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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, December 1996

By Lisa Leeman

Dear IDA Members,

I've recently returned from the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM), which I attended with my documentary Breaking Up. Since many filmmakers, both novice and veteran, call me throughout the year to ask if it's worth their time and money to attend certain markets and festivals, perhaps a short report on the IFFM, and markets/conferences in general, is in order.

The first day, I sat through three thoughtfully prepared orientation panels. One panelist told the audience that she attended the market alone one year. At the end of each of the first two days, she went home and cried herself silly. The third day she decided she'd had enough and flew home. The next year she was more prepared, emotionally and cinematically, stayed the entire market, and secured a distribution deal as a reward of her newly-found fortitude. Another panelist advised us to hang out in the lobby, and to "treat the market like a single's bar, a pick-up joint. You're not just there to sell your film, but to create a buzz." A third panelist told us earnestly that feeling solidarity with his fellow filmmakers was the highlight of the market. His fellow panelist then asked who was he kidding? "You guys aren't friends; you're competitors!"

Then followed five days of meeting fellow filmmakers; meeting potential buyers; escaping the Angelica center for a brief walk/shop/meal away from the frenzy of the market place; meeting festival programmers; being interviewed by an ABC crew about documentaries at IFFM; listening to the audience laugh at the right moments during screening. Low points: wondering if anyone was going to come to my screening; leaving phone calls that were never returned; stuffing mail boxes that were so jammed it seemed like an exercise in futility; getting locked out of the Sundance party because they were over capacity at 700 (being IDA President got me nowhere with the New York bouncers); watching buyers strollin and out of my screening; and leaving the market knowing that the bulk of my work still lay ahead in follow-up.

The market is an emotional roller coaster. That said, unless you're too shy to talk to strangers about your film (in which case you should probably consider changing careers anyway), the market can be a productive, and even occa­sionally creative endeavor. The number one rule is to be prepared: have a slick presentation, a finished film, a fine cut, or a polished presentation reel. Have eye-catching promotional materials—find your comfort level between self pro­motion and dignity. A friend of mine wore a sandwich board the last two days before his screening. He felt silly, but he got a lot of attention (and maybe a date or two). I drew the line at sandwich board, but I did make a T-shirt with my film's logo on it, and wore it around the market. Other more extravagant self-promoters wore costumes, masks, and one producer even set up a portable VCR outside the theater complex, playing a loop of his promo over and over.

Know the marketplace, and target only the buyers and programmers who your film is suited for. Contact them ahead of time, if possible. At the very least, alert them to the existence of your film and of your IFFM screening time. Go to all the parties, and talk to everyone you meet. And do make sure you leave the market at regular intervals, to preserve your sanity.

Is it worth it to spend hundreds of dollars on entry fees, airfare and lodging, editing a promo reel, printing press materials, and all those long dis­tance calls home to sympathetic listeners? It depends on how you define "worthwhile." I don't know the percentage of market films that actually receive distribution deals as a direct result of the market. But if you value exposure for your film, a crash course on marketing and distribution, new contacts with buyers and programmers, and the chance to meet colleagues and to see their work, then I'd say you should seriously consider attending this and other markets.


Lisa Leeman
IDA President