by Erik Sean McGiven on Dec 08, 2008
With the economy in free fall, this year's American Film
Market might have been projected a bust, but such was not the case. While first day's attendance was down, in the
succeeding days it picked up and the market became alive with sellers, buyers,
and promoters bartering for placement in distributor's catalogs. With attendance around 8,000 AFM is the
World's largest motion picture trade event.
Itís a marketplace where producers and sales companies license film to
distributors and in this years tally there were 1527 buyers, 3,971 exhibitors,
and on 23 screens 527 films screened at the market.
The immense size of AFM may seem overwhelming to first
timers, but it's more a community with established relationships that date back
years. Rapport and trust have been
built up over time and while the products may evolve the people stay pretty
much the same. It's also a market of
niches where buyers must evaluate which products will have value in their home
markets. Buyers face another challenge,
in addition to assessing potential value and the whims of filmgoers six month
to a year hence, they must also judge how present economic woes will affect the
entertainment marketplace. In previous
downturns movies have played the escapist role but that was before
entertainment became so fragmented. Now
there are considerably more choices and younger audiences find that the
Internet, I-pods, and video games better fit their needs and budgets.
Yet, whatever the state of the economy there will always be
a need for product. Theatres,
television, cable, satellite, and now the Internet all look for viable
programming. Multiplex screens and
television schedules eat up a vast number of titles. And with the major studios cutting back and
concentrating on blockbuster entries there are product voids to be filled and
independent filmmakers stand ready to fill them. What's more, as the ongoing credit crisis
limits the number of movies released those that do obtain financing will find
foreign distribution easier to acquire.
What types of films enter AFM? AFM is more genre driven than other markets
and at this Santa Monica event genre films receive the most attention. In fact, in the film catalogue there are some
25 genres listed with dramas, thrillers, comedies, and action/adventure films
being at the top of the list. The AFM conference on financing spoke about
genres and that selectively, comedies, action, horror, and thrillers are easier
to finance. These were among the top
entries at the market. They also pointed
out that dramas require the involvement of a major star and that the desired
themes tend to be more up beat. In years
past AFM has been a video/DVD-driven market.
With that element collapsing, companies are finding it difficult to
justify marginal sales. As such the
number of acquisitions and pricing have become a key issues.
For the low budget independent filmmakers, especially on a
shoestring, working this market requires considerable preparation. The AFM Pitching
seminar stressed the importance of having a succinct coherent presentation
whether it's a project in development, a completed film, or a proposed
script. One must remember that buyers,
sales agents, and distributors receive countless pitches and to avoid getting
lost in the shuffle, you and your project must be memorable. Long before the market opens this process
should begin by contacting your prospects and giving them a preview of what you
will be presenting. This can be done via
mail, email or by phone.
Jonathan Wolf, AFM Managing Director, reiterates the
importance of obtaining assistance in areas in which you are weak. Being able to pull together the expertise and
good judgement of others is an essential part of being a successful producer. This may require attaching to your project a
producer who is more familiar with the creative aspects or one who is capable
at securing financing, or a line producer who is able to manage the nuts and
bolts of the production itself. If the
film is near completion a producer's rep may be of help in obtaining festival
exposure as well as securing a distribution deal. A publicist may also be required to create
the desired pre-market buzz. One should
also consider adding a sales agent in order to secure licensing right within
various foreign territories.
One obstacle for first timers is identifying likely
prospects and obtaining their contact information. Last year's AFM show directory and film
catalogue will provide some help, as will the special editions of Screen,
Cineuropa, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter.
These items are available through the Academy Library and for Film
Independent members through their reference library. Also check their online sites. Trade and Professional Associations like
UniFrance, UK Film Council, and Film New Europe Association offers additional
resources. Company web sites will also
provide contact information through not always email addresses. Identifying the proper department head is
another crucial factor. For the most
part it will likely be the head of acquisitions or programming while some
companies will have a story department for scripts and literary works.
International sales agents are more difficult to locate as
this listing is only available to those screening a film in the market--a
highly expensive endeavor. But many of
the sales agents are part of companies exhibiting at the market and can be
found by cross-referencing listings on www.kftv.com
with the listings in the AFM Show Directory or with AFM's online Exhibitor's
Directory. There are about 85 sales
agents on the kftv.com list and these don't include internal sales agents at
specialty studios like Focus Films and Vantage. HCD directories offer additional contacts in
their distributor directory. (See sales agents tabulated under international
distribution in the index.)
