The one thing about preparing for a film market is that it makes the process of filmmaking all the more real. It compels you to organize your marketing materials and position your film for the market, from building a website, to sales cards, to online profiles, stills and any other materials that showcase your film. The adage, if you build it they will come, doesn’t work in this industry (or any other for that matter). It’s not enough to make a film, you have to tell the world about it.
When I was organizing my home office yesterday, I found a variety of sales materials from last year’s AFM. I found a sales card for one film that at the time was in post-production and represented at the market by a well-known production company. When I looked the film up on IMDb, it was still in post-production and that production company was no longer affiliated with it. There could be a thousand reasons as to why this film is still in post or the company that was representing it no longer is. The one thing I do know, is there needs to be a Plan A, B and so on.
I was reminded through Facebook memories this week about the numerous screenings we had for Justice Is Mind. The year following our release in August 2013 was a very exciting time. Not a month went by when there wasn’t some sort of activity, be it a theatrical screening or media report. The apex of Justice Is Mind was our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. There was a moment during that cruise when I was standing on deck reflecting on the journey Justice Is Mind took to get to that moment. Suffice to say, it’s important to stay focused, believe in your project and move past any and all naysayers.
With First Signal now past the halfway mark in post-production, I see what opportunities lie ahead. But I can’t help but think of the journey it took just to complete principal photography. Despite the substantial challenges we faced in pre-production (too many to list!), First Signal eventually found its dynamic locations and talented cast and crew. If this process was easy everyone would be doing it. To quote President Theodore Roosevelt “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
To the outsider, they see a film and think it comes together magically. They generally have no idea what it takes to go from script to screen. When I attend the American Film Market in four weeks, I’ll come across hundreds of films each with their own unique story in various stages of production—all looking for a home. For me, this market will be one of many interesting ports First Signal visits.
With this post, I’m pleased to present two additional stills from First Signal and The Ashton Times AFM 2019 poster representing my projects.
Ever since my mother introduced me to the story of the RMS Titanic and Titanic Historical Society, I have always been interested in the world of ocean liners. I have toured the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA twice (the second time they had a Titanic exhibit) and have sailed on the RMS Queen Mary 2. One of my projects SOS United States is based around the story of an ocean liner. Of course it was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the MS Queen Elizabeth that has been a career highlight. Thus, you can imagine my excitement when I learned about the Ocean Liners exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.
Last Tuesday, on my birthday, I drove to the museum to check out this exhibit and could not have been more impressed with the level of detail and information. The exhibit starts with how the cruise lines advertised and promoted their ships before moving on to engineering, artifacts and life on board during those heyday times of travel by ocean liner. The 1947 model of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which once adorned the New York offices of Cunard, was a featured display.
For me I was particularly interested in learning more about the SS United States. As some of you may know, in my story SOS United States the fictional SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. As she was partially funded by the United States government, she was designed for speed and conversion to a troop ship in times of conflict. The tank and plating models were fascinating. Then there were select pieces of her fittings that were truly spectacular. But seeing the Blue Riband trophy on display really illustrated her place in history. The trophy was won by the SS United States in 1952 for recording the highest speed for westbound service in the Atlantic Ocean. She still holds that title today.
But for all the glitz and glamour of those days, there were those ocean liners that met unfortunate times. No story is more tragic and sad than that of the RMS Titanic. When I entered one of the galleries I saw a piece of beautifully sculpted wood on one of the walls. It was from her first class lounge. Apparently it had washed up in Nova Scotia after her tragic sinking on April 15, 1912. I found myself just staring at it and imagining the pomp and circumstance of those entering the lounge to enjoy a festive evening only to then picture the sheer horror as they tried to escape a doomed ship. We will never know what that was like, but this piece of living history is a reminder of those days long gone.
Another highlight was from Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic (known as “old reliable” as she was in service until 1935). Seeing the clock from her Grand Staircase was truly something. Considering this panel was identical on Titanic, it just makes that time in history all the more real when you see artifacts like this. There was other unique area of the exhibit that featured the entertainment industry. Select scenes from movies that took place on ocean liners; one of my favorites starring Bette Davis and Paul Henried in Now, Voyager.
