by Catherine Beamish and Odette Blanch @
Many years ago, while attending my first Friday Finance Seminar at the AFM (American Film Market), I was blessed to be seated between Sam Yeagan, an executive with the bank who was sponsoring the seminar, and Norman Katz. Sam and I struck up a conversation about why we were attending the conference. When I explained that I had a movie that needed financing and distribution, Sam smiled and said you need to introduce yourself to the gentleman sitting on the other side of you.
I soon learned that the man on my left was one of the most influential people in Hollywood. Not only was Norman one of the founders of the American Film Market, but he had also been the head of Warner Brothers International. Eventually, he created his own company Norkat and began helping people like myself to navigate the Hollywood maze.
He took me under his wing and began schooling me in the importance of story and then taking that story and networking with the right people to take the project to fruititon. At one point he advised me to continue attending the AFM because, in his words, “I’m old and won’t be around much longer and this is where you’ll find your strength in the industry. This is where you’ll meet the people you should know.”
Sadly, I could have listened to Norman’s stories about being an insider in Hollywood and learned the inside secrets forever, but he passed away in 2010.
Fortunately, the AFM not only thrives, but continue to re-invent itself in fantastic ways. The seminars allow newer and established filmmakers to stay current on the issues that directly affect them. It gives people the opportunity to network, exchange ideas and eventually find their industry soul-mates.
I have attended two film schools, numerous industry sponsored conferences and seminars, but to date, attending the American Film Market has been by far the best source of knowledge and networking for me.
I write about the AFM because I believe in it with all my heart, and I pass on what I have learned because someone held out a hand to me and I believe in passing it forward. I also write about the AFM to honor the memory of Norman Katz.
Certainly many big budget movie deals are made/closed at the AFM each year, but what intrigued me most was the number of micro budget, new/emerging filmmakers who were making deals and selling their completed films at the AFM.
While others prefer to start working the AFM from the fifth floor and working up, I like to check out floors 2 and 3 first. Many of the movies on these floors are made for less than three hundred thousand dollars and every office I stopped into during the market had made at least one distribution deal and many had made deals in several territories.
One particularly interesting filmmaker was so talented that he wrote, directed and edited his own movie with a budget of under a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. He was barely twenty. Not only did this young filmmaker sell his project, but on the strength of this success and a polished script was able to leverage another deal at a higher budget.
While attending film school, one of the biggest misconceptions I heard voiced by fellow students was that it is enough to simply make a brilliant film and not worry about marketing the project. Sadly, many filmmakers get stuck on the show side of “show business” and are oblivious to the needs of the business side. Unfortunately, many brilliant movies never see the light of day.
Michael Gianfriddo said it best when he warned that “if you don’t understand an aspect of the business then partner up with someone who does. Compliment your business team with those most competent in their specific area(s) and who are the best personality fit.
The AFM is one of the best places to meet hundreds of potential business partners in a single venue.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2015.
The 2015 American Film Market provided amazing opportunities to network.
Although, as press, I was not able to attend the Carousel Networking events, everyone I spoke to who had attended thought it was a fantastic addition to the market. It was held on the Santa Monica Pier after the days end.
I was honored to be invited to attend Thai Night by her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi. In addition to being entertained by a special presentation of a popular Thai entertainer, fed a fantastic buffet with an open bar, we were matched up with our Thai counterparts to network and see the possibilities of working together. Even though I had not intended to pitch a project, I was drawn in to pitching and actually following up with acquisitions with the Thai representative.
China was the dominant presence at the market, for both finance and distribution.
Over the past four years or so, China has maintained this presence. However, at this year’s finance conference, the representatives for China explained that China was actively looking to partner with successful filmmakers, producers and directors from the Western World in order to learn the secrets of Western success in the global market for film.
Over the past few years China has surpassed any other country in developing audiences for film. On average, five new cinemas open in China each day and Alibaba has become a name on the tips of the tongues of many savvy film persons. However, China still maintains a cap on the number of foreign films that are allowed into China to be shown on cinema screens, each year. To date, China has increased buying external films. Although the number from 35 a year to 39, but you need to be aware that there is specific criteria for these films to pass government regulations.
