In the coming days I’ll be able to announce that post-production on First Signal is completed. With every inch closer to that accomplishment, I can’t help but think of the journey. It has been nearly three years from concept to competition. In hindsight I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Through all the fits and starts of locations, cast and crew, in the end everything worked out the way I hoped. As of this date the official trailer for First Signal has been selected by three film festivals!
However, another journey lies ahead. Fortunately, it’s a trip I’ve been on before – marketing and distribution. Yes, the plans include film festival submissions, distributor pitches, various screening opportunities and, I hope, some solid media interest in the “First World Universe.” With the world starting to reopen, the key will be to find partners that are interested in working with us. Like I did with Justice Is Mind, you want to work with those that want to work with you. I’ve always believed that distribution should be a partnership of cooperation, not just a take from any given side.
There’s no question that the entertainment industry has been financially decimated. I sadly know several people that have had to exit it permanently because of economic reasons (everyone needs to eat). While it’s encouraging to learn that production is starting to resume in certain parts of the world, some of the restrictions I see being proposed will only accomplish an increase in costs and time with nary a health benefit. Who is going to cover those increases when we are now in an economic depression? The economics of this whole situation is pretty simple. How is a distributor going to price a film when a sizable percentage of the global audience is on unemployment or reduced earnings? What it really comes down to is disposable income and what audiences are willing to spend to be entertained. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that we see a vibrant return to some sort of market normalcy (I refuse to use the phrase ‘new normal’). As movies have always been a form of escapism, I believe audiences will return sooner rather than later to the theatrical experience.
The remainder of 2020 and a good part of 2021 will be devoted to the marketing and distribution of First Signal. I know the film will find its audience and a solid distributor will present itself. For me, I always try to look at a situation with a spirit of optimism and to avoid those situations that attempt to drag me into some sort of milieu. I’d rather navigate out of a small port with an overcast, than attempt to sail through a busy port in the center of a storm.
I can thankfully say that First Signal isn’t tied to debt covenants or other financial obligations. One of the benefits of being the sole executive producer is that I’m largely only answerable to myself on the financial front. But a film isn’t designed to be made and relegated to a shelf. A film is produced to be seen and enjoyed by an audience. One of the primary responsibilities as executive producer is to insure that my film gets released. If anything a producer has a responsibility to the actors and crew that shared the vision. Because that’s what film is all about – a vision.
While we all enjoy seeing our favorite films on VOD, there’s nothing like the theatrical experience. You enter a vast room with anticipation; that leads to the dimming of lights and the initial roll of the opening credits and the crescendo of a score.
With post-production on First Signal coming to an end, it seemed fitting that I finished a draft of the sequel early last week. Titled First Launch, the story picks up two years after events in First Signal. While First Signal introduced the First World Universe in a very contained environment, First Launch is entirely the opposite. With the majority of primary characters returning, the logline “The President faces a military coup and extrasolar war when a covertly built second generation space shuttle reveals a worldwide military destined to confront an alien presence on Earth,” sets the story shortly before the 2016 Presidential election.
While I’m glad to have finished a draft to the sequel of First Signal, my priority is to see that First Signal properly exits post-production as I plan for general marketing and distribution. As for distribution, this past week I was approached by a theater to have First Signal screen in July. While I normally would have jumped at the opportunity, I honestly can’t commit one way or another until we learn when restrictions are being lifted. I do know one thing, so long as mask requirements (something I vehemently disagree with) are order of the day there’s no point, or joy, in having a theatrical screening. While our governor may employ Orwellian powers in Massachusetts, he has no power or jurisdiction of its citizens outside this tiny state. Thus, I’m looking at screening opportunities outside of New England and the country.
I am, however, considering “attending” the virtual Cannes Marché du Film in June. As the fees are negligible, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try and see what comes of it. There’s no question that by the end of the summer, theaters worldwide will be open and the markets will endeavor to return to some sort of normalcy.
While the large theater chains can tap into a variety of reserves and credit lines, it’s the independent theaters that are most at risk during these perilous times. As their only source of revenue are ticket sales, the real concern in the industry is that some of them just won’t make it and that a vital link for independent films will simply disappear. Unless you have a robust concession, ticket sales alone just don’t carry theaters. Simply, the box office percentage that’s shared with the distributor just varies too greatly between films.
But with every economic upheaval, there is always a revelation of something new or in this case a return. How many of us remember drive-in movie theaters? I remember the days when we would all pile into the car, drive up to a parking spot, place a speaker on the side of the car and watch a film unfold on a giant screen. It’s no surprise, that moviegoers are starting to look at the drive-in as a solid alternative while the traditional theatrical experience is sorted.
Prior to writing First World back in 2006 I would follow the film industry like most of the free world. You would learn about an upcoming film from TV, print or radio and then you would go to the theater and watch the film. From what I can remember most films in the late 70s, 80s and 90s had pretty good attendance in their first few weeks of release. Of course, VHS and DVD added substantially to the coffers and was a welcome lifeline to films that underperformed at the box office.
As I did in publishing over two decades ago, it’s one thing reading a magazine, it’s another learning how that magazine arrived in your hands from an industry point of view. But like that industry’s transition from print to digital, the independent film industry is also going through this same painful process. This article in Variety pretty much summed up the latest Toronto International Film Festival.
It’s one thing when you work in publishing and you’re managing a downturn in paid circulation (thankfully I never had to experience that), it’s entirely another when someone or some company has advanced seven to eight figures to produce a movie and is waiting for a distribution deal to materialize. The magazine has revenue, albeit less, the film has zero. Because there is so much misconception about the independent film industry, let me be clear—just because a film gets into a major film market/festival is no guarantee of distribution. There’s also nothing wrong and everything to gain win self-distribution.
What I firmly believe this all comes down to is budget and marketing. Of course everyone needs to make a living, but there needs to be a reality check on what can seriously be recouped domestically and internationally. It’s no longer about just getting the film produced, it’s about making an effort with a marketing plan to reach a target audience. Marketing takes time. Believe me when I tell you it takes longer to market a film than make it.