But voyages by sea are still, in my view, the best way to travel. You arrive at the port of embarkation with your ship looming up in the near distance calling for attention. Soon you find yourself on board as your luggage is brought to you. And before you know it, you sail into your holiday. However, if your holiday is a New England one, visit the Peabody Essex Museum’s Ocean Liners exhibit. You’ll be glad you boarded.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking to my friends in the UK about the upcoming “Brexit” vote. They all had different points of view from those that wanted to stay in the European Union and those that wanted to leave. This post isn’t about one American’s position, but about my special relationship with our friends across the pond.
Putting aside what we learned in school, I was somehow introduced to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s masterpiece A Woman of Substance. The story is based in the UK and to quote “A Woman of Substance charts the life of Emma Harte, from kitchen maid at the beginning of the 20th Century, to respected business woman and Grandmother in the 1980’s.” The book was turned into a brilliant mini-series that saw such famous British landmarks as the storied Harrods turned into Harte’s. You can bet that one of my first destinations was tea at Harrods!
When I started a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating in the early 1990s, I found myself again in the UK when I attended the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships which were held in Birmingham, UK. I soon found myself conducting business in the country from distributing our magazine to working with editors. At one point I had struck a deal with the national governing body to conduct an all too “United States” direct mail effort. I say United States, because I learned the biggest lesson at the time…I discovered that the English like to buy their magazines at kiosks (newsstands). Oh sure we had a nice amount of subscribers, but we also secured a pretty good newsstand contract in the country as well.
After publishing, my first screenplay First World was partially based in the UK. Part of the story has the Prime Minister calling for an emergency meeting with the President of the United States at a military base in the UK to reveal the actual mission of the Apollo space program. I filmed that segment actually down the street where I now live. To this day we were so fortunate to have a wonderful British actress who now resides in the States to play the Prime Minister.
I’ll never forget her audition. I was staying at a hotel with some of the cast filming another scene when Lindy Nettleton arrived along with Jeffrey Phillips (who played the President). Owing to scheduling and space limitations the audition took place in a hallway. They were both brilliant. After the film was released, we had a few screenings at science fiction conventions in the UK.
When I posted notices for cast and crew for my first feature film Justice Is Mind we received responses from literally all over the world. But there was one composer from England by the name of Daniel Elek-Diamanta. In today’s day and age of the internet it doesn’t matter where you live, talent is talent. To say he had talent would be an understatement. Instinctively, not only did we click, but he understood Justice Is Mind instantly. He scored the entire film to critical acclaim. When our original sound mixer dropped out, he found a terrific company in Visionary Sound headed up by Timothy McHugh. In the end, they both saved the day.
Of course, perhaps one of the highest tributes Justice Is Mind received was when we had our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner in 2014. Suffice to say you can’t get any more British than Cunard!
My point to all of this is simple, no treaty keeps people from working together for the common good. Talent doesn’t know boundaries it simply wants to create. From magazines to film, those that I’ve worked with in the UK have brought something special to the projects I’ve worked on. That’s what the “special relationship’ between the United States and United Kingdom means to me.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
Having grown up in the 1970s and 80s there was an entertainment medium called the mini-series that produced some terrific programming. When I attended WWII Weekend yesterday, I was reminded of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Perhaps it was these two great mini-series that got me interested in the Second World War. For those that follow me on social media or this blog, you know I often tour museums like Battleship Cove or attend events like WWII Weekend. When I was in Albany, New York a couple of week ago I toured the now museum ship USS Slater.
For those of you that may be interested, I highly recommend WWII Weekend. This was my first time attending this event and I have to say they did a masterful job. To quote from their website, “WWII Weekend is one of New England’s premier living history events, providing the public with an interactive, educational and fun WWII experience that is difficult to come by. Participants will have the chance to examine and learn about multiple different kinds of World War 2 vehicles and weapons, as well as how the soldiers of that era lived, by walking through Allied and Axis encampments and interacting with the reenactors.”
