In the entertainment industry it is the “one sheet” that advertises and promotes a film. In an instant the release of a one sheet sets the tone for a film that could be weeks, months or years from release. It is a form of media that should be carefully thought out. While it’s impossible to convey the entire story in a film poster, it should at least project a certain atmosphere.
When I was in post-production with Justice Is Mind my goal was to conceive of a poster that would represent the general story. With an MRI image in the background we see two sides of Henri Miller. One looking forward in the present world and the other looking backwards into World War II. I had the general concept in mind when we were shooting so I had Vernon Aldershoff, the actor that plays Henri Miller, photographed accordingly.
With Serpentine, the story revolves around a figure skater caught up in a Cold War mystery. With a sheet of ice as the backdrop, a skater is centrally framed in Red Square to convey the premise of the story. For SOS United States, the image of two F35’s flying in proximity to a cruise ship, dramatizes the accompanying tag line that says it all.
There are times when the production of a one sheet has to be as accurate as possible. First Signal was one of them. While the science fiction aspect gives one a certain amount of creative freedom, some things need to be right. The Moon to Earth vantage point was modeled after the famed “Earthrise” picture taken from Apollo 8. But it was the star field that needed to be accurate. Thankfully, Celestia, a 3D astronomy modeling program, was available (Special thanks to Daniel Elek-Diamanta for creating the poster and finding Celestia!).
Right after I registered for AFM, I was wondering what I could create to represent my various projects. While they each had their own branding and collateral (depending where they were in the production pipeline), I realized that I didn’t. Those that know me and my projects know what I create, but there is a whole industry universe out there that doesn’t.
I am therefore pleased to present the one sheet for The Ashton Times. Designed by my longtime colleague and friend Adam Starr, it is designed to promote and illustrate the type of works I create. For the last couple of weeks it has been included in my industry communications and promoted on MyAFM and Cinando. As we are an industry of image, I think it’s important to create what we can to present our projects in the best possible light.
It seems fitting that I’m preparing to leave for AFM during the anniversary week when Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2014. That screening proved to me that you don’t have to be a major or mini studio or have A or B list actors in your film to have a marketable project. Indeed, you only need one thing…
…a good story.
I’ll never forget the day Adam Starr brought his drone to the set of Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the part in the story that called for a drone, I count myself lucky that Adam had one. In those days (2012) a drone for an independent film was a novelty. Adam had recently purchased a drone for a commercial shoot so thankfully he had one. As you can see from the image below, he did a great job. And with his VFX skills he transitioned from drone footage to special effects seamlessly.
Last weekend was a bit of a drone adventure for me. After my successful shots at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center earlier in the month, I went to a WWII event at Battleship Cove. I go every year, but this time I brought my DJI Spark. Although I’ve been working with the drone for a few months now, I never really put it through the paces. The image above was from the drone’s maximum height (without the remote controller). Yes, “Big Mamie” is a big ship! To watch the video, click this link.
The next day I went to Newport, RI and toured The Breakers. Although I took a picture of Marble House with the drone when I was at one of the “Cars & Coffee” shows, I had yet to video one of the Gilded Age “summer cottages.” After the tour I started to envision what I wanted to see from this great mansion that was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. For those that remember the opening credits of Dynasty, that was my motivation. To watch the video, click this link.
To answer what some of you may be thinking, yes, I always get permission to film at museums and the like. The drama you hear about drones is pretty much nonsense. Operating a drone is like driving a car. It’s called practice and being responsible. If I’m not sure about something, I’m not going to try it. One of the cardinal rules is pretty simple—always be able to see your drone. Today’s drones have so many wonderful features built right into their programming. For mine, I can just tap “return to home” and that’s exactly what it does.
As part of SOS United States takes place on the USS Massachusetts, I’ve always wanted to do some filming at the museum. My interest in The Breakers was obvious. What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film such a grand residence? Because these two locations are so unique, my aim was to get two different looks if you will. But there are those moments when you kick yourself. I was approaching the low battery warning and had one more chance to get a shot at The Breakers. I hit “tap to fly” and the Spark was moving forward nicely. After a few moments I hit return to home. But I forgot to hit record when it was flying! Thankfully, I had enough footage.
Of course I originally purchased this drone for First Signal. Although actor and crew scheduling conflicts meant moving the film to 2019, this actually gives me more time to experience the capabilities of the Spark. There’s lots to shoot in the region!
As for First Signal, SOS United States, and my other projects, I always have a plan b. This November I’ll be traveling to the American Film Market. I haven’t been to Los Angeles since Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in 2014. It will be great to make new contacts and visit with friends and colleagues from my days in “Hollywood.”
If you’ve seen Justice Is Mind, First World or Serpentine: The Short Program, you know I don’t shy away from using multiple locations to tell my stories. I’ve been very lucky with my productions to secure some unique locations.
Each one of those projects had one or two critical locations. For Justice Is Mind it was a courtroom and MRI facility. For First World it was a presidential suite and a horse farm. For Serpentine it was a figure skating complex. Each of those locations brought gravitas to their stories.
For this new project, my aim is a simple one. Keep the story largely contained to one interior room and one outdoor scene. My goal is both for story and cinematography. With the primary story taking place in a windowless bunker one of my inspirations is Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. For those that have seen this classic, the story primarily takes place in an apartment. As that film was first produced as a play, it largely makes sense that it would be confined to one location.
This new story is a prequel to First World and revolves around one particular meeting. While I would obviously love to see First World produced, I also know that it’s a science fiction epic that would require, while maybe not an “epic” budget, certainly one in the seven figures. For this project, the aim is to contain production costs for independent production.
While Dial M for Murder is one inspiration, another is Fail Safe. The scenes in the Pentagon’s “war room” worked on a variety of levels. What I particular liked was the rear projection that was used to display the military crisis between the United States and U.S.S.R. Because this type of “special effect” was produced while the movie was being photographed, it saved time in post-production.
With a good amount of my research completed, I’ll shortly start the writing process. The fall and winter months are my favorite time to write an original story. Believe me, it’s the cold weather that will set the mood for this piece!
This story will revolve around a particular signal intercept and how certain government and military officials are responding to it. To give you an idea of the conflict in this story, I’ll borrow a quote from Valkyrie, “This is a military operation. Nothing ever goes according to plan.”
I can’t take credit for this week’s blog post title. I lifted it from Audrain Automobile Museum’s email promoting their third production of Cars & Coffee in partnership with the Preservation Society of Newport County. Yesterday’s outing took us to the beautiful Chateau-sur-Mer.
