Wednesday, November 08, 2023

ATLIH: American Film Market... All The Losers In Hollywood

American Film Market ended Sunday, so here's my report from 2006...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know every loser in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography. (or this blog)

Well, the annual convention of All The Losers In Hollywood took place in early November. Losers from all over Hollywood, and losers from the film biz in other countries all descend on the Leow’s Santa Monica Hotel for a week of fun and games otherwise known as the America Film Market. You’ve never seen so many losers under one roof! I always wonder why Springer doesn’t do a special show about AFM... he even had a movie here, once.


Movies are a global business. The same Tom Hanks movie you saw at the mall multiplex last week is going to play in every country in the world - and is *designed* to play in every country in the world. The average American film makes 60%-70% of it’s income outside the United States & Canada... in countries like Japan and Germany and Spain and South Korea. When they are making a movie, they don’t ask “Will it play in Peoria?” anymore, they ask: “Will it play in Pakistan? Paris? Phnom Pen?”

Now, chances are that Tom Hanks movie was made by a big studio like Universal or Paramount or Fox or Sony or Disney or Warner Bros. The big guys control their own distribution overseas (because that’s where the money is) - they either have distribution deals in place or distribute the film themselves in Phnom Pen. But an Indie film doesn’t have distribution in place... that’s because most indie films are made... independently. Outside the system. Someone in Nebraska says, “Hey! I’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show!” If you don’t get the Andy Hardy reference* (shame on you), basically Indie films are made with private resources - someone writes a script, finds some money and some actors and some locations and props and they make a movie outside the system. Indie films are do-it-yourselfers. Once this film is finished, they hunt for a distributor so that people will be able to see the movie (and so that they can repay their private investors - often themselves - many people finance movies with second mortgages).

At VSDA a few years ago, a panel of indie distribs said there are 27,000 indie films made every year... and only a little over 1% of those find any sort of distribution. ANY sort. That includes DVD and TV distribution. Most indie films are never seen. Never.

Okay, there’s self distribution. The ultimate Hollywood loser is this guy named Dennis Woodruff - you’ve seen his car in that Tommy Lee Jones Volcano-In-LA movie. Dennis is this *old* wanna-be actor who cruises around town in this beat up old car hand painted with advertisements for his amazing acting skills. Oh, and he sells VHS tapes of his new movie... co-starring Jack Nicholson! So, Dennis will pull into a Denny’s parking lot and then go from table to table inside trying to sell his VHS tapes. If you spend the $20 to buy the tape, you’ll see an amazing scene where Dennis ambushes Jack Nicholson outside a restaurant somewhere and starts a rambling and half-crazy conversation with him... and that’s the star power in Woodruff’s film. He’s become so famous, that they put his *car* in movies, now. (They still don’t seem to be hiring brilliant master thespian Dennis to be in movies, so it’s good that his car earns a living). So, that’s self-distribution, if you’re interested.

Unless you’re Dennis Woodruff, you probably want a distrib from your indie film, and the two places to find distribs are Film Festivals and Film markets. Both venues revolve around the idea of competition to assign value. So, you’ve got this little indie film that you’ve made yourself, and you enter it into a bunch of festivals where distribs hang out in hopes that one of the distribs will want to buy it. Actually, you hope that a few distribs will want to buy it and you end up with a bidding war - raising the price. This year at the Toronto Film Festival, there were films like VENUS and COPYING BEETHOVEN and TEN ITEMS OR LESS in competition, but the big bidding war was over a horror movie playing at one of the midnight shows, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE. The Weinsteins won the bidding war, paying $3.5 million to distribute the film. They also paid top dollar to pick up the other horror movie playing midnight shows, BLACK SHEEP. Okay, I have to admit that I know the guys who made both of those movies.

You may be wondering what happened to all of those serious dramas playing in competition... well, most of them probably didn’t get picked up at all! I guess that means horror movies are still hot (and dramas are still a hard sell - even to art house distribs like the Weinsteins).

I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with AFM... well, the next step is for these distribs to sell the films to all of those other countries. So they show up at Loew’s Hotel and take a suite (the rooms are all converted into offices for the event) and then engage in the second part of the bidding war - getting distribs within a country (or territory) to fight over the rights to show a film in their country... thereby raising the price. If Poland has 4 major distribs, you want them to all be fighting over your movie so that they pay the best price. Add up all the territories and you can make a lot of money on the right film...

But you can make some pretty good money on the right film that never played in any festival and wasn’t part of some huge bidding war. A distrib or foreign sales company might pick up some indie film like BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS and use the competition between Poland’s distribs to raise the price. Sometimes these films get theatrical in Poland, but in the case of BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS it will probably be direct to DVD... hey, Poland needs schlock, too! Right now, there are drunk Polish frat boys longing to see a movie where a hot blonde girl takes off her top and is then killed by the maniac. The goal at AFM is to sell to all of the countries for a reasonable price and make a profit. Often the deals with distribs and foreign sales agents are set up so that you split the money after expenses - and they have all kinds of expenses to tack on! Sometimes your film can make the distrib or foreign sales agent wealthy while you see almost nothing. Welcome to Hollywood, baby! There’s a reason why they lump in Motion Picture Distribution with Global Terrorism in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. These guys are crooks! So if you are negotiating a film deal with them on *your* film, bring a lawyer! Their "standard contract" includes all of those expenses including the yacht, the champagne, and the hookers when they take your film to Cannes! You need a lawyer to get a good deal for your film! But the low budget distributors aren’t the *losers* in Hollywood... you’ll find them below the dealing floors in the lobby.

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. In the next blog entry, we’ll wander downstairs and I’ll introduce you to All The Losers In Hollywood....

- Bill

* Actually, not an ANDY HARDY movie! It's from BABES IN ARMS, starring almost the enire cast of all of those Andy Hardy movies.


Anonymous said...

Whew... I needed to take a break and was hoping like hell you had a new post...

And you did. LOL.

I can't tell you how many Indie Filmmakers I know that need to read this.

Good stuff...


wcdixon said...


Seriously Bill, brilliant. I've only been to AFM a couple of times but your post has already encapsulated that crazy event.

And the Dennis Woodruff story is priceless, never heard that one before.

Cunningham said...

Bill - I can't wait to read about the martial arts instructor turned producer, or the other "producers" we both know...

Finally went to Residuals the other night with Kallio. Had a good time.

pwstrain said...

I thought viewers here might appreciate a link to this:

Screenwriters in the Shit

While Akiva Goldsman fiddles, more accomplished movie scribes burn

...In a word, it stinks out there for screenwriters, worse even than the fetid stench of the usual shit flung at them in previous years. These aren’t wannabes, either. These are some of the top names in the biz. “I am fucking terrified,” a major scribe tells me about his year of not getting any work. “I can’t believe my career is ending like this.”...

Can be read At this Link

Riddley Walker said...

So, in summary:

It's a great career, in a world full of honest, decent people who tell the truth ALL THE TIME...

Did I get all that right? ;-)

Entertaining and informative as ever, Mr Martell. Beer's on me next time your over in the UK.

Anonymous said...

All right, I guess it's up to me to try to present a counter-balancing POV. (If I don't succeed, I will buy a beer for anyone who might be interesting in commiserating with me.)

I have to ask you about this post: so what?

People act according to their self-interest. The people in the distribution chain have a function. (If not exactly efficient.) And that is to make a profit. (Or justify their self-existence.)

Rage against the machine, do whatever you want to, but in the end, the market functions to sort out the winners and losers.

According to you, the "losers in Hollywood" are the people involved in the distribution chain of films to the international markets?


But at the end of the day, it comes down to how many people around the world are interested in seeing said film. Maybe, just maybe the people within a country have a decent sense of how the customers within that country will respond to a film.

"Losers in Hollywood" can still make a decent profit from taking their film to the global marketplace.


wcmartell said...

Though you *will* find distributors in the lobby (where the loser's convention takes place), they are out numbered by... losers. (more on them, coming soon, along with a trip upstairs).

Careful reading helps.

- Bill

Aric Blue said...

The rep who had my film at AFM this year said that many buyers were walking the halls with their badges turned around so people wouldn't know they were buyers; they didn't want to get ambushed by hundreds of filmmakers trying to sell their film.

wcmartell said...

Actually, this year the badges were double sided so that you couldn't do that.

- Bill

Aric Blue said...

That's weird. Not sure if he was lying, or just trying to be creative about telling me that buyers were hiding their identity...

English Dave said...

Great post Bill. It reminded me of being in a lobby of a big prodco waitng to see the big cheese. Another writer/director strode in to the lobby jabbering away on his cell phone about a major deal and how Dreamworks were hot for it blah blah blah when suddenly ...his cell phone actually rang.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. That's a really bleak picture you're painting for some of these folks. I just hope that after a few earnest tries, I figure out quickly whether or not I'm meant for this biz.

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