Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Posts tagged “theatrical release

“Attending” Cannes

Thousands attended the Marché du Film Online. In a world of uncertainty, the entertainment industry came together to insure the continuation of this worldwide marketplace. Of all the industry events I’ve attended over the years, Marché had the best panels that not only informed on the current state of the industry but demonstrated innovative new business models and predictions for the years to come.

One innovation that ramped up exponentially during the crisis has been the virtual cinema. With the majority of movie theaters closed around the world, some distributors joined with cinemas for a virtual experience. Customers visit their theater’s website and order a movie to view online. The revenue is split between the theater and distributor. With one distributor reporting $700K in sales from 13 movies, the early adopters certainly did well. But as another distributor stated, the early novelty dropped considerably during the last month. With restrictions easing and people going out more, the “stay at home” audiences have drastically changed in numbers.

First Signal publicity shot

Another thing that distributors learned during the last few months is that content is truly king. Films that they couldn’t previously sell, suddenly started to sell. With the proliferation of VOD platforms and offerings, new content is critical. Two tech pioneers from the Czech Republic introduced Artinii. A service that screens films in alternative settings (outdoor non-theatrical venues such as a bar or restaurant).

But all this available content on VOD also brought the conversation back to data of who is searching for and watching what. With so much of this data controlled by individual companies, it was discussed that this data should be available to all distributors to give customers what they want regardless of the platform they are watching it on. Proponents said that it would benefit everyone from the distributor to the customer. Opponent VOD platforms want to protect their data to benefit their catalog of offerings. While I understand that the platforms want to protect their own customer data, I have to believe that a neutral third party could hold general data that could be used by the industry to ascertain what’s working and what isn’t. This is why the theatrical experience is critical — distributors know by ticket sales what films are resonating in what market. Needless to say, the data debate will be going on for some time.

First Signal‘s trailer was selected as a finalist in this festival

The one thing the general public doesn’t know, is the system that brings films to audiences. Imagine the following: films are produced year one, year two they are in post and year three they wind up at a market (AFM, Cannes, etc.). A release date is set, advertising dollars are spent, the marketing and public relations machine goes into overdrive a buzz is generated. Then suddenly, without warning, the theaters shut and all marketing comes to a grinding halt. Honestly, I don’t even want to know the tens, if not hundreds, of millions that have been lost in this industry.

With some theatrical markets just opening and others in the opening planning stages, from what I heard audiences aren’t rushing back. One of the primary issues is that the system is holding back new films as nobody really wants to do a release to near empty theaters. It could also be assumed audiences don’t want to see old releases or they are still concerned about the crisis. There’s also the issue of capacity. With social distancing still employed, who can make any money on capacity limits? How can you plan a theatrical release strategy when reactionary Governors threaten to shut down states again? And, honestly, who wants to sit in a theater with a mask on for three hours? Seriously, how do you eat popcorn? I know I won’t return to a theater until masks are no longer required. Given the amount of information available, they are a prop that has no meaningful benefit in the mainstream. I want my choices of recreation to be enjoyable not overly regulated to satisfy the hysterics. In Canada and the UK they give you a choice. Hopefully, in the United States we will soon have freedom of choice (odd, I thought we did with something called our First Amendment…I digress).

First Signal publicity shot

It became quite clear during the market that release windows are rapidly changing between theatrical and VOD.  The customer wants the choice on where, when and how to watch new releases. You might not want to go to a theater and pay $14, but you may pay $19 to watch it on premium VOD at home. Cinema, however, is going to be jammed in 2021 because of the films that are being held back this year. At the end of the day films are financed by distributors in advance…they need a return.

I will say this, theatrical is critical to a movie’s success. This is where substantive revenue is made. This is where substantial press is received. Without some sort of theatrical exposure, a film gets lost among VOD offerings. One of the most thoughtful discussions was how to properly advertise a film on a VOD platform. You can advertise a film as in theaters, but VOD specific advertising is still a nascent possibility. Recognition on the platforms is critical. Just putting a film on them isn’t enough. You need audience engagement and that largely comes from a theatrical release and the media.

A panel I particularly enjoyed was when a well-known producer covered the process of constructing a proper script and presenting the package to the industry (investors, sales agents, etc.). What I loved was her no-nonsense practical approach. This is an industry about continued learning and expanding your network. It’s about meeting and working with new people.

I was generally pleased with how First Signal was received during the Marché. Several sales agents requested a screener and one sent me a deal memo to review yesterday.  In addition to submitting to a variety of festivals with 4th and 1st quarter events, I’m closely monitoring the reopening of theaters and other screening opportunities to plot strategy. Fortunately, First Signal wasn’t “caught” in the crisis from a release point of view. We were still in the fitting out phase.

In the end it was a great job by all concerned. The team behind the Marché du Film, turned the most prestigious film market in the world to a successful virtual event. But as all agreed, virtual markets won’t work for the long term. This is an industry that requires socializing. It requires in person meetings as that is the only way you can really decide if you want to work someone. You can be introduced on a video chat, but the real works starts when you meet in person.  

Live!

First Signal‘s sales card

Next Phase

Both First Signal and First Launch start at the planet Shinar

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.

As today is Mother’s Day, here I am with my mother Eleanor on the MS Queen Elizabeth

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.

Opportunity.


Right down the street from me, the entrance to the former Edgemere Drive-In


Space History

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I have been a space enthusiast ever since I was kid. I remember to this day some of the last Apollo missions to the moon, a time in our nation’s history when the United States achieved great accomplishments, when we worked through the problem to solve the impossible. But while the 1960s was a time America moved forward in the direction of science, it was far from forward when it came to civil rights.

Last night I saw the acclaimed Hidden Figures to a packed audience at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA. I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I heard about it. The story itself can best be summed up by its logline, “The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.”

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Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, was a mathematician at the Langley Research Center.

The balance in story that director Theodore Melfi achieved between the rapid progress of the space program contrasting to the glacial pace of civil rights, created not only a must see film but one with a lasting message of hope. Hidden Figures is a movie that champions the possibilities of the human race when working towards a common goal, in this case the space race between the United States and Soviet Union.  Indeed this is a movie for the history books, one that will be long remembered decades after its release.

But long remembered was another character in the film, astronaut John Glenn. This past week Glenn was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It was on February 20, 1962 that he boarded Friendship 7 at Cape Canaveral. It was this pivotal moment in the fledgling space program that was prominently featured in Hidden Figures.

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John Glenn in Friendship 7

Perhaps the one thing that made last night’s screening so memorable was the reaction of the audience when the credits started to roll—applause. When a film moves an audience to such a degree that they enthusiastically applaud that does make the journey for all those involved in making the film a worthwhile endeavor.

As I have often said, movies need to be seen in a theater. While I’ve been a champion of VOD since its inception, it is the theatrical experience that creates the event. In that moment a group of complete strangers (usually) get together for a single purpose—to be entertained.

Liftoff.

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The launch of Friendship 7


The Marquee

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There is something to be said about arriving at a theater and seeing not one but two of your films on the marquee. Yes, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. Because it is in that moment that all the work that has gone in to making a film is celebrated.

And celebrate we did. One by one family, friends, actors and crew started to arrive. Some I saw as recently as a couple of weeks ago, others it’s been a few years. But in the moment it feels like it was just yesterday. And heavens knows there were many yesterdays to get to this point!

After a reception in the lobby of the Strand Theatre, I made my opening remarks and then Justice Is Mind began. I was sitting next to Vernon Aldershoff and he said to me, “It never gets old.” No it doesn’t. And seeing the film in its highest resolution in a DCP format was another highlight.

Of course the highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program. This is one project that was particularly close to me for a variety of reasons. The moment the film started I was reminded about my days as a skater, teacher, magazine publisher and the TV work I would do around the sport. But it’s not about me, it’s about the product. One that you want audiences to enjoy.

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Serpentine: The Short Program on Amazon Prime in the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan.