I don’t know. Call me old fashion or just a consummate planner. There are some solid lessons to be learned from the magazine industry. I just couldn’t deliver my magazines to our distributor and wait for revenue to roll in, I had to market on a regular basis. I had to bring enough awareness to my magazines to either get a paid subscription or a single copy newsstand buy. This all has to sound familiar if you’re a filmmaker. How do you get people to watch your film or buy it?
Stacey Parks asked in one of her blogs “You Making Money on Amazon?” Every month I get paid from Amazon from my four films running on their platform. Yes, some do much better than others. But there are sales every month. I post three times a week to their respective Facebook pages that auto post to their Twitter accounts and other broadcast functions I have set up. Google Alerts notify me of an interesting article that may warrant a pitch to an editor or, yes, a film financing entity or producer.
This all being said, I strongly believe in the future of independent filmmaking. For me the glass is always half full not half empty. It’s about coming up with a solution to a problem and seeing it through. I always pity the naysayer that says to me, “You can’t do this or that because…” Those are the people you give a wide berth to as you have, a…
Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.
Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.
In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.
After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.
Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!
After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.
But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.
First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.
Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.
Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…
I have often stated that there is so much more into filmmaking than making the film itself. While one naturally wants a quality project that maximizes available resources, it’s also about getting the word out. Although social media helps, there is nothing like a media placement that drives awareness and needed attention. Thank you to the Ice Network and Community Advocate for that attention.
This past week Lois Elfman, my former business partner, wrote a great article for the Ice Network. This article was particularly important for a variety of reasons. First, in addition to the article itself, the Ice Network will also be streaming Serpentine: The Short Program after our March 6 premiere at the Strand Theatre. Second, from 1993 – 2004 Lois and I published a figure skating magazine. For nearly a decade it reigned as the world’s largest under our leadership. There wasn’t a skater, official, ISU member nation or skating club that didn’t know about it. But the Ice Network is today what we published yesterday. Indeed, it was an honor to see this article on their site as it reaches the sport on a worldwide basis.
It also important to mention that there was a third party to this story, albeit a bit behind the scenes this time. That would be acclaimed skating coach Thomas J. McGinnis who also was our business partner at the skating magazine. Tommy not only saw the vision I had for the magazine at the very beginning, but for Serpentine as well. Thus his much appreciated Executive Producer credit you will see when the film is released.
A film release not only consists of a marketing plan but a test. This past week I went to the Strand Theatre for a DVD test of Serpentine: The Short Program and a DCP test of Justice Is Mind. While the Strand screened Justice back in 2013 from a DVD, we now have the film in a DCP format. Both tests went great. I’ll say this, out of all the theaters I have screened Justice Is Mind the Strand presents the best picture and sound. There is nothing like seeing your film come to life on the big screen and that thrill was just as exciting with Serpentine.
Serpentine: The Short Program also got the green light from Amazon Instant Video this week. I say green light because that’s literally what happens with the circles on the Amazon platform when everything is cleared to go. We did have one red light as our original poster submission just said Serpentine. It had to also include The Short Program. Starting on March 7 the film will be available on Amazon in the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria.
Finally, I will conclude this post with the importance of art. On Friday night my mother and I saw the acclaimed National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine at the famed Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA. Part of the program included Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak. One of my particular favorites. The strength, precision and passion in which the symphony played under the direction of Theodore Kuchar presented one of the most exciting symphony performances I have even seen.
I say strength because unless you live on another planet the continued existence of Ukraine hangs in the balance with the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea to say nothing of the armed conflict on their Eastern border. I simply ask every American reading this blog, how would you feel if another country walked across our border and occupied part of our country? The proud history of the Ukrainian people existed long before the United States was even a thought. While this historic national symphony of a challenged peoples tours our great country, isn’t it time the United States helped restore the greatness of another before it’s too late?
Conduct music not war.
With the crew coming together and over 100 actor submissions this past week, pre-production on Serpentine is moving along. With Northstar Ice Sports confirmed along with a private residence, the last location I’m working on is a conference room that will serve as an FBI meeting. Filming dates have gone out for one of the last days in October to the first few in November. To say there are a thousand details when putting together a film is an understatement.
When Justice Is Mind formally went into pre-production in May of 2012 I had three months to organize what ultimately became securing 15 locations via trade arrangements, 100 plus actors and a crew of over 17. Thankfully every star in the universe lined up correctly and those that worked on the project went above and beyond the call of duty. But make no mistake about it, there were issues that came up. Things that needed to be dealt with on a day to day basis. There’s no such thing as a perfect world in filmmaking but resilience and innovation has always been the key.
The one thing that I always find rewarding about this process are those that come out wanting to help. For First World it was the securing of a horse farm, for Evidence it was being allowed to film in a house, for Justice Is Mind it was the LAST MINUTE securing of an MRI center, for Serpentine it was an ice rink. As a filmmaker the one thing that drives us all forward is enthusiasm. Nobody is saying you have to come to set with pom poms and break out into a cheer, but there should be the want to create and be part of something. To quote the IMDb videos, there are “No small parts”.
What I have learned over my twenty years of experience is that everything we do in this industry is cumulative. Some parts are small, some are starring roles. Some parts pay extremely well, some cover gas (maybe). But when you put them all together it’s what you call a body of work.
All my work resulted in the production of Justice Is Mind. This past week I was reminded about the many theatrical screenings we had for my “freshman” feature. When I look at the pictures of us from those screenings and recall the work and dedication of so many, it’s events like those that make the journey all the more worthwhile. Yes, making a film takes time, dedication and resources, but it’s knowing what you create will far far exceed the time to produce it in the first place.
As for time, today I looked at the past 12 weeks of minutes watched on Amazon. When my three films have been watched for over 120,000 minutes in that period it further justifies what I do as a storyteller and filmmaker. While making a film is exciting, the joy comes in those that watch it.
