Since I returned from AFM last month, in addition to post-production work, I’ve been building out the marketing and release strategy for First Signal. For marketing, it’s about verifying media contacts, researching new outlets, creating talking points and a million other details. The goal is to create awareness and reach First Signal’s intended audience. I don’t shirk those responsibilities. In fact, it’s part of my job as a filmmaker.
The one thing that was painfully apparent at AFM, albeit not surprising, was the limited marketing/pr resources that a sales agent/distributor was going to bring to any single title. This is not necessarily the fault of the agent/distributor, it simply comes down to resources. If they have a couple of hundred films in their respective catalog, there is only so much time they can allocate. But at the end of the day, they must have some sort of plan—especially if they want to charge for it.
I recently turned down a contract from a sales agent. While the contract was littered with tens of thousands of dollars in fees, there was no marketing and release strategy for me to review. It was simply, send us your film (at considerable expense), we’ll see if we sell it, but we’ll still charge the film along the way. Um..no thanks. It shocks me that these one-sided contracts still exist. To turn a phrase “Send it and forget it” does not apply to film distribution.
Post-production is well on its way for an April completion. I wrote the trailer up just over a week ago. The VFX areas of the film are on their way to our visual effects supervisor. Every Sunday for the last few weeks I receive a section of score to review. Although I believe it’s important to maintain a schedule with an end date, it’s equally important not to be rushed. On the marketing side, I have a general idea of where and when I see our first screening. Will it be a “world premiere” or just a private screening? That I’m not sure yet, but plans are moving forward.
My notes for the sequel to First Signal are starting to turn into some actual writing. I generally have the concept for the beginning and end. The sequel will be a continuation of events in First Signal while incorporating a good part of the storyline from my ebook First World: Covenant. I can always tell when the motivation to start writing again hits me—an idea for a scene or line comes to me and I stop what I’m doing and note it.
EXT. THE PLANET SHINAR – 8282 BC
Satellite images of the Earth like planet Gliese 581 d come into view.
Good afternoon my fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the military buildup on the Channel Islands in the Southern Provinces.
No, this post isn’t about NASA’s new launch system but the systems created to produce the independent feature film First Signal. Since I returned from AFM a month ago the pre-production process has ramped up for a May 2019 production start date.
The process of bringing a film to life is one of organization and planning. Whatever I’ve produced, from magazines, commercials, events and films, the more I can execute in pre-production the easier the actual production is. Once production starts the train has left the station. You can only hope you’ve laid all the necessary tracks to complete the journey.
These tracks begin with rounding out the cast. Starting next weekend and into early 2019, auditions will commence for a few roles. With the majority of our filming taking place at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, we can now plan accordingly from a production point of view.
However, before one scene is even shot, I’ve already started to lay out the general plans for First Signal’s marketing and release. While these plans may ultimately change, I think it’s important to have a good idea where you want to go so when you get to that destination you’re prepared. There’s simply too much time and money involved to not think of release plans. One thing is certain, in this age of independent film, you have to take the long view. Anyone going into this industry looking to make a quick impression (or buck) is in the wrong business. Case in point Justice Is Mind: released in 2013 to a limited theatrical run and now available on Amazon Prime and other outlets, it’s still being pitched for other opportunities and promoted on social media.
With First Signal’s URL reserved and social media already active, one of my next steps is to build the website. Although I was aware of it before I attended AFM, the one thing I was cognizant of was the countless number of films in various stages of production all looking for attention. Being a filmmaker isn’t just about shooting the film, you also need to be the marketing communications department. It’s simply one of the many hats you have to wear. Trust me, distributors will ask about your films online presence.
Prior to writing First World back in 2006 I would follow the film industry like most of the free world. You would learn about an upcoming film from TV, print or radio and then you would go to the theater and watch the film. From what I can remember most films in the late 70s, 80s and 90s had pretty good attendance in their first few weeks of release. Of course, VHS and DVD added substantially to the coffers and was a welcome lifeline to films that underperformed at the box office.
As I did in publishing over two decades ago, it’s one thing reading a magazine, it’s another learning how that magazine arrived in your hands from an industry point of view. But like that industry’s transition from print to digital, the independent film industry is also going through this same painful process. This article in Variety pretty much summed up the latest Toronto International Film Festival.
