Since my last post, First Signal has been accepted as an official selection in the Bucharest Film Awards and Aasha International Film Festival. To date, this makes eleven festivals that have accepted either the trailer or feature. I have to say I’m very encouraged by these early results. While there’s no guarantee of acceptance to any festival, I remain hopeful that First Signal will continue to be discovered by film festivals around the world.
Although I had planned to start screening First Signal independently of film festivals in October, I have put that plan off until 2021 and will wait and see how the film does during its festival run. Since I’ve submitted to additional festivals over the last few weeks that have a United States or world premiere requirement, any independent screening would jeopardize acceptance.
The theatrical market is the lifeblood of the film industry. While PVOD has demonstrated great promise during the last few months, theatrical is the key to success. Without theatrical, certain types of films either simply won’t get made or will be done so with dramatically reduced budgets. Sadly, some states have enacted the most draconian and restrictive requirements for theatres I’ve ever seen, while some (Los Angeles and New York) aren’t open at all. These types of restrictions do nothing except ruin industries while promoting fear to keep people out of indoor gatherings. I’ve never subscribed to those narratives.
The bright side to all of this is that smart states and countries have very relaxed if not completely opened their economies. They smartly treat citizens like adults and not like children. What this means is the obvious, businesses and creative industries will flock to these destination points. We all know enough now to know what is reasonable about events from the last few months. But, sadly, there are those governments that, for some odd reason, what to keep control of their citizens. Those citizens will simply move as no reasonable person wants to live under any form of totalitarianism.
I continue to remain optimistic that 2021 will return the world to normalcy. Some say the world will never be the same again. Some live in a world of such pessimism that optimism is like a foreign language to them. There are those times you have to look far down the tunnel to see a glimmer of light. But when that light is found, I prefer to be with those that share that destination. Life is too short, to waste on those that want to hold you back in their world of darkness.
While I do some repositioning with First Signal’s marketing plan for the festival market, an idea came to mind the other day for an offshoot story that would focus on one of the characters that is introduced in First Launch. This is a character that I introduced in First World, but never fully explored. Between my archive and what I have of this character in First Launch, my aim would be to create a stand-alone story that would expand the “First World Universe” and compliment the sequel.
Thousands attended the Marché du Film Online. In a world of uncertainty, the entertainment industry came together to insure the continuation of this worldwide marketplace. Of all the industry events I’ve attended over the years, Marché had the best panels that not only informed on the current state of the industry but demonstrated innovative new business models and predictions for the years to come.
One innovation that ramped up exponentially during the crisis has been the virtual cinema. With the majority of movie theaters closed around the world, some distributors joined with cinemas for a virtual experience. Customers visit their theater’s website and order a movie to view online. The revenue is split between the theater and distributor. With one distributor reporting $700K in sales from 13 movies, the early adopters certainly did well. But as another distributor stated, the early novelty dropped considerably during the last month. With restrictions easing and people going out more, the “stay at home” audiences have drastically changed in numbers.
Another thing that distributors learned during the last few months is that content is truly king. Films that they couldn’t previously sell, suddenly started to sell. With the proliferation of VOD platforms and offerings, new content is critical. Two tech pioneers from the Czech Republic introduced Artinii. A service that screens films in alternative settings (outdoor non-theatrical venues such as a bar or restaurant).
But all this available content on VOD also brought the conversation back to data of who is searching for and watching what. With so much of this data controlled by individual companies, it was discussed that this data should be available to all distributors to give customers what they want regardless of the platform they are watching it on. Proponents said that it would benefit everyone from the distributor to the customer. Opponent VOD platforms want to protect their data to benefit their catalog of offerings. While I understand that the platforms want to protect their own customer data, I have to believe that a neutral third party could hold general data that could be used by the industry to ascertain what’s working and what isn’t. This is why the theatrical experience is critical — distributors know by ticket sales what films are resonating in what market. Needless to say, the data debate will be going on for some time.
The one thing the general public doesn’t know, is the system that brings films to audiences. Imagine the following: films are produced year one, year two they are in post and year three they wind up at a market (AFM, Cannes, etc.). A release date is set, advertising dollars are spent, the marketing and public relations machine goes into overdrive a buzz is generated. Then suddenly, without warning, the theaters shut and all marketing comes to a grinding halt. Honestly, I don’t even want to know the tens, if not hundreds, of millions that have been lost in this industry.
With some theatrical markets just opening and others in the opening planning stages, from what I heard audiences aren’t rushing back. One of the primary issues is that the system is holding back new films as nobody really wants to do a release to near empty theaters. It could also be assumed audiences don’t want to see old releases or they are still concerned about the crisis. There’s also the issue of capacity. With social distancing still employed, who can make any money on capacity limits? How can you plan a theatrical release strategy when reactionary Governors threaten to shut down states again? And, honestly, who wants to sit in a theater with a mask on for three hours? Seriously, how do you eat popcorn? I know I won’t return to a theater until masks are no longer required. Given the amount of information available, they are a prop that has no meaningful benefit in the mainstream. I want my choices of recreation to be enjoyable not overly regulated to satisfy the hysterics. In Canada and the UK they give you a choice. Hopefully, in the United States we will soon have freedom of choice (odd, I thought we did with something called our First Amendment…I digress).
