Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Posts tagged “United States

A Civilization Gone with the Wind

This past week First Signal went to picture lock. This is a milestone in any film as it means that we are in the home stretch of post-production. The next steps in the process are color grading and sound mixing. We are still on schedule for a May completion. However, just as I was going to register for The Marché du Film (Cannes), the market was postponed until possibly late June.

Prior to this postponement, film festivals, sporting events, theaters and all forms of gatherings were being cancelled around the world. Countries were closing their borders, entire industries shuttering, tens of millions suddenly out of work. Companies instructing their employees to work from home. Financial markets all but collapsing overnight. The stock market losing trillions every time the bell rang. The military called up. Elected officials instituting never to be believed powers. The Department of Justice looking to suspend Constitutional rights. No, this isn’t a movie this is reality on planet Earth.

The existence and livelihood of 7 billion people is being threatened by a virus that has a worldwide case count of 318,000 and 13,000 deaths. Another statistic that is only now getting discussed is how many have recovered — 96,000.  The question that begs to be asked is how long can this go on before the worldwide economy is permanently broken? A scientist friend remarked to me this week “that a good economy isn’t much good if everyone is sick.” My response was simple, “The sick need a good economy to get better. If we don’t switch it back on, there won’t be the capital to fix this problem.”

Yes, we certainly have some sort of new virus that needs to be sorted. Yes, people will die from it. But equally in the affirmative are the number of people that are recovering. The CDC states that from October – March 38,000,000 had the flu with 17,000,000 doctor visits, 390,000 hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths (these are all on the low end). Odd, I don’t recall the United States and world economy being shut down over this. But for some reason this new virus is going to “overwhelm” our hospitals. Who came up with that narrative? But one thing is a fact, this new virus has brought out the worst in humanity.

I’ve talked to a variety of people around the country and the world. None of them can believe we are in the present situation. We saw how fast governments and elected officials closed the world. We saw how fast the media (particularly cable news) and social media fed this frenzy. We saw how fast they stirred the world population into hysteria. We now see how civil liberties and constitutional guarantees are being threatened. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but for those of us that think, one does need to question what happened. Why now? What truly is the reason behind this?

For the few I know that have lived through World War II, the country was never like this. Yes, food was rationed, certain products just weren’t available and forget buying a car. But for some reason, this virus calls for a worldwide economic collapse. In general the world, particularly the United States, was enjoying a solid economy with record low unemployment. In a week, that ended.

At some point, hopefully soon, it will need to be decided to switch back on the economy. Because one thing is truly certain, people, companies and governments will run out of cash either during the shutdown or when the unemployment ranks swell into the tens of millions when those less fortunate will need government services such as food and housing just to survive.

It’s time for common sense.


The American Party

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The American flag that flew on the USS Massachusetts during Operation Torch.

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.

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The 16 inch guns on the USS Massachusetts.

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.

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The American flag on the stern on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy with the stern of the USS Massachusetts in the background.

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.

Bill of Rights.

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Above The Fold

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Ice and Espionage. That was the title of the article about Serpentine that appeared on the cover this week of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  While so much of our media is consumed online, there is nothing like a printed newspaper.

It was last Monday when I started to get Google Alerts that the article that ran the previous week in the MetroWest Daily News had been picked up by the Associated Press. The article was published by outlets all over the United States. But seeing it “above the fold” on the front cover of a newspaper was not only particularly special but important for our promotional efforts.

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Paul Lussier as Philip Harrison, a mysterious sponsor, and Kim Gordon as Marlene Baxter, the President of the American Figure Skating Federation, in Serpentine.

In as much as I am a filmmaker, I’m a marketer. As I’ve stated before, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing if nobody knows about it. I’ve often used the word herculean to describe the process of making a film. The same thing can be said about securing press. It’s one thing  after a film is released, but at this early stage of Serpentine it’s even more welcome to promote the overall concept of the film – the sport of figure skating meets the Cold War.

As a former magazine publisher, I can see why they wanted some counter editorial on the cover. But coverage that worked from a reader interest point of view. Considering the political atmosphere in the United States that has polarized both sides, it makes sense to bring to readers an interesting project that just happens to have government intrigue in its storyline. It also lends credence to the fact, that figure skating, despite its challenges in the ratings over the last decade, still holds interest by general audiences. I saw this first hand at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston and there are more than a few figure skating films and TV projects in development (I, Tonya anyone?).

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Philip Harrison’s Bentley was supplied to the production by Foley Motorsports of Shrewsbury, MA

Of course the next steps to bring Serpentine to life is the post-production process. Having handed over the hard drive to our editor, conversations with our special effects supervisor and listening to score elements by our composer, the process is moving along nicely. Our aim is for a mid-February 2017 release on Amazon Prime along with select theatrical performances and promotion.

Regarding Amazon, it looks like they will soon be taking the route of Netflix as they seek to roll out their service in 200 countries. Obviously, as a filmmaker, this comes as great news. Since my films went up on all of Amazon’s platforms the exposure and viewership has increased substantially. And unlike some VOD services, Amazon pays filmmakers on every transaction. It’s a business model that works for all concerned. For the consumer they make the choice of what to watch without someone acting as a curator. For the filmmaker it offers an opportunity to showcase your hard work to a global audience. Honestly, there’s no point in doing this if it’s just going to sit on a shelf!

