In the song “Taxman,” George Harrison sang: “Let me tell you how it will be / There’s one for you, nineteen for me…” And when a fledgling filmmaker shops his art to the hordes of reps, distributors and sales agents at the upcoming American Film Market, the experience is not unlike an IRS audit without receipts and accountant.
That is, unless you’ve read Ben Yennie’s book, “The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution on No Budget.” Yennie is a virtual Yoda when it comes to navigating AFM and creating a pitch strategy that will get your film to the next level, whatever that next level might be.
Debbie Brubaker, a producer of indies like “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” considers Yennie’s book “a must for anyone who is planning to make or find distribution for an independent feature film.”
Yennie’s book is a reality check particularly for auteurs who focus only on completing production — and not on the very important business of what comes next. “There’s a sad truth many filmmakers don’t want to accept: There is no money in film making, only in film selling,” Yennie writes. I had to read that twice. It’s like the advice given med students who think they are stepping into a lifestyle of country clubs and new BMWs.
For Mike Burstyn, who is seeking distribution for his feature debut “Azimuth,” “I considered distribution on the first day of shooting, since it was at that point that I knew I had something to distribute.”
The reality in Yennie’s approach may weed out those who have stepped off of the bus from Wichita with stars in their eyes. Filmmaking is a serious business that leverages art with relationship-building and personality-driven marketing. When you come to AFM, you are your own evangelist, and according to Yennie, you better do your homework.
For one thing, you should know the difference between a film market like AFM and a festival. A market is “centered around the commerce of film,” he said, whereas festivals like Sundance or Cannes have markets attached as well as core festival events celebrating the craft of filmmaking.
Those aren’t the only players. Yennie’s book profiles aggregators, line producers, producers of marketing and distribution, executive producers and others who will attach themselves to you like pilot fish to a shark.
And while film markets are typically all about the pitch, Yennie said to be ready when this time-tested follow-up question comes around: “What else ya got?”
Those words can land like a warm fart at Christmas. Yennie recommends that you bring three projects with you. “Opinions vary about the wisdom of splitting focus, but the advantage of bringing three films is that generally a buyer is looking for something very specific, and if he doesn’t like your lead pitch, you’ll need to launch immediately into your next pitch,” he advised.
This preparation could make the difference to turning a contact into someone who will actually take your call.