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First things first: My AFM experience would not have been possible had it not been for the friendship and generosity of Tony Comstock of Comstock Films.
Second things second: I suck at pitching.
So when I mention in this post that I pitched someoneResurrection of Serious Rogers or the concept for Legend of Black Lotus, I want you to imagine a burly black guy, passionately pitching…badly.
Thus, when I discuss successes or failures know that neither were the result of crafty, shrewd, or eloquent pitching, but rather a finely honed idea that seemed to come across as sell-able despite flubs, stammers, stutters and restarts.
I came away from the American Film market with 25 action items, all were a result of either a meeting that was scheduled before AFM began, a personal introduction or a carefully planned pop-over.
If you chat with a producer (someone with a finished film or film project) about his/her AFM experience and the response you get is less than exciting or hopeful, it’s probably because that person did not plan properly. The un-researched AFM experience is akin to going grocery shopping on an empty stomach: everything looks good, even the stuff that’s not good for you.
No film is one-size-fits all. This probably goes double for independent films where niches are very important to marketing. Attending AFM without having done research makes every distributor and every production company look perfect for your film, on the surface.
However, just a tiny bit of research coupled with an engaging walk through the atrium and it becomes clear just how many distributors are not right for your film.
More than deciding what you want as a producer/filmmaker, you must clearly define and understand what will be good for your film. Two things that come to mind are:
- A distributor who pays advances
- A distributor who has a selection of high, medium, and low budget films (Distributors often sell films as packages. If your low-budget film can be squeezed into a package of high and medium budgeted films you stand to make more money)
A distributor who does not pay advances need not be completely ignored. I’m told that these folks will still take your film a year from now. So you might as well take this time to find a distributor who does pay an advance.
If you buy a half-market badge in advance you’ll have access to detailed information that will help you be picky with the buyers you approach. A half-market badge covers attendance during the latter half of the market; most of the distributors with films to sell have already met with buyers. Now they have have time to listen to your pitch.
The first day that half-market badge holders were cut loose I witnessed a ton of folks descend on the distributors and production companies like hungry wolves, nipping at everything in sight (see blog post Day 2 at AFM). Two minutes of research would tell if a distributor was there to sell, buy or buy & sell. Nevertheless, many people winged it and “No thank you!” became the phrase heard most often that day.
An appointment is worth its weight in gold. You’ve already introduced yourself. You’ve already shared a link to your trailer or a clip from your film. You’re told what time to come by. You walk in the suite and say, “I have an appointment with so-and-so” and automatically you’re viewed differently than someone winging it, who’s brought a film that’s completely irrelevant to that distributor’s needs.
I’m holding 30 business cards from distributors, production companies and investment companies in my hands. That’s 30 individuals I’ve met in the course of three days who have the ability to get films made and sold.
Have you ever known someone who said something like, “I met this producer at [prodco name] a year ago and he helped me get funding for my film.” And you’re thinking, Wait, HOW did you meet so-and-so?
AFM is one way to meet that producer who can help get your film cast and funded. It goes back to what I’ve learned from Tony Comstock,Don’t make your first film until you’re committed to making your third film. I walked into AFM with five potential film projects: Resurrection of Serious Rogers (complete), Legend of Black Lotus (script), Broken Hearts Club (complete), Demigod (script) andDeterrence Theory (script).
I can only imagine how desperate I might have been if my success (and I use the term loosely) at AFM depended on a single film. In such a case, every “no” would sound and feel like the deafening slam of a door… right on my balls!
Instead, if the company didn’t like RSR, I pitched BL. But in the back of my head I was working out whether or not the company would also be a good candidate for BHC. Then, I looked at their current films and now I know how to package (cast) Demigod and DT to make a future deal more feasible.
Don’t Do It Alone
Get help. There’s safety and courage in numbers. I had lots of help along the way. Attending AFM with a friend makes the experience ten times more enjoyable and fruitful. If you have a business partner, bring them. If you have a filmmaker colleague with a project, convince them to accompany you.