And it was the next day that audiences around the world were able to stream Serpentine: The Short Program on both Amazon and the Ice Network. So far the numbers look promising and early reviews have been encouraging. But like First World ten years ago, this is an industry of the long haul. Or as we say in figure skating, the long program.

Ice Network

While VOD is a savior to the independent filmmaker, there is nothing like the theater. Because there is that one moment you’re hoping for that can only happen in a theater. To again quote from All About Eve, it was Eve Harrington that said it best, “If nothing else, there’s applause.” And they did when Serpentine: The Short Program faded to black.

Thank you.

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Some of the cast and crew from Serpentine and Justice Is Mind on March 6, 2017 at The Strand Theatre.


Launch Pad

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Serpentine: The Short Program premieres tomorrow.

The media has reported. The DVD has been tested. We have a green board on Amazon. The file has been transferred to the Ice Network. No, this isn’t LC 39 at Kennedy Space Center, it’s the preparation for the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program tomorrow night at The Strand Theatre and on Amazon and the Ice Network the following day.

When launch day, or better known in the industry as “release date” arrives for a film, that’s when the story you’ve worked on for so long is transferred to the audience. As Bill Sampson said in All About Eve, “You’re in a tin can.” Of course in this age the tin can reference is more about DCP and DVD.

This past week was just about some final details, finishing up the copy for various email templates and our official press release as part of the VOD launch on Tuesday.  The highlight was this article that appeared in The Item. While national press is great for general awareness for VOD, there’s nothing like local press that can drive traffic to a theater. This newspaper circulates in Clinton and the neighboring towns.

Tomorrow night looks to be a star studded affair with many of the actors and crew from both films attending. I have to say I love these reunions. Not only does it give everyone a chance to catch up, but to see our collective efforts on the silver screen. And then there is the overlap. Audiences will see several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind in Serpentine: The Short Program.

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But with each project comes an expanded network and new processes. While Amazon certainly existed five years ago, the opportunity to distribute directly to several countries did not. Since Evidence premiered at the Strand, the number of VOD platforms has exploded. Not only does this mean the need for programming from TV shows and movies, but the ability to rise above the crowd and be heard.

Like Evidence that resulted in Justice Is Mind, the goal with Serpentine: The Short Program is to develop enough interest to produce the feature film version this year to release after the Winter Olympics in 2018. What this comes down to is building an audience and not getting lost in the crowd. When you consider that there are 10,00050,000 films made a year, you can’t wait for an audience that may never find you, you have to tell them where you are.

As the saying goes, when opportunity knocks you take it. But none of this comes without passion, dedication and being steadfast for the long haul. A haul that can seem like forever until the day arrives.

Standby to launch.

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Cover Story

sturbridge-villager-2Whenever I secure a theatrical screening, one of my goals is to obtain local press to bring awareness to the event. Sure, there’s the requisite social media engagement and Facebook event. But there’s nothing like securing media placements. This week the Sturbridge Villager wrote a terrific cover story on Serpentine and our upcoming premiere at the Strand Theatre on March 6. Not only did reporter Olivia Richman capture the essence of the film, but my background in the sport and passion for filmmaking.

It is about passion when a theatrical screening is on the horizon. For the thousands of independent films that get made every year only a sliver receive any sort of theatrical release or even one time screening. To fully capture that exposure I always seek to have the events “officially” photographed. I’m delighted to report that David Bruno of David Bruno Event Photography will be our official photographer for the evening.

Further to the above it also simply comes down to organization. By the time the day of the event arrives my aim is to actually enjoy the evening rather than running around at the last minute trying to rectify something. This is why I no longer participate in some third party events unless they are produced by professionals. I recall one science fiction convention I was at five years ago when despite my assurance that they had a DVD projector, screen and speakers set up, they didn’t. Compounding the issue was some volunteer lecturing me that their failure was my responsibility. Understand these words, if you dare to put on the hat of producer it is your responsibility to make sure things run smoothly.

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As for distribution, next week I transfer Serpentine: The Short Program to the Ice Network. I have to say it will be great to see Serpentine on both Amazon Prime and the Ice Network. With Amazon being available to over 60 million and the Ice Network reaching figure skating enthusiasts around the world, the VOD distribution plan will bring the awareness this project needs to develop as a feature film.

Of course all these efforts with Serpentine remind me of the days when I first produced Evidence which led to production of Justice Is Mind. In some ways it seems like it was years ago (it was), in others it seems like it was yesterday. Because if it’s the one thing I endeavor to do is to promote my projects at whatever stage they are in. There are regular updates to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, pitches for development, media and presentations for distribution and screenings.

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Over the course of any given week I get Google Alerts on various subjects I track. One of them, no surprise, is for mind reading. When I received an alert for a recent article in MustTech News I pitched them Justice Is Mind for coverage. I was delighted to receive an email from them about a wonderful review they posted yesterday – “A must-watch film for those in love of thrill and science fiction!” That works!

And it’s back to work next week at the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI. I have to say I’m looking forward to falling back into the character of an NCIS Agent and working with some new actors and JAG students. Out of all the performance work I’ve done, this is the most unique. Not only is this a great acting opportunity from a role-playing point of view, but you learn something in the process about how the legal services work in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Back to base.

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Back to Newport next week!


Follow Up

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I will say one thing about frequent snowstorms in New England. It gives one plenty of time to follow up and organize. This is that time of year when one looks at their weather app not for the sun or rain, but when the next storm is coming. But go to a local grocery store the day before and you might think it’s the second coming, the day after a nuclear attack or other such apocalypse. If you’re visiting from out of the region when a storm is on the horizon, it really is something to see.

As for what’s on the horizon that would be the premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program on March 6 at the Strand Theatre and our VOD premiere on Amazon and other platforms on March 7. It’s a multi-layered marketing plan with a dual local and national push. But if it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s about the follow up.

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The day we wrapped principal photography on Serpentine: The Short Program. Sturbridge, MA November 6, 2016.

Whenever I pitch the media it always starts with an email. This gives an editor or reporter time to consider what I’m presenting. Sometimes coverage comes from just the email pitch. But I’ve found that a follow up call a few days later puts a personal touch to it. In today’s world of the endless pitch combined with the challenge of resources afforded by most outlets, a phone call can make the difference.

I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that we are bombarded by media alerts, postings, email and text on a non-stop basis when we first wake up. What’s important and what isn’t. What gets attention and what doesn’t. I do believe that when you put the personal touch of a call to what you’re presenting, it makes you stand out a bit more than the rest. Just this past week, I had some great conversations with editors about Serpentine and other interesting subjects.

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Completing the closed captions on Serpentine for Amazon.

This is the time of year of the awards shows and the film markets like Berlin. As I normally do when the markets are running, I read the daily reports in The Hollywood Reporter. They give a great insight into trends and what is and isn’t selling. It’s always interesting to me to follow a film from concept to film market to theatrical release. This is not a quick process by any means. As I’ve often said, the actual production of the film is the easy, and fun, part. It’s the pre and post production along with the release strategy that is the most time consuming. But being snowed in does give one plenty of time.

Interviews.

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A Discussion

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Herbert Fuchs and Vernon Aldershoff in Serpentine.

Tomorrow I formally announce the premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program and encore screening of Justice Is Mind for March 6. Yes, that means it begins with a press release, email newsletter and rollout of the marketing and public relations plan. This is when I substitute my director’s hat for that of distributor. In the world of being an independent filmmaker, wearing multiple hats is what’s it’s all about. My last bit as director on Serpentine are the nuances around the color correction that will be completed this week.

With our return to The Strand Theatre, I can’t help but reflect on the last several years. If I count both films, we are talking about over 220 people that have had some sort of part in bringing these projects to life. As I’ve often mentioned to fellow actors and filmmakers, the completion of films, their premieres and other associated milestones don’t happen regularly and should be embraced and enjoyed when they do. It’s very easy to read the trades and see the results of the end product, but for anyone that has produced or directed, I promise there was a long road to that point. For Serpentine, this has been a one year plus project. What started in January 2016 with the firing up of Final Draft will be seen in a month on the silver screen.

