Last week my first feature film, Justice Is Mind, went live on YouTube’s Stash TV through FilmHub. While I continue to do “maintenance” marketing for Justice, the big push is relatively over as the film was released in 2013. But then in August numerous articles were published about advances in mind-reading technology. When I was reviewing the film to promote the recent media and then the YouTube placement, I realized that the story itself takes place in 2024 a year after “Congressional approval” of the FVMRI process in 2023. One asks, where does the time go!
As I approach 2023, another film is now top of mind – SOS United States. Like Justice Is Mind, SOS United States requires multiple locations. These locations are specific in terms of look and function. Of course, at the time I thought securing the dozen or so locations for Justice Is Mind was going to be impossible. But one by one they started to come together. Flash forward to 2018 and I was experiencing some challenges to secure the primary filming location for First Signal. In the end, our location came through with The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.
When “Hollywood” produces a film they can easily secure any location they want. If they can’t find it, they build it. In both cases there are substantial fees paid. But as an independent filmmaker, I rely on securing trade marketing partnerships. By trade I simply mean this, a location provides us the opportunity to film and then I promote the location in our marketing. No monies change hands. This is a practice I’ve been employing in all my films since I produced First World in 2006. It’s a practice that has served my films and marketing partners well.
Having completed the cost analysis, next week starts the location search in earnest. If the locations can be secured, I’ll announce pre-production status for SOS United States. The production plan would be to start principal photography by summer 2023 in the same production fashion as we did with First Signal (weekend and select weekday filming).
I remember like it was yesterday when I secured the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston for First World. It was that moment when I realized that a trade partnership was possible for a premium location. The hotel granted us a one-day use of their Presidential Suite which served as the residence of the Secretary of State. While First World may have been an independent short film, it didn’t have to look like one.
Another element of First World that will be recreated in SOS United States, is a motorcade for the President of the United States. While it obviously won’t be the forty plus vehicles in a traditional motorcade, I am determined for it to have the necessary gravitas. Of course, what’s available now that wasn’t in 2006 is the ability to add vehicles via VFX.
Thankfully, this technology is available to independent filmmakers. In SOS United States the second-generation Concorde appears as Commonwealth One the official state plane of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When I first watched The Man in the High Castle and saw the Concorde styled jet, I researched who the VFX house was and how they created this iconic craft. Needless to say, the results were pretty impressive.
This all being said, I have confidence in one thing that’s completed and ready to go…
Over the last few weeks I have been reviewing SOS United States and breaking down the script by location for a cost analysis. While I would love nothing more than to realize a multi-million-dollar budget to produce this political thriller “Hollywood” style, I’m also a realist. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it could literally take years (if ever) to achieve that type of production.
As I’m often on a weekly call with a filmmaker organization, I hear the same stories from exasperated screenwriters. Their stories all fall along the same lines; their screenplay has done well in festivals, it has been reviewed and analyzed by industry experts, a comprehensive look book has been created along with a filmed teaser. One screenwriter filmed the first 20 minutes of their 90-minute screenplay to show what it would look like as a finished product. You can imagine I wondered why they just didn’t produce the whole thing?
This all being said, I am breaking down SOS United States to produce as an independent film akin to what I accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal. As the script has been well received by film festivals winning a variety of awards, and has been read among my peers, I’m confident about the story. The rest? Well, it’s about securing cooperative locations along with a talented cast and crew. If the following months go well, hopefully SOS United States will be in production by early Summer 2023 with a 2024 release date.
While I work on SOS United States for production, First Signal continues to do well in the market. With our YouTube placement alone garnering over 1.1 million views, the audience and interest in the First World Universe is certainly there. Those that support the film regularly asks me when the sequel will be released. For First Report and First Launch, I am aiming to secure outside production financing as I believe the “franchise” deserves it for the next phase.
But there is one thing that all films require—a fair and equitable marketplace for our product. Over the last several weeks there has been considerable drama around the release of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. It has been reported that Amazon spent between $715 million to $1 billion on the project. One can appreciate they want to protect their product. But the one thing that can’t be controlled are audiences. Amazon’s attempt to do that by suspending ratings and reviews on Rings of Power has created an unlevel playing field in addition to an unfair business practice.
As I learned from the release of First Signal in particular, audiences either love your film or hate it with a smattering of “middling” reviews. While I would love for Amazon/IMDb to remove all reviews below a 7, I know that isn’t going to happen. But Amazon/IMDb did just that for Rings of Power. At one point First Signal had more reviews on IMDb than Amazon’s new $1 billion dollar property.
As an independent filmmaker we are told time and time again that a high rating and solid reviews will lead to more distribution opportunities. The work I have put in to keep First Signal’s rating as high as possible has been, to use a word I often use in this industry, herculean. But to see a company like Amazon manipulate ratings and reviews to benefit one of their properties at the expense of the rest of us that promote the Amazon machine, is just a horrid business practice—but now it is a precedent that Amazon alone has created.
One of Amazon’s baseless defenses is that because the series is well reviewed, audiences therefore by edict must love it. But then you look at The Terminal List that was beyond panned by critics but loved by audiences. As Amazon has established the precedent, perhaps they should remove the critics?
My point to all this is a simple one and is a lesson from history we should all remember – when you attempt to silence voices you only give them a larger platform to speak.