Recently I attended my first American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica, CA. I'd never been to anything quite like AFM, the meeting place for the American and international film business.
I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but this was nothing like South by Southwest or even Sundance. Completely different vibe. Granted, some of the movies that played at each were looking to further their distribution, though it seemed like only those that were highly marketable to a broad, male-centric market (ie. Brotherhood, A Serbian Film) had established a strong presence.
Imagine Los Angeles at its most posh and international, right by the beach. 90% of the rooms of the Loews Hotel were full of production companies looking to sell and acquire content. Most of the rooms were set up to look like slick Hollywood offices. Most of the movies positioned to be bought and sold featured "stars" (and I use the term loosely), and the ones that didn't seemed to be leaning towards action or horror. I saw two movie posters that starred both Val Kilmer and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who could actually be a pretty entertaining, campy duo.
There were lots of of Pixar and Avatar-inspired movies that claimed to be in 3D. There was even an Asian softcore porno in 3D (the first of its kind!) that advertised all over the elevators. Even Eric Roberts was all over the place. Well, not actually him. I think I saw his face on a half dozen movie posters, including Sharktopus and First Dog. I wish that somehow these movies were combined into one.
AFM made me realize just how essential marketing to the masses (or an established niche) is if you're going to be producing films. If you don't have an audience, film making really is just an expensive hobby, right?
I approached this event from what I think is a pretty unique vantage point. I just agreed to a couple of digital distribution deals (cable VOD and online platforms) for my first feature film, Bad Batch. It's a tiny movie that I believe can still be marketed to just about anyone who likes stoner films. I don't expect everyone to love Bad Batch, but lots of people do enjoy stoner films, so who knows.
I'm not planning on producing only marijuana-related movies, but I wanted to target a specific niche my first time at the plate. I aspire to eventually make movies that are bigger and broader, so AFM was definitely the place to be to get a sense of what's desirable for the mass market.
I had the chance to meet some interesting companies who are doing interesting things:
I met with Kacy Andrews and Christopher Hammond of Bigfoot Entertainment, who are really taking things to the next level with Bigfoot Ascendant. Known for producing and financing movies, they're now jumping in the distribution game; and they threw a great party on Abbot Kinney to kick things off. (Free bar!) They seemed like a really solid company that knows what the mass market wants, and I'm curious to see what types of work Bigfoot puts out.
I had the opportunity to speak with Brad Heffler and Thomas Ashley of Invincible Pictures, who like me, come from the Philadelphia area. These guys are on the bleeding edge of digital distribution with their new venture, Flix Fling. Really cool guys, and they seem to be in the process of creating an east coast film empire with Philly Sound Stages, too. I'm anxious to see what Brad and Thomas have in the works and how Flix Fling continues to evolve.
I also had the chance to speak with Michael Shoel of Ariztical Entertainment, who was incredibly cool. Ariztical's films cater to the gay and lesbian community, and it was great speaking with someone who really knows about marketing to a massive niche audience, even if it's not the mainstream. He made it clear that success for appealing to his films' audience is about delivering a perspective and sensibility that isn't out there. It was refreshing to hear this, though I couldn't help but think I should get to know Eric Roberts. Maybe he'd be down for an action stoner comedy with 50 Cent?
(PS: Big thanks to Jim Benson of The Lippin Group for steering me in the right direction throughout AFM.)