Two weeks ago I attended my third AFM (American Film Market). While I enjoyed attending live the last couple of years, I met more “qualified” contacts during the virtual version. In addition to the requisite panels that discussed all things around the industry, it was the “Networking Pavilion” module that worked out great for so many of us.
When you entered the pavilion you essentially found yourself in a large ballroom with tables. You could view profiles of those sitting at a table and then decide if you wanted to join. When you sat at a table you could see and hear what others were saying but your mic and camera were off by default. This worked out well because on two occasions they were talking about subjects that I had no interest in. But if you liked the conversation, you could turn on your camera and mic to join. Conversations were generally insightful, if not illuminating.
Depending on who you talked to the present crisis has either been a boon, bust or business reinvention. The winner in all of this has been VOD. The bust has clearly been theatrical. The reinvention are those that have adapted to the world we presently live in—notably virtual film festivals. But through it all, there still was that general feeling of excitement and positive energy. We all know this crisis will pass as it simply must. When it does, it’s full steam ahead on everything.
There seems to be two types of films that are thriving now and will continue to do so even after the crisis. The microbudgets that are nicely produced, with a solid story but a no name cast and the eight figure films with A list talent (oddly, story didn’t seem to be a focus). The former doesn’t require an exorbitant return to be profitable, while the latter has A talent driving profitability.
The takeaways from the market were numerous. With so many festivals going virtual, will they share their data on how well a film did when it screened online? Will virtual festivals share revenue with filmmakers? On film marketing, what’s the one still that represents your film (I think I’m still working on that with First Signal), IMDb TV is really making it, AVOD (Ad-Supported Video on Demand) is where the money is (can anyone say TUBI). I was particularly keen on the sales agent panel. What are the values of indie films in the current marketplace? While sales estimates are important, never go with the highest estimate. Sales agent commission is generally not less than 15%. However, those on the panel say 7-20% depending on what the contract expenses were. Finally, as one panelist said (and something I’ve been doing), conduct due diligence on sales agents – call client filmmakers to see if they are happy with the business arrangement. Of course, there are always a couple of panelists that should never be on a panel. One was so condescending I couldn’t believe how he was talking to the 250+ in attendance. Then he proceeded to hand out some incorrect nonsense on how to use IMDb. How these people get on a panel is beyond me. But all in all, it was a great experience with one panelist remarking something I’ve always believed in—no matter what you’ve done, you’re never done in your career.
In closing, I want to congratulate Wendy Hartman for winning the Best Actress award at the Canadian Cinematography Awards. Wendy was a last-minute replacement to play the role of Helen Colton, the President of the United States. To say she is the consummate professional would be an understatement. A wonderfully experienced and gifted actress who brought this character to life and propelled the story forward. It’s one thing when an actor plays a part, it’s another when an actor becomes the part. It was the subtle nuances that Wendy brought to the character that created believability.
Tomorrow starts the virtual version of the American Film Market (AFM) and my third attendance. Although deals are being done, nothing can replace the in-person experience of a film market (or film festival). That being said, AFM has created a great virtual gateway to the market. In some ways, I think they’ve enhanced the experience.
The experience will consist of numerous conferences around all sorts of industry subjects. One subject of interest to me (and I know countless other filmmakers) are the ones that center on distribution, sales agents and standing out from others. I will be particularly interested to see how AFM handles the sales agent discussion. Although there are a handful of companies I’m still in communication with, there were several others that approached us with absolutely terrible deals to say nothing of nightmare reputations (after I checked references with some of their client filmmakers).
However, one positive market development is the demand for content. Brian Beckmann, CFO of Arclight Film tells Screen Daily, “There are a lot of people looking for content right now. We’ve had nine months with very few productions getting off the ground… so we’re going to run into a supply and demand issue.” A fellow filmmaker opined several months ago that the lack of product could provide an opportunity for quality films that aren’t star driven. But then the question begs to be asked, but what about next year’s film markets? When you consider the lead time for pre-production, principal photography and post-production, one could be talking 18-24 months from greenlight to delivery. Regardless, I’m glad I have several scripts already written.
These past couple of weeks have seen some wonderful developments on the festival circuit for First Signal. Paul Noonan, who plays General Reager, won a Best Actor award at the 1st Monthly Film Festival. The trailer is up for a 2020 Best Trailer award at Changing Face International Film Festival (the trailer won their monthly festival May). First Signal is also now an Official Selection at Eurovision Palermo Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival and Hollywood Gold Awards. My thanks to the festivals and their respective juries for introducing First Signal to new domestic and international audiences.
When you’re writing a screenplay you really have no idea the path your project is going to take. It could go into production in short order or could be in development for years. While we always want to do more in this industry to challenge ourselves and bring our stories to life, I’m thankful for the fact that I’ve completed two feature films (and three shorts). Only time will tell what that next feature (and adventure!) will be.