Marketing planet Earth one project at a time.

Posts tagged “video on demand

Second Market

With Daniel Groom at AFM 2019.

On Thursday I returned from my second attendance at the American Film Market (AFM). By all accounts, it went well. This year I was accompanied by Daniel Groom, First Signal’s director of photography and editor. He was also representing his own feature film Alternate Ground.

AFM 2019 at the Loews Santa Monica. All the hotel rooms are converted to offices.

My attendance at AFM in 2018 was generally a fact-finding trip and learning how a film market works. Yes, I had meetings, but it was more to promote projects in development, like First Signal, and to represent my first feature film Justice Is Mind. It’s important to note that AFM is not a film festival. Yes, AFM has screenings, but they are mostly for buyers and sales agents.  AFM is one of a handful of film markets around the world. Simply put, these markets are where deals are done for independent filmmakers.

The Oval Office at the Reagan Library.

Preparing to attend a film market is the same as pre-production on a film – preparation. You research who you want to meet, make a pitch and hope for a meeting. Like an actor preparing for a part, you rehearse, memorize and have talking points. If you can’t articulate your own film, it’s hard to expect sales agents and buyers to take any interest. In a curious twist, I was in a meeting when someone wanted to present their film regarding locations they were looking for. Oddly, they couldn’t really present the logline or what the general concept was.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach.

I would say my last meeting at AFM was the probably the best one of the market. First, they were specifically looking for films like First Signal. I met with the principal of the company and two representatives. In their suite, I was able to make a complete pitch for First Signal. From development, production to goals for a series of films in the First World Universe. I stressed the importance of marketing and kept an open mind on their points, some of those points being working with them to plan for a rollout in upcoming markets.

The Grand Salon on the Queen Mary.

There is another point that’s stressed at AFM and that’s professionalism. From scheduling meetings in advance to how to introduce your projects when you don’t have a meeting scheduled. All in all, my experience was positive. But here I was in a booked meeting with a sales agent when another filmmaker arrived, interrupted my meeting and pretty much insisted the agent give them a few minutes. The agent mentioned they were in a meeting, but this filmmaker didn’t care. I just looked at this filmmaker blankly taking it all in.  When the agent returned and apologized, the first thing I said was you don’t need to apologize for someone else. I’ll just say this—it’s all about first impressions.

At the Griffith Observatory with Los Angeles in the distance.

In the end, AFM 2019 was a great market for what I was representing. This industry is rapidly changing from an economic point of view. The differences between 2018 and 2019 were apparent and stark. It’s truly about being adaptable and going with the flow. Having worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen the advent of digital change. I knew some years ago that VOD/streaming was going to truly be the primary revenue driver for most independent filmmakers. That reality is now here.

The USS Iowa.

But as you will see from my pictures, my trip wasn’t all business. From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, to the Queen Mary, Griffith Observatory and the USS Iowa, I always enjoy my visits to “Hollywood.” I also discovered a new navigation app called Waze. Given the traffic challenges in LA (although I think they’re worse in Boston), I highly recommend it!

Next steps.

Boarding Air Force One at the Reagan Library.

Assembly Building

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A discovery in First Signal. What does it mean?

No the title of this week’s post doesn’t refer to a meeting hall, but the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This famed building assembled the Saturn V and Space Shuttle vehicles and will be home to the Space Launch System in the future.  Assembly building could also refer to the process of creating a film.

This past week I have been quietly talking to certain actors and crew about First Signal. While I mentioned last week the plan to produce this film in August, I’m purposely being quiet on who exactly is involved until after the fact. Yes, a few actors have already been cast and I started to reach out to crew.  Of course it’s exciting to bring a project to light, but there is a method to this “secrecy”.

Those that follow me have probably noticed that I haven’t published one line of dialogue, mentioned a proposed location or stated who is already with the project. For First Signal this is all about building a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign around this “First World” universe. Much like the careful thought and preparation that goes into the assembly of a space vehicle, the same holds true for a film (but not nearly as complicated!).

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The Global Positioning Systems Directorate is part of the First Signal story.

With the number of films being created due to the democratization of the process of filmmaking, I believe it is imperative to have some sort of solid public relations and marketing campaign tied to your project. I did this with the magazines I published and have carried this discipline to my film projects. I say discipline because that’s what you need when making a movie. Yes, it’s all very exciting when you are on set and actually making a dream come to life, but the years, months, weeks and days leading up that moment is one of careful planning and execution. In particular, the genre of science fiction takes a certain amount of world building to make it original.

Of course what this also comes down to is making a project interesting for a consumer audience. This article in The Hollywood Reporter addressed the gamble films take with a box office release versus selling to Netflix. I firmly believe it was the limited theatrical release we had for Justice Is Mind that led to the majority of press reports and consumer awareness.

Honestly, unless a film has some sort of momentum owing to cast or concept, how do you differentiate one movie from another in the sea of video on demand? Do you hope it’s discovered on VOD or do you give it a consumer marketing push first with a theatrical release?  I’ll always believe the latter makes the most sense.

Components.

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The Vehicle Assembly Building with a Saturn V rocket.


First Decade

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The view of Earth from Lunaria in First World.

Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.

Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.

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In First World China launches Tsien One to the Moon in 2018.

In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.

After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.

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Getting ready for a First World screening in Los Angeles in 2007.

Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!

First World on hulu

After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.

But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.

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First World on Amazon Prime in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.

Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.

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Some special effect work with closed caption file.

Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…

numbers.


The Short Program

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The conference room scene that takes place at the FBI in Washington, D.C., will be filmed at The Verve, Crowne Plaza in Natick, MA.

In two weeks Serpentine goes into production. With our locations secured and cast and crew locked, this is the phase in which there are numerous details to attend to.  From printing posters, to purchasing a new laptop, American flag and external hard drives, it’s a methodical checking off the list of all the things that are needed to produce a film. For me it’s about organization. I produce dramas not seek to create them in real life.

