120: Don’t Take Your Film To A Festival: The American Film Market (AFM)

Film Trooper Podcast
Film Trooper

[Podcast] Don't Take Your Film To A Festival: The American Film Market (AFM)

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In this episode, I unpack why you wouldn't want to take your film to a festival and bring it to the American Film Market.

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Why you wouldn't want to take your film to a festival ...

Several years ago when I attended the American Film Market (AFM), Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director of the AFM welcomed new attendees by simply stating:

"Don't take your film to a festival"

Why did he say this?

Well, let’s take a deeper look at what event he oversees ... the AFM.

This podcast could have easily been entitled:  AFM: Why You Should or Shouldn’t Attend

Let’s explore if this event is something you should attend or something you don't need to attend?

 

afm-walk-thru

 

What is the AFM?

On AFM's about page, they describe the event as the following:

The business of independent motion picture production and distribution – a truly collaborative process – reaches its peak every year at the American Film Market. Over 8,000 industry leaders converge in Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making, screenings, seminars, networking and parties. Participants come from over 80 countries and include acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers, the world’s press all those who provide services to the motion picture industry.

Founded in 1981, the American Film Market (AFM) quickly became the premiere global marketplace where Hollywood’s decision-makers and trendsetters all gather under one roof. Unlike a film festival, the AFM is a marketplace where production and distribution deals are closed. In just eight days, more than $1 billion in deals will be sealed — on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production — making AFM the must-attend industry event.

The AFM transforms Santa Monica. The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is converted into a busy marketplace and all 29 screens on the Santa Monica Promenade and the surrounding community become AFM screening rooms.

Participants may view more than 700 screenings of approximately 400 films – 29 new films every two hours – the majority of them world or U.S. premieres. Titles range from big budget blockbusters that will be released by the major studios in the U.S., to lower budget art and genre films recognized at international film festivals, all destined for theaters and television around the world. With 8,000 attendees, 700 screenings, and the industry’s largest Conference series, the American Film Market continues to be the pivotal destination for independent filmmakers and business people from all over the world.

 

The AFM marketplace ...

AFM is a marketplace … NOT a film festival.

However, across town, The American Film Institute (AFI) holds their AFI Fest.  And this year it’s running from November 10th - 17th.  So, it actually comes after the market.  This doesn’t help anyone, as it would probably be better if the AFI Fest ran prior to the AFM.  Why?  This way, if there was a film at the AFI Fest that performed well, the film could gain better attention going into the market.

As you can see the AFI Fest and the AFM aren’t really connected.

There have been some partnerships in the past, but it’s not like the Cannes Film Festival, which corresponds with the Cannes Film Market.

 

Festival and Market ...

Most followers of Film Trooper are filmmakers — People who can write, shoot, direct, produce, and edit their own films.

Is AFM worth attending if you’re one of these types of filmmakers?

If you’re trying to sell your film when you’re done, then the AFM sounds like a must event ... Don’t you think?

Most filmmakers are hoping that someone buys their film after playing at film festivals ... Correct?

Most filmmakers are trying to pay back their parents or at least be offered more work, or the dream scenario, be offered money to make their next film.

So ... Who makes these types of decisions?

 

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Who attends the AFM?

If you're looking for the types of people who make the decisions of whether or not to buy your film, then these types of people probably attend Film Markets … Not Film Festivals.

With film festivals, a filmmaker dreams of being accepted.  A filmmaker is hoping that someone picks them and their film.

Pick me, pick me, please!  That’s a lot of hopes and dreams.

Jonathan Wolf explains that there are over 5,000 film festivals that take place every year all over the world — There are more than 50 film festivals in L.A. County alone!

Wolf explains ...

"Film festivals are cultural events for the community."

The film festival organizers are very much like museum curators, they are the gatekeepers who decide which piece of art will be exhibited.

In contrast, at film markets, any filmmaker can exhibit their film to real buyers!You just have to pay the fees.

All you have to do is to pay the fees.

 

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How to screen your film at AFM ...

This is what AFM states on their website about screenings:

The AFM is not a festival so we do not accept film submissions. Exhibiting companies may purchase screening times at AFM screening venues.

That’s it!  Just pay to be seen.

The AFM has connections with 29 screens to exhibit over 400 films.  In 2015, Sundance accepted 184 films.

So, how much does it cost to screen your film at the AFM?

For smaller screens with only HD screening capabilities, anywhere from $290 - $410.

For larger screens with DCP projectors, it will cost you between $1,000 - $1,500 to screen.

Let that sink in for a moment …

You can spend as little as $290 to screen your film at a major film marketplace — NOT a festival!  A market!