It’s one thing when you work in publishing and you’re managing a downturn in paid circulation (thankfully I never had to experience that), it’s entirely another when someone or some company has advanced seven to eight figures to produce a movie and is waiting for a distribution deal to materialize. The magazine has revenue, albeit less, the film has zero. Because there is so much misconception about the independent film industry, let me be clear—just because a film gets into a major film market/festival is no guarantee of distribution. There’s also nothing wrong and everything to gain win self-distribution.
What I firmly believe this all comes down to is budget and marketing. Of course everyone needs to make a living, but there needs to be a reality check on what can seriously be recouped domestically and internationally. It’s no longer about just getting the film produced, it’s about making an effort with a marketing plan to reach a target audience. Marketing takes time. Believe me when I tell you it takes longer to market a film than make it.
I don’t know. Call me old fashion or just a consummate planner. There are some solid lessons to be learned from the magazine industry. I just couldn’t deliver my magazines to our distributor and wait for revenue to roll in, I had to market on a regular basis. I had to bring enough awareness to my magazines to either get a paid subscription or a single copy newsstand buy. This all has to sound familiar if you’re a filmmaker. How do you get people to watch your film or buy it?
Stacey Parks asked in one of her blogs “You Making Money on Amazon?” Every month I get paid from Amazon from my four films running on their platform. Yes, some do much better than others. But there are sales every month. I post three times a week to their respective Facebook pages that auto post to their Twitter accounts and other broadcast functions I have set up. Google Alerts notify me of an interesting article that may warrant a pitch to an editor or, yes, a film financing entity or producer.
This all being said, I strongly believe in the future of independent filmmaking. For me the glass is always half full not half empty. It’s about coming up with a solution to a problem and seeing it through. I always pity the naysayer that says to me, “You can’t do this or that because…” Those are the people you give a wide berth to as you have, a…
Yesterday I attended the annual World War II Saturday at Battleship Cove. While there seemed to be less reenactors than last year, I found it just as engaging and interesting. If I come away with having learned a few more moments during that time in history, it’s well worth the visit.
By example, I learned some interesting details behind the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Sure, I was generally aware that the United States and China had some sort of cooperation during the war, but when it’s illuminated it puts it in perspective. That “perspective” continued after SACO dissolved which was followed by China’s civil war.
Speaking of China, Justice Is Mind has been picked up by China Mobile as a flat licensing deal. As I understand from our distributor, it’s now going through censorship and localization on their end. It will certainly be a milestone to break into the Chinese market. One does not need to be a filmmaker or read the industry trades to know that China is one of the leading film markets.
Given the tumultuous state of U.S. box office revenue this year, it’s imperative that these foreign markets are available to filmmakers. For Justice Is Mind and First World our primary foreign market is the United Kingdom. I have also noticed that viewership in Japan is picking up. But one driving force that continues to put films front and center is the importance of a marketing plan.
I can’t tell you how many times the marketing plan for an independent film seems to begin and stop at the industry trades. Never mind when you read the first cut to studio budgets seem to be in marketing. As I have often said you can have the greatest project in the world but if nobody knows about it nobody will care.
As soon as I finish writing a script, I start working on the marketing plan in terms of a target audience. With distributors relying more and more on filmmakers to assist in the marketing plan, there really needs to be one in place before the first scene is shot. With First World it was science fiction conventions. With Justice Is Mind it was law schools and universities that focused on neuroscience. With Serpentine: The Short Program it was the Ice Network. Yes, like the aforementioned, films have their primary target audience then they broaden out from there.
Amazon is a perfect example of that. Someone might have heard about Justice Is Mind from our primary plan, but found the film on Amazon. Their algorithm then points customers to other recommended films. At that point the plan is relatively complete. But it all starts with that primary plan to push consumer awareness then generally continues with social media and other digital marketing tactics on an ongoing basis.
It’s hard to believe that it was five years ago this month that we were producing Justice Is Mind. Yet here we are five years later with new markets opening. The greatest thing about the world of film is discovery. It doesn’t matter when the film was made, it’s about when a customer learns about it for the first time. In today’s world of VOD a film no longer has a shelf-life.
I can’t take credit for this week’s blog post title. I lifted it from Audrain Automobile Museum’s email promoting their third production of Cars & Coffee in partnership with the Preservation Society of Newport County. Yesterday’s outing took us to the beautiful Chateau-sur-Mer.
This type of production is a win-win for both the museum and the society. First, in a very cool way, they draw traffic to these storied mansions of yesteryear. Second, the auto museum gets the message past their beautiful location on Bellevue Avenue. Needless to say, I highly recommend visiting the museum and the mansions the next time you are in Newport.