The post production process is one of organization and creativity. Take for example our composer Daniel Elek-Diamanta. Like his efforts on Justice Is Mind, he starts before he has seen one second of footage. Our collaboration begins with conversations about the story and the general atmosphere. He so hit the target the other day that I placed his score with some of the footage to see how it would work. Suffice to say, it brought Serpentine to life and will probably be the general theme of the film.

Page One.

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The Serpentine Code

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A screenshot from the official website.

After seven months of writing and research, along with attending a World Figure Skating Championships this past March for inspiration, I announced my latest project on Friday. Serpentine – A champion figure skater finds herself in a government conspiracy involving her missing mother and a Cold War mystery that culminates at the world championships in Moscow. The official website can be found at this link.

The name of the project came to me the first week I started to write it. In figure skating the word “serpentine” is used throughout a variety of areas from figures to footwork, to spiral sequences and generally consists of an “S” type of pattern. Serpentine is also mentioned in cryptography and as a code word. For this project the title Serpentine links all aspects of this story.

For independent filmmakers it’s one thing to write the screenplay and come up with a title, but then there are numerous aspects that need to be addressed prior to launch – writing a logline and synopsis, building a website, sending the script to trusted sources for review and comment, registering the script with the Writers Guild of America and U.S. Copyright Office and submitting the title to IMDb and other sources (thank you Rotten Tomatoes!). Then comes development and bringing the project to life.

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From the official website.

Those that follow me on social media or this blog, know some of the groundwork that I’ve been developing. In as much as it’s important to keep a public face, there are those countless conversations and presentations that go on behind the scenes that are not discussed publicly until they are a done deal. Remember Justice Is Mind’s international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth? That was months in discussion before the approved press release.  I could have announced Serpentine months ago, but I wasn’t finished with the screenplay and had to ascertain a variety of areas within the sport to see if I wanted to move forward. But forward we are moving.

I could not be more encouraged by the response Serpentine has received since Friday. But suffice to say the next couple of weeks will be inordinately busy. From developing location deals to securing talent, I plan to post this week for cast and crew. The goal is to produce the short sometime in October with an early 2017 release. If all goes well, the idea is to produce the feature in 2017 with release after the Winter Olympics in 2018.

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Does this plan sound remotely familiar? It should. I produced a short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence in 2011. The release of the short in 2012 led to the production of the feature film later that year with a 2013 release.  In the case of Serpentine, the plan is produce the first ten pages of the script that introduces the primary characters and storyline.

Before I close this post, I want to thank those that have supported me in developing this story. Your words of encouragement and comments on the project have been greatly appreciated over the past weeks and months.

But foremost in those thanks goes to Adam Starr who designed the concept poster you see below.  I have been working with Adam since 2000 on numerous projects. In fact, the first project he did for me was a corporate promotional video for my old publishing company. In terms of posters Adam designed First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. To learn more about Adam and the story behind the poster, please visit the website.

On the ice. Representing…

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In Partnership

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The one thing I learned when publishing magazines is that your distributors, in all their forms, are your partners. Produce a good magazine and it will sell. Likewise, the same is true for a movie. But all this requires marketing on a day to day basis. A case in point, would be our last United States theatrical screening at the Chatham Orpheum theatre in September. It was a partnership between their theatre and Justice Is Mind. We both had one goal, sell as many tickets as possible and generate press. Not only did we have a great turnout and positive press, we also established a great post screening working relationship.

I’m delighted to announce that the Chatham Orpheum Post Production Services delivered our first DCP of Justice Is Mind last week! Some of you may be wondering what a DCP is. To quote Wikipedia, “A Digital Cinema Package (DCP) is a collection of digital files used to store and convey Digital cinema (DC) audio, image, and data streams.” While we always had our theatrical DVDs, now we have another theatrical option with DCP.

While I have yet to come across a theatre that can’t play from a DVD, it’s great that we now have a DCP option as the majority of theatres across the United States have converted to a digital format. I don’t profess to be an expert on this tech, but theatres do like to have this option. That being said, when Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 better than ½ the theatres we screened in still had not converted to digital. In the end, this just gives us another option. My special thanks to the Chatham Orpheum for their great work! To learn more about their DCP services please visit their website or email them at this address.

If the cyber-attack on Sony and subsequent pull of The Interview from the major chains demonstrated anything, it is that theatres are your partners and communication is key. While VOD is of course important, I still believe in the release model of theatrical distribution first followed by VOD. I think trying to marginalize theatres is a mistake. I read this past week about a film that got into Sundance, didn’t receive a distribution deal they thought was worth anything and is now is trying to fund a theatrical release by renting theatres and “then fans can pay what they want to see the film”. Aside from not agreeing with four walling (renting) for a variety of reasons, a pay what you want is a horrible precedent to set. In all our theatrical screenings, audiences paid whatever the general ticket price was for that theatre and market.

In the sequel to Justice Is Mind a congressional hearing is convened in 2026 to address a new development in mind reading by Reincar Scientific.