It became quite clear during the market that release windows are rapidly changing between theatrical and VOD. The customer wants the choice on where, when and how to watch new releases. You might not want to go to a theater and pay $14, but you may pay $19 to watch it on premium VOD at home. Cinema, however, is going to be jammed in 2021 because of the films that are being held back this year. At the end of the day films are financed by distributors in advance…they need a return.
I will say this, theatrical is critical to a movie’s success. This is where substantive revenue is made. This is where substantial press is received. Without some sort of theatrical exposure, a film gets lost among VOD offerings. One of the most thoughtful discussions was how to properly advertise a film on a VOD platform. You can advertise a film as in theaters, but VOD specific advertising is still a nascent possibility. Recognition on the platforms is critical. Just putting a film on them isn’t enough. You need audience engagement and that largely comes from a theatrical release and the media.
A panel I particularly enjoyed was when a well-known producer covered the process of constructing a proper script and presenting the package to the industry (investors, sales agents, etc.). What I loved was her no-nonsense practical approach. This is an industry about continued learning and expanding your network. It’s about meeting and working with new people.
I was generally pleased with how First Signal was received during the Marché. Several sales agents requested a screener and one sent me a deal memo to review yesterday. In addition to submitting to a variety of festivals with 4th and 1st quarter events, I’m closely monitoring the reopening of theaters and other screening opportunities to plot strategy. Fortunately, First Signal wasn’t “caught” in the crisis from a release point of view. We were still in the fitting out phase.
In the end it was a great job by all concerned. The team behind the Marché du Film, turned the most prestigious film market in the world to a successful virtual event. But as all agreed, virtual markets won’t work for the long term. This is an industry that requires socializing. It requires in person meetings as that is the only way you can really decide if you want to work someone. You can be introduced on a video chat, but the real works starts when you meet in person.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A few months ago I thought seriously about attending the American Film Market (AFM). Aside from the fact that I’m due for a visit to Los Angeles to catch up with friends and colleagues, there’s no question that networking opportunities at AFM are important to anyone in the industry.
Before I spend some thousands of dollars to attend (or on anything), one does have to be practical about it. Will there be a return? In my view, “Hollywood” is a year round industry and “pitching” isn’t married to a film market. But markets are something I’ve been tracking for several years and when The Hollywood Reporter starts its day 3 daily with the headline, “AFM Dealmakers in Revolt! ‘There’s Nothing for Us’”, I’m glad I didn’t make the trek.
I predicted that when Hulu came online that VOD would be the future for independent film. Now in 2017, Amazon and Netflix are the saviors of independent film. Television, whether terrestrial, cable or VOD, has taken so many A and B+ actors out of the independent film world to the more lucrative TV industry. So what’s left? Well, to quote from The Hollywood Reporter’s day 3 daily, “A lack of big-name, must-have projects is leading to plenty of grumbling at the market, with some buyers wondering if this year marks the ‘death knell’ for the indies. Says one frustrated insider: ‘It’s B-, C- and D-quality stuff’”.
If you read the dailies from the film markets you know the hundreds, if not thousands, of films that are looking for some sort of home. Something to recoup the investment that has been put up for someone’s dream. This is an industry of dreams envisioned and dreams realized. It’s important, for obvious reasons, that we keep the dream alive.
In my view the dream will be kept alive with a good story. Plain. Simple. To the point. Star driven independent films only do one thing, drive up the cost of the film with no guarantee of return at the box office. That’s fact, not fiction.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind my goal from day one was to produce it myself (with investors of course). Sure, I presented it to some production companies, but the feedback was unreal. There is this assumption that after you do all the hard work you somehow need their help. Here is a recent email I received from a production company, “I didn’t had the chance to look in details at the project as they seem to be in too early stage for us. Don’t hesitate to keep us posted when you will have a budget, cast, financial plan.” Putting aside the horrid grammar, the question begs to be asked, “And I need you why after I’ve done all this work?” The answer is simple, I don’t need you.
Producing a film is not rocket science. You just need a good script and capital. Done. Yes, it is that simple. The “rocket science” comes up if you’ve never produced because there are countless details you need to know, particularly when it comes to post-production (sound engineering anyone?). It also can get involved if you decide to use a named actor and have to deal with the myriad issues around that. Seriously, at the end of the day a filmmaker just wants to see their dream come to life. Having produced four films (3 shorts and 1 feature) and seeing them come to life on the silver screen is a feeling like none other.
Tomorrow I start to write this new feature with the same production aim as Justice Is Mind. The title of this new feature may have the word First in it, but thankfully it will be the fifth.
Yesterday I attended the annual World War II Saturday at Battleship Cove. While there seemed to be less reenactors than last year, I found it just as engaging and interesting. If I come away with having learned a few more moments during that time in history, it’s well worth the visit.
By example, I learned some interesting details behind the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Sure, I was generally aware that the United States and China had some sort of cooperation during the war, but when it’s illuminated it puts it in perspective. That “perspective” continued after SACO dissolved which was followed by China’s civil war.
Speaking of China, Justice Is Mind has been picked up by China Mobile as a flat licensing deal. As I understand from our distributor, it’s now going through censorship and localization on their end. It will certainly be a milestone to break into the Chinese market. One does not need to be a filmmaker or read the industry trades to know that China is one of the leading film markets.