I’m not sure who created the idea for this event but it’s a brilliant promotion. Marketing and event production should be seamless and effortless in its look. When the consumer arrives it should just appear that the event happened, rather than feeling forced. When they are at the event it’s a welcoming atmosphere with like-minded people. When they leave, they are looking forward to the next production.
This past week I was talking to a potential new marketing client. Sadly, he was one of these overly analytical types who didn’t want to listen to anyone except his inner ego. He couldn’t understand why his product wasn’t selling. I suppose I could have told him that his inner ego isn’t a customer. I passed on working with him.
While I go for the cars, it’s really the conversations I enjoy the most. I’ve been working on a production idea in Newport and for the first time I mentioned it to a few attendees. Is this market research? Absolutely. If you can’t interest those that live in that world why develop it.
As some may recall, when I had the idea for a political thriller around the sport of figure skating I went to the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston last year. After talking to a variety of insiders and former colleagues, I wrote Serpentine. Serpentine: The Short Program can be streamed on Amazon or the Ice Network.
I have often stated that there is so much more into filmmaking than making the film itself. While one naturally wants a quality project that maximizes available resources, it’s also about getting the word out. Although social media helps, there is nothing like a media placement that drives awareness and needed attention. Thank you to the Ice Network and Community Advocate for that attention.
This past week Lois Elfman, my former business partner, wrote a great article for the Ice Network. This article was particularly important for a variety of reasons. First, in addition to the article itself, the Ice Network will also be streaming Serpentine: The Short Program after our March 6 premiere at the Strand Theatre. Second, from 1993 – 2004 Lois and I published a figure skating magazine. For nearly a decade it reigned as the world’s largest under our leadership. There wasn’t a skater, official, ISU member nation or skating club that didn’t know about it. But the Ice Network is today what we published yesterday. Indeed, it was an honor to see this article on their site as it reaches the sport on a worldwide basis.
It also important to mention that there was a third party to this story, albeit a bit behind the scenes this time. That would be acclaimed skating coach Thomas J. McGinnis who also was our business partner at the skating magazine. Tommy not only saw the vision I had for the magazine at the very beginning, but for Serpentine as well. Thus his much appreciated Executive Producer credit you will see when the film is released.
A film release not only consists of a marketing plan but a test. This past week I went to the Strand Theatre for a DVD test of Serpentine: The Short Program and a DCP test of Justice Is Mind. While the Strand screened Justice back in 2013 from a DVD, we now have the film in a DCP format. Both tests went great. I’ll say this, out of all the theaters I have screened Justice Is Mind the Strand presents the best picture and sound. There is nothing like seeing your film come to life on the big screen and that thrill was just as exciting with Serpentine.
Serpentine: The Short Program also got the green light from Amazon Instant Video this week. I say green light because that’s literally what happens with the circles on the Amazon platform when everything is cleared to go. We did have one red light as our original poster submission just said Serpentine. It had to also include The Short Program. Starting on March 7 the film will be available on Amazon in the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria.
Finally, I will conclude this post with the importance of art. On Friday night my mother and I saw the acclaimed National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine at the famed Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA. Part of the program included Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak. One of my particular favorites. The strength, precision and passion in which the symphony played under the direction of Theodore Kuchar presented one of the most exciting symphony performances I have even seen.
I say strength because unless you live on another planet the continued existence of Ukraine hangs in the balance with the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea to say nothing of the armed conflict on their Eastern border. I simply ask every American reading this blog, how would you feel if another country walked across our border and occupied part of our country? The proud history of the Ukrainian people existed long before the United States was even a thought. While this historic national symphony of a challenged peoples tours our great country, isn’t it time the United States helped restore the greatness of another before it’s too late?
Conduct music not war.
I am pleased to announce that Serpentine will have its world premiere at the Strand Theater in Clinton, MA on March 6, 2017! Serpentine will premiere after an encore screening of Justice Is Mind. For Serpentine this will be a first, for Justice Is Mind this will mark our 22nd screening. But it is the Strand Theater that give us our first theatrical break.
It was in 2012 and I was looking for a theater to screen Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind. It was the Strand that gave us the opportunity to screen after J. Edgar. Over a year later Justice Is Mind had its Massachusetts premiere at the Strand. The same model is being employed for Serpentine: The Short Program.