In the sequel to Justice Is Mind a congressional hearing is convened in 2026 to address a new development in mind reading by Reincar Scientific.

Margins in this business are squeezed enough for everyone. Do you admit someone to watch a movie in a theatre for $1 when the person behind them was going to pay $10? As my business partner said the other day there is an issue with perception in value. Yes, for VOD, the $1.99 rental is pretty standard. But the economics of that rate for a theatrical screening (via paying what you want) just won’t cover costs.  Because what this all comes down to is how do investors get paid back when margins are so thin. It’s just simple economics of cost and revenue.

As I hit the 100 page mark of the sequel to Justice Is Mind this weekend, I truly wonder what the marketplace will be like by the time that film is released.

Act III.

 

In line with First World, the Diplomat reported that China leads the space race.

In line with First World, the Diplomat reported that China leads the space race.


Next Move

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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.

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The Senate

In the sequel to Justice Is Mind, McCarthy era-like hearings take place.

In the sequel to Justice Is Mind, McCarthy era-like hearings take place.

As I am in the throes of writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind I’ve moved my weekly blog post to Monday. On the weekends I do my most intense writing. The weekdays are largely reserved for marketing, research and the consulting work I do.  That research this past week took me back to the Joseph McCarthy era hearings. Let’s pray that our country never has to live through that time again.

Writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind has been an interesting experience. Yes, I wrote the sequel to First World, but as the first installment hasn’t been produced yet, adjustments can still be made without disrupting the canonicity of the story. As some may have noticed, I set up a variety of character and plot points that will carry over to the sequel.

What happens to the characters in the sequel.

What happens to the characters in the sequel.

By example, in part one we establish that Margaret Miller is a journalist of some note with a book by the name of “Posted: Social Secrets of the Government” that has caused some sort of political stir. In the sequel we see just what that stir is about. I also established that while Henri Miller was shot, he wasn’t killed. Dr. Eve Pullman has been recalled to Germany by Reincar Scientific. Judge Wagner has been appointed to the FISA Court and Constance Smith and John Darrow find themselves, yet again, front and center in the legal and ethical malaise of the FVMRI procedure. For me, I look at the logical extensions of the characters to see where they may go along with new characters we meet along the way. It’s safe to say that the intelligence apparatus of the United States falls squarely into the sequel.

In SOS United States, what will the President do when he learns that a nuclear bomb may be on an ocean liner heading to the United States.

In SOS United States, what will the President do when he learns that a nuclear bomb may be on an ocean liner heading to the United States.

But in the end of all of this, there is the marketing and promotion. It has been WELL over a year since Justice Is Mind had its world premiere, but  marketing continues on a daily basis.  I was more than elated when I discovered this morning that Justice Is Mind’s weekly MovieMeter on IMDB jumped our listing to 10,989 out of over 3.1 million entries!  Not only is this our highest placement on IMDB, but it also proves that the collective marketing efforts of the last couple of years are seeing positive results.

I do the same thing for First World and SOS United States. Getting “discovered” in this business doesn’t really happen anymore unless you let people know about your project. The old adage “if you build it they will come”, doesn’t work without promotion and marketing. How we wish as a creative we could just write, produce, direct or act and then wait for the accolades, the lists, the press and the audience to find us.

When I was reading in IndieWire this morning about a film that was accepted into Sundance, I was particularly surprised by one of the comments that someone just wants to write and not produce. That’s all well and good if you just a want to write and have your work optioned, but in the real world of independent filmmaking you just have to wear many hats. What’s great is that the trades like the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, The Wrap, Deadline and IndieWire provide a wealth of information for filmmakers to make their own mind up on what’s best for their project because each project is different.

Next witness.

In First World, we learn that the United Nations Security Council has long known about an alien presence on Earth.

In First World, we learn that the United Nations Security Council has long known about an alien presence on Earth.

 

 


Central Intelligence

The sequel to Justice Is Mind involves the Central Intelligence Agency.

The sequel to Justice Is Mind involves the Central Intelligence Agency.

This past weekend I hit the halfway point in writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind. While I have the general story all laid out and have introduced a variety of new characters, there are always those moments when writing that you need to think through a particular plot point or how something is going to be done. There is also that point in my writing when the characters start to converge and their respective storylines travel a certain path.

On that path, I’ve had to do a wide variety of research on the CIA, NSA, FISA Court and other institutions as they relate to the overall system of intelligence gathering in the United States and around the world. For those that may have been living off the planet last week, it was hard to miss the ramifications of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It’s clear,  there’s a lot of polarization around the Senate’s report.

Reincar Scientific's involvement with intelligence agencies was revealed in part one.

Reincar Scientific’s involvement with intelligence agencies was revealed in part one.

As a writer my goal is not to have an agenda that points in one direction or another, but to present a story that elicits questions. In First World, as President Kennedy once said, are we destined for the planets beyond? In SOS United States, what happens if we do downsize our military? And last, but certainly not least, in Justice Is Mind where does our right to privacy begin and end?  Yes, I write about issues. But I seek to do it in a way that brings constructive questions and debates.