This type of production is a win-win for both the museum and the society. First, in a very cool way, they draw traffic to these storied mansions of yesteryear. Second, the auto museum gets the message past their beautiful location on Bellevue Avenue. Needless to say, I highly recommend visiting the museum and the mansions the next time you are in Newport.
I’m not sure who created the idea for this event but it’s a brilliant promotion. Marketing and event production should be seamless and effortless in its look. When the consumer arrives it should just appear that the event happened, rather than feeling forced. When they are at the event it’s a welcoming atmosphere with like-minded people. When they leave, they are looking forward to the next production.
This past week I was talking to a potential new marketing client. Sadly, he was one of these overly analytical types who didn’t want to listen to anyone except his inner ego. He couldn’t understand why his product wasn’t selling. I suppose I could have told him that his inner ego isn’t a customer. I passed on working with him.
While I go for the cars, it’s really the conversations I enjoy the most. I’ve been working on a production idea in Newport and for the first time I mentioned it to a few attendees. Is this market research? Absolutely. If you can’t interest those that live in that world why develop it.
As some may recall, when I had the idea for a political thriller around the sport of figure skating I went to the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston last year. After talking to a variety of insiders and former colleagues, I wrote Serpentine. Serpentine: The Short Program can be streamed on Amazon or the Ice Network.
As the venerable Hannibal Lecter said, “Shall we say dinner and a show?”
Before we finished working at the Naval Justice School (NJS) several of us agreed to get together to see a play one of our fellow actors was in. Phoenyx Williams was certainly pulling double duty. Playing an NCIS Agent along with me during the day he would then travel back to Providence for nightly performances in the “Post-Electric Play” Mr. Burns (by Anne Washburn). Williams played the “electric” Mr. Burns.
But before the play, we met up for dinner at the excellent Federal Taphouse & Kitchen. Although it was exactly a week since we last saw each other at NJS, it was great catching up with new friends and sharing some interesting stories. I’ll just say this, lots of laughs! Of course the director in me is always mindful of the clock and we were soon on our way to the Wilbury Theatre for a 7:30 show.
Although most of us had been briefed on the synopsis, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. The premise from their website states, “After the collapse of civilization, a group of survivors share a campfire and begin to piece together the plot of “The Simpsons” episode “Cape Feare” entirely from memory.” It started at the campfire and then went on to two additional acts with two intermissions. I have to confess, I’ve never watched The Simpsons.
As a writer, producer and director I’ve certainly created experimental work. But with experimental work comes risk. While the story wasn’t for me (as one of the actors in the play said to me this play is either for you or isn’t), the acting, writing and production itself was excellent. Although I didn’t care for the story, the execution was brilliant and the actors are wonderfully talented. The “fun” highlight was when the actors moved the audience (we were on risers with wheels!). In conclusion, the third act was owned by Williams. He nailed it.
Whether it’s stage or film, this entire industry is an experiment of some sort or another. I applaud anyone that creates an original work and doesn’t try to duplicate someone else’s efforts. I hear time and time again from filmmakers and actors who try so hard to be like this filmmaker or this actor. How about creating your own brand? You can be sure that I want to see what Anne Washburn comes up with next and I’ll be following these actors!
As for next, this past week was also about reorganizing my projects. With Serpentine: The Short Program released, my focus goes back to promoting that project along with In Mind We Trust (the sequel to Justice Is Mind), First World and SOS United States. I say now what I’ve said before, projects do not come to fruition overnight. It takes abject dedication to bring a work to life. Whether that be a play, movie or performing career.
But with every new experience comes a new idea.
The media has reported. The DVD has been tested. We have a green board on Amazon. The file has been transferred to the Ice Network. No, this isn’t LC 39 at Kennedy Space Center, it’s the preparation for the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program tomorrow night at The Strand Theatre and on Amazon and the Ice Network the following day.
When launch day, or better known in the industry as “release date” arrives for a film, that’s when the story you’ve worked on for so long is transferred to the audience. As Bill Sampson said in All About Eve, “You’re in a tin can.” Of course in this age the tin can reference is more about DCP and DVD.
This past week was just about some final details, finishing up the copy for various email templates and our official press release as part of the VOD launch on Tuesday. The highlight was this article that appeared in The Item. While national press is great for general awareness for VOD, there’s nothing like local press that can drive traffic to a theater. This newspaper circulates in Clinton and the neighboring towns.
Tomorrow night looks to be a star studded affair with many of the actors and crew from both films attending. I have to say I love these reunions. Not only does it give everyone a chance to catch up, but to see our collective efforts on the silver screen. And then there is the overlap. Audiences will see several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind in Serpentine: The Short Program.
But with each project comes an expanded network and new processes. While Amazon certainly existed five years ago, the opportunity to distribute directly to several countries did not. Since Evidence premiered at the Strand, the number of VOD platforms has exploded. Not only does this mean the need for programming from TV shows and movies, but the ability to rise above the crowd and be heard.
Like Evidence that resulted in Justice Is Mind, the goal with Serpentine: The Short Program is to develop enough interest to produce the feature film version this year to release after the Winter Olympics in 2018. What this comes down to is building an audience and not getting lost in the crowd. When you consider that there are 10,000 – 50,000 films made a year, you can’t wait for an audience that may never find you, you have to tell them where you are.
As the saying goes, when opportunity knocks you take it. But none of this comes without passion, dedication and being steadfast for the long haul. A haul that can seem like forever until the day arrives.
Standby to launch.
As planned Serpentine went to picture lock this week. And while that’s certainly a milestone, there are numerous other details that need to be attended to. From completing the visual effects, to sound engineering, scoring and color correction. And then there’s the marketing plan.
As I did with Justice Is Mind, and First World back in the day, I always aim to cast the widest net. When it comes to securing media or perhaps a screening opportunity, the more eyes on a project the better as you never know who may be interested. There’s so much more to filmmaking than the actual mechanical work of creating the film.
Since pre-production on Justice Is Mind back in 2012 I have been receiving email newsletters from various “experts” in the industry. Honestly, there is no magic wand and having a star in your project just doesn’t matter (look what happened this weekend at the box office). Your project will either resonate or it won’t. It will either breakthrough or get stuck. And while there are certainly a set of standards that need to be followed from having a quality picture with a proper aspect ratio, closed captioning and a few other industry standardizations, the rest is really up to the filmmaker. My point is there is no cookie cutter sheet that gives you instant success.
