With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in full swing, I enjoy reading the dailies and the state of the industry. What was a relatively unusual trend is that The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and IndieWire all generally reported that this market may be a slower one due to a conflux of trends; from the availability of cast driven projects to disappointments at the box office from previous festival sales. Truth be told, there is no crystal ball to predict what will resonate with audiences.
But if there is one thing that has to resonate with me, it’s inspiration. If I am not inspired by the subject matter, if I don’t believe in the material, if I can’t envision it on the screen, I can’t get behind it. One only has to witness the disaster that was the latest iteration of Fantastic Four. The film was a forced project for the sake of “rights” rather than passion.
With all my projects they are driven by something that inspired me. Whether it was the Apollo space program for First World, mind reading technology for Justice Is Mind or government conspiracies in SOS United States, it is the underlying material that motivates and inspires me. It’s not enough for me to be a filmmaker, I must be a promoter as well. Because if I don’t believe in the project why should anybody else.
This past week I ran into someone at my gym who has seen my films and he asked “How do I do it?” He was asking about the recent press we had around the second anniversary screening of Justice Is Mind. My response was pretty quick, “Because I believe in it.” I know how Justice has resonated with audiences. I know what their reactions have been after the screenings. But it was also coming up with an angle for the latest media push – second anniversary, positive audience reactions and a sequel in development with In Mind We Trust. It gave the media something to tell their audiences.
And this is what the industry is all about – the audience. I sometimes think this vital attribute is missed by the vacuum atmosphere of festivals. An audience at a film festival is vastly different from one at the local theater. At a festival you are probably a cinephile or industry executive and will see just about anything, but it’s the real world of the local theater that shines light on what an audience wants to see.
As The Hollywood Reporter stated, “Despite a challenging climate for indie film financing” projects are getting done because of valuable co-productions. Indeed this is an industry about partnerships. I learned this when our location partners for Justice Is Mind also became valuable marketing partners. It’s about inspiring others to see your vision.
The one thing that consistently amazes me in the world of filmmaking is the creativity everyone brings to the table. This is one of the areas that I enjoy the most. I’m not sure if my post production team will agree with me or not, but after I give my general direction on something, I let them simply create. Imagine. I’ve often heard these nightmarish stories of directors that berate everyone involved to obsessive extremes or worse the other side of it when no direction or organization is given. Once, I had the unfortunate experience of working with a disorganized director as an actor and it was a nightmare (I felt like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise B!). I always aim for a comfortable middle. But at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the director that the vision is executed by all concerned.
As we are entering the final stages of post production, I look at the smoothness of the story our editor Jared Skolnick has created for Justice Is Mind and I wonder if he read my mind on my fondness for dramatic storytelling from Hollywood of the 1940s and 50s. The same holds true for my friend and our special effects guru Adam Starr. I’ve worked with Adam for well over ten years on other projects, and while I will be the first to admit that I used to get a bit hot headed in those early days, it was all for the best of the project. Adam is another one who is good at mind reading (I guess that works well with the Justice Is Mind story). I send off my notes and presto out comes something that would simply rival any top special effects house. Then there is our composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta, someone I have never met who lives in the United Kingdom. When I first listened to samples of his work, I just heard the sounds of Justice coming to life.
Like any industry, you create teams of people you enjoy working with. But no other industry ties that together more than filmmaking. Of course, we aren’t all going to agree on everything and we all have our own point of view on how something should be executed. But once you work on a set you can clearly understand how you see the same people working together over and over again. It’s not so much on the acting side, but on the production side you want to work with people whose work you know and who you trust. Look at someone like J.J. Abrams. He often collaborates with the same team. I’d say that’s worked out OK for him!
But look this isn’t always a bed of roses either with everyone singing Kumbaya. During Justice Is Mind I had the unfortunate job of having to let people go during the production and in post-production (and there was some pre-production drama too). You’re either part of the team or you’re not. Simply, in this business time is money and I don’t have the time to figure out what your issues are. Besides, it’s woefully unfair to those putting in the effort to produce a quality product.