Short phone calls can help establish a rapport with targeted
personnel. Because international calls
can be expensive I would suggest using a calling card like www.globalpapa.com to lower the
cost. Calls to Europe can be as low as
2.4 cents a minute, which is cheaper than stateside long distance rates. Simply place your call-in number, then your
PIN number on your speed dial to streamline this connection process.
Because your prospect will not likely have the final say,
your pitch and accompanying materials should provide strong sales arguments
that can be taken up the corporate ladder.
Up front it should state your objectives, i.e., seeking international
sales agent, seeking co-production financing, seeking acquisition of completed
script, etc. While your presentation may
be convincing, it's competing with numerous others and having statements and figures
to back up your arguments is essential.
There is a long list of evidentiary materials and here is
some of the more prominent ones: Comparisons to other films--their critical and
box office success, log line, elevator synopsis, full synopsis, script
coverage, named actors, named director, named DP, projected budget, festival
awards, reviews, test screenings, audience ratings, trailer, DVD screener,
poster art work, press book materials, production stills, production stories,
music tie-ins, unique locations, EPK, film web site, and film blogs. All of these items should be labeled with
contact information and be packaged in a clear plastic bag so they are not
mixed up with materials submitted by others.
Availability of negative master and release prints can also be
factors. Your pitch should be condensed
into a leave-behind that summarizes the pertinent arguments and includes
objectives along with all vital contact information.
While one quest in presenting a film at the market is to
obtain a sale; another is to generate a buzz for your movie. Post cards, DVD handouts, one sheets and
walking billboard characters are some of the methods used at this year's
event. A film's talk-ability energy is a
key factor in gaining distribution or representation by an international sales
agent. In fact a small number of this
year's foreign language Oscar contenders are using AFM to maximize award season
exposure. Additional buzz can be
obtained from reviews in brief posted in The Hollywood Reporter.
During the later half of the market when Industry
Half-Market Badges are $295, exhibitors have more time to meet with you and
will be more receptive to hearing your pitch.
To best utilize your time, map out your prospects and their locations in
the hotels. Be aware that exhibitors are
on numerous floors and that some share space.
And scheduling appointments will help lend more credibility to your
project. While the Half-Market Badge is good for four days the final day is a
get away day and most exhibitors are packed up and closed by noon.
It may take some time for buyers to get back to you so it's
a good idea to follow up reinforcing your pitch and document the arguments
supporting your project. It also helps
to add new developments that make the project more appealing. Follow up first with an email and later with
a phone call. These are busy people so
try; as best you can, to focus on the answers and feedback you really need. While you may be looking for a deal memo,
you should also be looking for ways to strengthen the relationship. An appreciative thank you card can be helpful
in this regard especially when it specifies useful advice or feedback.
AFM seminars can educate, enlighten, and also connect
people. This year there were thirteen conferences and seminars ranging from
international financing to DIY producing.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council sponsored a most interesting
seminar on incentives, tax rebates and co-production advantages. While the focus was mainly on the Asian
markets it did give an overview of this entire subject. The consensus of the panel was that one
should compare and plug in the numbers to see which location has the best deal
not only in price but also creative considerations, distribution advantages,
and delay time in receiving rebates. One
should also consider the time period that incentives are available as some may
expire before certification process is complete.
There are numerous networking opportunities at the Market
such as the hotel lobbies, the filmmakers lodge, various seminars plus numerous
screenings. There are also special
receptions, parties and red carpet premieres, and most require being on the
invitation list. Itís a relaxed
atmosphere where spiels and business cards fly about at will. And it's a good idea to have as much
information as possible on your card.
Some attendees apply a sticker to the back with pertinent information
about their project and/or company. When
you exchange hundreds of cards one can be easily forgot, so make notes on the
back of those you receive.
And lastly, mingle effectively. Introduce yourself by tagging your name with
a profession, company affiliation, and info about your project. Listen, ask questions, and work the entire
room with meaningful productive dialogue. For when it comes to mingling with
the international side of the business, AFM is at the top of the class, a
marketplace where chance encounters can easily evolve into lucrative deals --
even on a shoestring.
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