BIZ: An Englishman in Santa Monica; One Indie Filmmaker's First Trip to the American Film Market
by Toby White
(indieWIRE/3.6.2000) -- Take one reserved Englishman, his low-budget indie film, 8 viewing cassettes, a toothbrush, and dump him in the middle of Los Angeles for the American Meat Market -- sorry, American Film Market, which ended last week -- and what do you have? Well, it's a little like the Cannes Film Festival, but no yachts. It's akin to what goes on in such Cannes hotspots as the Carlton or the Noga Hilton, but on a smaller scale. People mill around the lobby and the bar, meet-and-greet and indulge in movie chatter. Meanwhile, upstairs, every suite is taken over as a temporary office by companies.
The big difference -- at least from an independent producer's perspective -- is that while in Cannes, with your accreditation pass, you can drop in on these 'offices' on a whim. But to get where it counts at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel you need a pass at a cost of $250 a day. Right. Not in the budget. And finding the Acquisition Executives among these untenable people is not unlike the proverbial needle-haystack scenario. Most companies are here to sell. Not good odds for your lone low-budget Englishman.
Would this explain why I didn't meet many like-minded filmmakers? How about not a single one. Got more chance chasing chickens. And this accounts for AFM's activity. First, it's a seller's market. Second, it's about business and networking. And because a bar tab will set you back a second mortgage. But that's just it. That's why there's every reason to go for the independent filmmaker, because you have more of a chance of finding that one gold mine that never expected you to be there.
Here's another plus: as part of the experience of throwing yourself into the industry head-first, the dailies from the trades are filled with articles and features that can enlighten you as you sip your $8 cappuccino and make polite conversation with Gino, the Italian star of "Arizona Gunfest 3," who's promoting the film.
Which reminds me. Looking at the slates involved, there's a lot of schlock. In that way, people refer to it as an 'independent' film market. Believe it or not, but some gun-toting, tit-wielding, monster massacre is considered independent. Exploitation versus art? Depends what your impression of art is. But hey, people buy and watch crap.
But this year was different: Jonathan Wolf, the market's Marketing Director, states "the growth of the AFM reflects the broad resurgence of the independent film industry" and that was good enough for me. The first day Hollywood Reporter provides a great insight. I mentioned it's a seller's market: well, word has it there were about 1,600 buyers of 7,000 attendees, many international. After all, sellers have to sell to someone. For this, it's 10th anniversary, AFM broke the record of attendance and screenings thereby smashing rumors that it was an anachronism. As an indie market, it's no Sundance, but there is reason to take your quirky commercial-yet-retaining-its-artistic-integrity film along. I wonder if Ed Burns or Kevin Smith ever went?
It's hectic. Hence, four days was enough. So, as I read the trades in the bar and chatted with Gino over my cold cappuccino, here's a few impressions of what went down:
- The Internet was big this year. Markets on the net were a great conversation starter: filmbazaar.com, reelplay.com, reeluniverse.com and internetstudios.com all tickling people's ambivalence to this new media. On another level, Intertainer announced a 5-picture deal with Artisan to finance digitally shot projects (Screen International). And old favorite AtomFilms boosted its slate by forging a partnership with short film distributor Forefront Films.
- The Brits looked good this year: Redbus, the new 'indie' distributor went into it's first AFM with all guns blazing and came away with Ed Burns' "Sidewalks of New York" and "Play It to the Bone" as well as forging an eight-picture output deal with BBC Films (Moving Pictures). Winchester Films, another UK-based sales company, sold many territories for a slate of films including "Southie," "Muggers" and "Lighthouse" (Screen).
- Germany and Hong Kong were the countries to watch this year for buying and investing respectively. Variety reporting on "Teutonic Titans" and "the Germans...coming to town" with bags of cash, while Moving Pictures ran a feature on "Hong Kong's feature industry bursting back into life" -- any Wong Kar-wai fans out there might be pleased to know that his latest, "In the Mood For Love," was sold all over Europe by Fortissimo Film Sales. Similarly, Universe International Holdings -- the company that brought us "Pokemon: The First Movie" -- announced that they expect to be financing between 20 and 30 films a year to "...feed their rapidly recovering local market" (Screen).
- And who says the AFM is just small fare: there was an impressive slate featuring screenings of big-starrers from Miramax and Franchise Pictures as well as more plugging from the Oscar contenders. Not that I saw any of them. (I was still up the creek without a pass, remember?) Oh, and the bidding war for the Keanu Reeves-starrer "Driven " is now over. Universal acquired US rights (Screen).
- Riding the Sundance wave, what we consider 'indie' films came out rather nicely at the market. After Fine Line Features acquired US rights to "Saving Grace," a slew of other territories soon followed. Last year's World Cinema favorite, "The Terrorist," was picked up by Myriad Pictures (who also picked up another imminent indie "Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish," the curiously-monikered tale of two brothers approaching adulthood which will be distributed in the US by Stratosphere). Another Sundance entry, "Panic," was acquired internationally by Summit Entertainment (Screen).
It's funny. . . browsing the trades I'm noticing why this year's AFM seems different from what I heard about the market in previous years. There is a heavy presence of flicks that do seem appealing to the discerning viewer; I wish I could have glimpsed such soon-to-be hits as "Rancid Aluminum," "The Bullfighter" (said to feature Robert Rodriguez in an acting role!) or even "Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns."
Jokes aside, it is significant that the price of hiring exhibition space dropped by a grand compared to last year's fees. This could account for a big influx of international companies offering quality product. And I didn't see one porn star (again, though, that's probably an opinion thing; I wish I had, actually).
And what about this Englishman's venture? This is where it gets exciting. Despite suggestions to the contrary, as mentioned above, yes, I got into the suites and had meetings; yes, I returned with no tapes; yes, there's interest; and no, Gino's not starring in my next film.
[Toby White is a British filmmaker who attended the AFM to gather US interest for his debut feature, "The Quarry Men," currently in completion.]