When I wrote the business plan for Justice Is Mind in 2010 it called for certain assumptions based on what I knew at the time was working, or not working, for independent filmmakers. The plan called for actually “renting” theatres for a limited theatrical run and going with a distributor we already had a deal with (and still do if I want to engage it) to get on certain VOD platforms. The dramatic change in distribution and marketing in three years has been unprecedented.
As of today, Justice Is Mind has enjoyed a limited theatrical run of nine theatres with no rental involved (full disclosure, one was fully sponsored). Rather we are actually being compensated on a split arrangement. We proved the point. A truly independent film can have a theatrical run without a distributor involved. As I mentioned to my investors and producers last week, I’m fairly confident that if we had a distributor involved in these theatres, after their expenses, the run would have been a financial loss. It was the exact opposite for us. With a track record of revenue and attendance attached to the film, we can approach theatres with confidence. We are working on additional theatrical dates for Justice and hope to make some announcements shortly.
In 2010 a distributor I had planned to work with on Justice had a revenue sharing system that I could project from. Since then they have retooled their compensation and minutes viewed has now turned to literal pennies. However, another VOD platform I’ve been working with for just over a year has delivered real cash of over $1,000. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or expert in this industry to see the change in distribution revenue models. A couple of posts ago I talked about the amount of “product” coming into the market. I think this is a great thing. Audiences want more films. But distributors are playing catch up. One distributor (with some limited success) who was introduced to me a few months ago said that the days of them just loading up content to the various VOD providers is gone as even their content has to be approved. Obviously this is not the case for all films, but I’ve been hearing similar coming out of various trade interviews.
This change, particularly on the digital front, has created a ton of new platforms eager to fill the gap. Some have raised millions with new technology to get your film in front of the right audiences while others enable you to sell your film directly off your website. But, in my humble opinion, as they have no track records they need to be watched as well. One we worked with on the short film Evidence (Constellation TV) has since closed after all kinds of positive press, which is a shame because I thought they had a great idea. So what’s my point? Sure, I’m all for new technology and trying new things, but I think it’s important to be part of the established landscape as a fail safe as there’s only so many ways to reinvent the wheel.
We know there are no guarantees in this business. The reports from Sundance concluded that while getting your film into that festival is obviously great there’s zero guarantee of a distribution deal. The Hollywood Reporter’s story on Ron Howard’s acclaimed Rush losing over $10 million was particularly eye opening. And how many stories do we need to read that having “A listers” in your film is no guarantee of anything. The New Yorker summed it up “The trick is that no one knows which films are going to be excellent or genre-bending before they are made, or even before they are screened.”
I’ve always viewed business plans as flexible documents. Yes, you have the product you want to produce and you estimate revenue based on understood norms at the time. But by the time you get to market, the market you may have planned to be part of probably will have changed somewhat if not completely. It all comes down to what audiences want to see and how they want to see it. So as I write the business plan for SOS United States, I look at what’s being done presently with Justice Is Mind.
There are a few things I do know and can predict. There’s a lot of wonderful talent on both sides of the camera. They rely on producers to rise above the noise and have their work seen. I believe in discovering new talent. I know from our screenings this is what audiences want. At the end of the day they want a good story.
“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
They are used during times of war and for government continuity. They are a place where thoughts can be concentrated and orders can be given. In so many ways, it is also how a writer works – in a bunker.
When a screenplay is written it just doesn’t magically come together with a few keystrokes. A writer creates an entire world in their head with numerous characters, plots and scenes coming to life. For me at least, this has to be done in a bunker-like fashion. I need quiet. I need to concentrate. You will never find me writing in a coffee shop or with other writers at a retreat. Call me an isolationist, but I just don’t want the distraction. Honestly, some of the best ideas for scenes (particularly of conflict) come to me when I’m at the gym. Go figure. All writers have their oddities and that is mine. OK I have another, I get strange looks from my cats when I’m talking out dialogue.
I’m also not the type of writer that spends months creating these worlds only to option it off to a production company to let someone else create their view of my vision. Sure, an immediate paycheck is nice (if at all), but I take a long term view of my projects – development.