Apparently, the way around this cap is to be working in a co-production with an established film company based in China. The Chinese production company require they be in control of the production in order to qualify. They even took it one step further by offering to educate filmmakers on their protocol through seminars.
The last day of the market I found myself speaking with one of the few buyers who had stayed until the last day of the market. (Traditionally the buyers leave early, but this man stayed later so his wife could shop.) He explained that he was unable to find as many film deals as he would like and asked me if I had a finished movie I would like to pitch.
After the market shut down for the year, I looked at the genres of film that the Chinese market finds popular. If you look at the “Numbers” article provided on the AFM website, you will see that what is popular in the China market is often not what is popular with westerners.
I wish I had been able to clone myself so that I could have taken advantage of all the wonderful resources this year’s AFM offered. To this end, I would suggest partnering up with another attendee to share notes wherever possible.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR AT THE 2016 AFM
Before perusing the website for the American Film Market, you should read my artcles and listen to the interview with Michael Gianfriddo ( Movietime: Michael Gianfriddo of Dominant Entertainment. ). It would also be wise to go over the interview with Jeannette Berling, ( Graycon Sonata ) recorded a couple of years ago at the American Film Market. Both these individuals finance film and distribute as well.
Once you have listened to Jeannette and Michael tell you what you need to consider when forming your capital stack and what you need to do to position you project, you will realize that this year’s AFM will provide you with the opportunity to network with the agents, sales agents and distributors you need in your corner. And just as important, the seminars will school you on how to be successful in a meeting with those people.
There is a common misconception among inexperienced filmmakers, that in order to satisfy financiers all you have to do is get any sales agent who will provide you with sales projections for your project. If those projections sound good, the misconception is that the financier will hand over the money you need to finance the film.
Not so. An experienced Executive Producer/ Financier will only trust the sales projections if you have chosen an established/proven sales agent dealing in the genre and budget base of your film with comparable stars matching the territories in which you hope to sell your film.
Both Jeanette and Michael stress the importance of teaming up with the right sales agent not just any sales agent. It is essential to understand the pre-sale market which is constantly changing and evolving. For many lower budget movies the pre-sale market is a very important element of their capital stack. This is a MUST see seminar for both emerging and established filmmakers, producers and anyone involved in producing a film. Remember Jeanette’s words. “Every product has a test market. In the film industry the pre-sale is your test market. If you can’t pre-sell at least 1/3 of your foreign markets then the film should not be made.”
It is essential to know how and who best to rely on to pre-sell the International markets. If you listen to the interview with Camela Galano of Relativity International you should understand the importance and complexity of good relationships in this industry. The right sales agent is worth his/her weight in gold. (Remember that generally only the blockbusters will pre-sell in the domestic market.)
Brexit could have a profound influence on the film finance and distribution markets. I expect it to be a key topic at the market. Brexit is already impacting and splitting markets and is one topic to watch out for and track how it will impact the industry. Many production companies have already expressed their concern over a loss of finance and distribution potential in the UK. With many other UK companies also considering their own Brexit this will ripple through the entire industry world wide. I expect that the seminars will discuss places such as Canada that offer great soft money potential to offset the losses that may be suffered over Brexit.
Attending the AFM will give you the advantage of understanding those politics. I would imagine that Brexit won’t be the only political discussions in the lobby of Loews, the seminars and even in the restaurants of Santa Monica.
Producers and other filmmakers attending the market should take a look at the “Numbers” article as just one of the many resources made available by the organizers of the market.
Jonathan Wolff and his team have provided attendees of the American Film Market with tips for being successful at the market and ways to network not to mention a wealth of knowledge via the seminars.
Before attending the market do the homework suggested by the website. The American Film Market is such a valuable resource that I urge you to allow yourself at least a good 2 hours just to absorb some of the material offered on the website. Do your homework and see you in Santa Monica November 2nd.
For more film based interviews go to Movietime with Graycon Sonata.