Of course as I write these stories of fiction, I do find it more than interesting that certain plot points are fast becoming a reality. In First World, China has ramped up its planned missions to the Moon. In Justice Is Mind, the ability to produce memories in video form is being tested and commercialized. But what is of particular interest to me at the moment is SOS United States and my postulation about a cyber-attack that brings down the nation’s military satellites and power grid. The fallout of the cyber-attack on Sony Entertainment Pictures, in my view, is far worse than the CIA report for a variety of reasons. Whatever did or didn’t happen within the CIA will never truly be known, but Sony’s data breach is simply unprecedented.

The cyber attack on Sony reflects the story in SOS United States when a similar attack takes out military satellites and the nation's power grid.

The cyber attack on Sony reflects the story in SOS United States when a similar attack takes out military satellites and the nation’s power grid.

This all being said, we live in an interesting time. But really is this time any different than the decades before? It’s just more prevalent with social media and a 24/7 news cycle. But at the end of the day, it gives writers like me a lot of material.

It wasn’t all writing this weekend. For the first time I read a solid practical “no nonsense” article about crowdfunding on IndieWire in regard to Dear White People’s successful campaign. It reminded me in many ways of how Justice Is Mind came to being. I produced a short film version in 2011 and by 2012 the feature film was financed due to those short film efforts. For the sequel, now that we have established a foundation and audience, I’m fairly certain the plan will include both crowdfunding and some equity.

Screenplay.

More space faring nations are reaching for the Moon and the planets beyond. 2015 will be a busy year for   the Indian space agency.

More space faring nations are reaching for the Moon and the planets beyond. 2015 will be a busy year for the Indian space agency.


Congressional Hearings

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In every film there is the inciting incident. That moment (or moments) that drives the story in Act 1 from the established world of the characters to a turning point when the characters have to “act” to drive the story in Act 2. In Justice Is Mind it’s when Henri Miller collapses on his property. In SOS United States it’s when we learn there is a nuclear bomb on an ocean liner. In First World it’s when we learn what Apollo 11 discovered on the Moon. In the sequel to Justice Is Mind it’s when….sorry can’t reveal that yet!

There is one area of Justice Is Mind that has resonated universally well with audiences and those were the courtroom scenes.  In the United States I live in a country of perpetual congressional hearings. I swear they should have their own network! In Justice Is Mind we learn that there were congressional hearings that approved the FVMRI procedure. In the sequel, a new round of congressional hearings is now underway. As a writer it will be interesting to explore this process and how it works. Much like I had to do with the courtroom scenes in Justice Is Mind, it comes down to research. In addition to how congressional hearings are administered, I’ve also been revisiting fringe science in terms of mind-reading and DNA sequencing. Suffice to say it’s been an interesting journey so far.

In the sequel. A grand indictment of the legal system.

In the sequel – a grand indictment of the legal system.

With a few investor conferences scheduled this week, it should be an interesting one for SOS United States and First World as well. A screenplay, in my view, is like an architectural drawing. There it sits while one proposal after another is submitted to secure funding to break ground and build something new. Indeed, that’s the way Justice Is Mind was built.  And really is this process any different from that of an actor going on an audition?  Like an actor wanting to secure a part in a solid production, the same thing holds true with securing an investor for a film. It’s more than just talent and capital, it’s about long-term partnerships.

The NSA is featured positively in SOS United States. In the real world a UK organization revealed that British intel agencies access NSA information. ,

The NSA is featured positively in SOS United States. In the real world a UK organization revealed that British intel agencies access NSA information. 

I read an article in one of the trades some months ago where a producer mentioned something along the lines of “do I want to be in business with these people for five plus years”. That really is what this industry comes to…a long tail approach.  Sure, you have your “premiere” but the business continues long after that.  Just this past week I had a couple of conversations with schools that may be interested in screening Justice Is Mind and there are more VOD platforms coming online soon. Building your new architectural wonder may be the fun part, but then you have to have it occupied.

Speaking of building, that’s what I’m doing with the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When it’s completed I’ll have a slate of three films ready for production.  I’m writing the sequel not only because I want to, but because some people have queried me on a sequel. Why not have something at the ready or at least in the works?

But like a building, a screenplay just can’t be thrown together. It has to be carefully constructed. And like the original story in Justice Is Mind, the sequel isn’t just an addition it has to tower on its own.

In First World we see Orion ready to launch. This week NASA is set to launch the first test flight of the Orion capsule.

In First World we see Orion ready to launch. This week NASA is set to launch the first test flight of the Orion capsule.

 

 


Story First

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Another AFM is over. Aside from attendance being up, I’m not sure how much has changed from last year (or even the year before). We all know that foreign sales agents want top talent so they can sell internationally and VOD is disruptive.  This “disruption” if you will has been in the works for years. But like the bygone days of magazine publishing when publishers refused to accept the internet, if one thing has changed this year it is that the industry has finally woken up to the reality that VOD is where this industry is and where it’s going for the foreseeable future.  At the click of a mouse consumers will decide what they want and when they want it. But regardless of the trends it does come down to telling a story first and, oh yes, on a reasonable budget.