Having launched and managed a publishing company in a previous life, I think I’m just used to writing business plans (yes, I still believe in them) and working all the angles to raise the capital and making it happen. As I’ve said in previous posts, there is nothing more satisfying that seeing your written word come to life.
I’ll never forget my early days of developing Justice Is Mind. Yes, the idea came to me when I was working on the sequel to First World. Although I have written the feature length screenplay and produced a short film version for First World, as that is a multi-million dollar project, it’s just taking more time to develop. My goal with Justice Is Mind was to write, produce and direct a large scale feature on a micro budget to prove what I could and ultimately wanted to do. The proof was in our world premiere last August.
Heading into 2014 with our 9th and 10th theatrical screenings for Justice Is Mind on January 11th (Plimoth Cinema) and 24th (Cape Cinema) and with our Video on Demand plans coming online shortly, now could not be a better time for independent filmmakers. Simply put, we have a myriad of options to distribute on countless platforms. As I continue with our distribution plans for Justice Is Mind, which includes more theatrical screenings in the United States, the international push begins in earnest this year.
What has happened with the development of Justice Is Mind, started with First World and now will continue with my new political thriller – you build your base of supporters which includes actors, crew, marketing partners, investors and fans. From world building on paper to bringing it to life, but like all realities you have to keep it in check and it has to be managed. For me it all comes down to the bunker with a desk in the corner.
Next stop. Plymouth.
Justice Is Mind. For 2013 – The 8th Highest Rated Independent Film on IMDB. The 42nd Top Grossing Independent Film on IMDB. The 48th Most Popular Independent Film on IMDB. Eight theatrical with two each science fiction and law school screenings, along with over ten feature articles. The verdict is in. In a sea of hundreds, if not thousands of films released in 2013, Justice Is Mind has sailed proudly on its own.
My end of year post in 2012 was titled Hold the Dream and was a reflection on the journey of the “Justice Is Mind” project. At the time I wrote, “…it’s about that group of people you associate yourself with that will not only bring your dreams to life but theirs as well—mutual passion.” Indeed the mutual passion of so many reflected our end of year results.
Where does one even begin to start thanking all those that have made this possible? From the theatres that agreed to screen Justice, to the journalists that wrote great articles, to the audiences that came out, to the industry platforms that recognized our film as a true independent and treated it as such.
But there are those in the Justice family that need to be recognized for without their tireless efforts we would not be ending this year on the great note we have. First and foremost to my executive producers Mary Wenninger and Stefan Knieling. They continued to be there as my friends and financiers of this project. To Vernon Aldershoff, Mary Wexler, Kim Gordon, Paul Lussier, Gail Sullivan, Ken Holmes, Sheila Mandeville and Michele Mortensen. Not just great actors in Justice, but passionate promoters in their own right. And to Arnold Peter, my longtime entertainment attorney and friend who spearheaded and sponsored our west coast premiere and law school tour. Of course, it goes without saying, but it needs to be mentioned again, the crew that built Justice Is Mind. Our editor Jared Skolnick; director of photography, Jeremy Blaiklock; composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta; sound mixer, Timothy McHugh and special effects guru Adam Starr. Of course, a special thank you to Kim Merriam. Every time Justice screens I see her house and reflect on a friendship that has gone back over twenty years. What can I say except this has been an incredible journey for me on so many levels.
There were several times throughout the year when I was told that it takes a village to produce a feature film. In the case of Justice Is Mind, the initial “company” of 200 plus has surely grown to a “brigade”.
I liken the operation of a film to that of an ocean liner. Unlike a cruise ship that sails in generally calm waters, an ocean liner must navigate all kinds of weather. The same is true in the operation of a feature film. While we have had a positive outcome for 2013 and it has been mostly smooth sailing, there has been the occasion when I’ve had to call “general quarters”. But as the cast, crew and “passengers” of Justice know, this captain doesn’t let anything get in his way.
Full ahead to 2014.
