Attending American Film Market this year? Below are four filmmakers who share thoughts on traveling to it, what to bring with you, and how to approach this event. More producer tips from the AFM website here.
A Producer’s First Time At AFM and The Lessons They Learned by Mark Heidelberger
The Key To Finding Success At The American Film Market With A Movie by Paul Sidhu
Film Courage: We understand you brought your film Black Russian to this year’s AFM. What was the strategy going there?
Paul Sidhu: The strategy was to pitch a film that had a relevant construct or concept, that being narco-terrorism.
The movie itself takes place in arguably perhaps the most dangerous parts of the world which is the Pakistan/India border region and around Afghanistan. And the pitch was that we had a very interesting screenplay that takes place in this backdrop…in synopsis the strategy at AFM was to go there and say “You don’t know me. I’m not your mainstream filmmaker. I’m not anyone who is connected to a big studio but I have a compelling story and I have something I think audiences across the board (whether here in the US or abroad) be interested in.”
Film Courage: What type of prep work did you do before going?
Paul Sidhu: Well the main thing about a lot of what happened at AFM this year which was also a learning experience for me, but before going into any type of festival or gathering, it’s really good to know all the players. So you really have to do a lot of research and the first thing to do is find out who is going to be at AFM (that’s a critical component). So you actually contact AFM and find out which vendors are going to be there, which production houses are going to be there, which distributors are going to be there. And then you painstakingly, slowly start to process one-by-one by…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
Check out The Complete Film Production Handbook (American Film Market Presents)
How I Sold This Movie by Josh Folan
[This excerpt from the Film Courage post How I Sold This Movie by Josh Folan]
I’m going to assume you didn’t get into Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, or even SXSW. If you did, you’re gifted and lucky and you don’t need to read filmmaking columns written by me. Good for you. For the rest of us, you can likely cross the household (at least in my household) name and studio distributors off your list – Focus Features, the Weinstein Company, etc. They deal in “big” films and if you’re not a big enough fish with an amazing enough product to get into any of those aforementioned festivals, they probably are not buying what you’re selling. The answer for us “small” filmmakers is the American Film Market (AFM), held in Santa Monica every winter. It costs a few hundred bucks for a pass for the second half of the market, which is about the time when the distributors have finished the bulk of the selling of their existing catalogue that they came to do and are willing to talk acquisitions. On top of the selling opportunity being in attendance presents, it also pulls the curtain back and exposes the wizard that is the mysterious distribution industry as seen by the indie filmmaker – it’s a hell of a learning experience and networking opportunity even if you fail at selling your movie. Once you sign up, you will have access to a listing of every single company that will be at the market – the keys to daddy’s convertible, so hurry up and wrap this thing around a telephone pole before he changes his mind…(Read more here)
Check out Josh Folan’s Filmmaking, the Hard Way: A Cynical Case Study of the Making of All God’s Creatures (Paperback)
A Major Lesson I Learned At The American Film Market by Paul Sidhu
Film Courage: What lessons did you take away from attending AFM? Anything in hindsight that you’d wish you’d known?
Paul Sidhu: Well, one of the lessons I learned at AFM and I don’t particularly agree with this philosophy, but it’s something I did learn. But the caveat here is that I don’t necessarily agree with this. Every distribution company out there always asked “Who is the talent in the film?” And it didn’t really matter if it was a B-list actor or C-list actor or an A-list actor, even if they were in there for 30-seconds, they just wanted somebody attached to the film.
When you are out there doing a project and you can grab onto an A-lister or a B-lister who will come into your project for even like a few minutes, to the distributor that makes a big difference or if you are dealing with a finite budget and you can allocate some funds to hire talent that can bring attention to your project, then the distributors do take notice.
My personal philosophy to filmmaking is if, you as an independent filmmaker, you have a very limited budget and I like to put all of my funding into…(Watch the video on Youtube here).
Check out Film Production Management 101-2nd edition: Management & Coordination in a Digital Age
How AFM Helped A First Time Filmmaker Find Distribution by THE MASON BROTHERS Writer/Director Keith Sutliff
Film Courage: Keith I understand you had distribution for THE MASON BROTHERS during production? Is that right?
Keith Sutliff: Right. We had a pre-sales deal with my distributor prior to…so I wrote the script in November of 2015 and then shortly afterward I had a pre-sales deal with my distributor. So before we started filming I had distribution already locked in. I was very fortunate.
