As a filmmaker there’s nothing quite like seeing that first rough cut in post-production. You wonder what it will look like. You wonder if the years you’ve spent pulling it all together was worth it. A film is not a play where things can generally be adjusted because you change your mind about something. As Bill Sampson said in All About Eve, “There’s nothing you can do, you’re trapped, you’re in a tin can.” If the 18 minutes of the first rough cut are any indication, First Signal isn’t trapped!
Building a film in post-production is akin to the prefabrication we see today in the construction world. Have you ever seen how a ship is built? Sections are built elsewhere, shipped and then assembled in one location. That’s pretty much how a film is born. Shots are created offsite and assembled in one location according to the script (the blueprint). I have one cardinal rule in post-production, we don’t deviate from the script. The shots are created for the script, not the other way around.
When Justice Is Mind was in post-production, I remember receiving emails from some of the actors wondering if their scenes were being cut. My response was generally always the same, why would I cut something that I wrote in the first place? In the end, nothing was cut. The result was a complete story.
Some years ago I was cast in an independent film. The script was solid and all of us associated with it were looking forward to the end result. Well, the end result was an over-edited product that didn’t resemble the script we were handed a year earlier. A completed film is just that a product—one that must be promoted and marketed.
With the 6th anniversary of Justice Is Mind tomorrow, I can’t help but think of the promoting and marketing I did for that film. I still, whenever an opportunity presents itself, market that film wherever I can – why wouldn’t I? I see so many projects being hyped during the production process just to wither away in post-production. For me post is the most exciting. Not only are you building a product but you are laying the groundwork for its release.
For First Signal that groundwork includes the completion of the first 11 minutes of the film in the next few weeks. Why so quickly? Just over a month prior to AFM is when I start my pitch process for meetings. Although AFM is in November, time moves quickly in post-production and meetings are set about a month in advance. The idea with this footage is to show prospective buyers what the film will look like.
Although First Signal is in post-production, I still had some casting to do – a voice over artist for a newscast. There are so many services for voice over artists, but I found Fiverr to be the best. Although there is just one newscast in First Signal, it opens the film. I needed a voice that “broadcast” as a newscaster and sounded believable. Needless to say, we found that voice.
August 18, 2013. Five years ago today I was in Albany, NY for the world premiere of Justice Is Mind. The idea for Justice came to me in 2010 when I came across a 60 Minutes story about Thought Identification “mind reading.” I was researching mind reading “computers” when I was writing the sequel to First World. Yes, I finished writing the sequel. But no sooner was my Final Draft software cooling down and it was fired up again to write Justice.
I’ve often written about the development of Justice. The endless pitch to producers and financiers started at the script stage. Then I produced a short film version Evidence to develop interest in the project. After a couple of theatrical screenings and media the financing came together to produce the feature. Let me just say that 2012 was a whirlwind of a year. But in the end, over 10 crew, 100+ actors and 15 locations came together. Even post production into 2013 went relatively smoothly. Justice enjoyed a limited theatrical run, screenings at law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth (yes, that was a highlight!). The film is now available worldwide on VOD.
When you’re an independent filmmaker the completion of a feature film is a milestone that should be enjoyed and celebrated. As I see with so many in this industry, they worry incessantly about the next project when working on the current one. There were only a couple of occasions during Justice when a few people tried to get out of commitments because of an audition or other project they wanted to be part of. I’ve always believed in giving your maximum to every project you’re involved in. You worry about the next one after the fact.
It’s one thing to attend a film premiere for someone else’s project, it’s entirely another to attend one for your own. For nearly two years after our world premiere, so many of us attended the screenings together. For a while we were like a traveling road show! These weren’t film festivals, they were theatrical screenings. There is nothing more gratifying as a filmmaker than seeing your film on a marquee next to mainstream “Hollywood” productions. You work like hell to make the film, but seeing it in the market is in one word – gratifying.
A feature film isn’t about the “cool” photos behind the scenes of making it, it’s about creating the world around it so when it’s released there’s a place in the market for it. An acting friend of mine last year coined the phrase “the milk carton movie” for those films he was involved in that never saw the light of day. There were essentially “missing.” I couldn’t even fathom making a movie that sits on a shelf waiting for someone else to decide its fate. Film festivals are fine enough if you get into the top tier from an awareness point of view, but as a filmmaker you don’t see ten cents of box office from them. More importantly why would I want to share the public relations spotlight with other films? I remember only too well when we had a screening for Justice at a major university and, unknown to me, there was a small film festival in town that weekend. A reporter said to me they only had so much space and simply couldn’t accommodate everyone. Well, thankfully our screening went well because it was marketed internally and had some scientific personalities attending. That was a lesson to be learned.
As I now venture into the world of First Signal, I look back on the days of Justice Is Mind with great fondness and realize what’s possible when the right team comes together. I’ll never forget what one of the stars of Justice said to me at our last theatrical screening in March, 2017 “This never gets old.”
No, it doesn’t.
The development of a film property isn’t just about the actual filming, it’s about creating imagery, branding and a marketing campaign. Long after you type the first word of your script, it’s the first image associated with the story that everyone remembers. How many times do we read about a project in development or one that has long ago been filmed, until we see an image associated with it? First Signal is much more to me than just another film project. It’s about setting the right tone and creating the “world” of First Signal.
Although I had a general idea of what I wanted to see in a promotional poster, I had no idea that Daniel Elek-Diamanta was thinking along the same lines. Daniel, as some of you know, is an accomplished composer. He brilliantly scored Justice Is Mind and Serpentine. Unless he’s not available, he knows he’s always my number one. Weeks ago he agreed to score First Signal. In addition to his talent scoring films, he’s also a brilliant graphic designer. When he sent me a surprise draft of a promotional poster for First Signal it’s like he read my mind (Justice Is Mind?).
I am therefore pleased to present the first promotional poster for First Signal by Daniel Elek-Diamanta! Inspired by the famed Earthrise photo from Apollo 8, with a star field created by Celestia an open source virtual 3D astronomy program, the poster was released today on IMDb and social media.
Also launching today is First Signal’s official url www.firstsignalmovie.com. The site presently points to First Signal’s Facebook page, but will soon be directed to a custom designed website. The footage has already been selected with Daniel working on an introductory score.
Standing out in this industry is a herculean task. Sure, I go to my social media feeds and I see what’s going on locally. But it truly comes down to making a national and international push for a project. I’ve never had any interest in being a “popular local.” For me, it’s about someone discovering my films who lives far away from where it was created.
When Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth back in 2014, nobody on the ship, aside from my mother, knew me or anything about the film. All they knew what was in the daily communique. Those passengers were my most important audience. Thankfully the screening was, I’ll say it, smooth sailing.
I also received word this week that the Department of Defense is formally reviewing First Signal for possible cooperation. As some of you may know, the military has entertainment liaison offices that work with the industry. Although First Signal is science fiction, there are numerous elements to the story that are based in the real world. And like the legal aspects of Justice Is Mind, I think it’s important to insure the military and science aspects are properly vetted.
For those that have ventured down the road of producing a film, there are numerous details to attend to. But one thing that is truly paramount is character and story background. This week I sent the actors and crew a multi-page document that provides not only the character backstory but terminology associated with the “First World” universe.
While Justice Is Mind was about mind reading, I honestly can’t expect actors or crew to read mine. First, I find the phrase “motivation” to be terribly overused. Rather, I like to give the actors and crew the big picture. It’s easy for a director to drone on about this or that or whatever. But when someone reads in black and white what the backstory is or universe they are in, it makes the process so much easier. It also fosters thoughtful creative input.
As for creative, this week also yielded some interesting conversations regarding costuming. In First Signal, four of the characters have very specific looks. Two are outfitted in Nehru styled suits, while two are Air Force officers. It’s the latter that saw the progress we were looking for. From discussions with an Air Force base military store to a costume company that outfits the military in my favorite TV show, the aim is to have these actors outfitted accordingly.
Speaking of actors, I received a call a few days ago from an actress that was beyond frustrated with the fact that she hasn’t secured representation. Is she talented? Yes. Does she have a solid resume? Yes. The one thing I stressed in this industry is that nothing is simple or easy. There are no shortcuts. And the one unwavering thing you need is patience. But comparing my work to yours or another actors is not the route you go. And when you start tuning out the advice you sought because you aren’t hearing what you want, you might need to rethink your career. This industry is waiting for no one, but it may respond if you have talent, a viable idea or a unique project (film or TV). I say may because I will quote the late Maximilian Schell, “This an industry of chances and luck.” Even after all his years of fame from Happy Days, Henri Winkler still auditions.
I do seem to be having good luck with the DJI Spark. I have to say this is a very smart drone. It takes a bit of getting used to operating virtual joysticks (there is an optional controller you can buy), but there’s so many flight options that are brilliantly automatic. At the end of the day all a filmmaker wants is a great shot.
Finally, I just finished reading James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty. No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, this is an important read. In the hyper partisan, media obsessed world we live in, it’s too easy to make snap judgments without knowing or caring about the facts. That’s really what our country comes down to does it? Facts, truth and loyalty to the constitution of the United States and those that defend it.
From finishing the latest class at the Naval Justice School to National Guard role playing exercises at Joint Base Cape Cod, the last six weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. But perhaps the most anticipated was last weekend’s auditions for First Signal.
Every film has its origins. First Signal can trace its back ten plus years ago when I wrote First World in 2006. After three screenplay nominations, the production of a short film version, over twenty screenings at sci-fi conventions around the world, that project was at the twelfth hour of funding with a production company attached only to see the economic collapse in 2008 hit the entertainment industry like a rocket explosion. Anyone that was around at that time and working in the industry knows what it was like. But in the end it’s called survival.
It was First World that gave birth to Justice Is Mind. The psychological sci-fi courtroom thriller with mind reading at the center of the story. When I was writing notes on a sequel story to First World, it was the development of a mind reading computer called CENTRAL (Computer Encoding Neuro Transmission and Library) that found its way into Justice Is Mind. In Justice the computer program was called FVMRI for Functional Video Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The rest, as they say, is history when Justice Is Mind was produced in 2012 and released in 2013. My goal since 2006 was to create a new sci-fi franchise around the “First World” universe. With First Signal the aim is to do just that.
Like Justice Is Mind, I wrote First Signal with the intention of producing it myself. Sure, one can pitch to “the industry” and wait…and wait…and wait. Or, take the bull by the horns and get it done. The key is to find enthusiastic actors, crew, location partners and a host of others to see the vision through. To say I am pleased with the auditions from last weekend would be an understatement—I was thrilled.
But first and foremost I want to thank actress Patience McStravick for inspiring me to write First Signal. If it wasn’t for our conversations last fall during our time at the Naval Justice School about a story that largely takes place in one room, I doubt this project would be where it is today. Then it was her introduction to talented filmmaker Daniel Groom. Patience starred in his film They Don’t Know (highly recommended!). With Patience and Daniel on board, First Signal was moving forward.
Auditions commenced last Saturday at the Nashua Library in Nashua, NH and then moved to The Verve Crown Plaza in Natick, MA on Sunday. Some I cast in my past films (and were good friends), some I recently worked with between the Naval Justice School and National Guard. Others I didn’t know. But prior to all this, some parts were already cast. There are times as a director you just know you can offer a part to someone without an audition.
Kim Gordon as the President of the United States was my immediate first choice for this role. Her portrayal as District Attorney Constance Smith in Justice Is Mind was brilliant. I wrote the Major Ellen Sampson role specifically with Patience McStravick in mind (Patience is an Army veteran as well).
But there was one actress that I wanted to bring back to the “First World” universe. It was in 2006 and I was getting ready to produce the short film version of First World. The short called for a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. An actress by the name of Lindy Nettleton submitted. She arrived at the same time actor Jeffrey Phillips did who was auditioning for the role of the President. They both read for the parts together outside an elevator bank at the hotel I was staying at while I recorded it on my Palm Treo! During their reading I truly thought they were heads of state (Jeffrey also appeared in Justice Is Mind as George Katz). Although I stayed in touch with Lindy throughout the years, I had no idea if she would be interested in reprising this role after a decade plus. When she said she would play Allison Colby I was beyond elated! First Signal was coming full circle.
But the circle was complete with last weekend’s auditions. I could not be more excited to work with such talent. I invite you visit to First Signal’s IMDb page to learn about the talented group of actors in this project. For those that know how I promote, you’ll be learning more about them the weeks, months and years ahead.
From actors I’ve cast in past projects to learning about new talent in the region, since the notice went live I’ve been very encouraged by the quality of the submissions. However, for this project I’ll be reaching out to additional sources for certain roles. The goal of the table read isn’t just to hear the script, it’s also about casting possibilities for the feature film itself.
