Anyone that knows me knows that I love science fiction movies. It’s hard to say what are my favorites, but last night I did add one to that list – The Martian. There are so many films that have revolved around Mars, but The Martian really did it right–from a captivating story to real world science. Although there were many aspects of the film I enjoyed, one plot point that I thought was terrific was the cooperation between NASA and the CNSA (China National Space Administration). If you’re on the fence about seeing The Martian jump off and go see it, you’ll be glad you did.
The cooperation between NASA and the CNSA is also a major plot point in First World when China announces its first manned mission to the Moon four years ahead of schedule. When I first introduced the story back in 2007, who would have thought that China’s space program and film industry would be booming to such a degree. At some point in the future I feel it is inevitable, and rightly so, that the United States and China will cooperate on space exploration – especially when it comes to a manned mission to Mars.
With the Toronto International Film Festival concluded and the American Film Market starting in a few weeks, it’s always interesting to see what comes out from industry trends to sales. It was well reported that Toronto was a slow market, but it could be just the opposite at AFM. But what we do know is that audiences will turn out for a great story and a trend can change overnight. So many films that revolved around Mars have fared poorly, but The Martian has reversed that trend.
The one thing I learned some years ago was to have a slate of projects ready to present at a moment’s notice as you never really know what’s going to resonate when you pitch. Case in point was Justice Is Mind. It was packaged as a low-budget independent as opposed to First World which has a multi-million dollar budget. With In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind completed and with some minor updates to my political thriller SOS United States, it’s always interesting to see what project gets attention over the other.
And now on a business note. Like the producer I mentioned last week that gets unsolicited scripts sent for review, this week I received a random instant message from someone I’ve known for years asking me to introduce them to managers and agents. It took me by total surprise, as, 1) I’ve never seen this person’s work, 2) To the best of my knowledge this person has never been nominated or won an award for their screenwriting, 3) It wasn’t personally addressed as “Hi Mark…” at least pretend you know me. My advice is the same as advice that has been given to me, 1) Enter your screenplay in contests. I did this for First World it opened some doors and established credibility, 2) If you want to pitch an actor or their reps just do it. Send a brief introduction with a logline. Some have their own production companies. If you want an agent or manager call them and see what their submission policy is and 3) Personalize your introduction.
It has become a common practice in the entertainment industry to create “proof of concept” trailers and short films to promote projects past the written word of the script (sometimes there’s not even a script!). With more and more projects looking for attention, a thoughtful concept trailer can most certainly advance a project.
Yesterday morning, Daniel Elek-Diamanta, the composer of Justice Is Mind, sent me just over :30 of music he scored. We’ve been talking about SOS United States for several months and when it comes to composing music, we have always been on the same page. It was like this with Justice Is Mind. In August, 2012 he was sending me samples of music well before one frame of the film was shot. What you hear in the final cut of Justice was largely agreed to well in advance. Suffice to say, it’s a great collaboration and I highly recommend him as a composer.
I’ve been wanting to create some sort of video for SOS United States past our concept poster. The moment I heard Daniel’s sample the idea came to mind. You can view the concept trailer at this link. The general premise of SOS United States is relatively straight forward. An ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean may have a nuclear bomb on board. The only military vessel in the vicinity is the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier during her sea trials.
As I have some preliminary producer meetings this week, the concept trailer for SOS United States is well timed. But that being said, I’m sure the subject of budget, casting, etc., will come up. On the face of it, it looks like the Massachusetts Film Tax Credit is here to stay – for now anyway. But as these producer meetings are happening “across the pond” the UK offers some of the best incentives along with a vibrant infrastructure.
This past week a very rare article was published around an independent film called Papadopoulos & Sons. What was rare about it was the breakdown of financials. Honestly, that short of working for a distributor, these numbers are seldom known, never mind released. There’s a variety of pros/cons for releasing numbers. Yes, box office results are largely public, but VOD, TV, etc. are usually held very close to the chest. In this filmmakers view it’s because the deals for these platforms not only differ for each film, but there are myriad proprietary contracts involved that can limit public dissemination from a competition point of view.
What this article does fully document are the fees involved in film distribution and the realities of revenue that come back to the financiers. This is why being realistic about a film budget is so important. Yes, you want the film to look and sound great with a stellar cast and crew, but at the end of the day it’s about revenue.
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.