The 18th Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) will occur September 15 - 22 at the Angelika Film Center in New York City. This year, the IFFM, in addition to its screenings of features, shorts and works-in-progress (WIPs), boasts a special "Spotlight on Documentaries" program, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and HBO/Cinemax, and the return of its "No Borders" programs. The latter two programs employ the increasingly popular model of the film financing workshop, a la Rotterdam's CineMart, to introduce filmmakers to financiers from around the world.
The legacy of success of non-fiction films screened at past editions of the Independent Feature Film Market - Roger & Me, Paris is Burning, American Dream, Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, Silverlake Life: The View From Here, etc. - prompted the IFP to develop this new doc program. The program includes two days of seminars and panel discussions on subjects facing documentary filmmakers - such as development financing, licensing archival materials, theatrical distribution and ancillary markets, self-distribution and marketing. As part of the program, a number of selected filmmakers and buyers will participate in "No Borders for Docs: A Two-Day International Documentary Financing Forum," and a selection of ten works-in-progress by documentary filmmakers will be screened. Invites have been issued to some of the leading doc buyers in the world, including Arte, ZDF, Channel Four, Danish t.v. and others. (For more information on "Spotlight on Documentaries contact: Sharon Sklar, Associate Market Director at (212) 465-8200.)
As the IFFM is always a daunting proposition for first-time attendees, we asked a group of last year's filmmakers - as well as the IFP's Michelle Byrd - what someone attending the Market should know before going in.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Brad Anderson, The Darien Gap: "Contrary to what John Pierson says, the Market is not a dumping ground. It's one leg in the journey, plus it's fun."
Steve Ascher, Director, Troublesome Creek: "Filmmakers need to be aware of the difference between a market and a festival. At a festival, people purchase their ticket for a film and tend to sit through it. At a market, buyers want to get a whiff of a film, It can be pretty grim seeing people bolt from their seats [to make another screening]."
Michelle Byrd, Deputy Director, Independent Feature Project: "It's a necessary part of a year-long cycle of festivals and markets. It's a good opportunity to reconnect and make new contacts."
Gretchen Dyer, Producer and Writer, Late Bloomers: Dyer called her IFFM experience showing a four minute trailer of her feature "a dream come true." They had spoken with an agent before the market but the film's market response prompted the agent to officially sign them.
Keith Froelich, The Toilers and Wayfarers: "I wouldn't say coming to the Market was a total loss - it's always good to see some Broadway shows. And although I didn't generate any sales there, I did meet my foreign sales rep. For me, there are two reasons for going. First, it's an important step in being taken seriously. And two, it is important, especially if you don't live on one of the coasts, to get the psychological motivation to finish your film by seeing how people react to it. It is a good idea to go with low expectations. People think that they are going to get a distributor, but really the Market is just the first step in a long process.
Doing your Homework
Byrd: Last year, Adam Isidore, director of the doc Give a Damn Again, used the IFP's Independent Film Industry Directory to create a list of buyers to target at the Market. He input his list, along with mailbox numbers (which are available the first day of the Market) into his computer. This way, he could quickly contact those buyers throughout the week without looking up their box numbers each time.
Reed McCants, Director, Producer, Writer, Cuttin' Da Mustard: McCants, who brought a WIP to the IFFM, felt that the Market-oriented film ads which he took out were helpful, and he did a pre-Market mailing of promotional materials which he also believes was a big help. "Giving things out when you're there, that's one note too late."
Byrd: The key documents describing your project are the catalogue, and in the case of works-in-progress and scripts, the development guide which includes extensive information on financing and cast/crew. These books are sold by the IFP for an entire year following the Market. So, beware - the (mis)information you might provide will also be distributed at the Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes and other film festivals. A few pointers: 1) Don't throw your synopsis together in five minutes just to make the entry deadline. If you don't have the distance from your project to make it compelling, have a friend write it. 2) Make sure you give us contact information that will remain accurate, at least through the winter. 3) Take the necessary time to give us accurate information for the development guide. Never leave out your bio - even if you don't have film credits, you might have a particular, unique knowledge about the subject matter of your project. Also, don't exaggerate financing information. It will only come back to haunt you. 4) As a policy, we do not recommend that you send out tapes of your work in advance of the Market. This just diminishes the kind of build-up you could generate for your screening.
Ascher: It's important to remember that it's a big world and some people will like your film and others won't. You've just got to keep trying.
Byrd: Set specific goals for yourself and your project. Use the Industry Director to target ten to 20 companies you want to meet during the week.
Cathy Raciti, screenwriter, Greta's War: "The Market helped in terms of getting my feet wet and getting into the project." A few days into the Market, Raciti realized that she didn't want to direct or produce her script but just wanted to sell it. "It helps to know what you're looking for and where you want to take [your negotiations]. Only one person checked my script out of the library, even though I targeted mailboxes [to tell specific attendees about the script]. I think people go off to read scripts only when they need a break to get away from all the people. But being there and talking will get you where you want to go. And if you are not good at that kind of thing, find someone who is.