First, I believe it’s important to take the time to occasionally experience one of these events or attend one of these museums. Even though our present world is currently gripped with a variety of regional conflicts, I think it’s important to remember that at two points in the last century nearly every country in the world was engaged in a world war. For me personally, it’s about learning something new and inspiration for my writing.
When I brought Justice Is Mind back to World War II, the amount of research I did was on the same level as that of the courtroom scenes and experimental science behind mind reading technology. It was after our international premiere on the MS Queen Elizabeth that several guests came up to me and complimented how we handled that element of the story, particularly the very end. Although that area of the screenplay was pretty well vetted, it only matters how it’s received by the public after it’s produced. With a film, there’s generally only one chance to get it right. To quote Bill Sampson in All About Eve after a film is released “You’re in a tin can.”
Although the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating doesn’t go back to WWII, when I was looking at field communications equipment at the WWII Weekend yesterday, a certain angle occurred to me which I could take with this story. In this new story codes and encryption are a key element to the final act.
The one thing I enjoy the most about being a writer is the research. Whether it’s learning about historical events and how they can be woven into a particular plot or about certain technologies and how they shape a story. Who would have thought that a program on “thought identification” on 60 Minutes would have resulted in Justice Is Mind?
Of course, as a filmmaker, one of the exhibits I found truly fascinating was all the vintage cameras. In today’s world we simply hold up our cell phone and roll as much “film” as you generally want. In those days they may have had to deal with springs and cameras the size of large bricks, but filmmakers and photographers from that era produced groundbreaking work under often arduous conditions.
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.
Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy that is truly far far away, inhabitants of the planet Earth are eagerly awaiting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to hit theaters on December 18. We’ve seen the trailers, the stills and countless articles speculating on the story itself, but the latter is truly nothing less than a state secret – and well it should be. This past week on IndieWire even Mark Hamill stated, “I’m Not Even Authorized To Tell You I’m In Episode VII.”
When I was booked on Skating with Celebrities back in 2005 all of us involved in that show, including the studio audience, were sworn to absolute secrecy by an iron clad contract. The show was produced live to tape and then aired in early 2006. Yes, everyone I knew asked me in one way or another who won. Some were downright angry I didn’t confess the results and some were, ready, offended. Like I cared. You don’t risk an entire production and litigation to satisfy one person, who will tell another and so on.
There were so many things I learned on that show that I have taken to my filmmaking work. Like my contract with FOX, the agreements I put in place for Justice Is Mind had a photography and non-disclosure clause. Most were totally fine with it, but it did strike some as overly controlling. My on camera work up until Skating with Celebrities was mostly live so there was no need for a non-disclosure, but you quickly learn the reasons why such things are necessary. Think about it, do you want to risk giving away the ending to a project that has been years in development and lessen its commercial appeal? Even now, I don’t allow clips to be manipulated or edited without my written approval.
We very much live in a “look at me” society with social media leading the charge. Sadly, I see so many posts about submissions, meetings and auditions that I would want to keep off the radar. What if your film doesn’t get accepted? That meeting falls apart? You don’t get cast? At any given time I have more irons in the fire than I can sometimes keep track of (thank god I have my lists!). Unfortunately, premature announcements can derail a deal that may have come to fruition if given enough time.
One such deal that was months in the making was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Imagine if I had breathed a word of it prior to it being a done deal. Cunard just simply could have said they declined to screen the film, I would have had serious embarrassment written all over my face to say nothing of tarnishing the brand of a film I have worked on for years. In the end the timing worked out great. The deal came through right before one of our screenings. I announced it publicly in May 2014 prior to our screening at the Elm Draught House Cinema.
Perhaps one of the most famous plot secrets was around one of my favorite films Witness for the Prosecution. In addition to director Bill Wilder holding the last ten pages of the film from the actors until it was shot, the end credits of the film features the following “The management of this theatre suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” Starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, I highly recommend this 1957 classic.
But one thing that’s not secret was discovering that Justice Is Mind was named number two on a user created IMDb list. What film was number one on that list? Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
This post might be observed as a continuation of The Cold Call. As I’ve previously discussed, whether you are a studio, production company or independent filmmaker, you need investors to realize your projects. As I stated in my opening remarks at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, without them you don’t have a project. It doesn’t matter how great it is.
Over the last few weeks, I have discovered a not so pleasant revelation of investors (hedge funds, private equity, etc.) that used to be involved in the industry but aren’t any longer. The reasons stem from lack of returns, revenue transparency or, worse, misrepresentation. These investors that used to invest millions now invest elsewhere, and for good reason.
As filmmakers we are creators, visionaries that can illuminate a project without showing one frame on the screen. It’s what we do. It’s not only the investor we have to sell; but the actors, crew, location, marketing partners, distributors, etc. But there is also a business side that needs to be observed to make these dreams happen in the first place.
The one thing I have learned with investors over the years from publishing to filmmaking is what I call an alignment of common interests. Yes, you want funding, but you also want some sort of engagement. When I was publishing magazines, my investors had a vested interest in the industry we covered. In filmmaking it can be anything from the subject of the film, the mechanics of the process or simply a pure investment play to generate a return. But in my view, it just comes down to being honest and, to be blunt, not a bullshit artist.
Yes, I will tell you point blank that I can make $1,000 look like $50,000 on screen and back it up with the talent involved and technology shop talk. But I will not tell you that we will get selected for Sundance and all rights deal that includes a wide theatrical release. But what I will state is how I accomplished a theatrical run and VOD distribution for Justice Is Mind. I’ll then mention the various companies I would use to facilitate this process for the next project. In other words, transparency.
As I filmmaker I couldn’t have asked for better investors in Justice Is Mind. First, as they are in business for themselves, they were realists and enjoyed both the excitement and challenges that come with any new business. And a film, even a low budget indie, is a business.
The one area they found particularly interesting was distribution. Rightly so, they wanted to know how Justice Is Mind was going to market. While the business plan spelled out our primary method at the time, during the production of Justice Is Mind a company I was going to work with changed their business model that didn’t align with ours. This is when it comes down to adaptability and looking for new avenues. Those avenues led us to a limited theatrical run, an international premiere on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, solid media coverage and VOD distribution. Yes, we all want more, but the one thing this industry takes is time—time to build relationships, new projects and getting them to market.
It was just over a year ago at the screening of Justice Is Mind in Millbury, Massachusetts at the Elm Draught House Cinema where I announced that the International Premiere of Justice Is Mind would take place on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner on October 29, 2014. It seems fitting to remember this milestone as Cunard celebrates their own milestone today – their 175th Anniversary.
Having sailed on the Queen Mary 2 in 2007 and the Queen Elizabeth in 2014, there is something magical about Cunard. While there are many other brands, no other cruise line marries the storied history of travel by ocean liner to the contemporary atmosphere of today. As I watch their celebrations coming live from Liverpool, England on YouTube, I am reminded what a masterful job Cunard does of honoring its heritage while always looking towards the future. Indeed, Cunard has one of the most modern fleets in the world.
I fondly remember that day my mother and I arrived in Rome and traveled to port. Seeing the Queen Elizabeth come into view was a dream come true. While I was most certainly looking forward to the sailing, it was the fact that my film, Justice Is Mind, was going to have its International Premiere on board. For the over 200 people involved in the film, including our composer and sound mixer from England, Justice Is Mind now has an entry in the history of Cunard.
On this side of the pond, it’s Memorial Day today where we honor those who lost their lives defending the United States. One must also remember Cunard’s role in World War II. It was the great Cunard liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth that were converted to troop ships to transport soldiers during the war. In December, 1942 the Queen Mary brought over 16,000 soldiers from the United States to England. It was Winston Churchill that said the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth helped shorten the war by at least a year.
So as we celebrate Cunard Line’s 175th Anniversary, we also remember the brave men and women who gave their lives to preserve our way of life in the United States, United Kingdom and all the nations that believe in freedom and democracy for all.
Unless you are living under the proverbial rock, all of us involved in the industry are paying close attention to Cannes. For me, I’m always interested in the business of distribution and marketing because at the end of the day you have to get your film seen. With VOD distribution all the rage, there’s no wonder that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is being so widely quoted—and rightly so.
