How to Navigate AFM – The Ultimate Guide

With the American Film Market on the horizon, I am getting inquires from a lot of filmmakers about the “proper” way to attend the market and pitch to distributors.

For those of you just getting started, AFM (The American Film Market) is a trade show that happens every fall in Santa Monica. This is a time when established movie buyers and movie sellers set up shop and meet face-to-face. This is also a time when thousands of hopeful filmmakers fly into town (from all parts of the world) with a mission to sell their movie for maximum profit.

Every year I stop by AFM to meet up with my Sell Your Movie clients. Doing this allows me to get to know you personally. And it also helps me keep my finger on the pulse of emerging distribution trends. And over the past few years, one thing has become glaringly certain…

There are a lot of filmmakers who fall prey to crappy deals. So before you max out your credit card, pack your bags and fly to Santa Monica – Take a few minutes to make sure attending the American Film Market makes good business sense for you.


How to Navigate AFM

From a distributor’s point of view, you will fall into one of three categories. You will either be perceived as a hopeful filmmaker, a first-time filmmaker or a veteran filmmaker.

If you are looking to improve the way you are perceived, here are social indicators that may inadvertently lock you into a category.

Hopeful Filmmaker:  The hopeful filmmaker has not yet made a feature film but wants to. They attend AFM to get a lay of the land and make connections. While most would-be filmmakers are earnest, nice people – It is important to note that AFM (like most Hollywood events) also attract dozens of loud-mouthed, BIG talking phonies.

How do you spot a phoney? Good question.

Phony filmmakers usually hand out business cards like candy to anybody that will listen to their pitch. When not talking face-to-face with some poor sap, phonies 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 have to get going. We have another meeting!”

Whenever I witness this type of theatrical display, I puke just a little bit in my mouth.

First-Time Filmmaker – The first-time filmmaker has just completed his first feature and hopes his movie will be the breakout hit that garners millions of dollars in upfront advances, complete with a three picture deal. The first-time 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 first-time filmmaker realizes that he is surrounded by thousands of other first-time filmmakers, competing for the exact same deal. Towards the end of AFM, this first-time filmmaker is invariably approached by some unscrupulous distributor who offers to “pick up” his movie and put it on iTunes.

While the deal does not pay much money, the validation is more than enough. The filmmaker gets a Hollywood deal. And the distributor acquires licensing rights for pennies on the dollar. The results of this dealing prompts the first-time filmmaker to push aside a group of phonies, pick up his own phone, and shout:

“Johnny, we just sold our movie! We are going to be on iTunes and we get to keep ten-percent!”

Whenever I witness this type of theatrical display, I almost cry for the first-time filmmaker. Did he know that he could get his own movie on iTunes?

Veteran Filmmaker -The Veteran Filmmaker (like my buddy Tom Malloy who has raised over 25M to produce his movies) does not need to impress anybody. These filmmakers have made several indie features, have experienced both good and bad deals and can now smell distributor BS from across the lobby of the Loews Hotel.

These industry pros have personal relationships with distributors who can help them get their movies seen and selling. As a result, veteran filmmakers arrive at AFM, meet the people they need to see and make a deal (or not.)

From there, the veteran filmmaker silently leaves the meeting, drives home and takes a nap. Veteran filmmakers are well over the hype and understand that while sexy, filmmaking is a business.

What You Need To Know About AFM

Before you step foot into AFM, you will want to know your objective. And you will also want to know what value you bring to the distributor. For example, a veteran filmmaker looking to distribute two action movies will have a much different objective than a hopeful filmmaker, full of awesome movie ideas but no track record.

Regardless of where you are in your career, there is something you need to know. And what I’m about to tell you is one of those big secrets that traditional distributors don’t want you to know.

Ready? Here we go:

The majority of modern distribution deals DO NOT pay much money. 

Think about it. If the only offer you get involves putting your movies into iTunes, you have to ask yourself – Is the deal worth it? Especially because you can get your own movie on iTunes…

But Jason. I’m above all this stuff. My movie is better than most…

Look. I get it.

Ask most “distribution gurus” how to land a BIG deal, and many will proport that it only takes is a great movie and a bunch of schmoozing. Seriously, this blog would be way more popular if I simply sold the sex appeal of Hollywood.

But I won’t do that.

I have worked with way too many filmmakers who have gotten seduced by sexy movie selling shenanigans, only to contract a painful bout of distribution chlamydia. (Not a typo.)

Incidentally, this is how my buddy describes this blog. He says everybody pays top dollar for the sex. Nobody wants to admit they need a shot of penicillin.

Case in point, last year a first-time filmmaker approached me at AFM 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 directly to HIS audience.

And while I congratulated him, I couldn’t help but puke a little bit more in my mouth. Here was yet another first-time filmmaker, seduced by the dark side. But he seemed happy. At least he could go back to Ohio and brag about his big Hollywood deal…

But if he had just done little homework, he would have realized there are tons of embeddable players in existence. And most do no require an exclusive deal.

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 deal for my movie?

Five Tips For Navigating AFM

  1. Have an objective. Create a list of people you want to meet, and why.
  2. Refine your pitch and make sure it sounds interesting.
  3. Only pitch your movie to people looking for your type of movie.
  4. Have a nice business card. But don’t give it out unless someone is interested in your pitch.
  5. Don’t do a deal without due diligence. This helps you avoid the bottom feeders.

Let’s face it, aside from slamming down a few cocktails with Hollywood hotshots, the primary reason for attending AFM is to meet someone willing to distribute your movie. But be cautious. Out of the “1500 buyers with billions of dollars in buyer power,” AFM is also sure to attract a lot of slimy bottom feeders who will promise you the world and never deliver.

If you have gone through my Sell Your Movie System and you plan on attending AFM, let me know. I would be happy to meet up and find out how things are going with your movie projects. And if you are seeking more information about distribution, reserve your spot in my next distribution webinar.



  1. Bill Cunningham says

    And understand above all, that the distributors are there primarily to SELL films to sub-distributors around the world. Don’t get in their way, be polite, and if they say,”we aren’t looking at anything during the market,” — walk away, and contact them AFTER the market.

    It’s always better to try and sell your movie before or after the market. During the market is reserved for meeting people and getting to know them.

  2. 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *