No the title of this week’s post doesn’t refer to a meeting hall, but the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This famed building assembled the Saturn V and Space Shuttle vehicles and will be home to the Space Launch System in the future. Assembly building could also refer to the process of creating a film.
This past week I have been quietly talking to certain actors and crew about First Signal. While I mentioned last week the plan to produce this film in August, I’m purposely being quiet on who exactly is involved until after the fact. Yes, a few actors have already been cast and I started to reach out to crew. Of course it’s exciting to bring a project to light, but there is a method to this “secrecy”.
Those that follow me have probably noticed that I haven’t published one line of dialogue, mentioned a proposed location or stated who is already with the project. For First Signal this is all about building a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign around this “First World” universe. Much like the careful thought and preparation that goes into the assembly of a space vehicle, the same holds true for a film (but not nearly as complicated!).
With the number of films being created due to the democratization of the process of filmmaking, I believe it is imperative to have some sort of solid public relations and marketing campaign tied to your project. I did this with the magazines I published and have carried this discipline to my film projects. I say discipline because that’s what you need when making a movie. Yes, it’s all very exciting when you are on set and actually making a dream come to life, but the years, months, weeks and days leading up that moment is one of careful planning and execution. In particular, the genre of science fiction takes a certain amount of world building to make it original.
Of course what this also comes down to is making a project interesting for a consumer audience. This article in The Hollywood Reporter addressed the gamble films take with a box office release versus selling to Netflix. I firmly believe it was the limited theatrical release we had for Justice Is Mind that led to the majority of press reports and consumer awareness.
Honestly, unless a film has some sort of momentum owing to cast or concept, how do you differentiate one movie from another in the sea of video on demand? Do you hope it’s discovered on VOD or do you give it a consumer marketing push first with a theatrical release? I’ll always believe the latter makes the most sense.
A few months ago I thought seriously about attending the American Film Market (AFM). Aside from the fact that I’m due for a visit to Los Angeles to catch up with friends and colleagues, there’s no question that networking opportunities at AFM are important to anyone in the industry.
Before I spend some thousands of dollars to attend (or on anything), one does have to be practical about it. Will there be a return? In my view, “Hollywood” is a year round industry and “pitching” isn’t married to a film market. But markets are something I’ve been tracking for several years and when The Hollywood Reporter starts its day 3 daily with the headline, “AFM Dealmakers in Revolt! ‘There’s Nothing for Us’”, I’m glad I didn’t make the trek.
I predicted that when Hulu came online that VOD would be the future for independent film. Now in 2017, Amazon and Netflix are the saviors of independent film. Television, whether terrestrial, cable or VOD, has taken so many A and B+ actors out of the independent film world to the more lucrative TV industry. So what’s left? Well, to quote from The Hollywood Reporter’s day 3 daily, “A lack of big-name, must-have projects is leading to plenty of grumbling at the market, with some buyers wondering if this year marks the ‘death knell’ for the indies. Says one frustrated insider: ‘It’s B-, C- and D-quality stuff’”.
If you read the dailies from the film markets you know the hundreds, if not thousands, of films that are looking for some sort of home. Something to recoup the investment that has been put up for someone’s dream. This is an industry of dreams envisioned and dreams realized. It’s important, for obvious reasons, that we keep the dream alive.
In my view the dream will be kept alive with a good story. Plain. Simple. To the point. Star driven independent films only do one thing, drive up the cost of the film with no guarantee of return at the box office. That’s fact, not fiction.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind my goal from day one was to produce it myself (with investors of course). Sure, I presented it to some production companies, but the feedback was unreal. There is this assumption that after you do all the hard work you somehow need their help. Here is a recent email I received from a production company, “I didn’t had the chance to look in details at the project as they seem to be in too early stage for us. Don’t hesitate to keep us posted when you will have a budget, cast, financial plan.” Putting aside the horrid grammar, the question begs to be asked, “And I need you why after I’ve done all this work?” The answer is simple, I don’t need you.