Past all the aforementioned details, there’s also the creative side, from being in touch with the actors regarding their characters to the crew for various shots and other production matters. Producing a film is a team effort one that requires the cooperation of numerous parties. While the director may conduct the orchestra, you do need an orchestra!

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While visiting Northstar Ice Sports for some pre-production work this week, I discovered this higher angle.

As for the creative side, as we are filming just the first ten pages of the feature length version the end of the month, I wanted to give this short a name. For Justice Is Mind we called that short film version Evidence. For Serpentine it will be called The Short Program. I think this is a fitting title. First, this is a short film. In figure skating the short program is, to quote Wikipedia, “The short program of figure skating is usually the first of two phases in figure skating competitions.” As this short is phase one of the Serpentine project that’s another reason for the name.

Earlier this week I updated Serpentine’s IMDb listing. For this short film alone there are just over 35 people and companies. When you hear someone say it takes a village to make a film, they are speaking the truth! For those that wish to get into this industry, I always tell them to try to visit a film set at some point to see what’s involved.

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Serpentine on IMDb.com

But the one thing that I will be working on today is our press release announcing that Serpentine is going into production with The Short Program.  Anyone that has worked with me on my past projects knows how much I believe in promotion. And when someone signs on to one of my projects, I promote them at every opportunity. Case in point when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was always great to include the cast, crew and our partners whenever I could.

The marketing of a film is just as important as its making. Without promotion there is no audience. While today’s world of VOD is great for the independent filmmaker, if your audience isn’t told about your project how can they ever find it? To this day, I continue to promote First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. When one thinks of the enormous amount of time to develop and make a film, why wouldn’t you promote them regularly? As they say the proof is in the pudding when you see a consistent placement on IMDb along with VOD streams.

But there is one thing I do need to find for this particular production. It was a gift from Tara Lipinski after we photographed her for the magazine I used to publish. It’s been in my basement since I moved back from Los Angeles.

Director’s Chair.

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Pre-Production

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The observation room where the President of the American Figure Skating Federation and a mysterious sponsor will be watching in Serpentine. Northstar Ice Sports.

With the crew coming together and over 100 actor submissions this past week, pre-production on Serpentine is moving along. With Northstar Ice Sports confirmed along with a private residence, the last location I’m working on is a conference room that will serve as an FBI meeting.  Filming dates have gone out for one of the last days in October to the first few in November. To say there are a thousand details when putting together a film is an understatement.

When Justice Is Mind formally went into pre-production in May of 2012 I had three months to organize what ultimately became securing 15 locations via trade arrangements, 100 plus actors and a crew of over 17. Thankfully every star in the universe lined up correctly and those that worked on the project went above and beyond the call of duty. But make no mistake about it, there were issues that came up.  Things that needed to be dealt with on a day to day basis. There’s no such thing as a perfect world in filmmaking but resilience and innovation has always been the key.

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At a horse farm in First World.

The one thing that I always find rewarding about this process are those that come out wanting to help. For First World it was the securing of a horse farm, for Evidence it was being allowed to film in a house, for Justice Is Mind it was the LAST MINUTE securing of an MRI center, for Serpentine it was an ice rink. As a filmmaker the one thing that drives us all forward is enthusiasm. Nobody is saying you have to come to set with pom poms and break out into a cheer, but there should be the want to create and be part of something. To quote the IMDb videos, there are “No small parts”.

What I have learned over my twenty years of experience is that everything we do in this industry is cumulative. Some parts are small, some are starring roles. Some parts pay extremely well, some cover gas (maybe). But when you put them all together it’s what you call a body of work.

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At the MRI Centers of New England in Justice Is Mind.

All my work resulted in the production of Justice Is Mind. This past week I was reminded about the many theatrical screenings we had for my “freshman” feature. When I look at the pictures of us from those screenings and recall the work and dedication of so many, it’s events like those that make the journey all the more worthwhile. Yes, making a film takes time, dedication and resources, but it’s knowing what you create will far far exceed the time to produce it in the first place.

As for time, today I looked at the past 12 weeks of minutes watched on Amazon. When my three films have been watched for over 120,000 minutes in that period it further justifies what I do as a storyteller and filmmaker. While making a film is exciting, the joy comes in those that watch it.

Choreography.

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


Long Program

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Northstar Ice Sports in Westborough, Massachusetts will serve as a primary location for Serpentine.

Setting up a new project like Serpentine is one of details. It starts with the script where you generally write in isolation.  But when you make the decision to produce, that’s when a film takes on an entirely new dimension as it becomes project management with location partners, crew, actors and a variety of other participants.

This past week the location for the ice rink was confirmed along with the actors that will play Suzanne Wilson and her coach Elizabeth Rogers. The latter has a great backstory that I will soon share. Let’s just say that my experience in figure skating has come full circle from the time I first set foot on the ice.

Certain other actors have been confirmed along with crew. Over the next several days the aim is to confirm the rest of the crew while posting for actors and securing the final two locations. My plan is to formally announce the cast, crew and location partners via press release by October 1. Should our plans stay on track, the goal is to start principal photography at the end of October.

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Will be posting for Serpentine cast this week.

Like Justice Is Mind, and somewhat with SOS United States, when I started to write Serpentine my aim was always to produce the project. While it certainly helped that I had a background in the sport, when one decides to produce it’s a commitment.  One that starts long before and long after the production wraps. Serpentine started in January 2016 and will continue long into 2017 and well into 2018 and beyond should the feature move forward. There are no shortcuts in this industry.

I’m reminded of this commitment every day with First World, Justice Is Mind and SOS United States. With First World and Justice Is Mind released, there is the regular social media and general promotion. Both are doing extremely well on Amazon Prime in all their territories while SOS United States is still being reviewed by a production company (one that regularly produces).

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Justice Is Mind arrives on TubiTV!

