In the weeks leading up to the private screening of First Signal at Chunky’s, I was preparing for the biggest single marketing push I have every done for a project. I had my lists of contacts and colleagues to email, the media to pitch, the social media plan to execute. It’s like the quiet before a storm. While the storm is not destructive akin to weather, it must nonetheless be navigated.
But before First Signal was to be launched around the world, there was the private screening on April 25. Some of the cast and crew I hadn’t seen since we wrapped principal photography two years earlier, some I just saw a few days ago. One by one they and their guests arrived in true red carpet style.
While the Oscars was being produced on the other side of the country that night, First Signal had the evening it deserved. As I mentioned to a few in the days leading up to the night, this is an experience in independent film that doesn’t happen on a regular basis. My mother told me some time ago that life is about experiences. While bringing First Signal to the world was not without times of great difficulty, it is the end result that matters. The experience of seeing it on the silver screen for all in attendance to enjoy is something that will be remembered forever and never can be taken away. After First Signal screened and we took one last group photo, it was time to say my final “thank you” to the cast, crew and attendees. For tomorrow was to bring First Signal’s VOD launch around the world.
On April 26 First Signal launched on Amazon in 68 countries and territories around the world. That VOD launch was followed by Google Play, YouTube Movies and Tubi. The moment Amazon was live, the marketing plan that has been in development since January was launched. The press release went live, the email newsletter went out, hundreds of emails to the industry, media and other interested parties while engaging our social media channels—First Signal was global.
I’m still thankful to this day that I ran a media company that had magazines distributed around the world. When you have world placement of your brand, in this case a film, the responsibility and monitoring of such brand goes up exponentially. While the navigation of such a launch brings the inevitable negative commentary, I just equate it to a large wave that goes over the bow of an ocean liner. Full steam ahead means such waves are plowed through as we continue to call on new ports.
These new ports of call (VOD platforms), rocketed our placement on IMDb to 3,059 out of 560,000+ feature films. To say I am thankful to our distributor Indie Rights would be an understatement. When I think of the number of distributors/sales agents I met with over the last two years to discuss First Signal, it was Indie Rights that not only checked all the boxes a filmmaker wants, but they brought something to the table that is the prime currency in this industry – a sterling reputation. Honestly, that’s what a filmmaker should need and want the most. To work with reputable people and organizations that deliver. My special thanks to Linda, Michael and the Indie Rights team for all your great work. But our work is far from over as marketing and sales efforts continue.
April 26, 2021 will always be known to me as the day The First World Universe launched around the world. As my efforts continue to market First Signal, I also look now towards the sequel, First Launch, to interest production partners.
As I mentioned during my welcoming remarks at First Signal’s private screening, being an independent filmmaker is a herculean task but a most rewarding one. Because for a moment in time a group people (many strangers to each other) come together for a mission. And if they are successful, their efforts live on long after a premiere.
“I want Spotlight to win” was my Facebook post last Sunday before the Oscars started. While 2016 yielded some excellent films (Trumbo, Bridge of Spies, The Martian and Woman in Gold), there was something about Spotlight that just felt right. Not only was the story itself important, along with the mechanics of quality investigative journalism, but you couldn’t have asked for finer actors either. What was right from the beginning was the screenplay. In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Picture, it also won the first award of the evening for Best Original Screenplay.
As this article in The Hollywood Reporter stated, Spotlight took eight years to produce. But once Participant Media got involved as producer and with Open Road Films distributing, the rest, as they say was history. As Sierra/Affinity CEO Nick Meyer said, “the movie is the star now.” Indeed that star is the screenplay because as Tom Ortenberg said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “The theatrical marketplace is a roller coaster. And anybody who wants to play has to be prepared for that fact.”
For all of us trying to make sense of the volatile nature of this industry, particularly when it comes to a theatrical release, it all comes down to the story. When I released Justice Is Mind into theaters, every one of our screenings was heavily marketed with an angle. We had to have an angle, because although we had a great cast and crew, nobody was a household name. The film had to sell itself. Thankfully, the media and audiences responded and the majority of our screenings were near or capacity audiences (there were no rentals).
But like the real “Spotlight” team at The Boston Globe did those years ago, writing a screenplay takes research and dedication. When I recall the research I did for First World when it came to the space program, the criminal justice system and neuroscience for Justice Is Mind and various workings of the executive branch, military operations and intelligence agencies for SOS United States, that work laid the foundation of the story before I wrote one word of dialogue. Of course we all want to see our screenplays come to life on the big screen, but as we saw with Spotlight, some things just take time. Why rush for quantity when you can have quality? In the case of Spotlight, that quality saw two Oscar wins.
Last week I finished the pitch document for Justice Is Mind as a TV series with the pilot In Mind We Trust already written. The process of getting some industry feedback has already begun. Having pitched a TV series around the sport of figure skating back in 2004, I’m familiar with the process. Of course, back around that time there were about 30 or so scripted series, now there are around 400. While times and processes have changed, it’s still all about coming up with the idea for a story.
As for changing times and figure skating, an idea came to me some months ago about a political thriller with figure skating as the backdrop to the storyline. Of course, it’s been some years since I actually attended a figure skating event. The last “Worlds” I attended as credentialed media was 2003 in Washington, D.C. So with The Ashton Times credentialed, I will be attending Worlds in a few weeks.