Serpentine is as opposite to Justice Is Mind as First World is to SOS United States. But in all my projects I make every effort to have an audience of some sort in mind when I start to write. Passion projects are great, but given the work that goes in to making a motion picture someone has to appreciate it past your family, cast and crew.
Since First World was released on to Amazon Prime it has seen a sizable increase in traffic. Science fiction is a relatively easy sell. Justice Is Mind is a hybrid of genres with science fiction and fantasy folded into a straight drama. The marketing of that film was a three prong approach with audiences reacting all over the place from science fiction enthusiasts to those that love courtroom films. Audiences have loved it or hated it. But no matter the reaction every click and view just increases the audience. And just this week I learned that Justice was picked up by a Chinese concern. More to announce later on that development.
On a personal note, I’m glad over ten years have passed since I was publishing a magazine in the sport of figure skating. It has given me a perspective well outside the bubble I lived in for over a decade. In general, as I’ve learned, living in a bubble is never a good idea as it warps your perspective.
As for perspective, since I’ll be voting for the first time in the SAG Awards this year, I’ve been watching more independent films than I normally do. Or should I say, than I normally would simply owing to their story. What one has to appreciate is the sheer energy and enthusiasm that goes into making an independent film.
One film I just have to recommend is Jackie. From Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy to the cinematography and story, I thought it was brilliantly executed (although the score gave me pause).
Last Sunday principal photography on Serpentine, The Short Program wrapped! After eight months of writing and two months of pre-production planning, I was more than pleased with the end result. A special thanks to the cast, crew, location partners and sponsors for making this possible. After taking the past week to organize the video and sound files, the hard drive will transfer to our editor on Monday to begin the post-production process. It’s this stage that turns a puzzle into a completed print.
But make no mistake about this process, as an independent filmmaker you are pretty much responsible for everything…even the weather. And while I believe organization and communication are critical to a successful production, it does come down to both diplomacy and flexibility. A film production, whether it’s a short or a feature, is unlike any other type of business. You start by yourself and then suddenly ramp up. For Serpentine that meant over 30 people and three locations (for Justice Is Mind it meant over 200 people and 15 locations). As a screenwriter there is a thrill like none other than watching your screenplay come to life. Isn’t this why we do what we do?
For me this production was both a reunion as well as working with some terrific new people. It started with the FBI conference room scene at The Verve, Crowne Plaza. When Michael Coppola arrived I was immediately reminded of First World where he played a secret service agent. But it was the night before that I wrote an additional new scene for Michael and Vernon Aldershoff (Assistant Director in Serpentine and Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind). Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was to tell the cast and crew about a new scene when we didn’t even shoot the intended one! I waited to see if we were ahead of schedule and we were. It worked out great.
It was at Northstar Ice Sports that the word scope came into focus. First, I am beyond thankful to Denise Marco, the board and staff of Northstar for this opportunity. By scope I’m talking about the size of the set. It was about making sure all actors, cameras and crew were properly placed to make sure the scenes worked. For weeks I drew this out from the skating program, to camera and actor placements. What may not have seemed obvious to some would be very obvious in post-production.
Reuniting Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier from Justice Is Mind was a particular goal of mine from the beginning. Their on screen chemistry in Justice was what every director dreams of. So when they both signaled their availability for Serpentine I immediately signed them on to the project. As a director, there is also a comfort factor in terms of direction when working with actors that you know will deliver. In advance of our shooting I forwarded a detailed memo on character and scene development for all actors and crew. As time is a serious commodity on an independent film set, I think it’s best for everyone to understand the entire tone and feel of a scene when they arrive.
As a director I don’t believe in grandiose demonstrations of direction to actors and crew just to prove a point. In my simple view of it all, the most that should happen on set are adjustments. There’s no time to teach someone how to act on set. (Side note: On Justice Is Mind one adjustment I gave to an actress was how to say a particular phrase of profanity. I’ll just say this, it’s an American thing in terms of word emphasis and slang).
Our last day of filming was at a friend’s house. It was a fitting end to the production after coming down from two days of intense work at Northstar and the fact that there was only one line of dialogue. As I said to everyone, these scenes are largely atmospheric and what composers live for.
Another highlight of our week was when the MetroWest Daily News interviewed me about Serpentine and sent a photographer to our shoot at Northstar. Not only did they write an excellent article, but created a video as well. You can access both at this link.
Over the next few months I’ll be working on a variety of marketing and promotional efforts as we build towards our February release. During this time look for more stills, behind the scenes images and a trailer.
It’s Saturday morning and tomorrow starts the first day of principal photography on Serpentine, The Short Program. Tomorrow a new world goes from script to screen. The months, weeks and days leading up to the start of principal photography is a journey unlike any another.
One would think that with the number of events, commercials and film projects I’ve been involved with it would just be another exercise, but it isn’t. For me because I always seek to raise the bar from one project to the next, there’s always a unique set of situations that come up. From logistics, to locations to the sheer number of people that are involved.
But honestly, if it wasn’t for the challenges, why do any of this. I’ve never been one to settle for status quo and doing the same thing day in and day out boors me to death. Yes, we all like to have some sort of routine to keep us grounded, but it’s bringing a new project to life that really inspires me.
For those that are involved, when all is said and done, there is not only a credit but a product. A film that can be looked at years, if not decades from now. Something that you look at and say, I remember when. And for those that watch the end result, they know that for a period of time people came together to create something unique, something original.
As some may have seen in the press release that went out earlier this week, tomorrow reunites some actors and crew from First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind along with my earliest days in an ice rink. But just as important it’s about bringing fresh voices to creative works. I believe what makes the process of filmmaking such a unique experience is that combination of the familiar and unfamiliar that yields the best results. It was that combination that resulted in a test video this week that I posted to Serpentine’s Facebook page (click this link to view).
On August 18, 2016 Justice Is Mind will celebrate its third anniversary. The same week that will see the website completed for the figure skating political thriller I’ll be announcing soon. Some ask where does the time go, for me it’s about taking the time to develop projects that I’m passionate about.
When I was writing Justice Is Mind back in 2010 writing a political thriller around the sport of figure skating was the furthest from my mind. The same could be said about Justice Is Mind when I was writing First World in 2006. As a screenwriter, it’s the idea that first calls to me and then if it sticks around a while I start to write those first few pages of a screenplay. I’m not one that writes a story using index cards, beet sheets or other devices, rather I let the story unfold as I build characters and the world they live in.