Coming into the last couple of months of post-production I could not be more thankful to the entire team (on both sides of the camera) that is making Justice Is Mind possible. We all know that producing a feature film is not easy. As we have seen this past week, actors like Zach Braff took to Kickstarter because they couldn’t get the deal they wanted, famed director Steven Soderbergh vented on the wild west of filmmaking (has it ever been anything less?) and digital distribution continues to “adjust” the establishment. But through it all you need content and a team that can deliver. And like Captain Kirk and his crew on the Enterprise, it would be pretty cool to board a ship with the crew I’ve been working with the last several months.
U.S.S Justice standby for departure.
Producing a feature film, never mind writing and directing one, is a project. In this industry you often hear people say, “What projects are you working on?” The word “project” is code for “film”. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to use the word “project” than list out your films at a cocktail party. But here are my projects: Justice Is Mind, First World, titled, but not announced, political thriller and…that’s enough. Suffice to say, both Justice Is Mind and First World are in various stages of development and production. Justice has a short and feature, with notes on a sequel. First World has a short, a feature I hope to put into production with a sequel already written (it’s a trilogy). The political thriller is at the treatment stage with 12 pages of script already written.
There was an article in an industry blog about a filmmaker who was quoting all these projects. I mean, they went on and on and on. Sounds impressive on paper, but two clicks on IMDB and you realize it was just talk because honestly it’s impossible, unless you have a production staff, to be involved in so many projects strictly from a time point of view. For me, less is more. Anyone that has worked with me knows that I focus on the details. It’s easy in this industry to get distracted with someone’s new and exciting project, but if your own project isn’t finished it’s really doing a disservice to those that worked on it.
With Justice Is Mind edited and the score nearly complete, the one area of the project that’s front and center are the building of the special effects. When you see these before and after examples, the quality that our Special Effects Supervisor is putting into them is stunning. But to get to this point, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few details that first start with original files being pulled by our Editor, sent to me for review and then processed over to special effects with my instructions for the building.
Special effects are an integral part of the world of filmmaking. Without them, films just don’t exist. The special effects we see in 21st century films are obviously very cool. On a contemporary note, visually Olympus Has Fallen was really excellent. But let’s take a step back in time to my favorite film Gone With the Wind. In those days it was the matte shot. When you consider what Jack Cosgrove achieved back in 1939, impressive doesn’t even begin to describe those visual effects that still hold up to this day. How the burning of Atlanta was accomplished was truly spectacular.
While the special effects are being built, one of the next areas of the project that I’ve been focusing on is our upcoming August 18 premiere, continuing to develop the list of film festivals to submit to and working towards an industry screening. There is also a list of independent theatres I’m working on to screen and test market the film. This is another area of the project that has to be carefully considered—distribution. The one thing about the world of filmmaking, and probably like any industry, is the abundance of “consultants” that want to tell you how to hone your craft. I have to tell you, wading through these “experts” is a project in and of itself. I’ll just say this, if you are going to consult for a fee in this business you best have accomplished what you are preaching before I part with 10 cents.
For my projects it’s pretty simple. 1) I want to produce, 2) I want my projects to be seen, and, 3) I want to make money. Obviously, a lot has changed in this industry since Gone With the Wind. Filmmaking is achievable today because of technological advances that allow us to create. And after all…
Tomorrow is another day.
Being an “independent” filmmaker means wearing multiple hats and this week was no exception. On the post production front of Justice Is Mind, the processing of the special effects continues in earnest. I had the great pleasure of presenting the trailer for Justice at an industry event and on Friday there were some conversations with our distributor regarding the short film version Justice Is Mind: Evidence. From production to marketing to distribution it’s all in a day’s work in the world of independent filmmaking—many hats usually worn by one person.
Long after I called “That’s a wrap” on October 13 the last day of principal photography, the editing began about a week later (heavens knows we all needed a break!). Once our editor had a rough cut complete, the process of identifying the areas that needed special effect work began. To give you an idea of what’s involved; there are 24 frames per second. If a shot is three seconds long that means that 72 frames need to be exported by the editor and sent to me for delivery to our special effects supervisor along with a detailed memo on what needs to be accomplished for each shot. Just as important as writing and actually shooting a scene, each shot needs to be just as thought out. By example, the instructions for the iPad shot I posted to our Facebook page last week: This is Henri looking at an iPad reading the news that’s part of the story. Please see attached assets for specifics on what to put in for this effect. In the assets folder was copy written by me along with pictures I selected. If you look closely at the copy, there is a shout out to a previous film of mine.