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Brooke Blahut in Serpentine.

But what March 6 will represent to me is what’s possible in the real world of independent film. I say real world, because there wasn’t a seven figure budget involved in these projects (or even six ). In the real world it’s about collaboration to make a project possible. It’s also about working with those that share your vision. It’s about pushing the envelope to the edge with the resources you have to see it come to life on the silver screen.

Speaking of the silver screen, I was reading this article in the Mirror about the new golden age of picture houses. I fondly remember the world premiere of  Justice Is Mind in 2013 at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY that was built in 1930. As for the Strand Theatre it was built in 1924 as a vaudeville theater. There’s something about their vaulted ceilings and ornate designs that make any screening in these venues a memorable one. The trend mentioned in the article can allay any fears about VOD ending the need for theaters.

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Justice Is Mind on the marquee at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY

As I’ve often stated, both theaters and VOD can easily co-exist and well they should. The industry didn’t come to end when TV was invented or when VHS came to market. In fact, they enhanced the industry. They created a secondary market for additional returns. But now it’s Amazon, Netflix and others that are in so many ways leading the industry for independent film. Who would have thought an online platform would finance a film only to have them first distribute it theatrically before landing on their platform. It’s just another example of how this industry modernizes itself without losing sight of where it all started.

But sometimes modernization comes with needed adjustment. I was delighted to learn that IMDb.com is shutting down their discussion boards. The boards were mostly a cesspool of hate filed bitter comments by faceless trolls. While the consumer review section enhances a film, the discussion boards did nothing for the experience. For a company like IMDb it’s about manpower, monitoring and deleting hate filled posts, baseless facts and lord knows what else. Oh but when they did delete, the poster cries like it’s their right to do whatever they want wherever they want. It’s not censorship it’s about defacing a property that is not yours. Try walking on to the property of your next door neighbor and shouting your opinions from the top of your lungs. You would be rightly arrested. You want your right to free speech? Go to your own Facebook page (even they have terms and conditions), start a blog, yell from your property or better yet just go to the public town square and see if anyone cares. Because until you put your name to it nobody does because you don’t exist.

Next post.


Serpentine Premiere

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Serpentine‘s VFX were completed this week.

I am pleased to announce that Serpentine will have its world premiere at the Strand Theater in Clinton, MA on March 6, 2017! Serpentine will premiere after an encore screening of Justice Is Mind. For Serpentine this will be a first, for Justice Is Mind this will mark our 22nd  screening. But it is the Strand Theater that give us our first theatrical break.

It was in 2012 and I was looking for a theater to screen Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind. It was the Strand that gave us the opportunity to screen after J. Edgar.  Over a year later Justice Is Mind had its Massachusetts premiere at the Strand. The same model is being employed for Serpentine: The Short Program.

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At our Massachusetts premiere in 2013.

A theatrical screening marks a starting point. A launch pad, if you will, into a greater marketing program. Everything in this industry is timing. It’s about striking while the iron is hot (even though the rink is cold!). For Serpentine the launch will take place between national and world figure skating championships. The goal, as it was with Evidence all those years ago, is to develop as much interest as possible to produce the feature film version this year for a 2018 release. Why 2018? The Olympic Winter games take place in South Korea next year. It’s about riding a wave of popularity post games.

With a running time of just over 12 minutes, we will be presenting the first 10 pages of the feature length screenplay. Serpentine not only features several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind and First World, but introduces actors making their debut performance. In the world of film it’s all about performance, what we see on the screen and how it comes together behind the scenes.

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Serpentine introduces Denise Marco as Elizabeth Rogers and Isabella Ramirez as Suzanne Wilson.

As for debut performance, it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with an aspiring actress and model. This week I signed with Dynasty Models & Talent for New England representation. Yes, it’s an exciting step as I continue to lay out some personal plans of my own. During my visit at the agency, the owner asked me if I had any words of wisdom for this actress.  I first offered her the back story on how I was cast in a TV show some years ago but then went on to say how you have to want to be in this industry more than anything. No matter what you want to do, it takes a one hundred percent commitment and being able to weather continuous rejection. As I’ve stated before, this is an industry of no (or no response). But when a yes does come, it makes you appreciate your hard work all the more.

They say you are only as good as your last performance. While I agree with that to a point, I believe you are only as good as who you surround yourself with. This is an industry not lacking in advice, particularly from those you never asked. In my view it’s about working with those that want to showcase their efforts with you. I’ll just say this, it is not a coincidence that I’m working with a lot of the same people from Justice Is Mind and First World to bring Serpentine to life. This project also marks a reunion of sorts with a former business partner. More on that development later.

As for development, as an independent filmmaker, theaters like the Strand are important for our continued success. That being said, the Strand has established a GoFundMe campaign to restore and upgrade their wonderful marquee. For our screening on March 6 all ticket sales will be going to the Strand (no share of box office).  As a filmmaker there is something special when you see your film in lights.

Marquee.

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The Theater

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A pitch for First World goes out this week. 

Innovation or disruption – Forbes has a nice comparison with this article. As an entrepreneur, I’m all about looking at an industry and seeing how a new product can be developed, launched and marketed. But innovation and the popular word “disruption” does need to coexist within an establishment of some sort.

Case in point when I developed a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating in 1993, I was told time and time again “don’t do it”. Why? Because at the time the sport was just used to small fan based publications that narrowly reported on the sport as an “industry”. I saw it as something for the general consumer audience that watched the sport on television and responded to direct response commercials and frequented newsstands.

At times it was like pushing a square rock up a mountain, but push I did and it soon became the world’s largest magazine for the sport at a time when figure skating was exploding in popularity. Losing the title in a boardroom battle in 2004 certainly wasn’t a career highlight, but in hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened to me because both publishing and figure skating were rapidly sinking as an industry. In “Titanic” terms I left the “ship” at Cherbourg at the apex of our influence and wasn’t on the bridge watching the ship sink.

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Imagine as the SS Leviathan in SOS United States.

Every industry goes through some sort of course correction and while print is still with us, the news is largely relegated to the web and companies either adjusted or failed. The same holds true for the entertainment industry. As filmmakers our projects are made digitally. Gone are the days of producing on film. While there are some directors that still insist on the medium, the bottom line is the invention and distribution of digital media have enabled filmmakers like myself to produce. I’m not interested in nostalgia if it means I’m relegated to the unemployment line.

When I produced Justice Is Mind I was determined to get it in to theaters. I was told time and time again I needed to go through a booker or distributor. Well unless they had a contractual lock on a theater, I discovered that theaters are all approachable. They simply require a few logical things. 1) The film meets a professional standard point of view, 2) You act as distributor and provide them with the necessary “media” of DVD/DCP, posters and artwork, 3) You will market the hell out of it to drive audiences to the theater.  The latter is actually, in all honesty, the most important. Nobody cares about your film unless you tell them to care and give them a reason to go to theater (or watch it online).

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At the Cape Cod Premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2014.

These past couple of weeks we have seen this new disruptive technology called Screening Room. Just do a search and you’ll see the myriad of industry and consumer articles. While I’m all about creating something new to drive audiences, this technology is a terrible idea. We know the moment a film is released to theaters it’s pirated. Now, imagine a service in which you can skip the theater and watch it at home the day it’s released. The image and sound is captured at a higher quality and then uploaded to the net. I for one cannot imagine an entertainment industry without the theater.

I think Netflix and Amazon finally realized that after they buy a film it needs a theatrical release component or it will simply get lost in the world of VOD. Sure it might be seen by millions on their platforms, but will anybody know? And while I’m the biggest supporter of VOD, the net of the issue is that when a film is in a theater it is considered by the press and the public differently. It is packaged, presented and showcased. It brings people together in forum that can’t be replicated in a living room. The media we secured for Justice Is Mind can be directly attributed to our theatrical release.

