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Posts tagged “Hidden Figures

A Giant Leap

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Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S flag on the Moon.

July 20, 1969. The 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission – “we came in peace for all mankind.”

Although at 4 years old, I was too young to remember the historic event of the Eagle landing on the Moon, I fondly recall the later Apollo missions in the early 1970s. Those grainy black and white pictures being transmitted from the Moon to our television sets was a remarkable achievement. Indeed, it truly was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In those days the world watched in wonder as the impossible was achieved, not once, but several times.

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Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder.

When you think of the new technologies, sciences and discoveries that resulted from the space program of the 1960s and 70s, it’s clear that a giant leap was achieved on numerous levels. You can’t bring together that many scientists and engineers and focus them on a single end goal without achieving breakthroughs that were literally out of this world. Of course, another result of the space program was the motivation it gave to so many.

In my case, I developed an interest in astronomy which led to my passion for science fiction.  When I combined these interests and wrote First World in 2006, I had no idea where that journey would take me. In the film world it led to the production of the short film version of First World in 2007, followed by Evidence and my first feature film Justice Is Mind. In the real world, I have been fortunate to see the space shuttle Atlantis land at Edwards Air Force Base, Discovery and components of the Apollo program at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Enterprise at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and Freedom 7 at John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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The plaque left on the ladder of Eagle.

In the world of entertainment, two of my favorite TV series that involved the Moon are UFO and Space: 1999 with my favorite sci-fi movie being War of the Worlds (1953). But over the last several years “Hollywood” has produced some excellent must see films. I could list many, but my two recent favorites have been Hidden Figures and Arrival.  Two completely different films, but with compelling messages of the possible when faced with the impossible.

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A first look at some artwork for First Signal.

As for possible, progress continues on First Signal. With Daniel Elek-Diamanta designing our first promotional poster, the look of First Signal is beginning to take shape. With more location scouting planned over the next several days, I have no doubt that the right location will soon present itself. When a launch is planned, all the conditions need to be right. I don’t want to settle on a substandard location just for the sake of keeping a schedule. Not only do I need to be excited as a director, but I want the actors and crew to feel equally motivated with their surroundings.

Next steps.

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Apollo 11 takes off.


Space History

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I have been a space enthusiast ever since I was kid. I remember to this day some of the last Apollo missions to the moon, a time in our nation’s history when the United States achieved great accomplishments, when we worked through the problem to solve the impossible. But while the 1960s was a time America moved forward in the direction of science, it was far from forward when it came to civil rights.

Last night I saw the acclaimed Hidden Figures to a packed audience at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA. I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I heard about it. The story itself can best be summed up by its logline, “The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.”

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Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, was a mathematician at the Langley Research Center.

The balance in story that director Theodore Melfi achieved between the rapid progress of the space program contrasting to the glacial pace of civil rights, created not only a must see film but one with a lasting message of hope. Hidden Figures is a movie that champions the possibilities of the human race when working towards a common goal, in this case the space race between the United States and Soviet Union.  Indeed this is a movie for the history books, one that will be long remembered decades after its release.

But long remembered was another character in the film, astronaut John Glenn. This past week Glenn was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It was on February 20, 1962 that he boarded Friendship 7 at Cape Canaveral. It was this pivotal moment in the fledgling space program that was prominently featured in Hidden Figures.

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John Glenn in Friendship 7

Perhaps the one thing that made last night’s screening so memorable was the reaction of the audience when the credits started to roll—applause. When a film moves an audience to such a degree that they enthusiastically applaud that does make the journey for all those involved in making the film a worthwhile endeavor.

As I have often said, movies need to be seen in a theater. While I’ve been a champion of VOD since its inception, it is the theatrical experience that creates the event. In that moment a group of complete strangers (usually) get together for a single purpose—to be entertained.

Liftoff.

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The launch of Friendship 7


World Building

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Kim Gordon stars as Marlene Baxter the president of the American Figure Skating Federation in Serpentine.

In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.

The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating  performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.

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Since her mother disappeared five years ago the FBI has been following Suzanne Wilson.

This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film.  In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.

With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office.  For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.

We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.

United States.

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Ice Market

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Serpentine will shortly go to picture lock.

With picture lock on Serpentine coming up probably this week, the marketing plan I’m putting in place for this film won’t exactly be created from scratch. Having published a consumer magazine in the sport for just over ten years, let’s just say I have a pretty good understanding of this market. Oh sure, things have changed over the years, but not that much. Case in point, I’ve been presenting the opening credits to a variety of industry insiders over the last couple of weeks.

But this project isn’t just targeted to the sport.  As a political thriller that traverses a variety of countries and covert situations, the aim is to reach a broader audience. As I state on our website Serpentine is “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Americans meet the sport of figure skating with a hint of Madam Secretary”.

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This shot from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy inspired the FBI conference room shot in Serpentine.

Of course since my time publishing magazines, we now have online streaming and social media. Both have been a godsend to the entertainment industry and a must for independent filmmakers like myself.  Platforms that are essentially free that reach around the world. Just over ten years ago, if I wanted to reach a market in a foreign country I had to buy premium newsstand placement and display ads. While the latter still has a place, geomarketing on social media is de rigueur.

But with these new mediums come a lot of noise. If you let it happen, it’s very easy to get caught up in someone’s vortex of whatever. Seriously, unless it’s somewhat business related or of personal interest to me, I just tune it out. I always make an effort to ask myself if what I’m posting is improving my brand or my business. Sure, we all have our positions on a variety of things and “milk toast” posts are boring, but it really comes down to how others are perceiving you. I know I’ve made more than a few social and business related decisions simply by what someone is posting.  Social media is like the SETI project. The majority of signals are just noise, but on occasion there is that “WOW” moment.

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This shot in Serpentine was inspired from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

On the marketing front it has been interesting watching a variety of screeners through the SAG Awards voting process. While some of these films have done an outstanding job of marketing, others have just failed miserably. Because I read the trades I generally know what the films are doing before they reach the market. Does that influence my vote? No. Because making a film is hard enough and if you are part of the voting process it should be watched.  There’s no question that I believe Arrival is a brilliant film in concept and execution and I’ve been more than public about my disdain for one filmed in my home state. But having started to watch Hidden Figures, the story simply grabs you right out of the gate. Or maybe I should have said the launch pad!

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But through all this I do see a bright future for independent film. Oh there are those that complain about this and about that. Financing has always been difficult and getting a film together can be just as involved as a Moon launch, but filmmakers are an innovative bunch. We cut through the noise, drive around the roadblocks, scale the brick walls and every other obstacle and persevere. To partially quote Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…”

Next steps.

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