Given the tumultuous state of U.S. box office revenue this year, it’s imperative that these foreign markets are available to filmmakers. For Justice Is Mind and First World our primary foreign market is the United Kingdom. I have also noticed that viewership in Japan is picking up. But one driving force that continues to put films front and center is the importance of a marketing plan.
I can’t tell you how many times the marketing plan for an independent film seems to begin and stop at the industry trades. Never mind when you read the first cut to studio budgets seem to be in marketing. As I have often said you can have the greatest project in the world but if nobody knows about it nobody will care.
As soon as I finish writing a script, I start working on the marketing plan in terms of a target audience. With distributors relying more and more on filmmakers to assist in the marketing plan, there really needs to be one in place before the first scene is shot. With First World it was science fiction conventions. With Justice Is Mind it was law schools and universities that focused on neuroscience. With Serpentine: The Short Program it was the Ice Network. Yes, like the aforementioned, films have their primary target audience then they broaden out from there.
Amazon is a perfect example of that. Someone might have heard about Justice Is Mind from our primary plan, but found the film on Amazon. Their algorithm then points customers to other recommended films. At that point the plan is relatively complete. But it all starts with that primary plan to push consumer awareness then generally continues with social media and other digital marketing tactics on an ongoing basis.
It’s hard to believe that it was five years ago this month that we were producing Justice Is Mind. Yet here we are five years later with new markets opening. The greatest thing about the world of film is discovery. It doesn’t matter when the film was made, it’s about when a customer learns about it for the first time. In today’s world of VOD a film no longer has a shelf-life.
Last week I had the opportunity to submit In Mind We Trust as a pilot for a TV or Web series. As some of you know, In Mind We Trust is the sequel to Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the sequel a couple of years ago, I think the idea for a series was always in the back of my mind.
The question I had before I submitted was that the pilot might not make sense unless someone watches Justice Is Mind. The response back was pretty straight forward. “…to have a lot of unanswered questions at the end of a pilot script — it opens up the world any mysteries for the series.” Well if there’s questions they want, they’ll get it with this story!
It’s stories this industry wants and needs. Sure we read how the major studios are just focused on tentpoles (I loved Wonder Woman by the way), but the terrestrial networks and OTT services just continue to expand and need programming to fill their schedules. With Apple, Facebook, Vice and others actively moving to original series orders, the quest for stories continues.
The one piece of advice I was given when living in Los Angeles was to always have more than one project ready to present. I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but it makes total sense. Some may love sci-fi but have no interest in political thrillers. Others may not want something sports related, but are looking for a drama. Well, the latter fit the bill with In Mind We Trust.
Personally, if I had my druthers, who wouldn’t want to see their concept set up at a Netflix or Amazon. When I see the production values of The Crown and The Man in the High Castle (two of my favorite shows), it’s just amazing where the industry has gone over the last several years. But like anything in this business, it’s about time and in the case of a series—staffing.
Unlike a movie that can be staffed pretty quickly, a series requires an unprecedented amount of personnel. Just take a look at the end credits of a show or their listings on IMDB. These aren’t just one off projects like a movie, these are, if the show succeeds, long-term commitments. But before any of this is even remotely considered, it comes down to the story itself.
When I think of the number of mind-reading, privacy and intelligence agency articles being published on a regular basis, I certainly think In Mind We Trust has as good a chance as any of getting a review. Thankfully, the concept has already gone through some market testing with Justice Is Mind. From a theatrical release to media coverage and VOD, anyone looking at this project can already see it’s more than just words on a page.
With Marche Du Film (Cannes) coming up, I always find it interesting to learn about the new players while reading about the fate of others. No doubt in the weeks ahead we will read in the trades about the big splash of a new company’s star driven acquisition or the sorry story of others that used to hold court on private yachts. Having been to Cannes many years ago (not for the festival) the location is truly a stunning one to announce a major project.
There is no question that this is an industry of flash. When you have good news to announce you do so publicly, loudly and in grand fashion. The whole point is to cut through the noise to get your project noticed. As I’ve said time and time again, this industry is as much about making motion pictures as it is about promoting them. This is why in so many cases when you see a production budget you multiply it by itself for marketing and public relations.
But then there are the rest of us that aren’t making $175 million motion pictures (at least not yet!). What filmmakers like me rely on is reliable consistent revenue from VOD. While so many players come and go in this industry, we rely on VOD platforms to be there year after year. Although sites like Netflix are in a public relations battle with Cannes, Amazon is playing by the rules and, “was not coming to the South of France “looking to disrupt Cannes,” adding, “You have to approach Cannes on its own terms.”
And while Cannes is one of the world’s greatest launching pads for a film, there are VOD sites like TubiTV that are also making waves. Just this past week the site announced a $20 million outside investment. Justice Is Mind has been on TubiTV for several months and has started to gain some solid traction. I’ve also noticed an increase in traffic for Justice on other VOD sites. All these upticks bode well for the industry as a whole. It shows that consumers are watching across a variety of platforms and it doesn’t matter if they are star driven $100 million plus budgets or films made for under $100K. At the end of the day audiences want to be entertained and they want the choice to be theirs.
