August 18, 2013. Five years ago today I was in Albany, NY for the world premiere of Justice Is Mind. The idea for Justice came to me in 2010 when I came across a 60 Minutes story about Thought Identification “mind reading.” I was researching mind reading “computers” when I was writing the sequel to First World. Yes, I finished writing the sequel. But no sooner was my Final Draft software cooling down and it was fired up again to write Justice.
I’ve often written about the development of Justice. The endless pitch to producers and financiers started at the script stage. Then I produced a short film version Evidence to develop interest in the project. After a couple of theatrical screenings and media the financing came together to produce the feature. Let me just say that 2012 was a whirlwind of a year. But in the end, over 10 crew, 100+ actors and 15 locations came together. Even post production into 2013 went relatively smoothly. Justice enjoyed a limited theatrical run, screenings at law schools, science fiction conventions and an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth (yes, that was a highlight!). The film is now available worldwide on VOD.
When you’re an independent filmmaker the completion of a feature film is a milestone that should be enjoyed and celebrated. As I see with so many in this industry, they worry incessantly about the next project when working on the current one. There were only a couple of occasions during Justice when a few people tried to get out of commitments because of an audition or other project they wanted to be part of. I’ve always believed in giving your maximum to every project you’re involved in. You worry about the next one after the fact.
It’s one thing to attend a film premiere for someone else’s project, it’s entirely another to attend one for your own. For nearly two years after our world premiere, so many of us attended the screenings together. For a while we were like a traveling road show! These weren’t film festivals, they were theatrical screenings. There is nothing more gratifying as a filmmaker than seeing your film on a marquee next to mainstream “Hollywood” productions. You work like hell to make the film, but seeing it in the market is in one word – gratifying.
A feature film isn’t about the “cool” photos behind the scenes of making it, it’s about creating the world around it so when it’s released there’s a place in the market for it. An acting friend of mine last year coined the phrase “the milk carton movie” for those films he was involved in that never saw the light of day. There were essentially “missing.” I couldn’t even fathom making a movie that sits on a shelf waiting for someone else to decide its fate. Film festivals are fine enough if you get into the top tier from an awareness point of view, but as a filmmaker you don’t see ten cents of box office from them. More importantly why would I want to share the public relations spotlight with other films? I remember only too well when we had a screening for Justice at a major university and, unknown to me, there was a small film festival in town that weekend. A reporter said to me they only had so much space and simply couldn’t accommodate everyone. Well, thankfully our screening went well because it was marketed internally and had some scientific personalities attending. That was a lesson to be learned.
As I now venture into the world of First Signal, I look back on the days of Justice Is Mind with great fondness and realize what’s possible when the right team comes together. I’ll never forget what one of the stars of Justice said to me at our last theatrical screening in March, 2017 “This never gets old.”
No, it doesn’t.
I remember the mission I was on when I wrote First World in 2006. It was a commitment and passion to learn the craft of screenwriting, research a project and then, to quote this recent article in Script magazine, “write the hell out” of it. Those early efforts resulted in three screenplay nominations and the production of a short film version that screened in several countries. Indeed, I was on a mission.
We live in a world of instant gratification. But that world is a fantasy in the entertainment industry. Someone at some point at some place at some time dedicated years (or decades) to make their project a reality.
Just this week the tireless efforts of the SS United States Conservancy seems to have led to a deal to save the majestic and historic SS United States ocean liner. The redevelopment of the famed liner will be announced in New York City this week. Anyone that has been following their efforts knows this has not been smooth sailing. Thankfully an impassioned plea by the Conservancy to save the ship from the breakers a few months ago brought much needed worldwide attention and donations to the storied liner. The same passion and commitment holds true in the entertainment industry.
After I wrote Justice Is Mind I remember the endless pitches, presentations, blind alleys, dubious investors and bad advice. But it was at one point during the process that I remember going through the same thing in publishing a decade plus prior when trying to raise capital for that venture. That deal clicked at one point just like Justice Is Mind did. But in both cases there was a commonality – I produced these projects myself with investors. That’s the direction I now take.