With 2013 coming to a close, I was reflecting the other day on the numerous theatrical screenings we have had for Justice Is Mind along with the substantive media placements and following we are developing. I took a moment to review my business plan for Justice and while digital distribution was front and center (and still is), theatrical distribution just didn’t seem to be in the cards as no theatrical distributor was attached to the film at the time. My how times have changed since writing the business plan three years ago. Filmmakers can largely self-distribute and save on the countless fees associated with the process.
Earlier this week our first check arrived from a theatre. It was our share of the box office for a one time screening. To say I was elated would be an understatement. It wasn’t the amount of the check that mattered. What mattered was that revenue was coming directly to us. If we had a distributor that handled our theatrical screenings, I’m fairly certain it would have all gone to them with only a small percentage (if anything at all) to us. Like filmmakers, distributors need to make money as well. A share of percentage is well understood, but it’s the related fees that can really suck up any profit. In an earlier post, I mentioned one “self-theatrical-distributor” that wanted to charge us $900 for a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) or else we couldn’t work with them. As this company is currently all the rage in the industry, of course I was interested in contacting them. But after reviewing their contract, they were only a facilitator and brought zero to the table. We are already providing the deliverables, posters and public relations, why shouldn’t we share the maximum return with the theatre and us? Why involve a middleman? Certainly, distributors are very much needed for a national rollout as they bring all their departments to bear and in those cases it simply comes down to economy of scale for a return. But distributor or not, filmmakers still need to market their films. Check out Film Specific’s blog post “Why Selling Your Film Is Not Somebody Else’s Problem.”
Although this year is winding down, Justice Is Mind certainly isn’t. As we prepare for two January screenings in Massachusetts (with what looks like Connecticut in February), along with the implementation of our VOD and international release plan, our public relations and marketing efforts continue.
In regard to public relations, I had a great time with Mary Wexler (Judge Wagner) and Gail Sullivan (Helen Granger) at the Plimoth Cinema this week. Gail arranged for PAC-TV in Plymouth to interview us for the January 11 screening. I also wrapped up an interview with a local newspaper that is more tied to our January 24 screening at Cape Cinema in Dennis. As of today, it looks like the PAC-TV airdate is set for January 9. I’ll post the link after it airs.
It is nice to see that all the work being done by so many is being noticed by outside parties. I was really pleased to learn yesterday that IMDB showed Justice Is Mind as one of the Top 10 Highest Rated Independent Films for 2013. With all the other films above us featuring some well-known actors, it proves another point that has been widely reported over the years, and falls in line with the consolidation of agencies, a movie does not need stars to carry a film.
Since Justice Is Mind was released in August, we have had a variety of fantastic screenings. From our World Premiere in Albany, to law schools, science fiction conventions, state premieres and our West Coast Premiere in Beverly Hills, the process of rolling out an independent film takes time and planning.
With our next science fiction convention screening coming up on November 30 at Loscon, Justice Is Mind‘s New Hampshire premiere on December 4 along with our second screening in Maine on December 7, plans are in the works for our next steps – VOD and international distribution. In today’s world of independent filmmaking, there are countless ways to market and distribute a film. What it really comes down to is what it’s in the best interest of the project. What’s the best avenue to get it seen by the widest possible audience?
In the case of Justice, our first step has been to develop a following through our theatrical screenings, build up a base and develop press along the way. I believe that creates a solid foundation so when you go to VOD and start pushing outward towards foreign markets at least you’ve established some footprint. When I read articles that talk about the two-plus thousand films in the current marketplace vying for a home (I’m sure the number is much more), you are simply up against a ton of competition. Standing out is critical.
I come across articles and forums with all kinds of “preachers” saying you have to do this process a certain way and if you don’t you will be left by the wayside. Sadly, the majority have their hands out looking for some sort of payment. Recently a “filmmaker” mentioned in an email he sent me that a company I’ve successfully done business with before was “crap” and if I had the funds this person could “shop” Justice for me. Seriously. Man, I don’t know, when I approach a company or person I want to work with I don’t start out by insulting their past business successes (or misfires) and then ask for money. Needless to say, this person won’t be getting a response back from me!