As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, on any given week there are numerous things I try to accomplish for my projects. From pitching, to writing, to editing, to marketing, there’s always something going on. But this week, things jumped ahead.
With Justice Is Mind successfully distributed, my attention has largely turned to my current slate of projects with First World, SOS United States and In Mind We Trust. While I continue to market Justice Is Mind on a daily basis, the goal is to secure the necessary partnerships to bring the next project forward. That goal took several steps forward this week with a great Skype meeting with a producer and his team in the United Kingdom. From my days in publishing, to our recent partnership with Cunard Line for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the Queen Elizabeth, I’ve always enjoyed working with colleagues “across the pond”.
The one thing any filmmaker will tell you is that this is an industry of partnerships and collaboration. From the actors, crew, location, marketing and distribution partners, over two hundred people from two countries were involved in Justice Is Mind. For good reason, I keep in touch with most of them. One of those reasons is a new project I’m working on.
My friend Alberto Mercado is a published author and a wonderful photographer. Al photographed Justice Is Mind’s screenings in Sturbridge and Millbury. His photos were such a hit they soon started to show up as headshots on IMDB and Facebook.
A few weeks ago at a party at his house we started talking about the “mechanics” of filmmaking. The conversation was not dissimilar to one I had with my investors in Justice Is Mind back in 2012. Al wanted to see one of his books made into a motion picture. He attended several of Justice Is Mind’s theatrical screenings, including my short film Evidence, so he knew what my capabilities were. But was there a story? Indeed there was. A great story. One that I wanted to tell.
Oddly enough, Al thought I was reading his book A Rose for Essie Mae when in fact I was reading Winds of Fall. In the end, he was glad I read Winds instead. So I am pleased to announce that I have been commissioned to write a screenplay adaption of Alberto Mercado’s book Winds of Fall and to direct the feature. The plan is to complete the script this summer with Al financing the production for either this fall or spring.
Like the funding that came together for Justice Is Mind, the road to the Skype meeting, our screening on the Queen Elizabeth and the journey to bring Winds of Fall to the big screen, you just don’t know where the next opportunity is going to come from. As the late actor Maximilian Schell said, this is an industry of chances.
A few months ago Michele Mortensen, who plays Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind and is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, asked me if I would give a lecture to her communications class about the importance of marketing communications and how you can build something from literally nothing. Suffice to say it was interesting encapsulating the last twenty years of my career into a one hour lecture this past week.
What I do isn’t rocket science (although I do write about rocket science!), it’s just common sense and takes time, lots of it. As I mentioned to the class, it is important to have a few good mentors you trust and who believe in you. Also, never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. When I was in high school and a teacher from the speech club told me not to think about doing anything on TV because I talk too fast, I can only hope that he saw one of my 300+ TV appearances. That example is an important one, because over the last twenty years I have done my best to steer clear of negative people and naysayers. I’ve always been someone that looks at the past as a guide for the present and a plan towards the future, but the one thing I don’t do is live in the past. That doesn’t move you forward.
From that first TV appearance on the Montel Williams show in 1994 to presenting Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, it has been one hell of a journey so far. While there have been many peaks, there have been just as many valleys. That’s just the world of business and life. Some things just take time to build.
This past week I heard from our distributor that another VOD platform has picked up Justice Is Mind. This is all about building for the next projects. The foundation has been well laid with the production and release of Justice Is Mind. Which project will be next on the horizon? It’s hard to tell. While In Mind We Trust makes perhaps the most sense at this stage, it could just as easily be First World and SOS United States given the state of the film industry and current events.
But through this all, and what was part of my lecture, is to be ready to seize the moment. That happened when I launched International Figure Skating, landed on Skating with Celebrities and secured the funding for Justice Is Mind. I had my materials ready. Whether it was a business plan, an acting reel or a script. In each of those cases, people that wanted to invest in me needed some additional information. At the time, I was top of their mind. Had I delayed, none of the aforementioned may have happened.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that marketing, communications and public relations is a continuous repetitive process. As I mentioned during my lecture, nobody is waiting for you to arrive, you have to tell them you’ve arrived.
