Script contributor, William Martell, chronicles his experiences at the 2010 American Film Market.
Everybody’s working for the weekend... except at AFM where everybody is working on the weekend. Saturday is the heavy day at market, followed by Sunday. I have no idea why this is, since you’d think everyone who was going to be at market is already there. Who would fly in just for the weekend?
But some people seem to do that, plus you have people who might be in production during the week and those filmmakers who work as waiters and valet car parkers and have other day jobs. In the world of indie filmmaking, not everyone does it full-time. Years ago, when I first began attending AFM, there was a guy who made kung fu movies with some recognizable B names in the cast who worked as a welder when he wasn’t making films. He’d show up on the weekend with his new film, looking and acting just like any other filmmaker.
On Saturday I’m still tired - I wrote an article for some screenwriting newsletter a few months ago on how to survive Screenwriting Expo, and the first thing I said was to bank some sleep. You don’t want to start tired. Oh, if I had only taken my own advice for AFM! Instead, I was up at all hours writing synopsis for Disaster Movies and Family Films and some new Action projects... and hit the market in need of sleep. And due to a snafu, I didn’t get my fake movie posters made in time, so I ended up doing that after AFM one night - Kinkos is open 24 hours. Add to that, something like Expo or Santa Fe is only three or four days, and then you sleep for a week. This is the fourth day of AFM and there are three more days to go once I finish this one! I’m only at the halfway mark.
Even though I gain an hour tonight (Daylight Savings Time) I don’t actually expect to gain any sleep. Friday, while I was climbing stairs I got an email from a company who wants to read a couple of scripts, and tonight after the party I need to look through what I have available and find the scripts that best fit this company so that I can get the scripts to them on Monday before going to AFM. Tonight is a big party for a company that read one of my scripts a while back, and I want to remind them that I am alive... and that I have new spec scripts. It’s important to have new spec scripts. Though some companies at AFM develop scripts in house, others only buy scripts that are ready to shoot. So that extra hour will be used up working. When I walk into the Loews lobby on Saturday, I expect to see over a hundred...
Saturday and Sunday are the big days for Lobby Rats - people who don’t have a badge, so they hang out in the Loews lobby waiting to pounce on any exec with a badge who comes downstairs. The theory of Lobby Rats is that any executive that goes up, must come down... and they will be there with headshots or “flaps” (8.5 x 11 posters with synopsis on the back) or demo reels or script one-pagers. Lobby Rats come in all shapes and sizes, but the main categories are:
A.) Starving Actors
Almost every other out of work actor in town is usually in the lobby with their new headshots. Both wannabes and has-beens. Unknowns and the once famous usually crowd the little tables, hoping that someone from upstairs will walk past and hire them to be in Blood of the Naked Mutilators 2: Full Frontal Bloody Frenzy. Usually holding court at a center table is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson - star of one of my favorite films, Three the Hard Way. A few years ago, Fred was promoting both my awful 18th film and Black Kissinger from the crazy guys who made Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. Though you may see someone like Andy Garcia breeze through, Fred hangs out there. Though I didn’t see Fred this year, I heard that he was there for a couple of hours while I was upstairs.
You also usually see the Action Guys. You probably don’t know their names, but if you watch Road House, they play all of the other bouncers in that movie. They also pop up in all kinds of action films - if Stallone has a team of commandos, these are the guys who aren’t Dolph or Steve Austin or Statham or Jet. You know, Commando #4 and #5. The first guys to die. They also pop up as bad guys in big action films. They’re big muscular guys, often with Martial Arts training. They buy each other beers and slap each other on the back and hope that someone will cast them in the lead of a low budget film. That actually happens often enough to keep them coming back to the lobby every year. You ever heard of Sam J. Jones? I know some of these guys and will nod to them. A couple of years ago I talked to Olivier Gruner about a project (Steel Chameleons) and said hello to him this year - still haven’t gotten that project off the ground. Olivier is a great guy who should have been in The Expendables, but he made a World War II movie instead.