All the while I’m working on the next stages of Justice, I’m finishing up the screenplay for my political thriller. Yes, this is another project I want to produce and direct myself. Would I be interested in optioning the story? Perhaps if the deal was right, but unless there’s some nice bank involved, I’m not interested. For me, the excitement is putting the whole project together. From that opening scene to the opening night, watching a film you wrote, produced and directed come to life is a personal and professional satisfaction that’s very hard to put into words.
I read stories of writers that want to do what I’ve done with Justice. It most certainly can be done. It most certainly can be achieved. True there are those long days when you think “This will never happen” and then suddenly there is that one email, that one call that makes all the difference. Every journey is different and each takes a different path.
EXT. WAREHOUSE – NIGHT
As most who follow this blog know, I am tireless when it comes to internet marketing. Whether it be an electronic press release, social media, email newsletters or blog posts. As Justice Is Mind has a couple of screenings coming up, I was searching Google for entries. But when I discovered that Justice was ranked 21st on IMDB as “Highest Rated “Independent Film” Feature Films Released In 2013” and 45th for “Top-US-Grossing “Independent Film” Feature Films Released In 2013” pleased would be an understatement!
This kind of result does not happen overnight. It does not happen automatically. It takes patience and perseverance. There are no shortcuts. It is not a one person operation. If it’s one thing I have learned about writing, producing and directing a feature film having a large ensemble cast helps enormously. Why? Because they are the cheerleaders. They share, post and talk about the film to their network. Unless your film is being produced by a studio with a full-time marketing and public relations department, who else is going to do this type of work?
Justice Is Mind is but one of thousands of films in the current market. As I told a class I instructed on filmmaking, I have to act like mine is the only film in the world pushing for an audience. Yes, I’m selfish that way and so is every independent filmmaker with a project (at least I admit it!) That being said, I always like to try to be as supportive as I can of other filmmakers and their endeavors. This isn’t an easy business and we should work together when possible. But it does come down to manners as well. If you are going to ask me to help you on your film you could start off by asking “How’s Justice going?” Incredibly this week a filmmaker called me and asked how to get their film on IMDB (seriously). This wasn’t a first time filmmaker either. I would have been a bit more supportive had this person been supportive of my work but it was ALL about them. After trying to assist this person for 25 minutes I had a conference call to prep for and ended the conversation.
With our Vermont premiere at The Tiny Theatre on November 2 and our Los Angeles west coast premiere on November 7 at Laemmle Musice Hall, obviously my focus is on these two screenings. Thankfully Justice has a great team on the west coast through the Peter Law Group because screening a film in the entertainment capital of the world is a monumental task. In these last two weeks over 500 emails have gone out to the industry, the press and more phone calls than I can count. And that’s just what I’ve done.
When I call the industry (i.e. Los Angeles), I know how busy they are. I know their time is stretched. Honestly, being pleasant in an email or opening up a conversation by saying how much you enjoyed a particular film or TV show of theirs goes a long way. Call me old fashioned, but I believe when you show respect for someone’s work they are more interested in hearing about your new project. I had a great conversation with the assistant of one of the producers of my favorite TV shows. Will the producer show up to our screening? Probably not. But I’d love for the assistant to come. Why? Because as gatekeepers they have the ear of the producers. They are also the next producers.
Justice Is Mind is entering a new phase. Now formally released with theatrical bookings through January 2014 (more in development), Justice Is Mind will shortly be presented to the industry. An industry that is changing by the day from development, marketing and distribution.
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 sound mixing complete and color correction underway, I am now focused almost exclusively on the marketing and distribution of Justice Is mind. I also have been finding a little time to write my political feature (up to page 40!) and follow up on some outstanding matters on First World. While it’s always good to have a variety of projects in various stages of development, I firmly believe, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, that focus is important. In my case, Justice Is Mind is front and center on the priority list.
Earlier this week I added a second theatre to screen Justice. The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA welcomed us with open arms for the short film version Evidence in 2012. Now under new ownership, The Strand welcomed us back to screen the feature. The date – Monday, September 16th at 7 PM. Doors open at 6:15. Ticket prices are $5.50.
Yesterday, working with a filmmaker friend of mine in Ogunquit, ME, I secured our third screening venue at the Leavitt Theatre (date to be announced). My mother and I have been traveling to Ogunquit, ME for over twenty years and the opportunity to screen Justice in one of our favorite resort towns is truly excellent.