The sequel to Justice Is Mind along with First World and SOS United States partially take place in Washington, DC.

The sequel to Justice Is Mind along with First World and SOS United States partially take place in Washington, DC.

The foundation of every movie starts with the screenplay. In all this “noise” about the state of the industry it still surprises me how suddenly the screenplay becomes a sidebar in the conversations. How many times do we read about this “A lister” or that “A lister” attached to such and such a project. A lot of excitement, press, accolades and then the film comes out and it just doesn’t resonate with audiences…for whatever reason…and never recoups their budget. This is one trend that’s terrible for the industry. While the A lister may go to win an award for best performance, someone or some company is adding up losses. And losses are never good in any business.

With China's space program on the rise and its film market second only to the United States, the premise of  First World is more commercial.

With China’s space program on the rise and its film market second only to the United States, the premise of First World is more commercial.

But with VOD platforms on the exponential rise, budgets simply need to be adjusted as the DVD market has collapsed. I absolutely agree with AFM’s Managing Director Jonathan Wolf when he said, “We’ve got 50 companies who are in what we call mini-booths, where they only spend $3,900 for the space yet they’re bringing films and having a commercially acceptable experience. If you can make a couple films for $300,000 and sell each for $600,000, you have a business.” My political thriller SOS United States has a budget just north of $300,000.

I read a great story in IndieWire this week titled “Why It’s a Great Time to Be an Independent Filmmaker” by Naomi McDougall Jones.  She could not be more right when stating, “I believe there are those who crave what I crave as an audience member; to be genuinely surprised; to have my own prejudices exploded; to leave the theater altered from whom I was when I went in.” These are the same comments I’ve heard from audience members that have seen Justice Is Mind.

The recently revealed cell phone spy program and nuclear maintenance issues fall into the story of SOS United States.

The recently revealed cell phone spy program and nuclear maintenance issues fall into the story of SOS United States.

Justice Is Mind and Jones’s film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, are apples and oranges in genre, but share the same type of approach to the market. We have a theatrical run, press and VOD. It’s all very doable. But it’s also work done the old fashioned way. It takes time (lots of it), research and effort.

But if there is one new trend from AFM this year that’s a major positive are the new distributors entering the market. With studios focusing on tentpoles they have created a need for the rest of the market. As Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk tells Variety, “The majority of filmmakers have to be interested in a new model for releasing indie films, and you could not say that two or three years ago.”

Watch Justice Is Mind on Amazon Prime Instant Video!

Watch Justice Is Mind on Amazon Prime Instant Video!

And so as I write the sequel to Justice Is Mind and present First World and SOS United States for investment and development, I too believe this is a great time to be an independent filmmaker.  It just takes the three ‘p’s I have often mentioned: plan, perseverance and patience.

Act Two

The sequel to Justice Is Mind starts at this scene at then end of part one.

At the end of part one, the sequel to Justice Is Mind starts here.


Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Mark Lund timeline-page-0

It was during the post-production of Justice Is Mind in 2013 that the idea for SOS United States came to me. And like the original idea for Justice Is Mind that was sparked from research on the sequel to First World, as a writer once I get an idea in my head I just have to write it out and see where it goes.  When I do write, I think about the story not about the market.

Who would have thought that when I was writing Justice Is Mind back in 2010 that mind-reading technologies, patient privacy and genetic seizure would be trending in the news? Likewise when I wrote SOS United States last year it really didn’t occur to me what the state of the world would be with the United States withdrawing from various hot spots. And with China’s space program advancing at a rapid pace, the science fiction in First World in regard to space travel, is rapidly approaching science fact. But in the end, it all comes down to raising capital.

This is a case-page-0

As I read the trades on a daily basis, there’s always a story about a film that took years to make (Dallas Buyers Club),  a filmmaker/actor with award winning credentials who couldn’t get “traditional” financing at the start and resorted to crowdfunding (Zach Braff) or some major production company that misread the market (Senator), but isn’t this like any business? We are inundated with the extremes. The epic failure of one film or the stunning achievement of another. How about what’s happening in the middle? That’s what I look for. Will the trends today hold for tomorrow? What I think we all know is that theatres and VOD are here to stay.

There is one trend that I find pretty unsettling in this industry, but it was this way in magazine publishing too. The “experts” selling their services. Honestly, you might think that sliced bread has just been invented and if you don’t buy a loaf from them you’ll never be part of this industry. Really, what it comes down to is raising cash to produce a film. I’ve written so many business plans over the years. Of course you do the same with this industry and identify a return on investment.

The USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove where SOS United States opens.

The USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove where SOS United States opens.

We live in a world of constant change and changing priorities. And this industry magnifies that x10. When I was talking to a producer a couple of weeks ago who releases a good share of their films through one particular studio, they only take on projects that are based on intellectual properties because that’s pretty much what the major studios are backing these days.  I read about this in the trades and one stop to your local cinema chain and the proof is on the marquee. But, there will always be independent films. Always.