Producing a film is not rocket science. You just need a good script and capital. Done. Yes, it is that simple. The “rocket science” comes up if you’ve never produced because there are countless details you need to know, particularly when it comes to post-production (sound engineering anyone?). It also can get involved if you decide to use a named actor and have to deal with the myriad issues around that. Seriously, at the end of the day a filmmaker just wants to see their dream come to life. Having produced four films (3 shorts and 1 feature) and seeing them come to life on the silver screen is a feeling like none other.
Tomorrow I start to write this new feature with the same production aim as Justice Is Mind. The title of this new feature may have the word First in it, but thankfully it will be the fifth.
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.
With Marche Du Film (Cannes) coming up, I always find it interesting to learn about the new players while reading about the fate of others. No doubt in the weeks ahead we will read in the trades about the big splash of a new company’s star driven acquisition or the sorry story of others that used to hold court on private yachts. Having been to Cannes many years ago (not for the festival) the location is truly a stunning one to announce a major project.
There is no question that this is an industry of flash. When you have good news to announce you do so publicly, loudly and in grand fashion. The whole point is to cut through the noise to get your project noticed. As I’ve said time and time again, this industry is as much about making motion pictures as it is about promoting them. This is why in so many cases when you see a production budget you multiply it by itself for marketing and public relations.
But then there are the rest of us that aren’t making $175 million motion pictures (at least not yet!). What filmmakers like me rely on is reliable consistent revenue from VOD. While so many players come and go in this industry, we rely on VOD platforms to be there year after year. Although sites like Netflix are in a public relations battle with Cannes, Amazon is playing by the rules and, “was not coming to the South of France “looking to disrupt Cannes,” adding, “You have to approach Cannes on its own terms.”
And while Cannes is one of the world’s greatest launching pads for a film, there are VOD sites like TubiTV that are also making waves. Just this past week the site announced a $20 million outside investment. Justice Is Mind has been on TubiTV for several months and has started to gain some solid traction. I’ve also noticed an increase in traffic for Justice on other VOD sites. All these upticks bode well for the industry as a whole. It shows that consumers are watching across a variety of platforms and it doesn’t matter if they are star driven $100 million plus budgets or films made for under $100K. At the end of the day audiences want to be entertained and they want the choice to be theirs.
But as the industry enters a new season it’s a review of my current projects First World, SOS United States, Serpentine and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. Are my websites updated? Do they convey the current status of each project? You know what they say about first impressions, you only get one to make one.
There is, however, a cardinal rule that I live by. I never disclose who I’m talking to and who I submitted to. This is why I declined to respond to a local entertainment publication that reached out to me on one of my projects. This is like when actors announce who they just auditioned for (or what festivals a filmmaker submitted to). I promise you that doesn’t help you get the part any quicker. In fact, it can have an opposite result. The same holds true for behind the scenes conversations. Sure, the trades like to know what’s going on, but confidentiality is paramount.
However, I will say this. The world’s largest oversees mobile player picked up Justice Is Mind from our distributor earlier this year. But until it’s live, I’ll hold on the formal announcement.
Tomorrow I formally announce the premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program and encore screening of Justice Is Mind for March 6. Yes, that means it begins with a press release, email newsletter and rollout of the marketing and public relations plan. This is when I substitute my director’s hat for that of distributor. In the world of being an independent filmmaker, wearing multiple hats is what’s it’s all about. My last bit as director on Serpentine are the nuances around the color correction that will be completed this week.
With our return to The Strand Theatre, I can’t help but reflect on the last several years. If I count both films, we are talking about over 220 people that have had some sort of part in bringing these projects to life. As I’ve often mentioned to fellow actors and filmmakers, the completion of films, their premieres and other associated milestones don’t happen regularly and should be embraced and enjoyed when they do. It’s very easy to read the trades and see the results of the end product, but for anyone that has produced or directed, I promise there was a long road to that point. For Serpentine, this has been a one year plus project. What started in January 2016 with the firing up of Final Draft will be seen in a month on the silver screen.
But what March 6 will represent to me is what’s possible in the real world of independent film. I say real world, because there wasn’t a seven figure budget involved in these projects (or even six ). In the real world it’s about collaboration to make a project possible. It’s also about working with those that share your vision. It’s about pushing the envelope to the edge with the resources you have to see it come to life on the silver screen.