But as the industry enters a new season it’s a review of my current projects First World, SOS United States, Serpentine and In Mind We Trust, the sequel to Justice Is Mind. Are my websites updated? Do they convey the current status of each project? You know what they say about first impressions, you only get one to make one.
There is, however, a cardinal rule that I live by. I never disclose who I’m talking to and who I submitted to. This is why I declined to respond to a local entertainment publication that reached out to me on one of my projects. This is like when actors announce who they just auditioned for (or what festivals a filmmaker submitted to). I promise you that doesn’t help you get the part any quicker. In fact, it can have an opposite result. The same holds true for behind the scenes conversations. Sure, the trades like to know what’s going on, but confidentiality is paramount.
However, I will say this. The world’s largest oversees mobile player picked up Justice Is Mind from our distributor earlier this year. But until it’s live, I’ll hold on the formal announcement.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
There is something to be said about arriving at a theater and seeing not one but two of your films on the marquee. Yes, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. Because it is in that moment that all the work that has gone in to making a film is celebrated.
And celebrate we did. One by one family, friends, actors and crew started to arrive. Some I saw as recently as a couple of weeks ago, others it’s been a few years. But in the moment it feels like it was just yesterday. And heavens knows there were many yesterdays to get to this point!
After a reception in the lobby of the Strand Theatre, I made my opening remarks and then Justice Is Mind began. I was sitting next to Vernon Aldershoff and he said to me, “It never gets old.” No it doesn’t. And seeing the film in its highest resolution in a DCP format was another highlight.
Of course the highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program. This is one project that was particularly close to me for a variety of reasons. The moment the film started I was reminded about my days as a skater, teacher, magazine publisher and the TV work I would do around the sport. But it’s not about me, it’s about the product. One that you want audiences to enjoy.
And it was the next day that audiences around the world were able to stream Serpentine: The Short Program on both Amazon and the Ice Network. So far the numbers look promising and early reviews have been encouraging. But like First World ten years ago, this is an industry of the long haul. Or as we say in figure skating, the long program.
While VOD is a savior to the independent filmmaker, there is nothing like the theater. Because there is that one moment you’re hoping for that can only happen in a theater. To again quote from All About Eve, it was Eve Harrington that said it best, “If nothing else, there’s applause.” And they did when Serpentine: The Short Program faded to black.
The media has reported. The DVD has been tested. We have a green board on Amazon. The file has been transferred to the Ice Network. No, this isn’t LC 39 at Kennedy Space Center, it’s the preparation for the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program tomorrow night at The Strand Theatre and on Amazon and the Ice Network the following day.
When launch day, or better known in the industry as “release date” arrives for a film, that’s when the story you’ve worked on for so long is transferred to the audience. As Bill Sampson said in All About Eve, “You’re in a tin can.” Of course in this age the tin can reference is more about DCP and DVD.
This past week was just about some final details, finishing up the copy for various email templates and our official press release as part of the VOD launch on Tuesday. The highlight was this article that appeared in The Item. While national press is great for general awareness for VOD, there’s nothing like local press that can drive traffic to a theater. This newspaper circulates in Clinton and the neighboring towns.
Tomorrow night looks to be a star studded affair with many of the actors and crew from both films attending. I have to say I love these reunions. Not only does it give everyone a chance to catch up, but to see our collective efforts on the silver screen. And then there is the overlap. Audiences will see several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind in Serpentine: The Short Program.
But with each project comes an expanded network and new processes. While Amazon certainly existed five years ago, the opportunity to distribute directly to several countries did not. Since Evidence premiered at the Strand, the number of VOD platforms has exploded. Not only does this mean the need for programming from TV shows and movies, but the ability to rise above the crowd and be heard.
Like Evidence that resulted in Justice Is Mind, the goal with Serpentine: The Short Program is to develop enough interest to produce the feature film version this year to release after the Winter Olympics in 2018. What this comes down to is building an audience and not getting lost in the crowd. When you consider that there are 10,000 – 50,000 films made a year, you can’t wait for an audience that may never find you, you have to tell them where you are.
As the saying goes, when opportunity knocks you take it. But none of this comes without passion, dedication and being steadfast for the long haul. A haul that can seem like forever until the day arrives.
Standby to launch.
Whenever I secure a theatrical screening, one of my goals is to obtain local press to bring awareness to the event. Sure, there’s the requisite social media engagement and Facebook event. But there’s nothing like securing media placements. This week the Sturbridge Villager wrote a terrific cover story on Serpentine and our upcoming premiere at the Strand Theatre on March 6. Not only did reporter Olivia Richman capture the essence of the film, but my background in the sport and passion for filmmaking.
It is about passion when a theatrical screening is on the horizon. For the thousands of independent films that get made every year only a sliver receive any sort of theatrical release or even one time screening. To fully capture that exposure I always seek to have the events “officially” photographed. I’m delighted to report that David Bruno of David Bruno Event Photography will be our official photographer for the evening.
