With post-production on First Signal coming to an end, it seemed fitting that I finished a draft of the sequel early last week. Titled First Launch, the story picks up two years after events in First Signal. While First Signal introduced the First World Universe in a very contained environment, First Launch is entirely the opposite. With the majority of primary characters returning, the logline “The President faces a military coup and extrasolar war when a covertly built second generation space shuttle reveals a worldwide military destined to confront an alien presence on Earth,” sets the story shortly before the 2016 Presidential election.
While I’m glad to have finished a draft to the sequel of First Signal, my priority is to see that First Signal properly exits post-production as I plan for general marketing and distribution. As for distribution, this past week I was approached by a theater to have First Signal screen in July. While I normally would have jumped at the opportunity, I honestly can’t commit one way or another until we learn when restrictions are being lifted. I do know one thing, so long as mask requirements (something I vehemently disagree with) are order of the day there’s no point, or joy, in having a theatrical screening. While our governor may employ Orwellian powers in Massachusetts, he has no power or jurisdiction of its citizens outside this tiny state. Thus, I’m looking at screening opportunities outside of New England and the country.
I am, however, considering “attending” the virtual Cannes Marché du Film in June. As the fees are negligible, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try and see what comes of it. There’s no question that by the end of the summer, theaters worldwide will be open and the markets will endeavor to return to some sort of normalcy.
While the large theater chains can tap into a variety of reserves and credit lines, it’s the independent theaters that are most at risk during these perilous times. As their only source of revenue are ticket sales, the real concern in the industry is that some of them just won’t make it and that a vital link for independent films will simply disappear. Unless you have a robust concession, ticket sales alone just don’t carry theaters. Simply, the box office percentage that’s shared with the distributor just varies too greatly between films.
But with every economic upheaval, there is always a revelation of something new or in this case a return. How many of us remember drive-in movie theaters? I remember the days when we would all pile into the car, drive up to a parking spot, place a speaker on the side of the car and watch a film unfold on a giant screen. It’s no surprise, that moviegoers are starting to look at the drive-in as a solid alternative while the traditional theatrical experience is sorted.
Last night I attended the world premiere of Daniel Groom’s Alternate Ground to a sold-out crowd at Chunky’s Cinema Pub in Nashua, NH. Although Dan has directed several short films, this was his feature film directorial debut. Alternate Ground’s combination of sci-fi and horror worked brilliantly in this UFO abduction film. While watching Alternate Ground unfold, I was reminded of some classic sci-fi and horror films from the 1970s and 80s that I adore. I don’t know if that was his intention or not, but from a marketing point of view it was a brilliant combination of classic film with contemporary storytelling. Suffice to say it was well done.
Prior to the film’s start, Dan remarked to the audience about the importance of independent film and the filmmakers that bring them to life. The word “sacrifice” doesn’t even begin to describe what the filmmakers, cast and crew do to bring art to the silver screen. I promise you the passion in a truly independent film such as Alternate Ground is 1000x more than any studio could achieve. Last night you could see that passion on screen and from those attending. It’s that passion that drives the independent filmmaker to continue pushing forward to do one thing – create.
Some years ago, I was asked by someone why I work so hard on my film projects when the promise of a return is nebulous at best. I simply responded, it’s a story I need to tell. This person continued to press me on the subject until I finally said something on the order of, it’s people like me that create what you see on TV, in the theatres and the books you read. Without creatives there is no substance to society. Without creatives life is just black and white with no color. The person that was pressing me was someone who, sadly, works a terribly boring job. And while I can say I’ve worked many boring jobs in my life, you must find the time to be creative, to express yourself in whatever medium that brings you, and hopefully others, some joy. To Daniel Groom, his cast, crew and partners, you brought a great amount of joy last night.
With the trailer edited and scored, we are in the rollout phase as the color grading commences. As each day passes we are rolling closer and closer to the day when the trailer for First Signal is released. I don’t think I’ve prepared nearly as much for the release of any of my film projects. Yes, Justice Is Mind was obviously important to me, but with First Signal being my first feature film in the “First World Universe,” I want to make sure I reach who I need to reach.
When I was talking to an acting friend this past week, we started to talk about certain sci-fi series and movies and what we do and don’t like. For me, I’m not so much into spectacle but story. I’d rather watch a solid story than things getting blown up. Yes, sometimes you need to blow something up, but I feel it should be done within the context of the story, not just for show and tell.
Last weekend we had First Signal’s ADR session. Watching these talented actors bring their characters back was nice to see. It was also an opportunity to show them the trailer and opening credits. Aside from some stills, they haven’t had the chance to see anything since we wrapped last July. I know when I’m part of a project as an actor I anxiously await to see what the product will look like.
With audio complete, the provisional score nearly done, VFX being built and the film close to a lock, I can almost see the light at the end of the post-production tunnel. But this is where all the details come up. From polishing the edit and score, finishing the VFX, sound mixing and color grading, creating a film is an arduous task and all about project management.
One of my favorite “TV” series these past few years has been The Man in the High Castle on Amazon. The entire production on both sides of the camera was first rate. When I started to write the sequel to First Signal it dawned on me the character of Major Sampson could parallel Juliana Crain. In High Castle, Crain was instrumental in the resistance movement and played all sides to achieve her goals. In the sequel to First Signal, Sampson finds herself torn between three worlds – the President of the United States, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cedric Yonah the Premier of the Synedrion Council. As of this morning I just hit the sixty-page mark and I think I know how I want it to end. I think!
As for films that have a military storyline, I saw 1917 last weekend. I can’t say enough great things about this film. From filming the entire story in one continuous shot, to the production values and acting, 1917 was truly a delight. The cinematography alone is reason enough to see this film. I can only imagine the pre-production planning!
I was reading an email newsletter this morning and the author talked about having to love the journey not only as a writer but as it pertained to sales. As a screenwriter, there is that moment when you feel these characters talking back to you as you type their dialogue and action their elements. When you’re filming your screenplay, you see these characters come to life. When you’re watching your story on the silver screen or your TV, you know you’ve made a sale. There is something immensely satisfying being in the lobby of a theatre when someone asks to buy a ticket to your film. Equally when you get notice that your film has been streamed.
The journey is a long one, with many highways and exits ahead. But it’s a journey that I have loved since I wrote my first screenplay in grade school.
Stay the course.
Yesterday I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen in few years. The first thing he asked me was “How’s the writing going?” I told him about First Signal and a few other things going on. As he runs a successful business in Worcester, I asked him how the salon was. He responded “Busy.” I really didn’t have to ask him that because I know his salon is always busy. He’s been working on building his brand for years.
It took some years to build my brand in figure skating and equally as long as a writer and filmmaker outside of the sport. Building a brand isn’t something that happens overnight. It builds from one project to another. However, we now live in a world where people think that having a large social media following is a brand. Social media, in my view, is great for amplifying what you’re doing in the real world. But without a foundation of something, it’s just likes.
When I started to revive the First World Universe to write First Signal a few years ago, I realized after reviewing all my original material and the media we had at the time, that I created a unique brand. One with its own voice. With First Signal I finally had the opportunity to present this world as a feature film. The first in what I hope to be a series of films in the First World Universe.
With the trailer nearly complete, the marketing train will soon be leaving the station. Once it leaves it can’t come back. While post-production has been going on in earnest with countless notes with the editor, composer and VFX artist, I’ve been working out the marketing plans for the trailer and ultimately the feature. All of us on the post-production team know how important it is for the trailer to present the film. At the end of the day it’s about selling the feature.
As for the First World Universe, I’m just over the thirty-page mark for the sequel. This is the story that takes place before the events in First World. In my view, writing a sequel is no easy feat. You must balance the established characters and their stories with something new. I think one of the most interesting sequels was 2010 from the legendary 2001. Starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren, 2010 created a wonderful “what if” possibility.
In the sequel to First Signal the following dialogue happens in the Oval Office
“Exactly. Now he’s operating covertly and illegally. If you lose and Reager legitimately controls the military and his commander in chief is complicit, history books won’t judge your actions today, because they’ll be none left. It will be the end of civilization.” – Elisabeth Seward, National Security Advisor to President Helen Colton
That dialogue derives from actions around Operation Troy in First Signal.
“General if I sign this. What’s the objective of Operation Troy?” – Helen Colton, President, United States of America.
“Identification.” – General John Reager, Commander, Air Force Space Command
This week I write the draft press release and email newsletter to announce the trailer. As for when the trailer will be released? Sometime in February
The one thing about preparing for a film market is that it makes the process of filmmaking all the more real. It compels you to organize your marketing materials and position your film for the market, from building a website, to sales cards, to online profiles, stills and any other materials that showcase your film. The adage, if you build it they will come, doesn’t work in this industry (or any other for that matter). It’s not enough to make a film, you have to tell the world about it.
When I was organizing my home office yesterday, I found a variety of sales materials from last year’s AFM. I found a sales card for one film that at the time was in post-production and represented at the market by a well-known production company. When I looked the film up on IMDb, it was still in post-production and that production company was no longer affiliated with it. There could be a thousand reasons as to why this film is still in post or the company that was representing it no longer is. The one thing I do know, is there needs to be a Plan A, B and so on.
I was reminded through Facebook memories this week about the numerous screenings we had for Justice Is Mind. The year following our release in August 2013 was a very exciting time. Not a month went by when there wasn’t some sort of activity, be it a theatrical screening or media report. The apex of Justice Is Mind was our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. There was a moment during that cruise when I was standing on deck reflecting on the journey Justice Is Mind took to get to that moment. Suffice to say, it’s important to stay focused, believe in your project and move past any and all naysayers.
With First Signal now past the halfway mark in post-production, I see what opportunities lie ahead. But I can’t help but think of the journey it took just to complete principal photography. Despite the substantial challenges we faced in pre-production (too many to list!), First Signal eventually found its dynamic locations and talented cast and crew. If this process was easy everyone would be doing it. To quote President Theodore Roosevelt “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
To the outsider, they see a film and think it comes together magically. They generally have no idea what it takes to go from script to screen. When I attend the American Film Market in four weeks, I’ll come across hundreds of films each with their own unique story in various stages of production—all looking for a home. For me, this market will be one of many interesting ports First Signal visits.
With this post, I’m pleased to present two additional stills from First Signal and The Ashton Times AFM 2019 poster representing my projects.
It’s hard to believe that First Signal is nearly at the halfway mark in principal photography. The dedication of the actors, crew and staff at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center has been unprecedented. Producing a feature film is no easy task but when you work with a dedicated group of professionals, the process doesn’t actually seem like work. Of course the one thing I won’t do is get complacent. There’s still several weekends left of filming with half of them being outdoors.
Along with principal photography, our public relations efforts are also well underway with our first press release announcing First Signal (click this link). I’m also delighted to report that The Hippo published a great article this week about our filming at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. The Hippo does a wonderful job with their Q&A formats.
Now that we’ve had some press, I’ll be reaching out to the distributors and sales agents that I met at the American Film Market (AFM) this past November, particularly those that expressed an interest in First Signal. As AFM is all about planning, it’s never too early to start conversations about projects in production.
One of the next steps in the process is how the film will look from a color point of view. It’s something I need to start thinking about as we will soon be releasing stills. While it’s a process that shouldn’t be rushed, it shouldn’t be delayed either. Like the building up towards the release of the first trailer, I believe the releasing of stills should be given equal weight. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
With principal photography resuming next weekend, Daniel Groom (Director of Photography) and I will be doing some test photography tomorrow in a field. This location encompasses the last scenes of the film. While the scenes we are shooting indoors are obviously important, the outdoor scenes will be involving a substantial amount of special effect work in post-production.
Although the making of a feature film takes quite a bit of work while you’re on set, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of frivolity. From Patience McStravick (Major Sampson) and Conor Timmis (Cedric Yonah) in a Space Shuttle simulator to a birthday celebration for Daniel Groom. One of the highlights from last weekend was when Sarah Beattie, who works at the Discovery Center as an educator, treated us to a wonderful planetarium show about the constellations. I never knew there were so many! But what was very touching to me, was this lovely blog post that she wrote last week.
For me there is truly no more rewarding of a process than seeing a film come together. It is a form of art like no other. Long after I call the last “cut” this film will live on forever. A film is a testament to the dedication of so many to realize a vision. When you watch a film and see the credits role know that every person, company and location played a vital part in its creation. While the adage for actors is “there are no small parts” that also holds true to those that sit behind the camera. As I conclude this blog post, I want to say a special thank you to Patience, Dan, Sarah and Linds for believing in First Signal.
With 2018 coming to an end in just over a week, I always reflect this time of year on what was accomplished. For me it’s not about volume but the quality. On the talent side, I’m looking forward to the PBS reconstruction documentary I was part of this past summer. It’s scheduled to air in the 1st half of next year. There was also my work with the Naval Justice School and the National Guard exercises. But perhaps my most ambitious mission to date was putting First Signal into pre-production and attending the American Film Market.
A film requires countless elements to be successful. There’s finding the right actors, crew, props, etc. But perhaps one of the greatest challenges is finding the right location. We often hear the phrase, “Location, Location, Location” when it comes to real estate, it’s also true when it comes to filmmaking.
Although we knew we were going to film the “bunker” scene at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, I was hoping for other location possibilities at the museum. After an audition we held a couple of weeks ago, we drove up to the Discovery Center to meet with museum officials. This was also an opportunity for the director of photography and one of actors to see the facility. Needless to say, everything worked out beautifully. With the exception of the scenes in the field, First Signal will be entirely produced at the Discovery Center.
Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how we all feel about this opportunity. For First Signal the location provides a perfect backdrop to the story. For the Discovery Center it will showcase the museum for years to come. For both, the marketing and public relations opportunities are endless.
