The forecast for First Signal’s world premiere on March 26 was for rain. One of the actors and I were actually tracking the weather during the day. Suddenly, as if instructed by Mother Nature, the sky cleared in the afternoon. While driving to the Greenfield Garden Cinemas to debut a film that I have arguably been working on in concept for over a decade, I was just slightly numb. While I was happy with the final result, I haven’t seen some of the actors and crew since we wrapped production in 2019. Naturally, I wanted them to be happy with it. But one thing was certain. After this past year, it was wonderful to be out socially. That was the overriding feeling of everyone—and having a world premiere was the icing on the cake.
Daniel Groom, the Director of Photography and Editor, arrived before I did. After a few moments of catching up we found ourselves in the theater for a few pictures. Then shortly thereafter, the actors started to arrive. In so many ways it was like I just saw them yesterday. After about an hour of pictures and catching up, First Signal was about to debut.
With my welcome speech concluded, I found myself in my seat with a bag of heavily buttered popcorn. My only worry was that the projection would stop or that there was some sort of error on the DVD. But before I knew it, I found myself actually being able to relax. The one hour and forty-two minutes went by pretty quickly. The moment First Signal cut to black the theater erupted in applause. I could not be more thankful to the cast, crew, theater and audience that made First Signal a reality.
One thing I realized this past week was the importance of a theatrical release. Whether it’s a one night, one week or one month engagement, the important thing for any film is to get “booked” by a theater. When your film is booked, it goes into a system that is linked to a variety of other sites. From IMDb to Rotten Tomatoes, it establishes the film from an industry point of view. I have to say I was pretty proud to report our box office revenue. Call me old fashioned, call me an elitist, it doesn’t matter—I’m just pretty damn proud that I was able to report “box office revenue” yesterday.
Soon First Signal will be released digitally, and an entirely new audience will be introduced to the film. There will be those that love it, those that hate it and those that will simply discover it. At that point, my director hat will hang on the wall, while I replace it with one that says marketing director. For the next several months it will be my job to promote the film across as many channels as I can. I do look forward to bringing First Signal to the world.
But putting aside accolades and achievements, there was something I noticed last Friday that needs to mentioned—support. There were some audience members that drove for hours to support either the theater, the film, the actors or all three. They were there because they knew the dedication, perseverance and drive that goes into this industry. Whether you own the theater, direct the movie, operate a camera or act in the film, this industry is about community. It’s about like-minded people coming together for a moment to provide that one thing that can unite us all – entertainment and an escape to an imaginary world.
The day after First Signal had its world premiere, I received an email from a woman who took her grandson and great grandson to see the film, “Your film was enjoyed by myself, 16 y.o. grandson, and 11 y.o. great grandson on Saturday at Garden Cinema. Congratulations, thank you for sharing your artistic creation of a fantastically believable story that was very interesting, well-acted and just plain fun. Stepping over the threshold of the theater was itself mesmerizing and just got better from there. My heart was warmed by the minutes the boys excitedly shared their particular thoughts and impressions about the intelligence-based film as we drove home.”
And that ladies and gentlemen is why we do what we do.
A couple of weeks ago I sent an update to the actors and crew of First Signal about what our release strategy may look like. I believe, if all goes according to plan, our first theatrical screening will be sometime in October. I hope that follows with additional theatrical and festival screenings into the second quarter of 2021 with a VOD release around May.
As someone who reads the trade publications, I see how release dates and general overall strategy is changing on a daily basis. This article in The Hollywood Reporter today, pretty much summed up the current state of the industry. Fortunately for First Signal, the film itself wrapped principal photography last year and just finished post in early June. So, all things considered, our release strategy hasn’t changed all that much.
I do believe one of the real issues that’s going to face this industry next year is available inventory of new product. With very little being produced over the last several months, eventually this empty space will catch up to the industry. I believe this is why we are seeing studios and distributors stagger their releases from the 3rd quarter of this year into 2021. They need commercial films to bring audiences back to theaters. Honestly, who really wants to see a previously released movie in a theater when you can watch it from the comfort of your sofa for a fraction of the price? Of course, I would love to see classics return to the silver screen. Particularly those from the 1930s, 40s and 50s!
So far, the festival market is going well for First Signal. I was delighted to receive a Best Director win from the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival last week. To receive an accolade of this stature from a festival is truly an honor. This is all about building a momentum so when First Signal goes to VOD, a hopeful following has built up for the film. From a media point of view, there is so much noise to cut through to get noticed.
The release strategy I’m looking to employ is the model I did with Justice Is Mind. It started with a world premiere followed by a limited theatrical and special event run before it went to VOD. My feeling with Justice, and now First Signal, was to follow the studio model. If it works for them, why try to reinvent the wheel? I just adapted it for the scale of my project. At the end of Justice Is Mind’s run, we had numerous media reports and reviews that helped propel the film when it was released on VOD.