This article is a detailed guide on how to attend and sell your film in the American film market.
You have made your film, and now you want to sell it. After all, filmmaking is so expensive you would be crazy if you didn’t. One of the most straightforward ways of selling your film is to attend a film market. Film markets are events where filmmakers network, buy, and sell films.
The American Film Market (AFM) has thousands of sales agents and distributors attending each year. It’s also the largest and most distinguished film market in the USA. Meaning, if you want to take film distribution seriously, you need to get your head around how the AFM works.
This following guide will teach you everything you need to know about film markets: how to attend, how they function, and (most importantly) how to get noticed.
What is a Film Market?
A film market is just like a regular market. There are stalls with sellers, and potential buyers attend to see what is on sale. Unlike a film festival where people screen films to an audience, film markets are all about business — the point of a market is to sell movies, not to watch them.
When you enter a film festival, you will need to fill out an application and wait to be selected. However, with a film market, there is no selection process. In essence, anyone can attend a film market and try to sell a film.
Another significant difference between festivals and markets is that films rarely sell at festivals. The majority of film distribution deals take place in markets. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t attend film festivals. Festivals have plenty of benefits, such as showcasing your film to an initial audience and winning awards. Our previous article, The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Film, outlines all of your distribution options.
The largest market in America is the American Film Market, taking place in Santa Monica every November. It’s here that the majority of American films find distribution. So although the following advice can apply to any market, in this article, we will focus specifically on the AFM.
A list of the worlds most influential film markets –
- American Film Market
- Asian Film Market
- DISCOP Africa
- European Film Market
- Hong Kong FILMART
- Hot Docs
- IFP Week
- Marche Du Film
- Sheffield MeetMarket
- Sundance Initiative
The American Film Market
The AFM was founded in 1981 by the American Film Marketing Association (now produced by the trade union IFTA). Its goal was to distribute independent films that were outside of the studio system. Every year thousands of people attend from all over the world. And these people range from directors and producers to development executives and sales agents.
In the year 2020, the AFM will be held online, due to the global pandemic. But typically, the festival takes place inside various hotels along the beachfront area in Santa Monica, California.
At the market, there are sellers (directors, producers, sales agents) and buyers (acquisition executives). The sellers will book a room or booth, and the buyers will attend meetings with them. The seller’s goal is to sell their film; the buyer’s goal is to find good movies to distribute.
The original concept of buyers and sellers is simple. But the process of actually selling your film in the 21st century is complicated. There will be, after all, thousands of other filmmakers at the market hoping to sell their film.
There are four stages of film market selling that we will break down in detail –
- Booking meetings
- Delivering a sales pitch
- Creating a media kit
- Selling your film
Although the American film market advertises as open for all filmmakers, it is mostly a gathering of professionals. So, if you are an independent filmmaker, it’s advised that you hire an experienced sales agent or producer.
Your goal as a seller is to get the right buyers to consider distributing your film. It would be best if you made sure that the buyers who attend meetings with you are a good fit for your project. Without booking meetings in advance, you can easily waste your time and money at the AFM.
Seeing as there are thousands of buyers, you should do your homework and set up meetings before the market opens. Most buyers have all of their meetings booked before the market even begins. So booking meetings in advance will set you apart from the majority of independent filmmakers who attend with the hope of securing a meeting the day of.
Firstly, write a list of all buyers you wish to have meetings with at the market. Not every distribution company will be a good fit for your project. Some companies are genre-specific: for example, they may only be interested in buying horror films.
You can find a list of all attending buyers on the AFM Film Catalogue one month before the market begins. This lists all of the companies and staff that will be attending. The American film market recommends that you make a list of 30-40 target companies.
After making your list, researching deeply into the company, make sure that they are the perfect match for your project. Then make a list of the acquisition executive’s names and begin to schedule meetings. The AFM advises that you schedule appointments one month before the market starts. And you can do this through email and following up with buyers on the phone.
Delivering a Sales Pitch
After booking meetings with buyers, you are one step ahead of most independent filmmakers! Congratulations! Your goal at the market is to sell your film to a distributor, and you do this with a sales pitch during your meeting.