As a filmmaker what’s terrific about this arrangement is that it’s all being produced in one location. Nothing can be more taxing on a cast and crew when numerous locations are involved. It’s like you’re starting over from day one. When talent on both sides of the camera are relaxed and in a familiar environment, it only enhances the end result. Because that’s what this is all about, the end result.
The production of a feature film isn’t just about the days on set, it’s mostly about the pre and post production. This is why I always aim to plan as much as possible in pre-production so when the day comes when I first call “action” nothing is left to chance and we can all enjoy the process.
Like planning for a launch, that first day of production comes up faster than you think. As that day approaches you only hope that you’ve covered all your bases. But it’s all about surrounding yourself not only with a talented cast and crew, but a location partner that believes in your project as much as you believe in their mission.
While the submissions continue to come in for the next class at the Naval Justice School, this past week took an interesting turn when I was cast as a policeman in an upcoming TV pilot. What was originally one day turned into three days on this production.
I always find these large scale productions interesting for a variety of reasons. Am I learning something new? Did I have a good time? And did I meet interesting people? I would say the answer was yes on all counts.
For me I always look at these “large-scale” productions with two different hats on – as an actor and filmmaker. As an actor I had to learn pretty quickly how this director worked. He gave me direction once and then returned on a couple of occasions to rehearse it without any verbal cues. He would appear, I would do what he directed and then he would leave. It must have been OK because after one rehearsal and two takes it was done. I guess we will see if that moment makes it in the final cut.
As a filmmaker, what I appreciated was the level of detail on the built sets. The desk I was sitting at was complete with period files, notes, etc. Even the wording on the files was specific to the era. As we live in an age where movies and TV shows are constantly screenshot, the last thing you want is something on camera that shouldn’t be there.
But this week it’s back to my own projects. In addition to the handful of actors to cast in the Naval Justice School (NJS) project, I start meetings on First Signal. This will be my fifth class with NJS and it’s great to see so many actors return from previous classes.
After my first meeting this week on First Signal, my plan is to post for actors in regard to a table read. The goal is to have a read sometime in late February or early March. From there I move on to locations and then crew.
And just when I think I’ve heard every excuse in the acting book, today there was a new one. I scheduled an interview with an actor days ago this morning in regard to the next NJS class. I couldn’t believe when I received an email this morning asking to push the interview back because, “I’m just trying to run some errands before the football games today and wasn’t sure if we could push back to 11:30.” Obviously I declined to do so. To every aspiring actor out there read these next words carefully – an actor declined to keep a scheduled interview for a paid gig because of football.
Here in Massachusetts (and New England in general) there is an obsession on football that borders on near hysteria. It’s all well and good that you have your passions, but when they interfere with work you have a problem. When you ask a producer/director to reschedule an interview because of your passion for a sport, I have two words of advice – don’t submit.
Can you even imagine for a minute if the day after I committed to this pilot that I emailed the casting director and said, “I can’t work tomorrow because I need to watch XX” I don’t even want to know the note that would go in my file. But I do know what that casting director would do after crossing my name off all their lists.
Writing an original story is by no means an easy process. There are times when I think and rethink various elements to make sure they flow. Does this transition from that transition make sense? Am I carrying the story forward and adding something with each moment? Even though I’m writing fiction, I always ask myself would people act and respond this way in “real life”?
But at one point it starts to click. For this story it happened around page twenty. While I have the general outline for act one, two and three (Yes, I believe in the three act structure), it’s the journey these characters take that will make the story what it is.
But one thing that is easy, is creating worlds that are larger than they appear or you have the budget for. With every film I’ve produced (and some commercials), I always use stock footage. From the White House in First World, to Reincar Scientific in Justice Is Mind to the FBI in Serpentine, it’s a simple purchase from one of the stock footage houses.
Most stock footage is very affordable. However, there are times when it can get pricey. Case in point was footage from the Nuremberg Trials after World War II in Justice Is Mind. In addition to the footage, I also had to obtain it at a certain aspect ratio. But in today’s modern world of filmmaking, it’s amazing what’s available if you just look for it.
As this story largely takes place in one room, it will be stock footage that takes us out of the scene to illustrate certain moments of the story. Why ask the Department of Defense if you can film a B-2 taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base if you can just acquire the footage for $79.
I remember after Justice Is Mind was released, I was asked by someone in the industry if I went to Logan International Airport in Boston to film planes taking off. I remember jokingly responding that it was a real pain in the ass to get over all the fences and position myself with a cameraman at the end of the runway. I think they thought I was serious. Oh well.
As I dove back further in the First World story and archives, I came across a time in 2008 when certain funding commitments were imminent for the production of the film (it was going to be part of a slate of films with a particular producer). But then the global recession took hold and literally decimated the film industry (particularly on the independent side). At the time it was disappointing, but everything happens for a reason.
It’s interesting how one is turned to a particular story. When the idea came to me during my moments at the Naval Justice School about developing a story in a one location environment, something drew me back to First World. Was it the military aspects of that story? The fact that I’ve already created these characters? Who knows, the one thing I never ask myself is why. I just write.
A few months ago I thought seriously about attending the American Film Market (AFM). Aside from the fact that I’m due for a visit to Los Angeles to catch up with friends and colleagues, there’s no question that networking opportunities at AFM are important to anyone in the industry.
Before I spend some thousands of dollars to attend (or on anything), one does have to be practical about it. Will there be a return? In my view, “Hollywood” is a year round industry and “pitching” isn’t married to a film market. But markets are something I’ve been tracking for several years and when The Hollywood Reporter starts its day 3 daily with the headline, “AFM Dealmakers in Revolt! ‘There’s Nothing for Us’”, I’m glad I didn’t make the trek.
I predicted that when Hulu came online that VOD would be the future for independent film. Now in 2017, Amazon and Netflix are the saviors of independent film. Television, whether terrestrial, cable or VOD, has taken so many A and B+ actors out of the independent film world to the more lucrative TV industry. So what’s left? Well, to quote from The Hollywood Reporter’s day 3 daily, “A lack of big-name, must-have projects is leading to plenty of grumbling at the market, with some buyers wondering if this year marks the ‘death knell’ for the indies. Says one frustrated insider: ‘It’s B-, C- and D-quality stuff’”.
If you read the dailies from the film markets you know the hundreds, if not thousands, of films that are looking for some sort of home. Something to recoup the investment that has been put up for someone’s dream. This is an industry of dreams envisioned and dreams realized. It’s important, for obvious reasons, that we keep the dream alive.
In my view the dream will be kept alive with a good story. Plain. Simple. To the point. Star driven independent films only do one thing, drive up the cost of the film with no guarantee of return at the box office. That’s fact, not fiction.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind my goal from day one was to produce it myself (with investors of course). Sure, I presented it to some production companies, but the feedback was unreal. There is this assumption that after you do all the hard work you somehow need their help. Here is a recent email I received from a production company, “I didn’t had the chance to look in details at the project as they seem to be in too early stage for us. Don’t hesitate to keep us posted when you will have a budget, cast, financial plan.” Putting aside the horrid grammar, the question begs to be asked, “And I need you why after I’ve done all this work?” The answer is simple, I don’t need you.
