As I drove to the Strand Theatre in Clinton on Monday, I was wondering just how many people would show. At our premiere in Albany at the Palace a few weeks earlier the audience was largely “friends and family” so there was an immediate comfort level. And that was a good thing to launch Justice Is Mind.
I arrived in Clinton at 5 PM and drove past the Strand. And there it was on the marquee all by itself Justice Is Mind. Yes, I saw it running on the marquee in Albany, but we were part of a festival there. Here, it was only for us, only for Justice. A film I first started alone at my desk that has now swelled to over two hundred was playing at a theatre. And earlier that day when our IMDB listing reflected the showing, it somehow felt like we arrived.
Walking through the lobby I saw our poster included with other film memorabilia and first run feature films. For me, I have dreamed of this since childhood – a film of mine was playing in a theatre. After I met with owners Rob and Bill and gave them the DVD, I met with our photographer and started going over the evening. Yes, ever the producer and director!
And then the audiences started to arrive. A nice amount of familiar faces including several key actors with the film. A special thank you to actors Vernon Aldershoff, Mary Wexler, Michele Mortensen, Kim Merriam, Shannon McNamara and Bob Leveillee. Not only where there friends, family and location partners that turned out, but regular theatre goers who wanted to see what Justice Is Mind was all about. In total, we had 150 attend the Massachusetts premiere and I couldn’t have been more pleased. The verdict? Generally all positive comments and audiences seemed to genuinely enjoy the film. In my view, the postings on social media pages spoke for themselves.
Not one to rest (much), I was up in Ogunquit, ME on Wednesday promoting our next screening on September 28 at the Leavitt Theatre. Walking to just over 30 hotels and businesses with a film poster and press release in my hand, I presented Justice to as many people as I could. Yes, it was boots on the ground (OK, Nike) as I told complete strangers about a film of mine that was having its Maine premiere in their town. They were all welcoming and I had some great conversations with so many. While social media is great to pitch the masses, there is nothing like a face to face presentation.
After walking my legs off (like Mildred Pierce did in the movie of the same name), I met up with a filmmaker friend of mine for coffee. Shortly after, we went to the Leavitt to test run Justice. My friend made the introduction and got us the deal. What I thought was going to just be a 10 minute test turned into an hour. Both of them enjoyed what they saw on the big screen. If it wasn’t for dinner plans they both had, I think we would have had a complete test run of Justice!
Yes, this week was a good one. But for all the good, you sometimes have to deal with the not so good. I’m not one that deals with negative people very well, in fact I avoid it whenever possible. There are great challenges in any business, particularly in this industry. As I start to work on my Independent Filmmaking: Script to Screen presentation next weekend for Talent Tools “Back to School for Actors” program one thing I will encourage for all attendees is to never give up, hold your head up high and rise above those that don’t share your vision and passion. At the end of the day I have a film to either write, make or promote and if you’re in my way I promise you I will just run you over.
Next stop – Ogunquit!
No, I didn’t make up the title of this week’s post. It was the title of a story that appeared in a Worcester Magazine article “Justice trumps privacy in Justice Is Mind”. Suffice to say I was enormously pleased with the piece. The writer, Cade Overton, really captured not only the essence of the film but how it fits into the real world we live in today.
Marketing a film, particularly an independent one, is not easy by any stretch. You are in a constant state of submitting whether it be to the media, distributors, festivals, networks, events, agents, etc. And as I prepare my notes for an upcoming workshop I’m teaching the end of the month, the three P’s come to mind plan, perseverance and persistence.
From a business plan implementation point of view, this past week for Justice Is Mind went really well. I’ll just say publicly, that two original programming execs got back to me about Justice. These are not only very positive developments, but ones that have been established over time from other projects I’ve been working on. Building relationships like this take time and to add another P….patience. So fingers crossed here.
Pitching a project takes some bit of calculation and planning. By example, Justice Is Mind, First World and my new political thriller will never be pitched to Lifetime. What would be the point? Programming executives receive pitches all the time so the goal, obviously, is to have something that they may be interested in rather than wasting their time. Speaking of, somehow I got onto some list of “producers to submit materials to”. While I only develop my own work (for now), I was getting pitches from writers to produce their comedies. A little research on their end would have shown that’s not a genre I’ve ever been involved in (although I do love a good comedy…oh the days of Rodney Dangerfield!). Thankfully, I found the website and removed my profile.
Speaking of planning, The Wrap this week talked about how digital sales are increasing exponentially amidst the continued decline of DVD sales. I could have told The Wrap about this two years ago after our distributor just stopped selling DVDs altogether. What’s being considered internally now with Justice is the digital distribution side. To be sure, there’s no shortage of platforms and viewing options available. The key, in my view, is to establish an audience for the film first with our theatrical, sci-fi and law school screenings so when the film is available digitally, there is a footprint out there of enthusiasts.
What is of particular interest to me at the moment is the continuous changing landscape of this industry from the development of projects, the financing, delivery and then distribution. There is generally no playbook. Oh the practical still exists of course, finance and shoot the movie and get it to audiences. The sea of change is in the layered platforms of distribution that are pulling revenue and audiences away and towards each other. In the end, it’s about the distribution of rights.
But in the beginning it is to quote Bill Sampson in All About Eve, “Wherever there’s magic and make-believe and an audience, there’s theatre.”
And so with our Massachusetts premiere coming up on Monday night at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, we return to where the Justice Is Mind project first exhibited with the short film version in 2012. I leave you with a quote from Marlene Dietrich in Judgment at Nuremberg.
