PRODUCTION TIPS: 5 Areas to Prepare BEFORE You Go to the American Film Market

A major event for filmmakers around the world is less than a month away... The American Film Market.  "The American Film Market (AFM) is a film industry event, produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), the trade association representing the world's producers and distributors of independent motion pictures and television programs. It is held each year at the beginning of November in Santa Monica, California. About 8,000 people attend the eight day event to network and to sell, finance and acquire films. Participants come from more than 70 countries and include acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers, etc. Founded in 1981, the AFM quickly became one of the premier global marketplaces for the film business, where unlike a film festival, production and distribution deals are the main focus of the participants." (Wikipedia)

This year's AFM will take place from November 6-13, 2013. And any serious producer, director or filmmaker worth her salt trying to raise funds for or sell her film needs to go there.  To ensure the most favorable outcome for your project, you need to have the following items securely under your wing.
  1. Script & Visuals
    • Your script needs to be polished and in its final draft version (although it will probably still go through some changes if buyers, talent and investors become interested in it).  You must know your script inside and out and have hard copies available for people to read, if they ask for it.  However, don't leave your script with any parties unless you discuss it (or have discussed it) with your attorney beforehand.
    • You should also storyboard 1 or 2 key scenes that can demonstrate your shooting vision (via shooting style and shots) as well as sell the energy, intrigue and peak moments of your script. Key art in the form of postcards and one-sheets are also items you may want to have with you for your meetings.
  2. Pitch & Business Cards
    • Your pitch needs to be solid as a rock.  The AFM even offers some good advice on how to prepare your pitch:
      • A good pitch can get a bad film made and a bad pitch can leave a terrific project languishing on the shelf. Pitching is part art (it’s a creative process), part science (pitches need to be organized and follow a tight script) and part salesmanship. There are many resources on pitching, so our only advice is:
        1. If you are madly, deeply in love with your project, if it’s your only child and the AFM is its first day of school, get someone else to do the pitch. Pitching it yourself will definitely convince people that YOU love the project but it probably won’t do much more.
        2. In the pitch meeting, remember that YOU are being evaluated along with your project. When a company commits to your project, they are also committing to work with you.
        3. Your mission during each pitch meeting isn’t to sell your project. You won’t get a deal in one brief meeting. Your mission is simply: Get the second meeting!
        4. Consider attending the Pitch Conference Saturday morning.
        5. Read AFM's Pitching Essentials
    • Bring business cards is a no-brainer but make sure it's a memorable design with the most important pieces of information on it: your name, email address, company/project website and phone number.  Too many cards are cheaply made and cluttered with tons of titles (example: "producer-director-writer-editor-chef-stuntperson-hacker") and every single piece of contact info (2 phone numbers, 3 email addresses, twitter, facebook, instagram, linkedin, vine, etc.) that they end up just becoming garbage food instead of an AFM-keeper.
  3. Business Plan & Follow-up
    • Your business plan is for your internal purposes but it determines what you do externally.  It should be a document that you know as well as your script.  At a minimum, people interested in your project want to know your realistic plans of making it, who is on your team, how you will market it and how it will make money.  To get that information requires putting in the work.  Without preparing a business plan beforehand, you will only have a vague notion that is not properly vetted.  Also make sure your business plan is well thought-out, honest and legit.  Too many filmmakers rely on ridiculous profit potentials and ambitious but vague strategies that don't have a hope of surviving once they are put under the microscope.  Don't be the one to slack on this. If business plans intimidate you, hire or partner with someone who can help you get it done.
    • You have to follow up on the meetings you attend AFTER the AFM is over.  Whether it's to send documents or information promised in meetings, to reach out and plan new or additional meetings or simply to thank the parties you met for their time, follow-up is proper business etiquette and the hallmark of a professional.  You also want to establish a cordial relationship with the people you meet, even if they passed.  This lets you keep them in the loop as you make the film so that you can reach out to them for a future project.
  4. Production Team & Prospects
    • Between writing your business strategy plan and networking/talking to specific people, you have probably gathered some key individuals to your team.  Aim to gather people that complement and strengthen your project.  If you're a first-time producer, get an experienced co-producer or line producer.  If you're more of a numbers type, get a partner who can pitch and charm. If you have access to a top actor or actress, entice them to join the team. Ideally, in your team, you'd like to, at least, have a reputable DP, a good entertainment lawyer, a veteran line producer and a casting director with good connections.
    • Be prepared to explain in your meetings who your prospects and how you can get them.  Prospects will be any important people you still haven't attached to your production team and any A-list or B-list actors you plan on recruiting for your project. Again, your prospects have to be people you can obtain within the realm of actuality.
  5. Research & Observe 
    • There is no film that is right for all distributors, and no distributor that is right for all films.  So to find the right match, you MUST research the companies and the executives you plan on meeting with.  Fail to do so at your own risk.   Speak with entertainment attorneys and producers rep who may offer suggestions.  Creating your business plan allowed you to find films similar to the one you're currently pitching so you should find companies that produced or distributed those and films like them.  Also take a look at their advertising campaigns and box office results.  Do the companies have a solid reputation? Are they mired in law suits?  Can you make a strength and weakness analysis of the company?  What are the trends for the company?  Here are some additional bits of advice from AFM:
      • Create a List of Target Companies
        Over 400 production / distribution companies have offices at the AFM but not all are right for your film. Focus your time and effort on the companies best suited for your project. Starting about one month before the AFM, go to The Film Catalogue.  Most AFM companies list their projects, profile and staff contact information.  Do further research on the web.  Find the companies that are the best candidates for your film.  Once you have created a target list, count the companies on it. If there are less than 10, you’re being too picky. [“No distributor is right for MY film!”] If there are 100 or more, your homework grade is “incomplete.” Keep working. The target list for most projects is 30 – 50 companies.  
      • Create a List of Target Executives For each of your target companies, create a list of key executives. Most important are the people in charge of acquisitions, development and production. Look for their names in the trades and on company websites. If you can’t find the right names, call the company’s main office and ask. Finding out who’s who is critical. You will never get anywhere by walking into an office unprepared and saying: “Hi, who is your head of acquisitions? I’d like to meet with him… or her.”
    • During your time at AFM, you must be on point and observe the grounds for any unexpected opportunities.  Maybe there is a new company that you overlooked in your initial research that would be perfect for your film.  Or maybe it's an opportunity to meet an actor or a top producer and set up a future meeting with them.  Maybe it's your chance to make your elevator pitch in an actual elevator.  The possibilities are there if you're observant.
Ideally you've been doing the above steps for some time and now you're setting up meetings with the producers, buyers and investors you want to meet at AFM.  If you're not fully ready, don't make the mistake of making a bad professional impression.  Unless it's a timely project, you might be better off waiting til next year.