When I look at my dashboard on Amazon Video Direct and see how my films are doing across all their territories, yes, it’s a pretty cool feeling. Just like when you see your film screen in a theater. There is that sense of accomplishment that all involved in the project can share. Because, making a film is a project that does involve a village.
It is precisely because it takes a village that developing a new project takes a considerable amount of planning. Part of that planning is visiting possible locations, meeting with potential talent and laying the foundation before I seek to bring on a crew. This past week I had a great meeting at Northstar Ice Sports and from that meeting went to a local competition at the Cape (one that I competed in myself many years ago!).
I forget how small a world the sport is. No sooner do I arrive and I see one of the judges who I used to talk to regularly when I was actively involved in the sport. We still to this day reminisce about our time together at an International Skating Union Congress in Davos, Switzerland back in the 90s. I was one of the few members of the media to attend and she was moving up the ranks in the judging system. It was also nice running into a couple of coaches I haven’t seen in a while. All in all it was a great time.
This morning I was reading C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter and there was a particular passage that really stood out, “We should strive to be in awe of our work, and awe-struck by others. Instead of production, maybe we ought to focus on our power to seek and create awe. After all, wouldn’t you rather be remembered for the one, lone book than the fact you published a lot of forgettable stories? Or maybe you can find a place in the middle, but to do so, you need to slow down and think about the quality you produce.” I couldn’t agree more with her statement as it greatly applies to filmmakers.
If you’ve ever sat through the end credits of film you see the number of people that were involved that made the film come to life. Unlike a stage production that can be tweaked along the way once you wrap a film, it’s up to creative editing, or god forbid expense reshoots if you didn’t get what you wanted in the first place. I can thankfully say we didn’t need to do any reshoots on Justice Is Mind.
While there won’t be a special theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind this week, there will be online promotion to further introduce the film to a worldwide audience and build momentum for the sequel In Mind We Trust.
Indeed, while past projects continue to be promoted and marketed a new one is about to be announced.
I first met Robin Ann Rapoport in 2011 when we were both cast in the independent feature film Noah. After production wrapped, I worked to get Justice Is Mind off the ground and started with the short film version Evidence. When Robin auditioned for the part of Margaret Miller later that year, she had changed her look to the point that I didn’t recognize her from a few months earlier (versatility!). After I cast her in the role, I forget who reminded me that we had already worked together. The rest is history, Evidence was released in early 2011 and Robin reprised her role as the intrepid journalist in Justice Is Mind in 2013.
Since Justice was released, like so many of us involved in the project, we keep in touch through social media. When Robin announced that she was going to be in Vokes Players production of Death of a Salesman, I knew I wanted to see her in it. I arrived about 20 minutes before the performance started and suddenly Vernon Aldershoff who played Henri Miller in Justice, Margaret’s husband, showed up! Vern pulls these surprise appearances more often than not. I still remember him showing up at a screening in Plymouth. The weather could not have been worse that day, but sure enough—here comes Vern! Needless to say last night was a great reunion and brought back so many memories.
As for the play? First, Robin portrayed the character of The Woman brilliantly. Having worked with her as an actor and director, I always see a new dynamic range to her performances. I’ve seen lots of plays in my day, but Vokes Players presentation of Death of a Salesman was mesmerizing. Robert Zawistowski’s performance as Willy Loman captivated everyone in the theater. When a performance is so good you forget you’re in a theater and believe you are watching real life, that’s when you know that every note has been hit. Kudos to director John Barrett and his team. And for such an intimate theater, the lighting moved the audiences effortlessly and seamlessly from one scene to another. On a scale of 1-10? 12.
Last week the foundation for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating started to take shape. With the website almost complete and the concept poster in revision, I reached out to some of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind for the short film version of this new production. Unlike the short film version of Justice that represented a couple of key scenes, this short is the first ten pages of the script that sets the stage for the feature length story.
As for staging, tomorrow I pay a visit to the Northstar Ice Sports in Westborough, MA as a possible location for this production. In addition to the executive director being my first skating coach, the operations supervisor was involved in First World. So, yes, it’s a small world!
The one thing about this industry that I have long learned is that it’s built on lasting relationships. Whenever I look to start something new, I always aim to work with those from previous productions. In addition to a level of trust on both sides of the camera, there’s the knowledge that a project can be seen through from start to finish. Of course, it’s also exciting to work with new actors and crew because you never know what one can bring to your production that can raise the bar even higher.
“Not paying enough attention to the script.” I couldn’t agree more when I first read that statement attributed by Arnon Milchan of New Regency on The Tracking Board. Time and time again I read in the trades, or general consumer press, about the issues a film has faced because of the script. In so many of these cases it seems that a script was rushed to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. But as I posted this past week on Facebook, no amount of A list actors can rescue an ill-conceived script.
The article that Milchan was quote in revolved around the dearth of the mid-budget movie. I fondly remember the variety of movies that studios used to distribute in mainline theaters that didn’t revolve around a comic book, endless sequel or rehash of something we already saw (like the latest Star Trek and Star Wars films). But thanks to determined filmmakers, great films like Trumbo, Spotlight and The King’s Speech are being made and, honestly, always will be. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience to support it from financing to distribution.
As I come up towards the end of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating, there is the continued promotion of either projects completed or in development. In my post last week I talked about my “special relationship” with the UK. A few days after my post, I was nicely surprised when Daniel Elek-Diamanta sent me a re-imagined look for the SOS United States concept poster. While I wanted the first concept poster to reflect the vintage era of the ocean liner, this one presents the same view but with a contemporary look. When developing a new project, it’s all about promotion and this concept poster really captures it!
In the world of filmmaking, particularly as an independent filmmaker, it’s all about promotion and getting the word out. It’s about exploring every avenue of distribution and pitching your project. We all look around to see what other filmmakers have done to promote their projects, but what works for one film may not work for another. But there are some distribution avenues that are just a no brainer – Amazon.
When Amazon announced their new Amazon Video Direct program I could not be more excited. Although First World was available in the United States for some years, I now had the ability to have it in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Last week it went live in those countries. Yesterday, I uploaded all the necessary digital assets for Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind (the feature is with a distributor). The process was painfully simple to reach an audience in the tens of millions.