Filmmaking is not like the old Ron Popeil motto of “Set it, and forget it!” once a film is completed. Promotion, in the age of VOD, is ongoing. Take this week for example, Justice Is Mind just arrived on TubiTV. As all of us associated with Justice Is Mind are reminded, four years ago this month we were filming and yet the project continues to reach new audiences through platforms like TubiTV. Platforms that didn’t exist when we were filming Justice Is Mind.

TubiTV reminds me of Hulu in its early days. It’s an advertiser supported VOD platform that doesn’t require a monthly or annual membership like Netflix (or Amazon for Prime). What’s important in the world of film distribution is to give audiences as many choices as possible on how, when and where they want to watch a film. Today, three years after release, Justice Is Mind can be watched on your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone and an array of other devices and platforms.

Speaking of platforms of a different nature, it looks like after twenty years I’ll need to get my skating legs underneath me again for Serpentine.

Next steps.

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Market Placement

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As in First World a motorcade will be used in the figure skating political thriller.

This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Hoopla.  To quote from their Facebook page, “hoopla digital partners with public libraries across North America to provide online and mobile access to videos, music and audiobooks. Enjoy thousands of movies, TV shows, videos, music and audiobooks that library card holders can borrow from their public library.” As I wanted to get Justice Is Mind into libraries at some point, our placement on Hoopla just took care of that across the United States.

When I say some point, I talk about a possible DVD for Justice Is Mind. Yes, on the back burner, is the possibility of making a DVD for Justice. I say possibly, because anyone that’s involved on the distribution side of the industry knows that profits in this sector have sunk like the Titanic (particularly for indie-films). Just go into any Wal-Mart and see the studio quality films in the $5 bin or even more market reality when you see a studio film at a dollar store for well a dollar. Because digital distribution doesn’t really involve a manufacturing component, it’s simply easier to execute on a domestic and international level. But believe me there are costs involved for VOD. Let’s just say that closed captioning in languages other than English gets a bit pricey.

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Justice Is Mind is now available on Hoopla.

There was a pretty good article on IndieWire this week titled “You Can’t Bulls—t’ And 6 More Revelations On How To Market An Indie Film.” I could not agree more with this statement “Even in the age of VOD, nothing beats the theatrical experience.” As I saw with Justice Is Mind in terms of audience and media placements, nothing does beat a theatrical experience. Simply, when you gather a group of people into a room to see a film it becomes a shared experience. There wasn’t one screening of Justice in which attendees didn’t ask questions or discuss the film after in the lobby.

When I set out to write a new screenplay I’m already thinking of how the project will be placed in the market. What angles does it have that I can pitch to a theater, distributor, school or convention? First World was a pretty straight forward science fiction film. But as a psychological sci-fi thriller, Justice Is Mind is a bit of a genre hybrid. But the one common theme was the ethics around mind reading and it’s possible, if not probable, ramifications on society.

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First World will soon be expanding its VOD options.

While some in the industry complain that there are too many movies being made, I believe there’s never enough. Because there are always those hidden gems that one can discover and promote. The gem in the world of distribution is in fact VOD. When you have library after library of films available to stream instantly, they certainly take up less space than a DVD! But don’t get me wrong, I do love my DVD collection.

It’s these new platforms like Hoopla that offer a terrific new avenue of options to Amazon and Netflix (Justice is on Amazon). More importantly, and call me old fashioned, Hoopla works with libraries. When you have traditional publishing working with digital publishing, the experience can only be a positive one because it yet again gives the customer that one thing they want – choices.

Now streaming.

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The VOD and theatrical screening options for Justice Is Mind.


The Proof

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Vernon Aldershoff as Henri Miller and Robin Ann Rapoport as Margaret Miller in the short film Evidence in 2011.

This past week there was a great article published in MovieMaker magazine titled A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept. For those of you with a completed script that you want to see on the big screen, this is an absolute must read. This is the exact path I took to make Justice Is Mind.

My first script was not Justice Is Mind, it was a sci-fi epic titled First World that was nominated for a few screenwriting awards. In my view, once you’ve been nominated (or won) some screenwriting awards, that pretty much should signal that you can write. But the next obvious step is going from the printed page to live action. That is easier said than done. The former largely consists of time and the one time purchase of software. The latter, no matter how you slice it, requires real cash.

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Aldersoff and Rapoport reprised their roles in the feature film Justice Is Mind in 2013.

In 2007 I produced a short film version of First World for $14,000. With a feature film budget of $2 million, there were certain concepts and scenes I wanted to present (we needed a motorcade). The short did really well on the science fiction convention circuit with over 20 screenings and some solid press (it’s now available on Amazon). In 2008 I pretty much had the financing lined up (Chinese investor) along with a distributor in Germany. But then the economy crashed as epically as the story itself. Indie film financing around the world was crushed.  But it was the short film that opened up the doors for the feature. Since then science fiction enthusiasts made this fan trailer to promote the project and I still present First World when the opportunity comes up. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s about patience.

As a producer told me when I was living in L.A. while you are developing one project, you are working on another and another and another. The idea is that they may be in various stages of development and you are presenting along the way. With luck, one of them may take off. For me, that launch was Justice Is Mind.

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The President’s motorcade arrives in First World in 2007.

Having written the feature film version of Justice Is Mind in 2010, I wanted to produce a short film version as a “proof of concept”. At this point it wasn’t so much proof that I could direct, it was to see the concept itself come to life to present it to financiers and production companies. In addition, I also wanted to see actors in what would be the starring roles.  After Evidence was produced in 2011, there was something else I discovered the project had – audience and distribution interest. Those two things by far are THE most important – obviously.  After two theatrical screenings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, followed by several sci-fi convention screenings and VOD placement, the funding came together for the feature film.

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A fan made trailer for First World.

The rest as they say is history. Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 and has enjoyed a theatrical run, is available on VOD and had an international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Two of the stars from the short film version carried over to the feature along with several of the crew. In fact the key grip from Evidence, Jeremy Blaiklock, was the director of photography on the feature film version. With over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind when the next project comes online I have a proven network to approach first.