A theatrical screening marks a starting point. A launch pad, if you will, into a greater marketing program. Everything in this industry is timing. It’s about striking while the iron is hot (even though the rink is cold!). For Serpentine the launch will take place between national and world figure skating championships. The goal, as it was with Evidence all those years ago, is to develop as much interest as possible to produce the feature film version this year for a 2018 release. Why 2018? The Olympic Winter games take place in South Korea next year. It’s about riding a wave of popularity post games.
With a running time of just over 12 minutes, we will be presenting the first 10 pages of the feature length screenplay. Serpentine not only features several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind and First World, but introduces actors making their debut performance. In the world of film it’s all about performance, what we see on the screen and how it comes together behind the scenes.
As for debut performance, it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with an aspiring actress and model. This week I signed with Dynasty Models & Talent for New England representation. Yes, it’s an exciting step as I continue to lay out some personal plans of my own. During my visit at the agency, the owner asked me if I had any words of wisdom for this actress. I first offered her the back story on how I was cast in a TV show some years ago but then went on to say how you have to want to be in this industry more than anything. No matter what you want to do, it takes a one hundred percent commitment and being able to weather continuous rejection. As I’ve stated before, this is an industry of no (or no response). But when a yes does come, it makes you appreciate your hard work all the more.
They say you are only as good as your last performance. While I agree with that to a point, I believe you are only as good as who you surround yourself with. This is an industry not lacking in advice, particularly from those you never asked. In my view it’s about working with those that want to showcase their efforts with you. I’ll just say this, it is not a coincidence that I’m working with a lot of the same people from Justice Is Mind and First World to bring Serpentine to life. This project also marks a reunion of sorts with a former business partner. More on that development later.
As for development, as an independent filmmaker, theaters like the Strand are important for our continued success. That being said, the Strand has established a GoFundMe campaign to restore and upgrade their wonderful marquee. For our screening on March 6 all ticket sales will be going to the Strand (no share of box office). As a filmmaker there is something special when you see your film in lights.
In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.
The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.
This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film. In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.
With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office. For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.
We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.
As planned Serpentine went to picture lock this week. And while that’s certainly a milestone, there are numerous other details that need to be attended to. From completing the visual effects, to sound engineering, scoring and color correction. And then there’s the marketing plan.
As I did with Justice Is Mind, and First World back in the day, I always aim to cast the widest net. When it comes to securing media or perhaps a screening opportunity, the more eyes on a project the better as you never know who may be interested. There’s so much more to filmmaking than the actual mechanical work of creating the film.
Since pre-production on Justice Is Mind back in 2012 I have been receiving email newsletters from various “experts” in the industry. Honestly, there is no magic wand and having a star in your project just doesn’t matter (look what happened this weekend at the box office). Your project will either resonate or it won’t. It will either breakthrough or get stuck. And while there are certainly a set of standards that need to be followed from having a quality picture with a proper aspect ratio, closed captioning and a few other industry standardizations, the rest is really up to the filmmaker. My point is there is no cookie cutter sheet that gives you instant success.
Serpentine is as opposite to Justice Is Mind as First World is to SOS United States. But in all my projects I make every effort to have an audience of some sort in mind when I start to write. Passion projects are great, but given the work that goes in to making a motion picture someone has to appreciate it past your family, cast and crew.
Since First World was released on to Amazon Prime it has seen a sizable increase in traffic. Science fiction is a relatively easy sell. Justice Is Mind is a hybrid of genres with science fiction and fantasy folded into a straight drama. The marketing of that film was a three prong approach with audiences reacting all over the place from science fiction enthusiasts to those that love courtroom films. Audiences have loved it or hated it. But no matter the reaction every click and view just increases the audience. And just this week I learned that Justice was picked up by a Chinese concern. More to announce later on that development.
On a personal note, I’m glad over ten years have passed since I was publishing a magazine in the sport of figure skating. It has given me a perspective well outside the bubble I lived in for over a decade. In general, as I’ve learned, living in a bubble is never a good idea as it warps your perspective.
As for perspective, since I’ll be voting for the first time in the SAG Awards this year, I’ve been watching more independent films than I normally do. Or should I say, than I normally would simply owing to their story. What one has to appreciate is the sheer energy and enthusiasm that goes into making an independent film.
One film I just have to recommend is Jackie. From Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy to the cinematography and story, I thought it was brilliantly executed (although the score gave me pause).