To attend, get prices, the schedule and more, visit:


  1. I plan on attending the AFM 2013. I have or am in the midst of developing business plans, and setting up interviews and packaging. I been informed by past attendees that bringing scripts is not necessary and risky - until you get in a formal meeting with buyers/investors. especially when they can be easily accessible to all interested parties through your weblink.

    I am very excited and look forward to the experience.

  2. Congratulations W. Keith Sewell and much success while you're out there. I agree I wouldn't show my scripts around just for the sake of it either. Only during formal meetings and after discussing with an attorney. However, never forget that copyright is already protecting you from the moment you put words on the page. And registration is further protection. So, register the script, avoid signing submission release forms during your time there, keep a good chain of title and log the people and companies you email, speak with and show it to.

  3. I'm a producer with a completed feature who plans on attending AFM next month in hopes of selling my film. I've never been before and I'm a bit confused about how it's actually set up and how it works. Is it okay to go without a Sales Agent? Do you have to set up all the meetings in advance or as a producer do you go from one sales agent/distributor booth to the next? I'd love it if someone could fill me in on the process. Thank you.

  4. Congrats on your completed feature. Although you should've had your "AFM plan" in place before you started shooting, you can still make the most of your time there. The website is and it is a treasure trove of info which you MUST research before you go. However, without knowing your goals, project and resources, it's difficult to say that you do or don't need a sales agent. Also, you don't have to set up meetings in advance but it's preferable. Between now and the end of this month, make sure to have some kind of game plan in place before you go and best of luck to you at AFM.

  5. I agree with Danny's advice totally... get busy on your game plan. pull up the less of production companies and start making calls. I'll see you there


Post a Comment

Behind the visuals, a vision.

Popular posts from this blog

PRODUCTION TIPS: What is a Loan-Out Company? And Should I Form One?

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: How Tarantino Got Reservoir Dogs Funded and Why It's Worth Knowing People Who Know Celebrities

CASE STUDY: A Look at Some of TV's Most Successful PODs