As for the next project, I will say this – I’ve already selected the “proof of concept” scenes for the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating along with SOS United States.  For me, I’m not pursuing a “spec sale” deal, I’m only interested in directing and producing. But at the end of the day this is a business so one considers all options.

Lights, camera, concept.

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The concept poster for SOS United States.


Foreign Affairs

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Star Wars unites a world in this galaxy.

Russia. Spain. Taiwan. First, the email came in from a colleague if I could assist a filmmaker in Spain to register his film in the United States. That was followed by a university in Taiwan that wanted to license Justice Is Mind. As the week drew to a close a distributor in Russia approached us about a VOD for Justice in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

In the world of filmmaking “chain of title” is critical to establish a variety of documented steps of ownership rights to a film. As a former magazine publisher, I’ve been working with copyright matters for years. Sadly, I’ve seen some projects that don’t take this matter seriously. If you don’t have a properly established chain and necessary releases, it can severely complicate matters when it comes to dealing with a distributor. The chain starts with registering the script. Believe me it’s worth the fee.

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Justice Is Mind. In Berlin, Germany a Russian agent secures the FVMRI technology from Dr. Pullman.

The next chain of events this week came when I was contacted by a university in Taiwan that wanted to have Justice Is Mind for their library. Obviously, I was flattered and directed them to the variety of download and streaming options for the film. I even pitched them to screen the film like we did at some domestic universities here in the United States. It will be interesting to follow this development. Perhaps it could serve as a model for international university screenings.

On Thursday we received an offer for Justice Is Mind from a distributor in Russia that wants to distribute our film on a variety of VOD platforms in that part of the world. While I’m still reviewing the agreement, unlike some other recent distributors that approached us, this one appears to be pretty buttoned up. This is when I go back to my magazine experience and a phrase from President Reagan “Trust but verify” when it comes to foreign companies. I don’t say this because of the United States/Russian connection that Reagan was referring to during the Cold War, but from a business point of view with independent verification aka “due diligence.” Because once you sign on the dotted line and transfer the film assets, it’s done.

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First World. The Prime Minister informs the President about the secret missions of the Apollo space program.

What has been very interesting for 2015 is how much the film industry has changed on the global stage. Everything from financing to production to distribution has literally taken a 180 degree turn. Some will say for the better, some for the worse. It all depends on your point of view. Film Specific had an interesting take on all of this last week. Their webinar can be found here. But if there is one thing that prevails in all of this it’s marketing. Yes, I’ve written about this before. In my view it’s marketing on all fronts, from presenting new projects to potential investors such as SOS United States and In Mind We Trust, to the continued marketing of established projects such as First World and Justice Is Mind. As I’ve said before, consistency is key for the long term.

Of course while all this was going on, I was patiently awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I remember sitting in a theater in 1977 and seeing Star Wars come to life. Was it that moment that I wanted to be a filmmaker? I don’t know. All I do know is that with all the issues the world is facing right now it’s great to see a film that brings everyone together in a unifying force to enjoy a medium that the world over appreciates.

The movies.


Prime Directive

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In SOS United States military grade lasers are installed on the SS Leviathan and take on F35s.

Although Justice Is Mind has been on Amazon Prime for over a year, last night was the first time I saw it on a TV half the size of my car (My Pontiac Solstice even appears in the film).  While I’ve seen the film countless times on my computer during the production phase, and at every theatrical screening, seeing it in this context was a new experience.  I may be a bit bias of course, but the quality of the picture and sound was probably the best I’ve ever seen it.  When I think of the numerous QC (Quality Control) checks we had to go through, seeing it in this format brings another round of applause to the cast and crew and the technology of VOD.

As a filmmaker, I’ve worked with Amazon for years. They are by far, in my experience, the most filmmaker friendly of all the VOD services. In addition to paying on a monthly basis, their algorithm technology ensures that customers that may be interested in your film are made aware of it. Of course, I’ve been marketing First World and Justice Is Mind on a regular basis to drive traffic to our listings on Amazon and other VOD platforms. Simply put the old adage of “if you build it they will come” doesn’t work, it comes down to marketing.

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On Amazon Prime.

Regarding marketing and distribution, there was an interesting article on IndieWire this week about self-distribution. Having been a magazine publisher, distribution for me is second nature. But I know way too many filmmakers that hate it. Look, I get it. You just wanted to make your film and it took every resource you knew to accomplish that.  With First World and Justice Is Mind now released, there’s just a regular program to keep the conversation going in whatever venue, media outlet or platform I can reach. But now, I’m back to the foundation building process with In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind, and SOS United States. Making a film is like building a house—it all starts with a foundation.

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In In Mind We Trust the CIA is at the center of a clandestine mind reading program with Reincar Scientific.

As for the foundations of the industry, there is some serious seismic activity going on.  From Variety’s “Why Good Films Are Failing at the Box Office in Awards Season” to the Hollywood Reporter’s “Harvey Weinstein on the Awards Season Crunch: “Everybody Cannibalized Each Other,” one has to wonder what state the industry will be in a year from now from a business point of view. That business starts with economics when someone, or some company, funds these visions.  As I’ve stated before, I’ll state again, it does come down to a return on investment. I’ve never understood why the industry cannibalizes itself for an award at the expense of profitability. In all seriousness, I personally don’t care what film wins what award, I’m just interested in the film itself.

Audiences aren’t stupid, they want to see quality films. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if someone sees a film in a theater, they will look for it on a platform like Amazon. Of course in “the old days” that conversation was around DVDs. Remember when films would go “straight to DVD”?  Now some go straight to VOD.  If there is one word that drives this industry and its resiliency it’s innovation.  It’s innovation that gives filmmakers and audiences choices on where and how to watch a film.

On screen.

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In First World, China launches a manned mission to the Moon in 2018. In the real world, China’s space program is launching forward.

 

 


It’s a Marathon

Ted Koppel's new book 'Lights Out' warns about a cyber-attack like in SOS United States.

Ted Koppel’s new book ‘Lights Out’ warns about a cyber-attack like as in SOS United States.

