This past week was a particularly exiting one for Justice Is Mind. Although we have been screening Justice at various venues since our world premiere in August, this is the first time we had two screenings in one week. One was our state premiere in New Hampshire at a theatre chain (Cinemagic) and another was our second screening in Maine but our first matinee (Railroad Square Cinema). For the first time since our premiere, I felt the enthusiasm the audience had for the film.
Admittedly the audiences at our previous screenings have been enthusiastic and very supportive, but for me it was simply a shift in what I was paying attention to. In New Hampshire it started when I saw Justice Is Mind on the digital marquee with a time slot under Hunger Games. And then while pictures were being taken with actors, crew and guests suddenly there it was – ticket holders were lined up to see Justice Is Mind. Believe me, seeing customers come in to buy a ticket to watch your film is very rewarding.
The same thing happened in Maine yesterday. I arrived early and was just chatting up the theatre staff when I picked up a mailer they had at the ticket counter. And there was Justice Is Mind’s write up right next to Philomena. No sooner did I finish reading the mailer then people started to arrive to see Justice Is Mind.
I can only speak from my own personal experience with this process, but this was the point in time when I felt we had arrived so to speak. Are we in a wide national release? No. But we are in a traditional limited release and gathering press along the way. Another great article appeared in the Union Leader this past week.
What I know all of us associated with Justice who were present at these screenings did enjoy were the numerous questions not only about the story but about the process of how a film is produced, marketed, etc. These were very enthusiastic audiences that not only want to watch an interesting story unfold on the big screen they want to know how it was all put together. Of course you can’t please everyone. I did hear someone say they didn’t like the ending. Oh well. In each of these two screenings I was sitting in the back of theatre just listening to the audience. When do they laugh, comment and gasp. I know from yesterday most didn’t see the ending coming…good!
With our next two screenings in Massachusetts on January 11 and 24 (with Connecticut on the horizon), the long range plan for Justice is a simple one – developing an audience so when we go to VOD/DVD and foreign markets we have a base of enthusiasts and a digital footprint.
That next step in the distribution chain isn’t one to be taken lightly and needs to be taken seriously. This past week I had to tell one distributor (and one pretending to be one) I wasn’t interested in doing business with them. The reasons are various but the point needs to be made – these are people you are going to be in business with for a long time just owing to the contracts involved so mutual respect is important. I can emphatically state, we are not desperate to do a deal simply to have a deal.
When I was at both of these screenings this week I was also reflecting on the number of people involved in making this project happen. It was probably because I was being asked by so many how a film comes together. In all honesty, and as I’ve mentioned this before, creating a film does take an army. This is why filmmakers are so passionate about their work because we know the legions of people that are involved in the process. This process isn’t restricted to those of us that created the film – it’s the theatres and their staffs, our event photographers, the media outlets and the audiences that breathe life into our work.
When I read a headline in The Hollywood Reporter that states, “Getting an award worthy film into theatres is a Herculean task” I paused for a moment to think about our two theatrical screenings coming up this week in New Hampshire and Maine. This will be Justice Is Mind‘s seventh and eighth theatrical screening respectively (Our 11th if you count our law school and science fiction convention screenings).
Of course the producers that were part of that article were talking about a national release of their films—a very expensive effort. With each screening of Justice Is Mind I endeavor to secure as many media, social or web placements as possible. Indeed, I was very pleased last week when the Nashua Telegraph published a story titled “Memories on trial in intriguing new film”. The article, written by Kathleen Palmer, was spot on and will add another layer of gravitas to the entire project.
Adding to this good news, was the support we received from the New Hampshire Film & Television Office that published our press release. This kind of media and industry support is critical to independent filmmakers. It was nice to see that these media spaces weren’t reserved just for the “Hollywood” films that come to town. Indeed, there are other voices that need to be heard.
This of course brings me to my next point, I don’t wait around for results. I read an interesting post titled “Don’t Wait For Anyone” that talked about the endless waiting game that permeates this industry. In the world of filmmaking there are some things I’m just not waiting for—like for a film festival jury to decide the fate of my film (particularly one I have a paid a fee for!). Think about it, why, unless it is a buyer’s market, are laurel leaves important when I can program a theatre to screen my film and generate media attention? Also, I don’t four wall (rent). What a film needs is an audience —one that comes to the theatre specifically to see my film. Simply put, as a producer, part of my job is to make sure my investors get a return on their investment. Developing an audience is part of that return.
When I also read in this same article in The Hollywood Reporter that Gravity took four years to make, I am reminded of the arduous task to simply get a feature film made. While it is a Herculean effort to complete a feature film, thankfully distribution is no longer an obstacle to filmmakers as there are simply countless ways to get your film out to the masses. What I have been noticing is a seismic shift in how distributors are handling new projects in the wake of self-distribution platforms that used to be their dominion. As Ted Hope said “The point is now we can reach people with our work… and you don’t have to be chosen. The power is yours.”
But at the moment, we are saddened to learn about the tragic passing of the talented actor Paul Walker who I first remembered in the classic movie Pleasantville. While the immediacy of the news is heartbreaking, we can take comfort in a quote from the great Burt Lancaster, “We’re all forgotten sooner or later. But not films. That’s all the memorial we should need or hope for.”