Further to the above it also simply comes down to organization. By the time the day of the event arrives my aim is to actually enjoy the evening rather than running around at the last minute trying to rectify something. This is why I no longer participate in some third party events unless they are produced by professionals. I recall one science fiction convention I was at five years ago when despite my assurance that they had a DVD projector, screen and speakers set up, they didn’t. Compounding the issue was some volunteer lecturing me that their failure was my responsibility. Understand these words, if you dare to put on the hat of producer it is your responsibility to make sure things run smoothly.
As for distribution, next week I transfer Serpentine: The Short Program to the Ice Network. I have to say it will be great to see Serpentine on both Amazon Prime and the Ice Network. With Amazon being available to over 60 million and the Ice Network reaching figure skating enthusiasts around the world, the VOD distribution plan will bring the awareness this project needs to develop as a feature film.
Of course all these efforts with Serpentine remind me of the days when I first produced Evidence which led to production of Justice Is Mind. In some ways it seems like it was years ago (it was), in others it seems like it was yesterday. Because if it’s the one thing I endeavor to do is to promote my projects at whatever stage they are in. There are regular updates to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, pitches for development, media and presentations for distribution and screenings.
Over the course of any given week I get Google Alerts on various subjects I track. One of them, no surprise, is for mind reading. When I received an alert for a recent article in MustTech News I pitched them Justice Is Mind for coverage. I was delighted to receive an email from them about a wonderful review they posted yesterday – “A must-watch film for those in love of thrill and science fiction!” That works!
And it’s back to work next week at the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI. I have to say I’m looking forward to falling back into the character of an NCIS Agent and working with some new actors and JAG students. Out of all the performance work I’ve done, this is the most unique. Not only is this a great acting opportunity from a role-playing point of view, but you learn something in the process about how the legal services work in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Back to base.
Tomorrow I formally announce the premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program and encore screening of Justice Is Mind for March 6. Yes, that means it begins with a press release, email newsletter and rollout of the marketing and public relations plan. This is when I substitute my director’s hat for that of distributor. In the world of being an independent filmmaker, wearing multiple hats is what’s it’s all about. My last bit as director on Serpentine are the nuances around the color correction that will be completed this week.
With our return to The Strand Theatre, I can’t help but reflect on the last several years. If I count both films, we are talking about over 220 people that have had some sort of part in bringing these projects to life. As I’ve often mentioned to fellow actors and filmmakers, the completion of films, their premieres and other associated milestones don’t happen regularly and should be embraced and enjoyed when they do. It’s very easy to read the trades and see the results of the end product, but for anyone that has produced or directed, I promise there was a long road to that point. For Serpentine, this has been a one year plus project. What started in January 2016 with the firing up of Final Draft will be seen in a month on the silver screen.
But what March 6 will represent to me is what’s possible in the real world of independent film. I say real world, because there wasn’t a seven figure budget involved in these projects (or even six ). In the real world it’s about collaboration to make a project possible. It’s also about working with those that share your vision. It’s about pushing the envelope to the edge with the resources you have to see it come to life on the silver screen.
Speaking of the silver screen, I was reading this article in the Mirror about the new golden age of picture houses. I fondly remember the world premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2013 at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY that was built in 1930. As for the Strand Theatre it was built in 1924 as a vaudeville theater. There’s something about their vaulted ceilings and ornate designs that make any screening in these venues a memorable one. The trend mentioned in the article can allay any fears about VOD ending the need for theaters.
As I’ve often stated, both theaters and VOD can easily co-exist and well they should. The industry didn’t come to end when TV was invented or when VHS came to market. In fact, they enhanced the industry. They created a secondary market for additional returns. But now it’s Amazon, Netflix and others that are in so many ways leading the industry for independent film. Who would have thought an online platform would finance a film only to have them first distribute it theatrically before landing on their platform. It’s just another example of how this industry modernizes itself without losing sight of where it all started.
But sometimes modernization comes with needed adjustment. I was delighted to learn that IMDb.com is shutting down their discussion boards. The boards were mostly a cesspool of hate filed bitter comments by faceless trolls. While the consumer review section enhances a film, the discussion boards did nothing for the experience. For a company like IMDb it’s about manpower, monitoring and deleting hate filled posts, baseless facts and lord knows what else. Oh but when they did delete, the poster cries like it’s their right to do whatever they want wherever they want. It’s not censorship it’s about defacing a property that is not yours. Try walking on to the property of your next door neighbor and shouting your opinions from the top of your lungs. You would be rightly arrested. You want your right to free speech? Go to your own Facebook page (even they have terms and conditions), start a blog, yell from your property or better yet just go to the public town square and see if anyone cares. Because until you put your name to it nobody does because you don’t exist.
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!
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.
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.
This past week Justice Is Mind went live on Amazon in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Japan. Since the film was released in 2013, it has been my plan to get the film distributed in as many territories as possible. Considering part of the story takes place in Germany, and as our composer and sound mixer reside in the United Kingdom, it’s great to be able to bring the film to those markets. Also, it’s part of the long term plan to generate as much interest in the Justice Is Mind story as possible as the pitch process continues to further develop the project as a TV series. But, like all things in this industry, it’s about having more than one project in development as things take time.
When I was taking to a fellow filmmaker in England this past week, the one thing we talked about was distribution. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, as a former magazine publisher I directed the distribution and marketing of my magazines. The process has a variety of similarities. You deliver your finished product to a central source and it’s delivered to the outlets. But as I learned all those years ago, for every middleman there is a percentage given back. Sometimes a middleman is necessary, sometimes not so much.
