Over the last few weeks I have been reviewing SOS United States and breaking down the script by location for a cost analysis. While I would love nothing more than to realize a multi-million-dollar budget to produce this political thriller “Hollywood” style, I’m also a realist. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it could literally take years (if ever) to achieve that type of production.
As I’m often on a weekly call with a filmmaker organization, I hear the same stories from exasperated screenwriters. Their stories all fall along the same lines; their screenplay has done well in festivals, it has been reviewed and analyzed by industry experts, a comprehensive look book has been created along with a filmed teaser. One screenwriter filmed the first 20 minutes of their 90-minute screenplay to show what it would look like as a finished product. You can imagine I wondered why they just didn’t produce the whole thing?
This all being said, I am breaking down SOS United States to produce as an independent film akin to what I accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal. As the script has been well received by film festivals winning a variety of awards, and has been read among my peers, I’m confident about the story. The rest? Well, it’s about securing cooperative locations along with a talented cast and crew. If the following months go well, hopefully SOS United States will be in production by early Summer 2023 with a 2024 release date.
While I work on SOS United States for production, First Signal continues to do well in the market. With our YouTube placement alone garnering over 1.1 million views, the audience and interest in the First World Universe is certainly there. Those that support the film regularly asks me when the sequel will be released. For First Report and First Launch, I am aiming to secure outside production financing as I believe the “franchise” deserves it for the next phase.
But there is one thing that all films require—a fair and equitable marketplace for our product. Over the last several weeks there has been considerable drama around the release of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. It has been reported that Amazon spent between $715 million to $1 billion on the project. One can appreciate they want to protect their product. But the one thing that can’t be controlled are audiences. Amazon’s attempt to do that by suspending ratings and reviews on Rings of Power has created an unlevel playing field in addition to an unfair business practice.
As I learned from the release of First Signal in particular, audiences either love your film or hate it with a smattering of “middling” reviews. While I would love for Amazon/IMDb to remove all reviews below a 7, I know that isn’t going to happen. But Amazon/IMDb did just that for Rings of Power. At one point First Signal had more reviews on IMDb than Amazon’s new $1 billion dollar property.
As an independent filmmaker we are told time and time again that a high rating and solid reviews will lead to more distribution opportunities. The work I have put in to keep First Signal’s rating as high as possible has been, to use a word I often use in this industry, herculean. But to see a company like Amazon manipulate ratings and reviews to benefit one of their properties at the expense of the rest of us that promote the Amazon machine, is just a horrid business practice—but now it is a precedent that Amazon alone has created.
One of Amazon’s baseless defenses is that because the series is well reviewed, audiences therefore by edict must love it. But then you look at The Terminal List that was beyond panned by critics but loved by audiences. As Amazon has established the precedent, perhaps they should remove the critics?
My point to all this is a simple one and is a lesson from history we should all remember – when you attempt to silence voices you only give them a larger platform to speak.
It should come as no surprise that I monitor First Signal (and Justice Is Mind) on a regular basis. This involves checking their respective IMDb and social pages along with various searches. In today’s world, it’s too easy for a page to get hacked, manipulated or commented on that requires a correction. But then there are the moments that yield good news.
This past week First Signal went live on Vudu. To quote from Wikipedia, “Vudu is an American digital video store and streaming service owned by Fandango Media.” Fandango, and their subsidiary Rotten Tomatoes, are leading services of film listings, ticket sales, review aggregators, streaming services and related information. With Vudu’s listing, this brings First Signal’s platforms to six representing global reach.
As I reflect on the reach that First Signal now has, I was reminded about a day on set when one of the actors asked me if First Signal would get released. Sadly, in the independent film world, it happens more often than not, that films are not released. I promised this actor that as my name was at the top of this film, it would get a release.
When we learned last week about the cancellation of Batgirl with its $90 million budget, the general response was, “They already spent $90 million just release it to digital.” First, there are countless reasons why this film may never see the light of day. I believe The Critical Drinker hit the nail on the head on why Batgirl was shelved. If the film was going to get a theatrical release, they would have to spend tens of millions more to market it. For a digital release, the general reasoning was quality of the film from test audiences. In their view, the studio would rather take a tax-deductible loss over bad reviews, audience displeasure and a very probable public box office bomb. But whatever the true reason is, film cancellations do happen.
For me, I truly believe this process starts with a sound script that when reviewed is looked at for the entertainment value, not the delivering of a message or particular point of view. The latter should be relegated to documentaries, when you know from the get-go what you’re getting into. Audiences are particular. Their currency in cash and promotion is invaluable. As a screenwriter and filmmaker, my goal is to entertain across a targeted genre and demographic. As Samuel Goldwyn famously said, “If I want to send a message I’ll use Western Union.”
A few days ago I released my Director Reel. You can imagine the challenge in reviewing hours of footage and seeking to select scenes that represent my work. At the end of the day, this is an industry of opinion, review and judgment. We aim to entertain with the ideas we create in our minds. The work in bringing these ideas to life is a challenge like none other. But when everything comes together from the completion of the film to embracement of audiences, it is a challenge worth accepting.