But when I saw someone post on their Facebook page, “I fear my work will get lost in a sea of titles and get drowned out by larger studios.” That’s a defeating position to take. Once it’s live on Amazon it’s just a matter of external promotion through social media and other channels. Amazon operates on an algorithm of suggested films. All it takes is a few people to find your project on Amazon and it will just continue to grow. While there are other VOD platforms popping up every day, they rely on the filmmaker to bring the audience whereas Amazon already has the audience. Yes, you’re in a sea of films. But I’d rather be in an ocean than a puddle.
When I was living in New York City in the 1980s there was ship docked a couple of avenues away that I would sometimes notice. In those days it was a dawn walk down 10th avenue in the morning on my way to Sky Rink before I went to work at Time magazine. That ship was the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid.
Last week I traveled to the city to spend the day at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. I’m not sure if there is another museum in the world that offers an aircraft carrier from World War II, the Concorde, the Space Shuttle Enterprise and the Galileo shuttle from the famed TV series Star Trek. Needless to say among the array of exhibits there’s plenty to do!
When I was researching and writing both First World and SOS United States there was so much at the museum that touched on these stories. Not only do both involve aircraft carriers, the basis for First World is the 1960s space program and the return of the Concorde in SOS United States as Commonwealth One for the Prime Minister of the UK. It’s one thing researching a subject, it’s entirely another to experience them in real life.
Of course, being a Star Trek fan, I know the museum is getting a Star Trek exhibit in July. What I didn’t know is when I walked into the Space Shuttle pavilion I would see the Galileo shuttle from the TV show! I had just watched a documentary on the group of fans that saved this storied piece of TV history from a piece of discarded junk to a restored prop of broadcast quality. Yes, it was a total geek out moment seeing this iconic prop.
As for history, I remember seeing the Space Shuttle Enterprise on TV when it did its atmospheric tests in the 70s. Although I saw the Space Shuttle Discovery some years ago at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the way the museum has the Enterprise displayed along with its related history and exhibits made the pavilion one of the highlights of my visit.
When I was at the museum I took two guided tours, Pacific War: USS Intrepid in WWII and Concorde a Supersonic Story. For the respective price of $15 and $20, they were wonderfully informative and were essentially private tours. For WWII it was another guest and myself. The tour was all the more interesting as the other guest was a veteran of the Korean War. If it wasn’t for those brave men and women that serve in our military, we would be living in an unrecognizable world today.
Having always been a fan of the Concorde, I saved what turned out to be a private tour until the end of the day. If you grew up in the 70s the Concorde was all over the news. Simply put she was so far ahead of her time that just to see the plane was a cool experience. I first saw Concorde in 1985 on my first trip to London as she was taxing at Heathrow. As I understand it from the terrific guide I had, this is one of the few Concordes in the world that you can actually go into. When I was sitting in the passenger seats I was just thinking to myself about the amazing conversations and deals that went down in the cabin during her time in service.
As for time, I met up with my former business partner Lois Elfman for a wonderful dinner at Bistro Citron (highly recommended!). I first met Lois during my days in New York City at the offices of the Ice Theatre of New York (for insiders Moira’s loft). As many know we went on to launch a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating that we proudly built into the world’s largest with an “intrepid” team.
Speaking of building, I just completed the second act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating “If she skates the way she did at sectionals she’s going to worlds. And the Federation can’t stop it.”
Being a filmmaker, I’m an avid reader of the industry trades. From The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire to several email newsletters (SSN Insider is my favorite). In general, I look to get a feel for the industry and where it may be going. As I’ve written about in earlier posts, navigating this industry is like being on the bridge of a ship and deciding what port to sail into. The choices are numerous and in some cases smartly promoted. One of these choices was a film festival.
I attended my first film festival back in 2007 when First World was nominated for best screenplay out of over 80 submissions at the California Independent Film Festival. Having placed in the top 5 for this contest it was a total thrill to attend, network and then hear the title of my first screenplay announced as a finalist in a theater. I didn’t win the Slate Award but it was honor enough to be nominated. It was at this festival that I realized I had developed a new trade.
In this industry it seems just natural that you start to pick up new trades. You may start as a writer or an actor and before you know it you may be producing and directing your first short film. You start to get into some festivals, perhaps some theatrical exhibition and then score some media. Soon thereafter you realize you want to make your first feature film. Every level of this industry takes time and patience and despite what one might read in the trades, none of this happens overnight.
One thing that never happens overnight is film financing. It doesn’t matter what your station is in the industry. Film financing, in particular, is very nuanced. As for my projects, I’ve fully funded some and have had investors (public and private) in others. In one case I used crowdfunding. Larger projects, if they can attract the right talent, can also achieve pre-sales. But that’s being challenged owing to certain bankable “A” list availability to commit to a project before one scene is even shot. But one area that I’m particularly excited about is equity crowdfunding. There have been numerous articles on the subject, so I would do your own searches. That being said, it offers filmmakers yet again another option–and port?
With First World, In Mind We Trust and SOS United States in various stages of review and development, the one thing I have committed to is producing the first ten pages of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating as a promotional vehicle. As some may recall, I made a short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence. The point of that short was to not only develop interest in the project but to bring together an initial cast and crew to insure that various aspects work.
What are the primary challenges with this new project? A figure skater that can do a couple of triple jumps and can act. No matter how it has been done before, using a double for either the extreme close ups of a jump or distance shots just doesn’t work. A skater has a particular way they stand on the ice along with body type. The other part of this short is developing some new techniques to film a skating program that truly captures the grace, style and power that a skater projects. In essence I want the audience to experience the program not just see it.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of course is developing an original story. As I enter the closing of the second act to this political thriller, I remember where I was at the time when writing Justice Is Mind. At this moment I’m literally living with the characters and all the plots and subplots. But rather than taking the easy way out on their resolution, I will let the story sit for a few days and let the story speak back to me.
This past week I approached the near half way point in the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. And coincidently some great articles recently came out about the process of screenwriting, the spec market and a wonderful piece about Kevin Walker who wrote Se7en (one of my favorites). All three of these articles are a must read for those of us that write screenplays. But some of the biggest takeaways for me was Jason Buff’s INDIE FILM ACADEMY: Reverse Engineering Your Screenplay.
As I have often said, if you ask 100 people an opinion about your screenplay (or film) you will get 100 different opinions. Are you going to take all those opinions and redo your entire screenplay? Of course not and rightly so. But I promise you there are those selling their services that will talk to you like you’re a third grade moron. Why? Because they want to sell you something—their expertise. There are many great experts in this industry, but like all things Caveat Emptor applies “Let the buyer beware”.
