How to Work the AFM
The American Film Market is a great place to pitch your project or film - if you have a plan. Use these steps to increase your chances of success.
If you have a project or script, the most effective use of your time and money is to purchase an AFM Industry Pass which allows access to all offices and most screenings beginning Sunday, Day 5. It costs $295 which is a big savings compared to the $795 Executive Pass. Buy your badge before October 14. After that date, the fees go up.
STEP 1: Homework - Create a List of Target Companies
Over 400 production / distribution companies have offices at the AFM but not all are right for your film. You will need to focus your time and effort on companies best suited for your project.
Begin on opening day (Wednesday) by walking into the lobby of the Loews (no badge required) and collecting the Bumper issues of the key trades.: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International, and Business of Film. (The trades are free at the AFM.) These publications have profiles of most companies at the Market. Take the trades home or sit at the pool and read, read, read. Find the companies that look best for your film.
Do further research on the web. Most AFM companies list their projects and films in The Film Catalogue. Many also include their profile and contact information.
Once you have created a target list, count the companies on it. If there are less than 10, you’re being too picky. [“No distributor is right for MY film!”] If there are 100 or more, your homework grade is “incomplete.” Keep working. The target list for most projects is 30 – 50 companies.
STEP 2: More Homework - Create a List of Target Executives
For each of your target companies, create a list of key executives. Most important is the person or people who are in charge of acquisitions, development and production. Look for their names in the trades and company websites. If you can’t find the right names, call the company’s main office (not their AFM office) and ask.
Finding out who’s who is critical. You will never get anywhere by walking into an office and saying “Hi, who is your head of acquisitions? I’d like to meet with him… or her.” This makes you look too lazy to do advance work and might cause the company to question your work ethic as a potential producing partner.
STEP 3: Prioritize Your Target List
Separate your list into two groups: companies with an office in the city where you live and those from everywhere else. Focus first on the companies that aren’t based where you live. If you are unable to meet with a company from your home city during the AFM, you can always follow-up with them after the Market. Use other factors (i.e. the budgets and genres of the company’s AFM lineup) to create an A and B list with 20 to 30 companies on each list. This will help prioritize your time near the end of the Market.
STEP 4: Work on Your Pitch
A good pitch can get a bad film made and a bad pitch can leave a terrific project languishing on the shelf. Pitching is part art (it’s a creative process), part science (pitches need to be organized and follow a tight script) and part salesmanship. There are many experts and resources on pitching, so our only advice is:
- If you are madly, deeply in love with your project, if it’s your only child and the AFM is its first day of school, get someone else to do the pitch. Pitching it yourself will definitely convince people that YOU love the project, but it probably won’t do much more.
- In the pitch meeting, remember that you are being evaluated along with your project. When a company commits to your project, they are also committing to work with you.
- Your mission during each pitch meeting isn’t selling your project. You won’t get a deal in one brief meeting. Your mission is simply: Get the second meeting!
- Consider attending the AFM Pitch Conference Saturday morning.
STEP 5: Make Appointments
On Thursday and Friday, call each target company’s AFM office and request a 15 minute meeting with the key executive you identified in Step 2. AFM office phone numbers are listed in the AFM Show Directory - it’s available at the Information desk in the Loews lobby. Don’t use a cell phone. Use a land-line in a quiet place. Ask for a meeting on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday as most companies will be too busy during the first few days and your Industry Pass begins on Sunday. For companies that won’t set a meeting (prepare yourself – there will be many), see Step 8 below.
STEP 6: Prepare Materials
Here are some thoughts on what to leave behind after every meeting:
- Your business card.
- A synopsis.
- A summary of the film’s unique creative and financial attributes. This could include a list of all people attached or committed to the project, a budget abstract that’s less than half a page, any rights that aren’t available, investors that are committed, production incentives that you know the film can utilize, etc.
- If the script is done, bring one or two copies with you but don’t leave it behind without first consulting with your attorney.
These are just our suggestions – every film and situation is different. Be prepared, but don’t bring copies of letters or documents that “prove” anything. It’s too soon for that.
STEP 7: Work The Show Before You Go
Done with your homework? Made your appointments? Confident with your pitch? Materials ready? Great. There’s still plenty you can do at the AFM before you get your badge on Sunday:
- Attend the AFM Conference Series. Consider upgrading to an Industry Pass Plus.
- If this is your first AFM, attend the AFM Orientation. You will receive an invitation after you register.
- Purchase your AFM Industry Pass in advance so you will be ready to go on Sunday morning. Register online.
- Read the trades to stay on top of trends and deals.
STEP 8: It’s Showtime!
Here, in order, are your priorities for Sunday - Day 5, Monday - Day 6 and Tuesday – Day 7:
- Arrive at every scheduled meeting on time. Be prepared to be “bumped” or delayed. Don’t take it personally – selling comes before buying.
- Visit the companies that wouldn’t schedule a meeting with you on the phone. Remember, always ask for an appointment with a specific person.
- Visit companies on your B list and those you couldn’t easily profile in Step 1. Get a feel for the product they handle and the culture of the company to see if they are right for your film. Consider being a “stealth participant” by picking up brochures and business cards without introducing yourself. Don’t ask for a meeting while you are there. (If you’ve just walked in and asked a bunch of questions, stuffed your bag with their collateral and grabbed every business card, it isn’t likely you’ll get a meeting.) Instead, wait half an hour and call the company to schedule a meeting . . . with a specific person.
ADDITIONAL STEPS: Producers with a Finished Film
The steps above were written for producers, filmmakers and writers with projects and scripts. If you have a completed film and are looking for global distribution, congratulations! Everything above generally applies but you will need to move-up the timetable:
- One month before the AFM, prepare a 5 – 7 minute reel of selected scenes. Do not create a consumer type trailer. Acquisition executives will want to see complete scenes to get a feel for the film. Put the reel on a website so companies you contact can see it before committing to a meeting.
- Do your homework (Steps 2 & 3) and contact your target companies three to four weeks in advance of the AFM. Include the link to your reel.
- Set your initial meetings with each company in the first four days of the Market. Let them know you are arriving on Wednesday and will close a deal before the market is over.
- Purchase an Executive Pass (You’ve invested a lot of time and money - don’t get cheap now!)
- Make sure your attorney will be available to you throughout the AFM.
We can’t give you personal advice on how to pitch your project or film but we’d like to know how this information worked for you. After the Market, please send your thoughts to AFM@ifta-online.org, Attention: Work the AFM Feedback.
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