It should come as no surprise that I monitor First Signal (and Justice Is Mind) on a regular basis. This involves checking their respective IMDb and social pages along with various searches. In today’s world, it’s too easy for a page to get hacked, manipulated or commented on that requires a correction. But then there are the moments that yield good news.
This past week First Signal went live on Vudu. To quote from Wikipedia, “Vudu is an American digital video store and streaming service owned by Fandango Media.” Fandango, and their subsidiary Rotten Tomatoes, are leading services of film listings, ticket sales, review aggregators, streaming services and related information. With Vudu’s listing, this brings First Signal’s platforms to six representing global reach.
As I reflect on the reach that First Signal now has, I was reminded about a day on set when one of the actors asked me if First Signal would get released. Sadly, in the independent film world, it happens more often than not, that films are not released. I promised this actor that as my name was at the top of this film, it would get a release.
When we learned last week about the cancellation of Batgirl with its $90 million budget, the general response was, “They already spent $90 million just release it to digital.” First, there are countless reasons why this film may never see the light of day. I believe The Critical Drinker hit the nail on the head on why Batgirl was shelved. If the film was going to get a theatrical release, they would have to spend tens of millions more to market it. For a digital release, the general reasoning was quality of the film from test audiences. In their view, the studio would rather take a tax-deductible loss over bad reviews, audience displeasure and a very probable public box office bomb. But whatever the true reason is, film cancellations do happen.
For me, I truly believe this process starts with a sound script that when reviewed is looked at for the entertainment value, not the delivering of a message or particular point of view. The latter should be relegated to documentaries, when you know from the get-go what you’re getting into. Audiences are particular. Their currency in cash and promotion is invaluable. As a screenwriter and filmmaker, my goal is to entertain across a targeted genre and demographic. As Samuel Goldwyn famously said, “If I want to send a message I’ll use Western Union.”
A few days ago I released my Director Reel. You can imagine the challenge in reviewing hours of footage and seeking to select scenes that represent my work. At the end of the day, this is an industry of opinion, review and judgment. We aim to entertain with the ideas we create in our minds. The work in bringing these ideas to life is a challenge like none other. But when everything comes together from the completion of the film to embracement of audiences, it is a challenge worth accepting.
The progress toward a milestone I was tracking happened early last week. First Signal was viewed over 1,000,000x on YouTube. When Indie Rights, our distributor, placed First Signal on the site I honestly didn’t know how it would be received. What I did know, that unlike Amazon and Tubi, I would know how many viewed the film and then there would be the public comments. It didn’t take long for me to discover that First Signal found its true audience on YouTube.
This is one of those milestones that all of us associated with the film can be proud of. Who would have thought that a truly independent film such as First Signal would receive so much attention and solid commentary. Suffice to say, I could not be more pleased. Of course, the goal is to build on this popularity when I introduce the First World Universe to producers.
One thing I have learned about releasing and marketing an independent film is that the process is ongoing. The model I follow is what I see the studios do (of course on a much smaller budget!). There is the primary marketing push leading up to and during the theatrical run. Then another big push for the VOD release followed by steady promotion to keep the film visible. And that really is the goal, to stay visible.
When you consider the number of films just being released on Amazon, Tubi, Netflix and YouTube alone, staying visible is a challenge. Visibility in the eyes of the consumer requires a consistent message. In the case of a film, I’m asking for someone to watch it. Some may watch immediately on release, while others may take months to decide only to do so because they see a steady bit of marketing.
Another project I am actively working on is my director’s reel. While my personal website has a variety of on camera reels, I realized I don’t have a reel that illustrates my work as a director. For the last month I have been watching all my films and selecting scenes that I believe look interesting. Once I finish the selection process, I’ll aim to put together some sort of storyboard so when the reel is viewed it’s just not random clips, but imagery that ties into some sort of cohesive story set to a score.
Reviewing all my films has certainly been a trip down memory lane. I was living in Los Angeles when I put together the short film version of First World. Thankfully, I worked with a talented filmmaker and VFX wiz by the name of Adam Starr to bring it all together. Then there was the short film, Evidence, to see if my concept about mind-reading technology in the courtroom sparked interest. Within a year of the completion of that short the feature length version of Evidence, Justice Is Mind was in production. Justice was no small production with over two hundred people involved on both sides of the camera! But then my interest returned to figure skating when I produced the short film version of my political thriller Serpentine with The Short Program. Perhaps someday that project will be produced as a feature.
But not everything in this business happens immediately. I produced First World in 2006 and it took until 2019 to bring the First World Universe to life with the production of the first feature film in the series – First Signal. During a lunch with an agent friend while I was at the American Film Market in 2019, he remarked my steadfastness and commitment to see this new franchise come to life. You see, we had a lunch in 2005 when I completed the screenplay for First World. Let me just say, that time does fly by!