Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.
Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.
In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.
After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.
Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!
After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.
But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.
First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.
Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.
Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…
This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Hoopla. To quote from their Facebook page, “hoopla digital partners with public libraries across North America to provide online and mobile access to videos, music and audiobooks. Enjoy thousands of movies, TV shows, videos, music and audiobooks that library card holders can borrow from their public library.” As I wanted to get Justice Is Mind into libraries at some point, our placement on Hoopla just took care of that across the United States.
When I say some point, I talk about a possible DVD for Justice Is Mind. Yes, on the back burner, is the possibility of making a DVD for Justice. I say possibly, because anyone that’s involved on the distribution side of the industry knows that profits in this sector have sunk like the Titanic (particularly for indie-films). Just go into any Wal-Mart and see the studio quality films in the $5 bin or even more market reality when you see a studio film at a dollar store for well a dollar. Because digital distribution doesn’t really involve a manufacturing component, it’s simply easier to execute on a domestic and international level. But believe me there are costs involved for VOD. Let’s just say that closed captioning in languages other than English gets a bit pricey.
There was a pretty good article on IndieWire this week titled “You Can’t Bulls—t’ And 6 More Revelations On How To Market An Indie Film.” I could not agree more with this statement “Even in the age of VOD, nothing beats the theatrical experience.” As I saw with Justice Is Mind in terms of audience and media placements, nothing does beat a theatrical experience. Simply, when you gather a group of people into a room to see a film it becomes a shared experience. There wasn’t one screening of Justice in which attendees didn’t ask questions or discuss the film after in the lobby.
When I set out to write a new screenplay I’m already thinking of how the project will be placed in the market. What angles does it have that I can pitch to a theater, distributor, school or convention? First World was a pretty straight forward science fiction film. But as a psychological sci-fi thriller, Justice Is Mind is a bit of a genre hybrid. But the one common theme was the ethics around mind reading and it’s possible, if not probable, ramifications on society.
While some in the industry complain that there are too many movies being made, I believe there’s never enough. Because there are always those hidden gems that one can discover and promote. The gem in the world of distribution is in fact VOD. When you have library after library of films available to stream instantly, they certainly take up less space than a DVD! But don’t get me wrong, I do love my DVD collection.
It’s these new platforms like Hoopla that offer a terrific new avenue of options to Amazon and Netflix (Justice is on Amazon). More importantly, and call me old fashioned, Hoopla works with libraries. When you have traditional publishing working with digital publishing, the experience can only be a positive one because it yet again gives the customer that one thing they want – choices.