July 20 should be a national holiday because it marks an unprecedented milestone in the history of the human race – the day we set foot on the Moon in 1969.
Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to look at their home, the planet Earth, from 238,000 miles away. July 20, 1969 marked the very pinnacle of research, science and mankind’s determination to explore the unknown when Armstrong famously said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Yet, sadly, there are those ignorant dangerous fools that still believe the manned missions to the Moon were a hoax. Somehow an achievement that exceeded the mysterious building of the Great Pyramids was created by the Hollywood studios. It’s unbelievable to me in today’s day and age that such ignorance permeates our existence. When evidence is there for everyone to hear and see, they turn deaf and blind by deliberate choice. Some of these misguided morons have tried to post their so-called views on First World’s Facebook page. Thankfully it’s called a delete and ban.
Yes, as you can surmise I feel very strongly about the aforementioned. For if there is one thing the Apollo space program taught us was that anything is possible if we remain singularly focused on just such a mission. In the 1960s there’s no question that the United States government was motivated to compete against the then Soviet Union. Say what you want, but that was a healthy competition because the fruits of all those scientists lay in the very technology we enjoy today.
But decades before Apollo 11 there were the steps of over 300,000 allied soldiers that were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Battle of Dunkirk is well known as a substantial turning point in World War II and has been brought back to life by Hollywood.
Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk is most certainly a must-see film. But more importantly it is a history lesson for those that may not know the story. It is a story about what’s possible when faced with the impossible. How do you evacuate over 300,000 people off a beach? The answer was as miraculous as it was obvious—you mobilize a fleet of small civilian boats to effect a rescue.
While I greatly enjoyed Nolan’s version of Dunkirk, if anything because it reintroduced this critical moment in world history to 21st century audiences, I found myself enjoying the 1958 version better. For me it provided a larger backstory as it followed several characters between England and France until they arrived on the beaches of Dunkirk.
But whether you liked the 1958 version over the 2017 entry isn’t important. What’s important is that these films are watched. What’s important is that we learn from history. Who would have thought back in 1940 that the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany (and Japan) would someday become great allies in years to come? For it’s allies that truly unite mankind. Building off that first step on the Moon, modern day space programs are a coalition of cultures.
Today is Independence Day in the United States. We refer to it as the Fourth of July. 241 years ago the United States declared its independence as a sovereign nation from the British Empire. As we know, the United Kingdom has been one of our strongest allies for over a century and is referred to as the “special relationship” between the two countries.
As for the United States and United Kingdom, this past weekend I traveled to the Maritime Museum in Fall River, MA (the museum is now part of Battleship Cove). After seeing the 1953 movie Titanic, I learned that the model from the movie was on display at the museum. And as Battleship Cove had some new exhibits, it was time for another visit.
It’s impossible not to learn about the many joint cooperative efforts between our countries over the centuries. The United States connection to the Belfast built RMS Titanic is well known along with the numerous campaigns during World War I and World War II. The USS Massachusetts participation in Operation Torch in November 1942 was a joint United States-United Kingdom invasion of French North Africa. And, yet, for all the reasons our countries have fought side by side for democracy against tyranny, both nations are facing internal political turmoil that is testing the very fabric of our respective constitutions.
As an American citizen I won’t opine on events across the pond, but here in this country today it is as much a celebration as it is a contradiction. Oh sure there’s the requisite barbeque or the spirited trips to the beach, but top of mind of the majority of Americans is the direction in which this country is going. Like the RMS Titanic’s inferior rudder that made the ship very hard to turn in a crisis, the United States is most certainly heading towards an iceberg that represents the internal strife we are experiencing. While on the surface it looks like we can avoid it, like an iceberg, the menace is what lies below the waterline.