I could not agree more with Jason when he wrote “As many successful screenwriters will tell you, there are no rules”. Of course you need some sort of structure in your screenplay. Your characters need to do something in the world you have built for them. I think the important thing to remember is that you are writing for an eventual audience, but it should also be a story that you want to see. I believe that’s where the word “passion” applies. As writers, we are passionate about our stories. If we aren’t, why should anybody else be?
I was a reader once for a film festival and it didn’t take me long to see who had passion and who “phoned it in”. Yes, it’s important to understand what EXT. and INT. mean, when to use (or usually not use) a parenthetical, flashback sequences, intercuts, etc. At the end of the day, the very end of the day, you have to simply assume that someone other than you is going to read your screenplay. Does it flow? Do the characters move from one action to another in a logical progression? That doesn’t mean that they don’t go against their own character, it just means that they move along in the story. Think about it in real life. We all know someone who for some odd reason does something out of character and then falls back into themselves. If it’s one thing contemporary audiences like it’s a twist.
Writing a screenplay, again in my view, should be an enjoyable experience. While it’s certainly not easy creating new worlds and characters, the joy is in that creation — you’ve created something from nothing. At one point in your story you’ll find that the characters start to talk to you. Thankfully, as I’m a Gemini and have a split personality, that Zodiac trait helps!
To quote one of my favorite films “Now, pull your own weight. I’ve taught you the technique, now use it. Forget you’re a hidebound New Englander. Unbend, take part, contribute. Be interested in everything – and everybody.”
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.
Yesterday I finished the draft of the first act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. For me the first act is always the hardest. This is where you are “world building”, introducing your characters and setting up the story to eventually “turn” into why you’re telling it in the first place.
In SOS United States it’s the revelation of a potential nuclear bomb on an ocean liner heading to Boston. In First World, it’s the revelation of the classified mission of the Apollo space program. In Justice Is Mind it’s the revelation of a memory that cannot be immediately explained. In this new screenplay I’m writing, it’s the revelation that the skater’s family is somehow linked to a multi-decade Cold War mystery. From these revelation points, each of these stories moves into the next act.
Personally, I enjoy what’s called the “second act” the most. This is where I like to see all kinds of involved character developments and subplots. Of course, as screenwriters, we are inundated with one article or expert after another stating either the rigidity of the three act structure or the opposite. My stories tend to run about four acts. I do believe in a mid-point or splitting of the second act. In Justice Is Mind the true mid-point is when Henri Miller’s kindergarten teacher reveals something from his past that sets the course for another character to act while the main story continues toward its conclusion.
As a screenwriter I don’t believe in following a prescribed set of rules per see. But that being said, you do need a beginning, middle and end. Is this three acts? Four? Sometimes five? That’s really up to the writer and the story they are telling. In my view, some require less while others more. How I learned to write was pretty straight forward. I read the screenplays of my favorite films (some more popular than others). The one common thing they all had was a resolution, an ending that if a sequel was never made the story could exist on its own.
Being a filmmaker is a multi-disciplined endeavor. From continued marketing of First World (short) to Justice Is Mind, to presenting the feature film version of First World and SOS United States for development, to pitching Justice Is Mind as a TV series, the process is an endless one. And while I enjoy those aspects of the process, writing a screenplay keeps up my creative energies.
While I reference the word discipline, the other is also patience. Writing a screenplay, getting it produced and distributed is a multi-year process and isn’t for everyone. I remember coming across a documentary filmmaker a couple of years ago who told me flat out he hated the distribution process and that he just wanted it “done” to move on to the next project. We all look forward to our next project, but if your previous one fizzled in distribution, I don’t see how that helps future projects.
This is why you just need to stay a course. It’s not easy by any stretch. Some days are smooth sailing and others you just want to abandon ship, but in the end it’s about staying at your post and seeing your ship back to port.
I only subscribe to a handful of writing and filmmaking newsletters. In today’s day and age anyone can have a newsletter, but what it really comes down to is content. Many years ago my former business partner recommended that I subscribe to C. Hope Clark’s FundsforWriters. The amount of useful and insightful information about the world and industry of freelance writing is nearly unlimited. For me, I always enjoy Hope’s “EDITOR’S THOUGHTS” and the featured article. I was honored when Hope asked me to write the featured article for this week’s newsletter. Titled “From Bookstore to Theater, Turning Your Book into a Movie”, you can read my article at this link.
Writing an original story is not easy by any stretch and we all approach our stories differently. But in each and every case, there is that one moment when we are inspired to write that one word or phrase that will ultimately result in a book a movie or both. When I wrote a screenplay for a friend last year based on his book, there was a road map of sorts, a foundation in which to build off the primary story. The book was the original idea, the screenplay was the adaptation. A couple of weeks ago at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, a friend of mine was passionately telling me about an original story that they want to turn into a movie.
And therein lies that one word that drives us creatives – passion. I can only speak for myself when it comes to writing an original story, but passion is the number one driving force for me. When you are “world building” an original story, if you aren’t excited about the concept why should anyone else be? I was having dinner with a friend last night who mentioned the complexities of the Justice Is Mind story and how it compared to a particular author and the movies that followed. The comment was very flattering.
For me, I like a complex story. A story that isn’t paint by number, but one that you need to watch more than once. I like characters that are multi-dimensional or suddenly change their tone. Take for example Margaret Miller in Justice Is Mind. In the beginning we see a concerned wife who happens to be a novelist. Suddenly in her desperate attempt to save her husband she goes against type by retaining a dubious private investigator to steal what she wants.
Having spent over three decades in the sport of figure skating in a variety of capacities, I suppose it had to be inevitable that I would conceive of a story around the sport. When talking about the concept a couple of weeks ago, I referenced the political thriller Marathon Man that starred Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. But there is another movie, a bit obscure, that is having another influence on this story—the conspiracy thriller Executive Action that starred Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. I say obscure, because when you look up the film you’ll see what happened when it was initially released.
In the end the goal, of course, is to write a story that audiences will enjoy. For me films are a living legacy. Long after their creatives are gone, a film lives on. One of my favorite thrillers is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938).
But before I vanish into this new world I’m writing, I’ll leave you with a sample piece of dialogue from an FBI supervisor, “If I know this much you can bet that someone else sure as hell does. Because suddenly, there’s a concerted effort to get Wilson’s daughter to the World Championships in a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.”
