The Film Business

Film Markets – Advice from a Filmmaker

Knowing how to attend and network at film markets is critical. You do not want to be carrying around business plans, handing them to everyone who says, “I can get you a deal.” Common sense will stand you in good stead in attending markets. There is no trick to meeting and greeting, no secret handshakes or passwords. (Just get out there and shake hands!) When you attend a market, remember that a distributor’s goal in being there is not to meet you; it is to sell product. Here are guidelines for you to follow:

  • Be prepared : Bring your short-term promotional materials and bone up on who is who before you go. Let your fingers do some walking through the trades.
  • Be aware : Distribution companies usually focus on certain types of films. Look at their posters and at the items listed in their market catalogs. Try to match your films to their inventory. After all, the distributor is your shortest route to those foreign buyers and presales.
  • Be inquisitive : Ask questions of everyone you meet—in an office, in the lobby, on the street. Try to discover the person’s qualifications before spilling your guts about your plans and projects, however.
  • Be considerate : In introducing yourself to distributors, pick slack times. Very early in the day and at the end of the day are best. Whenever you reach a distributor’s display room, notice if buyers are there. If they are, go back later.
  • Be succinct : Keep the discussion short and sweet. Your objective is to get a meeting at a later time. You want your “prey” to feel relaxed and be attentive. Try for a meeting at the distributor’s office.
  • Be dubious : Lots of people are milling around screenings, hotel lobbies, and expo halls pretending to be something they are not. It may be a big rush for someone to tell you that they were the “real” investor behind The Visitor (when they had nothing to do with it) and are interested in financing your film for $2 million (when they have no money). Listen carefully, take cards, and try to verify the facts afterward. Do not give your scripts or proposals to anyone unless you can validate their credentials.

There is more detail about pitching in Chapter 13, “Other People’s Money.”

how to work the film markets

photo by flickr user Taku

Advice from a Filmmaker

Joe Majestic formed Majestic World Entertainment in 2007 as a film, multimedia development, and distribution company. Previous to that, in 2003, he co-founded the Ilya Salkind Company, where he served as Vice President of Production. He was a contributing architect of the company’s initial slate of film and television properties. In 2008, he partnered in Monterrey Pictures Entertainment. He left that company in 2009 to focus on film development and sales as President of Majestic. In 2011, he also founded film and television production company Hurricane Film Partners, LLC. Having worked with Joe as a consultant since 2003, I asked him to lend his advice on both attending and being an exhibitor at the American Film Market. In addition, check the market’s website for its section “How to Work the AFM.”

LL: How did you first start working the market?

Joe: I first attended the AFM with a visitor’s badge. I suggest that filmmakers go ahead and get a badge, go around the film market, get all the materials, and network. It took me five years of having a badge full time as an attendee, because I didn’t have a mentor or work with a distribution company. I had to learn by trial and error.

LL: Who are the companies that rent offices in the Loews during the market?

Joe: Any production or distribution company that wants to sell products to the more than 1,500 accredited buyers that come from countries around the world can obtain office space at the AFM.

LL: What are some of the activities you suggest for filmmakers attending for the first time?

Joe: People don’t realize what a valuable tool the market is. Make a plan. I have seen many filmmakers waste their time by not scheduling their days. Do research. Get the attendee guide that comes with your badge. It tells you which companies are in each room. Then get the special AFM edition of Variety or the Hollywood Reporter that lists what each company is selling. Individual companies often have specific genres they sell, and you want to know who would be the most likely company to be interested in your film. You also can look them up on the Internet.

LL: How do you approach the distributors?

Joe: They are unlikely to speak to you on day one or two or on the last day when they are packing up. Spend the first couple of days gathering information. The middle to near the end is best, as the market tends to be slower. They will talk to you if you have a project and are seriously packaging it. Ask their advice. They will give it, because they need product.

LL: Can you just walk into an office?