Film Festival submission fees cost between $50 - $85.  

 

Why don’t more filmmakers pay for the AFM screening fees?

There’s a catch.  Only exhibitors who have paid the exhibition conference pass can pay an additional fee to have their films shown at the market.

If you don’t have representation from one of the exhibitors, then how can you get your film shown at the market?

Here’s how the AFM answers this:

You may contact one of the exhibiting sales companies for representation. The AFM will not recommend any specific exhibitor nor is it involved in these arrangements. To view a list of sales companies that are IFTA members, see IFTA Member Directory.

When you click to see what companies are listed as Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) members, the AFM offers a long list of what companies are qualified exhibitors.

AFM provides the company website and contact emails.  Your job will be to go through all the companies to see if your film would be a good fit for their library.

 

How to be your own exhibitor at the AFM ...

The answer is quite simple ... Just send in your application and pay the fees!

It costs $3,500 for the exhibition fee, and between $10,000 - $100,000 to secure floor space at the market.

Now, of course, $100,000 is a bit much for most indie filmmakers … but $3,500 for the exhibition fee and $10,000 for some booth space … That’s doable.  That’s a crowdfunding campaign!

There are some local production companies who have paid the fees, and who will act as an exhibitor in order to market their film projects to "real" buyers.

 

Don’t want to be your own exhibitor at the AFM?

Take the time to do your research on each and every exhibition company listed.

Who’s to say you couldn’t approach these companies and ask to pay the screening fee?plus administrative fees if they grant you permission to show your film under their exhibitor banner?

Maybe even offer to pay some administrative fees if they grant you permission to show your film under their exhibitor banner?

Most filmmakers don’t know about this option.

Most filmmakers just assume they will make a film and enter it into a festival ... to be what?  Discovered!

Maybe another reason that most filmmakers don’t do this more often is that they know in their hearts that they don’t have a film that can be sold.

Maybe the film doesn’t have any star actors?  Maybe the production quality isn’t up to par, especially the sound mix?

If you believe in your film, then why not let the marketplace determine if it’s worth buying?  Why waste time at festivals?

 

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Don't Take Your Film To A Festival ...

So, it all comes down to this comment made by Jonathan Wolf, “Don’t take your film to a festival.”

Why?

If your film doesn’t perform well at the major film festivals, then you’ve lost the marketing edge and perceived value of your film.

If your film only plays at smaller unknown festivals, then you've really lessened your bargaining leverage when it comes time to negotiate with "real" film buyers.

Many times a film has more value before it’s even made than when it enters the marketplace.

Think about crowdfunding campaigns.  A lot of film projects will raise more money in the "potential" stage ... But when the film finally gets made, the fans that backed the film lose interest.

Often times, a distribution company will release a film to the festivals as part of the marketing strategy.

So, again think about making your premiere screening at a film market and not a festival.

 

How many film markets are there in the world?

There are only 3 major film markets in the world.  Only 3!

 

Should you premiere your film at a festival or at a market?

It depends …

What types of films are screened at the American Film Market?

We should probably start with that first.  I mean, you want to know if your film is similar to the kinds of films sold at the market, correct?

 

Looking back at the list of exhibitors who attend the AFM and taking the time to research what kinds of films they have released in the past, you can see there are mostly:

  • Action/Adventure films with stars like Dolph Lundgren
  • Thrillers with actresses that you kind of know
  • Horror films with no stars, but usually have good looking young people in them
  • Family films with dogs, horses, and some cute girl who can sing, accompanied by some older actors who were kind of famous years ago

That’s it!

Occasionally, you’ll see a drama with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson being sold at AFM or a documentary that has some kind of social issue attached to it … but for the most part, the kinds of films you’ll see being bought and sold are the schlocky genre films.

These are the kinds of films that would have gone straight to the video store back in the day.

Now, it’s not to knock these types of films.  But you rarely find the interesting festival type films at the market.  Why?  Because they don’t sell easily.

Not that they don't sell ... But they don't sell easily.

Having a film that can be sold easily across the world is essential.  With only 3 major film market events every year, a film has to sell in almost every country.  That’s why action/adventure, thrillers, horror, and family films with dogs and horses do well.

Comedies not so much.

Dramas not so much unless it has a big star in the film.

Now, you have to ask yourself, do you have a film that fits into these four genres?  Would your film be a natural addition to many of these exhibitors, or should I say, distributor’s library?

If not, where do you go?

Do you hope by having a successful festival run with awards from unknown festivals will prove to the buyers that it’s worth something?

Or do you end up in releasing it through self-distribution methods?