The character of Cedric Yonah is particularly important to the overall story. Not only does the actor need to be great at his craft, but he also must have a certain look. I can almost say that I’ve received enough quality submissions for all other characters, but I’m still looking for this one. This isn’t exactly “The search for Scarlett” but let’s just say the search is ongoing.
This reminds me of the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. As I understand from the development process, director Robert Wise didn’t want to have a recognizable actor walk out of the spaceship as it wouldn’t have been believable. But it had to be an actor with gravitas and a certain look. The casting of Michael Rennie as Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter was brilliant.
Casting is not an easy process. I remember the three hundred plus submissions for Justice Is Mind. While I was fortunate to find some of the leading roles from the short film version Evidence, there were numerous parts that I needed to cast. In as much as you want to see a quality audition, it’s also about how you get along with the actor during that brief time. I do believe it comes down to the sixty second impression.
However, what I still don’t understand is how simple submission instructions aren’t followed. When I submit for a project I make sure I follow the instructions to the letter (why wouldn’t I?). If you refuse to follow submission instructions, how are you going to be during filming? I kid you not I received a submission that literally said here is my IMDb link and Google me. Sorry, if you can’t submit a required headshot, resume and link to your reel you just get relegated to archive.
But this is just part of the development process. Every project takes on a life of its own. I always find it interesting where a project gets its start. First Signal started at the Naval Justice School. But Justice Is Mind actually got its start when I wrote the sequel to First World and was researching mind reading technology. Thus my discovery of the 60 Minutes story from 2009 on thought identification being developed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Four years after that story Justice Is Mind screened at CMU.
This morning I finished up the notes for the prequel to First World. The next step is to place it in Final Draft and iron it out. That’s generally the process I use when writing a script. I write out the scene structure and dialogue in Word first. I just find it 10x easier to make quick adjustments in Word before formatting in Final Draft. But when I take that next step in Final Draft that’s when the final story starts to take shape.
I’ve written a variety of scripts over the years. Some produced, some waiting for a deal, but this is one that I specially wrote to produce independently. In the end I’ve stayed with three locations and what will be a liberal use of stock footage. But unlike First World, I think this story has given me the opportunity to really create a solid backstory for two of the main characters. It also examines a presidency in crisis along with an out of control military leader.
As with Justice Is Mind, writing an original story is not easy. We receive our initial round of inspiration but then it’s up to us to figure out the rest. What I always aim to do is to have a beginning and ending in mind. Sure it may change some along the way, but if I have in mind the beginning of Act I and the ending of Act III, then I’m good to start. In my view an Act II should always be what I call “the mess” because that’s what the characters are trying to make sense of and resolve.
This story has a solid protagonist and antagonist. It was my goal to give each side not only a reason for their actions but the ability to carry them out. As a writer we wear many personality hats to create our stories. Many is the day when I thank God I’m working alone because I talk my dialogue out. I don’t think the strange looks from my cats qualifies as the need for being institutionalized, but if a neighbor randomly heard me talking like my characters I’d probably be visited by some sort of federal agency.
Once the first draft is done later this week I’ll be sending it to the actress that inspired me to write it. For me, it’s pretty easy to write a character when you model it on the actress that will play it. However, for the rest of the characters involved, one of my plans is for a table read. I never did that for Justice Is Mind owing to a variety of matters, not the least being the size of the cast, scheduling and time constraints. In the end that worked out fine. But with this project as the majority of the action takes place in a conference room and a field, it’s important to get the character interaction just right.
Last week I hit page 30 on this prequel story to First World. The title and logline came to me about halfway through this initial draft. With notes for the next two acts generally outlined, I’m aiming to have a first draft completed in January.
It’s always interesting how these new projects start. The idea came to me in September when I was at the Naval Justice School (NJS) talking with a couple of the actors about developing a new story. For the last two weeks I’ve been back at NJS with most of the students returning for this next class.
For me it comes down to motivation. If I’m not motivated to write a story, it just won’t be written. I firmly believe that environs make all the difference. When you are around other creative types and engaged in the kind of work you enjoy doing, it’s amazing how ideas start to generate with collaboration bringing new opportunities.
Of course it’s one thing to write a screenplay, it’s another to produce it. This one is being written in the same fashion as Justice Is Mind, to produce independently without pitching to the industry. While there’s obviously nothing wrong with the industry pitch, that process goes in fits and starts. Hot one day, cold the other. Ask anyone in this industry and that’s just the way it is—if you take the traditional route.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s one thing to produce a feature film, it’s another to promote it. I have to know if I’m OK devoting the next 2-5 years of my life developing and promoting a project. Justice Is Mind was literally a five year commitment. From screenplay (2010), short film version (2011), production of the feature film (2012), release of the film (2013) and marketing (2013-2015). I still promote Justice of course, and I continue to pitch the sequel, In Mind We Trust, as the basis for a TV series.
The “First World” project is about developing a franchise. It always has been. But commitment is important in this industry. It’s not just about making the film, it’s about staying with it for the long haul. As I learned with the short film version of First World and Justice Is Mind, you never know where a project can take you. It was a series of pitches that saw First World have a premiere in India at their The First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction and Justice Is Mind having its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth.
The creation of a new story is always an adventure, a journey into the unknown. Believe me when I tell you, it’s a trip worth taking.
Last week I mentioned how producing a film is not rocket science, but writing about rocket science is a different story.
With Justice Is Mind I did an exhaustive amount of research on two fronts. The first was mind-reading technology with the second being the law as it applies to investigations and the courtroom. But at some point you reach a certain knowledge bank when you can start writing.
Once a project of mine is given the green light I bring it to experts to insure its veracity. Of course there’s creative licensing, but at the end of the day a rocket launches vertically not horizontally!
One of the things I enjoy the most about screenwriting is learning something new. Am I an expert on mind-reading, the legal profession and rocket science? Good heavens no. But I can certainly talk about it in the context in which it’s presented. That’s what filmmakers do. We present. We create a fictional world against fact. Sure, some stories are pure science fiction with no regard to science, but I like to root my stories in plausibility.
While I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind from a 60 Minutes story, did I ever actually think the science fiction I postulated in my story could become near science fact? As a storyteller I’m doing just that, telling a story. My feeling has always been that as long as the story is interesting, it will hold an audience.
We’ve all been reading the difficulty that films are having at the box office. There are countless discussions on why this is happening. I have my own theories, but what I truly believe it comes down to is having an interesting story that is well marketed.
