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Insiders ViewPoints Sweaty Suits: Brutal Realizations from a Freshman Exhibitor at AFM 2006 Film News And Views - Insiders ViewPoints - Sweaty Suits: Brutal Realizations from a Freshman Exhibitor at AFM 2006 Insiders ViewPoints,,Sweaty Suits: Brutal Realizations from a Freshman Exhibitor at AFM 2006,recommendation,shopping,advice,simple,movies,films,film news and views,news and views,film industy,movie reviews,film news,film,news,views,television,made for tv movies,interactive entertainment,hollywood,hollywood news,celebrity news,insiders perspective,film reviewer,watch film,film trailer,new releases,new release,new release movie,new release film,movie reviewer,opinion,viewpoint,forum,discussion
Sweaty Suits: Brutal Realizations from a Freshman Exhibitor at AFM 2006

by Kurtis Estes on Nov 19, 2006

The American Film Market broke like a great frothing wave over Santa Monica, California this year. Buyers in expensive suits met with exhibitors in sweaty ones, and the whole market teemed with the smell of money and celluloid. With over 500 registered distribution companies exhibiting their wares and many more filmmakers attempting to sneak past security, you could assume that the market was a success, but I will get to that later. I was in a suit, one of the sweaty ones—an exhibitor: there to make money.

I work for a moderately large production/distribution company based out of Woodland Hills, California. We represented 35 films at this year’s AFM, two of which were ones produced by us. Of the others, we carry every possible genre, or rather, every genre that sells: Action/Adventure, Horror, Thriller, Comedy, Romance, Drama, Family. So what’s an average exhibitor’s day like at the AFM? Well, a buyer enters our office with an air of superiority, like a tight-ass walking onto a used car lot. We sit him or her down in front of our too big plasma screen and ask questions about what type of content they are looking for.

The majority, from my experience, answer with the following two phrases as if our question merely pulled a string coming out of their backs: “Does it have a name in it?” or “Will it be released theatrically in the United States?” Multiply that by twenty, and you have an exhibitor’s average day at the AFM. Now, I truly hope you’re not thinking, “No name, not a chance?” Well, not so fast. This is not entirely true. There is a niche for smaller films, but smaller films obviously carry with them a smaller price tag. This is when knowing the market is crucial. For instance, if you rep your movies at too high a price, the buyer leaves with a sour taste in his mouth, not feeling like bothering to haggle down from such a high peek. If you know the market, you set your price high, but not mountainous.

Rather, you set before him a steep yet steady and smooth route on which to descend from. Early on in the market I realized that distributing a film is similar to selling a car. This similarity made feel like I should have had a much cheaper suit on and much more gel in my hair. For example, the buyer comes into our office and we show them a couple of floor models based on what they say they want, maybe throwing a curveball at them to see if their attention perks. When we give a screener, which is an actual copy of the film, the buyer leaves our office to take a test drive.

This, however, is one fundamental difference between film distributors and car salesmen. In our market the buyer almost always leaves without making their decision, going against everything a car-pusher learns: if you keep them on the lot, they will buy; don’t let them leave. However, at the AFM there is a subtle way of keeping your buyer on the lot—screen a film at one of the many theaters on the Santa Monica Promenade.

The cost is steep and the attempt may prove worthless if no one shows up, but this is a chance we take in order to keep buyers close to our movies. This year the company I work for screened four films on the Promenade. And we advertised the hell out of them. With the cover of several magazines promoting our product, we were essentially revving the car’s engine while our buyers walked off the lot. They heard the roar of the pistons, thought of themselves cruising down the road on a sunny day, top down and finally living—they wanted that drive.

Some of them took it, came back into our office and purchased the rights to our film. Still more took the drive and realized that a convertible might not be the best thing for a bald man. But hey, that’s life, and that’s sales. Sometimes you got what others want, and sometimes you don’t. Speaking of having something that others don’t want, on Saturday and Sunday of this year’s AFM, I was witness to the invasion of the Day-Passers.

These are people who only buy a pass for one day. They are mostly aspiring writers and film makers, which is a beautiful thing and should be encouraged. But I could not write this article without giving them a little bit of advice for next year. One, don’t interrupt a meeting. We are at the AFM for one thing and one thing only: to sell movies. From the hallway it might look as if we are just sitting around watching TV, but you couldn’t be more wrong. When a buyer is watching a trailer, we are attempting to make them fall in love with our movie. Our thirty second trailer could make us $30,000 and when you come in asking if we would like to fund your film, or option your screenplay, you are breaking the buyer’s concentration and could possibly be ruining the sale for us.

This is not a good first impression. Two, understand that we would rather have you put together a concise set of materials for us to peruse after the market than for you to persistently ask if we could just watch your trailer or hear you pitch your screenplay. Even if we are not in a meeting, we are still not there to have you bagger us. We take all materials that are handed to us, and we really do look at them after the AFM. But, and this should be the cardinal rule for all Day-Passers, exhibitors are there to sell, not to be sold to. So, walk past the office a couple times. If we are with clients, wait.

If we are free and speaking to one another casually, come on in but be as brief as possible. Here is the best pitch I heard during the entire AFM: “Hi, I’m Dave. I have a movie in preproduction and just wanted to give some materials for your consideration on funding. Thanks.” Dave then left our office and we put his material at the top of our stack. We did this because we respected how he worked, and that is key when deciding to fund any project whatsoever. I know that this all might sound a little harsh. I do understand that Day-Passers are the pursuers of dreams and that what they are doing is pretty impressive, but I do also believe that they should do it right and might have more success if just a little bit of professional courtesy was extended between them and the exhibitors.

So now, a week after the AFM wave has drawn itself back into the ocean, I am left to ponder its success. That’s a hard thing to say at the moment. We really won’t know until we begin the follow-up: send screeners to those who requested them, ask if there is any interest on the screeners which buyers took home, quote a price and then haggle. It is a tumultuous process, but it is an unbelievably important one. Without markets like the AFM, the independent film industry would not exist, and the public would only be left with big studio movies based on comic book heroes, or yet another Arnold Schwarzenegger masterpiece.

So I say, “God bless the AFM and all the exhibitors in their sweaty suits! God bless the hawkers of film!” For the money they make keeps a delicate art form alive. And with that, our culture continues its expression on celluloid, no matter the cost, no matter the names attached to it, and no matter if it has had a theatrical release in the United States.
  July 16, 2019

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