Film Market Success: The ONE Thing You Must Do To Succeed At A Film Market

Let’s say you are a screenwriter, filmmaker, or producer attending a film market, film festival, or pitchfest (e.g. American Film Market, Cannes Film Festival, Sundance) to sell your film or find investors for your next project.

Film Market Tip #1

The ONE thing you must do (and it’s not “write a great script” or “attach a star to your project”) is surprisingly easy and can be done in about two minutes.

Imagine….

You’re not a writer.

You’re an executive at a studio or production company. You hear pitches, you read scripts, you have input into the decisions that get made at your company.

Your company makes projects that are either big-budget star vehicles or have very small budgets with up-and-coming actors in the leading roles.

Therefore, your boss puts you in charge of expanding the development slate to accommodate more micro-budget projects with a specific emphasis on contained thrillers.

(Note: a contained thriller is a thriller that takes place primarily in one location like Buried, 12 Angry Men, or Phone Booth.)

This is how the story goes….

FADE IN

The boss calls you into her office.

Boss: “I’m sending you to AFM. See if you can find a contained thriller that we can produce for under two million or a writer who would be willing to spec one of the thriller pitches we’ve optioned.”

You: “Okay.”

AT AMERICAN FILM MARKET

You’re treated with respect by the organizers. You have your market badge, a chair, and a schedule of the writers with whom you’ll be meeting. It looks like over the course of three hours, you’ve got thirty meetings, each about five minutes long.

INT. BALLROOM 

The first writer sits down.

You exchange hellos and then he says:

Writer 1: “My story is a big-budget children’s fantasy…”

You listen politely and offer some feedback, but you’re not really interested because he’s not pitching a contained thriller that could be produced for less than two million dollars.

The next writer sits down.

Writer 2: “Let me tell you how I came up with this idea for the greatest romantic comedy in the history of movies….”

And you pay attention, but as soon as you realize that the project isn’t a fit for your company, you tune out.

Twenty writers later….

You’re a little numb.

The pitches are all blurring together, your chair is wobbly, and what you thought would be a “day off” from work is turning into an arduous experience.

Writer 23 sits down.

Writer 23: “My project is a contained thriller….”

Now, does this writer have your attention?

FADE OUT.

You bet this writer has your attention.

In fact, if this writer doesn’t make any mistakes or raise any red flags, even if you aren’t so excited about the story, you’re likely to ask for the script. After all, this is the one project that has even a chance to help you do your job and discover the kind of project your company can use.

Success at a film market or pitchfest typically only happens when there is a fit between the genre of your project and the genre of projects the decision-maker is seeking. 

When you see which VIPs will be in attendance at the film market, when you request or sign up for meetings, this must be your key consideration.

Here’s my quick research process when considering meeting with a potential buyer:

  1. Check out the company website for any information about past projects, upcoming projects, and what is highlighted as this is typically an indication of the kind of projects they are looking for as they have a track record in that genre.
  2. Scan the company social media profiles.
  3. Do a general Google search for the person’s name.
  4. Put the company name into the search fields on Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety to find news of executive shifts and project announcements.

Do a few minutes of research and focus on meeting with people who are looking to buy what you’re selling. 

That is the ONE thing you must do.

. . . . . . . .

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Discussion About Film Market Success: The ONE Thing You Must Do To Succeed At A Film Market

  1. Irene

    This sounds like great advice. I wonder how many people think of actually doing that!
    It also brought up a concern that I can see myself having when I get brave enough to go to a pitchfest – what if I discover that no one is buying what I’ve got to sell?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      That is a smart concern, Irene. In a general sense, either it means the project isn’t marketable enough or you haven’t found the right event. Festivals, markets, and conferences attract different kinds of buyers and can favor certain types of projects. If you look at the agenda, speakers, and advisory boards for Sundance vs. AFM vs. Real Screen Summit, you’ll see how each have a unique focus.

      • jguenther5

        My guess is that there are cost-effective ways of determining marketability before going to the expense of attending a marketing event. Am I wrong, Stephanie?

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Yes. I recommend getting coverage from a well-respected coverage service first. For under $200 (in most cases), you can get a sense of the feedback you would receive after submitting your project to a production company, agency or studio. If you get “consider” or “recommend,” proceed to a conference. If you receive a “pass,” I suggest working on the script before spending the money to attend conferences, festivals or events.

        If money isn’t an issue, there are always things to be learned and people to meet at events. If money is tight, getting coverage is much more cost-effective than traveling and attending an in-person event. Here are the coverage services I recommend: Resources.

      • jguenther5

        Suspicion confirmed. I also recently read of a writer who would run his concept past ten carefully chosen acquaintances to see if their expressions reflected any “Wow factor.” If they just smiled and said, “Hey, that sounds good,” that was a fail. WOW was more like, “Holy guacamole, Batman! When can I read it?”

      • Stephanie Palmer

        That’s a smart writer. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Dick

    As always, great practical advice, Stephanie. I might just add that not only should you be aware of what films the target company has produced, or is distributing, it helps to have seen one or two of them (or, the trailers at least). Being able to refer in detail to one or two of their films means you’ve really done your homework. Buyers can’t help but be impressed if you’ve taken the time to thoroughly research their company (of course, unless they’re planning to leave it 🙂

  3. Justin P Bechtold

    Sound advice, Stephanie. It makes perfect sense to me. I often suggest these methods to a lot of fellow writers and I’m always surprised at how many of them feel it’s too much work to do. “All that research”, yet can’t understand why people never even request the script in the first place.

  4. Guillermo G.

    Excellent post as usual Stephanie! I have one question though: What if a writer has a couple of scripts in different genres, would it be considered inappropriate to ask the person what type of project they are looking for before you start your pitch? I ask just in case you find yourself with an unexpected opportunity to pitch and no time to do research. Thank you.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, you can ask what people are looking for before you pitch (and then you have a great opportunity to customize your pitch to the buyer’s needs). Good question, Guillermo.

  5. Bonnie Russell

    Stephanie’s a cool mentor.

    OMG – I just realized I have Cassian Elwes phone number! (His brother gave it me a couple years ago.)

    But back to you….I think Stephanie’s secret sauce is her sound advice is always accompanied alongside her trademark cheerfulness. At least that’s what works for me. : )

  6. Nick Savides

    Hi Stephanie. I found this link from the mention on angryfilmmaker.com, and it was a helpful read. At the pitching events you mentioned, do people ever ask the person listening what he or she is looking for and then tailor the pitch accordingly, or is that considered bad form?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Nick, in general meetings with executives, it is common to ask and then customize. It’s not bad form to ask, but for pitching events, usually the timeframe is so short (kind of like speed dating), so it’s better to research the person beforehand and make the assumption that if they have had a big success in a particular genre, that they would like to replicate that success.

  7. Kim Macharia

    Hi Stephanie,
    I’ve been following your blog for a while now and just came across this post (which is wonderfully insightful as usual). I’m attending the Cannes Film Festival this May through the Creative Mind Internship Program. Not sure if you’ve heard of them, but they help students like myself – I’m a college sophomore – get short term internships with companies like UTA, CAA, and Paramount for the duration of the film festival. Since I’m a ‘baby writer’, I don’t intend to dedicate my energy to selling one of my scripts while I’m there. However, I do want to make as many valuable connections as I can. Do you have any suggestions for how I, as a college student, can successfully network at an event like this?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Congrats – that’s terrific! Sounds like a great program. My advice is to focus on meeting people at your “level.” Instead of trying to meet VIPs such as Harvey Weinstein, the most important people for you to hang with are the other interns, intern coordinators, and other people who are in similar programs.