On Thursday Serpentine’s final location came through via a marketing partnership with the The Verve, Crowne Plaza Natick in Natick, MA. Our “FBI” conference room scene will be shot in their stunning Aquarius Boardroom. This location in terms of looks and geography is perfect. As Serpentine’s cast and crew is coming from all over the state, and southern New Hampshire, a Metro West location is ideal.
The day before I paid a visit to my friend Al Mercado’s home. His house will serve as Suzanne Wilson’s residence. Although I’ve been to Al’s house many times, now I’m looking at it literally through a different lens. For the story I needed a ranch house on a corner lot with a front door and back door on opposite sides of the house. Now that all our locations are secured, the next step is to complete a shot list.
As I am a person who lives and dies by lists, nothing is more sacred to me than the shot list. For those of you that follow this blog but don’t necessarily know the process of filmmaking, a shot list is a list of the shots that you need to shoot for coverage of a scene. From wide to mid to close ups to inserts, etc., it’s making sure you have everything before principal photography “wraps”. And with each shot consisting of 2-4 takes (sometimes more), that’s why a seemingly simple scene on paper can take some time to film. But before the shot list is implemented on that first day of principal photography, there are the inordinate number of things that need to be done in pre-production. One of these are test shots.
Also on Thursday I met Jeremy Blaiklock, our Director of Photography, and Liz Carr, our Assistant Director, at Northstar Ice Sports for some test shots. For more reasons than I can count, the Northstar shoots will be the most involved. Between the scope of the facility and on the ice shooting requirements, it was important to run through some tests with Isabella Ramirez who will be playing Suzanne Wilson. Filming two actors standing stationary in a room is one thing, filming a skater execute jumps, spins and footwork is entirely another. But in the end we were all very pleased with the tests.
It seems like it was just yesterday that I came up with the idea for Serpentine and then attended a World Figure Skating Championships after a ten plus year hiatus. But here we are less than a month from filming the first ten pages of the script. Yes, it’s very exciting.
In so many ways it reminds me of those early days when I was preparing First World for production. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and had just struck a deal with a hotel in Boston, MA to serve as the Secretary of State’s residence. Like Serpentine, that deal for First World was the last location I needed to secure for the production.
While creating a new production is both exhilarating and challenging, I am also reminded that this is where a project goes from script to screen. Seeing a project develop from one dimension to three is why we love what we do.
After seven months of writing and research, along with attending a World Figure Skating Championships this past March for inspiration, I announced my latest project on Friday. Serpentine – A champion figure skater finds herself in a government conspiracy involving her missing mother and a Cold War mystery that culminates at the world championships in Moscow. The official website can be found at this link.
The name of the project came to me the first week I started to write it. In figure skating the word “serpentine” is used throughout a variety of areas from figures to footwork, to spiral sequences and generally consists of an “S” type of pattern. Serpentine is also mentioned in cryptography and as a code word. For this project the title Serpentine links all aspects of this story.
For independent filmmakers it’s one thing to write the screenplay and come up with a title, but then there are numerous aspects that need to be addressed prior to launch – writing a logline and synopsis, building a website, sending the script to trusted sources for review and comment, registering the script with the Writers Guild of America and U.S. Copyright Office and submitting the title to IMDb and other sources (thank you Rotten Tomatoes!). Then comes development and bringing the project to life.
Those that follow me on social media or this blog, know some of the groundwork that I’ve been developing. In as much as it’s important to keep a public face, there are those countless conversations and presentations that go on behind the scenes that are not discussed publicly until they are a done deal. Remember Justice Is Mind’s international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth? That was months in discussion before the approved press release. I could have announced Serpentine months ago, but I wasn’t finished with the screenplay and had to ascertain a variety of areas within the sport to see if I wanted to move forward. But forward we are moving.
I could not be more encouraged by the response Serpentine has received since Friday. But suffice to say the next couple of weeks will be inordinately busy. From developing location deals to securing talent, I plan to post this week for cast and crew. The goal is to produce the short sometime in October with an early 2017 release. If all goes well, the idea is to produce the feature in 2017 with release after the Winter Olympics in 2018.
Does this plan sound remotely familiar? It should. I produced a short film version of Justice Is Mind titled Evidence in 2011. The release of the short in 2012 led to the production of the feature film later that year with a 2013 release. In the case of Serpentine, the plan is produce the first ten pages of the script that introduces the primary characters and storyline.
Before I close this post, I want to thank those that have supported me in developing this story. Your words of encouragement and comments on the project have been greatly appreciated over the past weeks and months.
But foremost in those thanks goes to Adam Starr who designed the concept poster you see below. I have been working with Adam since 2000 on numerous projects. In fact, the first project he did for me was a corporate promotional video for my old publishing company. In terms of posters Adam designed First World, Evidence and Justice Is Mind. To learn more about Adam and the story behind the poster, please visit the website.