When I was marketing Justice Is Mind the actors were brilliantly talented and on par with any A list actors you would see on the silver screen, but they were not A list from a public relations point of view. I couldn’t market the film with Starring So and So, but I could market the concept. The end result was audiences bought a ticket and came to our screenings. Some were nearly sold out while others saw an OK attendance. What it proved to all of us was that audiences will turn out for an interesting story.
Revisiting the First World story has also been interesting. In addition to my “rocket science” research, I had almost forgotten the mountain of work I have done on this project, from writing the original script, producing a short film version, writing a sequel and publishing a novella. It’s safe to say I have some well thought out characters to work with!
Last week I had the opportunity to submit In Mind We Trust as a pilot for a TV or Web series. As some of you know, In Mind We Trust is the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the sequel a couple of years ago, I think the idea for a series was always in the back of my mind.
The question I had before I submitted was that the pilot might not make sense unless someone watches Justice Is Mind. The response back was pretty straight forward. “…to have a lot of unanswered questions at the end of a pilot script — it opens up the world any mysteries for the series.” Well if there’s questions they want, they’ll get it with this story!
It’s stories this industry wants and needs. Sure we read how the major studios are just focused on tentpoles (I loved Wonder Woman by the way), but the terrestrial networks and OTT services just continue to expand and need programming to fill their schedules. With Apple, Facebook, Vice and others actively moving to original series orders, the quest for stories continues.
The one piece of advice I was given when living in Los Angeles was to always have more than one project ready to present. I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but it makes total sense. Some may love sci-fi but have no interest in political thrillers. Others may not want something sports related, but are looking for a drama. Well, the latter fit the bill with In Mind We Trust.
Personally, if I had my druthers, who wouldn’t want to see their concept set up at a Netflix or Amazon. When I see the production values of The Crown and The Man in the High Castle (two of my favorite shows), it’s just amazing where the industry has gone over the last several years. But like anything in this business, it’s about time and in the case of a series—staffing.
Unlike a movie that can be staffed pretty quickly, a series requires an unprecedented amount of personnel. Just take a look at the end credits of a show or their listings on IMDB. These aren’t just one off projects like a movie, these are, if the show succeeds, long-term commitments. But before any of this is even remotely considered, it comes down to the story itself.
When I think of the number of mind-reading, privacy and intelligence agency articles being published on a regular basis, I certainly think In Mind We Trust has as good a chance as any of getting a review. Thankfully, the concept has already gone through some market testing with Justice Is Mind. From a theatrical release to media coverage and VOD, anyone looking at this project can already see it’s more than just words on a page.
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.
Today I finished Act Two of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. With a story that traverses a season in the sport along with over 40 characters on and off the ice, this stage of the writing process is a point of reflection. It’s a point when I review my notes (there are 25 pages) and read the script from the beginning. I liken it to building a road. The “earthwork” has been done, but it needs to be paved. For me, the Final Act (or in this case Act Three and/or Four) is both the most exciting and nerve wracking. Why? Because the road has to lead to a destination — a conclusion.
Every writer works in their own way. And while books, seminars and industry experts dictate how you should do the process, I promise if you talked to ten different screenwriters you would get ten processes of mixed results. For me, I look at a character or story arc and see if it has evolved. Nothing is worse than watching a movie and not seeing a character or story resolution. I’d rather take some extra time to get the last acts right than have audiences leaving disappointed or, worse, with a predictable ending.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind the initial premise was someone facing their own memory at trial. But for anyone that has seen the movie, while that may be the central core, there’s a conflux of other activities going around it. In my view, nothing is linear in real life and it shouldn’t be in film. For me, I always love a good twist at the end or a surprise ending. Two of my favorites with surprise endings are The Sixth Sense and Witness for the Prosecution. Both films couldn’t be more different in genre, but they brilliantly pulled off an ending that I don’t think anyone saw coming. As of this moment, I believe I have the surprise ending all set for this story, but as it’s not written yet that can certainly change!
As for a mix of things, there was a great practical article in Forbes titled How To Finance An Independent Film by Bryan Sullivan. While I’ve known about these steps for some time, it was nice to see a “drama” free article just present the facts. Often with the trades or some of the bloggers I follow (or used to follow), there’s this air of judgment or bias in their reporting that does nothing but lecture. This is an industry of creatives that develop stories for an audience. And while there most certainly are standard ways to accomplish that, the last thing we need to hear are “You can’t do this” or “You can’t do that” when it comes to building projects. Bottom line, all projects and their path to market take different roads.
I’ll admit there is a certain satisfaction in creating an original story. In the case of this story around the sport of figure skating, it’s worked out well so far that I was involved in the sport in so many different areas. From skating (I passed that Junior Free before the rule changes!), to teaching, to publishing a magazine for the sport to TV analyst work, I can say that this story travels from learn to skate, to receptions to the world championships with the FBI and NSA steadfastly involved that builds a story that takes us around the world.
Representing the United States.
This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.
My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.
In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed. But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.
As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.
Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles. After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously. After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.
The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.
As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States. For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.
Lights, camera, concept.
As 2015 comes to a close, it seems fitting to reflect on the past year as we look forward to 2016. The title of my end of year post is not only about the industry but about the movie Spotlight – “The true story of how The Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.” Having been a magazine publisher and now a filmmaker, Spotlight is an unprecedented film that must be seen. Simply put Spotlight presents the importance of investigative journalism as a filmmaking triumph.
On a personal level, I sadly know more than a few victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. On a knowledge level, very few people in Massachusetts didn’t know about this travesty in one form or another. You either heard about it, or knew a victim. But it was the “Spotlight” team at The Boston Globe that brought light to the darkness of so many. Spotlight is more than just another great movie, it represents the power of film and reminds us about the vital role that journalists have in a democracy. They are the voice for the voiceless.
I write passionately about this because when I was a magazine publisher there were more than a few times when I was pressured by the “powers that be” to silence a story by intimidation. I never caved in. I worked for my readers, not for some institution.
2015 has been a great year for film. From Spotlight, Trumbo, The Martian to the return of Star Wars, there was something for everyone. I almost feel sorry for The Academy. They have some really hard choices to make. But what it proves is that independent film, despite industry reports, is alive and well. This year proved, yet again, that original ideas still flourish.
The highlight for me this year was the 2nd anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind this past August. In addition to a reunion of the cast and crew, our 21st screening was another reminder that audiences want to see original works and they don’t care if those involved are household names. They just want to be entertained.