This past Tuesday, in Albany, NY, I had the pleasure of screening the trailer for Justice Is Mind at Upstate Independents, an organization for “filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, and other media artists”. I was invited by UI member Vernon Aldershoff who stars as Henri Miller in Justice. I also brought along Monty Lyons who plays Detective Campbell in Justice. The program called for showing the trailer and then taking Q&A from the audience. Although the trailer has been released through numerous online platforms since January, this was the first time I was presenting the trailer to a live audience. I can’t speak for Monty, but I’ll confess I was a bit nervous. But after the trailer screened, their enthusiastic questions were very inspiring. As a filmmaker, there is nothing more grand than seeing your film on the big screen.
Upstate Independents is an organization that I highly recommend. The meetings start with first time attendees introducing themselves (as Monty and I did), then members take to the microphone and talk about their projects. After the introductions and news, a guest speaker is presented. At this meeting, UI invited Jeanne Bowerman the Editor and Online Community Manager of ScriptMag.com to speak. I’ve been following Jeanne’s various columns and Script magazine itself for the last few years. It was great to finally meet Jeanne in person and hear her speak. What I love about Jeanne is she’s honest, inspiring and talks to audiences directly without all that “cheerleading pom pom” stuff you see with “motivational” speakers in this industry. Jeanne talks from solid experience and presents market facts and realities. For anyone that writes, or wants to learn more about the process, I highly advise following Jeanne and Script magazine.
One thing Jeanne mentioned during the meeting that really resonated with me is for anyone that works in this industry to be kind and say “thank you”. I could not agree more. This is an industry that is all working relationship and networking built. I promise you those two words can easily translate to work down the road. Likewise, absent being appreciative and you can find yourself “not” under consideration.
This week some “friends” on Facebook were posting and sharing a rather long quote from director Stanley Kubrick. It was interesting where he talked about the chaotic process of filmmaking. I think this quote from him sums it up pretty good, “Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.” I agree.
Whether it has been directing a company as its CEO, a stage play or a film, I’ve always been a director of sorts. Some call me a control freak, but really it’s just about being thorough and above all else organized because in the end if there’s a mistake, they always blame the director. But the reward in seeing your work come together is worth any level of chaos.
But with just over 1 hour and 45 minutes edited, I find myself now directing Justice Is Mind again. Aside from reviewing the editing (our editor and composer are doing a great job), I’m now directing the special effects that are being built and listening to the score. What does that iPad need to say on it? What section do we put on that TV monitor? Can you add more strings this section? Yes, that’s right, that’s the director’s job—at least on an independent feature film it is. As part of that process this past week I bought the royalty free footage that we need for the film; i.e. the Reincar Scientific building in Berlin, Germany and various medium and jumbo jets taking off from airports.
Someone suggested to me at one point, just go to the airport and film planes landing. Not as easy as it sounds. First, unless you have permission you can’t show the livery of the airline. Second, why should I send a crew to an airport for a simple takeoff shot when I can spend $35 online for the footage we need? The roller coaster of directing!
Now wearing my producer hat, I was really excited to read in The Wrap this week a story titled Look Who’s Rising to Fill the Void Left by Studios: Foreign Sales Companies. The studios have been cutting off production deals left and right with many producers moving their production shingle off the studio lot. While that may just sound like a change of address, it also generally means no more overhead paid for by for the studio. Frankly, I think this is a good thing as it presents a much more level playing field rather than giving a deal to a producer who hasn’t had a hit in years but gets paid to just sit around the lot.
An independent filmmaker wants a great relationship with a sales agent. After all they are the ones securing financing from distributors. Now at least armed with our trailer, I’ve already started to present Justice Is Mind to agents and have received some very positive feedback. They like the story, the performances and the look of the film so far. We all know what that means, post-production is critical for a successful film.
Part of the fun about directing on the FX side is that I got to slip in some other projects—subtly. The Synedrion Council…stay tuned.