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.
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
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
- Have an objective. Create a list of people you want to meet, and why.
- Refine your pitch and make sure it sounds interesting.
- Only pitch your movie to people looking for your type of movie.
- Have a nice business card. But don’t give it out unless someone is interested in your pitch.
- Don’t do a deal without due diligence. This helps you avoid the bottom feeders.
Now that you know what to do, here are some ideas on how to work the American Film Market like a total boss.