Since First Signal wrapped production in 2019 I have written the next two stories in the franchise – First Report and First Launch. While I could probably pull off First Report from my own resources, First Launch requires a substantive seven figure budget. With First Signal rapidly approaching a key VOD milestone, I’m also starting to receive more and more inquiries on when part two will go into production. Both developments are obviously good news and positive indicators that the story has been well received.
The production of First Report would in fact be the next two feature films in the franchise (it’s one story, but a 190-page script). Whether my next feature film is in the First World Universe or is SOS United States, the key is being able to develop and produce a product that exceeds the first. As a filmmaker I owe it to myself to raise the bar on quality and substance.
When I was visiting Newport yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember that First Signal was born out of my work at the Naval Justice School. It took an experience at a military base, to bring that project to life. Similarly, when I visit any of the Newport mansions, I see the sequel to First Signal clearly as President Colton resides at an estate in First Report.
As I was touring Rosecliff yesterday, I remember producing a photo shoot at this storied Gilded Age mansion with Nancy Kerrigan for my old figure skating magazine. It was about 20 years ago when, for a brief moment in time, I was producing at my favorite of all Newport mansions. Time will tell if President Colton exits the ballroom to the sweeping ocean front lawn and boards an awaiting Arctran.
But that is what this industry is all about – imagination. From coming up with an idea, committing it to paper and then bringing it to life on the silver screen is an experience like none other.
But until that next moment of pre-production arrives, it’s about experiences. As some may have noticed from this blog and my social media posts, I’ve been doing a fair amount of weekend day trips. While these are a nice getaway, they also open my eyes to the possibility of locations and other resources to bring the next story to life.
I mentioned to a colleague last month, that I’m at that stage where I am far enough out from my last feature film to start working on another, but I’m not going to rush the process either. Frankly, I’ve never quite understood those that jump from producing one project to another without properly releasing or marketing the final product. I understand the desire to produce, but isn’t it also about developing an audience?
I remember like it was yesterday when First Signal was on the festival circuit and I was reviewing and having conversations with distributors. The duplicity of so many with their endless fees and one-sided life-binding contracts combined with promises that frankly I knew where going to go nowhere, wasn’t exactly a recipe for lifting spirts. But it was the discussions I had with Indie Rights that presented the first honest and straightforward approach to film distribution that was truly a breath of fresh air. I knew going into it, that we were weren’t just handing First Signal over to them and that was the end of it. It was a partnership – they distributed while I marketed.
As Indie Rights continues to find outlets to distribute First Signal, I continue the marketing process. Although it has been a year since First Signal was released, the film is consistently performing on established outlets like Tubi and Amazon while finding new audiences on YouTube. With over 800,000 views in the last four months, YouTube is a platform that delivers solid advertising revenue to its filmmakers while delivering a global audience.
But the one thing I can definitively state today is that First Signal is technically in the black. While I didn’t “bet the ranch” from a budget POV, my investment was a solid one that I was hoping to eventually recoup. This milestone has given me confidence that one can be “in business” as an independent filmmaker. When I say independent filmmaker, I’m not talking about those that are connected to studios, mini-majors, millionaire investors or the like, I’m talking about those that look at their personal savings and investment accounts and say to themselves, “OK, I believe in this project. I’ll take the risk.” Fortunately, in the case of First Signal, the risk paid off.
As for the next risk, a filmmaker friend and I visited Battleship Cove last weekend. With the USS Massachusetts appearing prominently in one of the opening scenes of SOS United States, I’m starting to visualize the production coming together. But like First Signal, and Justice Is Mind, it will come down to finding a variety of key locations to make this political thriller come to life.
On reflection of this revenue milestone, it took over a decade to bring the First World Universe to life with First Signal. While there was the short film version of First World to introduce this new concept in 2007, it was the production of a feature film in First Signal that has truly started the franchise. With the positive feedback First Signal is receiving on YouTube as an audience indicator, developing this new sci-fi franchise for production has taken on a renewed purpose.