This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Hoopla. To quote from their Facebook page, “hoopla digital partners with public libraries across North America to provide online and mobile access to videos, music and audiobooks. Enjoy thousands of movies, TV shows, videos, music and audiobooks that library card holders can borrow from their public library.” As I wanted to get Justice Is Mind into libraries at some point, our placement on Hoopla just took care of that across the United States.
When I say some point, I talk about a possible DVD for Justice Is Mind. Yes, on the back burner, is the possibility of making a DVD for Justice. I say possibly, because anyone that’s involved on the distribution side of the industry knows that profits in this sector have sunk like the Titanic (particularly for indie-films). Just go into any Wal-Mart and see the studio quality films in the $5 bin or even more market reality when you see a studio film at a dollar store for well a dollar. Because digital distribution doesn’t really involve a manufacturing component, it’s simply easier to execute on a domestic and international level. But believe me there are costs involved for VOD. Let’s just say that closed captioning in languages other than English gets a bit pricey.
There was a pretty good article on IndieWire this week titled “You Can’t Bulls—t’ And 6 More Revelations On How To Market An Indie Film.” I could not agree more with this statement “Even in the age of VOD, nothing beats the theatrical experience.” As I saw with Justice Is Mind in terms of audience and media placements, nothing does beat a theatrical experience. Simply, when you gather a group of people into a room to see a film it becomes a shared experience. There wasn’t one screening of Justice in which attendees didn’t ask questions or discuss the film after in the lobby.
When I set out to write a new screenplay I’m already thinking of how the project will be placed in the market. What angles does it have that I can pitch to a theater, distributor, school or convention? First World was a pretty straight forward science fiction film. But as a psychological sci-fi thriller, Justice Is Mind is a bit of a genre hybrid. But the one common theme was the ethics around mind reading and it’s possible, if not probable, ramifications on society.
While some in the industry complain that there are too many movies being made, I believe there’s never enough. Because there are always those hidden gems that one can discover and promote. The gem in the world of distribution is in fact VOD. When you have library after library of films available to stream instantly, they certainly take up less space than a DVD! But don’t get me wrong, I do love my DVD collection.
It’s these new platforms like Hoopla that offer a terrific new avenue of options to Amazon and Netflix (Justice is on Amazon). More importantly, and call me old fashioned, Hoopla works with libraries. When you have traditional publishing working with digital publishing, the experience can only be a positive one because it yet again gives the customer that one thing they want – choices.
This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.
My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.
In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed. But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.
As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.
Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles. After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously. After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.
The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.
As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States. For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.
Lights, camera, concept.
Yesterday I finished the draft of the first act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. For me the first act is always the hardest. This is where you are “world building”, introducing your characters and setting up the story to eventually “turn” into why you’re telling it in the first place.
In SOS United States it’s the revelation of a potential nuclear bomb on an ocean liner heading to Boston. In First World, it’s the revelation of the classified mission of the Apollo space program. In Justice Is Mind it’s the revelation of a memory that cannot be immediately explained. In this new screenplay I’m writing, it’s the revelation that the skater’s family is somehow linked to a multi-decade Cold War mystery. From these revelation points, each of these stories moves into the next act.
Personally, I enjoy what’s called the “second act” the most. This is where I like to see all kinds of involved character developments and subplots. Of course, as screenwriters, we are inundated with one article or expert after another stating either the rigidity of the three act structure or the opposite. My stories tend to run about four acts. I do believe in a mid-point or splitting of the second act. In Justice Is Mind the true mid-point is when Henri Miller’s kindergarten teacher reveals something from his past that sets the course for another character to act while the main story continues toward its conclusion.
As a screenwriter I don’t believe in following a prescribed set of rules per see. But that being said, you do need a beginning, middle and end. Is this three acts? Four? Sometimes five? That’s really up to the writer and the story they are telling. In my view, some require less while others more. How I learned to write was pretty straight forward. I read the screenplays of my favorite films (some more popular than others). The one common thing they all had was a resolution, an ending that if a sequel was never made the story could exist on its own.
Being a filmmaker is a multi-disciplined endeavor. From continued marketing of First World (short) to Justice Is Mind, to presenting the feature film version of First World and SOS United States for development, to pitching Justice Is Mind as a TV series, the process is an endless one. And while I enjoy those aspects of the process, writing a screenplay keeps up my creative energies.
While I reference the word discipline, the other is also patience. Writing a screenplay, getting it produced and distributed is a multi-year process and isn’t for everyone. I remember coming across a documentary filmmaker a couple of years ago who told me flat out he hated the distribution process and that he just wanted it “done” to move on to the next project. We all look forward to our next project, but if your previous one fizzled in distribution, I don’t see how that helps future projects.
This is why you just need to stay a course. It’s not easy by any stretch. Some days are smooth sailing and others you just want to abandon ship, but in the end it’s about staying at your post and seeing your ship back to port.
“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.
To be a theatrical marketer you just have to do what I do when I go to the movies these days—you find someplace to sit in the lobby and look at theatergoers. I’ve worked in consumer marketing in one form or another for over twenty years and it just comes down to patterns. First, as a magazine publisher and then as a filmmaker. In the former, I targeted the fans of a particular sport (age didn’t really matter), but in the latter it’s a demographic.
Since I wrote First World back in 2006, and produced a short film version in 2007, I’ve known for some years that attendees of the science fiction convention circuit generally skewed in my age group (I was born in 1965). So when I wrote Justice Is Mind in 2010, I thought it would generally appeal to an older audience who may have counted TV series like Law & Order as their favorites along with films like The Andromeda Strain and the more contemporary Gattaca. The theatrical release of Justice Is Mind proved my theory when the majority of those that attended our screenings were 40+ and evenly split between men and women.
