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.
Shortly after my last post, the news came that Beyond the Curve International Film Festival had awarded First Signal Best Sci-Fi Movie. About a week later Aasha International Film Festival granted us the same award. It’s one thing to be accepted into a festival, it’s another to win an award. My sincere thanks to both festivals.
One thing I have noticed since First Signal started on the festival circuit was what festivals do for marketing and promotion. Some just don’t notify filmmakers through Film Freeway, they actively promote official selections and award winners on numerous social media channels, their websites and newsletters. This is a marketing practice that I’ve employed for many years.
When those festivals awarded us Best Sci-Fi Movie not only did I post enthusiastically to my social media channels, but included the news in my email newsletter. Naturally, I’m posting this news to my blog and have it on First Signal’s official website. Whether you are a film festival, filmmaker or actor, promotion is critical to stand apart in a field dominated by those that want to be heard. This industry is a visual one, being seen is paramount. But there is that line between being a braggart or promoter. I always aim to promote to bring awareness to a project or something of substance. “Look at me” postings don’t go very far with audiences. At the end of the day it’s about asking yourself, why do audiences need to know what I’m promoting?
As First Signal continues down the festival route, AFM returns “virtually” next month. As the registration fee is nominal, I plan on attending. I’m going to be particularly interested to learn about any new VOD/PVOD trends and what distributors stand out from the rest. In their case it’s not so much about promotion but reputation. I’ve previously posted about some unscrupulous sales agents and distributors that have approached me about First Signal (and other filmmakers I know about their projects). The one thing I’ve learned is not to be desperate to do a deal. It’s about taking the time for due diligence. I look at it like this, you wouldn’t buy a house without a home inspection, so conduct the same when a sales agent wants to do a deal—contact filmmakers that have signed with them.
While there’s no question that all our respective streaming channels are being put to excellent use, sadly the theatrical industry is struggling. Although Tenet did its best to bring audiences back to theaters in the United States, there simply wasn’t enough studio content to keep audiences coming back. When Regal announced the closure of all their operations in the United States, others like AMC and some smaller chains have vowed to stay open with some innovative marketing. I guess time will tell what type of market will emerge. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins had this observation, “It could be the kind of thing that happened to the music industry, where you could crumble the entire industry by making it something that can’t be profitable.” Remember folks, every industry needs to be profitable to be an industry—that also goes for the production of the films that go into the theaters. Without profitable returns, product won’t get produced.
In closing, whenever someone asks me “Is it safe” I never think about the current situation, but rather this film.