There are film markets and there are film festivals and, though they sometimes share surface characteristics, they are largely quite different. Most of you are likely familiar with the concept of festivals as cultural events where one can socialize and watch new films. Names like Canne and Sundance are likely to have a familiar ring, but the markets are less well known to the casual movie going fan. There are markets worldwide, but the US version is the American Film Market, which is held every fall in Santa Monica, CA. The Santa Monica Loews removes the beds from all of its rooms and turns them all into offices where films are bought and sold. There is no art here. Films are products whose value is dictated by the market, not their content or quality. If you are a filmmaker and that is the kind of distasteful reality that sours your spirit, you’d do well to suck it up and learn at least the basics in the interests of getting your films funded, produced, and sold. The AFM is interesting in it’s own sort of way and, so long as films cost money, the business component of film will complement the art side, so it’s best to give it the time it deserves and needs.
We went to AFM together this year. Nick went last year on an Industry Plus badge and I ran support, handling scheduling and logistics. This year we both were badged, Nick Platinum and I with an Industry Plus, so I feel like I’ve now got enough info to share. I’ll get to my details, but it would be remiss of me to not mention what the market’s Managing Director Jonathan Wolf has to offer. He’s incredibly open about what you need to do to prep and work the AFM. If you are interested in possibly going to next years market, read up on what he has to say on the website and check out the podcasts he’s done on Indie Film Hustle and Film Trooper. Those resources will give you a much better idea of whether or not AFM is right for you. The badges aren’t cheap and neither are hotels and food, so do your homework.
Getting There and Getting Around
Thankfully, LAX is big enough that flights into it tend to not be terribly expensive. As always, it depends where you are coming from. For us, Southwest has been great for flights from Colorado. According to the AFM website, Delta partners with the AFM by offering special discounts. I’ve no idea how good those are, but they may be worth considering. Use what works for you.
Once you land, the Loews itself is 11.5 miles from the airport. Presuming you’ve found somewhere to stay relatively near there, you are looking at a good distance for a Lyft or an Uber. The airport has a section for them to park at that is easily accessible from the baggage claim, so follow the signs. Once you get to your accomidations and are settled in, there are a few transport possibilities to consider aside from Lyft and Uber. AFM offers shuttle service to and from the Loews and Fairmont and some parking areas, and there’s now a free Santa Monica shuttle. The routes for the two shuttles are not the same, so look them up to see which work for you. My favorite way to get around are via the new electric scooter services that popped up last year. I’m told the locals hate them and there are passive aggressive PSAs all over building and buses, but they are fucking convenient. Don’t be a jerk – stay off the sidewalks, park them correctly, and don’t run people over. I want the things to be there next year, because they are awesome for getting around the area. I used Bird, but there are also Lime and Lyft scooters as well as some other brands that I’m forgetting. Just download the app, scan your ID (if it doesn’t work for one company try another, I had trouble with Lime), and connect a card. They are cheap – at the time of this post Bird was $1.00 to start and .15/minute which is a great deal.
I also just walk a lot because it’s nice and the climate is so pleasant in Santa Monica. Ideally you’ll find a place close enough that this works for you.
Where to stay?
We’ve had good luck with Airbnb in this area. Hotels are expensive, so short term rentals in general are a popular option. There’s also at least one hostel in the area, and it’s close to the market. The hotels tend to be high end and even the ones that aren’t are not cheap. AFM partners with some hotels for deals, so check the website closer to market time if that interests you. Whatever you choose, I recommend booking lodging first. The cost of badges doesn’t go up until about a month before the market and airline prices fluctuate, but lodging gets booked up and you are then stuck with expensive or distant options.
What to do?
What are your goals for AFM? Do you have a completed film to sell? Are you seeking financing or just coming to network and learn? Make sure your goals are clear and set a plan around them. I think there are three major components to the event – sales, education, and networking. We did not have a completed project this year, but we wanted to network and gauge interest in Nick’s screenplays. We were able to set up some meetings for him in advance and then had a few casual ones with people we met at the event. I did not have meetings as I got my badge late, but I took full advantage of all of the educational and networking opportunities. There are conferences, roundtables, and workshops going on for the duration of the market that will provide valuable information on a variety of topics incuding what sort of films are currently pre-selling and at what price range. This can be invaluable as you plan out your project. You should definitely attend the orientation with Jonathan Wolf as he does a great job of summarizing current market conditions. As far as networking goes, the prime official networking events are the Carousel Cocktails on the pier. The number of these that are available to you will vary according to your badge. You can also find yourself in good conversations by hanging out in the filmmakers lounge and in the various lobbies of nearby hotels – Fairmont, Casa del Mar, and Le Merigot. The Loews lobby used to be open to everyone, but now you can only get in with your badge and only for the days your badge allows you to be in the market. I’ve also found great company and conversation at Chez Jay, the little bar nearly across the street from Loews.
Food gets expensive, especially if you are at the market for a while. This past year we rented an Airbnb that had a little kitchen and was near a grocery and I did some cooking. I was too busy to do this all of the time, though. There’s a little Italian place near the market called Bruno’s that is about as good of a deal as you are going to get in the area. Their large cheese pizza is especially economical and the small Caesar salad off of the lunch menu is quite big, in my opinion. The Fairmont has pastries and coffee available in the mornings and then Carousel Cocktails has cheese, olives, dips, and other snacks, in addition to booze. Since Nick had a platinum badge which allowed him a guest, I largely survived off of pastries, coffee, cheese, and booze. This is not ideal, but it worked.
Don’t wait until the last minute to plan for AFM. Once you are badged, you get access to Cinando. You can use that and the Film Catalogue on the website to get contact info to try to set up meetings with the companies that are right for you. Make sure you narrow down what companies are there for your type of project and what people within those companies are right for you to talk to. Don’t pitch the intern, do take the time to learn who you do need to talk to and practice your pitch in advance. I make extensive spreadsheets of who I have contacted within what company and when. Do what works for you, but be professional.
The market isn’t for everyone, actors generally won’t get much out of it unless they are there promoting a project that is for sale, but it can be invaluable for producers in the financing, development, and distribution stages. Do your research and see if it’s right for you.