Would it be grand if “Hollywood” wanted to take one of my projects and run with it? Of course. But Hollywood as we now know it, because the industry is fragmented and decentralized, is everywhere. Audiences don’t care where or how a film came together, they just want to be entertained. It’s really that simple. It was the same with magazines. I was told over and over again that nobody would take me seriously unless we published out of New York. I lived in New York and worked in publishing (TIME magazine). Sure, it was cool. But expensive. In the end, I published market leading magazines based in Worcester, Massachusetts. Readers and theater audiences don’t care where a project originates from.
There was a certain sense of satisfaction when I returned to Los Angeles in 2013 for the West Coast Premiere of Justice Is Mind. A film, born out of Worcester and filmed primarily in central Massachusetts was screening in the entertainment capital of the world. “Hollywood” is as much an atmosphere as it is a corporate entity comprised of all manner of divisions. All “Hollywood” wants is the audience because the larger the audience the larger the revenue.
For those of you on a mission in this industry, I encourage you to read Jeanne Veillette Bowerman’s article in Script magazine. Above all else you need to be passionate about your work while keeping an open mind on collaboration.
In preparation for the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind on August 18, I’m going to Cinemagic tomorrow to give them the film. They’ll have our theatrical DVD and a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). The DCP was created for us by the Chatham Theatre. Sometime next week they’ll run the DCP test. Out of all the theatres which have screened the film, it looked and sounded the best in this theatre. While I know what the DVDs are capable of, I am looking forward to seeing the film in its highest possible resolution.
Since my last post, art is starting to imitate life. In SOS United States a Cyber Pearl Harbor by China takes out the United States power grid and military satellite communications. Last week the United States strongly believes that China is behind a cyber-attack that compromised millions of Americans. These weren’t just any Americans, the agencies targeted were the Office of Personal Management (OPM) and the Interior Department.
As part of the development process of SOS United States, I reached out to the media relations office of the National Security Agency a couple of weeks ago. This is the same process I did for First World when I contacted the Secret Service and the various universities and law schools for Justice Is Mind. For me, as a filmmaker and screenwriter, it’s important to get as many facts straight as possible. I believe adding reality brings believability and plausibility to a movie.
On a personal note, I have no problem with the work the NSA does. Unless you live under a rock and off the grid, we live in a very complicated world. A world that needs to be monitored for the safety of its citizens. As General Blair says in In Mind We Trust at a Congressional hearing, “Senator don’t talk to me about privacy when most of the planet posts their most intimate details voluntarily. You know as well as I that the next attack on the United States isn’t going to come over the pole as a nuclear device, it’s going to come from a computer.”
Speaking of In Mind We Trust, I am developing a concept trailer along with Justice Is Mind composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta. Originally, I was thinking it would be just about a minute long, but given the scope of the story we are expanding it to over two minutes. The first minute introduces elements in Justice Is Mind that propel the In Mind We Trust storyline.
Continuing with the development process, I was invited on Chris Denmead’s show Radio of Horror on WCUW 91.3 FM a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to the interview at this link where I talk about a wide variety of subjects around filmmaking. I met Chris when he participated in Justice Is Mind during the flashback wedding scene. As I’ve often said, this is an industry of networking and relationships.
Just as this week was coming to an end, I was alerted to this article in the Huffington Post stating “Scientists Can Read Your Mind Using These Images of the Brain”. It was great to read the latest news from Carnegie Mellon University’s research in this area and Dr. Marcel Just’s quotes. As some of you may know, I was inspired to write Justice Is Mind after seeing Dr. Just on a 60 Minutes story in 2009 that talked about ‘thought identification’. Justice Is Mind had the opportunity to screen at Carnegie last year.
I’ll still never forget that day when I stumbled upon that famed 60 Minutes broadcast on “thought identification” that eventually led me to writing Justice Is Mind. As some of you know, I was actually researching mind reading technology for a sequel to First World. Who would have thought in 2010 I would be sitting here the last couple of months in 2014 and writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind.
Writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind has been an experience. Up to page 25, with a mountain of notes, it has been interesting revisiting characters I haven’t really thought much about since I wrote Justice Is Mind back in 2010. Sure, I dealt with the characters when filming the feature but by that point the script had been written, vetted and ready to go. I don’t’ believe in on set rewrites unless a scheduling emergency comes up that forces an adjustment. In my view, you write a screenplay with a sense of quiet and imagine the characters doing this and that. A film set, by design, is a noisy experience and really isn’t conducive to writing creatively.
