As a screenwriter, we generally write what interests us. I’ve always been fascinated with science fiction, dramas and political thrillers. Justice Is Mind is principally an intense drama that combines a solid sense of mystery and science fiction elements, while First World is primarily a science fiction adventure. My latest screenplay is a political thriller set in New England. I draw my motivation from various real world events: Justice Is Mind—advanced MRI technology; First World—the Apollo space program; the political thriller—the Cold War.
Anyone that writes a screenplay wants to see it produced. Seriously, what’s the point of writing it if you don’t want to see it come to life. But ask ten screenwriters how they want to see their work produced and I promise you you’ll get ten different answers. For me, I want to produce my own work. Both First World and Justice Is Mind were first made as short films before I raised the money for the feature film version of Justice Is Mind. Honestly, I’m glad Justice Is Mind came to life as a feature film before First World. With what I learned during the process of producing Justice I can apply that to First World from a budget and production point of view.
A friend of mine on the west coast has written a few screenplays in different genres and is only interested in having someone else produce them. As he said to me last week, “I have no interest in producing or directing.” Those are career choices we make. But I look at it like this, there are thousands of screenplays being written that are looking for a production home. I know, because I receive at least one or two pitches a week from produced screenwriters. I’m not talking just about independently produced screenwriters, I’m talking about writers that have had major studios either option or produce their work at some point during their career. The point—everyone is looking for money. Sure, I’ll produce and/or direct someone else’s work, but I won’t actively seek financing for those projects. As I’ve said before, raising money is perhaps the biggest obstacle a producer faces.
Which brings me to the title of this post—timing. When you write a screenplay, you are just hoping that it’s timed right for the market, i.e. distributors and audiences. This is something that is almost impossible to predict so you just have to go with it and hope that by the time your project is finished the market is receptive to it. But I firmly believe that regardless of the genre, there are always audiences for great films.
The news from European Film Market in Berlin this past week could not be more excellent for Justice Is Mind. As the Hollywood Reporter reports in their story, Adult-Oriented Dramas on the Rise, films that target adult media-savvy women are in demand. One market insider tells the Hollywood Reporter, “Films that appeal to a female audience are broader in appeal because the women will take men along.”
With the rough cut of Justice Is Mind nearly complete, everything is moving along nicely for a mid-summer release. In addition to our wonderful online placements of the trailer, we have been invited to show the trailer at two events in the next four weeks. On February 24 at the Actors & Movie Fest in Boston and on March 5 at Upstate Independents in Albany, New York.
As for timing, at the request of one investment group that contacted me last week, time to send the business plan out on First World. Is the time right for this to be the next project? Only time will tell.
Last night I attended the Actor’s Demo Reel Showcase by Talent Tools which turned out to be a terrific reunion with some of the actors from Justice Is Mind. Talent Tools is a company that produces demo reels, websites, resumes and other important business related services for actors (I highly recommend them). My thanks to Talent Tools owner Becki Dennis Buchman for inviting me and having me speak to the attendees. Of course what was particularly enjoyable to me was seeing some of the actors I worked with on Justice.
When I saw Richard Sewell (Joseph Miller) and then his wife Kim Gordon (Constance Smith), I was instantly brought back to our days on set and the quality of work we all produced. Also at this event from Justice was Jeanne Lohnes (Reincar executive), Mary Jane Brennan Sangiolo (juror), Paula Dellatte (secretary to Dr. Pullman) and Curtis Reed (who played the valet). Although I worked with these actors and saw their capabilities, I was really looking forward to seeing their demo reels. Suffice to say the quality of talent we have in New England continues to impress and inspire me. And now that talent is being seen far away from the Northeast in the trailer for Justice Is Mind.
This past week the trailer was picked up by Moviefone, AOL Entertainment, Huffington Post, SciFi-Movies and a variety of other platforms. Kim Gordon in particular is the face for the trailer on AOL Entertainment. The reach the trailer is receiving has already brought forward sales agents interested in licensing our foreign rights. With the rough cut now at over an hour, progress is well underway on the feature.
But whether you are a producer, actor or somewhere in between, it all comes down to marketing. For the actors, last night they were polishing their work with high quality materials for producers, casting directors and agents to see. For the work I’m now doing on Justice, it really is the same thing when presenting the project to interested distributors and sales agents. Thankfully we now live in a world where producing quality materials can be achieved without breaking the bank.
In the end though it does come down to talent and it has to start somewhere. As I mentioned last night, one doesn’t simply wake up in the morning and say “I’m important”. It takes many years of dedicated hard work to prove and hone your craft. Even more important is when we learn from each other. This is an industry that despite your experience level, there’s always room to grow. Of course that doesn’t mean that you sign up for everything but pick and chose what’s best for you. There’s a lot of companies that hang out their shingles, but like I highly recommend Film Specific for learning about distribution, the same would hold true for a company like Talent Tools for what they offer actors. Both offer completely different services, but in the end want you to look your best in an industry that takes the word competition to a whole new level.
As I mentioned to the group last night, and as I’ve stated before, the great actor Maximilian Schell said that this is an industry of chances. I think we all agree that it’s worth taking a chance for what we believe in.
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.
Having seen a rough cut of the first 43 minutes of Justice Is Mind, the story has now progressed to the FVMRI procedure. In Justice some pivotal moments take place in a medical setting. I can tell you first hand that securing medical-like locations is a herculean task all by itself. It’s not that people don’t want to work with you, there is something else that comes up like a cement wall—HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Yes, the very act that I reference in Justice that doesn’t protect capital crimes revealed during the FVMRI procedure also protects patients in the real world from having their medical information compromised. We all certainly agree that patient records needs to be protected. But in the end, it just came down to assurances that patient information won’t be breached. My continued thanks to the MRI Centers of New England in Haverhill and the Vernon Medical Center in Worcester for your support of Justice Is Mind.
As for the rough cut of what I’ve seen so far? I’m more than pleased. There is no greater satisfaction as a filmmaker than seeing words you’ve written on paper come to life. With a variety of communications going back and forth between our editor, composer and me this week, the trailer is being edited and the score is being composed. I think it’s pretty safe to say that there are a fair amount of people looking forward to seeing the trailer!
The post-production phase is just as involved as pre-production and production. While the film is being built in the editing phase, there is the entire other side of the business of marketing, public relations and distribution that needs to be planned. Film Independent has a variety of terrific forum videos that touched on numerous aspects of independent filmmaking. First and foremost with the advent of social media tools available, David Dinerstein of LD Entertainment said that filmmakers “have so many tools at their own hand that they’ve never had before to start the process as early as possible.” Continuing on that same thought, Wendy Cohen of Participant Media (Lincoln) stated “what’s this movie’s presence is going to be online is not something that should come at the end…I know this is just extra work for everybody but it has to start at the very beginning.”
With more and more production companies engaging in self-distribution of their films, building an audience early on is just part of the process. As one of the panelists stated, “I think it’s a really exciting time in the independent film space. The studios are doing Batman and Superman and Ironman…I think they’ve left everything else to independent sources of financing.” Obviously I agree with this. But with the advent of all these new tools and technologies available to a filmmaker, it comes down to what’s best for the project. Do you sell all rights, partial rights or self distribute the entire film across all channels? Maybe you sign a DVD/VOD deal but keep theatrical? I’ve known some filmmakers that have sold all rights and some that have sold partial rights. Each has a different story to tell with their respective projects.
In regard to Justice what’s now being planned is a trailer launch event and distribution of the trailer – from posting, media and distributors with an eye on where to premiere the feature film in 2013. I think one of my favorite directors (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) summed it up best when he said:
“My three Ps: passion, patience, perseverance. You have to do this if you’ve got to be a filmmaker.”
– Robert Wise