On the ice. Representing…
Last Sunday my friend Kim Merriam and I went on a day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Aside from knowing Kim since we first met as teens at the local figure skating club, Evidence and Justice Is Mind were both shot at her house. As I’ve toured every Newport Mansion at least twice, I left it to her to pick which one to tour. She selected my favorite mansion – Rosecliff.
Rosecliff is particularly special to me. Having first visited the mansion with my mother in the early 1980s and being the location for The Great Gatsby and other films, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan there for the cover of the figure skating magazine I used to publish. It also gave me some additional ideas for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating that I will be formally announcing this week with the launch of the website.
In the story there are two starring characters, a champion figure skater and the president of the national governing body. While the former has been struggling financially, the latter, in addition to her skating responsibilities, runs a multi-national industrial concern. The setting for her estate should be a grand one like a Rosecliff. On a side note, in early 2017 Rosecliff will be featuring an exhibition to all the films that have been shot at the mansion. That will be a must see!
As an independent filmmaker, it’s about laying the foundation for all aspects of a new project well in advance. From visiting possible locations to talent, crew, etc. This week I began reaching out to colleagues I used to work with regularly in the sport to introduce them to the project before the announcement. It was one thing when I went to World’s this year in Boston telling people I had an idea, it’s another to send them a completed script.
It was great working with Adam Starr over the last few weeks to create the first concept poster of the project. In addition to being an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, I’ve worked with Adam since my days as a magazine publisher. From producing my first corporate video back in the day to his special effect work on Justice Is Mind, he really knows how to take an idea and run with it.
When he created the official poster for Justice Is Mind, my idea for the concept was pretty straight forward. I wanted to incorporate an MRI scan along with a picture of Henri Miller looking towards the future and the reincarnated Wilhelm Miller looking towards the past. He pretty much got it on the first pass.
Writing an original story takes time. It is not something that is just thrown together for the sake of rushing a project to market. For me it’s about developing and creating a project that’s long remembered after its initial release. Isn’t this the whole reason why we get into screenwriting and filmmaking – to tell original stories?
For those that follow me on social media you’ll see me post a “Now watching…” comment usually followed by a film produced between the 1930s and 1970s. I gravitate towards those decades as that’s when original stories were told to great fanfare without the special effects being the story. Thankfully with the democratization of the film industry from production to distribution, filmmakers have the opportunity to tell their stories outside the Hollywood system.
INT. ICE RINK – OPENING CREDITS
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking to my friends in the UK about the upcoming “Brexit” vote. They all had different points of view from those that wanted to stay in the European Union and those that wanted to leave. This post isn’t about one American’s position, but about my special relationship with our friends across the pond.
Putting aside what we learned in school, I was somehow introduced to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s masterpiece A Woman of Substance. The story is based in the UK and to quote “A Woman of Substance charts the life of Emma Harte, from kitchen maid at the beginning of the 20th Century, to respected business woman and Grandmother in the 1980’s.” The book was turned into a brilliant mini-series that saw such famous British landmarks as the storied Harrods turned into Harte’s. You can bet that one of my first destinations was tea at Harrods!
When I started a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating in the early 1990s, I found myself again in the UK when I attended the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships which were held in Birmingham, UK. I soon found myself conducting business in the country from distributing our magazine to working with editors. At one point I had struck a deal with the national governing body to conduct an all too “United States” direct mail effort. I say United States, because I learned the biggest lesson at the time…I discovered that the English like to buy their magazines at kiosks (newsstands). Oh sure we had a nice amount of subscribers, but we also secured a pretty good newsstand contract in the country as well.
After publishing, my first screenplay First World was partially based in the UK. Part of the story has the Prime Minister calling for an emergency meeting with the President of the United States at a military base in the UK to reveal the actual mission of the Apollo space program. I filmed that segment actually down the street where I now live. To this day we were so fortunate to have a wonderful British actress who now resides in the States to play the Prime Minister.
I’ll never forget her audition. I was staying at a hotel with some of the cast filming another scene when Lindy Nettleton arrived along with Jeffrey Phillips (who played the President). Owing to scheduling and space limitations the audition took place in a hallway. They were both brilliant. After the film was released, we had a few screenings at science fiction conventions in the UK.
When I posted notices for cast and crew for my first feature film Justice Is Mind we received responses from literally all over the world. But there was one composer from England by the name of Daniel Elek-Diamanta. In today’s day and age of the internet it doesn’t matter where you live, talent is talent. To say he had talent would be an understatement. Instinctively, not only did we click, but he understood Justice Is Mind instantly. He scored the entire film to critical acclaim. When our original sound mixer dropped out, he found a terrific company in Visionary Sound headed up by Timothy McHugh. In the end, they both saved the day.
Of course, perhaps one of the highest tributes Justice Is Mind received was when we had our international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth ocean liner in 2014. Suffice to say you can’t get any more British than Cunard!
My point to all of this is simple, no treaty keeps people from working together for the common good. Talent doesn’t know boundaries it simply wants to create. From magazines to film, those that I’ve worked with in the UK have brought something special to the projects I’ve worked on. That’s what the “special relationship’ between the United States and United Kingdom means to me.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill