In a little over a week my mother and I leave for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth. Yes, we are both very excited. This will be our second cruise with Cunard having previously sailed on the Queen Mary 2 in 2006. As a “working holiday” the Justice Is Mind schedule is as follows: on October 25th I present a filmmaking seminar to guests with the international premiere on October 29th.
I recently found the pictures from our cruise on the Queen Mary 2. During that voyage I just finished making First World. I remember sitting in the theater watching a movie on the ship and thinking to myself how cool it would be to have a movie of my own screen on an ocean liner. Well, that thought seven years ago will soon be a reality.
And while I think of the many “away missions” we have had for Justice Is Mind with our various screenings, this one will be particularly special as it combines a reinvention. As the ocean liner industry reinvented itself after the arrival of passenger aircraft, so has the motion picture industry. Sure, gone are the days that ocean liners brought immigrants like my great grandmother to the United States from Sweden on the S.S. Sicilia in 1895 or theaters that for the price of one ticket you could stay all day and watch more than one movie. But like those bygone days, they simply reinvented their industry based on experience.
As for reinvention, I used to be a magazine publisher. I would come up with ideas for stories, write outlines and then have a production team create a magazine. Along the way, I produced direct response TV commercials, corporate videos and major events (some on cruise ships). So while Justice Is Mind is being presented on an ocean liner, in a theatre at sea by this filmmaker, it represents what’s possible in an age of transition.
And while the cruise industry is nicely sailing along, the film industry continues to go through so many changes when it comes to production and distribution. With Amazon announcing new original programming and Netflix getting into film production, it’s no wonder that theaters are concerned about their ever shrinking windows and revenue. But you know what? There will always be theaters. It’s just a matter of what they chose to screen and how they do it.
“Hollywood” didn’t collapse when TV was invented and theaters won’t empty because Amazon and Netflix are ramping up production. In my view you can never have enough production because at the end of the day it’s up to the consumer what they want. Sure, we are getting more and more into niche interests, but we also have more choices than ever in terms of where we want to watch a movie. I still go to the theater of course, but for the first time I watched a movie on my new smartphone.
A recent article in The Wrap talked about changing the pitch process to include “big data”. As this data is collected by theaters and VOD platforms, that’s how I pitch Justice Is Mind for screening opportunities. In addition to loglines and press reports, I use data from attendee demographics to internet and social media engagement. Now more than ever, filmmakers have more tools to present their projects.
A new age.
The Barnstable Patriot summed up Justice Is Mind nicely, “In the film, past life memory and future mind tapping by machines merge in a psychological thriller, which develops slowly and then grips you with its logical twists and mysteries, haunting you afterward.”
From September 11-25, Justice Is Mind will be part of Viewster’s Online Film Festival (#VOFF). Their theme for this festival is “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid”. There have been several moments after our screenings when attendees have said they are “scared” for this technology. In fact, one attendee at a screening even said something along the lines they are “terrified “of what these “mind reading” machines could do.
Point in fact, maybe they should be scared or at least concerned. An article was published in the International Business Times this week titled, “Mind Reader: Meet The Man Who Records and Stores Your Thoughts, Dreams and Memories.” The subtitle “US startup MMT has become the first to commercialise the storing of memories.” Is the technology I postulate in Justice Is Mind here in 2014? I’m not sure. But one thing is certain from all the articles about mind-reading that have been published over the last year, this technology will be science fact in the future and it will be part of our everyday lives. I simply envision it to be as commonplace as checking a box before you have an MRI. Do you want an FVMRI?
For sure, Viewster will open up an international market for Justice Is Mind. Domestically, I could not be more excited for our Cape Cod Premiere on September 18 at the Chatham Orpheum Theater. With so many films looking for an audience, that’s exactly what theatrical screenings do – build audiences, awareness and, just as important, press. What better way to launch onto Viewster’s festival when you have over 100,000 Google entries along with audiences that have seen the film and journalists that have reported on it pushing awareness.
These September initiatives will push nicely into October when Justice Is Mind has its International Premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner on October 29. Part of the onboard program will be a filmmaking seminar I’ll be presenting to guests a few days before. It’s a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation that will introduce attendees to the world of independent filmmaking. When one considers what goes into making a feature film, I think audiences will have a whole new appreciation on the process.
What Adrien Brody said in The Wrap really sums up the efforts of so many of us in this industry, “It is obviously a very competitive profession. It takes a tremendous amount of luck to be at the right place and the right time and to nail it when given the opportunity.” Having worked on both sides of the camera I could not agree more. To say this industry is competitive is an understatement. It takes tremendous will, determination and perseverance. In closing I am reminded about a quote from the character Paul McGill in Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Women of Substance.
“We are each the authors of our own lives.”
“I want anti-establishment.” That line by Diana Christensen (wonderfully played by Faye Dunaway) in one of my favorite films Network could easily sum up the state of the film industry. But before I go into my thoughts on the past week, particularly around all the news surrounding Sundance, there was a moment that gave me some pause.
I received an email earlier this week from someone who desperately wants to be a screenwriter and who mentioned they were envious of me. Envy is a very dangerous emotion in this business, because I promise you someone is always doing something more than you. We are all guilty of having it, but, honestly, you just have to focus on your own mission and believe in it. Anyone who has followed my career knows that I am anti-establishment. My advice was pretty straight forward. Read lots of great screenplays that have been made into movies. Register your work. Enter some contests and then either seek to produce your own work (like I do) or look to get it optioned (like most do). What’s the secret? There is none. You just have to work hard, believe in yourself and develop a network of people you like and trust.
On the path of anti-establishment, by now most have figured out that I’m more interested in having Justice Is Mind screened in theatres than worrying about film festivals. While I think festivals are great, they have not been our release strategy. For the amount of money you spend on submission fees (with no guarantee of acceptance), I’d rather put that into marketing to bring people into a theatre and to secure press. Our result in 2013? The 8th highest rated independent film released and the top 50 in independent box office for that year. I’d say that’s a pretty good result for a film that is being self-distributed at this point.
With the Sundance Film Festival front and center this week we all wonder what will happen to the under 200 selected films out of the 12,218 that were submitted (Justice was submitted but as we already had our world premiere last August that disqualified the film). Could the news have been anymore gloomy this week from the establishment? “For Movie Producers, a Golden Age Fades” – Wall Street Journal. “As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity” – The New York Times. “Sundance: Festival Suffers From Too Much Brooklyn” – Variety. “5 Cold Truths From an Uninspiring Sundance” – The Wrap. When only a handful of films at Sundance get picked up for distribution and the acquisition prices don’t seem to cover the production costs, I would say it’s time to rethink putting all your eggs into that establishment basket.
As a former journalist I understand The New York Times position. Films “picked up for distribution” have to fulfill contractual requirements of a theatrical run which means more and more are actually renting theatres in New York (four walling in my view doesn’t count as a theatrical run). But I don’t agree with The Wrap at all. There are not too many indie films being made, the marketing key is to make sure that audiences and the media know about them. That’s what I have done with Justice Is Mind. I present to theatres. I present to the media. And the “Justice Network” is pretty rabid about social media. The proof was in the effort. Of course we are far from done and will be announcing a variety of new initiatives shortly.
There’s no question that the entertainment industry is going through change. This change is rightly so pushing the boundaries of the distribution and media system. Filmmakers, to quote Howard Beale in Network, “I want you to get mad!”. Not mad angry but mad determined to circumvent an establishment that is sometimes less than welcoming to new voices. My job as a filmmaker is to get my work “scene” and if that means I bypass “tradition” and go direct to the market – the audiences – that’s what it means.
“The World is a Business.” – Ned Beatty, Network