Early on in the process of developing Justice, while the film will more than likely find it’s “revenue” home on VOD and other digital platforms, I wanted to secure some sort of theatrical run for Justice even if it means I go “door to door” because we all know that seeing your film on the big screen is what’s it’s all about. But more importantly, it’s not just about giving these theatres your DVD and saying thank you, it’s about promotion. I know I have my work cut out for me as it’s my job to promote the film as much as possible so all parties benefit.
A recent article in USA Today talked about the challenges these independent theatres face in the wake of converting to digital. All three theatres that are screening Justice were built in the 1920s and 30s. There is such grand history in this industry—born from the silent era to the digital one. It’s important that we support them and preserve their history and place in the industry. I can’t help when I walk through these theatres to wonder who else walked these same steps to show their work. This week I’ll continue my “selling” Justice to theatres.
But while I deal with the traditional side of the process, I am also dealing with the contemporary digital side and evaluating the best route timing wise on when Justice will appear on certain platforms. Every filmmaker has a different agenda and different goals. Mine are pretty simple, maximum distribution for maximum return. I think that approach makes the most sense and lord knows there are all kinds of ways to get there. I’ll just say this, keep a solid POV on your wallet.
I came across one “distributor” this week who said, seriously, if you pay us $30,000 we will get you into some theatres and handle your promotion and accounting. Another, even more insulting, for $2,000 we give you one day in our theatre and for an additional $1,500 we can promise you a review in a leading newspaper (damn you bought off a journalist!). Scary the kind of ventures and vultures that are out there. Sounds like the “consultants” I came across in publishing that promised you “at the checkout” magazine placement. Ahhhh the promises and representations in this business. Thank you I’ll just pick up the phone and call the theatres direct and save myself all those kickbacks in the process.
While digital distribution makes the world of independent filmmaking possible from a return point of view (I like my monthly deposit from Amazon for my short films!), there is nothing more accepting than being in a theatre that is going to screen your work. This is where the business started and this is where the work needs to be seen.
On a closing note, this story just published in The Atlantic magazine “Could the Government Get a Search Warrant for Your Thoughts” could not be more timely for the upcoming release of Justice Is Mind.
Time to make some history.
T-minus 21 days.
With just over four weeks remaining until the world premiere of Justice Is Mind on August 18 at the Palace Theatre in Albany, the last bits of post-production are underway. The film is edited, scored, the special effects have been built and two hours of sound mixing are complete. That just leaves that last fifteen minutes to mix then off to color correction with the last action being the pressing of the exhibition DVDs.
Earlier this week I was contacted by another sales agency that is interested in reviewing Justice for distribution and sale. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s really key to have a proper IMDB set-up as that’s how they found me. Now let me be clear on something, the number of independent films seeking distribution is staggering. Yes, every filmmaker wants the best deal for their project, but when a sales agency or distributor comes knocking you simply drop what you are doing and address the opportunity at hand. And don’t make it difficult for them to contact you. I promise you they have other films they are considering and will just move on to the next film. With five agents already reviewing Justice prior to our industry screening, participating in a film market or even showing at festival, I’m very encouraged by this early interest.
Speaking of this week’s activities, I was delighted to learn that my friends, backers and partners in Justice Is Mind, Mary Wenninger and Stefan Knieling were coming up to visit. It was so great visiting with them yesterday. When I showed them parts of Justice Is Mind on my laptop one of the first things they said was, “We really need to thank all these people for their work.” Indeed, as I have endeavored to do throughout the process of the development of Justice, you can never thank people enough for their work and contribution.
Producing a feature film is not easy and it takes long term view for anyone involved in the process. As I’ve said before I’ll say again, shooting the film is the easy part it’s pre and post that has the most challenges. Recently I was at the gym and someone walked up to me and asked “When is the film coming to theatres?” and “why is it taking you so long to finish it?” You know when I hear comments like this, sometimes I just want to scream. Instead, I launched into a filmmaking 101 lecture on how this business works that occupied at least fifteen minutes of his time. I didn’t care if his workout was being affected or if he felt insulted. He asked a question and he got an answer. To create a quality film takes time. By all accounts post-production generally takes about a year, we are doing it in less. More importantly, we haven’t had to reshoot anything.