With the business plan for In Mind We Trust completed, work now begins again in earnest to market my slate of films for development, The one thing I have learned about this industry since I made First World, and during my time as a magazine publisher, is that investment can come from anywhere at any time. They key, as I learned with Justice Is Mind, is to be ready when the time is right.
Christopher Nolan said it best in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of weeks ago when talking about his career, “The thing that happens to a lot of people is that you get that opportunity, somebody says, ‘I really loved your film, what else do you have?’ And if you don’t have anything, or if you’ve just got vague ideas, it’s very difficult to take advantage of that moment, and that moment doesn’t come around again,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on it.” Obviously, I agree.
My feature length screenplay First World worked great to make the short film version in 2006. Yes, that project as a feature is years in development, but the short film version is in the market and the script award nominations have served as a great foundation. Just over the last couple of months, sales of the short film have tripled from this time last year and China is moving along at breakneck speed with their space program. Timing is better now to present. As this article on Hollywood.com shows, some projects just take time to develop.
The idea for SOS United States came to me when I was in the process of managing the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind. I’ve always loved the political thrillers made during the Cold War. The idea of developing a story that pits the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as they deal with a potential nuclear device on a commercial ocean liner bound for Boston, certain reflects the political and military tensions we see in the world today.
But it was the sequel to Justice Is Mind that called to me this past November. I always figured that, “someday I would write a sequel”. But I didn’t know it would develop so quickly. For me, when I get an idea I just need to run with it. The result is In Mind We Trust. With a story that reunites a number of the original characters from Justice with new characters against the world covert surveillance, government power, reincarnation and the horrors of World War II, the screenplay, like Justice Is Mind, is a demonstration of competing genres that I believe work well together. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “Mark Lund’s film is a thriller-gone-courtroom-drama-gone-sci-fi. Such extreme shifts in genre should not work. But they more than work in this case.”
Through all this is the navigation of a changing industry and the needs, interests and wants of investors. As I learned from my original investor in my old publishing company, to my backers on Justice Is Mind, these things take patience and perseverance and being ready when the time is right. It’s about staying a course that is true to the projects and to never capitulate.
I am pleased to announce that Justice Is Mind is now available on the theatrical distribution platform Tugg! To quote their website, “Tugg is a web-platform that lets YOU bring the movies you want to your local theater.” Tugg is a dynamic theatrical service that I have been aware of for the last couple of years.
For those of you that follow this blog, you know that Justice Is Mind has had a successful theatrical run. Out of 20 screenings to date, 12 have been theatrical. As none of these theatres have been rented (1 was sponsored), with an average attendance capacity of over 80% for each screening, we know the demand is there. What drove ticket sales? Promotion, media, networking and legwork. Each theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind averaged $1,113 per screen.
The simple difference with Tugg is the following; instead of the vast majority of tickets being sold the day of a screening, they are sold in advance. By example, let’s say someone wants to screen Justice Is Mind at their local theatre and they live in the Midwest. They request a screening at this link and then promote using the various tools that Tugg offers, combined with their marketing efforts and whatever marketing assistance we can provide. Once the threshold of tickets are sold in advance (it varies by theatre), the screening is confirmed and the promoter receives 5% of the ticket sales. It’s a win win for everyone. Why? Because if by some chance not enough tickets are sold in advance by a certain date, the screening doesn’t happen and nobody is charged. To learn more, please visit this link and our listing on Tugg for more information.
When Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth last October, several of the guests remarked that they wished our film was playing at their local theatre. Tugg is the program that can make that happen!
The world of filmed entertainment, and in particular independent filmmaking, continues to undergo all kinds of market stresses. I talked about some of those issues last week and Variety outlined a host of them in an article titled Broken Hollywood. But I also truly believe that today the independent filmmaker has all kinds of opportunities to get their work seen. Justice Is Mind is a prime example of what’s possible; a theatrical run, convention and university screenings along with an international premiere on an ocean liner. Combine those screenings with various VOD platforms, including Amazon Prime and VHX, and the distribution mix works. With our arrival on Tugg, more VOD platforms on the way along with some additional screening plans being worked on, our efforts are far from over.
