Script contributor, William Martell, chronicles his experiences at the 2010 American Film Market.
As I climb the stairs, I pass the girl in the backless sundress and try to read her badge to see who she is working for, but can’t really do more than glance without looking as if I am staring at her cleavage. Dang - can’t read it. I keep climbing stairs. AFM is an endless stair climb - once the guard in front of the stairway door checks your badge, you are either climbing those endless metal steps or walking down a hallway. Once you get to the 8th floor - the top floor - the stairs continue up to the roof if you don’t stop. Sometimes you take a few steps up and realize you’ve passed your floor. The same thing happens going down - the stairs go all the way down into the hotel’s basement, and people frequently don’t stop at the lowest floor and keep on going. I’ve seen several people keep climbing down... but I never see anyone climbing up. What happens to them down there?
One of the problems with the weekend is that companies are doing business, and I don’t want to barge in to ask them silly press questions. The problem is, all of the other people with press badges don’t feel this way, and when I walk past a company some other reporter rushes in and interrupts a deal. So I am doing a lot of walking and not much talking. I decide to check in on the guys who produced (and ruined) my Soft Target script a couple of years ago. When I get my foreign levy checks from WGA, Soft Target is never listed - has it not sold to any foreign territories? I want my residuals! So I climb the stairs to the 8th floor to see what territories they have sold...
SOFT TARGET NEWS
A few years ago, I had a script that was almost a nice big studio action flick, but one of the millions of things that can go wrong with a deal did go wrong, and the option expired and the script was mine again. I was in the process of getting it back out there when an action guy I have worked with in the past called to tell me he had just opened his own company with another guy and was looking for scripts, did I have anything? The big problem with being a professional screenwriter is that you have no idea where your next sale is coming from, so you have to try just about everything. I had just had this deal fall apart and needed a new deal, so even though this guy was nowhere near the top of my wish list for producers, I have an inventory of spec scripts and maybe I can sell one and have the next year paid for. I gave him my list of availables, and pointed out one cool action script that I would be happy to part with (and might even be a good fit). So, of course, he wants the script that the studio producer had optioned, Soft Target. The one script on the list I don’t want him to have. I try to sell him on the other script, but he wants Soft Target. I call around to try and make some other deal, but get nada... so I reluctantly sell them Soft Target after they tell me how much they love it and how they don’t want to change a word. By the way - when someone says they don’t want to change a word, that usually means they want to change every single word of your screenplay but one, and that was the case here. The movie they made from the script doesn’t even have the same concept!
So, these guys are like the in-laws you hate... but they are still part of your family. And, though I dislike the movie they have made from my script, I still would like to get some residuals from the deal, so I want it to be successful (even though the film sucks). So, after they made the domestic deal with Lionsgate, did they sell the film to any foreign countries?
And I find out that they sold Soft Target to another distributor! The whole film (and a couple of others from their library) sold outright to another AFM company. My guess is that it was done to raise money, but I don’t ask. I do ask who the other distributor is...
My film is in his company’s big catalogue! Right there with Postal and Blood Rayne 3. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing... but having seen my film, it belongs with Boll’s films. I have to go downstairs to Boll Films and grab a catalogue, but first I ask how’s business... and get the usual AFM answer that "it’s a little slow today but has been great so far."
The amusing thing about this company is that one of the partners is an action film guy and the other makes animated family films. On the wall next to the poster for some violent action film is a cute poster for an animated puppy movie. While I am there, the action guy mentions that some dude stopped by to see if they wanted to distribute his animated films, and left his card. The animation guy asks his name. “Will something...” (reads the card) “Will Vinton.” Both the animation guy and I say at the same time: “The Will Vinton?” And that’s who it was - the Oscar-winning animator of those California Raisins and just about any Claymation animated film you have ever seen that wasn’t made by Nick Park. The animation guy grabs the card, pulls out his cell phone, and calls... gets Will Vinton, who is still in the building, and asks him to come back up! When Will Vinton arrives, I leave...
But not before action guy asks if I want to write a film for him and Manny Pacquiao to shoot in the Philippines?
After what they did to Soft Target?
“I’ll think about it.” And I’m off down the hallways to some other suite... passing the girl in the backless sundress again! Again I try to look at her badge without seeming to be looking at her cleavage... and again I can’t read the company name on her badge. Dang it! This is becoming an obsession! I must know who she is working for!
