First Signal. I have to say there is something immensely satisfying about completing a script. From the moment I get the idea for a story it’s weeks and months of research, notes and random thoughts.
For me writing doesn’t start and stop at my computer. While I don’t believe in writer’s block, there are those times when after I do a bit of writing I just see the story stop for a moment. Sometimes it just takes a change of air to get the characters and storyline talking to me again. In my case, it’s generally a trip to the gym or watching a movie that brings me back to the computer. In fact, after I saw Darkest Hour last weekend I was inspired to write a critical speech in First Signal. If you can’t get inspired after watching Winston Churchill there’s a problem!
Like Justice Is Mind I wrote First Signal to independently produce, not to submit to production companies or agents. While my other projects are in various stages of review or consideration by the latter, First Signal is not part of that mix.
It is ironic how this whole project came to being. Here I am at the Naval Justice School talking to one of the actresses. Suddenly, the idea for a limited location drama that largely takes place in an underground bunker came to mind. After talking with her about the idea, I just started to write it with her as one of the new characters in the “First World” universe.
While I love acting and performing, I think my greatest joy comes from creating projects and original stories. Although it has been some years, I remember the days of Justice Is Mind and the dedicated cast and crew that made it possible. Unlike a play, when you create a motion picture it’s out in the world forever. As I often watch films from the 1930s and 40s, I wonder who may be watching my films in say the year 2088. From that era I count Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, Laura and Now, Voyager as some of my favorites.
Although I plan to reach out to a variety of actors and crew I’ve worked with in the past, the next step in this process will be a casting notice for a table read (one part is already cast).
First Signal—When Air Force Space Command receives a signal from an alien satellite in Earth orbit an emergency meeting with the President reveals a government conspiracy.
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–
From the World Figure Skating Championships to the Naval Justice School, 2016 has been a whirlwind of a year. And between these events was the figure skating political thriller Serpentine. From script, to production to media coverage, Serpentine has certainly set the stage for 2017.
I’m never one to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead I look at what was accomplished in any given year. For me, there needs to be at least the creation of a new project or perhaps some interesting acting or on camera work. Thankfully for 2016 there was a bit of both.
Of course we had this thing in the United States called a presidential election. But you can’t define your entire existence over who won or lost. Putting aside that it narrows your world and opportunities, the country goes on no matter who wins or loses. The great thing about the American presidency is every four years we change hands (sometimes). As Scarlett O’Hara would say, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”
As for another day, post production on Serpentine is moving right along and on schedule. We are into the second draft of the edit and I signed off on the opening credits VFX sequence yesterday. And generally speaking a good amount of the film has been scored. The post-production process of any film (short or feature), takes coordination. Are all the parties on the same page? Is communication flowing from one department to the next? I’ll say this there is a comfort level working with the same parties that brought Justice Is Mind to life.
In addition to Serpentine, 2017 will usher in some personal changes. I renewed my membership in SAG-AFTRA a couple of months ago for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say I see more trips to NYC next year. One of the benefits to membership is being able to vote in the SAG Awards and getting DVD screeners. Like the election, I’ll just leave it as what film isn’t getting my vote.
But for any given year it comes down to moving the needle just a bit in the direction I want to go in. I don’t try to push for the “all or nothing” approach as that can just set you up for disappointment. Do I outline goals for the near year? Certainly. Are they resolutions? No. Frankly, I’ve never understood those that proclaim with all the caps they can on social media at the start of any year that they’re going to quit X or move to Y! Um, how about just do it for yourself whenever and see where it goes. You won’t know until YOU try not when your “friends” approve.
Sure there’s been some disappointments this year. It wasn’t all champagne and caviar. But there’s no point dwelling on the past or those that tried to check all these bags of drama onto my ship (sorry we’re full up!). Like the car accident I was in. As I thankfully walked away, you just move on (cue Scarlett O’Hara again with score).
In closing it was great to see the reach of this blog across the world for another year. Your support of these words is very much appreciated. And to you and yours across this great planet…
Happy New Year!
Yes, the title of this post is a twist on the book Scarlett, Rhett and a Cast of Thousands, but I was reminded just the other day on what goes into making a feature film. It was early summer in 2013 and our world premiere date for Justice Is Mind was set for August 18, 2013. Yes, the film was edited and scored, but we were still under the gun on those numerous last minute items like color correction and sound mixing. The one thing left to finish was the closing credits. It wasn’t until I started to add everyone in when the number of names credited was finalized at 201. But add in the employees of our location partners and the number was well north of that. It’s true when they say it takes a village, or maybe in the case of Justice Is Mind a small battalion, to make a feature film
With our Second Anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, planning is well underway. As I’ve mentioned before, I treat every screening like it’s the first one. The deal with the theatre is secured; cast, crew, location and marketing partners are notified; a press release is sent and then there is the media pitch. My special thanks to the Worcester Herald and Examiner for their early coverage of the special day.
I am delighted to confirm that several of the stars, co-stars and featured performers have already confirmed their attendance. While many of us have traveled the theatrical release tour together, August 18 will mark for the first time in two years the coming together of those that I haven’t seen since the world premiere. Indeed, we are all looking forward to it.
But aside from a reunion of some of the cast and crew, it is about presenting Justice is Mind to new audiences. The work that goes into the production of a feature film is monumental. Indeed, some producers I know are starting to pull back on producing projects as they are time intensive. But when a film is finished, when you see it play in a theatre, your TV or even your smart phone, you realize at that moment that all the sleepless nights, self-doubt and over analysis is over. The work that has been put in by so many is being presented to the world. Thus, you want to do it again and again. At least I do.