Perhaps the icing on the cake was the volume of media that covered the event from Worcester Magazine to our first international coverage in The Huffington Post. As Pamela Glasner stated in her article, “Justice Is Mind takes on less of a sci-fi feeling and more of a ‘forward-thinking documentary’ feeling.” All these efforts have been part of a long-term marketing plan to continue to introduce the film to new audiences. You can be sure, there are plans in the works for the 3rd anniversary screening.
This past year I continued to polish my political thriller SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When you consider the current political climate around the world and advances in mind-reading technologies, both of these projects continue to be well timed. There are significant efforts around both of these projects that I plan to introduce next year.
If there is one thing I learned in 2015 is that you have to continuously reach out to expand your networks because you’ll never know what’s possible until you try. From direct discussions with private equity groups and hedge funds to presenting new projects to relaunching my personal website and some new clients, this has been a most interesting year.
But as Constance Smith says in Justice Is Mind, “I didn’t promise you an easy case.” Nothing in this industry is easy. It is work done the old fashioned way like an investigative journalist. You research, email, telephone and network. As producer John Davis (The Blacklist) told The Hollywood Reporter about what his father Marvin Davis (who once owned 20th Century Fox) taught him, “Get your ass out of bed. Work your ass off. And when you drill 80 straight dry holes, which he did, make sure you drill the 81st, which he would also do and hit the mother lode.”
This past week, just as I finished some updates to SOS United States, the American Film Market began. No sooner does it start than this article in Deadline comes out lamenting the “slim pickings” and quoting a variety of industry executives from, “It’s the lightest market in memory. TV is definitely sucking up talent” to “It’s much tougher now to find those projects that have that clear theatrical profile.”
Attaching talent, even in the best of markets, has always been a challenge. But clear theatrical profile? How is that truly defined? Having secured a limited theatrical run with Justice Is Mind that had talented but unknown actors, I often wonder what metrics these “executives” use when measuring a film for commercial appeal. This has always been an industry where you had to think outside the box, particularly when you are introducing something new to the market.
There’s no question there has been a seismic shift in talent from film to TV, that’s why I have positioned In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, as a pilot for a TV series. Sure, it could be a standalone feature, but it just makes sense to have this option when presenting. I remember many years ago when I attended Mipcom listening to execs wishing they could bring some of the theatrical talent over to TV. This is an industry that shifts like the tides. It’s just a matter of product and timing.
Speaking of product, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by a “distributor” for Justice Is Mind for an “exclusive” deal in a major market. Sure I’m always interested in a new deal, but it has to make sense. No sooner did we conclude our initial call and documents arrived with the most ridiculous terms and requirements I have ever seen. Um, no, I will not reedit the opening and end credits of my film to include a laundry list of producers to make it look like you produced the film. Um, no, I will not upload my film for you to review to a mysterious website that can only be accessed by you after the fact. It was laughable. And if you say you have distributed hundreds of films, you best have a listing on IMDb. Just when you think you’ve seen everything you see something new.
As for timing, I never would have thought that after I wrote First World that China’s space program would truly boom the way it did or that the cyber attacks I present in SOS United States would become so front and center. When I first wrote Justice Is Mind that idea was born by one broadcast on 60 Minutes about ‘thought identification’ and my passion for a good legal drama. Could I have ever imagined the advances in mind reading technology and neurolaw? No, of course not.
In my view it’s impossible to time the market from an industry or consumer standpoint. If you have an idea for a new movie or TV series, just write it and then do everything you can to produce it. In the end, it all comes down to what the consumer wants and the way they want to watch it.
“Let them lead us.” SOS United States.
With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in full swing, I enjoy reading the dailies and the state of the industry. What was a relatively unusual trend is that The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire all generally reported that this market may be a slower one due to a conflux of trends; from the availability of cast driven projects to disappointments at the box office from previous festival sales. Truth be told, there is no crystal ball to predict what will resonate with audiences.
But if there is one thing that has to resonate with me, it’s inspiration. If I am not inspired by the subject matter, if I don’t believe in the material, if I can’t envision it on the screen, I can’t get behind it. One only has to witness the disaster that was the latest iteration of Fantastic Four. The film was a forced project for the sake of “rights” rather than passion.
With all my projects they are driven by something that inspired me. Whether it was the Apollo space program for First World, mind reading technology for Justice Is Mind or government conspiracies in SOS United States, it is the underlying material that motivates and inspires me. It’s not enough for me to be a filmmaker, I must be a promoter as well. Because if I don’t believe in the project why should anybody else.
This past week I ran into someone at my gym who has seen my films and he asked “How do I do it?” He was asking about the recent press we had around the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind. My response was pretty quick, “Because I believe in it.” I know how Justice has resonated with audiences. I know what their reactions have been after the screenings. But it was also coming up with an angle for the latest media push – second anniversary, positive audience reactions and a sequel in development with In Mind We Trust. It gave the media something to tell their audiences.
And this is what the industry is all about – the audience. I sometimes think this vital attribute is missed by the vacuum atmosphere of festivals. An audience at a film festival is vastly different from one at the local theater. At a festival you are probably a cinephile or industry executive and will see just about anything, but it’s the real world of the local theater that shines light on what an audience wants to see.
As The Hollywood Reporter stated, “Despite a challenging climate for indie film financing” projects are getting done because of valuable co-productions. Indeed this is an industry about partnerships. I learned this when our location partners for Justice Is Mind also became valuable marketing partners. It’s about inspiring others to see your vision.
Exactly one month from today Justice Is Mind will celebrate its Second Anniversary on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Actors and crew continue to RSVP their attendance, traditional and social media is picking up, photographers are confirmed and the theater has the film. Believe me there’s still plenty to do with the media follow ups and general marketing push, but the event is tracking well. For me it comes down to planning and organization. Time moves quickly and before you know it you are seeing your event come up on the horizon.
When I was writing In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, there were a few things I wanted to make sure the sequel captured. First, the Miller family was still the nucleus of the primary story while key plot points from part one (Justice Is Mind) were expanded. In the case of In Mind We Trust it was the government’s involvement with mind reading and their partnership with Reincar Scientific. Also, when you consider TV shows like The Blacklist, Fringe, etc., audiences enjoy what I call “intelligent intrigue”.
I am pleased to present the concept trailer for In Mind We Trust. The trailer can be watched on Vimeo or YouTube. My aim with the concept trailer was to introduce elements from Justice Is Mind that carry forward into the sequel In Mind We Trust. From part one we know the United States government and intelligence agencies are, for some reason, involved with mind reading technology. The answers become clear in the sequel, thus the concept trailer sheds some light on where the story will go. And as the U.S. Supreme Court has now become the defacto policy maker in our government, the concept trailer, like the screenplay, ends at America’s highest court in the land.