Naturally, I’ve had more than a few inquiries on what the sequel will be about. Without giving away too much, the sequel picks up three months after the original story. Yes, there are familiar characters from the original, but already I’ve introduced a few new characters. The one thing I do before I set out to write a screenplay is to have an ending. Justice Is Mind always had the ending it did. I’m not saying I’m so rigid that I would never change an ending, but having one at the start, for me, provides a light at the end of the tunnel to work towards. And, thankfully, the title of the sequel came to me a few days ago.
Regarding Justice Is Mind, I’m pleased to announce that we are also now streaming on IndieReign! This brings us to four platforms that are streaming the film with additional platforms coming online soon. This is why the time has come to write a sequel. Justice Is Mind is not only in the market, but throughout our screenings and the comments I’ve heard there are a variety of parts that resonate with the audience. In fact, there were two audience members from two different screenings that said the comments they did that caused the direction I’m taking for the sequel.
This also represents a new time for First World and SOS United States. I’m actively presenting both projects to interested parties for development. The one thing I try very hard to do is to not get lost in all the noise associated with this industry. It’s very easy to get absorbed about VOD, SVOD, this trend, that trend, A list today, C list tomorrow, etc. In the end it comes to one word and one word only – equity. Whether you are producing a low budget feature like Justice Is Mind or something in the few millions like First World, part, or most of the equity (translation cash), must be put up before a project will proceed. As I mentioned last week, all movies start with the screenplay. Where they go from there is up to the market.
I’ve always enjoyed both the creative and business side of the entertainment industry. I find it just as much fun to write a cool scene as it is to negotiate a screening and pitching it to the press. I guess there is another word that is applicable to my work.
Tomorrow night at 7 PM the 18th screening of Justice Is Mind will take place at The Elm Draught House Cinema in Millbury, Massachusetts. Like all our prior screenings, there’s both excitement and nerves. What filmmaker isn’t excited to see their film in a theatre but on the other side they’re nervous because they want to make sure audiences enjoy the film. For me, I truly enjoy attending these screenings. Meeting audiences and hearing their comments is what it’s all about. As writers we tend to work in a vacuum of seclusion, but as a director you are the public face of the film.
As director, I could not be more pleased with the local media support of this screening. The Millbury Sutton Chronicle, Webster Times, Yankee Shopper and Smart Shopper, have all supported Justice Is Mind’s May 19 screening in print. And Bob Leveillee’s Pizza Post radio spot on WTAG and WSRS along with our social media efforts have really rounded out the media plan. Print media reached the towns of Auburn, Dudley, Charlton, Oxford, Webster, Grafton, Douglas, Northbridge, Sutton and Uxbridge. The Yankee Shopper states a reach of over 65,000 mailed copies and WTAG and WSRS report a reach of over 170,000 in central Massachusetts which includes Worcester. For an independent film, with just the will of those associated with the project, notice of this screening has potentially reached 235,000 and that doesn’t include our social media efforts. As always, it will be interesting to see how many are in attendance tomorrow.
This week someone in our local acting community posted a video from a pretty popular filmmaking group that claimed that nearly 90% of filmmakers don’t engage in social media or want much to do with marketing. I find this really unbelievable on so many levels. First, as director, don’t you want to be involved in where and how your film is marketed? Second, unless you’re living under a rock, even distributors, with their substantially reduced marketing budgets for independent films, expect filmmakers to assist in marketing. Personally, unless the deal was financially worthwhile, I would be hard pressed to relinquish control until I reviewed a media plan. Think about it. How many times do we have to read in the trades that a film misfired with audiences because of the way marketing was handled? Transcendence anyone?
In the next few weeks, I’ll be announcing the “International Premiere of Justice Is Mind”. To say I’m excited about this upcoming screening would be a vast understatement. Months in the works, with months to go for planning, I signed off on the paperwork last week.
It was two years ago this month that I announced that funding had been secured to produce Justice Is Mind. I remember that day and where I was very clearly. I was in the Washington, DC area screening the short film version Evidence at a sci-fi convention with Vernon Aldershoff. When I think of the journey so many of us have taken with this film and where we are still going, it truly has been one of the most exciting times of my life. But with that excitement has come dedication, hard work and determination to see a project from start to market.
