AFM 2016– What’s the Market Today – Part #1

 

 

AFM 2016

In its 37th year, the 2016 American Film Market held in beautiful Santa Monica has changed as it tries to expand the network to include more diversity seminars.  Not only was there the Faith Film roundtable, but one that focused on the LGBT community, and another on networking from Stage 32 - an international networking site for the industry.    This was all in addition to their Finance, Chinese Production, and Pitching mornings at the Fairfield Hotel – all giving important information to the entertainment community. 

 

Many of the companies I visited were here at AFM for their first time.  So I started on the 3rd floor where many of the productions share the rooms.   Smaller and many of them start ups they often complained that they felt like a "fish out of water."

 

I first talked with Corbus Films from Southfield, Michigan.  Damon Merchant, an IT engineer felt that he had an unusual way of telling a story - and despite initial resistance from his wife Lortensia and assistant Deborah Freeman have embarked on their first interactive horror film called, "I,Victim" for theatrical release.  The story revolves around three people down on their luck who enter an eccentric billionaire's diabolical game of life and death.  However, unlike traditional horror films where the audience watches the narrative play out on the screen, Damon Merchant, a dual CCIE Engineer and PMP, created a process that allows the audience to interact with the film through their mobile device.  The audience has the power!  Should the character run? hide? fight?... Who Lives? Who Dies? YOU Decide!

 

In fact, in their screenings "I, Victim" beat out the new Kevin HartTyler Perry's "Boo", and "Jack Reacher” since people returned several times to the movie as they reinvented their stories and made other choices   Corbus hopes to do more of these interactive films and this may very well be a new wave for the future. 

 

AFM - Corbus Films poster

 

Leomark Studios is run by Maria Collis and Erik Lundmark also have dabbled in the interactive market with their Movie Maze projects - the Mechanic, The Plumber and soon The Babysitter.  "The audience loves the interaction."   Expanding their catalogue, they look for skillfully crafted films that have been done on a low budget.  "Filmmakers must understand that this is a business as well as a creative venture. A good attachment really helps to sell the film.  And it is better if they look real and not Hollywood polished."

 

AFM 2016 hall -photo by Henry Tarlow

 Having been at the AFM for a number of years now, they distribute many low budget and family films.  They also produce a few things, as well.  One of the stories they are promoting here is Bad Boys and Best of Seven - about a man with 7 personalities who try to destroy one another.  "This star could be the next Jim Carrey," Maria says.  "It was a minimal budget and no major stars with a theme of 'Love yourselves."

Kepler’s Dream – a family movie is available worldwide but not yet distributed in U.S.

 

Eric, himself, is directing for the first time in the film "Devil's Cove."  This thriller with two female leads is produced by Chloe Thaicos

 

They have recently joined Dark City Media Group - an international association that wants to promote ”Peace Through Art."  Founded by Antonio Gellini, it will be an Olympic style film event featuring not only international films, but painting and fashion with the goal to break down cultural barriers.  Sounds promising as long as we have a president that encourages international culture. 

 

AFM 2016 Chang Yi Pictures - Diefi Zhou, Rui Zhao, and Kira Leinonen photo by Henry Tarlow

 

While there were several Chinese companies at the AFM, I wandered into the offices of the Chinese company of Chang Yi Pictures run by Diefi Zhou, Rui Zhao, and ex-pat Kira Leihonen, who moved to Beijing eight years ago, they are a small but growing production company.  Once considered unimportant in the film industry, China is now the second largest box office.  The growth has been phenomenal and more and more producers are seeking them out.  

 

While Diefi trained at the Edinburgh University, Rui attended the University of Southern California and worked at a Sony/Columbia co-production.  "China still works on the old Soviet system of making movies and we are now, while we have wonderful studios, we are trying to find more people to come over to train the Chinese workers how to work in the film business specifics that are needed to make a successful film. 

 

There is a lot of growth coming into the Chinese market, but they do still have to deal with approval from the film board and pay attention to things that might be censored. One isn't always sure why some things are rejected." They allow only 34 foreign films into the country each year.  While IP intellectual properties in other forms) and blockbusters are welcome, they aren't always approved.  There is no rating system in China, as they have here and violence is accepted, if it fits within the story.

AFM 2016 - poster from Chang Yi Pictures

 

They do a lot of co-productions and with New Zealand just produced "Into The Rainbow."  Kia says that they pay attention to story and content the most- something that is strong for the Chinese audience. They like romantic comedy, but regular American comedy seldom travels well.  Science fiction is good, but fantasy is not that accepted.  They need stories that can be not only filmed in China but use at least one-third of Chinese actors.   "People need to know that filmmaking is not as easy as one thinks.”

 

AFM - Stand Up Tall and Fall - photo from Mermaid Films

Mermaid Films, another new AFM exhibitor, was started by Delka Nenkova and her writing-directing partner William Moore.   Having escaped from Bulgaria, forced into the circus, endured human trafficking before she escaped, her story Stand Up Tall and Fall has already won several awards and might have a Fox release.  She is also working on two other films  - Fruit For The Butterfly  about a child being pushed to be a rock star but with deadly consequences.  They hope that Kristen Stewart will sign on for this.   They also have a historical romance by a Polish writer.  Soul of the Kingdom is a spiritual journey  about a prince who has exiled his sister. 

 

Boulderlight  Pictures has been at AFM for several years with great success.   Partners J D Lifshitz and Raphael Margules met in elementary school and realized they both loved horror.  Each had separately purchased a Freddy vs Jason novelization.   Nevertheless, it took them time to develop their stories and then they realized that they could both produce and do sales themselves.  So far they’ve done their own distribution, as well.  Slice was their first movie.  This one, however, never came out. 

AFM - Dementia - photo from Boulderlight Pictures

It’s not easy to own all those hats.   But as savvy producers, they realized that the entertainment industry is as much a business as it is a creative enterprise.   In the past year, Boulderlight has produced 6 films and many of their prior films Dementia and Contracted  which were praised by the New York Times. Both have high ratings on Netflix and often are watched as a double billing.   Contracted 2 will soon be in the works.

Some of their future films include a cyber-thriller – Browse – where the election meets Cape Fear; Beautiful – about a lonely schizophrenic who believes he’s being attacked;   Good Match is a fatal attraction thriller and a unique twist; and Pledge – where three nerdy boys try pledging a fraternity only to learn it’s a satanic coven.

AFM 2016 Boulderlight - J D Lifshitz and Raphael Margules - photo by Henry Tarlow

"We care about what we do."    Expanding to other genres, they like psychological thrillers  and do not want found footage films.   They are currently working on a co-production agreement with Hong Kong and Singapore.   TV is also a possibility in their future.   High concept contemporary settings are preferred, but they do not want any preaching.  Films that educate and entertain are their favorites.

AFM - Contracted - photo from Boulderlight Pictures

AFM has brought them numerous sales, but find that pre-sales are lacking this year. 

To my surprise, they say they have not met many female directors or writers who can do good horror. 

 With more and newer venues for films, shows and web series, the market is indeed expanding.  Just be aware of who your audience is and what you are trying to say in your story and with your characters.  Being a small production company means you take on many hats.  We can’t be experts at it all.  Don’t be afraid to delegate and invite other professionals on your team.    As Mr. Wolf said in the previous article,  don’t be impatient.  This is a relationship business that sometimes takes time to develop and networking is a key factor. 

 

Stay tune for Part #2

 

 

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