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American Film Market
The Path to the Film Making Process in the Multimedia World
By Joseph D. Sullivan Esq.
April 3, 2015

I discovered the filmmaking process is an extraordinary journey not meant for the faint of heart or thin of skin from a recent trip to the 2014 American Film Marketing (“AFM”) Conference held in Santa Monica, California from November 7, 2014 thru November 13, 2014.

Over 6000 people from every continent in the world were at this trade show/flea market for the movie industry.   They were looking to develop relationships/partnerships with a variety of entities in the hopes of obtaining a chance to make their film; obtain financing for their film; obtain distribution; obtain international distribution; find sales representatives and production partners all while avoiding the seedy characters holding themselves out as Industry Titans.  Many folks at AFM are young filmmakers trying to win the lottery with their simple script.  

 What I learned was that the movie industry is very complicated and filled with pitfalls at every turn.  Most folks here are not going to France, Sundance, Canada, Germany, or New York the crème de la crème of the film festivals/tradeshows.  Thus the dream of making it with their project at this bonanza by the prettiest shoreline in America makes those attending all the more hopeful that their horror, comedy, documentary can get funded. Unfortunately, even for these folks, the chances are slim.  But, you have to be “in it, to win it”, so they say.  Here is what most do, to get here:

            1.  Write a screenplay which takes 6 months to 2 years of your life, or pay to have someone write a screenplay.
            2.  Convince the entire world that your screenplay is the best thing since sliced bread. 
            3.  Try and raise money either by:

a)  Family and friends gifting you funds as none of those monies will be returned; 

b)  Selling interest into your production company so that once your production company makes money it will be able to buy the shares in return for those initial investments; 

c)  Obtain loans from friends/investors who will be paid interest and be repaid once the film makes money; 

d)  Partner with a production company that has money to invest in your project;

e)  Option your screenplay, loose control for 5 years and hope purchaser makes the film; 

f)   Partner with a production company that has financing and distributors waiting; 

g)  Raise money on internet sites, kickstarter, et al.; and 

 h)  Get to the Six Sisters and hope they agree to produce your screenplay (the Six Sisters are Warner Brothers, M.G.M., Universal, Paramount, 20th Century and Columbia).

The average film budget of independent films is between $500,000 to $1,000,000.  Once a budget gets created, the top sheet usually delineates a line which separates one group of costs from another.  Obviously there are many exceptions to the following rule, but the below the line costs involve:

            1.         Line Producer
            2.         Director of Photography
            3.         Engineers
            4.         Developing costs
            5.         Fees/Permits
            6.         Bond expenses
            7.         Attorneys fees
            8.         Budget promotion
            9.         Union
            10.       Production Crew
            11.       Food/lodging
            12.       Union issues
            13.       SAG/WGA fees
            14.       Accounting fees
            15.       Transportation
            16.       Administrative fees
            17.       Office rental
            18.       Set designers
            19.       Consultants
            20.       Music
            21.       Licensing fees
            22.       Extras
            23.       Post production costs/editing

            Above the line may include costs for the following:

            1.         Script|Writers
            2.         Directors
            3.         Producers
            4.         Actors

Once the film is properly budgeted (which means there are 10 more things that have not been accounted for which require more funds), then the movie making magic begins.  Fifteen hour days for 28 days of shooting. 

Now that the movie has been shot, the fun really begins with figuring out how to come up with more funds for the following:

            1.         Marketing
            2.         Post production editing
            3.         Distribution / International
            4.         Foreign sales/costs
            5.         Sales Agents costs
            6.         Music



Most distribution companies do not get involved until the project is complete.  As such, the million has been spent on the project, the family, investors, screenwriter are now awaiting the great news of how the movie is going to provide a return. Now you find yourself peddling your wares at this festival in hopes of meeting a distribution company or production company willing to meet with you and pay you for the distribution rights for your project. The deal cut unfortunately puts you in a place in which you may be lucky to make back any money put into the project and an even long shot that the movie brings in revenues in which a profit is actually realized. 

There are 100’s of “vendors” and 100’s of films being shown at this market.  The movies being shown obviously need to be picked up in order to be shown in theaters, which in turn, produce revenues for the distribution company and you.

Many vendors/sales reps this forum seem to be dealing with the international markets, which present another issue, pirating of your film or showing them for example in India for no return to you.

 Intellectual Property laws don’t seem to be as strong in India as in the U.S.A. Who’da thunk it?

Distributors need product.  Some company’s use the paradigm/matrix in which before the movie is made, the movie is sold oversees and presold to markets with named actors attached.  This provides revenues to the company to pay for the production or marketing of the production here in the U.S.A.  It is a formula for success but there seems to be very few in the business that go that route.  Your project will get “laid off” to this company with the hope you’re recovering your costs and then some! 

At various Production Conferences provided throughout the week, it became apparent the reality of getting a film distributed is a long shot.  The movie industry is now on a slippery slope downward with the loss of the D.V.D markets and introduction of the Netflix, Google Play, Hulu and the like.   Perhaps, it’s the alternative media vehicles we now have that the independent movie maker must exploit in order to get its movie out there into the world.  Traditional routes may be gone. If “making it” in movies is making money, perhaps you are better off becoming an accountant.    The costs of marketing budgets have seemed to triple.  If you’re making movies to break even then it’s a hobby not a “profession.” 