In two weeks Serpentine goes into production. With our locations secured and cast and crew locked, this is the phase in which there are numerous details to attend to. From printing posters, to purchasing a new laptop, American flag and external hard drives, it’s a methodical checking off the list of all the things that are needed to produce a film. For me it’s about organization. I produce dramas not seek to create them in real life.
Past all the aforementioned details, there’s also the creative side, from being in touch with the actors regarding their characters to the crew for various shots and other production matters. Producing a film is a team effort one that requires the cooperation of numerous parties. While the director may conduct the orchestra, you do need an orchestra!
As for the creative side, as we are filming just the first ten pages of the feature length version the end of the month, I wanted to give this short a name. For Justice Is Mind we called that short film version Evidence. For Serpentine it will be called The Short Program. I think this is a fitting title. First, this is a short film. In figure skating the short program is, to quote Wikipedia, “The short program of figure skating is usually the first of two phases in figure skating competitions.” As this short is phase one of the Serpentine project that’s another reason for the name.
Earlier this week I updated Serpentine’s IMDb listing. For this short film alone there are just over 35 people and companies. When you hear someone say it takes a village to make a film, they are speaking the truth! For those that wish to get into this industry, I always tell them to try to visit a film set at some point to see what’s involved.
But the one thing that I will be working on today is our press release announcing that Serpentine is going into production with The Short Program. Anyone that has worked with me on my past projects knows how much I believe in promotion. And when someone signs on to one of my projects, I promote them at every opportunity. Case in point when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was always great to include the cast, crew and our partners whenever I could.
The marketing of a film is just as important as its making. Without promotion there is no audience. While today’s world of VOD is great for the independent filmmaker, if your audience isn’t told about your project how can they ever find it? To this day, I continue to promote First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. When one thinks of the enormous amount of time to develop and make a film, why wouldn’t you promote them regularly? As they say the proof is in the pudding when you see a consistent placement on IMDb along with VOD streams.
But there is one thing I do need to find for this particular production. It was a gift from Tara Lipinski after we photographed her for the magazine I used to publish. It’s been in my basement since I moved back from Los Angeles.
Picking up where I left off last week, having been given a trial subscription to Variety Insight and Vscore, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive service and does, as the name suggests, offer a wealth of insight. Like IMDB, Vscore rates popularity of actors across a “variety” of sources. From TV, film, awards and social media, an actor’s entire career is given a score.
This weekend I started to write the business plan for In Mind We Trust. While I’m modeling it after my plan for SOS United States, I did take a review of my original business plan for Justice Is Mind that I wrote in 2011. Needless to say some updates are in order.
When I wrote the plan for Justice Is Mind, it called for no theatrical release and signing with one distributor for VOD. So what changed? Theatres are embracing independent film (thus our theatrical release) and that distributor I was going to sign with changed its revenue model so now the payout to filmmakers is literal pennies based on minutes viewed. Terrible for the filmmaker but gangbusters for the distributor. Needless to say, they aren’t distributing Justice Is Mind.
Putting aside the story itself for a moment, In Mind We Trust is a unique film from the point of view of the characters. In addition to bringing back the majority of the stars, co-stars and some featured characters from Justice Is Mind, new starring, co-starring and featured roles now exist in In Mind We Trust. The goal is to attract some “named” talent to these parts for marketability.
While the industry has changed from a distribution point of view, and while you can get distribution with talented although largely “unknown” actors, the fact does remain that named talent does bring sales and marketing cache to a project. In addition, it also opens up additional distribution opportunities. However, as we have all seen, there is simply no guarantee of success one way or another. That being said, it’s about complimenting these roles with actors that would bring some gravitas to the characters without taking away from the overall story. In other words, not just putting in “so and so” to say we have “so and so”.
From the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Senator Caraway, General Blair and Hilma Miller, there are some great opportunities for named talent to be part of In Mind We Trust working alongside some of the actors that brought Justice Is Mind to life. Indeed, I can just imagine the marketing and public relations possibilities of such a pairing!
The goal, of course, is to put together a plan that’s not only attractive to financiers but making sure it reaches the right parties. This is the process that can take some time. Indeed, it took over a year to find the investors that saw my vision for Justice Is Mind. The great thing about In Mind We Trust is that Justice Is Mind has done well in the marketplace. It proves that there’s an interest in the original story that I’m looking to expand upon with the sequel.
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.
