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Our findings from AFM

Lift-Off Global Network @ AFM 2019 - key advice from the market

The Mission:

For the final film market this year, the Lift-Off team took six new projects to Santa Monica, for a full schedule of meetings with production, sales and distribution companies.

The gap between the hard face of the industry and the creative vision of the artists involved is often a hard bridge to cross, yet connecting with the market is vital to the success for finding the right audience for your project.

Lift-Off's agenda at the major film markets is to get Network talent in front of key strategic partners and to generate interest in current or future projects. In this regard, Lift-Off acts merely as an introducer, and this is a service we offer as an application process exclusively for our Network membership.

Many people we met with were very generous with their insights and knowledge, and as usual, we want to pass this advice on to our Members. A lot of what we have spoken about in our Cannes and TIFF findings was reiterated, so if you haven’t read those, do take a look as we’ve tried not to repeat the same information too much here!

Understand your audience:

In our TIFF findings, we spoke a lot about finding an audience. This advice was repeated again at AFM, but this time we want to add the importance of understanding your target audience.

Nada Cirjanic (Great Point Media) said that she does not want to hear that a project’s target audience is “everyone! because the film is so universal!” She said, quite simply, this is never the case and what’s more, that it’s very unhelpful when deciding a project’s route to market. For example, in her opinion, the indie film audience “tends to be slightly older and educated”. Obviously these things are generalising and subjective, but some other trends could be that foreign language films appeal to an older audience, coming of age films appeal to teeagers and young adults, whilst most animation is considered “family friendly”.

People are keen to see these observations in a pitch, so seriously consider who your project is aimed for. As we have said before, you want to be finding an audience before embarking on a project. You are in a much stronger position if you can approach sales and distributors with not only astute audience knowledge but also guaranteed audience. For example, a large email database of people who backed your crowdfunding campaign.

Market Knowledge:

It should go without saying that if you intend to sell a film, you need to have a good understanding of the current market. You need to know the current trends, what is currently selling and why? What projects are similar to yours that have been successful? In what ways does your project differ? 

Nada Cirjanic (Great Point Media) stressed the importance of understanding the difference between the studio and independent landscape, especially when using comparisons in pitches for example.

That being said, when we met with Ashanti Mcintosh (Director of Acquisitions at Entertainment One UK) she told us that it is important to know and understand “where your project sits in the market, in relation to both studio and other independents.”

Essentially, people want to see that you understand the landscape as a whole, and exactly where your project fits into that. You need to understand how the market is different for your project as an independent, but also have learnt from current studio successes.


Although this is an abstract point (and really goes without saying), we are mentioning this because of how often we hear it from acquisition professionals. The project you are approaching people with needs to have as strong an impact as possible. 

Caddy Vanasirikul (The Exchange) said she will acquire something that “when you watch or read it, you really feel something”. She went on to speak about the importance of first impressions and production value of the project. Toby Hill from WestEnd Films says a project must “be distinctive and stand out, with a clear audience”.

Patrick DiCesare from Artist Rights Distribution, who only take on completed projects, said he is always looking for four things; an engaging story, a unique concept, high production value and marketability. Interestingly, he is one of the few people we met with that said star cast is not needed.

Harel Goldstein, the Executive VP Entertainment at the Global Genesis Group says “it all starts with the story”. He added that whilst it may seem obvious, they want to “like the project as filmmakers and as sales professionals”. On a similar note, Ashanti Mcintosh(Entertainment One UK) said that “with the indies it is a delicate balance between a simple and clear story, but one that has deep, international scope.”


More so than at the other markets this year, trailers kept coming up as an integral element when looking to acquire a project. To name just a few, Patrick DiCesare from Artist Rights Distribution said that he always like to start with a trailer and screener, adding that “whilst an EPK is helpful, he doesn’t want to see that straight away.” 

Global Genesis Group’s Charles Morris likes to see a trailer, teaser and synopsis “but always a trailer!” 

Melody Djavadi from Shoreline Entertainment said she does not need to see an EPK, especially given the fact that they only take on completed projects. She needs to see a trailer, along with a link to the screener.

So what makes a good film trailer? Most obviously, a trailer needs to set up the premise of the film (whilst not spoiling too much information). It should introduce the main characters, especially if you have any notable cast. Try to capture not only the premise, but the essence and mood of the film, and remember that music/sound can make or break a trailer. Lastly, to return to the point about audience, an effective trailer should be aimed for the film’s target audience. 