To quote from Amazon Video Direct’s website “Helping content creators and visual storytellers reach millions of Amazon customers across hundreds of devices with the same distribution options and delivery quality available to major motion picture and television studios.” Why, unless a distributor was acquiring your film for a fee, would you just give Amazon your film to upload? With the tens of millions of customers that Amazon commands, I certainly understand why some distributors require Amazon to be part of their VOD platform mix. But with “platforms like Distribbr, Quivver, and Bitmax – what’s the benefit of going with a more ‘traditional’ distributor over those?”
Honestly, by the time I release my next film, self-distribution may just be the way to go. Unless a distributor brings me a fee and a marketing plan, why would I bother signing away the rights to my film when I can just deal directly with the VOD platforms? I have heard too many horror stories from filmmakers that were all excited a distributor was interested in their project only to receive a fraction of return even though their project was available on countless platforms. It’s sad and frustrating to hear these stories, because I know how much hard work and years of dedication goes into making a film.
As for new projects, the concept poster for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating is now being designed. With the script registered and URL reserved, the general plan is to formally announce the project in mid-late August. Nothing is more exciting than seeing those first images come to life. And for me that starts with the concept poster.
Of course, like building a house, this is the stage where the architectural plans are developed. In my view, a script is an evolving document based on a variety of factors until you lock it down just prior to pre-production when you lay the foundation for what you will ultimately see on the screen.
This past week I finished watching season one of The Man in the High Castle. Between the story, acting, production values and world building, it has to be one the best, if not innovative, shows I have ever seen. This groundbreaking series from Amazon yet again demonstrates that the streaming services have arrived. When you watch a “TV show” produced by and for a streaming service that exceeds the quality of cable TV, you can see how “cord cutting” has come into being.
But like so many TV series and films, it was interesting to learn that The Man in the High Castle was in development for years. It just demonstrates that persistence and patience is again the key to moving forward in this industry as nothing happens overnight. When Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind, went live on Amazon in the US, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria this week, I was reminded by one of the actors that Evidence was five years old. Justice Is Mind was written in 2010, followed by the production of Evidence in 2011 and the feature film version in 2012. Since Justice Is Mind was released in 2013 the marketing has been ongoing. Why? Because the next goal is a TV series around the concept. When will that happen? In this industry, that would be anybody’s guess.
An editor from one of the industry trades recently posted the following to their Facebook profile, “The hardest part about this industry is even when you find your champions, so much of your success is out of their control. They can work their asses off to help you, but they’re still climbing Mount Everest while dragging a dozen anvils behind them.” The point is obvious, this is an industry that works on teams. All you have to do is look at the cast and crew lists on IMDb to see the staggering number of people involved. For Justice Is Mind that number was well over 100.
A friend of mine recently said to me, that I write what I can produce. That’s partially true. Justice Is Mind was written exclusively with the idea that I might be able to pull this off within my own network of contacts. Whereas a project like First World requires substantial resources with my political thriller SOS United States falling in the middle. Even the short film version of First World had a cast and crew of over 25.
Since First World and Evidence went worldwide on Amazon, it has been interesting to see new audiences discovering these projects. That is the glorious thing about streaming. Your project is discoverable. But in each of these projects, they had some sort of theatrical and exhibition push prior to their online premier. It’s this type of audience development that propelled them forward online.
The one thing I remember when writing Justice Is Mind is that I could visualize it happening. The same is holding true for this political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating. Of course there are elements that raise the bar from my last feature, from filming on ice performances to “dressing” an arena to look like a “world championship”. But like the Justice Is Mind project, the plan is to first produce a short film version to not only generate interest in the project, but to develop a team that can see it through.
“Not paying enough attention to the script.” I couldn’t agree more when I first read that statement attributed by Arnon Milchan of New Regency on The Tracking Board. Time and time again I read in the trades, or general consumer press, about the issues a film has faced because of the script. In so many of these cases it seems that a script was rushed to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. But as I posted this past week on Facebook, no amount of A list actors can rescue an ill-conceived script.
The article that Milchan was quote in revolved around the dearth of the mid-budget movie. I fondly remember the variety of movies that studios used to distribute in mainline theaters that didn’t revolve around a comic book, endless sequel or rehash of something we already saw (like the latest Star Trek and Star Wars films). But thanks to determined filmmakers, great films like Trumbo, Spotlight and The King’s Speech are being made and, honestly, always will be. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience to support it from financing to distribution.
As I come up towards the end of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating, there is the continued promotion of either projects completed or in development. In my post last week I talked about my “special relationship” with the UK. A few days after my post, I was nicely surprised when Daniel Elek-Diamanta sent me a re-imagined look for the SOS United States concept poster. While I wanted the first concept poster to reflect the vintage era of the ocean liner, this one presents the same view but with a contemporary look. When developing a new project, it’s all about promotion and this concept poster really captures it!
In the world of filmmaking, particularly as an independent filmmaker, it’s all about promotion and getting the word out. It’s about exploring every avenue of distribution and pitching your project. We all look around to see what other filmmakers have done to promote their projects, but what works for one film may not work for another. But there are some distribution avenues that are just a no brainer – Amazon.