With our new sound mixing team at Visionary Sound bringing the “sound of Justice” to life, and with color correction starting shortly, my focus has pretty much turned to the next phase of the project – distribution, marketing and more marketing. Simply put, you can never do enough marketing. In the world of film production, it’s all about laying the groundwork and establishing a solid presence. And these days, that presence is online.
This past week, three emails arrived, one from a cast member about a possible screening at prestigious university in Boston, another titled “Justice Is Mind possible screening” and a third “Distributing Justice Is Mind.” The screening opportunity came from a theatre we screened the short film version at last year. They now have a film festival connected with their theatre and asked us if we would like to screen the feature film—of course I said yes. The distributing inquiry came from a distributor looking for independent features to distribute and found me through my contact information on IMDB. For anyone that has an IMDB listing I cannot stress enough to have a direct email contact. Unless you are repped by CAA, WME, UTA or ICM, it behooves you to have direct contact information. An email account will suffice. Seriously, sign up for IMDBpro it’s worth every penny. To pull a quote from North by Northwest “Roger, pay the two dollars.”
Each one of these contacts was just another opportunity for Justice Is Mind to not only get the word out but to establish an audience for the film. While we are in the very early days of evaluating distribution options for the film, screening opportunities are always welcome. That is the whole point of producing a film—getting it “scene”. Whether it be a film festival, a college, a convention, a theatre, it’s all good and should not only be welcomed but embraced. But make no mistake about it, these opportunities take time, perseverance, patience and cost. In every case you are dealing with new people, a new venue and, in my experience, varying technical capability on the part of the venue. The latter point is really important. Many years ago when I produced an event on a cruise ship, I transmitted to our figure skater guests the list of “accepted media to run on our (ship) systems”. Sadly, one skater ignored it and their program wasn’t played.
One relatively new producer, and successful actor I admire, is Zachary Quinto. We all know him as masterfully assuming the role of Mr. Spock in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies. But as a producer he totally gets it when it comes to the state of the industry and perpetual discussion that filmmakers have to exhibit in a theatre versus VOD.
What Quinto told the Hollywood Reporter in regard to the distribution of his film Breakup at a Wedding fits in perfectly with Justice Is Mind, “You get into the budget of the film and the reach of the movie and the fact that many of the actors in this are up-and-coming, and for some of them, it’s their first feature and there’s no big box-office name to draw people into the theater, but there’s very good quality material and really good acting great humor and good heart, so we wanted it to reach as many people as we could and we felt like the VOD platform was the way to do that.” This is not to say you don’t pursue theatrical, but it’s imperative that you keep you options open. Because in the end it comes down to revenue for your investors and capital for your next motion picture.
The one thing filmmakers have now is options.
With the special effects for Justice Is Mind being completed this week, my attention has largely been focused over the last month on the sound design of the film. Yes, while the visuals of Justice are easy to share and enjoy, there is an entire area of the film that is just as important – sound. It’s not just the words that are being spoken it’s the atmosphere around them that defines the mood and feel of the film.
For anyone that has been involved in filmmaking, post-production is a managed process and sound design is part of it. Sure, you don’t have to have that beep on a cell phone, or electronic click of a computer, but I believe it’s that level of detail that sets films apart from each other. I’m also very into details and sound is part of that process. Is the judge’s hammer sound too soft? What tone do we set for this particular character? Sound wise how do we advance the drama and the story?
A film without sound design is like a painting. Sure, it can be visually arresting and you hope there is a compelling score, but have you ever noticed in a film that particular characters or moments have a similar sound? In Justice our primary character is Henri Miller and as the story builds so does the atmosphere around him. Sometimes the sound is silent as the stage is being set for a dramatic build or moment in which you want the audience to pay attention and take notice. This is a process that is just as creative as the editing, score and special effects and just as time consuming.
It is a curious process watching a script come to life. Sure, I directed it and have worked with our editor, special effects supervisor and composer (who is also doing sound design), but this is where you see the creative energy come to life and I haven’t even talked about sound mixing or color correction yet. I’ll save that for another post.
I often wonder if audiences really know what goes into a film from start to market. Personally I love the entire process, but to quote District Attorney Constance Smith, “I didn’t promise you an easy case.” Filmmaking is not easy by any stretch. The level of competition between films is fierce beyond words (just start to look at sales agents’ websites). If you don’t have A or B list actors to anchor your distribution, you better have a compelling story because that’s the only thing that will save you from achieving distribution. I like to think we have a compelling story with Justice. We already have digital distribution in place and our early interest from sales agents and distributors is extremely promising. I’ve sold them on the script, the trailer, clip and visuals, this is why all of us involved in post-production are being a bit manic about the details. Because in the end you have to have a commercial product.
