The American Film Market was founded in 1981 as a way to circumvent the control that large studios had over marketing and distribution, especially in foreign markets. The answer has been to sell the distribution rights directly to independent sales agents, brokers and distributors. The marketplace also facilitates financing by bringing together filmmakers, products, and financial sources.
Held in early November, nearly $ 1 billion in film production and distribution deals are sealed each year at all stages of development, pre-production and production. The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel turns into a busy market. Some 700 screenings are held in various theaters along the Santa Monica Boardwalk and in the screening rooms of nearby hotels. With 8,000 attendees and the industry’s largest conferences, AFM is the go-to destination for independent filmmakers and industry folks.
Last year’s AFM conference series featured discussions on financing, launch, production, marketing and distribution. They also focused on crowdfunding, collective bargaining hearings, film festivals, and video on demand. In this article, I am going to focus on the launch conference and launch sessions. Presenting your project is the initial step in launching a project, obtaining financing, assembling a production team, and marketing and selling the film to sales agents, brokers, and distributors. All of these steps require some kind of launch activity. Therefore, knowing and perfecting sound techniques is vital to the success of any project.
Getting your script read in Hollywood is difficult. Most agents, producers and studios will not accept unsolicited work. You have to arouse enough interest to wake up the industry, and by giving presentations to each and everyone, raise awareness. This way, you create a cooler conversational ability that gives you referrals, opens doors, and gets those meetings face-to-face. Screenwriting is a very competitive profession and being able to present your script effectively puts you above the ranks. It is estimated that the Writers Guild of America registered more than 100,000 entities and the MPPA rated 708 films in 2014. So being able to rise above the competition and mingle with the 1,670 AFM buyers from 70 counties greatly increases your odds.
A launch conference is a good place to learn about this process. They say a good release can make a bad movie and a bad release can leave a fantastic project languishing on the shelf. At this conference, attendees learn the essential rules and tools of pitching from the hands of experts. These experts included Stephanie Palmer, former MGM director of creative affairs, Tobin Armbrust, producer of “Begin Again” and Cassian Elwes, producer of “Dallas Buyers Club.”
I have included tips and advice provided by these experts, along with those mentioned in the articles they wrote. The goal of your presentation is to generate enough interest to attract further development or to have your script read. So your presentation looks a lot like a movie trailer, providing the essence of the movie to create more engagement.
Open your presentation with a small talk that establishes common ground and builds a report. In doing so, this can be a major factor in the sale of your script. Cleanse the palate and you started with a clean slate with no build-ups from previous presentations. Before beginning your presentation, provide context by defining the genre of your script or provide a brief background on your story before beginning your detailed presentation. For example, this is a comedy that takes place at a girls’ boarding school outside of Boston.
Experience it as if you were watching a trailer for your entire movie. Releases in the comedy mode should be fun, and those in the suspense genre should have moments of surprise and suspense. Use precise words to create a vivid visualization and avoid abstract themes and generalizations. Similarly, provide markers in place of the script, such as “Skip to act two” or “In the final scene.” This helps the listener to know where they are in the story and where the plot points and twists are.
Use suspense to increase interest. Rather than telling the listener how the story evolves, sow the seeds of surprising twists and turns to come. By using these settings and rewards to your advantage, you illustrate your storytelling skills; a point that is often overlooked when promoting your writing skills.
Expect to be interrupted. Most meetings are conversational and interactive. So be prepared to expand your presentation and provide more details. Being too detailed and describing every scene, character or place bogs down the process. The more you say, the less they hear. Find descriptive and active words that quickly bring the story to life. Being lively and emotional also animates your speech, as it makes your enthusiasm shine. Show that you believe in your project.
Using too many names also confuses the presentation. While it is fine for the main characters, it is best to identify the supporting characters by their function or descriptive name. Also, don’t be afraid to clarify your speech. Interact and ask if they have any questions at this time. Respond to their questions and suggestions in a positive way. Disagreeing with them shows a lack of respect for their input. Consider their suggestions and then return to them.
In addition to the conference with experts, the market also sponsors a pitch session. Here ten participants selected based on their submitted video and have two minutes to present their idea. Another ten are selected from the audience and from these two groups the judges select a winner. The winner receives a modest cash award along with industry awareness.
These pitching sessions are not for the weak. Criticisms tend to be on the caustic side of constructive. If it’s boring, you will probably listen to that review. Similarly, you will hear questions about casting, budget, and marketability. Be prepared with answers and comparisons to other images with similar budgets that have worked well.
In addition to the presentation sessions, there are many opportunities to present your script or project to people attending the market, people such as producers, production companies, distributors and sales agents. These people and their contact information are listed in the marketplace catalog. You can also mingle with these people in the hotel’s grand lobby or at screenings, events, and parties that take place during the market.
What you learn in this market will help you improve your pitching skills. The networking possibilities are endless and provide ample opportunities to connect. Additionally, thank you notes, inquiry letters, and follow-up meetings will help strengthen these relationships. You should also consider releasing elsewhere, such as film festivals, writers’ conferences, and release festivals. Links to these events are available online. Every time you do a presentation session, you learn what catches people’s attention. Improvements in the description and promotion of your film.
Also, if you keep practicing your craft, it won’t be a strikeout, but a home run deal.