The AFM recommends that you memorize a one-minute verbal pitch. This pitch should be a brief breakdown of your film’s genre, synopsis, and your intended target audience. The actual pitch session is vital in getting a second meeting and potentially securing a distribution deal. As such, you should hire an experienced sales agent to do this for you.
The best pitches are friendly, organized, and straightforward. Don’t ramble; it’s not your job to tell them the whole story but brief details of the genre and themes. You should have done your homework about the company already and know exactly why it is a good fit for them.
The American film market has created a list of 10 tips for pitching your film successfully.
Typically a meeting will last 10-15 minutes, and first impressions count. It would be best if you had a team of 2-3 people helping you arrange meetings and pitch the film. Make sure to arrive early and don’t book appointments too close together. Furthermore, follow up with potential companies at the event if you were unable to secure an original session.
Creating a Media Kit
Because a typical meeting with a buyer will be short, there will not be time to show them your whole film. As such, bring with you an online media kit. The American film market does provide screening rooms for hire at the event. However, it is still unlikely that a buyer will have the time to watch your whole production.
A media kit can include several marketing items. Most importantly, are clips of scenes from your film to help show the quality that you have on offer. You can display these clips on a screen in your room or upload clips onto a laptop. The clips chosen should showcase the unique selling point in your film. Such as a choreographed fight scene in an action film, or engaging acting within a drama.
The AFM recommends that you prepare 4-6 minutes of selected scenes. Then send them to buyers before the meeting on a password-protected website such as Vimeo.
Your media kit can also include any photography, posters, and trailers. Additionally, prepare a page breakdown of the film’s synopsis and details on the producer, director, and actors attached. You will also need a large batch of business cards to hand out throughout the event. Although you may get an offer during the event, formal agreements will likely happen after the market.
Selling Your Film
If you have done the first few steps right, you could have several offers during the event. When a buyer likes a project, they initially offer a minimum guarantee. But there will be several weeks of negotiations between producer and buyer before an agreement.
The buyer will likely want to watch the whole film before making their decision. And both you and the buyer should have all contracts checked over by an entertainment lawyer. Several sales negotiations might take place, particularly for territorial agreements.
Of course, this is a best-case scenario. Not all films sell at the American Film Market. You should have an idea before you attend on what type of distribution deal you want. Keep in mind that not all sales are equal, and some buyers will try to swindle you. Remember, it’s best to turn down an offer rather than to accept a bad deal. Unfortunately, many independent filmmakers sign away the rights to their film for far less than they should. And this is why it’s crucial to be prepared, and it’s ideal to have an experienced producer or sales agent on your team.
AFM Cost Breakdown
Attending the American film market is not for low-budget filmmakers. The cost of attending and hiring a sales team is expensive. As such, independent filmmakers should have a distribution budget set aside for festivals and attending markets.
The AFM week-long market offers a range of prices from $300 for a single day’s pass, to upwards of $1500 for a premium week’s pass. For reference, a booth at the 2019 event would have set you back $6400 for the week. Then there can be additional costs, such as hiring a screening room ($1500) should you choose to do so. And don’t forget hotels, travel, and expenses for your team during the trip.
In 2020 the market will be held online, and so tickets are considerably cheaper at $495. And although in-person meetings are always beneficial, online film markets might be the future. After all, the majority of distribution sales now taking place are for streaming deals rather than a cinema release.
Only spend at a film market what you can afford to lose. Many filmmakers attend film markets and make a profit from sales, but many leave without a deal. The difference between success and disappointment can lie with preparation. It would help if you went into a film market with a list of meetings with buyers who are genuinely interested in your project.
Film markets are just another method of finding distribution for your film. If you are a new filmmaker, you should hire someone to help you sell at the event. And this means searching for experienced sales agents and other producers to represent your project. You could also attend an event as a guest to network and get familiar with the process.
We hope this article has helped you understand more about the American film market. It can be intimidating at first, but this could be the best option for selling your film and making a profit.
Are you planning on attending AFM online this year? Or perhaps you have film marketing tips to share? Let us know in the comments section below.