Confessions of an AFM Distributor

I spent yesterday attending the American Film Market. My goal was to meet filmmakers looking to get their movies into the popular video on demand marketplaces. During my time talking to filmmakers, I discovered a few secrets of distribution that I would like to share with you. So before you max your credit card, pack your bags and fly to Santa Monica, take a few minutes to make sure that attending AFM is a good business decision for you.

When you attend AFM, you will be categorized as a Wanna-Be, a Newbie or a Veteran. While all filmmaking careers follow this trajectory, you will want to know where you are in your current career. For example, a veteran filmmaker looking to distribute his library of a dozen action movies will have much different objectives than a Wanna-Be filmmaker with an idea an no track record.

While I might run the risk of making assumptions, if you are looking to improve the way you are perceived, here are social indicators that may inadvertently lock you into a category.

Wanna-Be Filmmaker:  The wanna-be filmmaker has not yet made a feature film but wants to. While many of these would-be filmmakers are earnest, nice people – You need to make sure to avoid the phonies or risk looking like a phoney. How do you spot a phoney? Good question.

Phony Wanna-be filmmakers hand out business cards like candy to anybody that will listen to their pitch. When not talking face-to-face with some poor sap, the wanna-be filmmaker can be found within earshot of a populated area, yelling into their phone. “Johnny, we are close to getting green-lit for five million. I’m so cool. I have another meeting!” Whenever I witness this type of theatrical display, I have to avoid puking in my mouth.

Newbie Filmmaker – The newbie filmmaker has just completed his first feature film and hopes his movie will be the breakout hit that garners millions of dollars in upfront advances, complete with a three picture deal. The newbie filmmaker arrives at AFM, usually flying in from some small town in the mid-western United States and enthusiastically walks from booth to booth, dropping off screeners and business cards.

Sometime during the third day of networking, the Newbie Filmmaker realizes that he is surrounded by thousands of other newbie filmmakers competing for the exact same deal. Towards the end of AFM, the Newbie Filmmaker is then approached by some unscrupulous distributor who offers to “distribute” the movie on iTunes. While the deal does not pay much money, the validation is enough to drive the Newbie Filmmaker into a populated area, pick up his phone and talk loudly: “Johnny, we just sold our movie. We are going to be on iTunes and we get to keep ten-percent!” [Note: You can get your own movie into iTunes.]

Veteran Filmmakers - The Veteran Filmmaker does not need to impress anybody. They have made several indie features, have experienced bad deals and can now smell distributor BS from across the lobby of the Loews Hotel. At this point in their career, these industry pros have personal relationships with distributors who can help them get their movies seen and selling. They don’t need to talk loudly on their phone or schmooze themselves silly.

However, there is something else that veteran filmmakers know – And this is one of the big distribution secrets that traditional distributors don’t want you to know. Most movies, even when picked up by a traditional distributor DO NOT pay much money. Couple this with a diminished DVD marketplace being replaced by video on demand, and it is no wonder why many Veteran Filmmakers are deciding to go it alone. Think about it. If the only deal on the table involves getting your movies into iTunes, you have to ask yourself – Is the deal worth it?

When you are in newbie phase, it is very difficult to have a pragmatic perspective. You want the validation of someone other than your mother to telling you that you’re good enough. You want to fly back to your small town and tell your friends you made a deal in Hollywood… But the thing is, instead of paying for a flight, hotel and expensive dinners – you could have simply spent the same money to distribute your movie on iTunes and you would keep one-hundred-percent of the revenue.

As I was leaving the event, a Newbie Filmmaker approached and enthusiastically told me about his deal. Turns out he agreed to sign away a percentage of his movie just for the privilege of embedding the distributor’s player on his FaceBook page. He said it was an easy way to sell to HIS audience. I thought it was an easy way for a distributor to exploit a new filmmaker. And again, I wanted to puke in my mouth. Oh well, at least this filmmaker can return to Ohio and brag about his big Hollywood deal… But a little homework would reveal there are tons of embeddable players in existence.

It is important to never make a rash decision with your movie. You want to think long term and always ask yourself – is this the best strategy for my movie? If not, then you know what must be done. And if you are seeking more information, check out these professional step-by-step filmmaking guides.


  1. says

    I love your videos, could you shoot me in he direction of resources? I have my entire vision coming together and I am very glad to have come across your site. Thanks, and Happy 2013 R Jones

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