As I have been a member of both parties, I consider myself a moderate. Put simply, I believe in equal rights, not special rights. I believe in a strong military administered by the federal government, but that government has no business regulating my personal life. The current crisis isn’t so much about political party but extremists on both sides that are locked in a tug of war to win. In earlier years, it was the moderates that kept the ship on an even keel. Sadly extremists often don’t want to understand the other side. But understanding is the first step in diplomacy in reaching an accord. A democracy is not about winning your point, it is about moderating it.
Perhaps the time has come to look at our friends across the pond for some lessons. In the United Kingdom, France and Germany they have a multi-party political system. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But for too long in the United States there has only had two choices (this one or that one). Sure we have a nascent third party in this country, but it has about as much direction as the SS Californian did the night the RMS Titanic sank.
But the one thing we do know is the United States is built on a solid foundation of laws and guiding principles. Sometimes we waiver and falter, but at the end of the day we know what this nation stands for and what it represents. Today is a tribute to the founding fathers of this country and what they laid down over two centuries ago that resonates even more today.
This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Amazon in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Japan. Since the film was released in 2013, it has been my plan to get the film distributed in as many territories as possible. Considering part of the story takes place in Germany, and as our composer and sound mixer reside in the United Kingdom, it’s great to be able to bring the film to those markets. Also, it’s part of the long term plan to generate as much interest in the Justice Is Mind story as possible as the pitch process continues to further develop the project as a TV series. But, like all things in this industry, it’s about having more than one project in development as things take time.
When I was taking to a fellow filmmaker in England this past week, the one thing we talked about was distribution. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, as a former magazine publisher I directed the distribution and marketing of my magazines. The process has a variety of similarities. You deliver your finished product to a central source and it’s delivered to the outlets. But as I learned all those years ago, for every middleman there is a percentage given back. Sometimes a middleman is necessary, sometimes not so much.
To quote from Amazon Video Direct’s website “Helping content creators and visual storytellers reach millions of Amazon customers across hundreds of devices with the same distribution options and delivery quality available to major motion picture and television studios.” Why, unless a distributor was acquiring your film for a fee, would you just give Amazon your film to upload? With the tens of millions of customers that Amazon commands, I certainly understand why some distributors require Amazon to be part of their VOD platform mix. But with “platforms like Distribbr, Quivver, and Bitmax – what’s the benefit of going with a more ‘traditional’ distributor over those?”
Honestly, by the time I release my next film, self-distribution may just be the way to go. Unless a distributor brings me a fee and a marketing plan, why would I bother signing away the rights to my film when I can just deal directly with the VOD platforms? I have heard too many horror stories from filmmakers that were all excited a distributor was interested in their project only to receive a fraction of return even though their project was available on countless platforms. It’s sad and frustrating to hear these stories, because I know how much hard work and years of dedication goes into making a film.
As for new projects, the concept poster for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating is now being designed. With the script registered and URL reserved, the general plan is to formally announce the project in mid-late August. Nothing is more exciting than seeing those first images come to life. And for me that starts with the concept poster.
Of course, like building a house, this is the stage where the architectural plans are developed. In my view, a script is an evolving document based on a variety of factors until you lock it down just prior to pre-production when you lay the foundation for what you will ultimately see on the screen.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking to my friends in the UK about the upcoming “Brexit” vote. They all had different points of view from those that wanted to stay in the European Union and those that wanted to leave. This post isn’t about one American’s position, but about my special relationship with our friends across the pond.
Putting aside what we learned in school, I was somehow introduced to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s masterpiece A Woman of Substance. The story is based in the UK and to quote “A Woman of Substance charts the life of Emma Harte, from kitchen maid at the beginning of the 20th Century, to respected business woman and Grandmother in the 1980’s.” The book was turned into a brilliant mini-series that saw such famous British landmarks as the storied Harrods turned into Harte’s. You can bet that one of my first destinations was tea at Harrods!
