AFM prime market for genre

HOLLYWOOD — Indie producers who have a hard time fighting for exposure at the Sundance Film Festival can always be glad that less than two months after the hype and the madness of the Utah fest, the American Film Market opens its doors in Santa Monica.

For a growing number of hungry first-time producers, getting the word out at the market means getting valuable exposure to hundreds of international and domestic film and TV buyers. In other words, if you missed the festival express, don’t panic: You can always hitch a ride on the AFM shuttle.

Scoring with genre pics

Scott Vandiver is one of the many producers who’ll be taking their films to the market. Co-produced by his partner Phil Botana, Vandiver’s $4 million genre pic “Beneath Loch Ness,” about the famous Scottish sea monster, seems to be the perfect kind of project for AFM buyers. The pic’s got a fairly recognizable cast, (Patrick Bergin, Lysette Anthony and Brian Wimmer), has a storyline that should appeal to global audiences, and has a fair amount of visual razzle dazzle, courtesy of f/x house Ultimate Effects. So it’s not surprising that Vandiver is sanguine about “Loch Ness'” chances at the film mart.

“AFM is the prime market to sell genre movies,” says Vandiver, whose first credit as a producer was “My Brother the Pig,” a little-seen 1999 family picture starring Judge Reinhold. “It’s by far the longest market: Mifed is much shorter, and Cannes is for bigger pictures. Fact of the matter is genre pictures are always big here.

“Producers who try to make arthouse films often have this rude awakening, because one of out a hundred of these arthouse pictures get picked up by distributors. Your chances are a lot better with horror films, or erotic thrillers.”

Vandiver, who also acts as an international sales agent for the film, says he’ll also hit Cannes, Mifed and Mipcom after the Santa Monica market to woo some more buyers, and after that, he’ll be focusing on his next film, another creature feature, “Sabertooth,” about the mayhem that follows after a scientist genetically crosses a sabertooth tiger with a mountain lion.

Farewell to family fare

Like Vandiver, producer Dennis Fallon is also using the market to bridge a smooth transition from making G-rated films to thrillers. His first film, the family-oriented “More Than Puppy Love” proved to be a tough sell in a saturated market, so he hopes to bounce back this year with “Control,” a $2 million thriller, directed by Tom Whitus, and starring Sean Young and William Devane.

“I went to the AFM last year and had the opportunity to talk to buyers from all over the world,” says Fallon. “It was a bit intimidating to see all these people running around making deals. Now I feel more confident about what international buyers are looking for.”

Fallon seems to be quite optimistic about the future of his labor of love, noting: “When you have name talent like Sean Young as well as a strong script, you eliminate most of the obstacles along the way.”

Making connections

Evan Tylor is another one of the many producers battling the obstacles at the market in order to raise awareness of his thriller “Ripper,” and hopefully land a U.S. distributor. Tylor, who starred in front of the camera as Officer Papdakis in the TV series “The Commish” in the early ’90s, heads the Canuck production company Prophecy, and has produced genre titles such as “The Operative” and “A Twist of Faith.”

“Horror pics are performing very well right now, and we’re hoping to get the film ready for a Halloween launch,” says Tylor. “Frankly, I didn’t want to wait until May for the Cannes festival because a strong commercial film like ‘Ripper’ can easily get lost in all the arthouse pictures over there.”

In a cluttered market that is jam-packed with titles hungry for distribution, Tylor says it’s pointless to get involved with projects that don’t feel or sound original. “There are so many movies out there, that if you don’t have the strong script and a unique voice, you might as well give up. It’s a relief that larger distribs, like the Miramaxes of the world are still going to the festivals and markets and picking up the smaller films. They’ve got the tentacles to get the smaller pics their visibility.”

Helping producers shake hands with as many tentacles as possible are seasoned AFM pros like Page Ostrow, who acts as a liaison between producers and international sales agents. She believes that despite the growth of numerous fests in the U.S. and abroad, there’s still no place like the AFM.

“It’s still a great market for breakthrough films and midrange projects that were made for ($3 million) and ($12 million), and films that look like that,” says Ostrow. “L.A. is full of producers and it takes them about 20 or 30 minutes to get to the AFM and they can familiarize themselves with the most important part of their business, which is distribution.”

Ostrow’s familiarity with foreign buyers helps producers get in contact with the right territory reps.

“What producers don’t realize is that buyers attend each market with a sack of money, and it’s their job to spend their money on the products,” says the consultant. “I talk to the buyers and try to get a good understanding of what they’re looking for and what’s happening in their territories. Then, we can all help them spend their money.”

And as long as there are more pics about sea monsters, psycho cats and sexual obsession, the buyers won’t have to return home empty-handed.

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