Speaking of efforts, the first draft of the sequel to Justice Is Mind is nearly complete with the story’s arrival at the Supreme Court. I’ll announce the completion of the first draft and then there will be the requisite edits before I can send the script out for review. Thus another reason to continue promoting part one – Justice Is Mind.
As I approach the final pages of the sequel to Justice Is Mind (I’m at 116), I’m entering what is probably the most involved plot aspects of the story; providing closure to one of the greatest mysteries of World War II, the resurrection of Henri Miller and a landmark Supreme Court case. All of this takes research and, what I call, “fictional plausibility”. For me I take known facts and provide a fictional twist. This is nothing new in screenwriting, but I do believe that if factual history is attached it should be honored before fiction is applied.
Speaking of screenwriting, I was reading Peter Bart’s latest column in Variety titled “Hollywood No Longer Shows It Has the Write Stuff”. He goes on to say, sadly, that studios and some filmmakers are omitting thanks to that one person that needs to be thanked—the screenwriter. How many times do we hear the word “collaborative” in this industry? Well, the screenwriter is the reason why everyone in on set. Simply put, you can’t build a house without a foundation.
Bart quoted from one of my favorite directors, Billy Wilder, “I like to believe that narrative movement can be achieved eloquently and elegantly without shooting from a hole in the ground, without hanging the camera from a chandelier and without the camera dolly dancing a polka.” This isn’t to take away from great cinematography, and I do love my “Hitchcock” wide shots, but without a quality screenplay it just doesn’t matter what you shoot. This is why I’m such a fan of classic films. And give me a political thriller from the 1960s any day!
Speaking of industry trades, there was a great interview with Voltage Pictures president Nicolas Chartier in The Hollywood Reporter where he talked about piracy and the state of the industry. The one thing he said that struck me was, “the DVD business is dead.” I agree. I was in a Dollar Store yesterday and saw a bin of DVDs for sale for only $1. Yes, some were films I never heard of, but plenty had star power behind them. Sure DVDs are still sold, but you have to wonder what’s left for the filmmaker after all the expenses.
For years I have been a supporter of Video on Demand. VOD is simply one of the most dynamic and exciting distribution opportunities for filmmakers. With a responsible budget, it is a way to make money on a consistent basis. I could not be more pleased with Justice Is Mind’s placement on Amazon Prime and VHX (among others). Traffic continues to build on a daily basis.
But that traffic just didn’t materialize overnight. We aren’t The Interview with the world media behind us. No, what has largely been responsible was our theatrical run along with the numerous special event screenings including our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. Along the way we developed an audience, press and significant online entries. While a screenplay is the foundation to a solid film, a theatrical run is the foundation for VOD. It’s an equation that works.
So as I write the last pages of the sequel, I am hoping to soon announce our participation in a theatrical program that could bring Justice Is Mind to a theatre near you.
It was one year ago yesterday that Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in Beverly Hills, California and it was just over a week ago that we had our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. In a sea of films looking for attention, my goal since day one with Justice was to make every attempt to stand out from the crowd. Just take a read of the AFM dailies, there are a dizzying amount of films looking for attention and distribution.
I have never been one to follow the crowd. I don’t believe in doing what everyone else does just to be “in” or perceived as “popular”. Conformity has never been my strong suit. Ask anyone that has followed my career from publishing to film, I have always carved a niche for my projects.
I believe the verdict is in on Justice Is Mind. Having been screening the film theatrically for over a year the majority of audiences and reviewers have enjoyed the film. Audiences didn’t care about the “star power” of the characters. They just wanted to see a good story. Honestly, I don’t know why distributors (particular foreign sales agents) don’t understand that as well. On the Queen Elizabeth that was the test. An international audience from all over the world that applauded when the film ended. It wasn’t about the stars in the film, it was about the story in the film. Thankfully, the industry is changing and rightly so.
Unbelievably the trend as of late is that there’s plenty of capital but not enough bankable talent to sell the films into foreign markets. One industry executive quoted in Variety stated “From a financing perspective, it’s never been better. But it’s not about the money; it’s about the talent. The challenge right now in the independent market is getting talent to commit and stay committed”. But films are still being financed. One look at an AFM daily or the thousands of films that are produced every year contradicts that assertion. I think what this comes to is looking for the perfect project. Dear God we know that doesn’t exist because there’s one factor that no actor, producer, director, distributor, sales agent or investor can gauge…the audience.
