Just before visiting a friend in Newport last Sunday (who is also one of the actors in First Signal), I went to Easton Beach to do some drone photography. Since I purchased the DJI Spark last year for First Signal I’ve had a great time taking all kinds of images. The number of doors it has opened for me and my projects has been very encouraging. Photography and film, in my view, is all about inspiration.
I have two favorite mansions I love to visit in Newport; The Elms and Rosecliff. I don’t recall if The Elms was closed last weekend, but I know that Rosecliff has converted the second floor (which was primarily bedrooms) into an exhibition space.
Discovering Bill Cunningham: Facades was an absolute delight. Having been to New York City in the 70s and lived there in the 80s, I could relate to the atmosphere of the city at the time when he captured these images. The juxtaposition of his muse Editta Sherman wearing all kinds of period costumes against the architecture of New York was truly inspiring. If you’re in the Newport area or plan to visit, this is one exhibit I highly recommend.
For me Rosecliff has held a particular fondness. It was the first mansion I visited with my mother in the 1980s. When I was publishing a figure skating magazine in the 90s and early 2000s, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan at the estate. I think “Tessie” Oelrichs would be pleased how Rosecliff is still entertaining guests well into in the 21st century.
With pre-production well under way for First Signal, it’s exhibitions like Bill Cunningham: Facades that inspire ideas for my own projects. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” reminds me of the still photographs you often see accompany the production of a film. While making a film is about moving pictures, it’s “the still” that often promotes the project.
In my view inspiration doesn’t happen overnight. In the creative world, it comes from a cumulative effect of new experiences. It also comes from surrounding yourself with equally good people that inspire and motivate you to create. In today’s world of always being “plugged in” it’s easy to get drawn in to those that endlessly complain or live in a world of negativity. Those that live in that world are, as I said when I was in a Star Trek fan film, “dismissed.” Simply put, life is short but I’m making a feature.
When I was interviewed for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary The Price of Gold, the memories of the events at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships quickly came back to life. It was my first “Nationals” as an accredited journalist for the magazine I recently launched. Little did I know that a plan was in the works that would forever change the sport of figure skating. That plan resulted in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. For those who want to get a solid unbiased perspective on what happened during that time, I strongly suggest you watch the documentary. Director Nanette Burstein did a brilliant job presenting the story.
As I read the industry trades regularly I heard about a movie in development that was presenting the story as a black comedy. How do you make a black comedy around a planned attack? Why do you center it on the skater that was banned from the sport of figure skating due to either her knowledge of, actions, or some other involvement in this vicious attack on another skater?
The entertainment industry is littered with hypocrisy. I’m sure some producer was well aware of the tens of millions that were captivated then and how successful the ESPN documentary was. But just because there is a perceived market for something, doesn’t mean that it should be produced. This isn’t a story of fiction, this is one of fact. But the film that just came out two days ago not only makes a laughing stock of the sport, but elevates the perpetrator to the sympathy vote. Let me be clear, anyone who is anyone who follows the sport or works in it, has zero sympathy for her. There’s a reason why she was banned from the sport. I don’t care how many accolades, awards or positive reviews this film receives, it never should have been made.
Nancy Kerrigan is a friend. In addition to skating with her a bit on the same ice many years ago, I interviewed her many times. We really got to know each other when we were on Skating with Celebrities and flew back and forth between Los Angeles and Boston. She is probably not only one of the hardest working skaters I know, but one of the bravest.
Here is someone who was horribly attacked just because she was pursuing her dream to be the best. That’s what sport is all about. To be the best and to be honest in that pursuit. There are no shortcuts. There is no easy path. You attack the ice, not your competitor. You beat them on the podium, not on a knee.
When I think of what Nancy had to go through mentally and physically after that tragedy it still defies any sort of explanation. It was bravery bar none. It’s one thing to overcome a physical setback, it happens all time in sports. But to have it compounded with a planned attack on you so your adversary has a better chance to win, that person should never be allowed to shine again—particularly in a film that presents her sympathetically.
There are so many interesting true stories that could be told in figure skating. One has to ask, is this the only story the sport has to offer? I’ll confess I only watched the first hour of this “non-skating” film and clicked off the screener. Enough was enough.
The real story is about Nancy Kerrigan. How she steadfastly pulled herself together after the tragedy and went on to enjoy a successful skating career. At the end of the day she took to the ice in the rink, not in in the glass.
Although fall doesn’t officially start until the 22nd, for most of us in New England, it starts after the Labor Day weekend. While I like the summer, I love the fall. It’s also the time of year when I tend to be the busiest.
