Monday Prescriptions – AFM Takeaway Box

Hello Film Doctor friends.

With the 34th edition of the American Film Market behind us, the Film Doctor team would like to offer up a ‘takeaway box of goodies’ for today’s Monday Prescription – a selection of first-hand thoughts from this year’s conference speakers.


Aaron Ryder (Executive Producer/Producer, “Memento”, “The Mexican”, “Donnie Darko”, “Mud”, “The Prestige”) 

Speaking at the Producers’ Forum, Ryder opened up with advice he once received from Stephen Frears when he was starting out: “1. Be Lucky. 2. Start producing movies.” Ryder admitted to hating this advice at the time, particularly the lucky part, but has found it to be true over time.

His was also a story of encouragement for all first-time Producers with seemingly “unsellable” projects:

Looking back, shared Ryder, “Memento” didn’t get into Sundance or Cannes and nobody wanted to distribute it. People found it frustrating/unmarketable. Finally, it got into Venice. The crowd were very aggressive towards a Johnny Depp film playing before “Memento”, which only further agitated the team. After “Memento” the crowd were silent…and then gave a standing ovation. Based on that standing ovation the head of Ryder’s company decided to distribute the film himself. It was released on 10 screens and they put $1.2m into releasing it. Then it became a minor hit. ‘The lesson? We didn’t have options, so we created one’.

He says technology is a distraction these days. He tells his employees to leave their phones in the car and whatever it is can wait. The distraction (of technology) makes succeeding harder.

If you can get a film into a festival and fought over by distributors then that is ideal. “Mud sat for a year with no distribution (even though it stars Matthew McCoughaney). We took it to Cannes and nobody bought it. We eventually found the right distributor. The key is to find the marketable aspect of your film and it doesn’t have to be a star.”

He was also very forthright about the many varied routes available to filmmakers: “There’s not one way of doing things. It’s not do this, this and this and it equals success. I wish it was. It’s not an exact science.”

Clay Epstein – SVP Sales at Arclight Films
On cast
“Cast is king.”

For example, “Silver Linings Playbook” might have been a drama AND a mixed genre project (not great for sales, in fact Drama is a ‘getting fired word’ in Epstein’s office, he joked), but the team ‘bought themselves out of the problem’ with cast – Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and A-list director David O. Russell.Hence, it’s no surprise, that Epstein advises to always get a casting director: agents will take their call before they take yours and a CD knows all the info – who’s taking a break, who’s looking for what and why.


On Pre-Sales, Festivals & Film Distribution 

Epstein couldn’t stress enough the importance of “doing your homework” when it comes to much coveted pre-sales. He says sales agents generally call contacts for estimates on a project and look at what’s sold etc.  It’s data + intuition + experience.

What are the pros and cons going with big or small companies? “If you go with a smaller company they may work harder.  Bigger company may get you a bigger deal. Do you due diligence on a sales company and see their line up.”

“Minimum guarantees are usually pretty accurate. It is worth remembering that Sales Agents estimates are based on the value of the film as it is at the moment – no subsequent awards won, festivals attended or other variables/successes are included in that estimate.”

He added that pre-sales aren’t put out until a package is fully there because otherwise it’s like tying up money in a house that hasn’t been built yet, when you could be spending it on a house already ready to go. “People want to see their money start working, and returning, as soon as possible.”

In cases where there are new directors or producers or actors with unproven value – in the eyes of the industry – all distributors will want to see the product first, i.e. the pre-sales route might not work or come harder. They call it being execution dependent.


Film Doctor - Money for your movie
With the abundance of great forum speakers and conferences jam-packed with established industry professionals, the AFM 2013 offered a lot of useful insights:
  • “Short films are valuable to a filmmaker. It’s a good way to show storytelling. It helps us make decisions and gives us indications of what is to come.”
  • “90-100 mins is right length of a film. Get the pacing right. Films can always be tighter.”
  • “Festivals endorse the film in the eyes of buyers. If they see something cold they don’t HAVE to buy it but if someone else tells them it’s good, they take it. We ended up with a bidding war on a project in a similar situation.”
  • “UK Film Festivals want social realism.”
  • “Filmmakers, actors, investors agendas are different. The film has many masters.”
  • “Don’t forget the costs of these festivals. We were invited to Venice and Toronto but couldn’t afford the extra $100 k for both. All these issues should be raised in the pre-prod budget.”
  • “What is the first sign a first time filmmaker can get named talent attached? – writing a role that an actor would want to play. Write for “under-served” actors. Like female characters or oldies.”
  • “It’s about luck. We guess when to put a film out. We see where we are in post and track other projects.”
  • “There’s always the chance one of the big studios will stick a film out the same week as your small film. It’s luck.”

‘Monday Prescription’ No. 87 – As Epstein says, “the film market is not bad these days, it’s selective. A good project with a good cast and a business plan that makes sense, will be made.” But how you go about it is entirely up to you: no two films are alike and no film production routes can be replicated. It’s highly individual. Although there are certain common elements that move a project further, “film is not an exact science.” Find your own formula.

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Any questions/thoughts/experiences of your own??? Leave a comment below!
Have a great week!


The Film Doctor Team
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