These are the detailed notes I took at the 2014 AFM Conference Series and Producer’s Forum sessions. The format will be more like a notebook, rather than a blog post, but I hope it’s still valuable for those that want to know what was covered throughout the week.
Saturday, November 8th
• If you’re trying to make a movie for $100k or less, go out and get the money yourself. Scrape it together from crowdfunding, family members, credit cards, etc. It’s not enough money to make a movie that is going to make enough of a return to get an investors interest. There really isn’t industry money for projects of that size.
• Financiers are naturally conservative.
• Someone saying “I’d like to see that movie” is not the same as someone saying “I’m going to give you money to make that movie”.
• The people you are pitching DESPERATELY want you to succeed.
• WRITE! You’ve got to put in the sweat equity to get your project of the ground, and it all starts with a great script.
• Keep your mind open to new ways to make your movie happen.
Producer’s Forum – Making the Most of AFM – Stacey Parks
• Sunday and Monday at AFM are the “power days”. Buyers are more open to listening to producers. Take advantage!
• It’s ok to ask them what distribution options are available for your project. What challenges they foresee for a project like yours.
• As a producer you need to be thinking about what actors are “hot” (sellable in oversees markets) that are also right for the part.
• Sales agents are already thinking one market ahead by the time they speak with you. They’re not going to turn your movie around in 1 day, they’re acquiring content for the next one.
• How to peruse the market:
1. Look at their booth
2. Ask about comparables
3. Call other producers who have worked with them in the past.
• If you need foreign sales estimates, it will require a GOOD relationship with a sales agent. Not something you can ask right after you meet someone.
• The investors at AFM hang out at Casa Del Mar
• Offer value. Start a relationship.
• AFM is all about follow up. Do it. Take notes of what to do after you meet someone.
• How do you “take action” at AFM
– Make the rounds. Go door to door. Find all the companies you flagged before coming to the market. You don’t have to call first.
– Have a strategy specific to where you’re at.
– Network with other producers.
• What is a “fair deal” with a Sales Agent?
– 20-25% of sales
– Cap on expenses aroudn $20-30k for small indie films
– Terms of 1 or 2 years with a guarantee on sales, else the rights revert back to you.
• Just have a script and no package? Lead with what you have, not what you don’t have yet. Some agencies will work with you that early on.
• Typically you only want one sales agent, not multiple. They prefer exclusive deals.
• Selling the US first will help you sell foreign.
Producer’s Forum – The Future of (Indie) Film Finance – Stephan Paternot
• Slated.com is basically an online AFM
• There’s TONS of money out there for film. In 2012 $100 BILLION was invested in content, and it’s growing. $14B of that was in independent film.
• Kickstarter only represents 2% of indie film investing.
• The future is in dual campaigns, crowd funding plus investment/industry funding.
• 3 reasons investors invest: Patronage, Participation, Profits.
• Create a “proof point”. Engage with your fans. $10-50k is enough to take to investors as proof.
• The investors go where the good projects are. Slated helps show them which projects are good.
• Transparency = Velocity
• Minimal Viable Product works in film just as it does in tech.
• The Producer is the center of gravity on a film
• 75% of the money you make on indie film is not theatrical! (Theatrical represents only 25%!)
• Slated will help you create a business plan for working with investors.
Saturday, November 9th
• AP (Associated Press) can get you footage of major world events (for a price).
• “Don’t do indie comedies. They don’t travel” (travel means they don’t sell well overseas)
• Foreign can be 70-90% of profits.
• Here’s one companies internal process:
Script > Foreign Appraisal > Budget > Financing
• Get collateral (pre sales, tax incentives, equity) to cover the whole budget of the film. Your job as a producer is a financial one, not an emotional one. It’s not glamorous, but it’s how movies get made.
• It’s important when putting your film together to find the RIGHT sales agents.
• Your film HAS to travel well. Getting the right cast is HUGE.
• Presales is a risky model. Some agencies don’t even do it.
• Millenium Films, for example, covers their whole budgets with foreign. They see what it can do in foreign estimates and produce it for less than that amount. The Expendables movies are $50M where they’d be $90-100M at a major studio.
• It’s really easy if you can focus on giving people what they want.
• Netflix wants to buy everything you can sell them.
• Having 25% equity before going to Millennium or other financiers helps you stand out. (Have a PACKAGE).
• 7 out of 10 films fail, so you have to cover the downside, and Don’t Be Average.
• The appetite is there for extraordinarily good films.
Attracting Talent To Your Film
• Looking to cast your film? Reach out to young or covering agents, or referrals.
• You need something to validate the project. Good script / referral / Some % / Sales agent validating the project.
• Important to have transparency with agencies re: financing.
• Find out who the top 5 foreign sales agents in your genre are.
– Who are they casting in their movies?
– Why are those films working? Script? Director? Actor?
– What budgets are they producing their films at?
• If you’re a director, get an agent so they can send you into meetings with talent. You’re going into those meetings to convince the actors to attach to the project.