When Amazon announced their new Amazon Video Direct program I could not be more excited. Although First World was available in the United States for some years, I now had the ability to have it in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Last week it went live in those countries. Yesterday, I uploaded all the necessary digital assets for Evidence, the short film version of Justice Is Mind (the feature is with a distributor). The process was painfully simple to reach an audience in the tens of millions.
But when I saw someone post on their Facebook page, “I fear my work will get lost in a sea of titles and get drowned out by larger studios.” That’s a defeating position to take. Once it’s live on Amazon it’s just a matter of external promotion through social media and other channels. Amazon operates on an algorithm of suggested films. All it takes is a few people to find your project on Amazon and it will just continue to grow. While there are other VOD platforms popping up every day, they rely on the filmmaker to bring the audience whereas Amazon already has the audience. Yes, you’re in a sea of films. But I’d rather be in an ocean than a puddle.
There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t come across an article or two that offers advice or tips of the trade or some other moniker about steps to “success” in the industry. I come from the point of view that what works for me, might not work for others and visa versa. Because this industry is built on creatives, we all tend to think differently and have different approaches to accomplishing our goals.
There was a pretty interesting article on IndieWire this week about screenwriting. I generally agreed with most of it except for one key point. First, I absolutely agree with Francis Ford Coppola about knowing your ending or at least having a fairly solid idea of where you want the story to wind up.
When I wrote Justice Is Mind I pretty much knew where I wanted the story to end – a confrontation between father and son that nobody saw coming. For SOS United States it ends where it starts – albeit with a decisive decision by the President and Prime Minister. For me, I generally need to know where the highway ends because that’s what a script is—a road trip.
However, I absolutely disagree with Oliver Stone about not putting time into a script and just writing a treatment. A treatment or even a simple pitch might work for certain agents, production companies or studios where someone like Stone is a known entity, but a properly written script shows the talent of the screenwriter. Some people are very good story tellers, but writing a script is a completely different animal. Also, and I could easily be wrong here, I have yet to see a festival or contest promote, “And the best treatment award goes to….” Yes, I do write a treatment of sorts when I start to put together a story, but it’s never more than five pages and certainly not a document I’d ever show someone!
But perhaps the most valuable piece of advice was from Mark Duplass. It is a point I have ruthlessly exploited myself when it came to First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind – “Teach yourself to be more than a writer.” I love to write. I love to come up with story ideas. I’m pretty proud of my three screenplay nominations (hopefully more down the road!). But I had to prove myself – someway, somehow.
Over the years I got to know a lot of talented actors, cinematographers, special effects experts, etc. My years of experience running a publishing company with a distribution operation obviously helped enormously when “running” a film. So I taught myself theatrical and VOD distribution. I talked to theatres, Hulu in their early days, and others. Nobody will care what I make if it doesn’t get seen. And to drive an audience to a building or a website it comes down to marketing and public relations. If you can write a screenplay you can write a press release. If you can direct an actor you can pitch the media.
Mark Duplass’s quote really sums up my career to date, “My advice is, go ahead and write the best script you can make. Your favorite script. Don’t even think about creative limits. Don’t even think about budgetary limits. Then, go write something that can absolutely be made for under $10,000.” In my world, that would be First World ($2 million+) to Justice Is Mind (>$25,000).
Now streaming – Justice Is Mind.
This post might be observed as a continuation of The Cold Call. As I’ve previously discussed, whether you are a studio, production company or independent filmmaker, you need investors to realize your projects. As I stated in my opening remarks at the world premiere of Justice Is Mind, without them you don’t have a project. It doesn’t matter how great it is.
Over the last few weeks, I have discovered a not so pleasant revelation of investors (hedge funds, private equity, etc.) that used to be involved in the industry but aren’t any longer. The reasons stem from lack of returns, revenue transparency or, worse, misrepresentation. These investors that used to invest millions now invest elsewhere, and for good reason.
As filmmakers we are creators, visionaries that can illuminate a project without showing one frame on the screen. It’s what we do. It’s not only the investor we have to sell; but the actors, crew, location, marketing partners, distributors, etc. But there is also a business side that needs to be observed to make these dreams happen in the first place.
The one thing I have learned with investors over the years from publishing to filmmaking is what I call an alignment of common interests. Yes, you want funding, but you also want some sort of engagement. When I was publishing magazines, my investors had a vested interest in the industry we covered. In filmmaking it can be anything from the subject of the film, the mechanics of the process or simply a pure investment play to generate a return. But in my view, it just comes down to being honest and, to be blunt, not a bullshit artist.
Yes, I will tell you point blank that I can make $1,000 look like $50,000 on screen and back it up with the talent involved and technology shop talk. But I will not tell you that we will get selected for Sundance and all rights deal that includes a wide theatrical release. But what I will state is how I accomplished a theatrical run and VOD distribution for Justice Is Mind. I’ll then mention the various companies I would use to facilitate this process for the next project. In other words, transparency.
As I filmmaker I couldn’t have asked for better investors in Justice Is Mind. First, as they are in business for themselves, they were realists and enjoyed both the excitement and challenges that come with any new business. And a film, even a low budget indie, is a business.
