Going LALA again… Learnings from the AFM

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I have just returned from my fourth trip to the American Film Market, and boy did the time go fast! As the winners of Tropfest NZ Andrew and I got to attend an LA Immersion course run by the LATC (Latin American Training Centre) – so thank you MPAA for supplying that prize. This trip we were also lucky enough to have an American Producer attached to our project – Sex With an Alien – which certainly helped in terms of generating leads at the market. So what are my gems of wisdom after the trip…


1. Attendance at a market is the only way to truly learn.
Firstly, I am a firm believer that if you a serious about a filmmaking career you have to attend a market. There is nothing like the harsh reality of the business side of film to make you smarter in your choices about what film to focus on, particularly early in your career. There is no real substitute for attendance.

2. Have a killer idea.
The AFM is largely a genre market, but having an idea that is still smart, interesting and has real characters within the genre sphere will put you streaks ahead of the competition. It is also incredibly important that you can get this idea across quickly and easily. Your logline is critical, make sure you spend time on it.

3. Have an amazing one sheet.
A one sheet is a single A4 (or in the US ‘letter’) page with killer concept art on one side and a blurb and contact details on the reverse. Every website or book you read about preparing to go to market will say that you have to have killer concept art (our big thanks goes to Glenn Blomfield for creating ours, if you have money pay someone good and start by looking him up 🙂 . They are 100% correct. Having good art work will open doors and create conversations that might not have been available to you without it. This leads into…

4. Do not be afraid to be a walking billboard.
American’s don’t tend to have any shame, so make sure you get rid of yours. You don’t have to go as far as dressing in a ridiculous outfit, but learning to carry your one sheets in a way that makes them visible to everyone when you walk past means more opportunities to start a conversation about your project and potentially gather leads. It does work, people at the market are looking for content, so make sure they can ‘see’ yours.

5. Learn to pitch in the correct format, and make sure you’ve practiced.
The most valuable seminar we attended as part of the LATC programme (and there were a few really good ones) was on the hollywood style of pitching. Yes this is actually a thing, and trust me you want to follow it. For us this meant we threw our pitch out and followed the critique of our presenter practising for a solid couple of hours in the scorching LA sun on the side of the road right before we went to pitch for the first time, but it worked. There is information out there on how to do this, it is another blog post in itself…

6. Don’t try to do it alone.
Having attended the AFM a number of times and largely trying to work it alone I say with certainty that having someone else with you (attached to your project) makes everything 10 times easier and also more valuable. You can tackle twice as many people in a room if there are two of you and during a pitch you have double the chance of hitting it off with the people you are talking to. You can also split the work load in terms of follow-up and have someone else to make sure your out of bed at the right time. I know that it could potentially be cost prohibitive to have a second person attend, but honestly if you can it really does make a big difference.

7. Be realistic about your budget.
It really pays to have a realistic figure in mind for your film, particularly if you don’t have a track record. People will take you far more seriously if you are asking for a budget that has a chance to actually recoup in your genre and with your attachments. On that note if you can make attachments before you go (by attachments I largely mean cast) they will be worth their weight in gold. That being said they have to actually have names that mean something, no matter how good your neighbour is at acting if they haven’t starred in something people internationally have heard of no one will care.

8. The bar and parties are critical to a successful market.
Following on from number 4, the easiest way to meet more people is in the bar or at a party. Honestly you actually generate leads by having a couple of drinks with people at the bar and then following up the next day. (Also if you are a smoker, the smoking area is gold for creating new contacts). If you are attending the market it is important that you allow yourself the time to go out and party with the other attendees (and the best thing is you can still drink in the lobby bar without a badge, so if your a cheap skate you still have a chance to do some networking). Do largely look at these work and make sure you collect cards (making note of where you met the people on the back) so you can follow-up later. You may not be able to chat to the CEO of a company in a fixed meeting, but if he’s out drinking when you are…

9. Make sure you enjoy yourself!
Lastly it is important that every now and then you take a deep breath look around and smile. Overseas travel whether it is funded or not is still a reward for your hard work and you should allow yourself the time to celebrate the fact that you are there. Film markets are hard work, you work just as long hours as when you are on shoot (generally 7am-midnight), so taking a couple of hours here and there is critical to actually getting the most out of your time there – its really hard to power through complete burn out!

So that’s my list of pointers off the top of my head after my fourth market… If you have any further insights or what more information about anything let me know 🙂

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