I know some filmmakers that are not commercially minded and in fact have told me they aren’t producing such and such to make any money. Unless you are producing as a calling card for experience, short films are great for this like I did with First World and Evidence, I just don’t believe in vanity filmmaking. Point in fact there is just way too much that goes into creating a film in the first place.
Let me give you some facts. My legal team is in Los Angeles and they are working diligently with me on countless matters; our composer is just outside London, UK; we had a representative (my entertainment lawyer) at Cannes; our post production team is in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and we have, by my last count, just over 200 actors, crew, marketing, location and promotional partners involved in the film. Justice will not just have one big showing then off to a dusty shelf while I wait to hear from festivals. Dear god if that happened I would board one of my Arctrans from First World and quietly leave the planet! What it comes down to is promoting your project to as many people that will listen. Sales agents, distributors, theatre owners, conventions are, by design, used to getting pitches-it just comes down to a compelling story because they need to bring that story to their own audiences to, dare I say it, make money.
But like I did when publishing magazines, money cannot be the first thing on your mind, quality must be the first. For I believe that if a quality product is well presented it will find its audience and share of revenue. It just comes down to doing one thing:
Turning up the volume.
There is, as some have surmised, an entire back story to Justice Is Mind. When I set out to write a story believe it or not I think of the ending right after I think of the original idea. Point simply, I have heard too many times “I have a great story but I don’t know how to end it.” Point in fact, I wrote a screenplay with a friend years ago that takes place in Ogunquit, ME. It was a thriller. Oh we had a great first and second act but dear god that last act was just a travesty. Sometimes not having an ending when you start out does have a positive outcome…can anyone say Casablanca? Flash to 2013 and it should be interesting to see what World War Z looks like. I understand they reshot the entire last third of the film. I can say first hand there was a sense of calmness, in my opinion, when we were shooting Justice because we all knew how it was ending and we weren’t tinkering with it. Screenwriting is not a democracy and it most certainly can’t be decided by committee.
Again, I can’t speak for any other screenwriters, but when I write I’m always thinking sequel or a continuation of the story or part thereof. Why not? Sure, some films rightly stand alone, but if it resonates with the audience for a continuation you have notes and concept ready to go. A single feature film can take years to develop, why have it end at the first installment if there’s an interest in more? As some of you know, the seed for Justice Is Mind was planted in my First World story about a machine that can read memories to track where certain people have been. When we were shooting Justice the idea for a sequel started to come to me but more importantly the ending realized itself just a few days ago when I was looking through some VFX images. Of course the real test is how audiences are receiving Justice once it’s released and what resonates with them. I may have the most fantastic idea for a sequel but if research shows that audiences are gravitating to one particular part of the story, there’s your market research. Why go against the tide when you can ride the wave.
Already I have been able to ascertain certain conclusions from our early marketing for Justice. The audience is skewing 60% female to 40% male with the United States, India and the United Kingdom making up the highest traffic. On age, our largest numbers are in the 45-54 range. But what gets the most attention to a post? Special effects. Yes, every time I post a special effect image our reach sometimes triples from regular status updates. Conclusion? It’s not just men that like special effects, women enjoy them too.
Will these numbers hold up when Justice is screened? Who knows. The marketing of a film is perhaps the trickiest of them all. The goal is to develop positive word of mouth, and a following of fans that will support the endeavor and create that wave of enthusiasm. While the big studios can employ a marketing department to at least attempt to shield their risk, as an independent filmmaker working on meager resources, we must take advantage of the myriad of online services now available to us. And as we have recently seen, even the most robust marketing campaigns can’t shield some major films from audiences misses.
Thankfully with Justice Is Mind we can push in genres that are specific — sci-fi and drama. The world of sci-fi has changed a lot in the last several years, while space franchises are still flying to distant worlds, stories that are Earth and “mind” based are growing (I still miss Fringe). And in the world of drama, Justice has started to book law schools to screen the film for the legal drama that it is. What better way to develop a following than presenting a film in these types of forums.
