In November, I went to the American Film Market in Los Angeles. The AFM is a famous, well, film market. All sorts of movies, from famous-actor passion projects to blood-sucking, bikini-beach bonanzas are shopped, negotiated and sold. The market literally ate two hotels in Santa Monica: the Loews and the Le Merigot. Each room was stripped of its beds and dressers while desks, flat screens and conference tables were schlepped in and arranged, morphing it into a mini-office. The idea of the market is to hop from suite to suite, taking meetings with sales agents, distributors, financiers, and producers reps. It was delicious chaos. And I learned a great deal.
Perhaps the most comforting notion (for me) was that everybody is in the same boat. Some bemoaned that, due to the economy, this was the worst market in years. Others heralded it as the ultimate form of movie Thunderdome (or Darwinism for the geekily impaired…), where two films enter and one distributed film leaves…
For me, this all crystallized when I had a chance conversation with a big-time Hollywood producer. We were both milling around the lobby in between meetings and just started chatting. He had a big-name star, some big-name bucks and a big-name screenwriter, to what he thought was a big-name idea. The trouble was, his bank was in trouble and had to seek alternate ways to keep his plates spinning. Right now, he lamented, the entertainment industry was looking at two budgets. The very, very high – those that could perform globally, or the very small. Stuff in the middle – and mind you that ‘middle’ are films costing tens of millions of dollars and feature very famous, accomplished performers – are now stranded in a no-man’s land between cost and profitability.
So my takeaway from the AFM was this: The film industry is just that: an industry. It needs fresh product to survive. There is a lot of people who make a lot of money maintaining that industry, and like construction, banking, cappuccino making and tailoring, they are just trying to figure out how to do so right now. But they are an industry nonetheless, committed to perpetuating itself.
Now the individual investor is obviously battered and gun-shy, but not altogether down for the count. They're still investing in film - but there's just less of 'em. As my friend, mentor and guru Jack Brown wisely noted – these days, if you invested in a film, there’s more of a chance to see a return than if you invested in the market. How’s that for irony. Safe is dangerous, Up is down and cold is hot. Welcome to the new biz.
The other, and perhaps more important thing, is that the two most successful sellers at the market were still Sci-fi and Horror. Especially of the lower-budget variety. With test footage in hand, I walked my trusty iBook from meeting to meeting, introducing the project (one sales agent said ‘I’ve never seen anything quite like Shockwave, Darkside’), making connections and collecting opinions.
When reporting on the market, KCRW’s ‘The Business’ radio show and podcast, asked Jonathan Wolf, the AFM’s managing director, about what kind of money a filmmaker could hope to make at the AFM.
This was his response:
So what do we do now?
Well, keep pushing. Follow through on the contacts, partnerships and leads that 2008 provided, and generate new ones along the way.
We do our homework, and continue to refine the battleplan, screenplay and designs.
And not unlike Marvin the Martian, continue to plot the destruction of Earth.