Having a support system in place helps you get more out of the experience. You have someone to bounce ideas off. You have someone to pump you up to go into that room and pitch!
I had guidance, support and encouragement in place long before AFM started. Then, I was lucky enough to have an inside man at AFM for real time guidance. Then, I was lucky enough to run into a fellow AFM neophyte, Karina Colon, whom I teamed up with to improve the journey of the experience.
I’m no fool. A good-looking woman opens more doors and softens more hardened hearts than a big black guy. Some folks who probably wouldn’t have given me the time of day suddenly became open to meeting me, as long as Karina was at my side.
On the flip side, Karina joined me on some of my scheduled appointments and was able to exchange business cards and introduce herself to some big wigs. Plus Karina has now witnessed a part of thebusiness that few of her actor colleagues have witnessed. In fact, very few filmmakers have experienced what she has experienced.
I kinda showed Karina how to embellish by adding the phrase, “I hope to…” before her statement. This way, you sound as if you’re actually doing the thing you hope to be doing. For example, she was a little anxious about seeing a particular distributor because she’d made an appointment and then found out that the company does not accept short films. I suggested she say this, “I hope to start production on the feature film in early 2011.”
BAM! It worked. Not only did the guy ask for a copy of her short film, but they had a chat afterwards. He won’t forget her, and when she follows up, she’ll have made a significant contact in the industry.
I think Karina used the exact same strategy two or three more times with positive results. It works if you works it.
There’s more to a name than US recognition
There’s more to a name than the names we associate with big studio blockbuster films. We sit thinking that an actor hasn’t worked for while because we haven’t seen them in widely released films. Not so. The world is a lot bigger than the US.
A casual tour of AFM affords one the opportunity to look at actors who are working like crazy in International films. A decent distributor in an english-speaking European country knows what actor can help sell/market a film in that territory. Having that actor in your film makes things a lot easier – and many of these actors are a helluva lot easier to reach than one might believe.
Fact is, I’m now looking at a completely different group of actors for my wish list for Demigod andDeterrence Theory.
Oh, and if you’re making a horror thriller – there’s a ton of freakin insight to be gained just by walking the halls to see what’s selling. Traditional horror is slow, but horror thriller films with smartly written scripts and interesting concepts (not gimmicks) seem to be doing very well.
AFM Debrief & Round up
- Friends met: Sandra Ann Miller (Black Coffee Film), Karina Colon (Maybeline Girls), John Paul Rice (One Hour Fantasy Girl), Paul J. Gitschner, Sheri Candler (Marketing strategy and publicity for Indie Films)
- Film Commissions visited: Singapore, Puerto Rico, Quebec, Ohio, Louisiana, Canada
- Companies interested in future co-productions: four
- Companies interested in Resurrection of Serious Rogers: seven
- Companies interested in financing and co-production for Legend of Black Lotus: four
- Personal introductions that exceeded my expectations: six
- Contacts made with the majors: three
- Missed appointments: three (will follow up with email)
- Pop-ins that went well: four
- Not interested in any project: two (but the contact is invaluable)
- International connections made: UK, Hong Kong, China
Today I made a rough draft of my action items from AFM. I have 25 items on my “to do” list. These items involve everything from general follow-up “Hi, we met at AFM…” emails to sending rough cuts of RSR, to sending the prospectus and budget top-sheet for BL.
Many of the companies I met with had previously asked for a rough cut of RSR. I declined sending a DVD because I wanted to meet with the reps, shake their hands, and let them see my face.
If I’d sent the rough cut of RSR and they declined accepting it for distribution after viewing the film I would never have had the opportunity to meet with them in person to pitch BL, or to see what films they make, sell or produce. Obviously, an in-person meeting is more valuable than an exchange of words over email.
Strategy: Part Deux
If you have a film project that you plan to pitch at AFM it’s beneficial to have a fully thought out strategyfor how you plan to make the film.