Kate Lehmann, Producer, Homo Heights (screenplay): "It's a great place to meet people, not to read scripts." Lehmann says she got a post-Market call from someone interested in coproducing the project who had read about it in the development guide. Although they ultimately decided not to accept this offer, "I walked away with a better understanding of some of the business issues involved and able to think more clearly about marketing strategies.
Timing is Everything
Ada Gay Griffin, A Litany for Survival: "Usually, you go to the market before everything else. But we weren't ready in 1994 and the film premiered at Sundance instead. We ended up at the IFFM after the film had completed its festival run. It was a last ditch effort to attract theatrical and t.v. sales. Because the film had been around, it didn't attract a huge interest at the market, but POV, a local PBS affiliate, WNET, and several PBS/CPB execs all attended and all were enthusiastically supportive. At the time, we were trying to get a t.v. screening of the full-length, as opposed to hour-long, cut. It will be on POV this summer as an hour-long. Every film's not Hoop Dreams."
Peter Koper, Producer, Headless Body in Topless Bar: Koper secured a domestic distributor, Northern Arts, before the Market. In fact, Koper says the fact that he was going to the Market with a finished film compelled them to make the deal before the Market. "If I could do it over again, I would have withheld my foreign sales until after the film's domestic release. It would have been more profitable."
Xiao-Yen Wang, The Monkey Kid: "[The film] had played in Cannes in Un Certain Regard which gave us lots of worldwide exposure, but in September we still had no U.S. distributor. Several distributors saw the film in the Market and now, a year later, we may finally sign with one."
Byrd: "As the old t.v. commercial says, 'Don't ever let them see you sweat.' It's easy to start feeling desperate if you've sunk all of your own money into your work and are anxious to make a sale. But keep in mind that you're in more of a position of power than you might think. Everyone from festival programmers to cable programmers to theatrical distributors is hungry for product. They need you just as much as you need them. If the intensity starts to get to you, take a break. Desperate people do desperate things like hound buyers on their way to the bathroom. No one likes being around desperate people!"
Raciti: "Since you'll be meeting a lot of people, take notes on the people you've met. Write notes on their cards - red hair, drives a Harley, etc."
Froelich: Drink a lot but be careful what you say in public. Remember, you are the filmmaker. The distributors are the divas.
The Market and Your Materials
McCants feels that it's not so important whether one goes with a finished film or a WIP as long as the product is good. He shot key scenes from his project on 35mm and then cut together interview segments with various production people all talking about what his title might mean in 8mm. He also hired a publicist and did radio interviews the week of the Market.
Dyer sent a rough cut [of Late Bloomers] with the understanding that it wouldn't be shown, but it ended up being shown anyway. "The library was disorganized. We threw a fit and ended up getting them not to show it, but it was a hassle."
Byrd: "To the extent possible, switching tapes and scripts is best done over the summer. This is the safest assurance that the right material will be on display at the Market. Ask us to send back your old tape or script before the Market. Or, if possible, stop by the office and make the switch in person."
Ascher: "The first time we handed out fliers but such a tiny percentage of people who got them actually showed, it's hard to know if it was worth it."
Dyer: "We spent time and money on a postcard with an image from the film on the front and our screening times and relevant phone numbers on the back It worked well in setting us apart."
Lynn Hershman, Producer, Director, First Person Plural: The Complete Electronic Diaries of Lynn Hershman: "Show your work whatever stage it's in, don't think you can't show it until it's totally done. But, look organized, as if you are someone who really will finish your project. And keep it short if it's a work-in-progress. Only show your best material.
Ascher: "We showed [Troublesome Creek] as a WIP in 1994 and a finished film in 1995. The Market can be stressful but it was a good experience [for us]. We got tremendous reinforcement from filmmakers with the WIP but no deals. But the people who saw it as a WIP came back to see the finished film.
Cindy Sison, Executive Producer, Maya Lin: Her experience in selling the film has taught her about the reality of international doc sales. The European buyers liked her film "because it was about the power of art to heal a nation" but were reluctant to buy a feature cut because "they felt the subject matter was too American."
Koper: "More and more people are coming to the Market to buy. We had a foreign sales rep and people walked up to him and said, 'You'll do well because your piece is the most finished and most commercial.' We had a hook - the film was based on a true story, a catchy headline."
Ascher: Ironically, the Sundance programmers wouldn't come to our screening because they already knew about our film and would look at it later on tape. They said they were at the IFFM to look at films they didn't already know about.
Froelich: Get to the Sundance party before all the food is gone.
Dyer: "The Market generated some momentum so that when we finished the film, we were able to get distributors to look at it. I think that Sundance was interested because they heard good things at the Market."
Byrd: Whether you have ten people sitting in your screening or 100, each person represents an opportunity to follow up. Just because the Market is over doesn't mean that your job is done.
Raciti: "Don't psyche yourself out if you get behind in your correspondence. It's o.k. to contact someone who got in touch with you three or four months ago."