August 18, 2013. Five years ago today I was in Albany, NY for the world premiere of Justice Is Mind. The idea for Justice came to me in 2010 when I came across a 60 Minutes story about Thought Identification “mind reading.” I was researching mind reading “computers” when I was writing the sequel to First World. Yes, I finished writing the sequel. But no sooner was my Final Draft software cooling down and it was fired up again to write Justice.
I’ve often written about the development of Justice. The endless pitch to producers and financiers started at the script stage. Then I produced a short film version Evidence to develop interest in the project. After a couple of theatrical screenings and media the financing came together to produce the feature. Let me just say that 2012 was a whirlwind of a year. But in the end, over 10 crew, 100+ actors and 15 locations came together. Even post production into 2013 went relatively smoothly. Justice enjoyed a limited theatrical run, screenings at law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth (yes, that was a highlight!). The film is now available worldwide on VOD.
When you’re an independent filmmaker the completion of a feature film is a milestone that should be enjoyed and celebrated. As I see with so many in this industry, they worry incessantly about the next project when working on the current one. There were only a couple of occasions during Justice when a few people tried to get out of commitments because of an audition or other project they wanted to be part of. I’ve always believed in giving your maximum to every project you’re involved in. You worry about the next one after the fact.
It’s one thing to attend a film premiere for someone else’s project, it’s entirely another to attend one for your own. For nearly two years after our world premiere, so many of us attended the screenings together. For a while we were like a traveling road show! These weren’t film festivals, they were theatrical screenings. There is nothing more gratifying as a filmmaker than seeing your film on a marquee next to mainstream “Hollywood” productions. You work like hell to make the film, but seeing it in the market is in one word – gratifying.
A feature film isn’t about the “cool” photos behind the scenes of making it, it’s about creating the world around it so when it’s released there’s a place in the market for it. An acting friend of mine last year coined the phrase “the milk carton movie” for those films he was involved in that never saw the light of day. There were essentially “missing.” I couldn’t even fathom making a movie that sits on a shelf waiting for someone else to decide its fate. Film festivals are fine enough if you get into the top tier from an awareness point of view, but as a filmmaker you don’t see ten cents of box office from them. More importantly why would I want to share the public relations spotlight with other films? I remember only too well when we had a screening for Justice at a major university and, unknown to me, there was a small film festival in town that weekend. A reporter said to me they only had so much space and simply couldn’t accommodate everyone. Well, thankfully our screening went well because it was marketed internally and had some scientific personalities attending. That was a lesson to be learned.
As I now venture into the world of First Signal, I look back on the days of Justice Is Mind with great fondness and realize what’s possible when the right team comes together. I’ll never forget what one of the stars of Justice said to me at our last theatrical screening in March, 2017 “This never gets old.”
No, it doesn’t.
During the course of any week there are a mountain of activities I try to accomplish. From pitching media, potential marketing partners, additional distribution outlets, theatres and investors. It’s just part of the world of independent filmmaking and making your voice heard in a literal sea of other projects. The word “filmmaker” means a bit of everything these days.
Just this week Jon Reiss published a post on Seed & Spark that claimed 30,000 – 50,000 films are produced on an annual basis with limited (if any) distribution options. Yes, I have come across filmmakers that after the “one big screening” you never hear about that film again. Or, worse, they thought film festivals were going to be the answer for revenue. At the end of the day, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer because every film is different. For me, it just comes from a near obsessive drive to market my projects and controlling my rights. I’m fine with signing some rights away if the deal makes sense—but it has to make sense not only for the film but for the wallet as well. Bottom line, I, along with so many others, have worked too hard to see something disappear.
When I was publishing magazines, my former staff can attest to my determined push to give the magazines their widest possible distribution. The same holds true for my film projects. I’m not going to wait for opportunity, you present an opportunity for someone to consider. The world of filmmaking, is getting more competitive and involved from a technical and logistics point of view. But in my opinion, it’s also opening a world of opportunities. It’s just like auditioning. You might go for fifty auditions, get five callbacks and maybe one gig. The same is true when I presented Justice Is Mind for our theatrical release. I probably pitched fifty plus theatres. In the end a dozen picked up the film and we had a theatrical release with reportable revenue.
This weekend I finished some editing updates on In Mind We Trust the sequel to Justice Is Mind. My next steps in the process are the development of a business plan and laying the ground work. But like I do for First World and SOS United States, I present these projects in multiple levels. Yes, all three of these projects can be produced on the “indie” route or could involve a “mid-studio” level budget. It really just comes down to what makes sense.
If there is one thing that came out of the Academy Awards this year was that independent films were front and center. The studio system is sadly leaning primarily towards tent poles and super hero films. While I have no issues with that (I loved the Man of Steel), it will, simply by market demand, create opportunities for smaller films. As one of our supporters who saw Justice Is Mind in a theatre said on Facebook this morning, “I thoroughly enjoyed Justice is Mind and am certain that the sequel will be just as good, if not better. I also feel that Justice is Mind was far superior to many of the films that hit local theaters.”
While any filmmaker loves comments like that, I also know that Justice Is Mind has not been for everyone. That’s the world of filmmaking or any performance art, you develop a thick skin that accepts both accolades and admonishment.
This week should start pretty interesting. I’ll be testing Variety Insight & Vscore’s service for the next couple of days. I had a demo on Friday. It’s a fascinating and comprehensive service.