The film industry is changing even more rapidly that it was when I first created the world of Justice Is Mind. But at the end of the day content is still king. There are now more platforms available to watch a film than ever before and they need product to fill their pipelines. Whether it’s a tentpole like the upcoming Star Wars (I can’t wait) or a truly independent film like Justice Is Mind, there is something for everyone.
The days are long. You feel there will never be an end in sight. But then there is that moment after the final rendering that the heart and soul of a cast of hundreds comes to life. For it has been the reception that Justice Is Mind has received that has led to the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust. By this time next week, the concept trailer will be released.
Justice Is Mind – The Second Anniversary Screening – August 18, 2015.
Tickets now on sale.
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.
Producing a feature film, never mind writing and directing one, is a project. In this industry you often hear people say, “What projects are you working on?” The word “project” is code for “film”. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to use the word “project” than list out your films at a cocktail party. But here are my projects: Justice Is Mind, First World, titled, but not announced, political thriller and…that’s enough. Suffice to say, both Justice Is Mind and First World are in various stages of development and production. Justice has a short and feature, with notes on a sequel. First World has a short, a feature I hope to put into production with a sequel already written (it’s a trilogy). The political thriller is at the treatment stage with 12 pages of script already written.
There was an article in an industry blog about a filmmaker who was quoting all these projects. I mean, they went on and on and on. Sounds impressive on paper, but two clicks on IMDB and you realize it was just talk because honestly it’s impossible, unless you have a production staff, to be involved in so many projects strictly from a time point of view. For me, less is more. Anyone that has worked with me knows that I focus on the details. It’s easy in this industry to get distracted with someone’s new and exciting project, but if your own project isn’t finished it’s really doing a disservice to those that worked on it.
With Justice Is Mind edited and the score nearly complete, the one area of the project that’s front and center are the building of the special effects. When you see these before and after examples, the quality that our Special Effects Supervisor is putting into them is stunning. But to get to this point, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few details that first start with original files being pulled by our Editor, sent to me for review and then processed over to special effects with my instructions for the building.
Special effects are an integral part of the world of filmmaking. Without them, films just don’t exist. The special effects we see in 21st century films are obviously very cool. On a contemporary note, visually Olympus Has Fallen was really excellent. But let’s take a step back in time to my favorite film Gone With the Wind. In those days it was the matte shot. When you consider what Jack Cosgrove achieved back in 1939, impressive doesn’t even begin to describe those visual effects that still hold up to this day. How the burning of Atlanta was accomplished was truly spectacular.
While the special effects are being built, one of the next areas of the project that I’ve been focusing on is our upcoming August 18 premiere, continuing to develop the list of film festivals to submit to and working towards an industry screening. There is also a list of independent theatres I’m working on to screen and test market the film. This is another area of the project that has to be carefully considered—distribution. The one thing about the world of filmmaking, and probably like any industry, is the abundance of “consultants” that want to tell you how to hone your craft. I have to tell you, wading through these “experts” is a project in and of itself. I’ll just say this, if you are going to consult for a fee in this business you best have accomplished what you are preaching before I part with 10 cents.
For my projects it’s pretty simple. 1) I want to produce, 2) I want my projects to be seen, and, 3) I want to make money. Obviously, a lot has changed in this industry since Gone With the Wind. Filmmaking is achievable today because of technological advances that allow us to create. And after all…
Tomorrow is another day.
Since my last post, the response to Justice is Mind has been nothing less than tremendous from interested directors and crew both here in the United States and in Europe. Frankly, I don’t think putting together a production has changed since the industry’s first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was produced in 1906. Someone still needs to direct the “moving picture” actors are still required (even though they can be created digitally) along with a host of crew – lights, camera…action!
I remember reading some years ago a book titled Scarlett, Rhett, and a Cast of Thousands. The entire production process of Gone with the Wind has to be one of the most daring in Hollywood history. An independent filmmaker by the name of David O. Selznick leveraged himself almost into insolvency to finance what is arguably one of the top 10 motion pictures ever created. It was only when the legendary Louis B. Mayer and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer rescued the project by “loaning” Clark Gable and putting up $1.2 million to secure 50% of the profits for MGM with distribution rights being awarded to MGM’s parent company Loew’s, Inc. (now AMC Theatres) did the world see those great actors of yesterday portray some of the most memorable characters ever created in cinematic history. And let’s not forget the publicity Selznick achieved with the “Search for Scarlett.”
While Justice is Mind won’t have a cast of thousands, what every independent filmmaker hopes for now is “viewers” in the hundreds of thousands if not millions. Cynthia Almanzar over at Film News Briefs really said it best this week echoing some of my commentary in my last post “it’s obvious that digital evolution won’t stop. Everything is getting engulfed. Studios and filmmakers understand this. So, instead of trying to stunt its growth, it’s time to grow with it.”
Having just finished a great two year plus run of First World on Hulu, I can assure every filmmaker that digital distribution is the next great step for the industry. Like magazine publishers that refused to embrace the web, filmmakers (especially the independents) that don’t jump on this technology will be left in the DVD dustbin.
Like digital distribution, film finance has also seen some new assistance come online in the way of crowd funding. With Indiegogo and Kickstarter leading the charge, the ability to raise production cash by fans and supporters is critical in the economy we are in. Of course some creative incentives will help such as a $1,000 donation will enable the donor to participate as a member of the jury in Justice is Mind. Having a “Jock” Whitney or two involved wouldn’t be bad either.
I think someone like Selznick would have embraced all these new technologies. But I can picture Mayer just shaking his head in defiance.
But “After all…” things in this industry “…tomorrow is another day.”