What I’m Doing: Things That Scare Me…American Film Market

This weekend I am going to the American Film Market for the first time.  What is the American Film Market, you ask?  I haven’t seen it yet, but here’s what I know:

It’s a big trade show where buyers and sellers of films–finished films, partially finished films, and films that are not yet films but are seeking partners and financing–come to buy, sell and make deals and relationships.

If you’ve ever been to a trade show, you have probably seen of temporary booths set up on the floor of a huge convention center.  This will not look like that.  Instead, the Market buys out the entirety of the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, removes all the beds from the 350 rooms, and turns the rooms into private offices for the companies that rent them out.  Additionally all the screening rooms in the hotel and all the movies theaters in Santa Monica are booked with film screenings from 9AM to 7PM so interested buyers can watch them.

Then, in the lobby and nearby restaurants (so I’ve been told) people are hanging out trying to make connections.  Some of them are people who did not want to spend the money on the pass to go inside (yes, an AFM pass is another thing that costs a scary amount of money).

As an individual at AFM I am not there to sell or buy, but I do have three goals.  1) I’m going to pitch a script that isn’t finished, and I want to convince three people that my project is interesting enough that they want to read the script when it is finished. 2) Reconnaissance–I want to get a sense of how things work, maybe make some mistakes now that I can avoid in the future.  3) Raise my tolerance for rejection. AFM is a good place to do that because there are so many opportunities for rejection to take place:

First, one is supposed to email the various companies that will be at AFM, and ask for ten minutes to pitch a project.  I have started to do this. No one has written back. This is a standard response that I’m so  used to that I usually don’t even categorize it as rejection anymore.

Next, you is supposed to call the companies you have not heard back from and ask again to schedule a slot. This is one of those things that makes me nervous the first dozen or so times I do it.  I  forget to use contractions and words come out of my mouth that are not the ones I want.  Instead of saying “Hi, I’m calling to…” I will freeze up and say, “I am writing, I mean calling to…”  Overall though, it’s not so bad. Although I am being rejected I almost can’t tell because everyone is so nice on the phone.  They either take my number and say someone will contact me (unlikely) or give me a contact email for someone at the company who will be handling pitches. This will generally be a low level assistant,  intern or possibly a fictional employee. I know this because I check on various websites where I don’t see the names of my contact listed, and because I once worked for a production company that had a fictional employee to whom we very politely directed everyone we didn’t want to deal with.  None of this matters too much because I’m just trying to practice making complete sentences to strangers.

Thirdly, you are supposed to walk around to the offices of all the places that didn’t respond to your calls or emails, and see if you have better luck.  You should have a five-minute pitch, visuals if possible (like photos or video clips) and a “one-sheet” to leave behind.  So far I have a half-written pitch, a fairly complete one-sheet and no  visuals.  There is still some work to be done.

At an AFM orientation session a couple of weeks ago, the guy talked about the difference between “sales producers” and “creative producers.”  Sales producers, he says, are “the best pitchers in the world.”  They pitch every fifteen minutes for eight hours a day at events like this. They have their sh*t down cold.   They also have (according to this guy) a Teflon coating when it comes to rejection. They understand that it’s a numbers game, and that 90% of pitches will end with rejections.  On the other hand, creative producers–who are often one and the same as the writer or have some other close connection to the project–take each rejection like a knife to the heart. The overall sense that I got, was that sales producers are awesome and that creative producers (i.e. writers) are trembling bunny rabbits who have no business pitching at all, but that if you don’t have money to hire a sales producer, you have to go in with your bunny rabbit self and try to fool folks into thinking you’re awesome.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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