When I started a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating in the early 1990s, I found myself again in the UK when I attended the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships which were held in Birmingham, UK. I soon found myself conducting business in the country from distributing our magazine to working with editors. At one point I had struck a deal with the national governing body to conduct an all too “United States” direct mail effort. I say United States, because I learned the biggest lesson at the time…I discovered that the English like to buy their magazines at kiosks (newsstands). Oh sure we had a nice amount of subscribers, but we also secured a pretty good newsstand contract in the country as well.
After publishing, my first screenplay First World was partially based in the UK. Part of the story has the Prime Minister calling for an emergency meeting with the President of the United States at a military base in the UK to reveal the actual mission of the Apollo space program. I filmed that segment actually down the street where I now live. To this day we were so fortunate to have a wonderful British actress who now resides in the States to play the Prime Minister.
I’ll never forget her audition. I was staying at a hotel with some of the cast filming another scene when Lindy Nettleton arrived along with Jeffrey Phillips (who played the President). Owing to scheduling and space limitations the audition took place in a hallway. They were both brilliant. After the film was released, we had a few screenings at science fiction conventions in the UK.
When I posted notices for cast and crew for my first feature film Justice Is Mind we received responses from literally all over the world. But there was one composer from England by the name of Daniel Elek-Diamanta. In today’s day and age of the internet it doesn’t matter where you live, talent is talent. To say he had talent would be an understatement. Instinctively, not only did we click, but he understood Justice Is Mind instantly. He scored the entire film to critical acclaim. When our original sound mixer dropped out, he found a terrific company in Visionary Sound headed up by Timothy McHugh. In the end, they both saved the day.
Of course, perhaps one of the highest tributes Justice Is Mind received was when we had our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner in 2014. Suffice to say you can’t get any more British than Cunard!
My point to all of this is simple, no treaty keeps people from working together for the common good. Talent doesn’t know boundaries it simply wants to create. From magazines to film, those that I’ve worked with in the UK have brought something special to the projects I’ve worked on. That’s what the “special relationship’ between the United States and United Kingdom means to me.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
It has become a common practice in the entertainment industry to create “proof of concept” trailers and short films to promote projects past the written word of the script (sometimes there’s not even a script!). With more and more projects looking for attention, a thoughtful concept trailer can most certainly advance a project.
Yesterday morning, Daniel Elek-Diamanta, the composer of Justice Is Mind, sent me just over :30 of music he scored. We’ve been talking about SOS United States for several months and when it comes to composing music, we have always been on the same page. It was like this with Justice Is Mind. In August, 2012 he was sending me samples of music well before one frame of the film was shot. What you hear in the final cut of Justice was largely agreed to well in advance. Suffice to say, it’s a great collaboration and I highly recommend him as a composer.
I’ve been wanting to create some sort of video for SOS United States past our concept poster. The moment I heard Daniel’s sample the idea came to mind. You can view the concept trailer at this link. The general premise of SOS United States is relatively straight forward. An ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean may have a nuclear bomb on board. The only military vessel in the vicinity is the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier during her sea trials.
As I have some preliminary producer meetings this week, the concept trailer for SOS United States is well timed. But that being said, I’m sure the subject of budget, casting, etc., will come up. On the face of it, it looks like the Massachusetts Film Tax Credit is here to stay – for now anyway. But as these producer meetings are happening “across the pond” the UK offers some of the best incentives along with a vibrant infrastructure.
This past week a very rare article was published around an independent film called Papadopoulos & Sons. What was rare about it was the breakdown of financials. Honestly, that short of working for a distributor, these numbers are seldom known, never mind released. There’s a variety of pros/cons for releasing numbers. Yes, box office results are largely public, but VOD, TV, etc. are usually held very close to the chest. In this filmmakers view it’s because the deals for these platforms not only differ for each film, but there are myriad proprietary contracts involved that can limit public dissemination from a competition point of view.
What this article does fully document are the fees involved in film distribution and the realities of revenue that come back to the financiers. This is why being realistic about a film budget is so important. Yes, you want the film to look and sound great with a stellar cast and crew, but at the end of the day it’s about revenue.