Tips to Become the Next Big Independent Film Success Story

Every fall, thousands of producers, distributors and filmmakers from more than 70 countries converge in Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making at the American Film Market(AFM). Unlike a film festival, the AFM is a marketplace where more than 400 production / distribution companies set up offices and 400-plus films are screened for buyers. Hundreds of films will be green-lit and more than $800 million in deals will be sealedon films of every genre and budget, and in every stage of development and production.

The AFM is a great place for filmmakers, seasoned or aspiring, to pitch their latest project or film, but a plan is essential! Use these steps to increase your chances of success.

STEP 1: Homework - Create a List of Target Companies

Not all companies at the market are going to be the right fit for your film. You will need to focus yourtime and effort on companies best suited for your project.

Begin on opening day (Wednesday) by walking into the lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel (that's where the AFM takes place) and collecting the Bumper issues of the key trades: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International, etc. (The trades are free at the AFM. Most of the info is on their websites so you don't need to be in Santa Monica for this step). These publications have profiles on most companies at the AFM. Take the trades back home, to your hotel or sit at the pool and read, read, read. Look at each company, what they specialize in, films they are advertising, etc. and find the companies that look bestfor your film.

Do further research on the web by visiting The Film Catalogue where most companies at AFM list their projects and films, and often a profile of their company.

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 is "incomplete." Keep working. The target list should be 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, specifically 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 himor her." This gives the impression that you're 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 lists with 20 to 30 companies on each

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 my 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 AFM'sPitch Conference on Saturday morning.

STEP 5: Make Appointments

On Wednesday, 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 - available at the Information Desk in the Loews lobby. Ask for a meeting on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday as most companies will be too busy during the first few days. 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 my 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:

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 could be a fit.. 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.
  • · Network, Network, Network! This is a collaborative business and art, so start collaborating. Attend the AFM Happy Hours. Go to the Industry Conversations. Update your profile in MyAFM. Tell the world what you are doing on Facebook and Twitter.

Good Luck!

-Jonathan Wolf (Managing Director of American Film Market)