Case in point: I met with a group from the UK. When I entered I immediately noticed the posters on the wall, i.e. lots of animation and kid films alongside some genre films. I’d scheduled a meeting in advance regarding RSR. However, the wall art suggested she might be interested in LoBL. I did my pitch for RSR. She declined to watch the trailer, opting instead for a copy of the rough cut. Then I launched into my very simple pitch for Legend of Black Lotus
Note: I was MUCH better at pitching Legend of Black Lotus than Resurrection of Serious Rogers.
It goes down like this:
- My pitch: “Legend of Black Lotus is an epic fantasy martial arts love story about an empress in ancient China who gives birth to a black daughter who is prophesied to unite the kingdom that’s been divided by tyranny and war. The young girl grows up as a slave, struggling against prejudice and her own internal doubts until she accepts her destiny and challenges her father, the emperor.”
- Eyes light up.
- I tell her that the a Dutch company has already expressed strong interest in funding at least 50% of the film.
- I throw in a couple of references to the live action version of Mulan (2009).
- I tell her I already know that I can get 30% of my funding through co-production partnerships out of Hong Kong and I’ve already met with two production companies at AFM who were excited about the idea
- I tell her that I know I can get another 30-50% of my funding out of China if I shot in China and used the services of a local production services company, to which the Hong Kong companies I spoke with already have access.
- I declined to mention that I had already met with a gentleman I call the “Harvey Weinstein of Hong Kong” (see Day 1 blog post) and he’d offered to personally walk me through the processof doing business with China.
- She asks my budget. I tell her.
- She says it seems kinda low, I refer to the ability to use CG for larger war sequences and shooting in ready-made sets in Hong Kong to save on construction and tear-down costs.
- She asks my wish list. Been there done that. Michelle Yeoh (if I can afford her), Ming Na and perhaps AngelaBaby, who’s a HK pop star who was recently cast in a film opposite Tony Leung. Everyone else will be so-called unknowns.
- Heads start nodding.
- Yeah, I know my shit. Legend of Black Lotus is my baby.
My strategy was in place, firm and I was committed to it. I couldn’t be shaken, deterred, swayed or scared.
Ten Shocking Things I Learned at AFM
- Few distributors will tell you that your short will never sell. Instead, they will say something like, “Um, yeah, wow, hmm, see…short films are kinda hard…”
- Regardless of what you’ve heard, distributors are not fooled by flashy trailers. A good trailer might get you in the door, but then they want to see a 3-5 minute clip of the film. In the future I will consider emailing a link to the trailer along with a 3-5 minute clip of the film I keep on an unpublished link. (YouTube allows you to have an unpublished link to your video.)
- No one gives a damn about your a short film – unless you are in production for the feature film version.
- When you look at all the shit packed into these suites, and you realize that these folks have to pack and lug all that shit back to their offices at the end of the market, you’ll realize that an email and perhaps a follow-up call will work better than leaving a onesheet, that will probably get tossed in the trash (save a tree).
- Thinking about making a short film to help bring attention to your feature? Don’t (I’d planned to do just that). Instead make a cinematic video presentation to go along with your prospectus and start looking for talent to attach to the project.
- If you’re a filmmaker (indie producer) and you’re having second thoughts about owning an iPad, buy one! It’ll come in handy.
- AFM isn’t just about selling films. It’s about making connections.
- Find a marketing advocate for your film, that’s someone who believes in you, and believes your project will do well on the open market. A marketing advocate can be different from a story advocate, which is someone who believes in your film’s story.
- Buyers want to buy. That is, they need films to buy in order to sell/distribute and make money. Give them what they want, and they will buy.
- If you don’t know, ask. Someone will have the answer.
- Indie producer meetings at AFM have one purpose: to get to the next meeting.
Above all else, when I committed to attend AFM I made a decision that was more important than any film I have. I was determined not to walk away from AFM lamenting missed opportunities because I was too scared to try something new. In the end, people are people. Distributors have work to do. I have films to make. Some distributors I will connect with now, tomorrow or sometime in the future. Others I will never connect with on any level.
My goal is to focus on what I must do, which is make films. Now I must align myself with people who want to help me do that which I must do: make films. The only person who can stop me is me, and I refuse to stand in my own way.