There is that moment in a theater when the words “Feature Presentation” come up just before the picture starts. Certainly as a theatregoer we’re excited to see the film, but as a filmmaker it’s a rush—particularly when it’s your movie. That rush happened for me when Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program screened together at The Strand Theatre in March. Ask any filmmaker and they’ll tell you, there’s nothing like seeing your film on the silver screen.
But for all the accolades that come with making a feature film, there are significant challenges that theatregoers don’t necessarily concern themselves with. The recent articles on Broad Green and Open Road chronicle the times ahead for some. While the capital to produce is there, it’s the net return that’s the issue. Thus consolidation or, in the case of Broad Green, production shut down. In my view it comes down to a reasonable budget with a solid marketing plan tied to distribution. To turn a phrase from Ron Popeil you can’t “Make it and forget it”.
I met with a colleague a few weeks ago who wants to make his first feature film. He’s a talented filmmaker who has made some award winning short films. A short film is one thing, a feature is an entirely other animal. His concerns were numerous—completing the script, managing a crew, finance and distribution. Basically it comes down to taking that leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and your own capabilities. Yes, you rely on others, but as Luc Besson said you have to be the General of the Army. Look at any film in production from the low budget independent to the major studio release, the entire project revolves around the director. This isn’t to say that the director acts unilaterally, they too have to report to someone or at least adhere to a structure.
As for structure and directing, I’m looking forward to returning as site supervisor for the Naval Justice School’s mock trial program in Newport, RI. Yes, it’s directing of a sort, but it’s just as much as adhering to the structure of their program. What I enjoy about this program is that it’s neither film nor stage, it gives me the opportunity to roleplay a character over multiple days without a set script rather a set of circumstances and situation. As director it’s generally to make sure that the actors have an understanding of this process as it’s not stage or film. There’s no call to action and cut, rather you are in character when in the school. My supervisory role is essentially making sure everyone shows up on time, answer related questions and to follow the rules of the base and the agency that has hired us.
One thing about this industry that I enjoy is the variety of opportunity it affords. Whether directing a film, writing a screenplay or working on a military base, it’s about being well-rounded. The one thing that has helped enormously with my work in Newport was the years I spent doing TV interviews (many live). While there was no script, there was a subject matter and certain facts I had to adhere to. My point is that whatever the work is, it’s about the accumulation of experience because who knows what that next part will be.
Setting up a new project like Serpentine is one of details. It starts with the script where you generally write in isolation. But when you make the decision to produce, that’s when a film takes on an entirely new dimension as it becomes project management with location partners, crew, actors and a variety of other participants.
This past week the location for the ice rink was confirmed along with the actors that will play Suzanne Wilson and her coach Elizabeth Rogers. The latter has a great backstory that I will soon share. Let’s just say that my experience in figure skating has come full circle from the time I first set foot on the ice.
Certain other actors have been confirmed along with crew. Over the next several days the aim is to confirm the rest of the crew while posting for actors and securing the final two locations. My plan is to formally announce the cast, crew and location partners via press release by October 1. Should our plans stay on track, the goal is to start principal photography at the end of October.
Like Justice Is Mind, and somewhat with SOS United States, when I started to write Serpentine my aim was always to produce the project. While it certainly helped that I had a background in the sport, when one decides to produce it’s a commitment. One that starts long before and long after the production wraps. Serpentine started in January 2016 and will continue long into 2017 and well into 2018 and beyond should the feature move forward. There are no shortcuts in this industry.
I’m reminded of this commitment every day with First World, Justice Is Mind and SOS United States. With First World and Justice Is Mind released, there is the regular social media and general promotion. Both are doing extremely well on Amazon Prime in all their territories while SOS United States is still being reviewed by a production company (one that regularly produces).
Filmmaking is not like the old Ron Popeil motto of “Set it, and forget it!” once a film is completed. Promotion, in the age of VOD, is ongoing. Take this week for example, Justice Is Mind just arrived on TubiTV. As all of us associated with Justice Is Mind are reminded, four years ago this month we were filming and yet the project continues to reach new audiences through platforms like TubiTV. Platforms that didn’t exist when we were filming Justice Is Mind.
TubiTV reminds me of Hulu in its early days. It’s an advertiser supported VOD platform that doesn’t require a monthly or annual membership like Netflix (or Amazon for Prime). What’s important in the world of film distribution is to give audiences as many choices as possible on how, when and where they want to watch a film. Today, three years after release, Justice Is Mind can be watched on your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone and an array of other devices and platforms.
Speaking of platforms of a different nature, it looks like after twenty years I’ll need to get my skating legs underneath me again for Serpentine.