• Creative should always win out over Talent, but financial reasons for attaching a certain actor should still be considered.
• Your film has to be SO GOOD that it makes an actor LOVE the project enough to LOWER THEIR FEE.
• The most successful companies do everything in house.
• “We all got here because we’re resourceful”
• It all starts with a great script, and they are looking for it.
• Is your idea unique? Does the world NEED this film?
• Do your homework. Put together as much as you can before reaching out to a talent agency. Be resourceful.
(I had meetings during the Sunday Producer’s forum, so wasn’t there to take notes.)
Monday, November 10th
• Be an Influencer on YouTube. Film and release Behind The Scenes (BTS) footage throughout the production.
• Influencers are becoming more valuable than celebrities.
• Authenticity + Conversations are greater than Marketing.
• The Fault In Our Stars created HUNDREDS of pieces of content for social media.
• Your content needs to be the overlap between what your film wants to say about itself and what the fans want to say about themselves.
• Find ways to get a win-win with influencers (high subscriber youtube channels.)
• Go directly to the Multi Channel Network (MCN, like maker studios, fullscreen, etc) and work with them. “Here’s our dilemma, how can you help us solve it with your influencers?”
• Have a unit photographer AND someone creating content for social media.
• Having a paid component to your campaign is critical.
• Plan on a LONG social media campaign. Up to 8 months before release.
• Can you make it transmedia from the start?
• Think about the themes of your film. Who would that resonate with? Target influencers around themes.
• At the beginning, can you segment out your “true fans” and create content just for them, and move to a broader strategy later?
– In-world tumblr/pinterest/instagram/etc.
• Age segmenting your audience on social: LinkedIn > Pinterest > Facebook > YouTube > Instagram/Tumblr > Vine > Snapchat
• Social is the best marketing spend dollar for dollar.
• Your website needs a trailer, locations where you can see the film, basic information, links to blog and social media pages.
• Last Words
– Spend $ on social
– Make the best movie you can
– Build a community and be active in others
– Be visual
The Role Of A Publicist And Why You Need One
• Publicists help you make announcements when you hit your milestones on the film
• PR starts months before a festival or a market.
• PR starts at preproduction with a Unit Publicist
• It’s a contractual piece of the contract for foreign sales.
• Shrewd producers are getting industry coverage at every major milestone. (Money. Script done. Actor attached. Etc etc.)
• Festivals that also have a market aspect: Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, Tribeca
• $10-15k for a publicist leading up to a market or festival.
• You can put PR on retainer as early as the script stage.
• There is a market for EVERY kind of film. Find them and go to them.
• Things your publicist needs:
– 100 approved photos narrowed down to 25. (Filmsolutions.com)
– B-Roll and Interviews with key talent
– Press notes
– Production Notes / quotes / stories / synopsis
– Full credits
– Q&As with major cast
– Marketing Campaign: Poster, Trailer, Teaser. Make sure trailer has “worldwide use in perpetuity”.
• Get to know PR people and journalists.
• Plan for it. Think about publicity early on.
• Worth with the resources you have.
• PR is undervalued in indie film
• Communicate. Don’t be reactive, be proactive.
Producer’s Forum – Protecting Your Rights & Chain of Title
• “Rights In” = acquiring rights. Save every piece of paper!
• “Divestment Provisions” – start by certain time, release by a certain time. Have the right go away by the start of principal photography.
• Don’t let people be a copyright owner. Once you sign, they’re done. Net % ok, not gross % of sales.
• Don’t give them the right to approvals
• E&O insurance at the start of principal photography that covers 3 years.
• 2% of budget is common, with cap & floor.
• Avoid any US release requirement or US p&a requirement
• 20% on execution, 80% on purchase for minimum guarantee
• Avoid distributor having approvals. Only bond things.
• No vested rights until they’re paid the minimum guarantee
• Try and have it governed by California or UK law.
• Distributor needs to pay for materials
• No injunctive relief. Distributor can’t prevent you from releasing the film elsewhere.
• File a short form option, then on execution file a short form assignment.
Big Ideas, Small Films – Clarke Peterson
• How do you, as a producer, get through the “Noise”?
1. Are you interested in the project? Are you attracted?
2. Do you think someone else would be into it? “DARE” test – Does Anyone Really carE.
3. Is there a way to get this financed and produced?
4. Will it make money for the investors?
5. What are you in a unique position/qualification to do?
• Avoid the generic. Don’t pitch or produce something everyone’s already seen.
• “Big Stories” are good. A story that’s bigger than the movie itself.
• Big stories are remarkable. Gives people something to talk about.
• Big stories have good titles, or brand involvement
• Find titles that work: Walk through libraries, search amazon, what titles make you click a video on YouTube?
• Be aware of what’s out there. What already works.
• Work backwards. Look at what is selling at the market.
• A movie has marketability and “watchability”, both need to be considered.
• Don’t think you can’t get an option on a book. Have to try.
Monday, November 11th
• Distribution is reaching the audience and monetizing the film.