Of course, when you’re writing a screenplay it’s all guesswork isn’t it? Despite the best laid plans you really have no clue how it’s going to do. Yes, studios and some filmmakers do test screenings, but unless you are going to poll the entire country you just have to hope your film will find an audience through your marketing plan. But one demographic that is doing exceeding well are older audiences. Before there was Netflix, Amazon, and even Blockbuster, we went to the movies. Seeing a movie in a theater was an experience you weren’t going to get on television. I’m not discounting the importance of the younger generation that of course goes to the movies, but the generation I’m in is a bit more predictable – they want to see great stories come to life on the big screen.
As for great stories, I saw Trumbo this week and just thought it was a brilliant film. For me, I’ve always been interested in stories that revolve around the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Cold War. Throw both of those interests in and I’ll be the first to buy a ticket! Trumbo did not disappoint. Considering the ground it covered in 124 minutes, the story really captured a time in Hollywood and a political climate in the United States all those decades ago that I believe we are feeling now in the 21st century. You know what they say about history, it has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
As an article in The Wall Street Journal stated this week, there is a booming business in grown up films. When the $600,000 budgeted film Grandma returns $7 million in box office, that’s a serious profit and a business model that works.
This past week, just as I finished some updates to SOS United States, the American Film Market began. No sooner does it start than this article in Deadline comes out lamenting the “slim pickings” and quoting a variety of industry executives from, “It’s the lightest market in memory. TV is definitely sucking up talent” to “It’s much tougher now to find those projects that have that clear theatrical profile.”
Attaching talent, even in the best of markets, has always been a challenge. But clear theatrical profile? How is that truly defined? Having secured a limited theatrical run with Justice Is Mind that had talented but unknown actors, I often wonder what metrics these “executives” use when measuring a film for commercial appeal. This has always been an industry where you had to think outside the box, particularly when you are introducing something new to the market.
There’s no question there has been a seismic shift in talent from film to TV, that’s why I have positioned In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, as a pilot for a TV series. Sure, it could be a standalone feature, but it just makes sense to have this option when presenting. I remember many years ago when I attended Mipcom listening to execs wishing they could bring some of the theatrical talent over to TV. This is an industry that shifts like the tides. It’s just a matter of product and timing.
Speaking of product, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by a “distributor” for Justice Is Mind for an “exclusive” deal in a major market. Sure I’m always interested in a new deal, but it has to make sense. No sooner did we conclude our initial call and documents arrived with the most ridiculous terms and requirements I have ever seen. Um, no, I will not reedit the opening and end credits of my film to include a laundry list of producers to make it look like you produced the film. Um, no, I will not upload my film for you to review to a mysterious website that can only be accessed by you after the fact. It was laughable. And if you say you have distributed hundreds of films, you best have a listing on IMDb. Just when you think you’ve seen everything you see something new.
As for timing, I never would have thought that after I wrote First World that China’s space program would truly boom the way it did or that the cyber attacks I present in SOS United States would become so front and center. When I first wrote Justice Is Mind that idea was born by one broadcast on 60 Minutes about ‘thought identification’ and my passion for a good legal drama. Could I have ever imagined the advances in mind reading technology and neurolaw? No, of course not.
In my view it’s impossible to time the market from an industry or consumer standpoint. If you have an idea for a new movie or TV series, just write it and then do everything you can to produce it. In the end, it all comes down to what the consumer wants and the way they want to watch it.
“Let them lead us.” SOS United States.
As filmmakers we draw inspiration from other films, life events or experiences to create. It’s been well reported that Gene Roddenberry was inspired by Forbidden Planet to create Star Trek and that George Lucas was inspired by Flash Gordon (and other films) to develop Star Wars.
For me, the inspiration to create First World came from film and television. Two of my favorite science fictions films are The Day the Earth Stood Still and Capricorn One. Then there is the iconic TV show Space: 1999. Sadly, Capricorn One has been largely forgotten but for anyone who wants to see a good space conspiracy thriller with some great actors and cinematography, it’s a must watch.
As for SOS United States, I’ve always loved a good political thriller especially those from the Cold War. Discovering Seven Days in May and Fail Safe along with my love for ocean liners, I created a political thriller that is starting to gain some traction. With political thrillers on the rise, coupled with current world events, the timing is good.
Of course, for those that have seen Justice Is Mind you know what my primary inspirations were – Law & Order, The Andromeda Strain, Fringe and, yes, Dynasty. In so many ways, the genre mix in Justice Is Mind is reflective of what we are seeing today – especially on TV. As for my inspiration for In Mind We Trust? That would simply be Justice Is Mind and a conflux of current events.
It’s one thing making your film but it’s another getting to market. When the aforementioned films were made they were simply distributed by a studio. Pretty standard in those days. Ask any independent filmmaker and you not only have to be the creative behind the script, but a distributor and marketer at the same time.
Reading about the various challenges filmmakers faced at Tribeca to bring their films to market along with a myriad of interesting comments by Julianne Moore about independent films at CinemaCon, while there is tremendous opportunity to get your film in front of an audience, the navigation of this industry on the distribution front continues to intensify and diversify.
There was a pretty good article titled The Distribution Equation on Cultural Weekly that is worth a review. The big question I would love answered is why would independent films with limited theatricals runs sign with a distributor (for theatrical) if that was going to create a loss against the title of your film? It simply makes zero sense from a business point of view. Justice Is Mind has had 12 theatrical screenings and has grossed $13,357. Our total out of pocket costs were just over $500 (mostly from printing posters). On my end it costs nothing but time to present Justice Is Mind to theatres, write a press release and pitch the media. For me, from a business point of view, it’s much more important to show profitability than perception of “we signed with so and so”. “So and so” might look good on paper but red ink is still red ink.
This past week I pitched Justice Is Mind to another eight theatres. Yes, we have had a great run to date theatrically for our independent film, but why not make the pitch. You never know who’s going to say yes.