There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t come across an article or two that offers advice or tips of the trade or some other moniker about steps to “success” in the industry. I come from the point of view that what works for me, might not work for others and visa versa. Because this industry is built on creatives, we all tend to think differently and have different approaches to accomplishing our goals.
There was a pretty interesting article on IndieWire this week about screenwriting. I generally agreed with most of it except for one key point. First, I absolutely agree with Francis Ford Coppola about knowing your ending or at least having a fairly solid idea of where you want the story to wind up.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind I pretty much knew where I wanted the story to end – a confrontation between father and son that nobody saw coming. For SOS United States it ends where it starts – albeit with a decisive decision by the President and Prime Minister. For me, I generally need to know where the highway ends because that’s what a script is—a road trip.
However, I absolutely disagree with Oliver Stone about not putting time into a script and just writing a treatment. A treatment or even a simple pitch might work for certain agents, production companies or studios where someone like Stone is a known entity, but a properly written script shows the talent of the screenwriter. Some people are very good story tellers, but writing a script is a completely different animal. Also, and I could easily be wrong here, I have yet to see a festival or contest promote, “And the best treatment award goes to….” Yes, I do write a treatment of sorts when I start to put together a story, but it’s never more than five pages and certainly not a document I’d ever show someone!
But perhaps the most valuable piece of advice was from Mark Duplass. It is a point I have ruthlessly exploited myself when it came to First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind – “Teach yourself to be more than a writer.” I love to write. I love to come up with story ideas. I’m pretty proud of my three screenplay nominations (hopefully more down the road!). But I had to prove myself – someway, somehow.
Over the years I got to know a lot of talented actors, cinematographers, special effects experts, etc. My years of experience running a publishing company with a distribution operation obviously helped enormously when “running” a film. So I taught myself theatrical and VOD distribution. I talked to theatres, Hulu in their early days, and others. Nobody will care what I make if it doesn’t get seen. And to drive an audience to a building or a website it comes down to marketing and public relations. If you can write a screenplay you can write a press release. If you can direct an actor you can pitch the media.
Mark Duplass’s quote really sums up my career to date, “My advice is, go ahead and write the best script you can make. Your favorite script. Don’t even think about creative limits. Don’t even think about budgetary limits. Then, go write something that can absolutely be made for under $10,000.” In my world, that would be First World ($2 million+) to Justice Is Mind (>$25,000).
Now streaming – Justice Is Mind.
What I love about screenwriting is the research that goes with it. When I wrote First World I learned about the Apollo space program, the Kennedy and Nixon administrations, the Roswell incident and how parts of the United Nations operate. For Justice Is Mind it was the science of mind-reading (“thought identification”), reincarnation, and complex legal issues from the introduction of evidence based on new science to the construction of a criminal trial. Whenever I write science fiction, I think it’s important to have it rooted in plausibility or at least have it explained with a sense of realism (Star Trek is great for that).
The basis for my political thriller SOS United States has always been around this premise – the possibility that an ocean liner may have a nuclear device on board. Where did the idea come from? I’ve always been interested in the Cold War and count Fail Safe and Seven Days in May as two of my favorite movies of the time. Add that interest to my passion for ocean liners and SOS United States was born. It was my mother that first got me interested in ocean liners in the 1970s with our membership in the Titanic Historical Society (Yes, Titanic is one of my favorite films).
With premise in mind I started my research. The ocean liner in my story needed to be fast, luxurious and military-like. It didn’t take long to discover the SS United States. Built in 1952 the luxury liner “was designed as part of a top-secret Pentagon program during the Cold War, which stipulated it could be quickly converted from a luxury liner into a naval troopship in the event of a war.” Needless to say I found my ship. And found her I did. Since the SS United States was retired in 1969 she has been laid up all over the world and is currently docked in Philadelphia. More than once the ship was almost scrapped.
In my original notes the idea was that some company purchased the SS United States and refurbished her. But I quickly discounted that as unrealistic. Instead, I researched the United States Lines and discovered their early flagship the SS Leviathan. With that name, and the original blueprints of the SS United States, a company built a “state of the art” luxury liner, equipped with offensive capability to defend against pirating with a maximum speed of over 50 MPH. I guess my original notes proved to be something more than an idea.
Last week in New York City, Crystal Cruises, a luxury cruise line, “announced it will save “America’s flagship,” the SS United States, and embark on the enormous undertaking of bringing the ship into compliance with the latest standards, and returning her to oceangoing service.” While I figured some sort of redevelopment plan would be put forward, as was done with the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, the fact that the SS United States will actually sail again as a luxury liner just proved once again that if you stay true to your mission with persistence and patience the impossible can become a reality. My congratulations to the dedication of SS United States Conservancy to save and preserve the ship and to the visionary leadership of Crystal Cruises to see the SS United States return to the high seas.
Suddenly the world premiere of SOS United States on the SS United States just became a little more possible. I remember sailing on the Queen Mary 2 in 2007 and saying to my mother how grand it would be to have one of my films screen on an ocean liner. After years of planning and determination, Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, 2014.
This past December my good friend, writer and soap opera expert, Gerard J. Waggett, pitched me to John Fahey to appear on The John J. Fahey Show. Where did the pitch happen? At a bus stop where they ran into each other (they originally first met at their local library).
It reminded me of the time I mentioned Gerry to a literary agent I met during my first TV appearance on The Montel Williams Show back in 1994. That introduction resulted in a multi-book deal for Gerry. How did I get on The Montel Williams Show? My business partner at International Figure Skating, editor/writer Lois Elfman, heard about the upcoming “Tonya & Nancy” episode and pitched me to one of the producers. I’ll never forget the day I was set to travel to New York for the taping. They were going to fly me from Worcester to the city but inclement weather prevented it. So what did I do? I got in my car and drove in the bad weather to New York. A TV camera was waiting!
This is an industry that is built on long-term relationships. People that you work with on your first projects that you continue to work with because you can count on them and know their work. Case in point Adam Starr. I first met Adam when I was publishing magazines. One of the first videos I produced was a promotional video for my company (I need to get that VHS tape digitized). With Adam as director, along with Lois as one of the producers, we went on to make First World. For Justice Is Mind the actor that played the President in First World returned as George Katz in Justice Is Mind. As for Adam Starr? He produced over 170 special effects for the film.