Of course, I want to thank Daniel Elek-Diamanta for the tremendous score he wrote for the concept trailer. The gravitas of his score just brings the entire concept trailer to life. Those of you that have been following Justice Is Mind know that Daniel scored the entire film. Indeed, as one of our actors said recently, it’s worth the price of the ticket just to hear his score. For those of you that can’t make our screening on August 18, please visit www.justiceismind.com for VOD viewing options.
But the real new horizon this week was not a movie, it was the actual New Horizons interplanetary spacecraft and successful Pluto flyby on July 14. The word “stunning” doesn’t even begin to describe the quality of the images New Horizons set back to Earth.
I was a bit too young (4) to appreciate the Apollo 11 Moon landing, but the excitement shared around the world about New Horizons encounter with Pluto was truly one for the history books. From NASA’s scientific achievement to the sheer enthusiasm of audiences around the world waiting and watching for those early pictures. I can only imagine how the New Horizons team felt when they were waiting for the spacecraft to communicate after its closest flyby. Nearly ten years in space, and years of planning before that, and you are waiting for a signal, until…
New Horizons phoned home.
To learn more about New Horizons and its historic mission to Pluto, please click this link.
There is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than seeing your film come to life in a theatre. It is in that moment that the memories of its development and production come to light. The months you spent writing the script and the time it took to raise the funding to make the film. And just after you hear “that’s a wrap”, more work begins until you have a completed project. Oh yes, then there is marketing and distribution. Welcome to my world.
This past Thursday was the DCP screen test of Justice Is Mind at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA. Although I was more than pleased with our theatrical DVDs, the clarity and crispness of the DCP was incredible. We’ve screened at two of their theatres before, but this was the first time I saw a DCP of the film. Some of you may be asking, what the hell is a DCP?
A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. It’s what theatres now generally receive from the studios, distributors and filmmakers. While I have yet to come across a theatre that cannot play a DVD, the default standard now is DCP. And my thanks again to the Chatham Orpheum theatre for making our DCP.
On August 18 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary with a special event screening at Cinemagic. Although this will be our 21st screening, I treat each screening like it’s the first one. I still feel like a kid in a candy store when I see Justice come to life on the big screen. The day I don’t feel that way is the day I set sail from this industry. I was particularly reflective when I was reviewing the last five minutes of the film and the credits started to roll. When you see over 200 names and companies, you quickly realize it takes a small army to make a film.
But this is an industry that never rests. Since the world premiere of Justice in 2013, I have written the political thriller SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. The pitch process is just as much on the front lines now as it was when I was presenting Justice in 2011. Just this week, I pitched First World to a producer that I thought for sure would have been interested (Chinese investor). It was a quick pass. Instead he asked what else I have in my slate and is now looking at SOS United States and In Mind We Trust.
Just as Justice Is Mind came together, the same formula and efforts apply to my other projects. At the end of the day, not only do you need to find the right producing partners, but almost literally the planets need to line up just right. It’s one thing to follow a film market like Cannes, AFM and Toronto and read about X projects that got picked up, funded or whatever. What is never talked about are the countless projects looking for some sort of home. Thankfully, Justice Is Mind has found a home.
So as I ramp up marketing plans for the 2nd Anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind, writing Winds of Fall continues while presentations move forward on SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust.
How I came up with the idea for Justice Is Mind is well known. I first saw a 60 Minutes broadcast that discussed ‘thought identification’ mind reading techniques being developed at Carnegie Mellon University. When Vernon Aldershoff and I screened Justice at Carnegie last April it was great having the opportunity to present the film at the very origins of its concept. But it was when I read about MMT NeuroTech in an article titled “Mind Reader: Meet The Man Who Records and Stores Your Thoughts, Dreams and Memories”, where my attention was fully peaked. Indeed, the science fiction in Justice Is Mind will soon be science fact.
In this special edition of The Ashton Times, I asked Donald Harvey Marks, M.D., PH.D., the Founder and CSO of MMT Neurotech, about the process and science behind the article.
1) YOUR TECHNOLOGY RECORDS AND STORES MEMORIES, HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE BEFORE SUCH MEMORIES CAN BE DECODED INTO VIDEO FORM?
Decoding of memory into videos has been in existence for several years to some degree. A number of laboratories have shown this technique to be useful including those of UC Berkeley. MMT NeuroTech is working actively to make this available in the immediate future.
2) WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE COMMERCIAL AND MEDICAL BENEFITS OF THIS PROCESS?
Memory recording is in many ways similar to the marvelous sense of discovery and personal freedom that people experienced when Edison introduced voice recording in the late 1800’s. Prior to that there was no method of hearing a person’s voice after the words were spoken. There must have been a similar sense of wonder thousands of years ago when the written word was first introduced.
Once there is widespread awareness of memory recording, I think that many individuals will want to make recordings for themselves and for other people. Recording a memory is the only way to preserve the personal awareness permanently. Rather than recording the outer experience through photography, video or the written word, you can record the inner experience- your own actual experience. Back in the day of Edison, people did not initially know the many things that would be possible by recording a voice. It was beyond their understanding until it actually began to happen. Now we are able to preserve the actual memory of an event or personal thought rather than the general occurrence. Playback on a screen should be possible and we have plans for developing play back inside the mind.
Noncommercial medical applications will include preservation of memory in those individuals who are losing their memory with possible future reimplantation of those memories. Memory recording will help in the study of complex memory processes for development of new medications or devices to facilitate memory, and treat memory impairment.
3) DO YOU SEE SUCH PROCEDURES BEING USED IN COURTROOMS AS WE SAW IN
JUSTICE IS MIND?
I think that memory recording will follow the introduction of the use of functional MRI for interrogation and determination of truthful vs deceptive responses. This technique is already being offered by MMT Neurotech. However our justice system protects the individual from self-incrimination so forced fMRI for criminal prosecution will not be possible.
4) WHEN A PATIENT ELECTS TO HAVE THIS PROCEDURE, WHAT DO THEY GO THROUGH?
For recording memories, the individual must be able to undergo an MRI. While the MRI is being done, questions are read to the person about every 15 seconds and they are asked to think about and visualize their answers. The questions are determined by the person and given to the examiner to read. There can also be private questions that only the person knows. Examples might be ‘think of the earliest memory of your mother’ or ‘think about the most exciting moment in your life’. Celebrities, sports stars or politicians may want to record their experiences for fans to potentially download or for historians to access in the future.