This week starts another class at the Naval Justice School. In addition to falling back into my character as a Special Agent of NCIS, I’ll also be directing the mock-trial program on site for the agencies that retained us. I have to say this is one acting job I always look forward to. As the majority of the same actors have returned from the previous class, I think the same can be said for all involved.
What makes this a unique gig for actors is the ability to play a character for 11 days. As these are role-playing parts, once you have the situation memorized it makes for a great opportunity to really bring a character to life. The atmosphere of the school alone is what makes it engaging as a performer.
As for law and engagement, I learned this week that Kinonation, our distributor for Justice Is Mind, secured another outlet with Udu Digital. From their email to me, “Udu is an ad supported (AVOD) streaming service available on the Roku media player that’s used by over 13 million people every month in the US.” It’s always nice to see another outlet picking up my first feature film!
And feature film is what the fall is also about. With the Toronto International Film Festival in full swing it’s always interesting to see what deals are struck. One film that did great was Chappaquiddick with a $20 million commitment. As a Massachusetts resident most of us know of the story chronicled in this film. It will be interesting to see how this film does in the state versus the rest of the country. At the end of the day the Kennedy name is nationally known. So that alone will carry some of the marketing.
But name and marketing will be key with one other film that is gaining substantial traction at the festival. That would be I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie. While the film has been well reviewed, it has been reported that the film arrived to the festival without distribution. Of course that may have already changed, but the real question is this – what are the commercial aspects to one of the darkest moments in figure skating history?
In addition to being at the event in Detroit in 1994, I know some of the players involved (Nancy Kerrigan in particular). I was also interviewed for ESPN’s The Price of Gold documentary in 2014 about the incident. Part of me says this story has already been told…countless times. Is this the only story that figure skating can tell or could this mean a broader interest in movies around the sport? It’s impossible to tell at this point. And, you guessed it, I’m monitoring these developments because of Serpentine.
Finally, I wrap up this week’s post with a great piece of artwork from Daniel Elek-Diamanta. This is the sound wave from Justice Is Mind, Daniel’s first composing gig. He wanted a unique wallpaper for his computer. I’d say he struck the right chord!
Last Sunday my friend Kim Merriam and I went on a day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Aside from knowing Kim since we first met as teens at the local figure skating club, Evidence and Justice Is Mind were both shot at her house. As I’ve toured every Newport Mansion at least twice, I left it to her to pick which one to tour. She selected my favorite mansion – Rosecliff.
Rosecliff is particularly special to me. Having first visited the mansion with my mother in the early 1980s and being the location for The Great Gatsby and other films, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan there for the cover of the figure skating magazine I used to publish. It also gave me some additional ideas for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating that I will be formally announcing this week with the launch of the website.
In the story there are two starring characters, a champion figure skater and the president of the national governing body. While the former has been struggling financially, the latter, in addition to her skating responsibilities, runs a multi-national industrial concern. The setting for her estate should be a grand one like a Rosecliff. On a side note, in early 2017 Rosecliff will be featuring an exhibition to all the films that have been shot at the mansion. That will be a must see!
As an independent filmmaker, it’s about laying the foundation for all aspects of a new project well in advance. From visiting possible locations to talent, crew, etc. This week I began reaching out to colleagues I used to work with regularly in the sport to introduce them to the project before the announcement. It was one thing when I went to World’s this year in Boston telling people I had an idea, it’s another to send them a completed script.
It was great working with Adam Starr over the last few weeks to create the first concept poster of the project. In addition to being an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, I’ve worked with Adam since my days as a magazine publisher. From producing my first corporate video back in the day to his special effect work on Justice Is Mind, he really knows how to take an idea and run with it.
When he created the official poster for Justice Is Mind, my idea for the concept was pretty straight forward. I wanted to incorporate an MRI scan along with a picture of Henri Miller looking towards the future and the reincarnated Wilhelm Miller looking towards the past. He pretty much got it on the first pass.
Writing an original story takes time. It is not something that is just thrown together for the sake of rushing a project to market. For me it’s about developing and creating a project that’s long remembered after its initial release. Isn’t this the whole reason why we get into screenwriting and filmmaking – to tell original stories?
For those that follow me on social media you’ll see me post a “Now watching…” comment usually followed by a film produced between the 1930s and 1970s. I gravitate towards those decades as that’s when original stories were told to great fanfare without the special effects being the story. Thankfully with the democratization of the film industry from production to distribution, filmmakers have the opportunity to tell their stories outside the Hollywood system.
INT. ICE RINK – OPENING CREDITS