Yes, my world is about spirited optimism. If someone says no, I just keep navigating until someone says yes. I try very hard to avoid the storms of this industry always thinking, “What does the consumer want?” The consumer doesn’t care about unnecessary industry noise, they just want to see a movie. From day one of distributing Justice Is Mind, my only concern is the audience that is buying tickets (at theatres or online). All theatres and VOD platforms want are paying customers. Promotion and marketing are the key to those customers.

New markets.

International Premiere-page-0


Justice Is Reviewed

Justice Is Mind screen test at The Elm Draught House Cinema.

Justice Is Mind screen test at The Elm Draught House Cinema.

Since Justice Is Mind had its world premiere on August 18, 2013, we have been very fortunate to secure media placements in connection with our screenings. While social media is part of the mix, it is only one ingredient in the recipe. Simply put a third party story drives audiences and awareness. These placements do not come automatically. A press release is written, the media is sourced and then the pitch is made. Each outlet has a defined set of criteria from frequency to what their audience wants. As a former magazine publisher, I remember what used to get my attention and what was quickly discarded. What I find is that it usually comes down to timing and if a subject matter is going to be interesting to their readership.

As we are now moving towards VOD and foreign screenings, I’ve started to present Justice to reviewers for consideration.  Just having a film on a VOD platform isn’t enough, you seriously have to light a fire of awareness to drive traffic (just like our theatrical screenings).

When William Meeker of Frisco Kid at the Movies was interested in reviewing Justice, I was really looking forward to what he thought about the film. His reviews are thoughtful, detailed and thorough. I’m pleased to present his review of Justice Is Mind at this link.

The Concorde returns to flight in SOS United States as the official state plane of the Prime Minister.

The Concorde returns to flight in SOS United States as the official state plane of the Prime Minister.

With his four star review, as a filmmaker, I particularly enjoyed his statement, “Lund’s screenplay achieves Hunter’s recommended individualism by setting these topics in the context of relevant and important sociopolitical issues currently being debated in the United States.” Suffice to say, these are the points I wanted to make in the film. But it’s not just about what I enjoyed, it’s the whole evaluation of the film that really made his review stand out.

Our May 19 screening at The Elm Draught House Cinema is coming up soon and with that we turn to local media, most of which is scheduled to run this coming week. First, I could not be more thankful to Bob Leveillee of Pizza Post for his support. From the radio spot he is running, to the local media in connection with his business. While the phrase “win win” is terribly overused in the world of business, this is a perfect example of how it should work—Justice Is Mind and Pizza Post increase their awareness and customer base through mutual cooperation.  In an overly complicated world of “buzzwords” on how to market (particularly a film), it really comes down to a tried and true concept of joint benefit.  As I’ve so often had to say to those that try to over analyze the world of marketing, “We aren’t launching a space shuttle, we are [fill in the blank].”

Speaking of the space shuttle, I am back to presenting First World and SOS United States to producers and investors. On that note an investor who has financed film projects has requested both scripts and business plans. This is a journey that every filmmaker makes. It is a journey that takes time, planning and above all patience.  With Cannes underway we are already seeing some very interesting, but not surprising, reports in the Hollywood ReporterTake Note, Hollywood: The New Movie Money is Here” and “Cannes: Fewer Star-Fueled Projects Are Coming to a Lean Market.”

“I am particularly impressed with the strong performance of…” – Frisco Kid at the Movies.

Justice Is Mind - May 19 screening


For Your Consideration

Justice Is Mind official poster-twitter

The extended synopsis of Justice Is Mind partially reads “…counsel, family and friends search two continents for answers.” While we aren’t searching for answers, Justice Is Mind is most certainly a two continent production. With editing and special effects taking place in the United States, scoring and sound mixing is happening in the United Kingdom. Having traveled to the UK numerous times I’m enjoying the international development of Justice Is Mind, because that’s where this film is soon going…international.

Last week the film festival submission process began. I have to say the portal Withoutabox is pretty excellent. I loath filling our forms (especially by hand) and that’s exactly what I would have to do for each film festival if Withoutabox didn’t exist. I’ve been using Withoutabox since 2007 when I produced First World. You enter all your key information once, select the festival, pay the fee and Withoutabox transmits your film. For those festivals that don’t use the “secure online screener” you send in a DVD. It’s a great streamline process. Coming from a production background any process that enables a smooth operation is good for me.

Starring Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller. An expert marksman and restaurant owner.

Starring Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller. An expert marksman and restaurant owner.

We’ve also started to receive significant interest from various film festival and film organizations in India. Of course, this is an excellent development…but now we wait. We wait for the “notify date” after we submit to see if our film, a labor of over two years and two hundred people, is accepted. The one thing I have learned years ago is that once you submit you just have to let go of that submission. I’ve seen a trend with filmmakers promoting on their websites and social pages that they are “In Consideration” by this festival and that festival after they submit. Good heavens…and what happens if you don’t get accepted?

So what do you do while you are waiting? You promote your film any which way you can. In the case of Justice Is Mind, in addition to screenings at sci-fi conventions and law schools, we are reaching out to independent theatres and small chains to exhibit. Simply, you can’t put all your eggs into one basket. Some will argue that you shouldn’t show your film anywhere until film festivals get back to you. Honestly, I don’t know where this misinformation comes from or starts. Most festivals I have come across have stated that while some most certainly like to have the title “World Premiere” they are also interested in films that have some sort of following or foundation. Think about it from their perspective. They have to sell tickets too and it’s infinitely easier to sell a ticket to something that can not only be found by a Google search but has some sort of following and social media presence.