It’s been just over a year since I completed my political thriller SOS United States. Like all my screenplays, I revisit them after some months for various edits. Part of the general premise revolves around a cyber-attack on the nation’s power grid that also cripples military satellites. Imagine my response when Emmy and Peabody Award winning journalist Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” was released last week. As Koppel stated on CBS This Morning, Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin had told him, “It’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when.” Needless to say, Koppel’s book will now be part of my “general” pitch with SOS United States.

As American’s we like to think we are number one, that we are an invincible. Sure, we lead in many areas, including our military capability, but unless you are truly living off the grid we all remember the Sony Entertainment hack and one drive down most streets in our nation says – fix me. It’s always a positive when a journalist like Koppel shines a light on something we take for granted – electricity. Remember 1953’s War of the Worlds when the phone went dead after the initial alien attack took out the power lines? “That’s funny the phone isn’t on the same circuit as the lights.”

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Two years after its release Justice Is Mind may be heading to a foreign market for VOD.

As for film, the American Film Market (AFM) starts next week. Their website boasts, “2,000 new films and projects”. You should see the catalogs of sales agents and the hundreds and hundreds of films that are represented. One does have to truly wonder how to stand out in the crowd. But stand out we must. Because, let’s be honest, it’s our project first before someone else’s.

It should be interesting to see how AFM resonates after Toronto’s tepid market. There’s no question that the recent box office troubles of Steve Jobs, Burnt and Our Brand is Crisis will be over analyzed and discussed. As filmmakers we are told by the “experts” that you need to attach stars to pre-sell into foreign markets, raise capital and secure distribution. But how many times do we see the absence of the consumer equation in this formula? It doesn’t matter what star you have in your film if the story isn’t there audiences won’t buy it.

"Is it safe?" Marathon Man (1976) Directed by John Schlesinger. Laurence Olivier with Dustin Hoffman.

“Is it safe?” Marathon Man (1976)  Sir Laurence Olivier with Dustin Hoffman.

Case in point I watched Marathon Man yesterday. Now there is a film that has stars and story. Imagine seeing the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier bring a film to life with the incomparable Dustin Hoffman along with the great Roy Scheider and the, what I believe, was the American debut of Marthe Keller. Watching the DVD special features, the passion of all involved truly made this film resonate at the box office in 1976, a film which still holds up today as a classic crime thriller.

This industry is a marathon. It’s easy to read about this great deal and that great deal, but we very rarely get the entire back story of the years it took to get to that point. By example, just this past week, two years after our initial release, a distributor in one of the world’s largest film markets, reached out to me about Justice Is Mind for VOD.  It’s all at the preliminary stage, but it proves that long term marketing and promotion is effective.

The Plan.

A possible reprieve for the S.S. United States.

A possible reprieve for the S.S. United States.


Henri, Margaret and a Cast of Hundreds

Cinemagic Justice

Yes, the title of this post is a twist on the book Scarlett, Rhett and a Cast of Thousands, but I was reminded just the other day on what goes into making a feature film. It was early summer in 2013 and our world premiere date for Justice Is Mind was set for August 18, 2013. Yes, the film was edited and scored, but we were still under the gun on those numerous last minute items like color correction and sound mixing. The one thing left to finish was the closing credits. It wasn’t until I started to add everyone in when the number of names credited was finalized at 201. But add in the employees of our location partners and the number was well north of that. It’s true when they say it takes a village, or maybe in the case of Justice Is Mind a small battalion, to make a feature film

With our Second Anniversary screening coming up on August 18 at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, planning is well underway. As I’ve mentioned before, I treat every screening like it’s the first one. The deal with the theatre is secured; cast, crew, location and marketing partners are notified; a press release is sent and then there is the media pitch. My special thanks to the Worcester Herald and Examiner for their early coverage of the special day.

I am delighted to confirm that several of the stars, co-stars and featured performers have already confirmed their attendance. While many of us have traveled the theatrical release tour together, August 18 will mark for the first time in two years the coming together of those that I haven’t seen since the world premiere. Indeed, we are all looking forward to it.

But aside from a reunion of some of the cast and crew, it is about presenting Justice is Mind to new audiences. The work that goes into the production of a feature film is monumental. Indeed, some producers I know are starting to pull back on producing projects as they are time intensive. But when a film is finished, when you see it play in a theatre, your TV or even your smart phone, you realize at that moment that all the sleepless nights, self-doubt and over analysis is over. The work that has been put in by so many is being presented to the world. Thus, you want to do it again and again. At least I do.

The film industry is changing even more rapidly that it was when I first created the world of Justice Is Mind. But at the end of the day content is still king. There are now more platforms available to watch a film than ever before and they need product to fill their pipelines. Whether it’s a tentpole like the upcoming Star Wars (I can’t wait) or a truly independent film like Justice Is Mind, there is something for everyone.

The days are long. You feel there will never be an end in sight. But then there is that moment after the final rendering that the heart and soul of a cast of hundreds comes to life. For it has been the reception that Justice Is Mind has received that has led to the development of the sequel In Mind We Trust. By this time next week, the concept trailer will be released.

Justice Is Mind – The Second Anniversary Screening – August 18, 2015.

Tickets now on sale.

Tickets now on sale at the  Cinemagic box office or online.

Tickets now on sale at the Cinemagic box office or online.


Sea Trial

The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in SOS United States.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in SOS United States.

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.

The concept trailer for First World.

The concept trailer for First World.

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.

A scene similar to this appears in In Mind We Trust.

A scene similar to this appears in In Mind We Trust.

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.

So while I start to market the concept trailer for SOS United States, I may look to do the same for In Mind We Trust.  Before I forget, check out the concept trailer for First World at this link.

Full Ahead

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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.


Two Decades

Timeline

A few months ago Michele Mortensen, who plays Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind and is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, asked me if I would give a lecture to her communications class about the importance of marketing communications and how you can build something from literally nothing. Suffice to say it was interesting encapsulating the last twenty years of my career into a one hour lecture this past week.