Producing a film is not rocket science. You just need a good script and capital. Done. Yes, it is that simple. The “rocket science” comes up if you’ve never produced because there are countless details you need to know, particularly when it comes to post-production (sound engineering anyone?). It also can get involved if you decide to use a named actor and have to deal with the myriad issues around that. Seriously, at the end of the day a filmmaker just wants to see their dream come to life. Having produced four films (3 shorts and 1 feature) and seeing them come to life on the silver screen is a feeling like none other.
Tomorrow I start to write this new feature with the same production aim as Justice Is Mind. The title of this new feature may have the word First in it, but thankfully it will be the fifth.
Tomorrow is a motion hearing in court. Not a real court. But the mock trial program I’m in at the Naval Justice School (NJS). While I can’t go into specifics for a variety of reasons, it involves my character as an NCIS Special Agent to be informed on matters pertaining to “my training” and certain actions I took. Sorry I can’t say more.
As an actor it gives me the opportunity to create a character. As this is a role playing part, as long as I know my background, there is a certain amount of leeway I can bring to the performance. The goal is to create a realistic environment for the students in the program. Because when this program is over, these students go out into the real world.
Creating worlds is what the fall is all about with the film markets. Toronto just finished with AFM coming up in early November. Some of the discussions that I’ve seen on filmmaking sites talk about the importance of having a teaser to represent a project. I couldn’t agree more. It honestly doesn’t take too much effort to create a sample of what a project could look like. Although I love reading a good script, being able to see some sort of visual does help bring it to life.
As for bringing a project to life, I firmly believe not going broke in the process. Yes, we all want to see our written word come to life, but it seriously isn’t worth emptying a bank account or maxing out credit cards. About a month ago I learned that an indie film that was in post-production hell finally climbed out of it when a producer mortgaged their house to finish it. Seriously.
But whether it’s a teaser, short or feature film, you want to work with actors and crew that do their part. Let me be clear, professionalism has nothing to do with union status and everything to do on how you comport yourself during a project. Are you prepared? Do you know your character? Do you show up on time? Are you contributing to the project or taking away from it?
There are people I’ve worked with on both sides of the “camera” over the last ten years that I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again. If you look at my projects you see many similar names. But sadly, there are those that I just won’t engage with on a future project. Nothing is harder on a production than an actor not being prepared or a crew member not doing their job. Simply, there are too many people looking for an opportunity and to prove themselves in the process.
The one thing that I enjoy about this industry is discovering new talent. And that truly is what this industry is all about—talent. Because there’s a “talent” in bringing a project to life.
Yesterday I attended the annual World War II Saturday at Battleship Cove. While there seemed to be less reenactors than last year, I found it just as engaging and interesting. If I come away with having learned a few more moments during that time in history, it’s well worth the visit.
By example, I learned some interesting details behind the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Sure, I was generally aware that the United States and China had some sort of cooperation during the war, but when it’s illuminated it puts it in perspective. That “perspective” continued after SACO dissolved which was followed by China’s civil war.
Speaking of China, Justice Is Mind has been picked up by China Mobile as a flat licensing deal. As I understand from our distributor, it’s now going through censorship and localization on their end. It will certainly be a milestone to break into the Chinese market. One does not need to be a filmmaker or read the industry trades to know that China is one of the leading film markets.
Given the tumultuous state of U.S. box office revenue this year, it’s imperative that these foreign markets are available to filmmakers. For Justice Is Mind and First World our primary foreign market is the United Kingdom. I have also noticed that viewership in Japan is picking up. But one driving force that continues to put films front and center is the importance of a marketing plan.
I can’t tell you how many times the marketing plan for an independent film seems to begin and stop at the industry trades. Never mind when you read the first cut to studio budgets seem to be in marketing. As I have often said you can have the greatest project in the world but if nobody knows about it nobody will care.
As soon as I finish writing a script, I start working on the marketing plan in terms of a target audience. With distributors relying more and more on filmmakers to assist in the marketing plan, there really needs to be one in place before the first scene is shot. With First World it was science fiction conventions. With Justice Is Mind it was law schools and universities that focused on neuroscience. With Serpentine: The Short Program it was the Ice Network. Yes, like the aforementioned, films have their primary target audience then they broaden out from there.
Amazon is a perfect example of that. Someone might have heard about Justice Is Mind from our primary plan, but found the film on Amazon. Their algorithm then points customers to other recommended films. At that point the plan is relatively complete. But it all starts with that primary plan to push consumer awareness then generally continues with social media and other digital marketing tactics on an ongoing basis.
It’s hard to believe that it was five years ago this month that we were producing Justice Is Mind. Yet here we are five years later with new markets opening. The greatest thing about the world of film is discovery. It doesn’t matter when the film was made, it’s about when a customer learns about it for the first time. In today’s world of VOD a film no longer has a shelf-life.
Last Sunday principal photography on Serpentine, The Short Program wrapped! After eight months of writing and two months of pre-production planning, I was more than pleased with the end result. A special thanks to the cast, crew, location partners and sponsors for making this possible. After taking the past week to organize the video and sound files, the hard drive will transfer to our editor on Monday to begin the post-production process. It’s this stage that turns a puzzle into a completed print.
But make no mistake about this process, as an independent filmmaker you are pretty much responsible for everything…even the weather. And while I believe organization and communication are critical to a successful production, it does come down to both diplomacy and flexibility. A film production, whether it’s a short or a feature, is unlike any other type of business. You start by yourself and then suddenly ramp up. For Serpentine that meant over 30 people and three locations (for Justice Is Mind it meant over 200 people and 15 locations). As a screenwriter there is a thrill like none other than watching your screenplay come to life. Isn’t this why we do what we do?
For me this production was both a reunion as well as working with some terrific new people. It started with the FBI conference room scene at The Verve, Crowne Plaza. When Michael Coppola arrived I was immediately reminded of First World where he played a secret service agent. But it was the night before that I wrote an additional new scene for Michael and Vernon Aldershoff (Assistant Director in Serpentine and Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind). Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was to tell the cast and crew about a new scene when we didn’t even shoot the intended one! I waited to see if we were ahead of schedule and we were. It worked out great.
It was at Northstar Ice Sports that the word scope came into focus. First, I am beyond thankful to Denise Marco, the board and staff of Northstar for this opportunity. By scope I’m talking about the size of the set. It was about making sure all actors, cameras and crew were properly placed to make sure the scenes worked. For weeks I drew this out from the skating program, to camera and actor placements. What may not have seemed obvious to some would be very obvious in post-production.