As for figure skating, and so many sports, while TV ratings have been challenged and fragmented, there is still an enthusiastic audience of supporters that attend the events – like a theatrical release. It is those supporters that will be at the World Figure Skating Championships in a couple of weeks in Boston—supporters that may be interested in the political thriller I’m now writing around the sport.

New audiences.

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Looking forward to attending in a couple of weeks.


First Audience

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Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper and Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo – now playing.

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.

vlcsnap-2015-02-09-09h43m41s112

Theatrical audiences for Justice Is Mind averaged 40+ in years with an even split in gender.

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.

seven-days-in-may

SOS United States can be compared to Seven Days in May (1964) meets Clear and Present Danger (1994).

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.

Next pitch.

Congressional20Hearing20room-1

“McCarthy era” like hearings on mind reading take place in In Mind We Trust , the sequel to Justice Is Mind.


New Course

The Prime Minister arrives on Commonwealth One to meet with the President.

The Prime Minister arrives on Commonwealth One to meet with the President…

Let’s make one thing clear, no matter the state of the markets there will always be films because filmmakers are a determined bunch. As independent filmmakers, we abhor gatekeepers, don’t follow the rules and can generally spot a bullshit artist before they even get onto our radar screen (as a former magazine publisher I’m really good at the latter). Yet, although the industry is changing at lightning speed, there is a still a rigidity to change at the expense of the consumer and filmmaker.

Meeting with the President in a bunker in New York State.

…in a bunker in New York State.

The reports coming out of the American Film Market were beyond telling, “It’s the lightest market in memory” “We can’t keep making films for the same size of budget. It can’t be the distributors taking all the risk. The talent has to learn to bring down their fees and bring down the budget. Take a share of the backend and share the risk” “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

None of this should be a surprise as the market indicators have been there for years. While some brilliant independent films like The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, Dallas Buyers Club and Woman in Gold have done excellent, this recent story in Variety titled, “Why Are Oscar Contenders Flopping at the Box Office?” reflects a new reality. Simply put, talent needs to take backend risks and budgets need to come down considerably or producers will not finance. The red carpet should represent accomplishment not red ink.

Intelligence reveals that a nuclear bomb may be on the SS Leviathan heading to Boston.

Intelligence reveals that a nuclear bomb may be on the SS Leviathan heading to Boston.

I have always believed that it’s story first. Without a solid story, talent can’t breathe life into it. It’s story that gives you the hook with the media. I proved this for years as a magazine publisher and with Justice Is Mind.  Sure there are the literal handful of actors that will garner media attention and move audiences to theaters. And sometimes, like we saw in the aforementioned films (along with recent Bridge of Spies), all the ingredients were there – story, talent and crew.  But when you read that there were only 10 “bankable” films out of 2,000 at AFM, you can’t help but feel for those producers and filmmakers that are sitting on completed projects waiting to find a home.

As I’ve stated before I will state again, I firmly believe that a theatrical release is critical. First, the media is more apt to report on a film that’s in a theater. Second, it builds audience awareness. Third, it generates real revenue. Sorry, while I love the art of filmmaking, I’m a capitalist.

F35

The Prime Minister orders in the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and F35s to stop the ship.

My original business plan for Justice Is Mind didn’t even call for a theatrical release. I soon realized not only the value of a theatrical release, but that theaters and audiences want to see something different. With Justice Is Mind they saw an engaging story brought to life by talented actors, filmmakers and crew. It wasn’t some theory that we brought audiences into a theatre with a public relations hook and grassroots marketing, it was a fact. It’s time to do it again.

With domestic surveillance ordered by the President, the National Security Agency soon reveals a clandestine military plot in his own government.

With domestic surveillance ordered by the President, the National Security Agency soon reveals a clandestine military plot in his own government.

While I have been presenting my slate of films to potential producers and financiers, my findings have been trending towards one particular project—SOS United States.  From real world events around surveillance, cyber-attacks and shadow governments, to various TV series and films that center around political thrillers, this project is resonating the most.

An earlier threat not to intercept the SS Leviathan becomes a reality when the United States power grid comes under a cyber attack and military satellites go dark.

An earlier threat not to intercept the SS Leviathan becomes a reality when the United States power grid comes under a cyber attack and military satellites go dark.

Having completed updates to the script last week, I’ve already started to source locations and marketing partners along with a media plan. While there has been some general interest on the equity side, it may take the same course I took with Justice Is Mind to go from script to screen – crowdfunding.

Full ahead.

To resolve the crisis the President and Prime Minister order a drone strike into a neutral country.

On the eve of a military unification treaty between the United States and United Kingdom, the President and Prime Minister order a drone strike to neutralize the crisis.


Observation Deck

The SS United States may go to Brooklyn. Imagine the world premiere of SOS United States on the ship.

The SS United States may go to Brooklyn. Imagine the world premiere of SOS United States on the ship.

This post might be observed as a continuation of The Cold Call.  As I’ve previously discussed, whether you are a studio, production company or independent filmmaker, you need investors to realize your projects.  As I stated in my opening remarks at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, without them you don’t have a project. It doesn’t matter how great it is.

Over the last few weeks, I have discovered a not so pleasant revelation of investors (hedge funds, private equity, etc.) that used to be involved in the industry but aren’t any longer.  The reasons stem from lack of returns, revenue transparency or, worse, misrepresentation. These investors that used to invest millions now invest elsewhere, and for good reason.

As filmmakers we are creators, visionaries that can illuminate a project without showing one frame on the screen. It’s what we do.  It’s not only the investor we have to sell; but the actors, crew, location, marketing partners, distributors, etc. But there is also a business side that needs to be observed to make these dreams happen in the first place.

""The controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations." More articles coming out supporting the storyline in Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust.

“The controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.” More articles coming out supporting the storyline in Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust.

The one thing I have learned with investors over the years from publishing to filmmaking is what I call an alignment of common interests. Yes, you want funding, but you also want some sort of engagement. When I was publishing magazines, my investors had a vested interest in the industry we covered. In filmmaking it can be anything from the subject of the film, the mechanics of the process or simply a pure investment play to generate a return. But in my view, it just comes down to being honest and, to be blunt, not a bullshit artist.

Yes, I will tell you point blank that I can make $1,000 look like $50,000 on screen and back it up with the talent involved and technology shop talk. But I will not tell you that we will get selected for Sundance and all rights deal that includes a wide theatrical release. But what I will state is how I accomplished a theatrical run and VOD distribution for Justice Is Mind. I’ll then mention the various companies I would use to facilitate this process for the next project. In other words, transparency.

If a teen can hack the CIA's directors personal email, then the storyline in SOS United States is not only plausible by real.

If a teen can hack the CIA’s directors personal email, then the storyline in SOS United States is not only plausible but real.

As I filmmaker I couldn’t have asked for better investors in Justice Is Mind.  First, as they are in business for themselves, they were realists and enjoyed both the excitement and challenges that come with any new business. And a film, even a low budget indie, is a business.

The one area they found particularly interesting was distribution. Rightly so, they wanted to know how Justice Is Mind was going to market. While the business plan spelled out our primary method at the time, during the production of Justice Is Mind a company I was going to work with changed their business model that didn’t align with ours. This is when it comes down to adaptability and looking for new avenues. Those avenues led us to a limited theatrical run, an international premiere on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, solid media coverage and VOD distribution. Yes, we all want more, but the one thing this industry takes is time—time to build relationships, new projects and getting them to market.

Full ahead.

With my two investors at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind.

With my two investors at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind.


Social Justice

"Especially, IN MIND WE TRUST, I really liked the concept." said a distributor this week.

“Especially, IN MIND WE TRUST, I really liked the concept.” said a distributor this week.