Speaking of starts, look for the concept poster for SOS United States in the next couple of weeks.
See you at The Elm!
Reporting to you today from Plattsburgh, NY, Justice Is Mind will be screening tonight at the beautifully restored Strand Theatre. Tonight marks the fifth screening of Justice since our world premiere in Albany in August. The organizers up here have done a great job promoting Justice. As always, I’m looking forward to presenting the film to new audiences. And joining me here is Vernon Aldershoff who stars as Henri Miller. Thanks Vern for arranging the screening tonight!
This past week has probably been the busiest to date since our premiere between screenings and new bookings. Our law school tour kicked off on Tuesday at Boston University School of Law. It was great seeing such a diverse group of attendees. From actors in Justice that hadn’t seen the film yet, to lawyers, law and film students, judges and law school professors.
Although our press release will go out on Monday, I am very pleased to report that Justice Is Mind will have its West Coast premiere at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA on November 7. My thanks to Arnold Peter and the Peter Law Group for making this screening possible. I can’t tell you how excited I am to bring Justice to the capital of the entertainment industry and to visit with some old friends. It seems like yesterday when I moved back to Massachusetts, but it’s actually been five years. Is this where someone says “…comeback” and I respond, “I hate that word. It’s a return!”
With Justice screening at the University of Mississippi next Tuesday and with December screenings in New Hampshire and Maine confirmed with formal announcements to follow, Justice is building its following one screening at a time. What we have learned is that each screening is different in terms of media, audience, demographics and a host of other factors. At the end of the day it all comes down to data.
If Justice Is Mind was an airline it would show up on flight reservation systems as a non-stop flight. Over the next ten days, Vancouver, Boston, Plattsburg and Oxford will be screening Justice. From theatres, to law schools to sci-fi conventions, since our Maine premiere last Saturday there has virtually been non-stop activity with the film on both sides of the screen and continent.
As a distributor mentioned to me last week, if you plan pre-production properly then production goes well. It’s true, pre-production planning of Justice was a four month adventure. That planning led to a smooth, albeit intense, filming schedule for Justice that lasted two months. The same holds true for exhibiting the film. It’s all about pre-production planning.
At this stage in the project, there’s still more than just me involved. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, there is a literal army in the execution of this film. There is the dedication and support of my executive producers Mary Wenninger and Stefan Knieling. If it were not for Vernon Aldershoff, Mary Wexler, Arnold Peter, Kim Gordon and Gail Sullivan, certain screenings, marketing and production just wouldn’t happen. And then there is Sheila Mandeville who has attended the last three screenings of Justice with her own army! It takes more than a pilot to fly an airplane.
And like getting ready to leave the gate, I have what all pilots have—a checklist. Yes, I am a person that needs lists to function. As I mentioned to one potential theatre that may screen Justice, I need a 45 day notice. Sure, I’m happy to have a venue screen the film, but if we can’t plan it properly what’s the point. Press releases need to be written, media needs to be contacted, local marketing needs to be executed, if regional which actors/crew may be interested in going, the venue has to be tested, are we part of a larger event—you get the point.
Last Saturday was one day that required a lot of pre-production planning. In addition to our Maine premiere, I also conducted a workshop for Talent Tools titled “Independent Filmmaking: Script to Screen”. For the entire week prior I took an hour out of each day to outline what I was going to talk about. First, I owed it to the attendees to make sure they left with some new knowledge. Thankfully, when the day arrived I had my lists…so I was good! But even more important was the organizational zeal of Talent Tools owner Becki Dennis Buchman. I know whenever Becki does something it will not only be first rate, but well run.
Seriously, isn’t that what it’s all about? Don’t we want to enjoy ourselves at these events? Let’s be honest, this is the entertainment industry it’s all about the damn arrival! Of course we don’t live in a picture perfect world, things do come up at the last minute. Hell, that’s just life! But when it comes to day of, I prefer calm to chaos.
And then there is the activity going on behind the screen. Industry reporting, distributor conversations, long range strategy plans—it’s a list! As for the long range plans? I think it’s safe to say that during the entire development and release of Justice Is Mind a business model has been developed.
Clear for departure.