Reuniting Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier from Justice Is Mind was a particular goal of mine from the beginning. Their on screen chemistry in Justice was what every director dreams of. So when they both signaled their availability for Serpentine I immediately signed them on to the project. As a director, there is also a comfort factor in terms of direction when working with actors that you know will deliver. In advance of our shooting I forwarded a detailed memo on character and scene development for all actors and crew. As time is a serious commodity on an independent film set, I think it’s best for everyone to understand the entire tone and feel of a scene when they arrive.
As a director I don’t believe in grandiose demonstrations of direction to actors and crew just to prove a point. In my simple view of it all, the most that should happen on set are adjustments. There’s no time to teach someone how to act on set. (Side note: On Justice Is Mind one adjustment I gave to an actress was how to say a particular phrase of profanity. I’ll just say this, it’s an American thing in terms of word emphasis and slang).
Our last day of filming was at a friend’s house. It was a fitting end to the production after coming down from two days of intense work at Northstar and the fact that there was only one line of dialogue. As I said to everyone, these scenes are largely atmospheric and what composers live for.
Another highlight of our week was when the MetroWest Daily News interviewed me about Serpentine and sent a photographer to our shoot at Northstar. Not only did they write an excellent article, but created a video as well. You can access both at this link.
Over the next few months I’ll be working on a variety of marketing and promotional efforts as we build towards our February release. During this time look for more stills, behind the scenes images and a trailer.
With posts for crew on New England Film, Stage 32 and the official website (casting for actors to follow soon), the Serpentine project is moving forward. While it’s always great to work with new people, I naturally reached out to those I’ve worked with on Justice Is Mind and First World. As so many of us see in this industry, it’s about established relationships while expanding your network. Yes, there are those I have worked with for years, while I know there will be new people I’ll meet thought this project.
So while I work on establishing a crew and securing locations based on a general idea of when we are going to shoot, there is the casting of the skater to play Suzanne Wilson. This is unlike any other actor I have ever cast. Not only does this skater have to have a “nationals” or “worlds” quality, but there is also the interest and ability to act along with necessary enthusiasm of making a film.
As one elite skater I talked with this past week rightly asked, “How long does this take to film?” As this skater has been a part of a nationals and has competed internationally, sure they have seen TV cameras. But that’s a one take show. I explained the wide, mid, close and insert shots. The camera angles, lighting, sound and, depending on a variety of factors, several takes of the same scene (personally I don’t believe in more than four). In short, it can be a bit overwhelming for a novice as it is a repetitive process.
While the “Search for Suzanne” continues, my advice to anyone that wants to get involved in this industry is to visit a set. Perhaps the easiest way to get involved is to submit to student films at local colleges that offer film programs (they always need people). Some say to be an extra in a “big movie” but I don’t agree with that as the nuances of the process are lost when you are part of a cattle call. Student films can be a lot of fun and a real eye opener. Just remember as they are student films it can very much be learn as you go and the end result can vary widely and wildly. I’ve been involved in some excellent student films and others that I will never post!
But as they say it has to start somewhere. My first TV appearance was on The Montel Williams Show in 1994. A very nice production assistant knew it was my first time on TV and pretty much told me what to expect in terms of the process. I promise you, the more you see the process the more things you pick up. After a while you learn what everyone does and why they do it.
Speaking of acting, one of my favorite museums Battleship Cove hosted a World War II event yesterday with various exhibits and reenactors. Not only is it a great history lesson, but the passion these actors have for their craft are truly Tony worthy.
“We are each the authors of our own lives, Emma. We live in what we have created. There is no way to shift the blame and no one else to accept the accolades.”
― Paul McGill in Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance
There have been many times that I have referred to this one quote from my favorite book. I even used it as a dedication of sorts in my book Frozen Assets. We all have books that we love and in the case of A Woman of Substance it is the character Emma Harte. In essence she grew up with nothing, worked hard, achieved great success against family strife and bulldozed her enemies along the way. It’s Barbara Taylor Bradford’s vivid writing that brings her world building and characters to life. And if you want to see one of the greatest book to mini-series adaptions click this link at Amazon.
And that brings me to the entertainment industry. I have been part of the industry in one form or another for over twenty years. I have made over 300 TV appearances and co-starred on a network TV show. I founded and published the world’s largest figure skating magazine for over a decade and produced a feature film in 2013 (Justice Is Mind), that was the 8th highest rated independent feature film on IMDb that year. Equal to that success was the epic loss of my publishing company in a brutal hostile takeover. That was an experience that I will never forget as it focused me relentlessly on one thing – resolve.
Those of us involved in the entertainment industry know it’s filled with rejections, hopes dashed and dreams that can turn into nightmares. But we also know that when an opportunity strikes it can shine light on your talent like you never thought possible. I’ve had both and, to be honest, it made me the person I am today. I will go to the ends of the Earth (and beyond!) to build a project and promote all associated to help further their own careers and goals. But cross me, take advantage of my work or try to claim it as your own and you will see a combined Emma Harte and Alexis Carrington Colby come out in full swing. It’s not pretty but always well documented. At this stage of my career I can be your best friend or your worse enemy. It’s your choice. Sadly someone this week chose the latter.
What I’m about to write is both a public statement and a warning to writers and creatives the world over. There are opportunists that look for shortcuts. People that don’t want to do the hard work but take advantage of yours. I promise you there are no shortcuts in this industry. Don’t let anybody kid you or tell you otherwise, everything starts with the written word. The writer is the foundation of all things in this industry. Without us actors, crew and the very machine that runs the industry comes to a grinding halt.
Like any independent filmmaker I am always pitching and presenting my work. Last weekend I sourced some agents and managers on Backstage.com. Unless they have a no unsolicited submissions policy, my pitch is pretty straight forward – brief intro of my experience, select loglines and links for more information. In essence a tight query.
Within hours I heard back from one manager that stated, “Thanks Mark. Can you send me a writing sample?” I responded in kind with a variety of links and my script for SOS United States. Now before someone says I shouldn’t have done that there are a few things to remember. First, the script is registered at the WGA (Writers Guild of America). Second, a professional doesn’t steal they review. Some, like an agency that reviewed First World last year, have you sign a submission agreement (fairly standard). Others, it’s just an email. Honestly, in all my experience and what I have seen, trying to get someone to sign a non-disclosure is a non-starter. It doesn’t work and just turns prospects off as it starts from a legal posture. However, in full disclosure, SOS United States has been sent to sales agents and industry representatives for review. Some are still reviewing, some have passed that’s just the way this process works. But what follows with this “agent” needs to be disclosed, because I really think I saw it all until this episode. So in the spirit of screenwriting, I will present it in three acts.
ACT 1 – SUBMISSION
Thanks Mark. How did you hear about us? SOS United States sounds intriguing. I will try to give it a read this week.
I heard about you from Backstage.com under agents and managers. Thank you for your comments on SOS United States. I call it a cross between Fail Safe and Seven Days in May (1964) meet Clear and Present Danger.
Have the studios seen it?
No they haven’t.
Great, we’ll get back to you soon. Thanks again for sending. I am actually from Massachusetts as well. Always looking for stories set there.
