Let’s make one thing clear, no matter the state of the markets there will always be films because filmmakers are a determined bunch. As independent filmmakers, we abhor gatekeepers, don’t follow the rules and can generally spot a bullshit artist before they even get onto our radar screen (as a former magazine publisher I’m really good at the latter). Yet, although the industry is changing at lightning speed, there is a still a rigidity to change at the expense of the consumer and filmmaker.
The reports coming out of the American Film Market were beyond telling, “It’s the lightest market in memory” “We can’t keep making films for the same size of budget. It can’t be the distributors taking all the risk. The talent has to learn to bring down their fees and bring down the budget. Take a share of the backend and share the risk” “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
None of this should be a surprise as the market indicators have been there for years. While some brilliant independent films like The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, Dallas Buyers Club and Woman in Gold have done excellent, this recent story in Variety titled, “Why Are Oscar Contenders Flopping at the Box Office?” reflects a new reality. Simply put, talent needs to take backend risks and budgets need to come down considerably or producers will not finance. The red carpet should represent accomplishment not red ink.
I have always believed that it’s story first. Without a solid story, talent can’t breathe life into it. It’s story that gives you the hook with the media. I proved this for years as a magazine publisher and with Justice Is Mind. Sure there are the literal handful of actors that will garner media attention and move audiences to theaters. And sometimes, like we saw in the aforementioned films (along with recent Bridge of Spies), all the ingredients were there – story, talent and crew. But when you read that there were only 10 “bankable” films out of 2,000 at AFM, you can’t help but feel for those producers and filmmakers that are sitting on completed projects waiting to find a home.
As I’ve stated before I will state again, I firmly believe that a theatrical release is critical. First, the media is more apt to report on a film that’s in a theater. Second, it builds audience awareness. Third, it generates real revenue. Sorry, while I love the art of filmmaking, I’m a capitalist.
My original business plan for Justice Is Mind didn’t even call for a theatrical release. I soon realized not only the value of a theatrical release, but that theaters and audiences want to see something different. With Justice Is Mind they saw an engaging story brought to life by talented actors, filmmakers and crew. It wasn’t some theory that we brought audiences into a theatre with a public relations hook and grassroots marketing, it was a fact. It’s time to do it again.
While I have been presenting my slate of films to potential producers and financiers, my findings have been trending towards one particular project—SOS United States. From real world events around surveillance, cyber-attacks and shadow governments, to various TV series and films that center around political thrillers, this project is resonating the most.
Having completed updates to the script last week, I’ve already started to source locations and marketing partners along with a media plan. While there has been some general interest on the equity side, it may take the same course I took with Justice Is Mind to go from script to screen – crowdfunding.
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.