What I do isn’t rocket science (although I do write about rocket science!), it’s just common sense and takes time, lots of it. As I mentioned to the class, it is important to have a few good mentors you trust and who believe in you. Also, never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. When I was in high school and a teacher from the speech club told me not to think about doing anything on TV because I talk too fast, I can only hope that he saw one of my 300+ TV appearances. That example is an important one, because over the last twenty years I have done my best to steer clear of negative people and naysayers. I’ve always been someone that looks at the past as a guide for the present and a plan towards the future, but the one thing I don’t do is live in the past. That doesn’t move you forward.

On ESPN's The Price of Gold.

On ESPN’s The Price of Gold.

From that first TV appearance on the Montel Williams show in 1994 to presenting Justice Is Mind on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, it has been one hell of a journey so far.  While there have been many peaks, there have been just as many valleys. That’s just the world of business and life. Some things just take time to build.

This past week I heard from our distributor that another VOD platform has picked up Justice Is Mind. This is all about building for the next projects. The foundation has been well laid with the production and release of Justice Is Mind. Which project will be next on the horizon? It’s hard to tell. While In Mind We Trust makes perhaps the most sense at this stage, it could just as easily be First World and SOS United States given the state of the film industry and current events.

Michele Mortensen as Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind.

Michele Mortensen as Maria Miller in Justice Is Mind.

But through this all, and what was part of my lecture, is to be ready to seize the moment. That happened when I launched International Figure Skating, landed on Skating with Celebrities and secured the funding for Justice Is Mind. I had my materials ready. Whether it was a business plan, an acting reel or a script. In each of those cases, people that wanted to invest in me needed some additional information. At the time, I was top of their mind. Had I delayed, none of the aforementioned may have happened.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that marketing, communications and public relations is a continuous repetitive process. As I mentioned during my lecture, nobody is waiting for you to arrive, you have to tell them you’ve arrived.

Next decade.

46 years ago this past week the first British Concorde took off. In SOS United States the Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.

46 years ago this past week the first British Concorde took off. In SOS United States the Concorde returns to flight as Commonwealth One.


The Justice Bundle

On Thursday Justice Is Mind arrived on BitTorrent Bundle! I largely learned about BitTorrent through the media around the film Hits and the journey that project took to reach that platform.  Of sheer coincidence, Justice Is Mind and Hits share an actor by the name of Ken Holmes. Ken played Christopher Thomas in Justice Is Mind and is just amazing at promotion on social media. He does a masterful job of not only promoting himself but the films he’s involved in. Actors take note this is what a director looks for – a talented actor who also understands the world of social media.

On BitTorrent Bundle not only is the feature film available to both stream and download, but our bundle includes the trailer, short film, screenplay, press kit, interviews, Q&A and select stills. In essence, for $4.99 you have the whole Justice Is Mind experience from script to screen and beyond. I have to say working with BitTorrent has been great. Their customer service and attention to detail is first rate.

Ken Holmes (l) on the set of Justice Is Mind.

Ken Holmes (l) on the set of Justice Is Mind in 2012.

What I mentioned in my press release is that when I wrote the screenplay and business plan for Justice Is Mind these platforms didn’t even exist. Now, they command users in the millions. I revisited my business plan for First World and SOS United States this week as well. While First World did discuss VOD, it still incorporated DVD estimates. Let’s just say DVD has now been discarded as a revenue stream you can count on never mind estimate. As I just wrote SOS United States several months ago, largely and thankfully, not much had to be updated on that front.  With some investor and production meetings coming up in April, I know I’m going to need updated versions of these plans. As I near the end of the business plan for In Mind We Trust, the one area of revenue that’s critical for distribution is theatrical as it develops media and creates the audience that drives initial VOD traffic.

This past week a good friend of mine mentioned that he wants to turn one of his books into a screenplay. Nothing is more exciting than seeing the words you have written come to life. I remember to this day being on the set of First World watching the actors breathe life into characters that only existed on paper. To see it accomplished in a feature film like Justice Is Mind is a whole other milestone. In addition to sending him the script to Justice Is Mind, I also sent him this wonderful article by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman the Editor of Script magazine. I had the great pleasure of meeting Jeanne at the premiere of Justice Is Mind’s trailer at an Upstate Independent event in 2013.

Watching First World come to life in 2006. At the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.

Watching First World come to life in 2006. At the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.

Her article is a must read for anyone involved in the industry but specifically those that are involved in the world of screenwriting. There are so many wonderful takeaways and quotable lines. From “When a great script is sitting in front of an executive, they don’t give a shit how much or how little money you spent learning how to write it. They only care that they are going to make money on your words.” To “There are indeed charlatans in this business, as there are in any business. Do your research.”

My advice is pretty simple for anyone that wants to get involved in the world of screenwriting. Remember, your writing is different than my writing.  Watch films that you enjoy that have done well in the market and then hunt down their screenplays. Watch the film again and then read the screenplay. You’ll see how things are done in print and how they translate to the silver screen.

But do ask yourself the following before opening your wallet, “By paying this fee am I helping my career or theirs?” Remember it’s your career first.

Plans.

The business plan for In Mind We Trust is nearly complete.

The business plan for In Mind We Trust is nearly complete.


A New Platform

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Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man in Justice Is Mind.

This Thursday I announce that Justice Is Mind will go live on another VOD platform which has over 170 million users around the world. What’s so interesting to me is the constant ever changing world of film distribution. Most of the VOD platforms we are now on didn’t even exist when I wrote the business plan for Justice. Imagine where this business will be in the next five years.

Speaking of business plans, I’m about two-thirds completed with In Mind We Trust. While this plan certainly has many characteristics that are similar to SOS United States in terms of demographics and the Cold War overtures, there are of course numerous differences. It’s highlighting those differences in terms of marketing and public relations that will certainly aide the project as it moves forward.

Justice Is Mind arrives on a new VOD platform on Thursday.