The one thing that I believe worked for Justice throughout the entire process is that we had a locked script and the writer was on set (me). Where you see films get into “trouble” is when writing is done on set and suddenly a plot hole or continuity issue is created. With Justice there were a few occasions when I had to create a scene due to actor schedules or some other unforeseen situation that came up. But because the actors and crew knew the story so well, everything was pretty seamless. And as a writer, you also need to be flexible to make adjustments when needed.
T-minus 35 days.
It was last Sunday and I was uploading footage to various websites along with programming our press release and email newsletter for a Monday, April 22 event – for the first time in the history of Justice Is Mind we were releasing footage from the film. While the January release of the trailer was well received and picked up by numerous platforms, this was an actual part of the film. With a running time of 2 hours and 33 minutes, there were obviously lots of scene choices. But a few weeks ago I selected a few different areas that I thought would be most interesting to viewers and posted it as question on our Facebook page. What did they want to see? The arrest of Henri Miller.
From a marketing and public relations point of view, releasing a clip was not only important to keep up the momentum of the project but to demonstrate to the outside world that Justice Is Mind was indeed in progress. It was shortly after my press announcement to various sites that post trailers and clips, did additional opportunities start to present themselves. In fact, one major site I wanted Justice Is Mind listed on finally got back to me and pointed me to a digital aggregator they use for the majority of their trailers and clips. The verdict was in—with this clip Justice Is Mind was being taken seriously by industry leading websites.
Getting to this point has not been easy. The endless days of sitting at my computer researching the industry, the countless emails and mining telephone contacts, this is what building a business is all about—hard work with no shortcuts. As an independent filmmaker this is what it is. You write the script, secure the funding, shoot the picture (honestly, that’s the easy part) and market the film. Unless you have mid to major studio involvement to assist in all these areas, that’s it in a nutshell.
And with the release of the clip came the atmosphere of the scene. As one of the actors in Justice commented, “…had that Dynasty thing going on”. The guess was spot on. One of my favorite TV shows of all time was Dynasty. While the Millers in Justice are not nearly as rich as the Carringtons in Dynasty, this was the atmosphere I was hoping to convey. In the clip we see successful, wealthy people in black tie at a first class establishment in peril, conflict and deception. Who doesn’t want to see that!
Many years ago I was introduced to one of the leading writers of Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest for a television series I was looking to pitch. For anyone in my age group forward we all remember the power those shows brought to network television. The characters were specific, the dialogue was deliberate and the scenes were grand. I learned more from working with that writer during those few months in how scenes and storylines were crafted than anyone else in the business. She didn’t pontificate on what not to do like so many of these ridiculous condescending seminars I see being promoted. She took the essence of an idea and transformed it for audience appeal. Talk about inspiring! I’ll never forget that week out in Los Angeles when we went to pitch meetings at Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney and a few others. While the project wasn’t picked up the experience was more than I ever could have hoped for. Yes, as you have surmised, there are plans for the Justice Is Mind project.
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and that mantra certainly is true in the world of filmmaking. To this moment, Justice Is Mind has been nearly a three year plus project—from concept, to short to the coming feature. And like the business that made up the monolithic Denver Carrington, the oil wells in filmmaking are the distributors that reach your audience.
With the post production phase of Justice Is Mind moving along according to schedule, my job now, in addition to managing the entire post production phase (yes, still directing!), has turned to marketing and distribution. Most independent filmmakers don’t have these departments, so what we rely on are trusted sources and contacts inside the industry and our own real world work experience. But in the end, as President Truman made famous, “The buck stops here.” When producing a film, every buck counts. And quite of few of those bucks go to film festival submission fees.