With the rise of VOD, theaters hungry for films that tell a good story (the building in China is off the charts) and unique screening opportunities (like we did with Justice on the Queen Elizabeth), Justice Is Mind proved that a quality story works in the market from theatrical, VOD and special events. All this without “star” actors. When I was publishing many years ago I was told time and time again that nobody would read my magazines without known writers. Really? That’s why I had the number one magazines in our market. Don’t follow the crowd, make the crowd.
As a diehard fan of cinema from classics to contemporary, I have nothing against “stars” but projects shouldn’t be defined around “A” list talent. We all know that at the end of the day it comes down to what the audience wants.
Perhaps the best advice I ever received was to have a few different projects at the ready because you really don’t know what will resonate at the right time. I have First World, a science fiction epic; Justice Is Mind, a psychological sci-fi thriller and SOS United States, a political thriller. With Justice Is Mind produced and distributed, today I continue to market that film while presenting First World and SOS United States to interested parties to secure production. Tomorrow, I start to write the sequel to Justice Is Mind.
From the start of our trip on October 23 until we returned home on October 29, our voyage on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner could not have gone better. From joining the ship in Rome, to the outstanding weather and ports of call, to “White Star” hospitality of shipboard staff and crew, to the wonderful reception my filmmaking seminar and the international premiere of Justice Is Mind received, it was a combined holiday and business trip I will never forget.
I have traveled with a variety of cruise lines, but Cunard’s approach simply brings back a time when sailing by ocean liner was the way everyone traveled. The Art Deco design throughout the ship with artwork of Cunard’s history on display creates an atmosphere of a bygone era updated for the modern traveler.
My mother and I sailed with Cunard in 2006 on the Queen Mary 2, so we had an idea of what to expect. But as this voyage also combined a filmmaking seminar I was presenting along with the international premiere of Justice Is Mind, it helped to know the atmosphere prior to boarding.
A cruise invites one to socialize. To participate. To engage with new people from all other the world. From the author of The Witcher Keys by a guest to My Way to the Seven Seas by a crew member, to lecturers like Kim Sharman of the Royal Navy, the creative energy on the ship was just amazing.
But amazing also goes to the quality of food on board. I think someone at Cunard took a page from The Lord of the Rings. There is literally sometimes 1st breakfast and 2nd breakfast followed by “elevenses”, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (thankfully we had late seating at 8:30 PM!). Experiencing quintessential afternoon tea by the English on board an ocean liner is something not to be missed. While I loved the Britannia Restaurant, our favorite place to dine was the Verandah Restaurant. Simply put, two of the best meals I have ever had.
Of course it was Justice Is Mind that brought us halfway around the world. A film that started as an idea back in 2010 landed us on the Queen Elizabeth one of “The Most Famous Ocean Liners in the World”®. While my filmmaking seminar was relatively standard on the process of creating a motion picture with Justice Is Mind as an example, this would be the first time in the history of the film that we would screen to an audience that had no connection to the project. Suffice to say, I was more than a bit anxious on how it would be received. Justice Is Mind is not a standard drama. From mind reading via an MRI, to courtroom battles, to reincarnation all the way back to World War II, it’s, as one reviewer put it, “A thinker with a psychological edge”.
When the credits started to role the audience erupted in applause. Relieved, happy and grateful immediately came to mind. Some offered hugs while others stated their sheer enjoyment of the film. Oh I’m sure there were those that didn’t care for it, but when I was hearing words of support from guests throughout the rest of the voyage, it was a great feeling.
My heartfelt thanks to Cunard for selecting me as a guest lecturer and for the staff and crew on board the Queen Elizabeth for welcoming my mother and me on the trip of a lifetime. And, of course, to the guests of the Queen Elizabeth that sailed on voyage Q418. Indeed, an adventure, a holiday, an experience to be remembered forever.
The journey continues.