LOBBY RATS I KNOW
Out by the pool I bump into a guy I know with an interesting background. Max is from Russia, works as a machinist, and loves movies. So he bought a prosumer video camera to make his own films, and ended up making someone else’s films. This German guy who had a hit slasher movie in the early 80s and spent all of his money on booze and drugs and broads, ran out of money and decided to make some direct-to-DVD movies, but had nothing. So he put an advert on Craigslist looking for a camera man with his own camera to film his next horror movie. Max responded to the advert... and ended up filming a bunch of “no budget” movies for this crazy German guy. The crazy German guy found a furniture store that would let him shoot there at night, so he had sets! Actors and crew are from Craigslist, and most get paid zip - they are interns or working for a credit and meals. The crazy German guy’s films are famous for being awful - he doesn’t have a script, just makes up the story as he goes along - but because he makes horror movies about real life serial killers, his films sell to distribs. Lionsgate has taken most of them. Max makes a few bucks for providing the camera and shooting the movies... but the crazy German guy makes $100k in profit on every film, and is now a millionaire while Max has made pizza and beer money.
So my Russian friend Max decides to make his own horror movie... doing things exactly like the crazy German guy did it. Craigslist for cast and crew and script, found locations, and lots of improvisation. But now he can’t sell the film. Horror isn’t selling like it used to, and his story has no hook at all, and I have not seen the movie, but it may be bad. Really bad. So he is at AFM as a Lobby Rat, trying to get someone to take his film. He has screeners on DVD in his coat pocket and “flaps” in a briefcase. I ask him how it’s going and he says “Good” but doesn’t mean it. I feel sorry for the guy - he watched the crazy German guy make over a million bucks, and when he tries to do the same thing he can’t even make a dollar. He told me he’s been offered a job shooting porno movies, and is giving it serious consideration.
In the lobby I bump into a director I know who is seriously in need of work. He lucked into making a couple of films and it seems the people who hired him to direct his two features are not interested in hiring to direct anything else. So he’s in the lobby looking for work, and asks me if I have any script projects in the works that need a director. I answer “maybe” and say that I’ll keep him in mind, but I’m really not sure I can recommend him to a producer. Both movies of his that I’ve seen have had basic direction problems (violated the 180' rule, missing key shots, bad acting, and many other issues). Best I can do is forward his reel, and let the producer make the decision. Why is it that people who luck into a job think their luck will hold?
The girl in the backless sundress passes by and I decide to just stare at her chest long enough to read the company name on her badge... but she turns away just as I turn towards her and I can only see her perfectly tanned back. No tan lines. Hmm.
Moments later I bump into my friend Rob, who might actually be “my student Rob” - he took classes from me at Santa Fe and Expo many years ago and went on to write and produce some movies that are available from distribs upstairs. Unlike Max, Rob’s films have distributors who can sell the film to all of the foreign territories... problem is, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. And this is common - many of these AFM guys push whatever their new film is at this market, and then dump it in the catalogue and never think about it at the next market a couple of months from now. So you may be excited by how much your film made first time out, but that may end up being pretty much all it makes. In an article in Script on AFM a couple of years ago, I advised you do your own international promotions on your film, to make sure the buyers want that film after your distrib buries it in their catalogue. You may not think this is your responsibility, and technically it’s not, but someone has to get the film sold after your distrib decides it’s yesterday’s news.
NO NBC INTERVIEW
I bump into the hot reporter from NBC and her camera guy, but don’t ask about that interview they wanted to do with me... and she doesn’t bring it up. So, I guess I’m not important enough for a TV network. Actually, I already knew that...
Hey, there goes the girl in the backless sundress with some buyer. Can’t see her badge from this angle...
Maybe a year ago, this company in Hong Kong was looking for projects they can shoot in the Philippines and I sent them my availables list which has a cool spec that takes place in the Philippines - a pair of college grads who buy a treasure map and have an Indiana Jones-type adventure the summer before having to get a job and settle into the 9-5 world for the rest of their lives. The company says they have a project about the same treasure in pre-production already, and I wish I had some other things that would fit what they were looking for, but I don’t. Well, they just bought a building in Venice, CA and are having a huge AFM party to introduce themselves. And I’m invited.
Actually, just about everyone is invited. My friend Rob is invited. The director looking for work is invited. The NBC people are invited. For all I know Dennis Woodruff is invited (though, he’s a no show).