Sounds great. What a small world. Yes, we have great locations here in Massachusetts (and a great tax credit).
ACT II – PASSED
While conceptually it is very interesting, I think there is too much going on, too much information and in general it’s not easy to follow. I think you need to streamline the information and simplify in order for this to be effective. A film like the first Wall Street, took something complex and made it easy for most people to understand. I think that should be the goal for you as well. If you decide to work on it, I’m happy to take a look again but right now it is unfortunately a pass for us. Thanks again and stay in touch.
I appreciate the review.
We now pause in our story for the intermission. First, pay careful note to the film that this “agent” mentioned as it plays out when we return to our regular programming. Second, while having a project passed on is disappointing, no writer should immediately jump to their desk for a rewrite just because one person passed. You notice there are no notes with his comment. In all my communications with industry representatives this is where the conversation should have ended. Someone passes, you say thank you and everyone moves on. Brace yourselves as we now return to the program. I have XXXX out the name of the writer and the name of his father, but note again the film that this “agent” referenced and you can fill in the blanks.
ACT III – LAWYER
If you are interested, I might be able to get XXXX (the son of XXXX and a very talented writer) to do a rewrite. It would probably cost around 10k. XXXX is really into shadow governments and has done a great amount of research for other projects that dealt with them. Check him out online. He’s pretty famous. Let me know what you think.
That would be a pass for me. I’m not interested in having my screenplay rewritten by someone else, give them credit and pay for it in the process. That’s nuts! Also, fame in this industry doesn’t impress me. I’ve done enough TV myself.
XXXX has a brand name in film which helps open a lot of doors. I think a draft by XXXX would help it for sure. It would give the project some momentum and strengthen the script. He also produces and directs but he’s not a big enough name to direct something this big. He can also be helpful as a producer. If the script was in shape, we could take it straight to Warner Brothers where we are producing two movies with. But the script needs work.
I’m copying my attorney on this entire trail. This is lunacy. I see approaching you through your listing on Backstage.com was a mistake. You first pass on the project and then come back with a studio name. Like I’m supposed to be all excited. To add insult to injury you name a writer who, by your own admission, can’t get a project like this off the ground. Jesus, you must really think I’m desperate. You are ordered to delete SOS United States from your files. If you feel it is necessary to contact me again, contact Mr. Barry Bachrach.
(who included Barry in the cc)
Whatever dude, calm down. I was just making a suggestion on how I could make your project better. Please don’t contact me again.
Now let’s do some fact checking. First, let IMDb be your best friend. This “agent” has not produced a feature film. That doesn’t matter in the great context of things, but if you are producing something it shows up on IMDb if it’s in production (especially studio productions). Does he have projects in development at a studio? It’s possible, but nothing is listed and it’s the oldest trick in the book to throw a studio name out. I’ve been in studio pitch meetings I know how the process works.
Second, yes, this “writer” is the son of a “famous filmmaker” but is not represented by the “big” agency stated on his IMDb profile (I called the agency and checked) or nominated for any awards in screenwriting (I have been). This “writer” has three representatives listed. After learning that the second representative agency is out of business, I finally did reach his representative by phone with the third listing. The purpose of my call was to let this person know that their client was being represented by other parties, perhaps fraudulently, and to advise them of the situation. After a very pleasant phone call, I forwarded the entire email trail that included Barry’s information. Now, everyone has been notified.
Now let’s also make something else perfectly clear, I don’t know what this “agents” game was, but he lost. This is an industry where opportunists run rampant. They look for people desperate to be part of the industry. I am not one of them and that was this “agents” fatal error.
Let’s, for a moment, look at just how ridiculous this scenario was. It was proposed that I pay $10,000 to an unqualified writer with a famous father to take my idea and screenplay and turn it into something for them. And what’s in it for me? Oh, yes, the wonderful opportunity to be out $10,000 while someone else takes all the glory and credit for my work. You can only imagine the flurry of four letter words that I want to type here.
The one thing you never do in this industry is pay for access. It doesn’t work. This industry is built on relationships. If this “agent” was truly an industry professional the scenario would have been more along these lines, “I like SOS United States and feel it has some promise. What I’d like to do is show it to “so and so” at Warner’s. Just know that they may want to bring in another writer.” But that wasn’t the case. This “agent” was just looking for their own opportunity at my expense creatively and financially.
Should I have vetted this “agent” a bit better? Perhaps. Hindsight is always 20/20. But one never knows what opportunities exist unless you present. That is the risk we all take as creatives.
In the end SOS United States is out there. Did this “agent” delete it? I don’t know. Did they forward it? I don’t know. But what I do know is that with this post and my actions to protect myself legally and through notification to the “writers” representatives, I have documented this action. The one thing this “agent” should know is that I track this industry. Remember, I’m also a journalist. I also have my sources and contacts in the industry and if I get wind of anything, I will turn a quote from Taken.
“I don’t know what you want. But what I do have is a particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over many years. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”
Trivia note: Liam Neeson starred in A Woman of Substance and Taken.
Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy that is truly far far away, inhabitants of the planet Earth are eagerly awaiting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to hit theaters on December 18. We’ve seen the trailers, the stills and countless articles speculating on the story itself, but the latter is truly nothing less than a state secret – and well it should be. This past week on IndieWire even Mark Hamill stated, “I’m Not Even Authorized To Tell You I’m In Episode VII.”
When I was booked on Skating with Celebrities back in 2005 all of us involved in that show, including the studio audience, were sworn to absolute secrecy by an iron clad contract. The show was produced live to tape and then aired in early 2006. Yes, everyone I knew asked me in one way or another who won. Some were downright angry I didn’t confess the results and some were, ready, offended. Like I cared. You don’t risk an entire production and litigation to satisfy one person, who will tell another and so on.
There were so many things I learned on that show that I have taken to my filmmaking work. Like my contract with FOX, the agreements I put in place for Justice Is Mind had a photography and non-disclosure clause. Most were totally fine with it, but it did strike some as overly controlling. My on camera work up until Skating with Celebrities was mostly live so there was no need for a non-disclosure, but you quickly learn the reasons why such things are necessary. Think about it, do you want to risk giving away the ending to a project that has been years in development and lessen its commercial appeal? Even now, I don’t allow clips to be manipulated or edited without my written approval.
We very much live in a “look at me” society with social media leading the charge. Sadly, I see so many posts about submissions, meetings and auditions that I would want to keep off the radar. What if your film doesn’t get accepted? That meeting falls apart? You don’t get cast? At any given time I have more irons in the fire than I can sometimes keep track of (thank god I have my lists!). Unfortunately, premature announcements can derail a deal that may have come to fruition if given enough time.
One such deal that was months in the making was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Imagine if I had breathed a word of it prior to it being a done deal. Cunard just simply could have said they declined to screen the film, I would have had serious embarrassment written all over my face to say nothing of tarnishing the brand of a film I have worked on for years. In the end the timing worked out great. The deal came through right before one of our screenings. I announced it publicly in May 2014 prior to our screening at the Elm Draught House Cinema.
