By Hammad Zaidi | November 5, 2013

Welcome to the 184th edition of Going Bionic. Today we’re discussing the AFM (The American Film Market), America’s largest film sales market that takes in Santa Monica, California. This year’s event starts this Wednesday, November 6, and goes through November 13. With so many recent changes in independent film, from falling international values for non-star driven independent films, to raising V.O.D. receipts for well-packaged productions, the AFM is a great place to navigate how to position your upcoming production. So, without further ado, here are five key strategies for attending the AFM.

Platform For Film Packages Seeking Completion Funds
Over the past several decades, the AFM has been a hotbed of independent film projects looking for funding or distribution. Being the biggest market of its sort in North America, AFM regularly attracts international film buyers for smaller independent films.

However, this year AFM is positioning itself as a place for studio-level film packages to find foreign presales to fund a portion of its budget. For example, Daily Variety just reported that Samuel L. Jackson has joined John Cusack in Cell, a film based on a novel by Stephen King. The picture, which is set to shoot in January, is having its domestic rights co-represented by CAA and Paradigm. The reason Samuel L. Jackson’s attachment was released on the eve of AFM was to entice buyers to purchase the film for their territory. Thus, regardless of if the picture is fully funded and is looking to mitigate a portion of its financial risk, or whether the film needs the foreign presales in order to complete its funding, showcasing it to film buyers during AFM is a smart strategic move.

Present Your Film as a 2014 Project
Unless you’re north of 90% funded, and you have designs on the last 10% from accredited qualified buyers who are committed to parting with their money for your film, it’s probably smart to tell buyers your film is a 2014 production. Even if you’ve already started shooting, or are in post and need completion funds, it serves you and your film far better to position it as a 2014 film, because buyers and financiers will think of your film as being new and fresh, as opposed to having a tired, older film that can’t find completion funding.

Ask Buyers About Their Mandate Before Your Pitch
While most filmmakers are overtly excited about sharing their pitch to any and all distributors, investors or qualified buyers who will listen to them, it’s far smarter to actually find out exactly what their mandate is before you start pitching. By mandate, I mean, what are their purchasing parameters?  Why are they at AFM? What are they looking for? Are they looking for completed projects only, or will they consider partially funded packages, or scripts with no funding attached? When are they buying? Are they focusing on specific genres? These are all questions you should find out before you have your film considered by any particular company. The reason being, if you farm your film out to anyone who claims they’ll give it a look, regardless if that company is right for your film or not, then you’ll quickly devalue your own film by collecting a bunch of passes from companies that you never should have submitted to in the first place.

Ask Buyers if they’re buying for 2013 or 2014
This piece of advice is easy. Just ask the buyers you meet if they’re ready to buy right now in 2013, or if they’re looking to fill out their slate for 2014. Here’s why: Many buyers are running low on funding this time of year, and won’t have their buying power refilled with loads of cash until January before they head off the Sundance. However, if they like your film at AFM this week, they may want to string you along until they get their funding. While there is no problem with waiting six to eight weeks for funding if the deal they’re offering is legitimate, there is a problem with you closing your eyes to offers from other companies from now until then. Thus, the smart thing to do to get a signed deal memo in place with the company who claims they want to fund you/buy your rights for certain territories. The deal memo should clearly explain the deal terms, including when you get paid. Simply put, if the buyer is not willing to give you a deal memo outlining a purchase for your film, then don’t promise them anything, and don’t stop talking to other potential buyers.

Spend Your Time Taking The Right Meetings
AFM is littered with a bunch of people who talk more than they do, so be very careful who you give your time to. As a general rule of thumb, the more someone talks about all the amazing things their company is doing, the less they are actually doing; unless of course, you can find information about their grandiose claims on the Internet. So, just make sure you spend your time at AFM wisely by talking to well-funded companies with solid, if not stellar reputations.

Okay filmmakers, that what I have for you today. Thank you once more for lending me your eyes, and I’d be honored to borrow them again next Tuesday. Until then, have a great week. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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