Don’t wait. Do.
Since Justice Is Mind was released in August, we have had a variety of fantastic screenings. From our World Premiere in Albany, to law schools, science fiction conventions, state premieres and our West Coast Premiere in Beverly Hills, the process of rolling out an independent film takes time and planning.
With our next science fiction convention screening coming up on November 30 at Loscon, Justice Is Mind‘s New Hampshire premiere on December 4 along with our second screening in Maine on December 7, plans are in the works for our next steps – VOD and international distribution. In today’s world of independent filmmaking, there are countless ways to market and distribute a film. What it really comes down to is what it’s in the best interest of the project. What’s the best avenue to get it seen by the widest possible audience?
In the case of Justice, our first step has been to develop a following through our theatrical screenings, build up a base and develop press along the way. I believe that creates a solid foundation so when you go to VOD and start pushing outward towards foreign markets at least you’ve established some footprint. When I read articles that talk about the two-plus thousand films in the current marketplace vying for a home (I’m sure the number is much more), you are simply up against a ton of competition. Standing out is critical.
I come across articles and forums with all kinds of “preachers” saying you have to do this process a certain way and if you don’t you will be left by the wayside. Sadly, the majority have their hands out looking for some sort of payment. Recently a “filmmaker” mentioned in an email he sent me that a company I’ve successfully done business with before was “crap” and if I had the funds this person could “shop” Justice for me. Seriously. Man, I don’t know, when I approach a company or person I want to work with I don’t start out by insulting their past business successes (or misfires) and then ask for money. Needless to say, this person won’t be getting a response back from me!
All the while I’m working on the next stages of Justice, I’m finishing up the screenplay for my political thriller. Yes, this is another project I want to produce and direct myself. Would I be interested in optioning the story? Perhaps if the deal was right, but unless there’s some nice bank involved, I’m not interested. For me, the excitement is putting the whole project together. From that opening scene to the opening night, watching a film you wrote, produced and directed come to life is a personal and professional satisfaction that’s very hard to put into words.
I read stories of writers that want to do what I’ve done with Justice. It most certainly can be done. It most certainly can be achieved. True there are those long days when you think “This will never happen” and then suddenly there is that one email, that one call that makes all the difference. Every journey is different and each takes a different path.
EXT. WAREHOUSE – NIGHT
Ask anyone that’s even remotely involved in this industry and they are on a mission. Whether you are a producer looking to get your next film made, an actor who really wants that part or a cinematographer who really wants to shoot that film, the mission never ends and the dream never dies.
On these missions we meet all kinds of people. As I’m known for my honesty, I’ll be honest here. We all have people we want to work with and those that we want to avoid, it simply comes down to what’s a good fit and what isn’t. As much as I like to say YES sometimes you just have to say NO. It is what it is.
One mission I’ve been seeing as of late in the trades is the call for filmmakers to release data. At the center of this “drama” is whether filmmakers should release VOD revenue to the public. Unlike box office, VOD revenue is a whole other animal. For me, while I consider myself pretty open, there are some things I’m just not going to share. Some data just needs to be confidential between business partners and those that need to know. By example, I’m not going to tell a distributor who I’m not working with what my box office receipts are. Incredibly, I was asked that this week. I was asked by another filmmaker to release my media lists. Simply, it’s called doing your homework and being thorough. And what works for my projects might not work for yours. Also, I don’t want to be in a position where someone says “But Mark said if I do it this way it will work.” I promise you if you ask 10 filmmakers what they got right and what was a misfire every response will be different.
My mission, as it’s shared by the “Justice Is Mind family” is to screen Justice in as many theatres as possible. What I can say is that every venue is different in terms of demographics, management, theatrical experience, etc. etc. What works for one venue might not work for another. Those of us involved in the theatrical release of Justice don’t take these opportunities for granted, we treat them like they are the only one and simply market the hell out of them. What the studios do on a national basis with their advertising and marketing campaigns we do with good old fashioned word of mouth through social media, electronic press release distribution, etc. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a film distribution plan. Trust me, cookie cutter plans you see being advertised and marketed can only be used for “observation” of the process. I like to think I’ve learned what to do and what not to do, but believe me in this business you are always in the classroom. Just keep your eyes and ears open and before you open your wallet you just have to think “Can this be accomplished any other way?” Cash is king in this business and you can easily go through it.
So while we plan the next four screenings of Justice Is Mind, including our upcoming New Hampshire state premiere on December 4 and return to Maine on December 7, I am also pleased to report that I have just completed my first draft of a political thriller I’ve been writing for the last several months.
This is where it all starts. At the screenplay. If you don’t have a solid story in writing, what can you expect when you shoot it? Incredibly, I was at an industry conference some months ago when some director said that the script gets in his way (to an audience!). Seriously. I like to know that when I’m shooting the story has been properly vetted so when we have crew, actors, locations and the thousands of other details in place to film, we are all on the same track. And who wants to deal with a continuity issue when you’re in post?