No sooner did I arrive at BNN (Boston Neighborhood Network) for the live broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show, when I saw Tomek Doroz at one of the control stations. Tomek was Justice Is Mind’s digital imaging technician as well as a production assistant. He was also instrumental in securing a couple of our locations (we had our church and junkyard!). Needless to say when I gave him a clip of Justice to play during the show I was giving it back to the person who was not only the first person to see footage being created for the film, but also to make sure it was OK from a technical point of view. The network continues.
I have always found cable access stations a great way to reach a targeted audience. One of the first cable access stations I was on was Crown City News in California back in 2007 where I talked about First World. I met host Anthony Smiljkovich through Jillian Barberie at the local FOX station. And where did I meet Jillian? When we both starred on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. Although Jillian couldn’t make the Los Angeles premiere of Justice Is Mind, Anthony and his boyfriend were there along with First World star Angelina Spicer.
Of course, one of my favorite cable access appearances was on Plymouth’s PAC-TV for Justice Is Mind. Arranged by Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in the film, they did a wonderful job promoting our screening at Plimoth Cinema and presenting the concept of the film. Gail, Mary Wexler (who plays Judge Wagner) and I had a great time that day reliving the early days of the film.
Friday night’s broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show could not have gone better. In addition to showing an extended clip of Justice Is Mind, I talked publicly for the first time on TV about my political thriller SOS United States. What I particularly liked about the show was the live format. I’ve always enjoyed doing live TV over taped because you are truly in the moment with no worry about being edited. Of course you have to watch what you say! One of the highlights was when a caller phoned and praised Justice. Indeed, it’s about introducing your projects to new audiences.
Although John will formally post the show on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms, I see one intrepid viewer already did. You can watch the show at this link for…
Russia. Spain. Taiwan. First, the email came in from a colleague if I could assist a filmmaker in Spain to register his film in the United States. That was followed by a university in Taiwan that wanted to license Justice Is Mind. As the week drew to a close a distributor in Russia approached us about a VOD for Justice in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
In the world of filmmaking “chain of title” is critical to establish a variety of documented steps of ownership rights to a film. As a former magazine publisher, I’ve been working with copyright matters for years. Sadly, I’ve seen some projects that don’t take this matter seriously. If you don’t have a properly established chain and necessary releases, it can severely complicate matters when it comes to dealing with a distributor. The chain starts with registering the script. Believe me it’s worth the fee.
The next chain of events this week came when I was contacted by a university in Taiwan that wanted to have Justice Is Mind for their library. Obviously, I was flattered and directed them to the variety of download and streaming options for the film. I even pitched them to screen the film like we did at some domestic universities here in the United States. It will be interesting to follow this development. Perhaps it could serve as a model for international university screenings.
On Thursday we received an offer for Justice Is Mind from a distributor in Russia that wants to distribute our film on a variety of VOD platforms in that part of the world. While I’m still reviewing the agreement, unlike some other recent distributors that approached us, this one appears to be pretty buttoned up. This is when I go back to my magazine experience and a phrase from President Reagan “Trust but verify” when it comes to foreign companies. I don’t say this because of the United States/Russian connection that Reagan was referring to during the Cold War, but from a business point of view with independent verification aka “due diligence.” Because once you sign on the dotted line and transfer the film assets, it’s done.
What has been very interesting for 2015 is how much the film industry has changed on the global stage. Everything from financing to production to distribution has literally taken a 180 degree turn. Some will say for the better, some for the worse. It all depends on your point of view. Film Specific had an interesting take on all of this last week. Their webinar can be found here. But if there is one thing that prevails in all of this it’s marketing. Yes, I’ve written about this before. In my view it’s marketing on all fronts, from presenting new projects to potential investors such as SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, to the continued marketing of established projects such as First World and Justice Is Mind. As I’ve said before, consistency is key for the long term.
Of course while all this was going on, I was patiently awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I remember sitting in a theater in 1977 and seeing Star Wars come to life. Was it that moment that I wanted to be a filmmaker? I don’t know. All I do know is that with all the issues the world is facing right now it’s great to see a film that brings everyone together in a unifying force to enjoy a medium that the world over appreciates.
In Justice Is Mind the fictional trial was The Commonwealth v. Henri Miller. In reality Justice Is Mind was primarily filmed in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This past week, Justice Is Mind’s editor Jared Skolnick, who is also an award winning filmmaker, was featured in an article titled “Hey, Hollywood and Bollywood — how about Valleywood?” The story in The Valley Advocate stated that Jared “makes movies in the Valley because this is where he’s from and where he began building his professional network.” The same holds true for me. Even when I was living in Los Angeles in 2007 and cast the two leads in First World in the “Golden State” of California, I filmed the project in Massachusetts? Why? Because this is where I’m from.
Having lived in both New York City and Los Angeles, I can certainly understand the desire to be at the epicenter of the entertainment industry. Having been on a network TV show, a city like Los Angeles can be very exciting when you are working on the high end of the industry. I know numerous actors (some I’ve trained) and filmmakers who have left Massachusetts for the hope of fame and fortune. I firmly believe if you have the desire and will to move to these cities you should. You will never know until you try. For me, I’m glad I had my experience in both these great cities, positive ones from a career point of view, but my creative energy and the launching of all my projects has originated in Massachusetts. It’s not something I set out to do, it just happened that way. My new personal website, www.markashtonlund.com, chronicles the journey.
Case in point, the making of First World and Justice Is Mind. Both of these projects were enormously ambitious between the number of talent involved and needed locations. I had to work in a region where I knew the people and their general enthusiasm about being part of the film. Why film in a location that will require permitting, location fees and local regulations just to look cool, when you can film somewhere else for free working with enthusiastic location partners in exchange for promoting their business?
For me, as I did with Justice Is Mind, once I give the green light to a project I like to move along at reasonable pace in pre-production. Simply put, time is money whether literally or figuratively. As some may have noticed from postings to this blog, I have generally already scouted most of the locations for SOS United States and to some degree for In Mind We Trust.
But as we have seen from the latest film markets, the greatest challenge filmmakers on all levels have is in securing production financing for their projects and a return on investment. You don’t have to be a fortune teller to recognize that it always comes down to equity and what the investor wants. To say there has been an about face in film financing you just have to revisit articles that the trades wrote around the latest American Film Market and then there was this blog post over at Film Specific. But there is one piece to “The Commonwealth” financing pie that keeps films in the state.