Social media/Youtube/VOD seem to be the new route to get movies seen without going the traditional routes.  The movie industry is probably 5 years behind and has not yet figured out this global medium the “Internet” as a way of capitalizing on making movies directed into homes. 

 “Time has become our most cherished commodity.”  The movie experience now consists of traveling to the theater; paying $25 for tickets; $20 for .15¢ of popcorn and soda which seems to be now fit for only the big Blockbuster $100,000,000 budget films.  The Independent Film has a chance of making it, maybe the costs get returned, but it looks like a long journey for the movie maker to make it.

Mr. Sullivan is an Entertainment Lawyer/Producer/Consultant                                                                                       



Read Joseph D. Sullivan's interview, Professional Advice on Estate Planning for Homeowners on Pennsylvania Homes, one of the top sites for Pennsylvania Realty, including Hawley, PA condos for sale



Cannes Film Festival
By Joseph D. Sullivan Esq.
May 30, 2015

 For ten days in May, Cannes, France is the movie making mecca of the world condensed into a ½ mile strip which makes Las Vegas seem quiet and quant.  Anybody who is anybody in the film industry is at this festival.  We travelled to Cannes for the 68th Film Festival on May 13 to May 23 and learned a lot, including how changes in the movie making world and the Internet have made the Profession extremely complex and difficult.

The festival on the Mediterranean transcends Hollywood.  Beautiful white tents line the Mediterranean beaches which include film representatives of various countries trying to entice filming in their lovely neck of the woods.   Shoot your summer love story in Budapest for example and receive get a 25 percent tax rebate.  During the week, parties are thrown at these tents to attract movie industry people to experience China or the Armenian Republic, or Germany in an informal setting.

In the Forum, a Convention Center like setting, houses the vendors, distributors, sales representatives, short film venues, production companies are lined up in booths for film festival attendees.  Seminars are conducted sporadically throughout the week on topics involving the film making process-from VOD and the Internet’s impact on the Industry-to foreign distribution needs.  Each day the Forum is packed with meetings held by potential distributors and producers looking for product.  There are 3,300 films for sale and eleven thousand attendees.  The makeup of the festival forum is 29 percent producers, 24 percent distributors, and 11 percent sales agents.

Along the outskirts of the Forum are multimillion dollar yachts either owned or rented by distribution companies, film studios and other companies totally impressing the attendees and fully outfitted for meetings.  The hotels around the Center also are converted to business rooms for the world’s producers to meet, talk, sleep and buy anything in the movie making world.

The Red Carpet in the Center of the festival is the big event circus where the Big Screenings take place. Tuxedos, gowns, stars, and paparazzi are to be seen as spectator’s cheer the superstars of the Industry as they parade into screenings of their movie.  This goes three times a night for 10 nights. 

The biggest French, Korean, Chinese, and Russian stars are walking the Red Carpet to the delight of onlookers.  Very little can compete with the Mad Max IV: Fury Road crew led by Charlize Theron making her way to the carpet with 1,400 flash bulbs going off.  The rest of the 100 plus movies being screened at Cannes are being shown every minute of the day in movie studios set up to view them.  The actual judging of the 10 to 12 movies that will receive awards at the festival goes on in secret and is lost to the average festival goer.  However, it is the buzz from the judging of independent movies and awards received at this festival that makes the Cannes Film Festival one of the best festivals to attend and be recognized.

What we learned early on however is that The Money—buyers and distributors--aren’t in reality the festival.  They are outside the festival looking in.  They hold court in yachts at sea; at the hotels 10 to 20 minutes out of town or in hotel lobby bars.  The mystery buyers pops into town outside the reach of minions peddling their wares to meet a prospective film maker with a project.  The Money which most of the festival goers are looking for is not on the strip but in and around it and few have access to their whereabouts.  We did. At the end of the Festival, many travel to Monaco to watch the Grand Prix race throughout the streets of Monte Carlo.  The Super Wealthy continue their “holiday” at this spectacular area on the French Rivera.

Many leave this festival feeling part of a large, fun, glamorous industry.  However, there are choppy seas ahead in the movie making business as independent movie makers are left without a lot of distribution opportunities due to the large mega movies now taking over the screens.  The alternative to the Big Screens seem to be where the independents are going – V.O.D.; Netflix; YouTube; and or Internet sites willing to take on production at a very reasonable rate. 

The other countries however, seem to still be interested in product.  They will take a little risk (except Germany which are very risk averse) in the independent movies so that their theaters can be show some U.S. films, even if it’s not a blockbuster.  The Internet in Europe has not advanced as it is in the US, so it is at these international trade shows likes Cannes, Germany, Toronto and the American Film Market in Santa Monica that the Indy still has a shot, a long shot.

Perhaps making movies is less about making big money and more about making great, interesting, compassionate pieces of art.  It is 65 years ago that Cannes, France began showing films that were not designed for the mass populace to make money, but for the art world to increase their culture.  This town has been taken over by the “big top tent of money” but with all the glitz and glam, there is still recognition for independent film project made by the little guy, with a place to show its craft. And, that’s a good thing.


Mr. Sullivan is an Entertainment lawyer as well as a Producer/Consultant.