Film Courage: So please tell us…because we have so many filmmakers trying to figure out how to get distribution. How did you even get the conversation started with distributors? Was this the first one that you talked to?
Keith Sutliff: You know people have asked me that before. So I think my distributor I met (from what I remember) because I go to the American Film Market which is an event that most people should go to if you’re in the industry. When you’re there it’s like a big madhouse of distributors and it’s multiple floors in Santa Monica at the Loews Hotel. I met so many distributors there and I stayed in contact with them by email. I think I was in touch with my distributor after that if I remember? So I think they reached out to me or I reached out to them months later and started talking and I told them I had this feature film…(Watch the video on Youtube here).
Check out The Producer’s Business Handbook, Third Edition: The Roadmap for the Balanced Film Producer
5 Tips To Filmmakers Making Their First Feature Film by THE MASON BROTHERS Writer/Director Keith Sutliff
Film Courage: Let’s suppose you attend AFM (American Film Market) this coming year or next and you’re sitting around with a friendly first-time filmmaker and you say “You know, I just want to give you 5 tips which you absolutely must know about making your first feature film.”
Keith Sutliff: First thing I would say, definitely have more of a producer’s job still. That you have the budgeting and the financing locked in. That you have all the money you need for the entire film from pre-production to principle photography, post production to distributing and prints & advertising (P&A). Everything. That it’s locked in.
And then to have a set schedule and time frame when you want to get this film out there and not lingering and taking 5 or 10 years but having a certain timeframe like “Hey, this is my goal. I want this done, complete, out to the world by this time frame.”
There is also preparation with your cinematographer and other people with the shot list with what you want, your vision and talking to your team prior and ‘This is what I think for these certain scenes. This is how they should look. This is what I want.’ Collaborating with them and also I think it’s really huge as a director have a good working relationship with the cast and the crew (but essentially the cast). You are working with these people on set and directing them, what you want them to do and your vision. It’s important to where you have a good friendship and working relationship because you’re going to spend a lot of time with these people on set and even (some of them) in post-production. You’re still communicating with some of them depending on the size of the film.
And then when it gets out to everybody, if you’re doing a theatrical release or premiere, everybody is going to come and support the film. So it’s good that you have a good working relationship and you continue to have that. So it’s important I think for any director…(Watch the video on Youtube here).
Check out Producer to Producer: A Step-By-Step Guide to Low-Budgets
Independent Film Producing
Genre Film Is King In The International Market by Blayne Weaver
Film Courage: What have you learned about genre in regards to selling a movie?
Blayne Weaver: Oh…interesting. I went to the American Film Market this year to help promote CUT TO THE CHASE and what not. And I learned a lot of interesting things like the genre film obviously is kind of king in that international market. I’ve always struggled because my movies are romantic comedies they tend to not really translate into international sales. Comedy is different. Most people who go to romantic comedies (especially foreign) want to see the famous people fall in love. And my people are relatively not famous [laughs]…but yeah, the whole horror films and thrillers and crime are really doing well internationally.
Domestically I feel like it’s really about what the response of the movie has been. Like at film festivals and what not. A good movie can get distribution in the States no matter what genre it is (I think). But if you want to make the money back…(Watch the video on Youtube here).
Should Filmmakers Focus On Film Festivals Or Film Markets?
by Paul Sidhu
Film Courage: Do you believe a filmmaker should focus their efforts on film festivals, film markets or both? Are both two separate animals?
Paul Sidhu: That fundamentally depends on the film, it really does. Because every film festival has a different feel to it.
So when you submit to Sundance for instance, they are looking for independent films but they are looking for and I don’t and I don’t know if I can express a problem but they’re looking for a certain feel of films like a certain type or style of film, as is Toronto (TIFF) as is Berlin (Berlinale).
So if you feel that your film fits with the culture of that film festival, then the film festival is definitely the way to go. But before going into the film festival (like anything else) you’ve got to do your work. I would strongly suggest having…….So if you are going to get into an A-list festival and your film fist that, great! The I think that is beautiful.
But if your film is more mainstream, where in a sense you are doing action films (for instance) that maybe have been told on a grand budget like by a studio or something but you’re doing an action film in a unique manner, then maybe the (film) markets are better because you are not doing so much the art film which would…(Watch the video on Youtube here).
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