After years of unexplained headaches and recent collapse, Henri has the  new FVMRI procedure that reads long term memory in video form.

After years of unexplained headaches and a recent collapse, Henri has the new FVMRI procedure that reads long term memory in video form.

As filmmakers we are operating in an ever changing industry. Being adaptable is critical.  I do my best to keep up with industry trends through the trades and certain websites (like Slated and Film Specific).  This past week I read a very interesting article in Salon by one film producer I admire Lynda Obst (Contact, Sleepless in Seattle, The Siege).  During her meeting with Peter Chernin she quoted him as saying, “I think the two driving forces [of what you’re calling the Great Contraction] were the recession and the transition of the DVD market.” She continued his quote, “It was partially driven by the recession, but I think it was more driven by technology.”

This was no surprise to me since our distributor stopped selling DVDs two years ago. I learned money could be made when I had First World on hulu (now it’s on Amazon..and yes I get paid a monthly check).  While I’ll always continue to be a steadfast promoter of the importance of film being seen in theatres, technology continues to evolve and offers tremendous new opportunities for filmmakers.

Lights, camera…stream.

When Henri's memory allegedly reveals that he has shot and killed two people, a landmark trial of Man v. Mind begins.

When Henri’s memory allegedly reveals that he has shot and killed two people, the landmark trial of Commonwealth v. Miller or Man v. Mind begins.


A Sovereign Iraq

I remember where I was in March 2003 when the United States and United Kingdom declared war on Iraq and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein – Washington, DC.  At the time I was publisher of International Figure Skating magazine and was attending the World Figure Skating Championships. I was also promoting my first book Frozen Assets. When one media opportunity after another was cancelled and news of war filled the airwaves, our world was changing – again.

To be sure, since September 11, 2001, America was living in a paranoid state. Our once genteel existence, long protected by two massive oceans, was compromised. Our feeling of “homeland” security shattered. Nobody attacks the United States of America and we were going to do whatever it took to regain our stature. Indeed, we had that right. America saved this world on no less than three occasions with World War I, World War II and The Cold War. As the last remaining superpower on this planet we were not going to be defeated by a handful of terrorists be they domestic or international.

But with great power, comes great responsibility. And while most Americans wanted to restore pride, there were those in power that rode this wave of paranoia to a state that nearly destroyed the ideals this country was founded on and was fighting for on the other side of the world – democracy. A dictator long past once said “The art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.” Left unchecked, history has a terrifying way of repeating itself. Thankfully, we elect our Presidents for a maximum of eight years.

There’s no question that Iraq had to be handled. Hussein had to be removed from power. The no fly zone established after the Gulf War made sense at the time, but was nothing more than a band aid on a greater problem in the region. Iraq was a pressure cooker and was going to implode at some point anyway. As we have seen this past year across the Middle East, revolutions are toppling backward regimes with nascent democracies coming to fruition. In time, the same probably would have happened to Iraq.

There is a certain irony about a country not even two hundred and fifty years old, seeking to bring democracy to a country and a region that is known as the Cradle of Civilization with its origins dating to the 6th millennium BC.

Iraq occupies a significant amount of land referred to in ancient times as Mesopotamia. Sumerian, the earliest written language was founded in this region, along with advances in mathematics and astronomy. For it was the Babylonians that first observed the motions of the planet Venus in the 2nd millennium BC. Yet, four thousand years later, the United States Mariner 2 was the first space probe to reach that planet.

Although the Iraq Museum and several ancient sites were badly looted during the war, with the United States taking some heavy criticism on their failure to protect the treasures of this ancient land, I have to hope that someone somewhere postulated that there is a global responsibility to protect and restore this region.

In this modern world, all sovereign nations have the right to govern themselves. This past week, with the United States formally ending the Iraq War, we turn a new leaf towards the future. As we thank our military for not only ridding this world of a dictator, but for bringing hope to a region that gave birth to civilization on this great planet, we know there is some frame of order to America’s actions over the last eight years with history being the final judge.

But to those Americans and Iraqis that perished in defense of freedom, they have not died in vain. Indeed, their heroic steps of yesterday mark giant leaps for mankind on this planet and beyond.


Don’t Be Surprised America

I wasn’t at all surprised last week to see the news reports that the United States military was finding counterfeit electronic parts in its supply chain that have been made in China.  Our politicians shouldn’t be surprised either.

America’s politicians are so busy worrying about, yet again, another election that the business of the United States and its position as a world power are quickly eroding to second world status. It’s automatic with our two-party system –  we just can’t have a politician talk about the importance of the business of America we have to have their party affiliation tacked on. Guess they aren’t worth listening to unless you can identify them as a D, R…or maybe even…dare I say it…I.