On Thursday Justice Is Mind arrived on BitTorrent Bundle! I largely learned about BitTorrent through the media around the film Hits and the journey that project took to reach that platform. Of sheer coincidence, Justice Is Mind and Hits share an actor by the name of Ken Holmes. Ken played Christopher Thomas in Justice Is Mind and is just amazing at promotion on social media. He does a masterful job of not only promoting himself but the films he’s involved in. Actors take note this is what a director looks for – a talented actor who also understands the world of social media.
On BitTorrent Bundle not only is the feature film available to both stream and download, but our bundle includes the trailer, short film, screenplay, press kit, interviews, Q&A and select stills. In essence, for $4.99 you have the whole Justice Is Mind experience from script to screen and beyond. I have to say working with BitTorrent has been great. Their customer service and attention to detail is first rate.
What I mentioned in my press release is that when I wrote the screenplay and business plan for Justice Is Mind these platforms didn’t even exist. Now, they command users in the millions. I revisited my business plan for First World and SOS United States this week as well. While First World did discuss VOD, it still incorporated DVD estimates. Let’s just say DVD has now been discarded as a revenue stream you can count on never mind estimate. As I just wrote SOS United States several months ago, largely and thankfully, not much had to be updated on that front. With some investor and production meetings coming up in April, I know I’m going to need updated versions of these plans. As I near the end of the business plan for In Mind We Trust, the one area of revenue that’s critical for distribution is theatrical as it develops media and creates the audience that drives initial VOD traffic.
This past week a good friend of mine mentioned that he wants to turn one of his books into a screenplay. Nothing is more exciting than seeing the words you have written come to life. I remember to this day being on the set of First World watching the actors breathe life into characters that only existed on paper. To see it accomplished in a feature film like Justice Is Mind is a whole other milestone. In addition to sending him the script to Justice Is Mind, I also sent him this wonderful article by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman the Editor of Script magazine. I had the great pleasure of meeting Jeanne at the premiere of Justice Is Mind’s trailer at an Upstate Independent event in 2013.
Her article is a must read for anyone involved in the industry but specifically those that are involved in the world of screenwriting. There are so many wonderful takeaways and quotable lines. From “When a great script is sitting in front of an executive, they don’t give a shit how much or how little money you spent learning how to write it. They only care that they are going to make money on your words.” To “There are indeed charlatans in this business, as there are in any business. Do your research.”
My advice is pretty simple for anyone that wants to get involved in the world of screenwriting. Remember, your writing is different than my writing. Watch films that you enjoy that have done well in the market and then hunt down their screenplays. Watch the film again and then read the screenplay. You’ll see how things are done in print and how they translate to the silver screen.
But do ask yourself the following before opening your wallet, “By paying this fee am I helping my career or theirs?” Remember it’s your career first.
The one thing I learned when publishing magazines is that your distributors, in all their forms, are your partners. Produce a good magazine and it will sell. Likewise, the same is true for a movie. But all this requires marketing on a day to day basis. A case in point, would be our last United States theatrical screening at the Chatham Orpheum theatre in September. It was a partnership between their theatre and Justice Is Mind. We both had one goal, sell as many tickets as possible and generate press. Not only did we have a great turnout and positive press, we also established a great post screening working relationship.
I’m delighted to announce that the Chatham Orpheum Post Production Services delivered our first DCP of Justice Is Mind last week! Some of you may be wondering what a DCP is. To quote Wikipedia, “A Digital Cinema Package (DCP) is a collection of digital files used to store and convey Digital cinema (DC) audio, image, and data streams.” While we always had our theatrical DVDs, now we have another theatrical option with DCP.
While I have yet to come across a theatre that can’t play from a DVD, it’s great that we now have a DCP option as the majority of theatres across the United States have converted to a digital format. I don’t profess to be an expert on this tech, but theatres do like to have this option. That being said, when Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 better than ½ the theatres we screened in still had not converted to digital. In the end, this just gives us another option. My special thanks to the Chatham Orpheum for their great work! To learn more about their DCP services please visit their website or email them at this address.
If the cyber-attack on Sony and subsequent pull of The Interview from the major chains demonstrated anything, it is that theatres are your partners and communication is key. While VOD is of course important, I still believe in the release model of theatrical distribution first followed by VOD. I think trying to marginalize theatres is a mistake. I read this past week about a film that got into Sundance, didn’t receive a distribution deal they thought was worth anything and is now is trying to fund a theatrical release by renting theatres and “then fans can pay what they want to see the film”. Aside from not agreeing with four walling (renting) for a variety of reasons, a pay what you want is a horrible precedent to set. In all our theatrical screenings, audiences paid whatever the general ticket price was for that theatre and market.
Margins in this business are squeezed enough for everyone. Do you admit someone to watch a movie in a theatre for $1 when the person behind them was going to pay $10? As my business partner said the other day there is an issue with perception in value. Yes, for VOD, the $1.99 rental is pretty standard. But the economics of that rate for a theatrical screening (via paying what you want) just won’t cover costs. Because what this all comes down to is how do investors get paid back when margins are so thin. It’s just simple economics of cost and revenue.
As I hit the 100 page mark of the sequel to Justice Is Mind this weekend, I truly wonder what the marketplace will be like by the time that film is released.
Another AFM is over. Aside from attendance being up, I’m not sure how much has changed from last year (or even the year before). We all know that foreign sales agents want top talent so they can sell internationally and VOD is disruptive. This “disruption” if you will has been in the works for years. But like the bygone days of magazine publishing when publishers refused to accept the internet, if one thing has changed this year it is that the industry has finally woken up to the reality that VOD is where this industry is and where it’s going for the foreseeable future. At the click of a mouse consumers will decide what they want and when they want it. But regardless of the trends it does come down to telling a story first and, oh yes, on a reasonable budget.
The foundation of every movie starts with the screenplay. In all this “noise” about the state of the industry it still surprises me how suddenly the screenplay becomes a sidebar in the conversations. How many times do we read about this “A lister” or that “A lister” attached to such and such a project. A lot of excitement, press, accolades and then the film comes out and it just doesn’t resonate with audiences…for whatever reason…and never recoups their budget. This is one trend that’s terrible for the industry. While the A lister may go to win an award for best performance, someone or some company is adding up losses. And losses are never good in any business.