The one area they found particularly interesting was distribution. Rightly so, they wanted to know how Justice Is Mind was going to market. While the business plan spelled out our primary method at the time, during the production of Justice Is Mind a company I was going to work with changed their business model that didn’t align with ours. This is when it comes down to adaptability and looking for new avenues. Those avenues led us to a limited theatrical run, an international premiere on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, solid media coverage and VOD distribution. Yes, we all want more, but the one thing this industry takes is time—time to build relationships, new projects and getting them to market.
It’s hard to believe that the 2nd Anniversary of the world premiere of Justice Is Mind is coming up on August 18. I am, therefore, delighted to announce that Justice Is Mind will celebrate its 2nd Anniversary at Cinemagic in Sturbridge, Massachusetts on August, 18, 2015!
To say time flies by would be an understatement. This is particularly true when you are doing the day to day marketing of a feature film. August 18 will mark the 21st screening since our world premiere. While Justice is available on VOD, there is nothing more exciting as a filmmaker than to see your work on the big screen. And with Justice now also available in DCP (Digital Cinema Package) thanks to the Chatham Theatre, for the first time we may be seeing the film at its highest resolution. I thought our theatrical DVDs were great, but seeing a DCP sample of Justice several months ago was truly incredible.
It’s interesting when you set out to make a film, because you just don’t know what market forces and conditions are going to exist when your film is released. Case in point women in film. Who would have thought that the inequities of women in leading roles in films would be at such a forefront in the media? Thankfully, Justice Is Mind is evenly split between men and women. For me as a screenwriter it just makes sense from an overall “reality” point of view. As Reese Witherspoon told the Hollywood Reporter at the Produced By conference the other day, “I was just reading scripts, and the scripts were sort of diminishing. I just started to notice they were making less movies for women, and that meant less parts for women.” Thus, Witherspoon started to produce films a few years ago.
Speaking of women in film, Mary Wexler, who plays Judge Wagner in Justice Is Mind and is one of our producers, posted a wonderful article in New England School of Law Alumni Magazine about her work as a lawyer, involvement in the film and mention of the sequel In Mind We Trust. Her quote, “Justice allowed me to combine my love of acting and my passion for the law,” said it all for me.
Above all else, filmmaking is a passion. Yes, there is the important economic and commercial side, but at the end of the day filmmaking is just pure fun. For me whether I’ve been on set as a TV personality, actor, producer or director, I’ve loved every moment of it. Now having been fortunate enough to see a feature film of my own produced, and the journey it can take you on, yes, I plan to do this again..and again.
Just yesterday I passed the 30 page mark on the screenplay adaption of Winds of Fall, while some possible producing and financing partners are reviewing SOS United States, First World and In Mind We Trust. This is not an easy industry by any stretch of the imagination and is one of patience. When I read that over 30,000 films were being marketed at Cannes in some capacity or another, thankful for our accomplishments to date with Justice Is Mind doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.
I am pleased to announce that Justice Is Mind is now available on the theatrical distribution platform Tugg! To quote their website, “Tugg is a web-platform that lets YOU bring the movies you want to your local theater.” Tugg is a dynamic theatrical service that I have been aware of for the last couple of years.
For those of you that follow this blog, you know that Justice Is Mind has had a successful theatrical run. Out of 20 screenings to date, 12 have been theatrical. As none of these theatres have been rented (1 was sponsored), with an average attendance capacity of over 80% for each screening, we know the demand is there. What drove ticket sales? Promotion, media, networking and legwork. Each theatrical screening of Justice Is Mind averaged $1,113 per screen.
The simple difference with Tugg is the following; instead of the vast majority of tickets being sold the day of a screening, they are sold in advance. By example, let’s say someone wants to screen Justice Is Mind at their local theatre and they live in the Midwest. They request a screening at this link and then promote using the various tools that Tugg offers, combined with their marketing efforts and whatever marketing assistance we can provide. Once the threshold of tickets are sold in advance (it varies by theatre), the screening is confirmed and the promoter receives 5% of the ticket sales. It’s a win win for everyone. Why? Because if by some chance not enough tickets are sold in advance by a certain date, the screening doesn’t happen and nobody is charged. To learn more, please visit this link and our listing on Tugg for more information.
When Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth last October, several of the guests remarked that they wished our film was playing at their local theatre. Tugg is the program that can make that happen!
The world of filmed entertainment, and in particular independent filmmaking, continues to undergo all kinds of market stresses. I talked about some of those issues last week and Variety outlined a host of them in an article titled Broken Hollywood. But I also truly believe that today the independent filmmaker has all kinds of opportunities to get their work seen. Justice Is Mind is a prime example of what’s possible; a theatrical run, convention and university screenings along with an international premiere on an ocean liner. Combine those screenings with various VOD platforms, including Amazon Prime and VHX, and the distribution mix works. With our arrival on Tugg, more VOD platforms on the way along with some additional screening plans being worked on, our efforts are far from over.
Speaking of efforts, the first draft of the sequel to Justice Is Mind is nearly complete with the story’s arrival at the Supreme Court. I’ll announce the completion of the first draft and then there will be the requisite edits before I can send the script out for review. Thus another reason to continue promoting part one – Justice Is Mind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.