For those of us that market products in the modern world, we know that social media is a vital component for any marketing plan. But we also know the highs and lows that such platforms bring. This past week, I read a fascinating article titled Why Twitter’s Dying. While Twitter’s economics have been in the news as of late, the article spoke to a broader issue around social media platforms and the general abuse of its users. This article is really worth a read because everyone I talk to is thinking about the points this author raises.

Madam Secretary   MadamSecretary    TwitterBut while social media can have its pitfalls, it also can bring substantive rewards. Last Sunday I sent a tweet about my favorite show Madam Secretary. The official Twitter account for the show retweeted mine resulted in over 6,000 impressions.  Yes, pretty impressive for something that just took me about a minute to generate. But on the other side, when I was trying to locate a photo and went into the archive on Justice Is Mind’s Facebook page I found a horribly derogatory comment from an actor that auditioned for the film. Yes, I deleted it. Sadly, jealousy and bitterness is a large part of the abuse on these platforms. Social media, to quote Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, “It’s a sword. It cuts both ways.”

An outpouring of traditional and social media may save the SS United States.

An outpouring of traditional and social media may save the SS United States.

Certainly social media has assisted in marketing Justice Is Mind and my other projects, but the real driver is press. Anyone can post to social media (and even buy “likes”), but reporters are still the gatekeepers to their audiences, audiences built the old fashioned way by delivering content their customers want to read, customers that have either been acquired by a paid subscription, advertising or both. None of us in their right mind would pay for a social media platform, but we still pay for a subscription to a media outlet in one form or another. You are either going to shell out some money or sit through an ad. Content isn’t free.

But content is what this is all about isn’t it? If you don’t have interesting engaging content, nobody is going to care. Filmmaking is about developing content and we have seen a seismic shift in how it’s marketed and distributed. Just this week, Paramount Pictures announced a new release experiment of shortening the theatrical release window of the latest Paranormal Activity film before it goes to VOD. Will it work? Who knows because VOD numbers are a  guarded secret in the industry.

The Huffington Post. A promoted post on Facebook reached over 3,900.

Justice Is Mind in The Huffington Post. A promoted post on Facebook reached over 3,900.

While VOD is the primary gateway towards distribution for so many films, I strongly believe that a theatrical release of some sort is critical. Not only do reporters take a film more seriously if it’s “in theaters” but you are developing an audience along the way that can only help when you arrive on VOD. But like all things in this industry, you have new companies looking to exploit the promises of VOD distribution at the expense of the filmmaker. Yet again this week I received an email from a well-known distributor/aggregator claiming the benefits of working with them but paying upfront for distribution to platforms. Seriously upfront.

The film industry is just like the world of magazine and book publishing, companies promising the literal Moon without any skin in the game. As a well known writer said in her latest email newsletter about service companies in her industry, “They claim to make your journey easier, more profitable, give you access to people you’d never meet otherwise. What you don’t realize is that many of them are simply attempting to make a buck off your eagerness.”

Next Post.

Time flies. It was three years ago this past week that Justice Is Mind wrapped production.

Time flies. It was three years ago this past week that Justice Is Mind wrapped production.


The Agenda

Justice

I’ve always had an agenda. My present agenda is pretty obvious, getting one or more of my slate of film projects into development.  When I was reading about Joel Silver’s financing saga, it reminded me of the countless projects I am aware of that are in the development stage or still looking for a distribution home.

From government and commercial space program interests, to military and political conflicts to the mysteries of neuroscience and reincarnation, the market for First World, SOS United States and In Mind We Trust (the sequel to Justice Is Mind) is most certainly there. What it simply boils down to is equity. Ask any filmmaker, even the ones on the recently released The 30 Most Powerful Film Producers in Hollywood in the Hollywood Reporter, it doesn’t matter the size of the project they all require some equity.

IN MIND WE TRUST, the sequel to JUSTICE IS MIND involves the CIA and NSA in Germany.

IN MIND WE TRUST, the sequel to JUSTICE IS MIND, involves the CIA and NSA in Germany.

But it’s more than just cash, it’s the ability to see a project through from start to market. Notice I didn’t say “finish”. Yes, it’s all very exciting making a film and being on set, but none of it matters if the film isn’t released or distributed. It saddens me when I see a project I’m familiar with, or have been tracking, get sidelined for whatever reason. Look, make no mistake about it, filmmaking is not easy. The commitment level it takes is in years, not months, if you hold the title of writer, producer or director.

In FIRST WORLD there's an installation on the Moon. The European Space Agency is proposing to build a Moon base.

In FIRST WORLD there’s an installation on the Moon. The European Space Agency is proposing to build a Moon base.

In my business plans it’s stated that my commitment to a project once it gets the greenlight is, at minimum, two years. Look at Justice Is Mind as an example. Script was written in 2010, short film produced in 2011, feature film produced in 2012, released in 2013 and marketed through 2015 (and beyond). Studios understand this level of commitment or else they wouldn’t have a library of films. Seriously, how long does it take to update a Facebook page or post to Twitter? It’s one thing coming across a website, but nothing screams abandoned like a social media account that hasn’t been updated in months or years. This is an industry of perception.

I often reflect on my early efforts with First World. I wrote the script in 2006 and produced the short film version later that year. The film was released in 2007 and I spent over three years marketing the film that resulted in twenty screenings along with a DVD and VOD release. As of this writing, First World is still generating strong VOD sales.

But my current agenda is just that, an agenda I need to put together for a production meeting this week.

Presenting.

The National Review reported that the U.S. Navy is accessing how it projects power - a central theme in SOS UNITED STATES.

The National Review reported that the U.S. Navy is accessing how it projects power – a central theme in SOS UNITED STATES.


The Ashton Slate

In SOS United States the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier intercepts the SS Leviathan ocean liner.

In SOS United States the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier intercepts the SS Leviathan ocean liner.

With the business plan for In Mind We Trust completed, work now begins again in earnest to market my slate of films for development, The one thing I have learned about this industry since I made First World, and during my time as a magazine publisher, is that investment can come from anywhere at any time. They key, as I learned with Justice Is Mind, is to be ready when the time is right.

Christopher Nolan said it best in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of weeks ago when talking about his career, “The thing that happens to a lot of people is that you get that opportunity, somebody says, ‘I really loved your film, what else do you have?’ And if you don’t have anything, or if you’ve just got vague ideas, it’s very difficult to take advantage of that moment, and that moment doesn’t come around again,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on it.” Obviously, I agree.

In In Mind We Trust "McCarthy Era" Congressional hearings on mind reading take place.

In In Mind We Trust “McCarthy Era” Congressional hearings on mind reading take place.

My feature length screenplay First World worked great to make the short film version in 2006. Yes, that project as a feature is years in development, but the short film version is in the market and the script award nominations have served as a great foundation. Just over the last couple of months, sales of the short film have tripled from this time last year and China is moving along at breakneck speed with their space program. Timing is better now to present. As this article on Hollywood.com shows, some projects just take time to develop.

The idea for SOS United States came to me when I was in the process of managing the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind. I’ve always loved the political thrillers made during the Cold War. The idea of developing a story that pits the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as they deal with a potential nuclear device on a commercial ocean liner bound for Boston, certain reflects the political and military tensions we see in the world today.

In First World the story revolves around NASA's Apollo 11 mission and what was discovered on the Moon and then classified.

In First World the story revolves around NASA’s Apollo 11 mission and what was discovered on the Moon and then classified.

But it was the sequel to Justice Is Mind that called to me this past November. I always figured that, “someday I would write a sequel”. But I didn’t know it would develop so quickly. For me, when I get an idea I just need to run with it. The result is In Mind We Trust. With a story that reunites a number of the original characters from Justice with new characters against the world covert surveillance, government power, reincarnation and the horrors of World War II, the screenplay, like Justice Is Mind, is a demonstration of competing genres that I believe work well together. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “Mark Lund’s film is a thriller-gone-courtroom-drama-gone-sci-fi.  Such extreme shifts in genre should not work. But they more than work in this case.”