Speaking of the silver screen, I was reading this article in the Mirror about the new golden age of picture houses. I fondly remember the world premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2013 at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY that was built in 1930. As for the Strand Theatre it was built in 1924 as a vaudeville theater. There’s something about their vaulted ceilings and ornate designs that make any screening in these venues a memorable one. The trend mentioned in the article can allay any fears about VOD ending the need for theaters.
As I’ve often stated, both theaters and VOD can easily co-exist and well they should. The industry didn’t come to end when TV was invented or when VHS came to market. In fact, they enhanced the industry. They created a secondary market for additional returns. But now it’s Amazon, Netflix and others that are in so many ways leading the industry for independent film. Who would have thought an online platform would finance a film only to have them first distribute it theatrically before landing on their platform. It’s just another example of how this industry modernizes itself without losing sight of where it all started.
But sometimes modernization comes with needed adjustment. I was delighted to learn that IMDb.com is shutting down their discussion boards. The boards were mostly a cesspool of hate filed bitter comments by faceless trolls. While the consumer review section enhances a film, the discussion boards did nothing for the experience. For a company like IMDb it’s about manpower, monitoring and deleting hate filled posts, baseless facts and lord knows what else. Oh but when they did delete, the poster cries like it’s their right to do whatever they want wherever they want. It’s not censorship it’s about defacing a property that is not yours. Try walking on to the property of your next door neighbor and shouting your opinions from the top of your lungs. You would be rightly arrested. You want your right to free speech? Go to your own Facebook page (even they have terms and conditions), start a blog, yell from your property or better yet just go to the public town square and see if anyone cares. Because until you put your name to it nobody does because you don’t exist.
Unless you are living under the proverbial rock, all of us involved in the industry are paying close attention to Cannes. For me, I’m always interested in the business of distribution and marketing because at the end of the day you have to get your film seen. With VOD distribution all the rage, there’s no wonder that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is being so widely quoted—and rightly so.
As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, on any given week there are numerous things I try to accomplish for my projects. From pitching, to writing, to editing, to marketing, there’s always something going on. But this week, things jumped ahead.
With Justice Is Mind successfully distributed, my attention has largely turned to my current slate of projects with First World, SOS United States and In Mind We Trust. While I continue to market Justice Is Mind on a daily basis, the goal is to secure the necessary partnerships to bring the next project forward. That goal took several steps forward this week with a great Skype meeting with a producer and his team in the United Kingdom. From my days in publishing, to our recent partnership with Cunard Line for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the Queen Elizabeth, I’ve always enjoyed working with colleagues “across the pond”.
The one thing any filmmaker will tell you is that this is an industry of partnerships and collaboration. From the actors, crew, location, marketing and distribution partners, over two hundred people from two countries were involved in Justice Is Mind. For good reason, I keep in touch with most of them. One of those reasons is a new project I’m working on.
My friend Alberto Mercado is a published author and a wonderful photographer. Al photographed Justice Is Mind’s screenings in Sturbridge and Millbury. His photos were such a hit they soon started to show up as headshots on IMDB and Facebook.
A few weeks ago at a party at his house we started talking about the “mechanics” of filmmaking. The conversation was not dissimilar to one I had with my investors in Justice Is Mind back in 2012. Al wanted to see one of his books made into a motion picture. He attended several of Justice Is Mind’s theatrical screenings, including my short film Evidence, so he knew what my capabilities were. But was there a story? Indeed there was. A great story. One that I wanted to tell.
Oddly enough, Al thought I was reading his book A Rose for Essie Mae when in fact I was reading Winds of Fall. In the end, he was glad I read Winds instead. So I am pleased to announce that I have been commissioned to write a screenplay adaption of Alberto Mercado’s book Winds of Fall and to direct the feature. The plan is to complete the script this summer with Al financing the production for either this fall or spring.
Like the funding that came together for Justice Is Mind, the road to the Skype meeting, our screening on the Queen Elizabeth and the journey to bring Winds of Fall to the big screen, you just don’t know where the next opportunity is going to come from. As the late actor Maximilian Schell said, this is an industry of chances.