Perhaps one of the most famous plot secrets was around one of my favorite films Witness for the Prosecution. In addition to director Bill Wilder holding the last ten pages of the film from the actors until it was shot, the end credits of the film features the following “The management of this theatre suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” Starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, I highly recommend this 1957 classic.
But one thing that’s not secret was discovering that Justice Is Mind was named number two on a user created IMDb list. What film was number one on that list? Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Whether it’s an investor, theater or media outlet, it all starts with a cold call or cold pitch. I have always taken the position “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Sure we can all hope to be discovered at a “Schwab’s” or positing a proof of concept video to YouTube, but in the end it truly comes down to a pitch and then the presentation.
I have long discovered that it’s easier to pitch the office of a qualified investor than it is to a “Hollywood” production company. Why? A production company is fielding countless projects and they need that one thing to move any project forward—cash. I also have long believed in charting my own course rather than following the same route everyone else takes. Put it another way, I’d rather pull my car up to the front door than park blocks away.
Just this morning I was watching a video on IndieWire by writer/director Charlie Kaufman about his film Anomalisa (impressive wins at the Venice Film Festival). When asked why there was so much time between his projects, the Oscar winner stated freely a variety of challenges and that his film was made outside of the “studio system” and didn’t go the conventional route. The point? It doesn’t matter your credentials, this business takes a steady hand of determination and patience. Kaufman went on to mention that he was on this project for three years (his team also raised some funds on Kickstarter).
As some of you know, my political thriller SOS United States sees the Concorde fly again. Just yesterday an article on Road Warrior Voices revealed a determined group of investors and enthusiasts that may just bring the Concorde back. I’ve been following the steadfast voices behind this movement for the last couple of years. Their resolve, like those behind the SS United States ocean liner, is impressive. And, yes, I will be informing the group behind this hopeful return of the Concorde about SOS United States – with a cold pitch!
From script (2010), to short (2011), to feature (2012) to release (2013), Justice Is Mind has been a five year project. I remember those early days of pitching to the “establishment”. Why not. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do because everyone else is doing it? Sure, a deal can happen. But in the end, producing it independently outside of any system has brought far greater returns on so many levels.
Next week there’s an industry event taking place in Boston. I’m largely planning to attend because of a panel around drones. We used a drone in Justice Is Mind for the climatic end scene, but SOS United States calls for a substantial amount of drone shots. Imagine skimming close above the ocean only to rise up to take in the gravitas of the USS Massachusetts battleship as the President of the United States addresses the nation.
No this post isn’t about the five year mission about the Starship Enterprise (I love Star Trek), it’s about the concept, development, launch and marketing of an independent feature film called Justice Is Mind.
With our second anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic, it’s hard to believe that five years has gone by since I first started to write the screenplay. From the screenplay, to the short film Evidence to the feature Justice Is Mind, it is a journey I would do again in a heartbeat.
This past week Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in Justice Is Mind commented on Facebook, “How many movies are showing after two years? Just the classics, which means this one is definitely a classic!” Those words meant a lot. But it also meant something else that’s very important to remember, just because a film is released once and isn’t part of the “studio system” doesn’t mean that it can’t be released again and again.
Will Justice Is Mind become a true classic? Only time will tell. But the glorious thing about filmmaking now is that video on demand makes longevity possible. Gone are the days when a film is made and forgotten (unless it develops a cult like following). For me, it’s all about discovery. While I love contemporary independent films like The King’s Speech and The Imitation Game, it’s classics like Laura and Advise & Consent that are true finds for me. Then there is my passionate interest in 1950s science fiction (add The 27th Day to my list). But in the here and now there is Justice Is Mind to market.
This past week I finished up my interviews with the regional press. What will they report on? That’s up to them. But like I said last week, I try to always provide some sort of newsworthy hook. From the concept of the film, our screenings to date, the anniversary and the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust, all the reporters had their own take.
One asked if I would have done anything differently. Yes, there is one thing. I wouldn’t have wasted good money listening to “experts” about film festival submissions, I would have just planned a theatrical release from day one. Thankfully, I got wind of the festival world before our world premiere so I started working feverishly on our theatrical release in the summer of 2013. If you want to read an excellent article about the film festival world, check out this article. Bottom line, unless it’s a film market (Toronto, etc.), I’d much rather have my film screen in theaters dedicated to my film (with audiences paying for tickets) rather than having to play in a chorus with others. Sorry, I’m an “independent” filmmaker.
So as I continue to work on the final leg of the marketing and public relations push for Justice Is Mind’s second anniversary screening on August 18 at Cinemagic, I’m reaching the apex of the screenplay I’m adapting from the book Winds of Fall. Actually, that’s timing pretty good for a first draft to be finished by the fall.
The mission continues.
Exactly one month from today Justice Is Mind will celebrate its Second Anniversary on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Actors and crew continue to RSVP their attendance, traditional and social media is picking up, photographers are confirmed and the theater has the film. Believe me there’s still plenty to do with the media follow ups and general marketing push, but the event is tracking well. For me it comes down to planning and organization. Time moves quickly and before you know it you are seeing your event come up on the horizon.
When I was writing In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, there were a few things I wanted to make sure the sequel captured. First, the Miller family was still the nucleus of the primary story while key plot points from part one (Justice Is Mind) were expanded. In the case of In Mind We Trust it was the government’s involvement with mind reading and their partnership with Reincar Scientific. Also, when you consider TV shows like The Blacklist, Fringe, etc., audiences enjoy what I call “intelligent intrigue”.
I am pleased to present the concept trailer for In Mind We Trust. The trailer can be watched on Vimeo or YouTube. My aim with the concept trailer was to introduce elements from Justice Is Mind that carry forward into the sequel In Mind We Trust. From part one we know the United States government and intelligence agencies are, for some reason, involved with mind reading technology. The answers become clear in the sequel, thus the concept trailer sheds some light on where the story will go. And as the U.S. Supreme Court has now become the defacto policy maker in our government, the concept trailer, like the screenplay, ends at America’s highest court in the land.
Of course, I want to thank Daniel Elek-Diamanta for the tremendous score he wrote for the concept trailer. The gravitas of his score just brings the entire concept trailer to life. Those of you that have been following Justice Is Mind know that Daniel scored the entire film. Indeed, as one of our actors said recently, it’s worth the price of the ticket just to hear his score. For those of you that can’t make our screening on August 18, please visit www.justiceismind.com for VOD viewing options.
But the real new horizon this week was not a movie, it was the actual New Horizons interplanetary spacecraft and successful Pluto flyby on July 14. The word “stunning” doesn’t even begin to describe the quality of the images New Horizons set back to Earth.
I was a bit too young (4) to appreciate the Apollo 11 Moon landing, but the excitement shared around the world about New Horizons encounter with Pluto was truly one for the history books. From NASA’s scientific achievement to the sheer enthusiasm of audiences around the world waiting and watching for those early pictures. I can only imagine how the New Horizons team felt when they were waiting for the spacecraft to communicate after its closest flyby. Nearly ten years in space, and years of planning before that, and you are waiting for a signal, until…
New Horizons phoned home.