So what’s happened these past couple of weeks? China has not only launched a military reconnaissance satellite but successfully accomplished its firstspace docking” in Earth orbit. Sure, the United States and then Soviet Union accomplished these great feats in the 1960s, but we can’t forget why they succeeded in the first place. Both our countries were knee-deep in the Cold War and were determined to best each other no matter what the cost. The result? Through our paranoia of each other and our ideals, we developed technology and related advances in science that have greatly benefitted all of mankind. History is being repeated all over again.

Why are we, the United States, not fully cooperating with China? Oh, wait, that’s right. China has that awful record of human rights violations. Sure, I’ll give you that China fails on a variety of fronts in that arena, but is the United States any better?  Let’s see, we have unyielding unemployment, poverty, riots in the streets, protestors in most major cities, our veterans that defend our democracy are treated horribly and in the center of it all a two-party political system that is driving a knife through the very fabric that made this country great and a world power in the first place – innovation.

America it is time to innovate again. Not just domestically, but globally. It’s time to abolish this ridiculous sanctions limit on aeronautical engineers cooperating with the Chinese. Is our country so naïve to think that the thousands of engineers that have been furloughed from America’s space program are going to wait around for a D, R or I to get things moving again?

America you can have your cake and eat it too. You know you are capable of negotiating anything and everything when you want too. You’ve done it before you can do it again. Remember what President Reagan said “Trust, but verify.” That’s all we need to do with China.

America if we don’t extend the olive branches of cooperation to China don’t be surprised if Tranquility Base has a new tenant. Afterall First World is supposed to be science fiction.


My Country, ‘Tis of Fault?

When I was driving home this weekend after finishing my work on the film Noah, I was reflecting on the tremendous drive, determination and ambition filmmakers Anthony and Jimmy Deveney (twin brothers) were putting into directing and producing their first feature film. For any of us that have been in business for ourselves, we know it takes steadfast determination and focus to lift a project from idea to reality. It is not for the faint at heart especially when our own capital is at risk.

Yet when I arrived home Sunday night and checked the news, Congress was still set to default with the future of the United States because they couldn’t make a decision on the debt ceiling. A spending situation they created entirely themselves over the last few decades – a situation that impacts every person and corporation, not only in this country but well beyond its shores. In all honesty, if entrepreneurs operated companies the way Congress operates the government of the United States, they wouldn’t have a business.

Consider entrepreneur and PayPal founder Elon Musk. Launching SpaceX in 2002, his company has secured a contract worth over $1.6 billion with NASA to resupply the International Space Station along with other space development contracts. When NASA had to come out and say, “we are going to pay our bills” it speaks volumes to where we are today as a nation. With the retirement of the space shuttle and the ramping up of commercial space partners like SpaceX, NASA is in “pre-production” with the next phase of the space program. There is no way SpaceX could continue its partnership with NASA (and the United States) on an IOU. No matter what your entrepreneurial station is economically; banks, shareholders and creditors expect entrepreneurs to pay their bills, we expect the United States to pay theirs.

The film Noah represents so many aspects of this country. From its founding history rooted in slavery, to all that is possible when one person decides to make a difference. It is a film created by two brothers and brought to life by talent and crew who understand the story and its significance. But beyond the story of Noah itself, it is the product of the American dream to create, build and innovate.

So to turn a quote, “That’s what we are doing for our country. Now what is our country going to do for us?”

♦ ♦ ♦

P.S. The Deveney brothers have set up a Kickstarter campaign for Noah. As of this posting they have raised $755 of their $2,000 goal. This is a great film and one that must be seen. A contribution of only $100 gets you a producer credit.


It’s Time To Partner With China

China’s ambitious space program and military development seemed to have caught some countries, including the United States, by surprise. Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised at all to read that President Obama would be interested in partnering with China on a manned mission to Mars. Frankly, I don’t see one nation (never mind a commercial space company) pulling it off in the economic climate of the early 21st century. From a technology point of view, NASA could certainly put man on Mars. But the International Space Station proved that partnering is the way to go. It just makes sense from a cost sharing and technology point of view.

It is indeed unfortunate that China is absent from the International Space Station (although, I read that they wanted to be involved). This lack of participation has only solidified their resolve to build their own space station called Tiangong-1. To quote a NASA official in the article it’s a “potent political symbol.” I respectively disagree on that point. It’s time to put politics aside and look at the greater good. Trust me, if China develops an economical launch system the international commercial contracts will fast come their way.

When I was developing First World, my research revealed some mentions that China was hoping to achieve a manned mission to the Moon by 2020. In looking to apply some plausibility to the First World story, I theorized that China could possibly accomplish this goal by 2018 if they were motivated to accelerate their efforts if their sovereignty was threatened. That threat being their discovery, during the Beijing Olympics, that a unified covert military insurgency was operating in most of the world’s military organizations.

As I begin to write Synedrion this weekend, the sequel to Covenant, readers will be introduced to President Robert Anderson who discovers, not only the classified missions of the Apollo space program, but the fact that a large part of this military insurgency lies within United States Armed Services – a realization that propels cooperation between China and the United States on a global and off-world scale.

Finally, we welcome home the space shuttle Endeavour after a fantastic mission to the International Space Station. And back to the science fiction front, I’m really looking forward to X-MEN: First Class this weekend.