If you have a project yet to be shot, such as a treatment or script, a sizzle reel can be an effective way of conveying the tone and style that the project hopes to create. Suneil Beri, MD of film marketing company Create Advertising, says that he sometimes makes sizzle reels to “show potential distributors how they’d market the film.”

Executive Producers:

We have spoken before about attaching cast to your project. Another thing to consider are executive producers. There can be many benefits of getting an exec on board, such as finance, but the reason this came up in one of our meetings at AFM was because we were told it can be a way of connecting with sales/distribution companies. Prolific executive producers often come with a wealth of contacts they can share with you.


Following on from that, Caddy Vanasirikul (The Exchange) advised that if you are a first-time feature director, you could be more likely to be successful if you are open to co-directing. 

This is perfect for companies that focus more on character or theme driven films, such as AMP International. Timo Suomi, their Senior Acquisitions & Development Executive mentioned that for them, a director and producer attached to the project is essential, and that co-direction is rarely a negative. He added that AMP do take on some debut features.

Ran out of budget before completion?:

Given how easy it is for a production to run over budget, it will not be surprising to hear how common it is for a project to run out of budget before completion.

Perhaps the sound needs mixing or tweaking, there was no money left for the colour grade, or maybe even one scene ideally needs to be reshot. This happens a lot and does not mean the project has to finish sub-par or end up shelved. 

There are many companies out there, that if they love the project and see its potential, will take it on and find finance for the completion or even complete it in house. Global Genesis Group, for example, have a Post House in Las Vegas, and find this very useful for all the aforementioned reasons. 

From a different angle, Timothy O’Brien (Oration Films) said he likes to “at least be involved in post” after giving us a few examples of projects he has seen, where “unfortunate and avoidable” mistakes were made. With people like Timothy coming onboard at this stage you get their extra opinion and expertise on final cuts.

Approaching Acquisitions:

Nada Cirjanic head of sales and acquisitions for London based Great Point Media explained the problem with being sent unsolicited material. She echoed something we have heard many times, when saying that it is simply impossible to read all the unsolicited material she gets sent. There really aren’t enough hours in the day! Nada said a far better, and more professional approach, is contacting her via an agent or producer that has already made a connection with the company. Great Point Media have events throughout the year in which they connect with around 200 producers. 

At Lift-Off we find ourselves saying this a lot, but it’s so important - networking! Attending industry events such as producer meets, film festivals, market screenings, campaigning events are a great way to meet industry professionals in person. Exchange business cards and if you contact any of them in the future, be sure to remind them where you met. 

If you are reaching out to people cold, at least do your thorough research and make sure you are addressing the right person. Usually company staff are listed on their website, or databases like Cinando even provide individual contact info, so you can directly reach the most suitable person.

Theatrical release ahead of VOD:

In our TIFF findings we wrote a lot about the digital marketplace but...

Michael Repsch from Dark Star Pictures says that “one of the main advantages of getting a distributor onboard is the importance of a release plan”. For many filmmakers, understandably the dream is still a theatrical release, and this can be important for several reasons other than personal pride and satisfaction.

Patrick DiCesare (Artist Rights Distribution) stressed that “a theatrical release, ideally in 10+ cities, is great for an aggregator” when then negotiating terms with a VOD platform. 

It’s also worth noting that in order to be eligible for some Academy Awards, such as Best Picture and all other craft categories, the film must have completed a Los Angeles qualifying theatrical run. This can be a main reason certain films have a “limited theatrical release”. Full details can be found on the website under Rules & Eligibility.


It goes without saying that you need to give yourself the best shot at success by having a unique and impactful project, with a compelling trailer to go with it. Know your audience, but also have a thorough understanding of the marketplace. In an industry that is constantly evolving, it’s not always easy to keep up, but it can be a fantastic thing for those able to stay ahead of the curve! Do your research, make sure you’re consuming as much current work as possible and understand the business etiquette.

If any of this is unclear to you, or you would like something specific elaborated on, don’t hesitate to get in touch. If you want help strategising your next steps (no matter what stage of a project you’re at), our Career Road-Mapping Sessions are there to discuss your best way forward. Engage with us, we’re here to help!