How To Sell A Movie At The American Film Market

I am writing this post live from the American Film Market in Santa Monica, California.

Each year, movie executives come from all over the world and get together to buy and sell movies. I’ve spent the last five years working in acquisitions. But for this market I was actually hired by a producer to help sell a movie.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been on the filmmaker side of the table for quite some time. Selling a movie instead of working to buy a movie offers me a rather unique perspective.

Before I share actual strategies, it’s important that you gain an understanding of how AFM works. To do that, I recommend you read my previous article: How to Navigate AFM – The Ultimate Guide.

Also, the American Film Market is on a beach. That makes this market worth it just for the view.

American Film Market

Photo © Thomas Barrat / Dollar Photo Club

How To Prep For The American Film Market

You can’t just wing it at AFM. Despite all the myths, there are not people here simply looking to hand over cash to compete strangers. If you have a movie to sell, you need to be honest about your movie. What is the genre? Who’s in the movie? Do your actors have international appeal?

Once you know what you’re selling, your next step is to figure out who’s buying. Since AFM attracts foreign buyers from all over the world, it’s important to gain a general understanding of how the movie sales process works. According to my buddy Scott Kirkpatrick, who runs distribution over at MarVista, in prep for AFM, it’s wise to put participants into several buckets:

Bucket One – Foreign Buyers: These professionals make up the majority of the American Film Market. Foreign buyers come to AFM with a shopping list for content they want to acquire. If you don’t have it, they move on to the next seller. There is nothing sexy about the job. For example, yesterday a buyer from Turkey walked by our booth:

“Do you have any action movies available for Turkey?”

While this sounds like a fantastic opportunity to make a sale, if you don’t have what they are looking for the conversation is over.

The other thing to understand about foreign buyers is, they don’t take you seriously if you’re only selling one movie. These guys make a living moving product. They have personal relationships with preferred movie distributors and sales agents. If you’re a one-off filmmaker, this represents a headache for them.

Conversely, let’s say you DO have an action movie for Turkey. What are you going to do? Simply sell off your Turkish rights and spend the rest of AFM tracking down other buyers from other foreign territories? While the entrepreneur in you might jump at the opportunity, I assure you, this is not the most efficient use of your time.

This is where working with a sales agent may help, which brings us to the next bucket.

Bucket Two – Sales Agents: If you’ve been reading my film distribution stuff for any length of time, you might get the impression that I’m totally against the traditional route. Not true! I believe that if a distribution deal makes sense for your movie, you should take the deal. And if you find a great sales agent, it may make sense to form a partnership.

The reason for this is simple. Sales agents know both the individual buyers and the distributors. And since sales agents work on a commission, it behooves these professionals to negotiate the best possible deal for your movie. But as a possible downside, your movie will become one of many in the sales agent’s catalog. Because of this, whenever making a pitch, the sales agent will have to focus on whichever title in the catalog shows the most promise.

Bucket Three – Film Distributors / VOD Aggregators: In a lot of instances, it makes sense for you to forgo sales agents and pitch directly to distributors. A film distributor will have the ability to get your movie into Cable Television, DVD Outlets and all the video on demand outlets. Additionally, many distributors are able to transact in foreign territories or know people who can. And if that’s not enough, many distributors now tout an ability to manage a limited theatrical release for your movie.

The downside here is one of rights management. If you sell your rights to a distributor, in most instances you will have little control over how your movie is further marketed, sold and seen. And once the deal is signed, the deal is singed.

In all instances, it helps if you go into AFM with a plan.

Five Tips For Navigating The American Film Market

  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.

How To Sell A Movie At The American Film Market

Now that you know what to do, I am going to reveal how my filmmaker client and myself have decided to break all the rules.

To be continued soon…

This article will be updated as soon as we decide on the best distribution strategy for our movie. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn about film distribution, check out this film distribution guide.

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.


How To Access The Secret Film Investing Club

In this week’s filmmaking question, a reader asks the following about investing in a webseries.

Question: I’m doing a webseries and I am distributing to YouTube and iTunes so far. I’m not launching till at least Feb when everything is done. I am doing this out of pocket and need funding. I don’t have wealthy friends nor do I know any rich people. What’s the first step in obtaining an investor? Is there a group of people that invest? I’ve tried those crowdfunding sites to no avail. Any suggestions?