But with VOD platforms on the exponential rise, budgets simply need to be adjusted as the DVD market has collapsed. I absolutely agree with AFM’s Managing Director Jonathan Wolf when he said, “We’ve got 50 companies who are in what we call mini-booths, where they only spend $3,900 for the space yet they’re bringing films and having a commercially acceptable experience. If you can make a couple films for $300,000 and sell each for $600,000, you have a business.” My political thriller SOS United States has a budget just north of $300,000.
I read a great story in IndieWire this week titled “Why It’s a Great Time to Be an Independent Filmmaker” by Naomi McDougall Jones. She could not be more right when stating, “I believe there are those who crave what I crave as an audience member; to be genuinely surprised; to have my own prejudices exploded; to leave the theater altered from whom I was when I went in.” These are the same comments I’ve heard from audience members that have seen Justice Is Mind.
Justice Is Mind and Jones’s film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, are apples and oranges in genre, but share the same type of approach to the market. We have a theatrical run, press and VOD. It’s all very doable. But it’s also work done the old fashioned way. It takes time (lots of it), research and effort.
But if there is one new trend from AFM this year that’s a major positive are the new distributors entering the market. With studios focusing on tentpoles they have created a need for the rest of the market. As Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk tells Variety, “The majority of filmmakers have to be interested in a new model for releasing indie films, and you could not say that two or three years ago.”
And so as I write the sequel to Justice Is Mind and present First World and SOS United States for investment and development, I too believe this is a great time to be an independent filmmaker. It just takes the three ‘p’s I have often mentioned: plan, perseverance and patience.
It was during the post-production of Justice Is Mind in 2013 that the idea for SOS United States came to me. And like the original idea for Justice Is Mind that was sparked from research on the sequel to First World, as a writer once I get an idea in my head I just have to write it out and see where it goes. When I do write, I think about the story not about the market.
Who would have thought that when I was writing Justice Is Mind back in 2010 that mind-reading technologies, patient privacy and genetic seizure would be trending in the news? Likewise when I wrote SOS United States last year it really didn’t occur to me what the state of the world would be with the United States withdrawing from various hot spots. And with China’s space program advancing at a rapid pace, the science fiction in First World in regard to space travel, is rapidly approaching science fact. But in the end, it all comes down to raising capital.
As I read the trades on a daily basis, there’s always a story about a film that took years to make (Dallas Buyers Club), a filmmaker/actor with award winning credentials who couldn’t get “traditional” financing at the start and resorted to crowdfunding (Zach Braff) or some major production company that misread the market (Senator), but isn’t this like any business? We are inundated with the extremes. The epic failure of one film or the stunning achievement of another. How about what’s happening in the middle? That’s what I look for. Will the trends today hold for tomorrow? What I think we all know is that theatres and VOD are here to stay.
There is one trend that I find pretty unsettling in this industry, but it was this way in magazine publishing too. The “experts” selling their services. Honestly, you might think that sliced bread has just been invented and if you don’t buy a loaf from them you’ll never be part of this industry. Really, what it comes down to is raising cash to produce a film. I’ve written so many business plans over the years. Of course you do the same with this industry and identify a return on investment.
We live in a world of constant change and changing priorities. And this industry magnifies that x10. When I was talking to a producer a couple of weeks ago who releases a good share of their films through one particular studio, they only take on projects that are based on intellectual properties because that’s pretty much what the major studios are backing these days. I read about this in the trades and one stop to your local cinema chain and the proof is on the marquee. But, there will always be independent films. Always.
Yes, my world is about spirited optimism. If someone says no, I just keep navigating until someone says yes. I try very hard to avoid the storms of this industry always thinking, “What does the consumer want?” The consumer doesn’t care about unnecessary industry noise, they just want to see a movie. From day one of distributing Justice Is Mind, my only concern is the audience that is buying tickets (at theatres or online). All theatres and VOD platforms want are paying customers. Promotion and marketing are the key to those customers.
Tomorrow I leave before the crack of dawn for a nearly nine hour road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the April 29 screening of Justice Is Mind at Carnegie Mellon University. We have screened Justice at two universities, but Carnegie is different. This is where the idea for Justice Is Mind was born from a 60 Minutes broadcast about ‘thought identification’. Yes, I’m pretty excited. I’m also excited to report that Vernon Aldershoff, who stars as Henri Miller, will be joining me!
This past week I was reflecting on all our screenings to date. From theatres, law schools and science fiction conventions, each have their own atmosphere. From the actors and crew to the audience that attends. Indeed, those that attend Monday’s screening at Carnegie will represent an entirely new audience. And this is what it’s all about, building an audience.
The one thing I have read over and over again is the importance of building audience prior to VOD and DVD. Simply put, the number of films that are entering the VOD world is astronomical. When you have filmmakers like Joss Whedon and Jeff Lipsky placing their films in the digital world rather than “traditional” distribution routes, it does further the discussion that VOD has replaced DVD as the real revenue generator for independent films. More importantly, traditional distribution methods are changing in favor of filmmakers and audiences.
I do, however, disagree with the blanket statement by Jeff Lipsky that, “Independent American films are largely considered anathema to foreign distributors these days.” While I will agree that foreign distributors are hell bent on “stars” and “commercial” projects, the $35+ million bath foreign (and domestic) distributors are taking on Transcendence proves yet again that their model simply needs to change. Audiences want a good story. Period. Like Lipsky’s films that found US distribution but no international, foreign distributors have told me Justice wasn’t commercial enough because we didn’t have a “star”. They are seriously laboring under a monumental misconception of reality that will keep Justice out of the foreign marketplace. Do they know that some of the leading VOD platforms, like Vimeo, can be accessed anywhere in the world and that traditional and social media is the fuel that drives audiences? On that note, I’m working on finalizing a very unique international deal that I hope to announce in the next couple of weeks. Like others before me and after me, we just circumvent gatekeepers.
It’s often reported in the trades about being inventive when making an independent film. But the same holds true for distribution. What about unique ways and interesting venues to bring a film to an audience? Yes, you can get your film into a theatre. Yes, you can get your film screened at a university. Yes, you can get your film distributed online. There is a tremendous amount of work involved and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be done.
For me, I’ve been doing this for years. When I operated my publishing company sure we had traditional paid subscribers, advertising and newsstand. But there was always the events. I was always trying to create something unique that would bring attention to our magazine. Is it really any different with a film?
See you in Pittsburgh!
Last night I watched the classic Murder on the Orient Express. I have always been a fan of movies that center on a train with one of my particular favorites being The Lady Vanishes. I suppose it’s no surprise that each of these classics were directed by two of my favorites, Sidney Lumet and Alfred Hitchcock respectively. Needless to say I thought Murder on the Orient Express was just brilliant.
When I first started to write screenplays and then produce and direct, perhaps the best advice I was ever given was to simply watch well made films and read their associated screenplays. In all honesty, doesn’t that make the most sense?
One of the compliments I’ve received by the actors in Justice Is Mind and the audiences that have seen it is on the dialogue itself. Scary, I was actually at an industry mixer last year where some “expert” stated to attendees to only write dialogue at a max of 140 characters. Um, people don’t speak Twitter. Just watch one episode of the hit TV show Scandal. The editing is quick, but the character interactions always have a great arc of dialogue.
On Friday my email newsletter and press release went out announcing our next three screenings – April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University, May 4 at Peguicon and May 19 at the Elm Draught House Cinema. The Justice Is Mind tour continues across the United States at three different venues with three distinct audiences. This is what I call the road show before we go public – video on demand (VOD). But to be clear, our theatrical and special event screenings will continue as live screenings and VOD complement each other.
A few days ago an up and coming actor said to me, “I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes trying to steer the ship.” As I mentioned to a variety of people during the production of Justice Is Mind, my prior experience running a publishing company helped enormously when it came to organization and execution. In today’s world, a filmmaker really does have to be on the bridge navigating all the changing waters of this industry. Someday I suspect this actor will be on his own bridge after some years of experience watching others – it’s what I did and continue to do.
Speaking of being on the bridge, the poster concept art for SOS United States is coming along nicely. It’s very exciting when a new project is being developed. For me, after the screenplay and business plan, having a concept poster created really starts to bring a project to life.
It was a producer who I met when I was living in Los Angeles that talked to me about balancing multiple projects. That while one was moving along you should have others in development. But the key was not to get overloaded so that you never leave port with either. It’s really only the last couple of months that I’ve been able to cast an eye onto SOS United States while Justice Is Mind is riding along the tracks of distribution on its way to new audiences.
Next stop. Pittsburgh.
Tomorrow evening Justice Is Mind will have its 10th theatrical screening and 15th overall if we include our law school and science fiction conventions to date. When I met with our editor earlier this week for the video and sound check at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, we both remarked on how fast time flies. It seems like just yesterday we had our world premiere in Albany in August.
Having a theatrical screening, or any type of screening for that matter, doesn’t mean just booking a date and arriving with the DVD. They are weeks in the planning. When we plan a screening I like to have at least four weeks notice to so we can properly pitch the local media. Having been a magazine publisher I know editors need time to consider pitches, assign writers and then plan for publication. In my view radio and TV are no different. Unless you are “breaking news” you need to be programmed into the schedule.
I have to say going to a theatre for a test run is always an exciting time for me. Sitting in an empty theatre watching your movie play is a pretty surreal experience. But I suspect surreal will most certainly be tomorrow evening. Over the last couple of weeks I have heard from so many different groups that plan to attend, from childhood friends, to new acquaintances I have met through our social media efforts, indeed tomorrow evening will certainly represent a wide variety of attendees. This doesn’t even include those who have read about the screening in the local press or heard our radio commercials.
Those are the new audiences to Justice Is Mind that those of us associated with the film welcome with open arms. I’m reminded about one particular couple who attended our screening in Ogunquit, ME. My mother and I ran into them the following day. Who were they? Enthusiasts of independent film who were intrigued by the concept of Justice Is Mind. They saw our film poster outside the theatre earlier in the day and did some online searches to learn more. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to tomorrow night!
As this past week came to a close, in addition to some of the final deliverables and information being sent to our VOD distributor, I received confirmation of another state premiere and a fantastic screening opportunity at a university that will bring the concept of Justice Is Mind to its origins. I plan to announce both tomorrow evening.
Keeping up with the industry can almost be a full time job in and of itself. But there comes a point when you just have to shut off the data stream and go with what you think is best for you and your project. Honestly, the “talking head” experts some of these trade publications are constantly quoting can put you on a roller coaster of contradiction. I’ll just say that I take the “grain of salt” approach to this industry as I did in publishing. Simply put, I’m not a follower.
Producing a true independent film means that you literally have to create what a studio does, but with limited resources. But that doesn’t mean no resources it just means being inventive and wearing multiple hats. Sometimes at the same time!
Take for example this past week. Filmmaker: With our March 24 screening at Cinemagic in Sturbridge coming up, I’ve been talking with the theatre on when we will run our test. Publicist: Then there is the follow up to media outlets I pitched our screening to and a special promotion by Pizza Post. Producer: Talking to possible financial backers for my next project. Distributor: Talking to a digital aggregator for Justice Is Mind in addition to a variety of theatres that are interested in screening the film. Writer: Presented the idea for a concept poster for my political thriller to a graphic artist. Accountant: Review our financials and prepared 1099 filings.
Personally what I enjoy the most about filmmaking is the opportunity to wear these many hats. I love to write. But when my brain needs a creative break, I can turn to some dry financials or mark down some notes for another story that has come to mind when working on another. That’s how Justice Is Mind came to life. When I was working on the sequel to First World, I was at a scene that involved a mind reading machine. Suddenly the concept of Justice came to being.
