“Not paying enough attention to the script.” I couldn’t agree more when I first read that statement attributed by Arnon Milchan of New Regency on The Tracking Board. Time and time again I read in the trades, or general consumer press, about the issues a film has faced because of the script. In so many of these cases it seems that a script was rushed to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. But as I posted this past week on Facebook, no amount of A list actors can rescue an ill-conceived script.
The article that Milchan was quote in revolved around the dearth of the mid-budget movie. I fondly remember the variety of movies that studios used to distribute in mainline theaters that didn’t revolve around a comic book, endless sequel or rehash of something we already saw (like the latest Star Trek and Star Wars films). But thanks to determined filmmakers, great films like Trumbo, Spotlight and The King’s Speech are being made and, honestly, always will be. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience to support it from financing to distribution.
As I come up towards the end of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating, there is the continued promotion of either projects completed or in development. In my post last week I talked about my “special relationship” with the UK. A few days after my post, I was nicely surprised when Daniel Elek-Diamanta sent me a re-imagined look for the SOS United States concept poster. While I wanted the first concept poster to reflect the vintage era of the ocean liner, this one presents the same view but with a contemporary look. When developing a new project, it’s all about promotion and this concept poster really captures it!
In the world of filmmaking, particularly as an independent filmmaker, it’s all about promotion and getting the word out. It’s about exploring every avenue of distribution and pitching your project. We all look around to see what other filmmakers have done to promote their projects, but what works for one film may not work for another. But there are some distribution avenues that are just a no brainer – Amazon.
When Amazon announced their new Amazon Video Direct program I could not be more excited. Although First World was available in the United States for some years, I now had the ability to have it in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Last week it went live in those countries. Yesterday, I uploaded all the necessary digital assets for Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind (the feature is with a distributor). The process was painfully simple to reach an audience in the tens of millions.
But when I saw someone post on their Facebook page, “I fear my work will get lost in a sea of titles and get drowned out by larger studios.” That’s a defeating position to take. Once it’s live on Amazon it’s just a matter of external promotion through social media and other channels. Amazon operates on an algorithm of suggested films. All it takes is a few people to find your project on Amazon and it will just continue to grow. While there are other VOD platforms popping up every day, they rely on the filmmaker to bring the audience whereas Amazon already has the audience. Yes, you’re in a sea of films. But I’d rather be in an ocean than a puddle.
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.
No this post isn’t about the five year mission about the Starship Enterprise (I love Star Trek), it’s about the concept, development, launch and marketing of an independent feature film called Justice Is Mind.
With our second anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic, it’s hard to believe that five years has gone by since I first started to write the screenplay. From the screenplay, to the short film Evidence to the feature Justice Is Mind, it is a journey I would do again in a heartbeat.
This past week Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in Justice Is Mind commented on Facebook, “How many movies are showing after two years? Just the classics, which means this one is definitely a classic!” Those words meant a lot. But it also meant something else that’s very important to remember, just because a film is released once and isn’t part of the “studio system” doesn’t mean that it can’t be released again and again.
Will Justice Is Mind become a true classic? Only time will tell. But the glorious thing about filmmaking now is that video on demand makes longevity possible. Gone are the days when a film is made and forgotten (unless it develops a cult like following). For me, it’s all about discovery. While I love contemporary independent films like The King’s Speech and The Imitation Game, it’s classics like Laura and Advise & Consent that are true finds for me. Then there is my passionate interest in 1950s science fiction (add The 27th Day to my list). But in the here and now there is Justice Is Mind to market.
This past week I finished up my interviews with the regional press. What will they report on? That’s up to them. But like I said last week, I try to always provide some sort of newsworthy hook. From the concept of the film, our screenings to date, the anniversary and the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust, all the reporters had their own take.
One asked if I would have done anything differently. Yes, there is one thing. I wouldn’t have wasted good money listening to “experts” about film festival submissions, I would have just planned a theatrical release from day one. Thankfully, I got wind of the festival world before our world premiere so I started working feverishly on our theatrical release in the summer of 2013. If you want to read an excellent article about the film festival world, check out this article. Bottom line, unless it’s a film market (Toronto, etc.), I’d much rather have my film screen in theaters dedicated to my film (with audiences paying for tickets) rather than having to play in a chorus with others. Sorry, I’m an “independent” filmmaker.
So as I continue to work on the final leg of the marketing and public relations push for Justice Is Mind’s second anniversary screening on August 18 at Cinemagic, I’m reaching the apex of the screenplay I’m adapting from the book Winds of Fall. Actually, that’s timing pretty good for a first draft to be finished by the fall.
The mission continues.