“It should be quite an evening.”
I will venture to say that running a film property is like running a political campaign to some degree. Navigating the waterways of this industry can be a daunting task as it changes at about the same pace as New England weather. Thankfully, I live in New England so change is always in the air literally.
While I have often talked about my fondness for digital distribution and the various new platforms that are coming “online” for films, part of me is still very traditional. Call it age, experience or being a “conservatively progressive left leaning New Englander”, I still believe that a theatrical run is important to bring awareness to a film as it strongly compliments VOD.
Posting endlessly to social media is fine, but you’ll still find me writing a press release, sending email newsletters and, ready, picking up the telephone and making that personal call. Just this week some company raised over $2 million to have films stream on Facebook. I have some very passionate Facebook followers and friends and when I posed the question, “Would you watch a film on Facebook,” the overwhelming response was no. Even more interesting, painfully few people responded to the post at all. Seriously, that was a pretty simple business plan “a filmmaker on Facebook asking his followers on Facebook if they would watch a film on Facebook.” But this company somehow raised $2 plus million. When I think of the film I could produce for that kind of money! Let’s see where they are a year from now.
As I review a variety of distribution options for Justice Is Mind, I’m also mindful of the importance of contracts, protecting your asset and not being subjected to hidden fees. Because once you sign on the dotted line, you have signed. Unfortunately, there are a lot of “look at me” new companies coming up that claim to offer the world to filmmakers. Although I love getting in on the ground floor of new opportunities, I tend to take a wait and see approach. Just yesterday, and as follow up to my post of last week, I told one company “If the requirements change on your end, please let us know.” Simply, I discovered an omission in their contract to which I called attention. Let’s see if they satisfy the requirement. If not, moving on.
Content is still king. I believe that’s what our theatres and other venues see when we present Justice Is Mind to them. Content that’s well presented and packaged (you need a solid well designed poster!). As I prepare our press release announcing the Maine premiere of Justice Is Mind on the 28th and look forward to some media next week about our upcoming Massachusetts premiere on the 16th, I wait patiently to hear from some companies that I do want to do business with. But unlike New England weather, there can be days when you wonder if the weather will ever change!
So while I continue to present Justice to various companies, I will also be campaigning all this month for the next two screenings. In fact, after our screening at the Strand on the 16th, I will be going to Ogunquit the next day and walking door to door to the many hotels and restaurants selling our screening at the Leavitt on the 28th.
With a successful world premiere now behind us, we begin to execute plans that have long been on the drawing board. But like a military campaign there are always adjustments. Whether these be for time, commitment, resources or opportunity, marketing and releasing a film is all about, in my view, calculation. Short of it, where are we likely to have the most success and impact on an audience and revenue front.
First and foremost you need your supporters. With over two hundred people involved in Justice Is Mind, there is a dedicated team that wants to see the film succeed. Moving on that front, we look to theatres to engage audiences to spread the word. With four theatres screening Justice over the next few months (and more on the horizon), the purpose is clear – develop support and awareness of the film. As the majority of our group is based in the Northeast screenings in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Maine have been secured. While the theatrical “engagement” is moving forward, our screenings at science fiction conventions and law schools in North America will commence in October.
And like a military campaign, there are those “confidential” conversations that go on behind closed doors. When do we do this? What do we need? How much will that cost? I had a conference call this week with a company that is widely popular (for now) in a particular area of the industry. While there may be a “cool” factor working with them I will admit going it alone in this area may make more sense. Why? Because we are making it work on our own without any “red tape”. Suffice to say, I have some documents and licensing agreements to read.
One area I have been widely supportive of since the technology came together is VOD (Video on Demand) and streaming media in general. Put simply, these platforms work great for independent filmmakers. First “day and date release” strategies are almost de rigueur with independent films nowadays. That being said, it won’t be too long before I can announce that Justice Is Mind is heading to a particular digital platform(s). Consider the logic in the strategy. Someone goes to a screening of Justice Is Mind in a theatre, convention or law school. They like the film and tell their friends, co-workers and family. Some of them do a search and see that the film is available on Amazon, Vudu, Xbox, etc. A few clicks and presto instant audience. Why am I so supportive of this technology? Because filmmakers make money. I still receive a monthly deposit from Amazon for First World. And then there were the remittances from Hulu when that film ran on their platform for a couple of years.
With our next screening on September 16 at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA followed by September 28 at The Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, ME, this will be a particularly busy month. I will say bringing an oversized Justice Is Mind poster to The Strand Theatre was exciting. Let’s be honest, what filmmaker doesn’t want to see their film poster in the window and then screen in an actual theatre! Even better, we screened the short film at The Strand in 2012 so it’s like going home. As for Ogunquit? That Maine resort town has been my favorite for decades. Screening a film in Ogunquit is truly an honor. But even more importantly, we need to support these independent theatres. With the industry converting to digital projection, the cost factor to convert can be a high mountain for these theatres to climb so every ticket sale helps!
September 28 will be what I call a full day. I’m pleased to announce that Becki Dennis, who runs Talent Tools, has asked me to host a workshop titled Independent Filmmaking: Script to Screen as part of her Back to School for Actors program. I look forward working with her troops.
Finally, I’m sure you’ve noticed my speaking in quasi-military terms as part of this post. With my next screenplay being a political thriller, let’s just say world military deployment research has been front and center.
Captain on the bridge.