If I had to describe my experience at the American Film Market in just few words it would be: Terrifying, eye-openning, and world-changing.
"I feel like I'm making sausage," was my constant refrain as I walked around the hotel floors, immersed in the lifeblood of the film industry as we know it. When asked, I explained that a film's budget is like a sausage - delicious, hearty, and made up of multiple sources - and that as a Director, I'm just happy to have it. Meanwhile, the AFM is like being in the butcher shop and seeing exactly where those multiple sources come from. Suffice to say, it very much changes your perspective on things.
That's not to say I had a bad time; completely the opposite, in fact. Being a part of the specifics of these limited meet-and-greet meetings taught me more about being a professional filmmaker than anything I've learned in school or the ten years working in the industry since. Finally, I got a glimpse of how Hollywood really works and suddenly everything made sense to me.
For years, I've had this very romantic idea of filmmakers and independent films, that it was all about festivals and elbow grease. That if you could manage to actually complete a feature (and assuming it was decent) festivals, audiences, and ultimately distributors would fall over themselves to get a piece of it. That all you needed to do was sneak it into one of the big fests and you'd be golden.
I know, I know: "How could you be so naive?" Call it hope, call it ignorance, call it whatever you want, deep down I think this is what most independent filmmakers believe. It's the light, no matter how dim, at the end of the tunnel that says we'll get our due as long as we keep at it.
Assuming, of course, you're not a full on 'art house filmmaker', in which case more power to you and your personal journey of discovery that doesn't need an audience for approval. I respect your decisions in life, but this is where we should part ways. From here on, I only want to talk to those looking to make a career out of filmmaking.
The AFM showed me that the first step for any indie filmmaker should be to find distribution. With eight floors filled to the brim with eager sales agents, distributors, and production companies there's surely to be at least one that wants to work with you and your film. The deals become dependent on content, genre, and names, but it's definitely a more surefire way of getting your work out there than just the festival circuit. Festivals might work as a great supplement to getting the word out, but in pure 'I want to sell this movie so I can make more' terms you gotta go to a market.
Even if you don't have a completed feature, it's a great place to be. For us, we went armed with the scene, a few names, and ample amounts of confidence, and came away with multiple second meetings, some terrific contacts, and lots of interest. Things that can help put the final touches on the budget and ultimately get the thing made. And now that we know how it works, we can make it work for us again in the future.
Because once you know where that sausage comes from, you can start going back to make more.