A single memory scan can last long as 15-20 minutes and scans can be repeated as many times as a person might want to preserve as many memories as they wish. Unlike with the CT scan, with the MRI there is no radiation. The data is downloaded from the machine and sent to a computational neuroimaging center at MMT NeuroTech where the data is stored and interpreted. The final product eventually is made available to the client. Not everyone can undergo an MRI, but most people can do so easily.
5) GENERALLY, THIS SEEMS TO BE A FAIRLY NEW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. WE HAVE SEEN WHAT’S BEING DONE AT CARNEGIE MELLON FROM THE 60 MINUTES STORY, TO WHAT HAS BEEN DONE AT BERKELEY TO REVEAL CRUDE VIDEO IMAGES OF MEMORY. ARE SCIENTISTS LIKE YOURSELF WORKING TOGETHER ON THIS PROCESS OR IS IT MORE PROPRIETARY AT THIS POINT.
MMT NeuroTech does have significant proprietary processes. We are interested in university affiliations and have already established several corporate affiliations.
With the business plan for In Mind We Trust completed, work now begins again in earnest to market my slate of films for development, The one thing I have learned about this industry since I made First World, and during my time as a magazine publisher, is that investment can come from anywhere at any time. They key, as I learned with Justice Is Mind, is to be ready when the time is right.
Christopher Nolan said it best in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of weeks ago when talking about his career, “The thing that happens to a lot of people is that you get that opportunity, somebody says, ‘I really loved your film, what else do you have?’ And if you don’t have anything, or if you’ve just got vague ideas, it’s very difficult to take advantage of that moment, and that moment doesn’t come around again,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on it.” Obviously, I agree.
My feature length screenplay First World worked great to make the short film version in 2006. Yes, that project as a feature is years in development, but the short film version is in the market and the script award nominations have served as a great foundation. Just over the last couple of months, sales of the short film have tripled from this time last year and China is moving along at breakneck speed with their space program. Timing is better now to present. As this article on Hollywood.com shows, some projects just take time to develop.
The idea for SOS United States came to me when I was in the process of managing the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind. I’ve always loved the political thrillers made during the Cold War. The idea of developing a story that pits the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as they deal with a potential nuclear device on a commercial ocean liner bound for Boston, certain reflects the political and military tensions we see in the world today.
But it was the sequel to Justice Is Mind that called to me this past November. I always figured that, “someday I would write a sequel”. But I didn’t know it would develop so quickly. For me, when I get an idea I just need to run with it. The result is In Mind We Trust. With a story that reunites a number of the original characters from Justice with new characters against the world covert surveillance, government power, reincarnation and the horrors of World War II, the screenplay, like Justice Is Mind, is a demonstration of competing genres that I believe work well together. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “Mark Lund’s film is a thriller-gone-courtroom-drama-gone-sci-fi. Such extreme shifts in genre should not work. But they more than work in this case.”
Through all this is the navigation of a changing industry and the needs, interests and wants of investors. As I learned from my original investor in my old publishing company, to my backers on Justice Is Mind, these things take patience and perseverance and being ready when the time is right. It’s about staying a course that is true to the projects and to never capitulate.
This Thursday I announce that Justice Is Mind will go live on another VOD platform which has over 170 million users around the world. What’s so interesting to me is the constant ever changing world of film distribution. Most of the VOD platforms we are now on didn’t even exist when I wrote the business plan for Justice. Imagine where this business will be in the next five years.
Speaking of business plans, I’m about two-thirds completed with In Mind We Trust. While this plan certainly has many characteristics that are similar to SOS United States in terms of demographics and the Cold War overtures, there are of course numerous differences. It’s highlighting those differences in terms of marketing and public relations that will certainly aide the project as it moves forward.
One area that has sparked quite a bit of discussion has been the past-life reincarnation of Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind. In In Mind We Trust this area of the story is fully realized. How incredible was it that NBC News, and countless other media outlets, reported this past week about one ten year old boy who details a past life he had as a Hollywood actor. The report itself is fascinating and you can watch it at this link. Personally, I do believe in past lives. Like the research and science that’s part of “thought identification” mind-reading, this will be another area that I’ll be watching develop.
As for developments there is an upcoming movie called Women in Gold that stars Helen Mirren in which she plays a character who seeks to reclaim a piece of artwork that was stolen during The Third Reich, a claim that winds up at the Supreme Court. Based on a true story, there are the parallels between that film and Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust. In Justice, the painting in question is Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man that engages a conflict between Henri Miller and his father Joseph Miller. In In Mind We Trust, we learn the backstory of the painting and how it came into the possession of Henri Miller.
Of course some things have changed from a business point of view, locally, here in Massachusetts. Our state’s film tax credit may soon disappear. In my view, the credit obviously, is a good thing. But as I understand the way our state’s tax credit is written, it does need an overhaul. An overhaul is one thing, but a termination is something else. The large studio productions that shoot in the state will just take their business to other states and an entire industry will simply atrophy. Many businesses have made significant investments that will have to be written off in terms of infrastructure and jobs. Simply, there has to be another alternative.
While we didn’t qualify for the state tax credit on Justice Is Mind, we would on In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World. If, by example, In Mind We Trust is produced for say around $100K plus on the low budget end, it won’t matter really if there’s a credit or not. But bring in a multi-million dollar budget with named talent and suddenly, and rightly so, you are looking elsewhere as it comes down to the overall project. Think about it. A film, even with a budget of $500,000, can earn a credit of 25%+. That’s not money you leave on the table, you simply take the table to another state or country that maximizes your capital.
In every film there is the inciting incident. That moment (or moments) that drives the story in Act 1 from the established world of the characters to a turning point when the characters have to “act” to drive the story in Act 2. In Justice Is Mind it’s when Henri Miller collapses on his property. In SOS United States it’s when we learn there is a nuclear bomb on an ocean liner. In First World it’s when we learn what Apollo 11 discovered on the Moon. In the sequel to Justice Is Mind it’s when….sorry can’t reveal that yet!