• Vimeo and VHX were mentioned, as were Amazon and iTunes. All viable now to monetize your film.
• Aggregate your audience before your film is released.
• 52% of time spent on mobile devices is consuming media.
• Even limited theatrical releases help all other windows, especially VOD and streaming.
• Its not about making a film available, it’s drawing attention to the content and getting people to pay for it.
• Crowd funding “isolates” (specifies?) your true fans and engages your community.
• The Orchard (website), lots of transparency, good dashboard.
• Assets really help sell the movie. Different versions for different platforms.
• New stories more important than genre, i.e.. the fact that they’re new.
• This business is built on relationships.
• Subscription VOD wants exclusivity, but 36 months is a long time. Shoot for 18 to 24 months.
• Let people watch first 10 mins for free, then pay to watch the rest – one idea.
• The amount of money you make is not dependent on the platform as much as it is on the marketing.
• If you don’t do day & date, you now have to do a second social media and marketing push.
• There’s an issue of supply & demand. Film distribution is like Costco. 1/3 of their inventory gets replaced every 6 weeks. Now there are 4000 films a year, so much content that is available all the time. Oversupply, not great way for consumer to get what they want. Even worse, Walmart switched out every 6 hours sometimes.
• Supply wise, not tons of great content you have to see right now. 30-50% of people decide what to watch while in line at the theater.
• DIY = Keeping your rights. You’re renting systems that help you without giving away those rights.
• YOU have to define what success looks like BEFORE you start.
– # of people? # of dollars? Amount of impact?
• DIY doesn’t mean “on your own”. You can still use a team.
• Which outlets have real time and transparent data? This is important.
– Vimeo, VHX, etc. Go there.
• You need a really engaged filmmaking team. They’re your early marketing team.
• Use windowing and exclusions to maximize your income. Also bonus content.
• Can you turn your release into an EVENT, not just a showing?
• YES! This takes a LOT of work!
• It’s not enough to just create content.
• If you can come to them with a marketing budget, they’ll work with you.
• Know your audience, engage with them, grow it.
• ONE word of mouth recommendation = 200 plays of a video ad.
Producer’s Forum – Growing Your Audience
• Comps is the old model. Now you can demonstrate audience up front. Show traction.
• Dear White People case study: In-world Twitter > Teaser > Crowd funding campaign > Trailer > Funding …
• How do you make your I.P. valuable? Show that there’s an audience for what you’re making.
• You need an audience before you can monetize them.
• Social media needs a 9:1 give to ask ratio. Don’t always be pushing out your content and asking things of your audience. Give value.
• Who is your audience? Where are they? How do you get their EMAILS?
• Don’t quote size of demographics. Quote the size of your audience. Demographic is too broad and inefficient.
• Interview people on how they consume media, favorite sites, favorite music, etc.
• From that, craft your campaign. Find your partners.
• Audience building is about listening. What are they telling you? What do they want?
• Test and iterate your social media & marketing tone until it lands with your audience.
• Don’t be needy or plead people.
• Use altruism as often as possible. Builds social capital that you can leverage later. Support and help others. Engage. Be authentic.
Producer’s Forum – Accessing Debt Financing
• Bank financing is wide open, and yes, it is “that easy”.
• They focus on the package, specifically one slice of it.
• Bank financing easier once you have a sales agent.
• Presales are very common and DO happen.
• Bank will help with/provide:
– Presales (10-12 primary territories, worth 100% at the bank, i.e. they’ll lend you 100% of the pre sale amount.)
– Bank will look at sales estimates
– Gap financing. Needed in most finance plans. Most risky but still cheaper than equity. Up to 20% of total presages, up to half of what unsold territories are worth.
– Tax incentives – they’ll lend 80-90% of the value.
• Requires a bond company
• “Strike Price” is the amount you get out of the total loan. They take an interest reserve up front.
• You need a good lawyer to do a bank deal.
• Have a clear chain of title
• # and amount of foreign presages. Get them in order. Try and avoid bridge loans.
• Matching funds, escrow, etc. are all BS options to fund your movie. Test them out:
– What was the last film you financed?
– Who’s your lawyer & what’s his phone number?
– If you’re going to put up that much $, it’s liquid. As a show of good faith, will you put some of it in my bank account?
• This bank (Pacific Mercantile) is around 4-7% for 12-14 months. That’s the floor, then there are fees top of that of 1-2%. Then there’s legal fees that you have to pay for.
• Have your equity investors put their money in with the bank loan so that they can get paid before the guilds.
• Pick your 5 or 6 sales agents & email the bank, they’ll guide you to the right partners.
• Make equity only 10-30% of the total budget, and try to get it before everything else.
• Production loans are non-recourse loans. Personal credit is not a factor, there’s no credit check involved. It all is based around the package you put together.
Whew! There you go! PLEASE let me know if you have any questions about any of this, if I can help I’m more than happy to! (I kinda live for that sort of thing). Best of luck with your projects! Let me know what you’re working on in the comments.