Through all this is the navigation of a changing industry and the needs, interests and wants of investors. As I learned from my original investor in my old publishing company, to my backers on Justice Is Mind, these things take patience and perseverance and being ready when the time is right. It’s about staying a course that is true to the projects and to never capitulate.

Full ahead.

The foundation for the business plan for In Mind We Trust is expanding on the theatrical release of Justice Is Mind.

Like Justice Is Mind, the business plan for In Mind We Trust calls for a theatrical release. 


The Business

The CIA is at the center of the story in the sequel to Justice Is Mind - In Mind We Trust.

The CIA is at the center of the story in In Mind We Trust.

Picking up where I left off last week, having been given a trial subscription to Variety Insight and Vscore, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive service and does, as the name suggests, offer a wealth of insight.  Like IMDB, Vscore rates popularity of actors across a “variety” of sources. From TV, film, awards and social media, an actor’s entire career is given a score.

This weekend I started to write the business plan for In Mind We Trust. While I’m modeling it after my plan for SOS United States, I did take a review of my original business plan for Justice Is Mind that I wrote in 2011. Needless to say some updates are in order.

When I wrote the plan for Justice Is Mind, it called for no theatrical release and signing with one distributor for VOD. So what changed? Theatres are embracing independent film (thus our theatrical release) and that distributor I was going to sign with changed its revenue model so now the payout to filmmakers is literal pennies based on minutes viewed. Terrible for the filmmaker but gangbusters for the distributor. Needless to say, they aren’t distributing Justice Is Mind.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth, that's seen in SOS United States, will start sea trials next year.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth, that’s seen in SOS United States, will start sea trials next year.

Putting aside the story itself for a moment, In Mind We Trust is a unique film from the point of view of the characters. In addition to bringing back the majority of the stars, co-stars and some featured characters from Justice Is Mind, new starring, co-starring and featured roles now exist in In Mind We Trust.  The goal is to attract some “named” talent to these parts for marketability.

While the industry has changed from a distribution point of view, and while you can get distribution with talented although largely “unknown” actors, the fact does remain that named talent does bring sales and marketing cache to a project. In addition, it also opens up additional distribution opportunities. However, as we have all seen, there is simply no guarantee of success one way or another. That being said, it’s about complimenting these roles with actors that would bring some gravitas to the characters without taking away from the overall story. In other words, not just putting in “so and so” to say we have “so and so”.

From the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Senator Caraway, General Blair and Hilma Miller, there are some great opportunities for named talent to be part of In Mind We Trust working alongside some of the actors that brought Justice Is Mind to life. Indeed, I can just imagine the marketing and public relations possibilities of such a pairing!

The goal, of course, is to put together a plan that’s not only attractive to financiers but making sure it reaches the right parties. This is the process that can take some time. Indeed, it took over a year to find the investors that saw my vision for Justice Is Mind. The great thing about In Mind We Trust is that Justice Is Mind has done well in the marketplace. It proves that there’s an interest in the original story that I’m looking to expand upon with the sequel.

Next chapter.

In the sequel to Justice Is Mind, the story centers around Reincar Scientific's involvement with the CIA.

In the sequel to Justice Is Mind, we see Reincar Scientific’s involvement with the CIA.


Next Move

Judge Wagner-page-0

This morning I was reading the Hollywood Reporter’s excellent profile on filmmaker Christopher Nolan. I loved his quote, “If you want to make a calling card, you go to Kinkos. You don’t spend three years of your life putting a film together”. That could not be truer when making a feature film.

For the Justice Is Mind “project” it started in 2010 with the script, 2011 with the short, 2012 with the feature and 2013 to the present for the release and general marketing. Simply put, filmmaking is a long tail business. Yes, it’s all very exciting and “cool” to be shooting a film, but these are projects that we are married to for years. By example, my first short film First World was produced in 2006 and released in 2007. It’s 2015 and revenue is still coming in on monthly basis. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the value in a film library. I just have three films in my library, but imagine a company with hundreds of titles all earning some sort of revenue on a monthly basis.

With First World under consideration and SOS United States completed at the script stage, I just passed the 95 page mark on the sequel (yes, I have a title) to Justice Is Mind.  The story, is much bigger in terms of scope. Instead of a trial in Massachusetts, we are at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.  Am I ready to release the title and logline? Not yet. While I’m happy where the story is going, I always remain “open minded” on direction.

It was reported a couple of weeks ago that an agreement has been reached to redevelop SS United States. In SOS United States the SS Leviathan is modeled after the great liner.

It was reported a couple of weeks ago that an agreement has been reached to redevelop the SS United States. In SOS United States the SS Leviathan is modeled after this great liner.

For me writing and developing a story is like playing chess.  The pieces of your story might move in a typical fashion at the start, and just when you think I’m going to give you what you want, I’m going to turn it. As Unsung Films said about Justice Is Mind, “And this is when the film changes gear for one last time, turning into a science fiction tale – unexpectedly and viciously.” Yes, there will be a couple of unexpected turns in the sequel. But like Justice Is Mind, the clues start early.

China's Yutu rover on the Moon.  In First World, China announces its first manned mission to the Moon in 2018 - four years ahead of schedule.

China’s Yutu rover on the Moon. In First World, China announces its first manned mission to the Moon in 2018 – four years ahead of schedule.

One of the reasons why I admire Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker is because he creates original stories that resonate (I loved Inception). Personally, I’m really over the homogenized films that are created to appeal to the widest possible audience, but don’t tell a story.  Seventy years later Laura is still a great film. Likewise with the 1968 production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s what we call long tail!

According to the Hollywood Reporter 2014 box office was down 5% from last year marking the biggest drop off in nine years. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. I just know from the audiences that saw Justice Is Mind, they want original stories. I understand the economics of why a studio spends $150 million on one motion picture, but imagine dividing that budget by 10? We know there are all kinds of original stories just waiting to be told.  In the end it comes down to what audiences want to see and how they want to watch.

Yes, I have gone to Kinkos. To print scripts.

the drama continues-page-0


The Crowd

What happens to Henri Miller in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

What happens to Henri Miller in the sequel to Justice Is Mind?

It was one year ago yesterday that Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in Beverly Hills, California and it was just over a week ago that we had our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. In a sea of films looking for attention, my goal since day one with Justice was to make every attempt to stand out from the crowd. Just take a read of the AFM dailies, there are a dizzying amount of films looking for attention and distribution.

I have never been one to follow the crowd. I don’t believe in doing what everyone else does just to be “in” or perceived as “popular”.  Conformity has never been my strong suit. Ask anyone that has followed my career from publishing to film, I have always carved a niche for my projects.

What of the judges and lawyers when memory becomes the rule of law?

What of the judges and lawyers when memory becomes the rule of law?

I believe the verdict is in on Justice Is Mind. Having been screening the film theatrically for over a year the majority of audiences and reviewers have enjoyed the film.  Audiences didn’t care about the “star power” of the characters. They just wanted to see a good story. Honestly, I don’t know why distributors (particular foreign sales agents) don’t understand that as well.  On the Queen Elizabeth that was the test. An international audience from all over the world that applauded when the film ended. It wasn’t about the stars in the film, it was about the story in the film. Thankfully, the industry is changing and rightly so.

What is Reincar Scientific doing with these memories? What does the United States Department of Homeland Security want?

What is Reincar Scientific doing with these memories? What does the United States Department of Homeland Security want?

Unbelievably the trend as of late is that there’s plenty of capital but not enough bankable talent to sell the films into foreign markets. One industry executive quoted in Variety stated “From a financing perspective, it’s never been better. But it’s not about the money; it’s about the talent. The challenge right now in the independent market is getting talent to commit and stay committed”. But films are still being financed. One look at an AFM daily or the thousands of films that are produced every year contradicts that assertion. I think what this comes to is looking for the perfect project. Dear God we know that doesn’t exist because there’s one factor that no actor, producer, director, distributor, sales agent or investor can gauge…the audience.