The party is supposed to have food and drink, and a shuttle bus will takes us there from the Loews Hotel. Cool - no driving involved! About a half hour before the party is supposed to start, Rob suggests we see if the shuttle is parked out by the curb... the first ones to the party are the first ones to be served food, right? We go outside, and there is not a shuttle, yet. Rob goes to his car for business cards and I overhear someone say that the big bus across the street is the shuttle to the party. I cross the street and ask the driver, and he says no. He’s here for something else. A bigger party? I go back to the hotel and the director is there, says he’s going to the party - do I know where the shuttle is? Rob returns, and says he was told the bus across the street really is going to the party. We cross the street, and the big bus leaves, empty... and pulls up in front of the hotel. As soon as we cross the street, the bus goes back to where we were standing. We cross the street, and the bus pulls away again, and... There are now a group of us on the wrong side of the street, but the person in charge shows up, tells us not to cross the street again. The bus will pick us up on this side of the street, and will be back in a moment.
Bus comes back to our side, we climb aboard... and the driver pulls out, but has no idea where he’s going. The street is the same one that the FX studio that did the submarine battles for my Crash Dive movie was located at, so I have a basic idea of how to get there. Others on the bus had some other details, and we found our way to the party.
BIG FOOT PARTY
The plan to be the first served food backfires! The food is not ready yet! So we all get our free drinks and mingle and tour the new facilities. The new facilities are impressive, and a company like Big Foot is the future of film companies... except it’s really the present of film companies. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong, has studios in the Philippines, now offices and facilities in Los Angeles, and they make movies for an international audience. Film is a global business.
And it seems like everyone in the world was invited to this party! The really irritating guy who claims to be a producer from the party a couple of nights ago is here, as is John The Dancing Usher - this guy who worked at the AMC Burbank cinemas and used to sing and dance before every movie. Though you may be imagining that as entertaining, it was really more strange. John has a rambling conversation with me about 3D conversion and screenwriting, and I nod my head in the appropriate places... and wonder where the food is. I also look around for the girl in the backless sundress - if John The Dancing Usher got an invite, she had to get one, too. But I don’t see her anywhere. Maybe she was the only person in the greater Los Angeles are who wasn’t invited?
Several beers later, I am really wondering where the food is. The music is so loud you can’t have a conversation - why do they do that at parties? I would think the purpose of these things is to mingle with people, and to talk to the representatives from the company, but you can’t hear anyone unless they are screaming over the music. Same thing at the Raindance Film Festival last year - the music was so loud at the closing night party that people were leaving to have conversations in the street. Hey, turn it down a notch!
Finally, food arrives. A server comes out from a side door with a tray of chicken skewers... and everyone descends on her and cleans the tray before she can take more than a couple of steps. Rob gestures me over to the door and we wait for the next server and grab some food before it is gone. The poor servers are only getting to take a couple of steps before their trays are empty! While we are eating, a server actually makes it past us to the center of the party. John The Dancing Usher walks past with a plate of food and I ask him where he got it - inside there’s a room with some food. I wander inside and find Rob already there... with an empty plate. It’s kind of the same as outside - everyone in the room is waiting for the arrival of a serving tray of food. Several arrive at once - different kinds of Chinese dumplings. We attack the food and the next trays have pork buns. It’s dim sum with long pauses between courses. I look into the next room and see the legendary Uwe Boll talking to some people. I think about joining the conversation and mentioning that he has an awful movie that began with my script in his catalogue... but what if he thinks it’s a great movie? I decide not to talk to him, because I am just drunk enough to say something that might result in him punching me. You know, he’s beat up critics before.
After I’ve had enough dim sum to add up to a meal, I go back outside to the ultra loud music and attempt to talk to some people. The CEO of the company stops the loud music to make a little speech, but either they turn down the volume for her speech or she speaks quietly, because I can barely hear what she has to say. Maybe it’s eardrum damage from the loud music? Whatever, I assumed it was the typical “Welcome to our new building and we make movies and we hope you will buy our movies and watch them.” Then the blasted blasting music began again.
After another half hour, the music was about to cause my ears to bleed, so I take one final look for the girl in the backless sundress - not here - and when the shuttle bus pulled to the curb outside the Big Foot compound, I jumped on and headed back to the hotel... and then back home from there.
Sunday is when the cheap badges go on sale, so some of the lobby rats actually get to go upstairs. Mostly, though, it’s film students and low budget producers. But the stair climbing is exactly the same, just a little more crowded. I never found out who the girl in the backless sundress was working for... that mystery will haunt me for the rest of my days. Monday would be my last day at AFM, and that entry will be coming next...