Get the book on how to succeed at the AFM:

The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget


What is the flip-side to the AFM?

Emily Best Founder and CEO of Seed and Spark, has mentioned that the AFM represents everything that is wrong in the film industry.

It’s not uncommon to hear from the buyers at the film markets that if your film has female nudity, big explosions, and enough spectacle, you can sell a film fast.

If you know who Emily Best is, the idea that women have to be sexualized in order to sell a film is sad.  There must be another way to sell your film if it does not fit into the market mold?

This is why Emily started Seed and Spark.  The idea is that filmmakers can build an audience and sell to that audience directly.

No need to compromise to a middleman who wants to see more boobs.  But rather, offering a unique vision of your film for a specific audience.

 

Here’s What’s Wrong With The American Film Market - and Hollywood Too!

IndieWire posted an article with this very title, "Here's What's Wrong With The American Film Market - and Hollywood Too!"

".. for the most part, AFM’s natural state is to traffic in dreck."

"Posters for genre titles with absurd names and premises predominate … Roaming the hallways with no clear agenda felt similar to being stuck in the excessive overload of cheesy pop culture tropes — surrounded by crappy excuses for entertainment to a suffocating degree. One has to wonder: Who pays for this shit? The answer, it turns out, is a lot of people.”

The article describes all the mucky-mucks hanging out along the pool overlooking the Santa Monica beach.

The article grabbed a candid excerpt from an AFM regular.

“It’s not a market, it’s a vacation that’s been billed," said the longtime AFM attendee. "Everything that is being done there can be easily done now over Skype or emails. It’s bullshit."

So, that’s the flipside to the market.

 

Where does that leave festivals?

Festivals have become a sort of theatrical run for many filmmakers.  Building an audience through several screenings at various festivals.

The idea is to build the loyal audience following that sets up for a successful crowdfunding campaign for the next project.

But, what many filmmakers have come to learn is that having several successful crowdfunding campaigns doesn’t always lead to a sustainable filmmaking career where you can make a decent wage.

Only a few filmmakers have cracked the code, and they do so under the radar.  It’s not part of the mainstream press.

For those filmmakers who are struggling, they will reside to trying to make a film for an exhibitor/distribution company that will actually pay a decent wage.  Then what kinds of films get made?

The same four genres of action/adventure, thrillers, horror, and corny family films.

 

“What kinds of films will I make?”

Are the kinds of films you want to make in alignment with the type of films that are bought and sold at the American Film Market?

Ask yourself, "Should I even bother with film festivals, if the end result is to go to the market anyway?"

What if the type of films you make aren't a fit for the marketplace?

Then you’ll need to find another business model to implement in order to succeed and thrive.

What’s exciting is there are more and more possibilities for carving out a filmmaking career that do not follow any traditional path.

The market may not be for everyone.  You'll have to make that decision for yourself.

 

Alternate methods of selling your film ...

What about alternate ways of selling your film when you’re finished?

You’re in luck!

Get this FREE 3-Part video series:  

Don't sell your film online for only $10 ...

Sell it for $100!

How?

Sign up to get the FREE 3 part video series, The New Adventures in Film Distribution!

EERRGGHH!!!

I finished my film ...

But now what?

You're in luck!

This FREE video series can help.

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About 

Scott McMahon is a Fellow Film Trooper at Film Trooper, a website for helping filmmakers attain filmmaking freedom. Scott recently made a feature film for $500 with no crew called, The Cube. Want to know what equipment was used to make that film? Grab a FREE gift at www.FREEGEARGUIDE.com

  • Edward Grabczewski

    I like the analysis Scott. It makes sense to go to AFM. The only snag is that we don’t all want to make genre films. That’s for the big boys who worry about getting a return on their millions. We just want to tell our story in the way we think works for the story. If that means breaking the three act structure then so be it. If it means having no climax or inciting incident or not having a hero then so be it. All that matters is what our audience likes (as someone said just now on BBC Radio 4 about self-publishing novels).

    • Agreed. As filmmakers we constantly hear about what it takes to get distribution. I wanted to unpack it a little further to see what types of films fall into this category. I was hoping by bringing in what Seed and Spark is doing, as well as, the IndieWire article would help show the other side to AFM. Then, of course, leading people to check out my free video series on an alternate way of selling your film too. But yes, self-publishing novels, music, and film is at its infancy stage, so we’ll develop better and better business models to follow as the industry continues to change too 🙂

  • DHAM

    Really useful analysis about film markets vs fests (almost) and using Seed & Spark link.

    • DHAM, thank you for taking the time to listen in and/or reading the article. I do hope it’ll be helpful in your filmmaking journey!

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