There is one area of Justice Is Mind that has resonated universally well with audiences and those were the courtroom scenes. In the United States I live in a country of perpetual congressional hearings. I swear they should have their own network! In Justice Is Mind we learn that there were congressional hearings that approved the FVMRI procedure. In the sequel, a new round of congressional hearings is now underway. As a writer it will be interesting to explore this process and how it works. Much like I had to do with the courtroom scenes in Justice Is Mind, it comes down to research. In addition to how congressional hearings are administered, I’ve also been revisiting fringe science in terms of mind-reading and DNA sequencing. Suffice to say it’s been an interesting journey so far.
With a few investor conferences scheduled this week, it should be an interesting one for SOS United States and First World as well. A screenplay, in my view, is like an architectural drawing. There it sits while one proposal after another is submitted to secure funding to break ground and build something new. Indeed, that’s the way Justice Is Mind was built. And really is this process any different from that of an actor going on an audition? Like an actor wanting to secure a part in a solid production, the same thing holds true with securing an investor for a film. It’s more than just talent and capital, it’s about long-term partnerships.
I read an article in one of the trades some months ago where a producer mentioned something along the lines of “do I want to be in business with these people for five plus years”. That really is what this industry comes to…a long tail approach. Sure, you have your “premiere” but the business continues long after that. Just this past week I had a couple of conversations with schools that may be interested in screening Justice Is Mind and there are more VOD platforms coming online soon. Building your new architectural wonder may be the fun part, but then you have to have it occupied.
Speaking of building, that’s what I’m doing with the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When it’s completed I’ll have a slate of three films ready for production. I’m writing the sequel not only because I want to, but because some people have queried me on a sequel. Why not have something at the ready or at least in the works?
But like a building, a screenplay just can’t be thrown together. It has to be carefully constructed. And like the original story in Justice Is Mind, the sequel isn’t just an addition it has to tower on its own.
Another AFM is over. Aside from attendance being up, I’m not sure how much has changed from last year (or even the year before). We all know that foreign sales agents want top talent so they can sell internationally and VOD is disruptive. This “disruption” if you will has been in the works for years. But like the bygone days of magazine publishing when publishers refused to accept the internet, if one thing has changed this year it is that the industry has finally woken up to the reality that VOD is where this industry is and where it’s going for the foreseeable future. At the click of a mouse consumers will decide what they want and when they want it. But regardless of the trends it does come down to telling a story first and, oh yes, on a reasonable budget.
The foundation of every movie starts with the screenplay. In all this “noise” about the state of the industry it still surprises me how suddenly the screenplay becomes a sidebar in the conversations. How many times do we read about this “A lister” or that “A lister” attached to such and such a project. A lot of excitement, press, accolades and then the film comes out and it just doesn’t resonate with audiences…for whatever reason…and never recoups their budget. This is one trend that’s terrible for the industry. While the A lister may go to win an award for best performance, someone or some company is adding up losses. And losses are never good in any business.
But with VOD platforms on the exponential rise, budgets simply need to be adjusted as the DVD market has collapsed. I absolutely agree with AFM’s Managing Director Jonathan Wolf when he said, “We’ve got 50 companies who are in what we call mini-booths, where they only spend $3,900 for the space yet they’re bringing films and having a commercially acceptable experience. If you can make a couple films for $300,000 and sell each for $600,000, you have a business.” My political thriller SOS United States has a budget just north of $300,000.
I read a great story in IndieWire this week titled “Why It’s a Great Time to Be an Independent Filmmaker” by Naomi McDougall Jones. She could not be more right when stating, “I believe there are those who crave what I crave as an audience member; to be genuinely surprised; to have my own prejudices exploded; to leave the theater altered from whom I was when I went in.” These are the same comments I’ve heard from audience members that have seen Justice Is Mind.
Justice Is Mind and Jones’s film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, are apples and oranges in genre, but share the same type of approach to the market. We have a theatrical run, press and VOD. It’s all very doable. But it’s also work done the old fashioned way. It takes time (lots of it), research and effort.
But if there is one new trend from AFM this year that’s a major positive are the new distributors entering the market. With studios focusing on tentpoles they have created a need for the rest of the market. As Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk tells Variety, “The majority of filmmakers have to be interested in a new model for releasing indie films, and you could not say that two or three years ago.”
And so as I write the sequel to Justice Is Mind and present First World and SOS United States for investment and development, I too believe this is a great time to be an independent filmmaker. It just takes the three ‘p’s I have often mentioned: plan, perseverance and patience.
The Barnstable Patriot summed up Justice Is Mind nicely, “In the film, past life memory and future mind tapping by machines merge in a psychological thriller, which develops slowly and then grips you with its logical twists and mysteries, haunting you afterward.”
From September 11-25, Justice Is Mind will be part of Viewster’s Online Film Festival (#VOFF). Their theme for this festival is “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid”. There have been several moments after our screenings when attendees have said they are “scared” for this technology. In fact, one attendee at a screening even said something along the lines they are “terrified “of what these “mind reading” machines could do.
Point in fact, maybe they should be scared or at least concerned. An article was published in the International Business Times this week titled, “Mind Reader: Meet The Man Who Records and Stores Your Thoughts, Dreams and Memories.” The subtitle “US startup MMT has become the first to commercialise the storing of memories.” Is the technology I postulate in Justice Is Mind here in 2014? I’m not sure. But one thing is certain from all the articles about mind-reading that have been published over the last year, this technology will be science fact in the future and it will be part of our everyday lives. I simply envision it to be as commonplace as checking a box before you have an MRI. Do you want an FVMRI?
For sure, Viewster will open up an international market for Justice Is Mind. Domestically, I could not be more excited for our Cape Cod Premiere on September 18 at the Chatham Orpheum Theater. With so many films looking for an audience, that’s exactly what theatrical screenings do – build audiences, awareness and, just as important, press. What better way to launch onto Viewster’s festival when you have over 100,000 Google entries along with audiences that have seen the film and journalists that have reported on it pushing awareness.
These September initiatives will push nicely into October when Justice Is Mind has its International Premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner on October 29. Part of the onboard program will be a filmmaking seminar I’ll be presenting to guests a few days before. It’s a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation that will introduce attendees to the world of independent filmmaking. When one considers what goes into making a feature film, I think audiences will have a whole new appreciation on the process.
What Adrien Brody said in The Wrap really sums up the efforts of so many of us in this industry, “It is obviously a very competitive profession. It takes a tremendous amount of luck to be at the right place and the right time and to nail it when given the opportunity.” Having worked on both sides of the camera I could not agree more. To say this industry is competitive is an understatement. It takes tremendous will, determination and perseverance. In closing I am reminded about a quote from the character Paul McGill in Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Women of Substance.
“We are each the authors of our own lives.”