Last week I had my first pre-production meeting on First Signal. That meeting was with an actress friend I met last year at the Naval Justice School who inspired me to write the story. She will be playing one of the starring roles. At some point this week I will be posting for actors relative to a table read.
As we both talked about last week, what’s exciting is building a project from the ground up. I fondly remember the days when I first heard actors saying the lines I wrote for First World. But it’s when it all comes together for a feature that project takes on a different scope. Those pre-production meetings for Justice Is Mind were involved to say nothing of the number of auditions. While it’s important to cast the right actors for a role, I believe it’s equally important they are enthusiastic about the story.
When one considers the number of projects looking for attention, enthusiasm is critical. Anyone that has been part of my projects knows that I push them (and everyone involved) as far as possible. As leadership starts from the top down, so does enthusiasm. Let’s be honest, nothing is worse than working with someone on a project who is a Debbie Downer. This isn’t about drinking the Kool-Aid, it’s about having a positive attitude.
Speaking of positive developments, all the actor contracts came through for the next class at the Naval Justice School in March. I’m looking forward to a class reunion with some as well as working with new actors I cast in the project. What’s particularly exciting is that we have a retired NCIS Special Agent that will be playing an NCIS Special Agent. As I said to her this week, your resume reads like a Tom Clancy novel! But in all seriousness, it will be great to work with someone so knowledgeable on the subject.
As for knowledge, I’ve been seeing a wide variety of reports relative to First Signal. From buildings on the Moon to alien spacecraft taking off, it certainly helps when you see mainstream media reporting on a project you’re developing.
What I think is great about the independent film world are the sheer number of opportunities and distribution outlets now available to filmmakers. But that doesn’t mean putting all your eggs into one basket. Case in point The Sundance Film Festival. This article in Variety pretty much summed up this year’s festival and market.
I honestly can’t imagine producing a film in the high six or low seven figures and counting on a festival to bring in a distribution deal. When you consider how fractured audiences are now, producing something esoteric or polarizing isn’t going to secure a mainstream distribution deal. As I mentioned in an investor pitch this week, “while it’s easy to source the past performance of other films, we know there are simply no guarantees in this industry when it comes to a financial return.” And while there are no guarantees, why limit yourself geographically when there’s a whole nation out there looking for unique stories? That’s what audiences want, a solid story.
SPACE – LAGRANGE POINT TWO
In Serpentine the name of the fictional skating association is The American Figure Skating Federation. In the real world it’s called U.S. Figure Skating. It seems fitting that as I continue work on the domestic and international marketing plans for Serpentine, the United States and Canadian national figure skating championships are underway.
The one major difference between the fictional world of Serpentine and the reality of today’s skating world is that there are no lyrics in Serpentine’s skating music. When I was at World’s last year and heard more than one skater perform to the theme of Titanic with dialogue from the film after the ship sank (with sinking skating performances to match), what do you even say except ‘Who approved this?’ Imagine offering the movie Airport ’77 on a transatlantic flight. Sorry, I just digressed.
This past week I continued building out the marketing and launch plans for Serpentine. Indeed it’s like building a federation of sorts. By one definition a federation is “the action of forming states or organizations into a single group with centralized control.” Given the political climate we can forget “the state” for a moment and just focus on organization. Yes, I strongly believe in centralized control especially when marketing a product. Many years ago it was magazines, now its film. In today’s challenging film market there’s no question that you need a well thought out plan with some sort of hook to market a film.
With Sundance well underway I’m starting to see articles in the trades and consumer press about the new complexities surrounding the distribution of independent films. Yes, there are those films like Hidden Figures that find a growing following. Then there are those like Silence that literally fall silent at the box office. For Hidden Figures the marketing was clear and powerful, the untold story of African-American women “computers” in the early years of NASA’s space program. For Silence there were too many articles about the director complaining about budget and pay.
We are no longer just filmmakers we are marketers. Last week I talked about living in a bubble. While the accolades at film festivals are certainly welcoming and inspiring, it does come down to translation into the real world. In the world of Serpentine, that means the primary VOD platform will be Amazon Prime, with marketing to include all the member nations of the International Skating Union with a primary focus on select other countries.