It’s 1997, I have been in the film business for over for 10 years, I have successfully done it all, from a PA to a producer and everything in between. I figured it should be smooth sailing from here on−boy was I wrong.
The previous years, 1995/96 were my biggest at that time. I produced Mask of Death, developed and sold the script New Breed, I bought my second house and in 1996 − God blessed me with a son. A new born, new house, combined with my success in the business, I felt I was unstoppable.
In November of 97, I attended The American Film Market in Los Angeles, to do research on what my next movie should be. Action and horror films saturated the market then, but I did not see many Sci-Fi movies. I decided to do a $2 million Sci-Fi movie. I figured a Sci-Fi film will stand out and had a better chance selling since it will not be competing with so many other films. I came up with a title “Starforce“, a storyline, and then I hired R.C., the same writer who wrote my last two scripts. Together we completed the script and I was happy with it.
Since this was a bigger budget film than what I had done in the past, I wanted to do things differently. I figured if I can shoot and put together a visual effects promo of the film, I will be able to raise the money to produce Starforce. Using my own money I hired a visual effects company to build and film the spaceships, the landscape, and the dog fights. They showed me what they had done in the past, so I figured things should go smooth and I will get what I wanted. I would go watch them work every day. They seem to know what they are doing, but I did not possess the experience to know otherwise. Three or four months later they finished their work. The end result was bad, and I couldn’t do anything about it. The promo failed. I was not able to raise the money to finance the film. It was almost a total loss. It was my fault that I did not bring someone with me who has experience in visual effects to protect me.
As a result I had to lower the budget of the film, and I was only able to raise $150K, so that became the new budget and I decided to move forward.
I met a visual effects/CGI artist who wanted to become a film director, I made a deal with him − if he does my visual effects he can direct Starforce. I figured I am on the set every day, and since I directed films before, I can support him. At the same time I brought Mark Morris, the same cinematographer who shot L. A. Wars my first feature film and asked him to protect me; he is the one seeing everything through the lens. I told him if he sees that things are not going as planned to step in as well.
I ended up directing most of the film with Mark’s help, this did not go well with the director, but he was weak and the actors started complaining. I had no choice. After we shot the film, the director started working on the visual effects/CGI shots, but he became overwhelmed and he struggled with it, I think it had to do with me taking over the directing of the film. Since I already paid him in full, he needed to finish the job. Without the visual effects shots I will be stuck, I cannot finalize the editing of the film and the post production work needed. Patiently I kept pushing him until I got something acceptable from him.
I finished the film at the end of 1999. The whole process took 2 years. I gave Starforce to Dieter Menz (Atlas International), my previous film sales agent who sold L.A. Wars. He wanted to sell it at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, so I went there to help him sell it. It was my first time in Cannes, France. At the market, we only sold $70K which was not enough to recoup our money. The buyers started comparing us to Star Wars quality films, which Starforce was not. Over the next few months Atlas sold another $30K but that was it, so I asked to take the film back, and they complied.
Under pressure to get my investor all his money back, I signed with another sales agent for a one year period, they only made one sale to Brazil. It was frustrating, but I did not give up. I took the film back and started to reach out to people I know for help. Then something wonderful happened.
As a result, I met Jesse Griffith. I forgot who introduced us. I think God sent him to me. Jesse is a visual effects artist and film director, he knew about me and watched my films including Starforce, and he wanted to work with me, so Jesse suggested he redo all the visual effects shots, and also help me fix the shots I originally created for the promo reel. He only asked for $3,000 as his fee, but he can only do the work part time as he had a full-time job working on a popular late night TV Show. It took him six months but he finished the job, it was much better than before and the film had a new life. I will always be indebted to Jesse. He is a very talented filmmaker and I hope one day I will produce a film with him.
In 2004 out of wanting to control the destiny of my own films and my frustration with sales agents, I started Hollywood Wizard a boutique international film sales agency, to sell my films as well as represent other filmmakers and their films. I took a booth at the American Film Market in Los Angeles and a booth at the Cannes Film Festival, I marketed and sold Starforce as a new film, a 2004 release, and over the next 12 months, we recouped our money. The commissions I made from selling other movies paid for my market costs, so it was a win−win situation for me and the filmmakers, as I sold their films and paid them.
As a sales agent, I sold Starforce to many territories including these major ones: Japan, Germany and The U.S.A.
Starforce Japanese Release
Starforce German Release
Starforce U.S. Release
If you tell me that I have the power to change anything about producing Starforce, would I? I would say no, because at the end I overcame and succeeded against all the hurdles. The struggles and experiences I went through made me a better, stronger producer, at the same time I learned some good life lessons, and it forced me to enter into the distribution world, and control my destiny in the film business.
I hope with this part of my story, I can help other filmmakers avoid the mistakes I made. Looking at it now, here is where I did things wrong:
I went into a totally different genre from one that I had experience doing in the past, which was the action genre.
I did not have any knowledge or experience in CGI/Visual effects on which Sci-Fi movies rely heavily.
I trusted many people when I shouldn’t have done so. Most everyone I worked with on this project I never worked with before, so I went in blind−a major disadvantage.
From the beginning, I went at it alone. I should have built a solid team first then started the actual work on the project. That would have saved me all the pain and time.
The sales agents I hired did not know the Sci-Fi market, otherwise they would have told me what was wrong with my film and help me fix it; that’s what a sales agent is supposed to do if they want your film. Instead they gave me sales estimates of $1 million, when in fact they only sold $100K.
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