Scattered around the other tables are usually The Babes. Hot wanna-be actresses in various stages of decomposition. All of them wearing as little as legally possible. For the past couple of years there has been the same hot 20-something gal who wears backless white sun dresses that you can see through. Yes, see through. Yes, see that she’s not wearing undergarments of any kind. She flutters through the lobby, going from table to table and positioning herself in front of the elevator banks to snag any producer who comes down. I actually saw her on the arm of a couple of guys last year... and this year she’s wearing a badge. Is she some distributor’s girlfriend now? Or did one of them realize that if they couldn’t keep their eyes off her, maybe buyers couldn’t either, so they hired her to lure buyers to their suite? I want to check out her badge and find out who she is working for, but don’t want it to look like I am checking out her chest. I take a sly look, but can’t read the badge. She flutters away to find someone with a buyer’s badge...
Often the hot actresses will align themselves with a journalist with an all-access badge so that they can get into parties and maybe even sneak upstairs for an afternoon late in the market. Smile at any of them and you’ll get a head shot. Some even have lingerie photos - if you have business cards that say you’re a producer. Many have websites where you can see even more of them... for a price. There are usually dozens of these Young Babes fluttering around the hotel lobby looking for a big juicy part in your low budget horror flick... and also some older ones. You know that great bit in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where Michelle Monaghan rags on the other actress for being 35 - over-the-hill - when she’s still got a chance at 34? Nothing is more frightening than the over-the-hill starlets in the lobby. You get to see the whole deterioration process - like a museum display. There are those Babes in their 20s, then the ones fighting to hang on in their 30s. Now, I have nothing against 30-year-old women... but there’s this thing that happens with these starlets as they grow older - they wear fewer clothes. You’d think this would be a good thing, but it’s really sad and a little frightening. I’ve been going to AFM for 20 years now, and have seen some of those hot 20-something babes turn into 40-something women wearing almost no clothes at all - and enough make up to spackle a house. They are still trying for the 20-year-old babe roles when they are probably someone’s grandmother.
And life has been hard on some of these women - one actress I know who wears almost no clothes these days, claims she’s in her early 30s... but anyone looking at her would guess mid-40s. She has a website and fan club and lingerie photos and with a credit card you can see photos of her on the website with no clothes at all. She’s been in a few really low budget horror movies - you know, the kind shot on a consumer camera in somebody’s backyard. She’s starred in those films. I don’t know if she lies about her age, or if she really looks haggard after beating her face against the big wall of Hollywood for so long. Doesn’t matter either way. If I were her, I’d say I was 50 and let everyone tell me how good I looked...
And there are 50-year-olds there in clothes revealing every sag and wrinkle. Yikes! You just want to tell them to act their age. Some have had so many facelifts they look permanently startled... and those perky nipples are really their little toes. One actress in particular who I see every year, she tries to out-do the sundress girl, and it backfires. You have to turn away. It’s like seeing grandma working at a strip club.
Which is probably where some of these “starlets” work when they aren’t trolling for work in the lobby of Loews. The saddest part about many of the female lobby rats is that they are the “after” picture in those dreams about hopping a Greyhound bus for Hollywood to become a star. I didn’t see that scantily-dressed older woman this year, so maybe she took the Greyhound bus back home... or is starring in a movie.
This year, there were very few starlets of any age, and very few of the action guys. It seemed like only a quarter to a third of the usual amount of actors with headshots. I kept trying to look at Backless Sundress’s badge - who was she working for? But she always seemed to flutter away just as I looked over. I didn’t want to look like a perv so I tried not to follow her, staring at her chest...
B.) Fly-By-Night Distributors
Okay, it costs thousands of dollars for a suite at AFM, and some of the smaller distribs even share suites. So what happens if you are so small you can’t even afford to share a suite? You hang out in the lobby. Because it’s not just the distributors who must come down, it’s the buyers, too. Hundreds of buyers fly in from every country in the world to attend AFM, and when they wander down, you can be there with your portfolio of films and maybe make a deal. There were so many fly-by-night distribs, that a year ago they made a rule that you could not have a portable DVD device or show films on a computer in the lobby. That doesn’t mean no one does it, but now it’s kind of like a bad movie version of a drug deal - some guy asks if you’re interested in horror movies, and if you say “yes” they lead you to a corner where they whip out a 7" DVD player and show you some clips. One day while passing through the lobby I saw a security guard close down a guy’s DVD player and ask him to leave.
There used to be this Asian guy named Joe who had a portfolio of movie posters and would try to sell his movies to everyone who walked past him. Dozens of posters - all completed films for sale. He had a whole library of films! I must have a dozen of his business cards from past AFMs - but didn’t see him this year... and there was only one person with a laptop secretly showing clips. Also, one of my friends was there - but more on that in a minute.
C.) Fly-By-Night Producers
Some of those portfolios of posters are for “proposed films” - do you know anyone with money to invest? Would you like to invest money? You know, for a small investment, you can get an Executive Producer credit on a real feature film! There are two kinds of producers in the lobby at Loews: the wannabes and the has-beens. The wanna-bes are eager to thrust their mock-up poster into your hands. They scatter them all over the tables, hoping that someone important will see them. They tend to hang out in the bar, often having meetings there. Often having a pretend meeting there with people they know who pretend to be someone important. There’s one guy I know who made one film back in the 70s and has been trying to make his second film ever since. He hangs out in the bar with all of his schedules and budgets for whatever his new project is - always something that just sounds awful. Really bad horror or really bad T&A or really bad genre-of-the-month. Often he has some of the 20-something starlets hanging around - he’s promised them roles. This guy has one of those “true-artist-beards” that shows he’s a creative guy rather than a suit. And he dresses like a cowboy. But that beard (along with whatever hair he has left on his head) has gone gray... so he dyes it. Dark brown. It looks so fake, it’s difficult to look at him without laughing. He’s trying to look hip, but ends up looking just as ridiculous as those 40-50-something babes in see-through clothing.
One of the other “producers” is a guy I see once a year at AFM - and he’s always trying to put together a film. He’s been trying for at least a dozen years. One year, he grabbed me and told me he had a completed film that he was unable to sell, would I take a look at it and tell him how he could do one day of reshoots and sell the sucker? Because I have a problem saying “no” I ended up taking a screener video home with me. The poorly shot movie was about a producer who was having problems on his low budget film - the actors were screwing up lines and wasting film and the director kept going over budget. The acting was awful. There was actually a top-pop scene (nudity) but nothing else that you could put in a trailer to play on that bank of monitors over the lobby. It was the worst kind of vanity film - all about the filmmaker. So I told him my advice was to scrap the film and find something more like that stuff playing on the monitors. He didn’t like that advice, and continued trying to find a buyer for a couple of years... now he’s trying to find some money to make another film. A dozen years, and he has no finished film to show for it!
The other kind of producer you find in the lobby are the disgraced. About fifteen years ago, my friend Jim and I were looking for money for our Russian Project, and Jim stumbled on this guy with an office on Sunset Blvd. named David. He was a typical producer - that is, he had a business selling cell phones to movie stars and that gave him the contacts required to make some movies with either stars on their way up or stars on their way down. I think at the time he’d just made a film with Burt Reynolds that you’ve never heard of. Anyway, he was interested in the Russian Project until he read my Riptides script - then he wanted us to put that together... with his fallen-star connections in the leads. Eventually, the whole thing crashed an burned - when he had trouble finding the money. But anyone with Frank Stallone’s cell phone number can still make movies in this town... and eventually David had a production and distribution company at AFM up there on the security floors, making all kinds of crappy films. For a while he was after me to write some of his crappy films, but he couldn’t afford me. My quote at the time was at least five times what he was offering. Then, one year, he was the guy being ransacked by Sheriff’s Department deputies. They closed him down for not paying any of the producers who distributed through him. For a couple of years after that, he had disappeared... but he showed up a couple of years ago with a new company. Just not a company upstairs. He was wandering around the lobby looking to sell films and acquire films. He invites me to his big party one night... but it’s miles away from AFM and I’m just not in the mood to drive out there for one free drink... and a chance to be raided by the Sheriff’s Department.
But this year the guy with Frank Stallone’s cell phone number wasn’t there - maybe he’s in prison - and very few other broke or disgraced producers are in the lobby, either. There were a few more people filtering in after 5 p.m., when the folks from upstairs begin coming down, but nothing like last year or previous years. What’s up? Where are they? Did they go back to the midwest or wherever they come from?
D.) Starving Directors & Writers
The KING of all lobby rats is this guy named Mel - he wears a brown fedora hat. He dresses sharp. He claims to be a writer-director. He’s there every year at AFM, trolling the lobby. After a few years of AFMs, Mel showed me one page of his amazing script. The script that was so great, it would win all the Oscars and break every Box Office record. This was screenwriting gold, and Mel is armed with NDCs so that no one can steal his ideas. I think no one with an NDC ever has a single idea worth stealing... and Mel’s script was just plain awful. The format was screwed up. I mean, they have computer programs that make sure your format is right... and this thing was all wrong. I tried to read an entire page, but I could feel the brain cells dying with every word. This was mind-killing bad. Everything about it was awful. I told Mel it could use a quick rewrite and he snatched it from my hands and insisted it was fine. They’d change everything when they made it, anyway, right? So what did a few typos matter? And the dialogue was brilliant, no matter what I thought. Anyway - Mel was there in his brown hat this year, trying to get people to read his scripts as usual. He told me that he had a big project set up at a studio, but was really vague when it came to details.
E.) Troma Characters
Yesterday, I mentioned the Tromadance press conference, and The Toxic Avenger. Well, Toxie and the rest of the Troma Characters and other publicity stunt people can also be found in the lobby. Troma is Lloyd Kauffman’s company - they distribute schlock. Classic Oscar-bait like Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator and Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD and Tromeo and Juliet and Die Die You Zombie Bastards and his new classic Poultrygeist (about a KFC-like chain with zombie chicken problems). They are proud of how junky their films are. Every year, for the entire danged market, they hire actors to walk around in the costumes of their characters. Here’s the strange part: sometimes the actors in the costumes are the actors who were wearing that costume in the actual movie! Hey, it’s a paycheck. These characters come up and bother you, handing out fliers for the films. They also pose for photos.
Aside from the Troma characters, there are usually other publicity stunt folks wandering the lobby. Zombies, astronauts, lots of pretty girls in movie logo t-shirts from Café Press. Sometimes they have a party for their film, and it might be worth going for free food and drinks. Two years ago, I went to some horror movie party where the food was free and the drinks cost and the movie was playing on the bar’s TV. It was poorly shot and the gore effects were laugh-out-loud bad. The free food wasn’t worth it and I split. But mostly these publicity stunt people just hand you a one-pager for the film and try to talk you into going upstairs to see a trailer (if you have a badge). If you don’t have a badge, they may leave you alone or they may just sing and dance around you and make a scene. That’s their job. This year - no pretty girls in movie logo t-shirts and the only astronaut was Dennis Woodruff publicizing his movie Spaceman (which was probably shot on a consumer video camera).
Almost no one was in the lobby this year! Where is everybody? Between 5 and 6 p.m. more people show up, but it’s still practically empty. The Lobby Rats are entertainment to me - and this market had an entertainment shortage!
Next entry I’ll tell you what happened when I went upstairs, and the big party that night...