Over the last few weeks I have been reviewing SOS United States and breaking down the script by location for a cost analysis. While I would love nothing more than to realize a multi-million-dollar budget to produce this political thriller “Hollywood” style, I’m also a realist. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it could literally take years (if ever) to achieve that type of production.
As I’m often on a weekly call with a filmmaker organization, I hear the same stories from exasperated screenwriters. Their stories all fall along the same lines; their screenplay has done well in festivals, it has been reviewed and analyzed by industry experts, a comprehensive look book has been created along with a filmed teaser. One screenwriter filmed the first 20 minutes of their 90-minute screenplay to show what it would look like as a finished product. You can imagine I wondered why they just didn’t produce the whole thing?
This all being said, I am breaking down SOS United States to produce as an independent film akin to what I accomplished with Justice Is Mind and First Signal. As the script has been well received by film festivals winning a variety of awards, and has been read among my peers, I’m confident about the story. The rest? Well, it’s about securing cooperative locations along with a talented cast and crew. If the following months go well, hopefully SOS United States will be in production by early Summer 2023 with a 2024 release date.
While I work on SOS United States for production, First Signal continues to do well in the market. With our YouTube placement alone garnering over 1.1 million views, the audience and interest in the First World Universe is certainly there. Those that support the film regularly asks me when the sequel will be released. For First Report and First Launch, I am aiming to secure outside production financing as I believe the “franchise” deserves it for the next phase.
But there is one thing that all films require—a fair and equitable marketplace for our product. Over the last several weeks there has been considerable drama around the release of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. It has been reported that Amazon spent between $715 million to $1 billion on the project. One can appreciate they want to protect their product. But the one thing that can’t be controlled are audiences. Amazon’s attempt to do that by suspending ratings and reviews on Rings of Power has created an unlevel playing field in addition to an unfair business practice.
As I learned from the release of First Signal in particular, audiences either love your film or hate it with a smattering of “middling” reviews. While I would love for Amazon/IMDb to remove all reviews below a 7, I know that isn’t going to happen. But Amazon/IMDb did just that for Rings of Power. At one point First Signal had more reviews on IMDb than Amazon’s new $1 billion dollar property.
As an independent filmmaker we are told time and time again that a high rating and solid reviews will lead to more distribution opportunities. The work I have put in to keep First Signal’s rating as high as possible has been, to use a word I often use in this industry, herculean. But to see a company like Amazon manipulate ratings and reviews to benefit one of their properties at the expense of the rest of us that promote the Amazon machine, is just a horrid business practice—but now it is a precedent that Amazon alone has created.
One of Amazon’s baseless defenses is that because the series is well reviewed, audiences therefore by edict must love it. But then you look at The Terminal List that was beyond panned by critics but loved by audiences. As Amazon has established the precedent, perhaps they should remove the critics?
My point to all this is a simple one and is a lesson from history we should all remember – when you attempt to silence voices you only give them a larger platform to speak.
Over the weekend I attended another wonderful re-enactment event at the American Heritage Museum. The Battle of Bunker Hill was produced with enthusiastic re-enactors that brought to life one of the famed early battles in the American Revolutionary War. While I have attended numerous re-enactment events, these re-enactors went out of their way to engage with attendees to discuss this critical time in American history. Suffice to say I learned a few things!
While producing a movie is all about pre-production, rehearsals, etc., these re-enactment events are like watching a movie unfold in real time over several hours rather than months. Yes, most of these groups have all worked together, but their ability to produce this type of entertainment so quickly is impressive. For those of you in the New England area, the re-enactors from this past weekend will next perform at Old Sturbridge Village on August 6 &7.
This past week, First Signal received its quarterly VOD payment from Indie Rights. I could not be more pleased with our results to date. While I was reviewing the reports, I learned that First Signal secured a territory sale in South Korea. This is yet another milestone that First Signal has achieved. From our VOD placement, 1M+ views on YouTube and now a territory sale, First Signal is well on its way to achieving an awareness I only dreamed of.
Those of us that produce true independent feature films, do so because we love to tell stories. While we always hope for a return on our investment, it honestly isn’t top of mind. Yes, staying within a budget that has some hope for a return is important, but that cannot be the driver. The driving motivation to produce must first be a love of the craft.
I remember towards the end of principal photography on First Signal, that despite sweltering 100-degree heat, I was just vey excited to work those final days. Perhaps it was the realization that I knew the quality we produced the previous weeks, or it was getting into the rhythm of doing something that just felt natural. Whatever the reason, I do look forward to the day when I’m bringing my next project to life.
As for my next project, I completed my director reel a few days ago and will post it sometime this week. Having reviewed my previous five films and cutting out scenes that looked interesting, the challenge to select was just that: a challenge. The question begs to be asked, just what is a director reel? Having reviewed countless reels from other directors the question, in my view, is still unanswered. Some focus on cinematography, others focus on an intense scene or two, while some focused on visual effects. To be frank, they were all over the place.
In the end, I selected a variety of scenes and moments over a track of music that I believe reflect the scope of work I’ve produced over the years. For me, I wanted to show versatility in my directing ability. From conceiving a scene in outer space, to a confrontation between actors, to sports; my goal was to present a well-rounded view of my directing capabilities. While this reel doesn’t have a singular story arc per se, I think it does reflect that I like to tell stories that are unique in concept and execution.