What brings Margaret Miller to Germany and Italy.

What brings Margaret Miller to Germany and Italy.

With the rise of VOD, theaters hungry for films that tell a good story (the building in China is off the charts) and unique screening opportunities (like we did with Justice on the Queen Elizabeth), Justice Is Mind proved that a quality story works in the market from theatrical, VOD and special events. All this without “star” actors.  When I was publishing many years ago I was told time and time again that nobody would read my magazines without known writers. Really? That’s why I had the number one magazines in our market.  Don’t follow the crowd, make the crowd.

In SOS United States an ocean liner races across the Atlantic Ocean and with it the possibility of a nuclear device that pits the United States and United Kingdom on brink of war.

In SOS United States an ocean liner races across the Atlantic Ocean and with it the possibility of a nuclear device and war between the United States and United Kingdom.

As a diehard fan of cinema from classics to contemporary, I have nothing against “stars” but projects shouldn’t be defined around “A” list talent. We all know that at the end of the day it comes down to what the audience wants.

Perhaps the best advice I ever received was to have a few different projects at the ready because you really don’t know what will resonate at the right time. I have First World, a science fiction epic; Justice Is Mind, a psychological sci-fi thriller and SOS United States, a political thriller. With Justice Is Mind produced and distributed, today I continue to market that film while presenting First World and SOS United States to interested parties to secure production. Tomorrow, I start to write the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

Next chapter.

In First World, China announces its first manned mission to the Moon - four years ahead of schedule.

In First World, China announces its first manned mission to the Moon – four years ahead of schedule – which unravels a worldwide cover up of what Apollo 11 discovered in 1969.


The Interview

One Man's Trial-page-0

Since Justice Is Mind premiered last August I’ve been interviewed by a variety of reporters. Whether they were about the legal aspects, the loss of privacy or the science fiction of the FVMRI procedure, each one of these interviews had a particular angle. For the record, I am beyond thankful for each article. As a former magazine publisher I know how inundated editors and reporters are from the countless pitches they receive.  When they take the time to write about our independent film it makes this journey all the more special.

This past week I was interviewed by a reporter who asked me what my motivation was to make Justice Is Mind given how hard this industry is. My answer came quick, “To see it accomplished.” When one thinks of the numerous obstacles one must overcome to produce, complete and distribute a feature film, there is an innate sense of satisfaction seeing a project years in the making go from thought to screen. I remember sitting next to my best friend and her husband who backed the film in Albany, NY at our world premiere, and being beyond excited to see the start of Justice Is Mind on the big screen. Indeed, I know this excitement was shared with the over 200 people involved to make Justice Is Mind a reality.

First World starts when President Kennedy addresses a  joint session of the United States Congress on May 25, 1961.

First World starts when President Kennedy addresses a joint session of the United States Congress on May 25, 1961.

As I’ve said before, I’ll say again, navigating this industry is not easy by any stretch. No matter what side of the camera you are on, the competition is endless. I shudder to think how many times we all heard the word “no” throughout our respective journeys.  A couple of weeks ago when a parent asked me what advice I could offer his son who wanted to be an actor, I offered the same answer a producer gave me when I was 18, “You have to want this industry more than anything.” Watch the movie All About Eve when the character Bill Sampson sums up what it takes.

The next two months will be nicely busy for Justice Is Mind. With our Cape Cod premiere on September 18 at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, the Viewster Online Film Festival from September 11-25 and our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, the journey continues.  Part of this journey was the Chatham Orpheum Theater’s press release. Check it out at this link.

In SOS United States a Cyber Pearl Harbor cripples the nation's military satellites.

In SOS United States a Cyber Pearl Harbor cripples the nation’s military satellites.

And while Justice Is Mind is introduced to new audiences, I continue to present First World and SOS United States. When I set out to write a screenplay, I write a story that’s interesting to me. Who would have thought that when Justice Is Mind was released that mind-reading and loss of privacy would be so front and center in the news. With First World it has been interesting to see where China is today with their space program versus when I wrote the script in 2006. As for SOS United States, who could have guessed that the military situations I presented in that story are so prevalent now. But putting that all aside, if it’s one thing I learned about investors, the pitch process is never the same as they all have different motivations.  Adaptability is key.

The voyage continues.

Justice Is Mind - Chatham - September 18, 2014


Commercial Projection

Justice Is Mind test screening. Date and venue to be announced.

Justice Is Mind test screening. Date and venue to be announced.

For those of us that are independent filmmakers we are inundated with more and more information on the direction of this business. In my point of view it comes down to what’s best for your own project and not the dictates of others. Coming off our highest theatrical attendance, I actually received an email from a filmmaker, who of course was selling their services, claiming “…you can forget a theatrical release if you don’t have a named actor.” Putting aside the fact that Justice Is Mind has had 10 theatrical screenings to date, this claim just smacks of sheer ignorance because there are simply too many films that have disproved this. Certainly named actors are a great assist for foreign sales, but how many articles and statistics have stated otherwise particularly when it comes to domestic sales?

There was a great article that was posted on Truly Free Film about the number of bad deals out there for filmmakers. Again, in my view, it just comes down to being careful because once you sign away your rights they are gone. Every filmmaker has different goals and objectives with their project. The great thing about this industry now is the number of ways to get your film seen by audiences. Because at the end of the day nothing else matters if audiences are not embracing your film.

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As we are finalizing our VOD plans with a distributor, our box office gross numbers were also released this week to demonstrate the commercial appeal of Justice Is Mind as platforms consider the film.  Our theatrical screenings have afforded us the opportunity to generate media and a following prior to VOD release. I did a simple search on Google today under “Justice Is Mind” movie and over 600,000 results were returned. What’s the makeup for all these entries? Who knows, but I think it shows that our independent film has some legs to stand on.  When I read that an estimated, 50,000 films are made year, I’ll take our 538 rank for the past 365 days.

Over the course of any given week I see the relentless promotion some filmmakers do with their projects and my work on Justice Is Mind is no exception. The only magic to this business is hard work with the goal that audiences will enjoy your film. With Justice I could not be more thankful to the cast, crew, location and marketing partners that keep pushing this project forward. Just this week, through the introduction of someone part of Justice, we had another test screening at a theatre. I hope to announce that date soon.

What I find exciting in this business is the inventiveness you see with filmmakers to make their projects a reality.  From writing, producing and distributing, there’s always something new to be learned and experienced.  On that note, I’m particularly looking forward to our next screening at Carnegie Mellon University on April 28.

Justice in Pittsburgh!

Carnegie


Justice In Sturbridge

Cinemagic Movies

I’m pleased to announce that Justice Is Mind will screen on March 24 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. As some of you may remember we worked with Cinemagic on our New Hampshire premiere last December. I could not be more appreciative and thankful for their support of Justice and independent film.

Whenever we announce a screening it is a mobilization of the army of supporters that have made all our screenings possible, from our cast and crew to the numerous enthusiasts we have been building over the last year. No sooner did I announce the screening than friends of mine in Sturbridge sent notice to their friends and so on. Simply put the marketing and exhibition of a feature film is not a one person show. So with our press release out and our Facebook event page set up, the process now begins to present the screening to the media and local businesses.

Today also marks another milestone. I finished the business plan for SOS United States. Thus, I have more work cut out for me as I look to secure investors in that project. Someone asked me the other day about First World and how that is coming along. Believe me, that’s not a project I have forgotten about. In fact, I’ve started to revisit it with some concept art and plan to start presenting that project again as early as next week. Certainly with China showing real progress in their space program, the timing for the story is certainly better. And that’s what it all comes to in this business – timing.

The Synedrion Council Chambers in First World. Concept art by Pixel Eight Design.