Last night I attended the Actor’s Demo Reel Showcase by Talent Tools which turned out to be a terrific reunion with some of the actors from Justice Is Mind. Talent Tools is a company that produces demo reels, websites, resumes and other important business related services for actors (I highly recommend them). My thanks to Talent Tools owner Becki Dennis Buchman for inviting me and having me speak to the attendees. Of course what was particularly enjoyable to me was seeing some of the actors I worked with on Justice.
When I saw Richard Sewell (Joseph Miller) and then his wife Kim Gordon (Constance Smith), I was instantly brought back to our days on set and the quality of work we all produced. Also at this event from Justice was Jeanne Lohnes (Reincar executive), Mary Jane Brennan Sangiolo (juror), Paula Dellatte (secretary to Dr. Pullman) and Curtis Reed (who played the valet). Although I worked with these actors and saw their capabilities, I was really looking forward to seeing their demo reels. Suffice to say the quality of talent we have in New England continues to impress and inspire me. And now that talent is being seen far away from the Northeast in the trailer for Justice Is Mind.
This past week the trailer was picked up by Moviefone, AOL Entertainment, Huffington Post, SciFi-Movies and a variety of other platforms. Kim Gordon in particular is the face for the trailer on AOL Entertainment. The reach the trailer is receiving has already brought forward sales agents interested in licensing our foreign rights. With the rough cut now at over an hour, progress is well underway on the feature.
But whether you are a producer, actor or somewhere in between, it all comes down to marketing. For the actors, last night they were polishing their work with high quality materials for producers, casting directors and agents to see. For the work I’m now doing on Justice, it really is the same thing when presenting the project to interested distributors and sales agents. Thankfully we now live in a world where producing quality materials can be achieved without breaking the bank.
In the end though it does come down to talent and it has to start somewhere. As I mentioned last night, one doesn’t simply wake up in the morning and say “I’m important”. It takes many years of dedicated hard work to prove and hone your craft. Even more important is when we learn from each other. This is an industry that despite your experience level, there’s always room to grow. Of course that doesn’t mean that you sign up for everything but pick and chose what’s best for you. There’s a lot of companies that hang out their shingles, but like I highly recommend Film Specific for learning about distribution, the same would hold true for a company like Talent Tools for what they offer actors. Both offer completely different services, but in the end want you to look your best in an industry that takes the word competition to a whole new level.
As I mentioned to the group last night, and as I’ve stated before, the great actor Maximilian Schell said that this is an industry of chances. I think we all agree that it’s worth taking a chance for what we believe in.
With the trailer for Justice Is Mind days away from being released, the plan that I’ve been working on since we wrapped will soon be put in motion. What does that plan entail? I promise you it’s more than posting the trailer to YouTube, Facebook, writing the requisite press release and hoping the world finds you. I wish marketing a film (or anything) was that easy but when you are an independent filmmaker that process is continuous with the goal of standing out from the thousands of films being produced every year.
But when you look at a film festival like Sundance that gets over 12,000 submissions and only screens 119, the plan has to be diversified. Of course we all believe our film is that promised gem among many. As filmmakers we have to think that. Thankfully in today’s age of social media anyone that participates in a project can be a cheerleader in its promotion. A simple post, share or tweet and your audience is building.
There was a very interesting story in The Wrap last week that talked about the future of filmmaking. Bottom line? With the ever increasing number of digital services, networks, cable operators and the like, the one thing they all need for their audiences is programming. As Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm said, “They’re in an arms race for content, and that’s creating a perfect storm for independent film.”
And speaking of audiences, my own movie going experience is much different now. Sure, I’m there to watch the film, but I first take in the audience – specifically age. Audiences are getting older which is great for this project. I didn’t write Justice Is Mind with an older audience in mind, it just turned out that way. With the average age of the actors 40+ at least the product is positioned to appeal to a more mature demographic that…ready…spends money.
The one misconception that I’ve addressed before I think needs to be stated again. A film doesn’t need to be picked up by a distributor and placed in hundreds of theatres to be considered a “movie”. Of course, I’d love to see Justice receive a theatrical release that’s handled (and financed) by a distributor, but as an independent filmmaker I can self-distribute Justice in select markets to build momentum, reviews and audiences. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting a return on investment and it doesn’t matter to me what platform that it comes from. Trust me, seeing your film on Hulu with ads running along with it is a very good thing.
With Evidence heading to additional digital platforms and with the trailer for Justice Is Mind being released in the next several days, the franchise is building. But as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and things take time. While the editing is ongoing the foundation is being built to market and distribute the finished product.
But like a house, every film has its own construction plan.