There is that moment in a theater when the words “Feature Presentation” come up just before the picture starts. Certainly as a theatregoer we’re excited to see the film, but as a filmmaker it’s a rush—particularly when it’s your movie. That rush happened for me when Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program screened together at The Strand Theatre in March. Ask any filmmaker and they’ll tell you, there’s nothing like seeing your film on the silver screen.
But for all the accolades that come with making a feature film, there are significant challenges that theatregoers don’t necessarily concern themselves with. The recent articles on Broad Green and Open Road chronicle the times ahead for some. While the capital to produce is there, it’s the net return that’s the issue. Thus consolidation or, in the case of Broad Green, production shut down. In my view it comes down to a reasonable budget with a solid marketing plan tied to distribution. To turn a phrase from Ron Popeil you can’t “Make it and forget it”.
I met with a colleague a few weeks ago who wants to make his first feature film. He’s a talented filmmaker who has made some award winning short films. A short film is one thing, a feature is an entirely other animal. His concerns were numerous—completing the script, managing a crew, finance and distribution. Basically it comes down to taking that leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and your own capabilities. Yes, you rely on others, but as Luc Besson said you have to be the General of the Army. Look at any film in production from the low budget independent to the major studio release, the entire project revolves around the director. This isn’t to say that the director acts unilaterally, they too have to report to someone or at least adhere to a structure.
As for structure and directing, I’m looking forward to returning as site supervisor for the Naval Justice School’s mock trial program in Newport, RI. Yes, it’s directing of a sort, but it’s just as much as adhering to the structure of their program. What I enjoy about this program is that it’s neither film nor stage, it gives me the opportunity to roleplay a character over multiple days without a set script rather a set of circumstances and situation. As director it’s generally to make sure that the actors have an understanding of this process as it’s not stage or film. There’s no call to action and cut, rather you are in character when in the school. My supervisory role is essentially making sure everyone shows up on time, answer related questions and to follow the rules of the base and the agency that has hired us.
One thing about this industry that I enjoy is the variety of opportunity it affords. Whether directing a film, writing a screenplay or working on a military base, it’s about being well-rounded. The one thing that has helped enormously with my work in Newport was the years I spent doing TV interviews (many live). While there was no script, there was a subject matter and certain facts I had to adhere to. My point is that whatever the work is, it’s about the accumulation of experience because who knows what that next part will be.
No matter where you live on this great planet, you knew that yesterday the United States of America celebrated the 4th of July. Indeed, that day is a proud moment for every American and for each of us it stands for something different. For me it just comes down to the simple fact that I live in a country that promotes freedom and democracy. But even more important, we live in a country that encourages entrepreneurship. If the film industry is anything, it is built on entrepreneurship. Watching the History Channel’s America the Story of Us yesterday just cemented the point.
Producing an independent feature film is a great example of entrepreneurship. You write a script, produce the product and get it out to market. Of course there will be those outlets you want your product in who say no, but as I’ve discovered there are plenty that say yes.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind back in 2010 I was just writing a story. What I soon discovered after I saw the completed film was the number of genres, social and demographic groups that I could use in the pitch process. The legal aspect of the trial and the loss of privacy. Advancing sciences and their impact on our society. Passing the Bechdel test. The science fiction appeal. The aged 40+ demographic that has turned out in theatres. The list goes on.
I read in the trades of so many films “bypassing” theatrical and going straight to VOD. Sure, I know it’s the same as when films used to go straight to DVD. But in my view, I wanted to bring some sort of following with Justice Is Mind before we went to VOD. I believe a film needs a theatrical run. No matter how few or many the venues, I think it’s important that you demonstrate some sort of public interest in the film. With our theatrical run to date, I’ve learned 1) the media was interested in reporting on our film and 2) the demographics that made up the audiences. We’ve established a foundation and with it a following.
Sadly there was a filmmaker in a trade publication this week that was waxing on how a theatrical run isn’t necessary, paid too much attention to an article in the New York Times by Manohla Dargis and said that film festivals deliver the best audiences for your film. While film festivals may work for some films, the bottom line is a film festival audience is vastly different from a traditional theatre audience who has purchased a ticket for your film sitting in a theatre that has your film on the marquee. With Justice Is Mind there has been no four walling (renting of theatres) we just work very hard to interest theatres in our story. To that end, I will be meeting with another theatre next weekend.
On Thursday, July 10, 2014 Justice Is Mind will have its VOD premiere on VHX! Shortly after that the film will appear on other VOD platforms. And like our theatrical run and upcoming international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, 2014, it all comes down to the pitch. Some will pick us up. Some won’t. In the end it’s all about developing an audience.
With all I’ve learned with distributing Justice Is Mind and the distribution changes in the industry, it makes me even more excited about the prospects for SOS United States.