With a larger than ever number of exhibitors at this year's market it was hard to see all of them, but one of my favorite places is TriCoast Worldwide. Headquartered in Culver City, they just opened a London office to distribute films from there. Co-CEO, Marcy Levitas Hamilton reports big success with their new action war thriller, Battle Scars, about PTSD, where only the dead see the end of the war. This film will profit the wounded warrior project. Other favorites there are the Sheik, a wrestling documentary featuring "The Rock" Johnson, and Wind Walkers - a supernatural thriller. Many of their films appeal to the masses on different levels as The Heavenly Sword, a movie based on one of Sony's video games. As both producers and distributors, they have a wide selection of films for all audiences and they also do a great annotated e-book.
A small studio that grows and continues to thrive with high production values on low budget films is Leomark Studios. Their current offering at the market includes Star Leaf, a science fiction story about an extraterrestrial strain of marijuana. "Some highs are just out of this world," says Maria Collins, co-owner of the studio. "The market is looking for good sci fi," she says, "as well as horror with a message. No more horror in one location. That looks cheap. Nothing too political, overly sexy, or with bloody violence. People expect the world of their films now. As production values increase, they want great scripts with great performances. Code Noir is another of their projects. A historical slave driven drama it will be directed by Richard Marks and they are in talks with cast now. Leomarks also has a unique project that they do in co-production with the United Kingdom. The Movie Maze is an interactive movie that can be downloaded as an app fro Google play. The first in the series, the Mechanic, is free. The second, The Plumber, just came out. "It's a new adventure every time. Good for teens, it's fun for adults, as well.
Life often calls you to change your path. As Sahara Vision Productions, Susannah O'Brien,a PhD in psychology, found that out when she became immersed in horror films and set out to be one of the few female horror directors. Writing her own films, she bases some on her own experiences. Encounter, her first movie, looks to start out as a paranormal story with a couple moving into a haunted house, only to realize that aliens are behind the strange events. "I call it a female version of Fire In The Sky." She said that the hardest part of directing, she found, was learning to talk to the actors. With a slate of films ready to go, she should be busy for some time to come.
Animation, as ever, is popular in the family genre. RexMedia's George Lascu offers up Serena and the Enchanted Island, which he co-produced with Germany. With a great musical score, it should appeal to children as well as adults. Such films take longer to producer because they are so much more labor intensive. His Flying Tigers, a co-production with China, is a historic pre-Pearl Harbor film about the Chinese defending their land from the Japanese. "I like focusing on stories for the family with heart and good values. I know that every story meeting I go into improves the film."
Sometimes life comes with an epiphany and you realize why you really are in this business. James R Thompson of Lighthouse Pictures, a producer and writer, discovered this only a few years ago. While this is his 14th AFM, he has come to understand that he needed to make films that honored the Lord. "I don't want to make judgment films as some of the Christian moviemakers do, but I want to send a positive message and have it be heart felt. He found that movies, especially romantic dramas and comedies have to be cast driven in today's market to get anywhere He enjoys doing animation because it is something the whole family can see. Christmas Switch and Pop Star Puppy are two of his films.
Jeff Solema of 525 Films is part of the Magic Elevator group and are presenting Callejero, a film for the Latin market. Dealing with a fighter on the verge of retiring, he learns he has to go one more round to survive. He sees the market as seeing action-adventure, thrillers and family as well as true stories. "Those are the staples these days."
Contests, especially those like Scriptpipline, seem to be good for writers. Debbie Lollie found a home for her movie, Help Me Out - a digital age rom-com, with Bernard Urban's Property Of A Gentlemen Productions. An advertising executive and art aficionado, Bernard knows the meaning of branding a film. His own script, Modern, is set in the world of art forgery. He likes high production values with simple concepts.
Being new to the business is no excuse for not doing one's homework on what the market is looking for. Ted Rosenblatt of PFG Entertainment, which does sales and some financing, insists that producers do some of the work that they are supposed to - that is to come to him with attachments of cast and a director. (That or some financing already in place.) He won't look at scripts without involvements of known people. "That's the way it is, especially for the international market. You have to know what stars are selling and you have to talk to sales agents and give them choices of who you want. Let them know that you are involved in the process of your own film. You don't have to be a big company to sell big companies. I like helping producers fulfill their job descriptions. All pictures have to be handled alike, some just have less money to do it with. It's harder now that VOD is taking away from the DVD market." He believes that suspense and action will always be popular, but you have to know what the shortages are on the open market. Ted often gets hired by producers as a consultant to plan for unexpected problems with the budget as most films tend to go over especially for the newer producers who really don't know what they are doing yet.
Having been at AFM for over 12 years, Franco Sama of Samaco Films is another person often hired by young producers to help achieve their dreams. An inspirational speaker, he tries to motive filmmakers into following their passion but knowing that their own blood and guts have to go along with it, as well. As an executive producer, he will help put together funds, casting and distribution but only if he sees that the producer is serious about craft. "Producers today want the title, but they don't want to do the work." More than just a good script, attachments are needed in the film business of today. In this six week classes, he goes over everything from the A-to-Z of filmmaking, but they must make the effort to learn the language of film and to consult distributors from the very beginning. He warns never to sign contracts without reading them, something that naïve filmmakers will often do. "Be reasonable about your budget, too. Ask if the movie if feasible at this amount and take a risk on your dream."
California Pictures, based at Paramount Studios, is another good place for producers and filmmakers to check out. Founded in 1944 by Howard Hughes, the company was reincorporated in 2008, says Kevin McMahon. He scouts festivals for films that are good for distribution and says that action adventure sells the best, but even with that you need to have names. They are actively seeking sci fi films but cannot look at scripts alone. Packaging is all important here. Their hot film now is Run By The Night, an ecological thriller.
David Suarez of Yifiniti Pictures has been in the industry a long time and seen many changes in the market. He knows that drama does not work with big actors "Writers need to decide if they are writing from their soul or if they are writing commercially. If you are doing the later," he says, "you need to go all the way for the story." He instructs producers to think about all the aspects of the film - not just the script, but lights, color, texture, and speed of your story. Whatever you chose should reflect the message of your film. One of the newer genres I noted at AFM was that some people were seeking road movies - ala Thelma and Louise - where one escapes the world for an adventure. Interested in TV, as well as sci fi, faith, action and animation, he suggests that you always consult with distributors before you cast.
MICA Entertainment's Dale Johnson says that they primarily do financing with some production. "We're a one-step solution." He likes to take an active role and not just be a passive investor. Attachments are needed here, as well, and some money is helpful. A good director is essential for the good film. Visiting a lot of festivals, he looks for new projects coming out. Out now, they have a Toby McGuire movie, Pawn's Sacrifice. He evaluates each market and checks out what the presales are doing. Foreign markets are a huge % of income these days. He asks producers about the platform they want to be released on since DVD sales have slowed. "A lot of producers wait for money and people to come to them. They need to work it, themselves. Look at sales figures and don't accept what a company has to say without checking them out yourself.
As an independent distributor, Rob Little of Little Film Company says that they can afford to be more flexible. He's not afraid of looking at different things and they like to take challenges. They prefer to get involved in the film from the beginning stages but will come in at other avenues, as well. "Sometimes we get involved at the script stage and help identify funding sources as well as finding the best place incentive-wise to shoot a film. He's interested in smart films, but the genre is not so critical. "if the producer has 70% of the money, it's a lot easier for us to help him." He reminded the producers that casting is a collaboration with the director and that you need to find a distributor who is passionate about your film as you are. At the market, they focused on the foreign buyers but hope to meet exciting new producers, as well.
As distributor turned producer, Koan,Inc, a Utah company, Tamara Bell, VP of Acquisitions, said they are always looking for good action, sci fiction, and family. Some of their new projects, which look like they will do very well are the WWII action, Walking With the Enemy staring Ben Kingsley and Saints and Soliders:The Void. The third in the triolgy, this series deals with African American soliders in WWII. They have also developed a new, less expensive way of doing CGI. She loves helping producers and writers, but asks that they come with some monies and/or attachments and she can help with the rest. Gil Aglaure, CEO does a lot of shooting in Utah, which has a 25% incentive, and enables them to film for lower budgets. "Family films died off for a while and now are coming back." Working with a Malayasia company, they have a separate slate with them.
The market is a great way to for writers, producers and directors to meet - as well as other industry related people. The thing is doing your homework ahead of time and finding out what each buyer is looking for and what you have to offer them. Be realistic about your expectations and your desires but go with passion in your heart.