Point Of View Editorial Page

Point Of View is the invitational editorial page of Proletariat Pictures, written by various film directors, writers, producers actively working in film about their experiences at festivals, markets, in production and post production, with distributors - all aspects of independent filmmaking. The views expressed are a reflection of the diverse nature of making films in today's climate, and are not necessarily the views of proletariat pictures.

An Undesirable In The Company Of Shirts

by Craig Schlattman

"And the blood of filmmakers pours out the doors." - Anonymous

The '98 American Film Market is over, done, kaput, ended for this year. Known as one of the biggest sales markets for films in the world it's gained in reputation over the years solely on the basis of numbers; how much 'product' was exchanged, how much money exchanged hands at the market. In sales it's second only to MIFED, and running neck and neck with Cannes and Berlin. I think. Yeah yeah, I know, I should be much more knowledgeable about this end of filmmaking, but truth be told, I can't afford these high end markets, and the only sales I've made at them were through a distributor that has failed to reveal how much he's made off me. But that's another article.

The base price for an office this year was about $9500, if you could get one, a market pass, if you have connections with a distributor, about $500, and a daily pass, wherein you sign an agreement 'not to sell,' about $250. Get that, you agree to pay $250 for 1 day, 9-5 p.m., to not sell your film. Remember, this is a market, not a film festival, this is about money. Everyone in the industry shows, it's a convention of distributors and buyers from all over the world and even the little distributor, barely hanging on tries to make a good showing in his best 'shirt' at the AFM.

For many filmmakers the cost is too high, by the time a market comes around at the end of production a $12000 price tag after phones, press, sale sheets, furniture and press materials with only one film is not possible, and might be crazy. The logic, I guess, is to weed out the 'undesirable's' and get only the producers with money. This was not my first trip to the market, this undesirable has been kicked out before.

The AFM takes place in Santa Monica at the Loews Hotel, all the upper floors, and a few lower ones contain distributors offices. The open-to-the-roof lobby is large, not-so-opulent with bars and dining area, it feels more like a mall than a hotel. During the market the place is a zoo, stuffed with shirts, cell phones stuck to their ears, talking about this meeting or that screening, most of them are not making deals just hurrying around looking for them, or trying to look like they're important. A lotta' posers at the AFM. The AFM info desk is on the ground floor as you walk in, and the Loews can't, or won't obviously keep you out, bad for business, and the AFM doesn't want to appear too rapacious, maybe you'll come in to their desk to buy something; a pass, a T-shirt, something, anything.

Dressing in my best Indie wear I accost the entrance grabbing the free daily industry mags thrust in your face at the door and, good undesirable that I am, get the last issue of Variety that lists all the market attendee's, bring a case full of sell sheets and cassettes and hit the downstairs phones, phoning up the 'market attendees' representing the distributors I would like to talk to.

This is a curious dilemma. The buyers are rarely upstairs, they are at the various screenings around Santa Monica, looking at the films they want, or think they might want for their particular territory. The people upstairs, the distributors, are doing precisely the same thing you are, trying to sell their films, and the buyers, at every market I've been to, are usually not forthcoming in announcing their presence. They've been accosted by everyone that knows their face with something to sell and to keep their sanity I expect a level of secrecy, or diplomacy is certainly wise.

So, what do you do? What I did was to try and talk to the decent distributors about my new film in the hopes of running into a few buyers along the way. That's it. Nothing more complicated, maybe try and hit a few screenings if I could get the AFM guys and the filmmakers to let me in, but again, they were there doing the same thing I was, trying to sell their film. Why do they want somebody who might steal their business sitting in on a screening they paid too much money for? 'Undesirable's have a lot going against them at the AFM.

Overheard on the 3rd Street Mall:
"They come from all over the world to buy stuff that we don't want to watch."
Wade Major's conversation with a sales agent who ambushed him while he was looking at their cheesy hall display.
"Hi. Just looking."
"What territories are you interested in?"
"I'm not a buyer. I'm press."
"You can still buy the rights."
"To what territories?"
"What territories do you want?"
"Whatever's cheapest."
"I can cut you a deal for worldwide."
"I don't think I can afford it."
"How much can you afford?"
"Ten dollars."
"You want to write an article about us?"

I discovered the phones were not all working downstairs which of course meant long waits to get on the ones that were working, and lots of people giving you dirty looks when you finally did get on. I made a lot of calls to people who told me "he/she is not here/just stepped out/on the other line, can I help you/call back tomorrow." A lot of calls. Not wanting to make a potential distributor angry I headed for a couple of screenings in lieu of repetitive callbacks. Turned away at 3 in row, immediately, I went home and decided to try again the next day.

The following day produced the same results; no meetings, no getting past the AFM centurions, no screenings, no schmoozing with anyone that even knew a buyer at the local watering holes. Dat ol' AFM malaise was setting in again. Another attack plan was in order.

Feeling there was little chance to actually run into a buyer on the street, I tried working the phone from my nearby apartment, hoping for return calls, or appointments, or some sort of positive reinforcement. No such luck. Lot's of calls but most of the distributors wanted to wait till after the market since I was in town. Or at least that's what they said. Uh huh.

I admit to being very poor at schmoozing, and probably not a very good salesman. I somehow believe the work should stand on it's own and concentrate my efforts on writing, and trying to find financing for the next film. That's not a good strategy at the AFM, or anywhere in a sales arena and certainly contributed to my poor showing at this years market. I've been kicked out at 2 other AFM markets trying enthusiastically to sell my films and I just didn't want to do it again. I know a lot of filmmakers who won't go anywhere near the place and producers who make much of their years income in this market week.

For me it was a typical AFM market; too expensive for real participation, too important not to at least try, eminently unsatisfying, and no sales. I know there are many ways to get in the market with connections, money or influence, what I had was a critically praised film and motivation.

I hope you've all done much better with your film.

by Craig Schlattman
NEXT: An American Filmmaker In Rotterdam