Over the last few weeks I have been reviewing SOS United States and breaking down the script by location for a cost analysis. While I would love nothing more than to realize a multi-million-dollar budget to produce this political thriller “Hollywood” style, I’m also a realist. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it could literally take years (if ever) to achieve that type of production.
As I’m often on a weekly call with a filmmaker organization, I hear the same stories from exasperated screenwriters. Their stories all fall along the same lines; their screenplay has done well in festivals, it has been reviewed and analyzed by industry experts, a comprehensive look book has been created along with a filmed teaser. One screenwriter filmed the first 20 minutes of their 90-minute screenplay to show what it would look like as a finished product. You can imagine I wondered why they just didn’t produce the whole thing?
This all being said, I am breaking down SOS United States to produce as an independent film akin to what I accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal. As the script has been well received by film festivals winning a variety of awards, and has been read among my peers, I’m confident about the story. The rest? Well, it’s about securing cooperative locations along with a talented cast and crew. If the following months go well, hopefully SOS United States will be in production by early Summer 2023 with a 2024 release date.
While I work on SOS United States for production, First Signal continues to do well in the market. With our YouTube placement alone garnering over 1.1 million views, the audience and interest in the First World Universe is certainly there. Those that support the film regularly asks me when the sequel will be released. For First Report and First Launch, I am aiming to secure outside production financing as I believe the “franchise” deserves it for the next phase.
But there is one thing that all films require—a fair and equitable marketplace for our product. Over the last several weeks there has been considerable drama around the release of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. It has been reported that Amazon spent between $715 million to $1 billion on the project. One can appreciate they want to protect their product. But the one thing that can’t be controlled are audiences. Amazon’s attempt to do that by suspending ratings and reviews on Rings of Power has created an unlevel playing field in addition to an unfair business practice.
As I learned from the release of First Signal in particular, audiences either love your film or hate it with a smattering of “middling” reviews. While I would love for Amazon/IMDb to remove all reviews below a 7, I know that isn’t going to happen. But Amazon/IMDb did just that for Rings of Power. At one point First Signal had more reviews on IMDb than Amazon’s new $1 billion dollar property.
As an independent filmmaker we are told time and time again that a high rating and solid reviews will lead to more distribution opportunities. The work I have put in to keep First Signal’s rating as high as possible has been, to use a word I often use in this industry, herculean. But to see a company like Amazon manipulate ratings and reviews to benefit one of their properties at the expense of the rest of us that promote the Amazon machine, is just a horrid business practice—but now it is a precedent that Amazon alone has created.
One of Amazon’s baseless defenses is that because the series is well reviewed, audiences therefore by edict must love it. But then you look at The Terminal List that was beyond panned by critics but loved by audiences. As Amazon has established the precedent, perhaps they should remove the critics?
My point to all this is a simple one and is a lesson from history we should all remember – when you attempt to silence voices you only give them a larger platform to speak.
As an independent filmmaker finding an audience is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the process. I recently had a meeting with a filmmaker who has largely left the industry owing to their frustration in getting their work seen. Any distributor will tell you that it’s the responsibility of the filmmaker to market their film. That’s just the way it is. Simply, there are so many films being made and the profit margins are so thin (if they even exist on most projects), that a distributor can’t justify, and usually doesn’t have the staff, to separately market each film.
But there is another aspect of this industry that every filmmaker (and even actor) needs to be aware of, the charlatans that sell their services and expertise. Having been in this industry for over twenty years, I promise you that 95% of them aren’t worth the electrons in the emails they send.
Two weeks ago I was approached by a filmmaker who tried to sell me his services as a marketer. First, if you’re going to pitch your services, know who you are pitching to. Not only was this filmmaker from the distributor I use for one of my films, but I also prepared and published a marketing case study to this group. Putting aside that he may have missed the communications in the group, it was clear he never reviewed my film’s website or social media channels. But when I reviewed his film, there was barely any social media presence to say nothing of a solid IMDb page. My point is simple; if you are pitched a service do some due diligence first.
But like any other product, once it becomes known and an audience is developed, you get the naysayers and the critics. It’s just par for the course. While it did take time for me to develop a thick Kevlar-like skin, and nobody likes seeing negative comments, just remember this – with every posting and interaction they are just propelling your product.
With over 700,000 trackable views on one VOD outlet alone, with a projected 1,000,000 plus on all channels, I am more than pleased with First Signal’s results to date. While I was hoping the film would find an audience with the marketing plan I implemented, I had no idea it would do as well as it has.
But with that kind of audience it takes a certain amount of management and interaction. Yes, I do interact with those that have a constructive comment about First Signal, but I just don’t waste the time with those that have spiteful comments. Seriously, what’s the point. Arguing on the internet doesn’t change minds, it just unnecessarily raises blood pressure. But at the end of the day every comment, good, bad or indifferent just raises your profile and profitability.
As I’ve often said to many in my circle, if you get into this business for endless accolades, you will be sorely disappointed. The goal, in my view, is to do good work that is appreciated by an audience that discovers it. By example, I love the work of Salvador Dali, but others may loath it. I’ve never understood the hype around 2001: A Space Odyssey but love The Andromeda Strain.