Joe: Filmmakers think they can go in all the offices just because they have a badge. Technically, you should be invited. Remember that their main goal is to sell to buyers who will have appointments. Try to contact sellers in advance. If you have an appointment, the exhibitor can give you a guest pass to the office floors. You won’t be allowed onto any of those floors without either a badge or pass. If you don’t have an appointment in advance, ask the office assistant for one. That person will probably say, “Contact us after the market.” Try to hold out for a meeting at the market. Be clear. Say that you are packaging your film project and give a specific genre ad budget. Don’t get expansive with mixed genre descriptions. Ask them what talent they would like to see attached to the film. If people look too busy, try for at least a brief introduction. If not, call them after the market. Say something like, “Congratulations on your great AFM. I went by your office several times, and you were too busy. I’d like to send you information on my film _________ budgeted at _________. I have found that it is better to call before sending an email and/or materials.”

LL: Why are you meeting them?

Joe: You probably will be looking for a distributor to either help you do presales on a film to be made or to obtain a distribution guarantee to help you raise money from other sources.

LL: What made you decide to pay for office space?

Joe: My company, Majestic World Entertainment, had several projects to rep for sales. Having learned how the market works, it was time. I already had worked with Hector Grob of Monando Film Distribution, who has 25 years in film distribution going back to working with the Salkinds on the Superman movies. I met him while working with Ilya, and whenever he was in town during AFM, I spent time at the market with him. It is important to work with someone who has experience in selling at international markets. If you are interested in being a sales representative, try to meet other sellers and buyers when you are initially at the market. Everyone has a badge. You can talk to people in elevators, on the terrace, at the pool, or at the bar in the lobby.

LL: What should I do if I need to hire someone with market experience?

Joe: The staff at AFM is extremely helpful. They will guide you through the details of obtaining and setting up an office and recommend people to work with you. You need a good assistant to set up meetings and work the phones.

LL: How many films do you need to have for sale?

Joe: You could have one film, although more is better. We were selling three horror films for our clients. General wisdom is that you should have no more than ten films.

LL: What materials should you have to give to buyers?

Joe: 1. Similar to the list above, the three most important pieces of information are cast, budget, and genre. Male actors are most important in obtaining foreign financing. Know what your actors are worth vis-à-vis your budget. Don’t get an actor who was worth $250,000 last year and is now worth $25,000. As I said before, be specific about the genre. Don’t say “sci-fi action drama.” Just say, “action.” There is also “contained action,” which is a low-budget action film.

2. Promo teaser. You don’t need a scene from the actual movie. Shoot a short one-and-a-half- to two-minute section from the script. You need a visual for buyers, since it isn’t a radio show. We had promos for all our films. Also, quality counts. You can have unknown actors and inexpensive surroundings, but the look of your two minutes has to be good. We did presales as a result of the whole package. In addition, we already had talent attached. That isn’t a requirement, but attached talent gives your project more value.

LL: How do presales work?

Joe: Generally, the buyer gives you twenty percent down of the price they are paying for their specific territory and the rest on delivery of the film. You should have all the legal documents available for this transaction. Have them drawn up by an entertainment attorney familiar with distribution and markets. Don’t write your own. Your attorney will probably be available for meetings also. Usually, an attorney with clients at the market will be there himself.

LL: Is it important to have someone in your office who speaks multiple languages?

Joe: No. It is nice, but the buyers will always have someone who speaks English. They are buying from you and want your product.

LL: I know that you previously went to Cannes. Is there additional advice for that market?

Joe: Cannes is very expensive. The offices are twice as much, and all other expenses are three to four times more expensive than going to AFM. If a film project isn’t completely packaged with a first-class promo, don’t spend the money. Don’t go there just to get experience.

LL: Assuming you have the project and promo, are there ways to save money?

Joe: American filmmakers can become members of the American Pavilion. You will have a headquarters and exhibition space, although you won’t have an office. You will be able to go to the various Cannes offices and network. The Pavilion provides an array of business services, seminars, networking events, and parties. More networking is done at parties in Cannes than at AFM. For the parties given by major companies, you need to be invited, of course. The best parties are at the beginning of both markets. Other countries have pavilions also. They are all lined up together.

Excerpt from Filmmaking and Financing, 7th edition by Louise Levison © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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