But through all this perhaps the most exciting for me is when we have a screening of Justice Is Mind on the calendar. There is nothing quite like the experience of seeing a film you created come to life. The moment I hear those first few bars of music and see the opening quote, the journey of four years and over two hundred people, there is an innate satisfaction of accomplishment.
On accomplishment, my sincere thanks to Bob Leveillee of Pizza Post who plays Mr. Oxford in Justice Is Mind. As some of you may know, we filmed several scenes at Pizza Post. For our March 24 screening, Bob has offered ticket holders a dollar for dollar credit at Pizza Post. I first met Bob back in 2011 when we filmed the short film version Evidence. He has been a terrific supporter from the start and now a good friend. Check out the great radio spot he created as part of this promotion that is running on a couple of local stations.
As for friends, it looks like our screening on March 24 is going to be a reunion of so many friends from my childhood to the present. I was reminded from talking to one of my friends from second grade about the organization of forts we made when we were younger. Indeed, it has been a journey.
“One Man’s Trial Against Science, Faith and History” – Justice Is Mind.
The entertainment industry is all about numbers. What’s your budget? How many likes? How many theatres? What’s your box office gross? As most know, I’m pretty open about some numbers and keep others close to the chest. By example, the budget for Justice Is Mind is under $25,000, our 10th theatrical screening is coming up and over 200 people were involved in the production of the film in one way or another.
This week I was interviewed by a couple of reporters in connection with our March 24 screening at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, MA and some of our numbers were part of the conversation. I was working on a follow up email to one of them in regards to films released in 2013. I suddenly came across a list on IMDB “Highest Rated Feature Films Released In 2013”. To my surprise, I learned that 8,709 films were released in 2013 – eight thousand seven hundred and nine! Those are some numbers.
I’ve previously reported that Justice Is Mind finished as 8th Highest Rated and 42nd top US Grossing Box Office on the similar “independent film” list of 220+ films. I was a bit worried to start the search on THE list for 2013. To my surprise and elation, Justice Is Mind finished 2013 as the 185th Highest Rated and 419th for top US Grossing Feature! Finishing in the top 2% and 5% respectively for our independent film is a true honor of effort by so many. I smiled even more reflecting on an email I received earlier this week when a “film buyer” for a theatre in the Southwest said “Were you looking to four wall a theatre or do a rental? I’m not sure that there is enough commercial potential for us to play your film.” Clearly this “expert” judged the film based solely on the “recognizable stars” of the film rather than running some numbers that would be available to this theatre based on our box office to date. After I responded with our results, media placements and that we don’t rent theatres, I never received a response.
In this industry, like any industry, knowledge is power. I know that phrase is overused but it still rings true. There are forward thinking people in every industry that are willing to take a chance to try something new. And if you don’t think out of the box on occasion you are simply going to be left behind. I remarked to one of the reporters that if we do the best job we can when a theatre takes a chance on us that may pave the way for another independent filmmaker to present their project down the road. You know the old adage, don’t judge a book by its cover. The same thing rings true for films.
We are now in an industry that is producing more and more content because that’s what audiences want. That’s not going to change. To the “gatekeepers” that are restricting entrance to new voices, you know that just creates opportunity for new ventures and forward thinking existing platforms to embrace said voices. Just today I read this story on IndieWire about a documentary that was passed over by distributors until it found someone that believed in their project.
Justice Is Mind – March 24 – Tickets now on sale!
Another part of the article in The New Yorker I quoted from last week now needs to be referenced, “If making films weren’t challenging and fun for the people involved, they wouldn’t do it.” Indeed, making films is fun. Challenging? Absolutely. But as we know nothing worth doing is easy.
This past week I was reading up on all the activity, or should I say, lack of activity at the European Film Market (EFM). Like Sundance, there doesn’t seem to be a buying frenzy or absolute breakout hit. It appears that everyone is waiting for Cannes. But we shall see. None of this news, or non-news, however is going to stop a creative from being creative.
As I prepare to announce additional theatrical screenings for Justice Is Mind along with our initial VOD plans, I was reminded this week that there are always new markets to explore for a film. In the case of Justice, I started do a simple Google search on “law school film festivals” and “neuroscience film festivals”. To my surprise, I was more than pleased to see a variety of festivals (generally connected to higher education and associations) reveal themselves. You can’t find these as part of Withoutabox or similar portals. I’m pleased to say that after contacting a variety of them, conversations are already starting. Will we be part of their programs? I don’t know. But it’s always worthwhile to reach out to see what the possibilities are.
Apparently some of the conversations coming out of EFM centered on having not only well known directors and stars but a marketing hook as well. I’ll be honest, there are painfully few films I go to because so and so is directing or so and so is in the film. For me it is all about the “hook”. There is no perfect formula in this business anymore if there ever was. Sure you have to push past some gatekeepers and figure out a way to get your film to market. For anyone that has worked with me, they know when I hear the word “no” I am just going to keep working an angle until I hear “yes”.
This reminded me about a film I read about in The Verge that was a Sundance selection last year. They took a direct distribution (theatrical and VOD) route and seem to have done really well. In a smaller fashion this is what we have been doing with Justice while we continue conversations with distributors. As I’ve said before, it’s not just about doing a deal, it’s about doing a deal that makes financial sense. What’s the most important thing? Justice Is Mind has been made. What’s the next important thing? Justice Is Mind is being seen by audiences.
I’ve reached that point in my business plan for SOS United States where I discuss the budget and projections. Indeed, these are like New England weather and are always “storm centric”. I can hold to a budget without any issue (that just comes down to planning), but film revenue projects seriously can change at the drop of a hat. I believe the key is having a reasonable budget and reasonable expectations.
This is an exciting time for Justice Is Mind as we go into what I call Phase Two of distribution and marketing while I look to finish the details on SOS United States. There’s always something new to learn, and things we need to avoid, there’s just one thing we all need to remember in this industry.