The Synedrion Council Chambers in First World. Concept art by Pixel Eight Design.

In the trades we read about the films being green lit, but not so much about the long journey to get there.  For example, the acclaimed Black Swan took ten years to make and the long journey of Dallas Buyers Club has been well reported.

There’s no question that there’s a variety of literal chaos going on the industry. I try to keep up with the latest by reading a variety of trade publications but in the end you just have to go along with what you think is best. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, there is no perfect formula. It doesn’t happen that way in this business. Producing a film, even studio material, is a speculative venture at best but we do it because we love doing it.

As we venture into our tenth theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind, I am reminded about all the wonderful screenings we have had and the support they have received. These are not easy feats to achieve. They take more work than you can imagine. But in the sea of storms the industry waxes on about, there is a calmness that takes over a screening when a film starts to roll on the big screen.

“My three Ps: passion, patience, perseverance. You have to do this if you’ve got to be a filmmaker.” – Robert Wise

Indeed.

Justice Is Mind - March 24 - Cinemagic


On Tour

strand 008As I drove to the Strand Theatre in Clinton on Monday, I was wondering just how many people would show. At our premiere in Albany at the Palace a few weeks earlier the audience was largely “friends and family” so there was an immediate comfort level. And that was a good thing to launch Justice Is Mind.

I arrived in Clinton at 5 PM and drove past the Strand. And there it was on the marquee all by itself Justice Is Mind. Yes, I saw it running on the marquee in Albany, but we were part of a festival there. Here, it was only for us, only for Justice. A film I first started alone at my desk that has now swelled to over two hundred was playing at a theatre. And earlier that day when our IMDB listing reflected the showing, it somehow felt like we arrived.

Walking through the lobby I saw our poster included with other film memorabilia and first run feature films. For me, I have dreamed of this since childhood – a film of mine was playing in a theatre. After I met with owners Rob and Bill and gave them the DVD, I met with our photographer and started going over the evening. Yes, ever the producer and director!

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(l-r) Shannon McNamara, Mary Wexler, Kim Merriam, Mark Lund, Vernon Aldershoff and Michele Mortensen at the Massachusetts premiere.

And then the audiences started to arrive. A nice amount of familiar faces including several key actors with the film. A special thank you to actors Vernon Aldershoff, Mary Wexler, Michele Mortensen, Kim Merriam, Shannon McNamara and Bob Leveillee. Not only where there friends, family and location partners that turned out, but regular theatre goers who wanted to see what Justice Is Mind was all about. In total, we had 150 attend the Massachusetts premiere and I couldn’t have been more pleased. The verdict? Generally all positive comments and audiences seemed to genuinely enjoy the film. In my view, the postings on social media pages spoke for themselves.

Not one to rest (much), I was up in Ogunquit, ME on Wednesday promoting our next screening on September 28 at the Leavitt Theatre. Walking to just over 30 hotels and businesses with a film poster and press release in my hand, I presented Justice to as many people as I could. Yes, it was boots on the ground (OK, Nike) as I told complete strangers about a film of mine that was having its Maine premiere in their town. They were all welcoming and I had some great conversations with so many. While social media is great to pitch the masses, there is nothing like a face to face presentation.

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Bob Leveille, who plays Mr. Oxford in Justice and owns Pizza Post a location we used, with Mark Lund.

After walking my legs off (like Mildred Pierce did in the movie of the same name), I met up with a filmmaker friend of mine for coffee. Shortly after, we went to the Leavitt to test run Justice. My friend made the introduction and got us the deal. What I thought was going to just be a 10 minute test turned into an hour. Both of them enjoyed what they saw on the big screen. If it wasn’t for dinner plans they both had, I think we would have had a complete test run of Justice!

Justice Is Mind - The Leavitt Theatre - Ogunquit, ME - September 28, 2013.

Justice Is Mind – The Leavitt Theatre – Ogunquit, ME – September 28, 2013.

Yes, this week was a good one. But for all the good, you sometimes have to deal with the not so good. I’m not one that deals with negative people very well, in fact I avoid it whenever possible. There are great challenges in any business, particularly in this industry. As I start to work on my Independent Filmmaking: Script to Screen presentation next weekend for Talent Tools “Back to School for Actors” program one thing I will encourage for all attendees is to never give up, hold your head up high and rise above those that don’t share your vision and passion. At the end of the day I have a film to either write, make or promote and if you’re in my way I promise you I will just run you over.

Next stop – Ogunquit!

Some Justice on display in Ogunquit, ME

Some Justice on display in Ogunquit, ME…with permission!


Raising an Army

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With a successful world premiere now behind us, we begin to execute plans that have long been on the drawing board. But like a military campaign there are always adjustments. Whether these be for time, commitment, resources or opportunity, marketing and releasing a film is all about, in my view, calculation. Short of it, where are we likely to have the most success and impact on an audience and revenue front.

First and foremost you need your supporters. With over two hundred people involved in Justice Is Mind, there is a dedicated team that wants to see the film succeed. Moving on that front, we look to theatres to engage audiences to spread the word. With four theatres screening Justice over the next few months (and more on the horizon), the purpose is clear – develop support and awareness of the film.  As the majority of our group is based in the Northeast screenings in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Maine have been secured.  While the theatrical “engagement” is moving forward, our screenings at science fiction conventions and law schools in North America will commence in October.

Henri Miller enjoys a cigar in Justice Is Mind.

Henri Miller enjoys a cigar in his library.

And like a military campaign, there are those “confidential” conversations that go on behind closed doors. When do we do this? What do we need? How much will that cost? I had a conference call this week with a company that is widely popular (for now) in a particular area of the industry. While there may be a “cool” factor working with them I will admit going it alone in this area may make more sense. Why?  Because we are making it work on our own without any “red tape”.  Suffice to say, I have some documents and licensing agreements to read.

One area I have been widely supportive of since the technology came together is VOD (Video on Demand) and streaming media in general.  Put simply, these platforms work great for independent filmmakers. First “day and date release” strategies are almost de rigueur with independent films nowadays.  That being said, it won’t be too long before I can announce that Justice Is Mind is heading to a particular digital platform(s). Consider the logic in the strategy. Someone goes to a screening of Justice Is Mind in a theatre, convention or law school. They like the film and tell their friends, co-workers and family.  Some of them do a search and see that the film is available on Amazon, Vudu, Xbox, etc. A few clicks and presto instant audience. Why am I so supportive of this technology? Because filmmakers make money. I still receive a monthly deposit from Amazon for First World. And then there were the remittances from Hulu when that film ran on their platform for a couple of years.

Major historical events are revisited in Justice Is Mind.

Major historical events are revisited in Justice Is Mind.

With our next screening on September 16 at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA followed by September 28 at The Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, ME, this will be a particularly busy month.  I will say bringing an oversized Justice Is Mind poster to The Strand Theatre was exciting. Let’s be honest, what filmmaker doesn’t want to see their film poster in the window and then screen in an actual theatre! Even better, we screened the short film at The Strand in 2012 so it’s like going home. As for Ogunquit? That Maine resort town has been my favorite for decades. Screening a film in Ogunquit is truly an honor.  But even more importantly, we need to support these independent theatres. With the industry converting to digital projection, the cost factor to convert can be a high mountain for these theatres to climb so every ticket sale helps!

A new science will present the present with the past.

A new science reveals the present with the past.

September 28 will be what I call a full day. I’m pleased to announce that Becki Dennis, who runs Talent Tools, has asked me to host a workshop titled Independent Filmmaking: Script to Screen as part of her Back to School for Actors program.  I look forward working with her troops.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve noticed my speaking in quasi-military terms as part of this post.  With my next screenplay being a political thriller, let’s just say world military deployment research has been front and center.

Captain on the bridge.

To learn the story, see Justice Is Mind on at The Strand Theatre.

See the story unfold at The Strand Theatre on September 16!