There is something very satisfying about being at the near halfway mark in the novelization of SOS United States. First, this particular writing exercise has enabled me to not only get very close to this story but to enhance it accordingly. Some areas in the screenplay that I believe will work well on the silver screen, really needed to be expanded on in this forum.
One thing I have learned in a screenplay, versus a book, are the constraints of time. Generally, a screenplay is anywhere from 90-120 pages. I promise you there is no right or wrong length. Screenplays need what they need to tell a story. By example Justice Is Mind was 120 pages (2 hours/33 minutes) while First Signal was just 82 (1 hour/42 minutes).
While I’m not sure where the novelization of SOS United States will conclude page wise, it does seem to be moving in the right direction (as an aside, the associated screenplay is 120 pages). Of course, I have already thought about the marketing aspects of the book once the manuscript is completed. However, I have tabled any action on those elements for now as I don’t want the distraction. Simply, while I do have the script to keep the story on track, there are too many elements in SOS United States that warrant undivided creative attention.
On another front, First Signal continues to perform well in the VOD world. I can’t believe it will be two years in April that the film was released – four years since the film was produced! As the film is still performing financially, with Tubi receiving the most traffic, I still continue to market the title.
Sadly, I see so many filmmakers “forget” their past projects while working on something new. While I understand the need and want to move on to the next, it is the past that brought us to these points. Honestly, weekly social media posts and some paid advertising (if the revenues warrant it) are well worth it when the quarterly checks arrive from the distributor.
I am asked on a weekly basis by First Signal’s fans when I plan to put the sequel into production. This I can promise, once the first draft of SOS United States is completed, I can revisit the First World Universe and the sequel First Report. The key with First Report is that it is actually two films (Part 1 and 2) or a limited series (several episodes). Regardless of how/when it’s completed, it’s nice to know that there’s an audience waiting to see it. I just hope it doesn’t take as long as Avatar (15 years)!
There is an aspect of First Signal and the greater First World Universe that keeps this story front and center. That is the ever-increasing reports on UFOs, UAP’s and the like. Just two weeks ago the Pentagon released a long-awaited report about this phenomena that stated, according to Space.com, “171 reported UAP sightings remain “uncharacterized and unattributed.”
Just what makes up these 171 sightings? We aren’t talking about 1 or 2 or even a couple of dozen. At 171 there is every reason to believe that there is validity, not only to what I postulate in First Signal, but to other stories that revolve around the UFO universe. Two questions beg an answer.
Have extraterrestrials visited us? If they have, are they still here?
As the search for locations continues for SOS United States, I went to Newport yesterday for a day trip and took my drone (DJI Spark) in the hopes of producing some interesting shots. It was in Newport four years ago where I shot The Breakers along with various images of the ocean. While shooting The Breakers was a grand “Gilded Age” experience, it was practicing against the wind at the ocean that was the most important as I prepared to produce First Signal.
When I was directing First Signal in 2019, there were some particular drone shots that we had to get right. First, it was raising the drone to its recommended maximum of 400 ft to allow for a VFX spaceship to be inserted between the drone and the actors on the field. Then there was the lower shot of Major Sampson driving onto the field and General Reager arriving at Chièvres Air Base. Honestly, perhaps one of the most difficult to achieve for steadiness was the pull back shot when President Colton was sitting at the conference table.
Although inside shots have limited space to operate, the one thing they don’t have to contend with is wind. I count myself lucky that on the days we needed to use the drone when producing First Signal, the wind was minimal. While the DJI Spark can withstand speeds of up to 17 mph as it has wonderful stabilization technology, it really is impossible to tell wind speed at 400 ft from ground level. And the dreaded phrase you hear so many say during filming, “Fix it in post,” only goes so far when trying to steady an overly shaky shot.
My advice to anyone using a drone for professional purposes—practice! I know it sounds obvious, but so much must be taken into consideration as time is usually the one thing you don’t have much of when producing a film. As the DJI Spark battery only lasts 16 minutes, you really need to carefully plan your shots. Another recommendation is to have a couple of extra batteries. I learned the latter the hard way when practicing using only one battery. As an independent filmmaker you want to economize but given that the batteries take about an hour or so to recharge, that’s an hour lost on set.
In SOS United States there are a few drone shots that are not only sweeping but require careful timing (if anything owing to battery life). In SOS, we are flying along the ocean and then rise up to see the President of the United States addressing an audience on a battleship (I hope it’s the USS Massachusetts). While the shot itself won’t take more than a couple of minutes, it’s truly about getting everything ready for that call to action. When we do produce this scene, I’ll recommend two-three drones for redundancy. If one of them gets in the shot we decide to use, that drone can always be removed in post.
With time passing from First Signal’s release, the one thing that isn’t is profitability. While I love producing, I also don’t mind saying, I also love profits. I honestly didn’t know how First Signal was going to do in the VOD world on its release. There are so many films competing for eyeballs these days, but First Signal found an audience and broke through. To those that have supported this endeavor, my sincere thanks to all of you.