The film festival market is as mysterious as it is rewarding. Yes, I have a list of festivals I’m submitting Justice to. Some have “final” deadlines that come well before our completion date so we will be submitting as a “work in progress”. But others thankfully fall generally in line with our July 1 completion date. But like I did in magazine publishing I also do in filmmaking, I really don’t like what I call “rules of market”. There is this rule, even though it seems to be unwritten, that films should first be submitted to festivals to see what happens. Sure, I’ll just wait and wait and wait for a decision while my film could be losing momentum. Seriously, I was part of a feature film project as an actor a couple of years ago and the entire distribution strategy was getting into film festivals. I couldn’t believe it. There was never a plan B. The problem with that strategy is that if you don’t get into festivals (particularly the buyers markets) you can find yourself with many missed months of “buck making” opportunities for your film.
With the world premiere set for Justice Is Mind on August 18 in Albany, New York along with an industry screening planned for Los Angeles (date to be announced), there are a host of other screening opportunities for the project outside of the film festival market. First and foremost Justice Is Mind already has a non-exclusive digital distribution deal in place, so with one email and the transmission of deliverables, distribution is done. But that’s just part of the strategy and it’s an evolving one as this article in Sundance demonstrates the nuances of digital distribution. Yes, digital distribution is a science all by itself.
Digital distribution can be very successful for a film, but it helps enormously if you have some terrestrial assistance. What it really comes down to is building awareness through word of mouth and that does come from screenings—theatrical or event. So while I am putting together a list of independent theatres to pitch, the one area that has shown great interest in Justice Is Mind is the science fiction community. This past week I finished up my pitch list of nearly 100 sci-fi conventions around the world to present Justice Is Mind for screening. The interest was successfully tested with the short film version Justice Is Mind: Evidence (another reason to produce a short first—market testing). On the practical front my first short film First World screened at over 20 conventions in numerous countries. As some of you know, the trailer for Justice Is Mind is screening during Boston Comic Con next weekend. Thank you Boston Comic Con!
While I love the glamour, pomp and visibility that come with a festival, I am anything if not practical. As a director I owe it to everyone involved in the project to get their work seen by the widest possible audience. But as a producer, it comes down to a return on investment.
At the end of the day filmmaking is about making bucks to be “scene” again.
With the trailer for Justice Is Mind days away from being released, the plan that I’ve been working on since we wrapped will soon be put in motion. What does that plan entail? I promise you it’s more than posting the trailer to YouTube, Facebook, writing the requisite press release and hoping the world finds you. I wish marketing a film (or anything) was that easy but when you are an independent filmmaker that process is continuous with the goal of standing out from the thousands of films being produced every year.
But when you look at a film festival like Sundance that gets over 12,000 submissions and only screens 119, the plan has to be diversified. Of course we all believe our film is that promised gem among many. As filmmakers we have to think that. Thankfully in today’s age of social media anyone that participates in a project can be a cheerleader in its promotion. A simple post, share or tweet and your audience is building.
There was a very interesting story in The Wrap last week that talked about the future of filmmaking. Bottom line? With the ever increasing number of digital services, networks, cable operators and the like, the one thing they all need for their audiences is programming. As Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm said, “They’re in an arms race for content, and that’s creating a perfect storm for independent film.”
And speaking of audiences, my own movie going experience is much different now. Sure, I’m there to watch the film, but I first take in the audience – specifically age. Audiences are getting older which is great for this project. I didn’t write Justice Is Mind with an older audience in mind, it just turned out that way. With the average age of the actors 40+ at least the product is positioned to appeal to a more mature demographic that…ready…spends money.
The one misconception that I’ve addressed before I think needs to be stated again. A film doesn’t need to be picked up by a distributor and placed in hundreds of theatres to be considered a “movie”. Of course, I’d love to see Justice receive a theatrical release that’s handled (and financed) by a distributor, but as an independent filmmaker I can self-distribute Justice in select markets to build momentum, reviews and audiences. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting a return on investment and it doesn’t matter to me what platform that it comes from. Trust me, seeing your film on Hulu with ads running along with it is a very good thing.
With Evidence heading to additional digital platforms and with the trailer for Justice Is Mind being released in the next several days, the franchise is building. But as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and things take time. While the editing is ongoing the foundation is being built to market and distribute the finished product.
But like a house, every film has its own construction plan.