Filmmaking: Tips, Sources & Tools — November 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

AFM managing director: Film pre-sales collapsed in 2006 for several reasons

jonathan-wolf-afmSo as an independent producer, how do you rock a film market? The major news out of the American Film Market often features star-driven films films with established directors and actors.

But what if you’re don’t have a film to be helmed by Nancy Meyers with Reese Witherspoon and Robert DeNiro possibly attached?

The funds to finance an indie film have loosened up just a little as of late, but a producer still needs to know how to work the scene at a film market in order to get a film up and running. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as having a script and a pitch, but it can be done.

“People are so immersed in their story,” Jonathan Wolf told BizJournal’s Gina Hall in an interview.

Wolf is the Managing Director of the American Film Market and Executive Vice President of the Independent Film and Television Alliance and frequently gives talks on how to work the film market.

Of course, you have to start with a script and a good story, but beyond that, Wolf notes, there is no road map.

“Every film is essentially a startup, and every producer is an entrepreneur,” said Wolf. “There is no job description when it comes to producing … and every business plan in different. A half-million dollar teen comedy is going to have a different model than a low-budget horror film.”

Oddly enough it may be easier for an MBA than for someone with a film degree to get the financing to make a movie. Someone with experience in sales and negotiating may be better at finding financing than someone who’s precious with the story.

Wolf noted that often times creative producers, those who shepherd a script through the development phase, don’t have the know-how to engage financiers looking to sell a film to a worldwide audience.

Wolf said that the American Film Institute brings second-year producing students to the market each year, which completely changes their perception on how films are made with presales.

“We get these wide-eyed looks,” laughed Wolf. “They tell us they didn’t understand that this is how it’s done.”

Indie film financing can come from pre-sales, meaning that distribution rights to a film are sold off territory by territory to rasie the funds to actually make the film.

According to Wolf the pre-sales collapsed in 2006 because of a glut of content and too much equity in the market. Buyers could purchase finished films rather than partially finished films or films scripts that were merely packaged with a director and possibly a bankable actor.

So how far along do you need to be in making your film to really take advantage of something like the American Film Market?

“There’s always a group that buys the less expensive passes to learn about the market,” said Wolf. “They come to see what kinds of films are working, to drop by the offices and ask questions and to listen to the seminars.”

But if you’re looking to do some real business? Wolf says you’re probably going to need a finished script, a rough budget and something attached. That “something” could be money, an actor or a director.

“What else do you have besides a script,” is the main question everyone will ask according to Wolf. He advises neophyte producers to reach out to sales agents who can help sell the distribution rights to a film in other territories.

Set meetings with people late in the market after the big players have gone. Provide a brief synopsis of your project, contact info and bio, any attachments. Try to get a second meeting, don’t try to close the deal.

“Make sure to stay true to the area where you are an expert,” said Wolf in a talk at the Film Independent Offices last month.

“If you’re a creative producer, don’t try to be a sales producer. Don’t try to sell the film territory by territory, use experts. Every market has its own requirement. It shouldn’t be ‘for sale by owner.'”

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