One of the most frequently asked questions in filmmaking is: How do I find someone to invest in my project?

While the answers vary from asking your dentist for money to calling your rich uncle, I am going to tell you a secret that most filmmakers don’t want you to know. Are you ready?

Angry businesswoman

Secret Film Investing Club

There is a top secret, underground group of prospective film investors who are hungry to invest in unproven projects, produced by unknown filmmakers and they are chomping at the bit to give you their money. That’s right. I’m taking about the secret film investing club…

But before you can be admitted to the club, you must first decipher the secret password.

Just kidding… There really is no such secret film investing club.

But there is a myth perpetuated in this industry that leads most filmmakers to believe otherwise. This is evidenced each year by the gazillion, first time, hopeful filmmakers who flock to The American Film Market and end up hobnobbing with Hollywood posers who pretend that they are actually interested in financing unproven projects.

While some filmmakers get lucky, many leave AFM with a list of “good contacts” and “great feedback” on their project and spend the next two years chasing a carrot on a string. So instead of taking this route, I suggest learning how to think like an investor.

What’s the first step in obtaining an investor?

When I started out, I didn’t know any rich or successful people. I grew up in a small town surrounded by factory workers. Like most filmmakers, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I would find an investor for my projects. At one point I read a book totally unrelated to filmmaking called Rich Dad Poor Dad. The book talked about rich people – how they think and what they look for in investments.

Inspired by the book, I started asking friends if they knew any rich people. One of my friends mentioned a local auto dealer who owned a dozen dealerships. One day I picked up the telephone and called his dealership. I left a message with his secretary. And to my surprise, the prospective investor called back and agreed to meet.

That single meeting was the beginning of a business relationship that I still maintain to this day. (For the record, this guy was worth 67 million dollars.)

Later when I worked with a producer in New York City, I found out that the strategy for finding investors wasn’t much different.

So the first step in finding a prospective investor is to ask friends and family if they “know of” any rich people. If someone mentions a name, reach out and request a meeting. If no names are mentioned, then I would pick up the Yellow Pages and look for the biggest ad. People pay a lot for those ads – so if you find one, why not attempt to connect with the CEO for a meeting?

Is there a group of people that invest in projects?

If you Google “investment clubs,” you will get a ton of results. Just know that if you find a legit group, they probably focus on popular investments like stocks or real estate. While I would encourage you to attend a few meetings, refrain from pitching your agenda until you make sure members are open to new types of investments. Your initial goal with any first meeting is to make friends and see where it takes you.

Assuming you take the necessary actions that lead you to prospective investors, I would not make a pitch until you figured out how to answer a few basic questions, usually as part of your business plan:

  1. How will the money be spent?
  2. How will you recoup the money?
  3. How soon will you recoup the money?
  4. What is the projected ROI?
  5. Why should they invest in your project over other investments?

Think of it like this – Most investors make 8% to 12% on their money in a good mutual fund. Add the fact that a solid real estate investment could produce this return, plus cashflow and it is easy to understand why asking people to invest in an unproven project is challenging.

Thoughts on Crowdfunding?

Aside from raising money, the more important aspects of crowdfunding include testing, proving and pre-selling a concept. Additionally, a crowdfunding campaign allows you to test the footprint of your social influence. When crowdfunding attempts fail, it could mean the concept is not yet interesting to the marketplace, the filmmaker’s social media reach is limited or both.

When in doubt, think of your project from the perspective of a prospective investor. What seems more risky? The guy who just had a successful crowdfunding campaign, sourced a mailing list of 10,000 people and has advertisers offering to buy advertising space… Or the unproven project with no plan for ROI.

Don’t be that guy.

Just because you are filmmaker, producing a short, webseries or feature does not mean that you are no longer bound to the general principals of business. You must never forget that you are creating a product. So before you approach any prospective investor, you need to first figure out how your project will make money.

In the end, while there is no such thing as a secret film investing club, the are financial rewards if you’re willing to hustle.

If you like this film finance advice, check out the Film Finance Guide.