Justice Is Mind arrives on a new VOD platform on Thursday.

One area that has sparked quite a bit of discussion has been the past-life reincarnation of Henri Miller in Justice Is Mind. In In Mind We Trust this area of the story is fully realized. How incredible was it that NBC News, and countless other media outlets, reported this past week about one ten year old boy who details a past life he had as a Hollywood actor. The report itself is fascinating and you can watch it at this link. Personally, I do believe in past lives. Like the research and science that’s part of “thought identification” mind-reading, this will be another area that I’ll be watching develop.

As for developments there is an upcoming movie called Women in Gold that stars Helen Mirren in which she plays a character who seeks to reclaim a piece of artwork that was stolen during The Third Reich, a claim that winds up at the Supreme Court. Based on a true story, there are the parallels between that film and Justice Is Mind and In Mind We Trust. In Justice, the painting in question is Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man that engages a conflict between Henri Miller and his father Joseph Miller. In In Mind We Trust, we learn the backstory of the painting and how it came into the possession of Henri Miller.

Just like in SOS United States an aircraft carrier from the United States arrives in the United Kingdom. Pictured -  USS Theodore Roosevelt will anchor off Stokes Bay, Gosport.

Just like in SOS United States an aircraft carrier from the United States arrives in the United Kingdom. Pictured – USS Theodore Roosevelt will anchor off Stokes Bay, Gosport.

Of course some things have changed from a business point of view, locally, here in Massachusetts. Our state’s film tax credit may soon disappear. In my view, the credit obviously, is a good thing. But as I understand the way our state’s tax credit is written, it does need an overhaul. An overhaul is one thing, but a termination is something else. The large studio productions that shoot in the state will just take their business to other states and an entire industry will simply atrophy. Many businesses have made significant investments that will have to be written off in terms of infrastructure and jobs. Simply, there has to be another alternative.

While we didn’t qualify for the state tax credit on Justice Is Mind, we would on In Mind We Trust, SOS United States and First World. If, by example, In Mind We Trust is produced for say around $100K plus on the low budget end, it won’t matter really if there’s a credit or not. But bring in a multi-million dollar budget with named talent and suddenly, and rightly so, you are looking elsewhere as it comes down to the overall project. Think about it. A film, even with a budget of $500,000, can earn a credit of 25%+. That’s not money you leave on the table, you simply take the table to another state or country that maximizes your capital.

Thursday announcement.

Reincarnation


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.


A Narrative

From Justice Is Mind, a World War II mystery is resolved in the sequel.

From Justice Is Mind, a World War II mystery is resolved in the sequel.

As I approach the final pages of the sequel to Justice Is Mind (I’m at 116), I’m entering what is probably the most involved plot aspects of the story; providing closure to one of the greatest mysteries of World War II, the resurrection of Henri Miller and a landmark Supreme Court case.  All of this takes research and, what I call, “fictional plausibility”.  For me I take known facts and provide a fictional twist. This is nothing new in screenwriting, but I do believe that if factual history is attached it should be honored before fiction is applied.

Speaking of screenwriting, I was reading Peter Bart’s latest column in Variety titled “Hollywood No Longer Shows It Has the Write Stuff”.  He goes on to say, sadly, that studios and some filmmakers are omitting thanks to that one person that needs to be thanked—the screenwriter.  How many times do we hear the word “collaborative” in this industry? Well, the screenwriter is the reason why everyone in on set. Simply put, you can’t build a house without a foundation.

The resurrection of Henri Miller in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

The resurrection of Henri Miller in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

Bart quoted from one of my favorite directors, Billy Wilder, “I like to believe that narrative movement can be achieved eloquently and elegantly without shooting from a hole in the ground, without hanging the camera from a chandelier and without the camera dolly dancing a polka.” This isn’t to take away from great cinematography, and I do love my “Hitchcock” wide shots, but without a quality screenplay it just doesn’t matter what you shoot.  This is why I’m such a fan of classic films. And give me a political thriller from the 1960s any day!

Speaking of industry trades, there was a great interview with Voltage Pictures president Nicolas Chartier in The Hollywood Reporter where he talked about piracy and the state of the industry. The one thing he said that struck me was, “the DVD business is dead.” I agree.  I was in a Dollar Store yesterday and saw a bin of DVDs for sale for only $1. Yes, some were films I never heard of, but plenty had star power behind them. Sure DVDs are still sold, but you have to wonder what’s left for the filmmaker after all the expenses.

One of my favorite wide shots from Justice Is Mind.

One of my favorite wide shots from Justice Is Mind.

For years I have been a supporter of Video on Demand.  VOD is simply one of the most dynamic and exciting distribution opportunities for filmmakers. With a responsible budget,  it is a way to make money on a consistent basis. I could not be more pleased with Justice Is Mind’s placement on Amazon Prime and VHX (among others). Traffic continues to build on a daily basis.

But that traffic just didn’t materialize overnight. We aren’t The Interview with the world media behind us. No, what has largely been responsible was our theatrical run along with the numerous special event screenings including our international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. Along the way we developed an audience, press and significant online entries.  While a screenplay is the foundation to a solid film, a theatrical run is the foundation for VOD.  It’s an equation that works.

So as I write the last pages of the sequel, I am hoping to soon announce our participation in a theatrical program that could bring Justice Is Mind to a theatre near you.

Act Three

You already ruled on this-page-0


In Partnership

remembrance1-page-0

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

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 Senate

Margaret Miller's book plays a central role in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

Margaret Miller’s book plays a central role in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

Having completed up to page 41 on the sequel to Justice Is Mind this morning, I’m now at that point in act two where the characters are starting their journeys in earnest. What’s going to happen to Henri Miller? In the quest to save Henri, what will Margaret Miller find? What do Constance Smith and John Darrow reveal at the congressional hearings? And what has Judge Wagner been appointed to? And these are just the recurring characters from part one. Indeed, when I’m writing I try very hard to not go with the obvious but to present the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, turns.  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.”

What I have learned with the sequel is that if I can imagine a fictional situation, scary, it seems to exist in some sort of preliminary form. From DNA memory sequencing to secret courts in the United States. Like it or not we now live in a world where technology, privacy and science are all part of our daily lives.  Growing up we yearned for a future of flying cars and a Jetson’s life. But in all actuality, do our homes and lives look any different from the early 1980s? But what has changed since then is how we personally interact on a daily basis. Between social media, the storage of our data and the electronic world we live in, privacy is all but gone (just ask Sony Pictures Entertainment). In the sequel to Justice Is Mind, one particular question will come to light – what’s your right to privacy?

What happens to the characters in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

What happens to the characters in the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

So while I continue to write the sequel with its variety of twists and turns, this past week was also investor conversations and some interaction with the industry.  Let me just say this to filmmakers looking for funding – don’t be fooled by “bright and shiny” brochures and fancy looking websites with all kinds of claims. Unbelievably, a company that reached out to me last week claimed they invested millions in a slate films. Of course I asked the names of these films for my own due diligence. Sure, but not after I paid a retainer. Sorry, I don’t recall having the word idiot stamped on my forehead. I didn’t bother to tell them that a simple search on IMDB revealed zero listings for these people.

In a new article this week, it looks like the Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth may belong to the US Marines rather than Britain. In SOS United States, President and Prime Minister plan to merge their respective militaries.

In a new article this week, it looks like the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth may belong to the US Marines rather than Britain. In SOS United States, the President and Prime Minister plan to merge their respective militaries.

But on a more festive note (this is the season!), I have found it pretty straight forward to simply call the people you want to reach from investors to agents and production companies. Everyone is entitled to say no (we all do it), but I find the soft and brief phone pitch followed up by an email with more information can easily lead to some nice conversations.  Building relationships takes time and trust. Everyone in this industry, it doesn’t matter who, is looking for the next deal, connection, gig or whatever.

I did, however, have the opportunity to submit First World to an agency. In as much as I know the story inside out, I haven’t read the script in a couple of years. It is amazing what a fresh set of eyes can bring. While the script has been vetted, nominated for few awards, produced as a short film and is registered, there was always a brief interaction with the President and Secretary of State that I felt just didn’t click. Well, I think it came to me when I read the script on Friday and made the adjustment before I emailed it. It was just two lines of dialogue but to a writer, and indeed to an audience, they can make all the difference.

Act Two

This past week NASA successfully launched Orion. One step closer to the story in First World.

This past week NASA successfully launched Orion. One step closer to the story in First World.

 


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.

 

 


A Mindset

After the opening credits, the sequel returns to Reincar Scientific.

After the opening credits, the sequel returns to Reincar Scientific.

I’ll still never forget that day when I stumbled upon that famed 60 Minutes broadcast on “thought identification” that eventually led me to writing Justice Is Mind. As some of you know, I was actually researching mind reading technology for a sequel to First World. Who would have thought in 2010 I would be sitting here the last couple of months in 2014 and writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind.

Writing the sequel to Justice Is Mind has been an experience. Up to page 25, with a mountain of notes, it has been interesting revisiting characters I haven’t really thought much about since I wrote Justice Is Mind back in 2010. Sure, I dealt with the characters when filming the feature but by that point the script had been written, vetted and ready to go. I don’t’ believe in on set rewrites unless a scheduling emergency comes up that forces an adjustment.  In my view, you write a screenplay with a sense of quiet and imagine the characters doing this and that. A film set, by design, is a noisy experience and really isn’t conducive to writing creatively.

In the first draft of Justice Is Mind, Reincar Scientific was never mentioned.  I added their scenes for the eventual sequel.

In the first draft of Justice Is Mind, Reincar Scientific was never mentioned. I added their scenes for the eventual sequel.

Naturally, I’ve had more than a few inquiries on what the sequel will be about. Without giving away too much, the sequel picks up three months after the original story. Yes, there are familiar characters from the original, but already I’ve introduced a few new characters.  The one thing I do before I set out to write a screenplay is to have an ending.  Justice Is Mind always had the ending it did. I’m not saying I’m so rigid that I would never change an ending, but having one at the start, for me, provides a light at the end of the tunnel to work towards. And, thankfully, the title of the sequel came to me a few days ago.

Regarding Justice Is Mind, I’m pleased to announce that we are also now streaming on IndieReign! This brings us to four platforms that are streaming the film with additional platforms coming online soon.  This is why the time has come to write a sequel. Justice Is Mind is not only in the market, but throughout our screenings and the comments I’ve heard there are a variety of parts that resonate with the audience. In fact, there were two audience members from two different screenings that said the comments they did that caused the direction I’m taking for the sequel.

The revelation of intelligence agencies involved with Reincar Scientific is explored in the sequel and major case centers part of the story.

The revelation of intelligence agencies involved with Reincar Scientific is explored in the sequel and a major legal case centers part of the story.

This also represents a new time for First World and SOS United States. I’m actively presenting both projects to interested parties for development. The one thing I try very hard to do is to not get lost in all the noise associated with this industry. It’s very easy to get absorbed about VOD, SVOD, this trend, that trend, A list today, C list tomorrow, etc. In the end it comes to one word and one word only – equity. Whether you are producing a low budget feature like Justice Is Mind or something in the few millions like First World, part, or most of the equity (translation cash), must be put up before a project will proceed.  As I mentioned last week, all movies start with the screenplay. Where they go from there is up to the market.

In First World, the story centers on what the Apollo missions discovered and covered up.

In First World the story centers on what the Apollo missions discovered and covered up.

I’ve always enjoyed both the creative and business side of the entertainment industry. I find it just as much fun to write a cool scene as it is to negotiate a screening and pitching it to the press. I guess there is another word that is applicable to my work.

Independence.

In SOS United States a mysterious satellite takes out military communications. In the real world Russia may have a military satellite in orbit.

In SOS United States a mysterious satellite takes out military communications. In the real world Russia may have a military satellite in orbit.