After dealing with a massive snowstorm the day before, the first day back at the Naval Justice School went well. As this is my fifth time doing the program, these are like class reunions between the actors and staff. But with every new class, we have new actors join the program.
I can’t speak for other regions, but in New England the acting community really is about six degrees of separation. While I may not have worked directly with some of the new actors, the other actors have or are familiar with their work. What struck me interesting with one of the new actors was him telling me about a project of his own that he’s putting into production himself. Sound familiar?
While any actor, screenwriter, cinematographer, etc., wants to be hired, there’s nothing more satisfying than creating your own work. It truly is magical watching your performance, your words and your images come to life. But one does not magically snap their fingers to get a project off the ground. In the end it’s about partnering with good people that believe in bringing the project to life.
In addition to the casting notices going up this week for First Signal, location searches will also begin in earnest. As I mentioned to someone already involved in the project, the way I approach a location is to trade the opportunity to shoot with a mutual public relations and marketing plan. I’ve taken this approach with the films I’ve produced and, with the exception of $100 to shoot in church for Justice Is Mind, it has worked.
The last thing you do as an “independent” filmmaker is ask what their rate or how much they would charge. I promise you, you’ll get frustrated when you hear numbers that are impossible to meet. Worse, you meet them and go broke in the process. You want to work with people and companies that are excited about the project. But that excitement is not without responsibility.
On a set I am the first to arrive and the last to leave. Why? Because it’s my responsibility to insure that I leave a location the same way I found it. Case in point was the conference room we used in Serpentine. In the film, the location was at the FBI in Washington, D.C. In the real world that was the Aquarius board room at The Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick, MA.
That room worked out great in the film, but it needed to be dressed. I purchased Washington, D.C. images to cover up the posters on one wall and added The Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War era to highlight a certain moment in the story (it was also an Easter Egg for Justice Is Mind). How did the viewer know they were at the FBI? Stock footage the moment before that showed the exterior of the FBI. What’s interesting about that footage is that one of my favorite shows, Madam Secretary, has also used that same clip.
With the script breakdown for First Signal almost complete, look for a casting notice in the coming days. And that military exercise I mentioned last week? Looks like that contract is coming through.
In two weeks Serpentine goes into production. With our locations secured and cast and crew locked, this is the phase in which there are numerous details to attend to. From printing posters, to purchasing a new laptop, American flag and external hard drives, it’s a methodical checking off the list of all the things that are needed to produce a film. For me it’s about organization. I produce dramas not seek to create them in real life.
Past all the aforementioned details, there’s also the creative side, from being in touch with the actors regarding their characters to the crew for various shots and other production matters. Producing a film is a team effort one that requires the cooperation of numerous parties. While the director may conduct the orchestra, you do need an orchestra!
As for the creative side, as we are filming just the first ten pages of the feature length version the end of the month, I wanted to give this short a name. For Justice Is Mind we called that short film version Evidence. For Serpentine it will be called The Short Program. I think this is a fitting title. First, this is a short film. In figure skating the short program is, to quote Wikipedia, “The short program of figure skating is usually the first of two phases in figure skating competitions.” As this short is phase one of the Serpentine project that’s another reason for the name.
Earlier this week I updated Serpentine’s IMDb listing. For this short film alone there are just over 35 people and companies. When you hear someone say it takes a village to make a film, they are speaking the truth! For those that wish to get into this industry, I always tell them to try to visit a film set at some point to see what’s involved.
But the one thing that I will be working on today is our press release announcing that Serpentine is going into production with The Short Program. Anyone that has worked with me on my past projects knows how much I believe in promotion. And when someone signs on to one of my projects, I promote them at every opportunity. Case in point when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was always great to include the cast, crew and our partners whenever I could.
The marketing of a film is just as important as its making. Without promotion there is no audience. While today’s world of VOD is great for the independent filmmaker, if your audience isn’t told about your project how can they ever find it? To this day, I continue to promote First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. When one thinks of the enormous amount of time to develop and make a film, why wouldn’t you promote them regularly? As they say the proof is in the pudding when you see a consistent placement on IMDb along with VOD streams.
But there is one thing I do need to find for this particular production. It was a gift from Tara Lipinski after we photographed her for the magazine I used to publish. It’s been in my basement since I moved back from Los Angeles.
From an unreleased film to the latest cameras, this was a most interesting weekend. At the invitation of Jared Skolnick (who was our editor on Justice Is Mind), I attended the Massachusetts premiere of Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. This was a great documentary on why this 1994 film was produced but never released. Director Marty Langford did an excellent job at bringing this infamous story to life. Check out their website at this link with some additional information here.
Being a science fiction fan, I heard about this story in bits and pieces. And being a filmmaker, I couldn’t help but watch this documentary and feel for the cast and crew that were involved. When I produced Justice Is Mind one of our locations was a nearby warehouse. While I didn’t tell many of the actors and crew at the time, in one corner were the remains of a set from an unreleased film that shot at this location a couple of years earlier. In the film industry, an unreleased film is akin to archeologists discovering a lost city. There are always questions, but most remain unanswered.
But at the Mass Media Expo yesterday, many of my questions were answered. Before attending an industry event, I always ask myself the following – am I going to learn something new; be introduced to people and vendors I may want to do business with or hear from industry insiders that reinforce what I’m doing or perhaps some new trends or ideas that I can apply. In all three cases I came away with something. The schedule from the expo can be found at this link.
First and foremost the attending producers have long stated what I’ve advocated. Being nice goes a long way and the search for funding is work done the hard way – cold calling, networking, etc. As I’ve long learned, if you don’t ask, if you don’t present, if you don’t market, how will anyone know what you want to do. The one thing I was stunned to hear, but not surprised, is how one producer gets blind pitched with a script attached! Look everyone wants to get their project off the ground, but a simple email of introduction with logline suffices as a preliminary introduction. As for being nice? I remember my first TV appearance on the Montel Williams show in 1994. A production assistant brought me coffee and was very attentive. She knew I was a basket case of nerves. In 2002 when I was reporting for CNN and other networks during the Winter Olympics, this assistant was now a producer.
The drone panel was pretty much what I wanted to hear. From regulations, to safety, new technologies and the companies in this space that operate locally, I now know who I’ll be reaching out to in the next couple of weeks about SOS United States.
But when it comes to technology and viewing habits, the panel on mobile content and storytelling was just that “telling”. Like it or not films are being watched on smartphones and tablets. And to those naysayers that say films should be shorter rather than longer, this expert panel stated that length isn’t the issue it’s the scene cuts that are speeding up. One only has to watch the TV series Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder to see this in action.
We look at others in the industry for viewpoints, new technologies to realize our concepts and a network of talent on both sides of the camera to execute. In the end we tell our story the way we want to tell it.
Act one. Scene one.