Filmmaking is tougher and more riskier than before with the major studios going mainly for blockbuster and comic heroes, that leaves the preponderance of the films in the hands of the independent prodcuer.
At Leomark films, Maria Collis talked about their big movie Bustin' Chops, a Jackass South African style with the stars of the film Eugene Koekemoer and Danie Barnard. They had met Eric Lundmark on Linked In, which proves that the site really does work. Horror is a glutted market, especially the guts and gore kind, says Maria but currently they are looking for good psychological horror or comedy horror as in their award winning film After Death. Their newest project is called Movie Maze. It's an app where you can choose your own adventure. The game has three complete storylines. Dead ends are possible here and a there is a new experience every time you play it. The Mechanic is the first of their games for Movie Maze and The Plumber will be next. The stories have comedy as well as horror. Action is the key for selling. (Not easy to do on a small budget.) Most of their films are done for $500,000 or under or they do co-production deals as they are now doing with Jennifer West. They suggest that new producers work at developing credibility.
Most of their films come from the scads of emails they receive. They look for quality stories with good production and warn filmmakers to be realistic when they talk to us. The bottom line is if there is no noteworthy cast in the picture, it is harder to sell. The genre they are working in also affects the sale.
Arclight (not related to the theatre chain), Darclight and Easterlight's Clay Epstein discussed their process. Easterlight focuses on the opening Asian market while Darclight goes for horror and thrillers. "There are different types of horror, "says Clay," and many of the greatest filmmakers as James Cameron and Sam Rami started here." He tells writers and producers to think like a distributor - ask yourself "Is there an audience for this film? What are the demographics?" Look at what is overdone right now. Vampires and Zombies are still out there but the market is glutted with them, however, supernatural is still hot, but gore is not. To Clay, thrillers and psychological horrors are the hottest now, but action always works, especially overseas. "You have to think of the international sales when filming a movie. There are some places that book no excess violence, other places only want family films."
When he looks at a film, he judges if the movie is well paced. Is there a solid beginning, middle and end? Does the filmmaker have a vision for the film and does it bring a new perspective the genre? He suggests that producers follow the rules, but don't be afraid to break them. It will put your film ahead and make it more unique. While they do not look at scripts alone, they are always happy to answer questions about cast or budget and of course, having financing - even part of it - helps immensely. "The best thing a writer can do is align himself with a producer and hire a casting director. The Ulmer list will tell you who is bankable, but that changes quickly. Even if you get the casting director to help you with one part and find you one major star, it's worth their fee. It will pay out in the long run with getting the financing you need. The more concrete your package is, the better." He suggests to have good PR early and get people to know about your story, especially if it is from source material, as a book. He will answer questions from filmmakers "Does the budget make sense given the cast and the script? Does the script work?" He feels there is not enough research and development done for movies as most independents cannot afford focus groups. "Know that trends change fast in the business. Does it look good and is it finished properly.
Several of the companies I spoke with mentioned the site "Slated" as a place to help find investors for your films. For writers and producers, the last days of AFM are the best to pitch their material and the other days are saved for selling the films they already control.
Bill Gottlieb of Gorilla Films is one of the few that does production, post, sales and distribution. He looks for producers who are passionate about their products. He, too, stressed casting is crucial for films especially if the producer is not known yet. "There are a lot of great actors out there who are not working and will be amenable to your budget." His goal is finding stories with compelling action and story that are well paced and relatable. "I give those serious consideration."
Eric Karson, director of Octagon and producer of Lionheart, related that the essence of the film is the uniqueness. "It can't be the same thing that has been done many times before. Think out of the box if you want your film to succeed. Otherwise you are looking at diminished return. " He is currently working on Team B - a martial arts comedy. "I've done many dramas, but the comedy here makes it different." Writers and producers alike have to remember that while this is a business, the word Show comes before it. "You have to balance your creativity with the business side and don't get lost in the fantasy of producing your movie."
Chevonne O'Shaughnessy of Mission International and American Cinema International -- both producers and distributors. She offered this advice -- "Research the company you are going to and don't offer them something that they don't take. Understand the budget they usually do their films at. Don't offer them a 50 million dollar film when most of their movies are at 2 million. High budgets do not work here. Also, know the market. Our clients who are international buyers do not, as a rule, like period pieces. If you have a racing piece, especially one that is period, look at the market and see the statistics for Rush. It flubbed in the box office. Their own movie, Snake and Mongoose - a period racing piece is still struggling to find it's audience because of that, but is, nevertheless, selling because there is an audience for it. The family film that Mission had Love Finds You In Sugar Creek, Ohio did very well. Someone pitched them a documentary, which they never take. They decided to take a chance on it and found out that it did not fly with their clients. As with the others I spoke with the level of your cast is crucial. "It minimized the risk when you have an A list star even in a supporting role. We might take a chance on a higher budget film if you have a top star."
Mission does primarily faith based and inspirational or family films while American Cinema does almost everything else. They don't, however, like horror and comedy is very subjective. What appeals to Americans will not necessarily be in favor overseas and international is where most of your monies come from.
A start up production company from Utah, Joseph James Films has already done four movies. Most of his budgets were $350,000 and under, but the quality, however, does not seem to have suffered. His Templar Nation, which he tags DaVinci Code meets National Treasure, sold well as a DVD in Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Blockbuster and at AFM he found several international buyers. He enjoys material with mystery and suspense and loves historicals. His next movie, The Freemason, stars Erick Estrada. With his own studio in Salt Lake, he is able to produce things of interest to him and he already has a distributor, Maverick Entertainment, in line for his material. He tells producers and writers that "You have to learn how to do your own publicity. Don't rely on others." Open to new material, he is willing to talk to writers, but prefers if they have attachments in line and some funding never hurts.
Moonstone Entertainment's Etchie Stroh says his revenge story, Favela, is selling well to overseas clients. At the moment, he is not taking on any new product as he is now doing adaptations of a well known Israeli author. He believes that you need more than just good actors to make a success in the business. You need a great story, as well. One that will stand out from the crowd. For that reason he has shied away from horror and sci fi. He does like thrillers, drama, action and comedy. The later has to be the type that translates well overseas - like The Hangover. In business for over 21 years, Etchie has seen many changes in the film business and tells new producers and writers that they have to read the papers as Variety and Hollywood Reporter so that they can understand the trends.
Last in my survey comes Sam Blan of Inception Film Partners, (formerly known as Strategic Film Partners). His successes at AFM included Barefoot (a romantic comedy), GBF (a coming of age) Some Girls (Drama) and Bre-X (Thriller.) While he does look at scripts, he is looking for family, high concept and action and says that he's more inclined to look if there is an attachments already involved as a director of note, or talent. Projects must be submitted by a third party that they trust - agent, manager or attorney. They do, however, like to be involved early on so they can help with budget, casting , etc. Since they meet with buyers around the world, they know what their clients are looking for and can help to guide the filmmaker early on.
As a rule, it seems that it is harder for writers to get their projects off the ground unless they are willing to work as producer or with a producer and find talent and even work toward fundraising themselves as with crowd funding. Producers, too, must know that there is more than just their film as a passion project. They must understand the business and get a hold of the distributors early on so that they can be guided as to what is needed for international sales.
Meet these people and more at the next AFM 2014.