To learn more about New Horizons and its historic mission to Pluto, please click this link.
It’s hard to believe that the 2nd Anniversary of the world premiere of Justice Is Mind is coming up on August 18. I am, therefore, delighted to announce that Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts on August, 18, 2015!
To say time flies by would be an understatement. This is particularly true when you are doing the day to day marketing of a feature film. August 18 will mark the 21st screening since our world premiere. While Justice is available on VOD, there is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than to see your work on the big screen. And with Justice now also available in DCP (Digital Cinema Package) thanks to the Chatham Theatre, for the first time we may be seeing the film at its highest resolution. I thought our theatrical DVDs were great, but seeing a DCP sample of Justice several months ago was truly incredible.
It’s interesting when you set out to make a film, because you just don’t know what market forces and conditions are going to exist when your film is released. Case in point women in film. Who would have thought that the inequities of women in leading roles in films would be at such a forefront in the media? Thankfully, Justice Is Mind is evenly split between men and women. For me as a screenwriter it just makes sense from an overall “reality” point of view. As Reese Witherspoon told the Hollywood Reporter at the Produced By conference the other day, “I was just reading scripts, and the scripts were sort of diminishing. I just started to notice they were making less movies for women, and that meant less parts for women.” Thus, Witherspoon started to produce films a few years ago.
Speaking of women in film, Mary Wexler, who plays Judge Wagner in Justice Is Mind and is one of our producers, posted a wonderful article in New England School of Law Alumni Magazine about her work as a lawyer, involvement in the film and mention of the sequel In Mind We Trust. Her quote, “Justice allowed me to combine my love of acting and my passion for the law,” said it all for me.
Above all else, filmmaking is a passion. Yes, there is the important economic and commercial side, but at the end of the day filmmaking is just pure fun. For me whether I’ve been on set as a TV personality, actor, producer or director, I’ve loved every moment of it. Now having been fortunate enough to see a feature film of my own produced, and the journey it can take you on, yes, I plan to do this again..and again.
Just yesterday I passed the 30 page mark on the screenplay adaption of Winds of Fall, while some possible producing and financing partners are reviewing SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust. This is not an easy industry by any stretch of the imagination and is one of patience. When I read that over 30,000 films were being marketed at Cannes in some capacity or another, thankful for our accomplishments to date with Justice Is Mind doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.
A few months ago Michele Mortensen, who plays Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind and is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, asked me if I would give a lecture to her communications class about the importance of marketing communications and how you can build something from literally nothing. Suffice to say it was interesting encapsulating the last twenty years of my career into a one hour lecture this past week.
What I do isn’t rocket science (although I do write about rocket science!), it’s just common sense and takes time, lots of it. As I mentioned to the class, it is important to have a few good mentors you trust and who believe in you. Also, never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. When I was in high school and a teacher from the speech club told me not to think about doing anything on TV because I talk too fast, I can only hope that he saw one of my 300+ TV appearances. That example is an important one, because over the last twenty years I have done my best to steer clear of negative people and naysayers. I’ve always been someone that looks at the past as a guide for the present and a plan towards the future, but the one thing I don’t do is live in the past. That doesn’t move you forward.
From that first TV appearance on the Montel Williams show in 1994 to presenting Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, it has been one hell of a journey so far. While there have been many peaks, there have been just as many valleys. That’s just the world of business and life. Some things just take time to build.
This past week I heard from our distributor that another VOD platform has picked up Justice Is Mind. This is all about building for the next projects. The foundation has been well laid with the production and release of Justice Is Mind. Which project will be next on the horizon? It’s hard to tell. While In Mind We Trust makes perhaps the most sense at this stage, it could just as easily be First World and SOS United States given the state of the film industry and current events.
But through this all, and what was part of my lecture, is to be ready to seize the moment. That happened when I launched International Figure Skating, landed on Skating with Celebrities and secured the funding for Justice Is Mind. I had my materials ready. Whether it was a business plan, an acting reel or a script. In each of those cases, people that wanted to invest in me needed some additional information. At the time, I was top of their mind. Had I delayed, none of the aforementioned may have happened.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that marketing, communications and public relations is a continuous repetitive process. As I mentioned during my lecture, nobody is waiting for you to arrive, you have to tell them you’ve arrived.
As I approach the final pages of the sequel to Justice Is Mind (I’m at 116), I’m entering what is probably the most involved plot aspects of the story; providing closure to one of the greatest mysteries of World War II, the resurrection of Henri Miller and a landmark Supreme Court case. All of this takes research and, what I call, “fictional plausibility”. For me I take known facts and provide a fictional twist. This is nothing new in screenwriting, but I do believe that if factual history is attached it should be honored before fiction is applied.
Speaking of screenwriting, I was reading Peter Bart’s latest column in Variety titled “Hollywood No Longer Shows It Has the Write Stuff”. He goes on to say, sadly, that studios and some filmmakers are omitting thanks to that one person that needs to be thanked—the screenwriter. How many times do we hear the word “collaborative” in this industry? Well, the screenwriter is the reason why everyone in on set. Simply put, you can’t build a house without a foundation.
Bart quoted from one of my favorite directors, Billy Wilder, “I like to believe that narrative movement can be achieved eloquently and elegantly without shooting from a hole in the ground, without hanging the camera from a chandelier and without the camera dolly dancing a polka.” This isn’t to take away from great cinematography, and I do love my “Hitchcock” wide shots, but without a quality screenplay it just doesn’t matter what you shoot. This is why I’m such a fan of classic films. And give me a political thriller from the 1960s any day!
Speaking of industry trades, there was a great interview with Voltage Pictures president Nicolas Chartier in The Hollywood Reporter where he talked about piracy and the state of the industry. The one thing he said that struck me was, “the DVD business is dead.” I agree. I was in a Dollar Store yesterday and saw a bin of DVDs for sale for only $1. Yes, some were films I never heard of, but plenty had star power behind them. Sure DVDs are still sold, but you have to wonder what’s left for the filmmaker after all the expenses.
For years I have been a supporter of Video on Demand. VOD is simply one of the most dynamic and exciting distribution opportunities for filmmakers. With a responsible budget, it is a way to make money on a consistent basis. I could not be more pleased with Justice Is Mind’s placement on Amazon Prime and VHX (among others). Traffic continues to build on a daily basis.
But that traffic just didn’t materialize overnight. We aren’t The Interview with the world media behind us. No, what has largely been responsible was our theatrical run along with the numerous special event screenings including our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. Along the way we developed an audience, press and significant online entries. While a screenplay is the foundation to a solid film, a theatrical run is the foundation for VOD. It’s an equation that works.
So as I write the last pages of the sequel, I am hoping to soon announce our participation in a theatrical program that could bring Justice Is Mind to a theatre near you.