In this article I will break down exactly how to best attend AFM on a budget and get the most out of all the parties and goings on if you are an actor looking to connect with producers and directors. If you don’t know what AFM is or why you should go, read my advice article at Backstage. It starts November 4th so get ready folks!
DO dress to impress, but remember, the event is not formal. You will be walking a lot and it is cold by the ocean in November. Dress warm.
DON’T ruin your day by parking on the street and dipping out of conversations to go feed the meter. Spend the cash and park at one of the many pay lots in the vicinity of Lowes.
DON’T leave the AFM zone. Lowes, Shutters and Le Merigot are typically the main venues for early evening networking. Focus your efforts on parties near the Lowes Santa Monica Beachfront Hotel. That means once you are parked, walk to the parties. If you can’t walk to it, it is not likely to have anything to do with AFM. Stay on target. If the party is in Malibu, forget it. If that’s a bust, you will spend all night driving and parking.
DON’T feel like you have to spend big money on a proper pass. One day passes are available on the cheaper side, (still pricey) but many if not most of the parties scattered around the Santa Monica campus will only require getting on a list, or making fast friends with someone who is on one. You know the drill. Locate the party and make friends. You will get in. The door is not very strict at most of the third-party after events and you do not need an AFM badge for those. Your primetime is after hours. You are the entertainment when serious film people leave the areas that require passes.
DO, if you have tons of money, spend it and get a pass. You will be able to operate in the daytime and attended seminars crawling with filmmakers and meet them on coffee breaks etc. This will also give you unfettered access to the lobby of the Lowes Hotel, filmmaker central.
DO arrive at around 4pm. This will give you time to beat traffic, park, walk over to the Lowes Santa Monica Hotel and get situated at the epicenter of the AFM campus. They sometimes screen people at the front doors to the hotels. Be creative and once inside the lobby, blend in. You belong there, trust me. No need to go earlier because everyone will still be in “business” mode. You want to socialize and meet directors, etc.
DO be what the AFM crowd calls lobby lizards. At 5pm when these guys leave the hotel floors (where each room has been converted into a sales office), they are looking for exciting fresh faces and people who are quick with some charm or a joke. Actors have a distinct advantage in this department. The producers and directors gather for the first drink of the night in the lobby bars. Work this area in the Lowes (maybe the lobby of adjacent hotels) until about 7pm.
DO learn where the after parties are as you speak to people during this time. They start early and end early. 7pm to midnight is primetime for after parties. Write down what you learn, get passes if they are being handed out. Offer what you know to people who want to know where the parties are. You can use this to start conversations. The producers and directors have been working all day. You be the fun people who know where it is jumping off.
DON’T go the first day. It’s sort of a half day and many of the people there will have just gotten off long flights. You could do worse, but the first weekend of the market is the best time to go.
DON’T go the very last day. People are packing up and most people skip it.
DO have fun with it. That is the secret that will make them come to you.
DO visit www.americianfilmmarket.com to learn as much as you can about the week ahead.
SPECIFIC NETWORKING ADVICE
You want to walk away from your week at AFM with that brilliant new filmmaker in your back pocket, right? So here’s how. I have had hundreds if not thousands of actors come up to me in my time as a director. Here is a final round of do’s and don’ts for getting over with directors and producers you meet at a party like the ones at AFM.
DON’T wander the party aimlessly, scanning the crowd and clutching your drink. Be open and get into a group quickly. Wandering alone looking like you want to meet someone is a red flag. Jump right in and start talking to people in less than ten seconds after you enter the room. Fortune favors the bold.
DO jump into people’s conversations if you think they are filmmakers and they look like they are in hang out mode. Most of the time if you have a joke or something positive to add you will be received well.
DON’T announce you are an actor. The outgoing and desperate actors who swarm around filmmakers at times like these can raise our defenses. Don’t let on you are an actor right away. Make them earn that information. They will ask you what you do after you dazzle them as only a performer can. Be mysterious and don’t announce you’re an actor looking for work.
DO also respect the fact that people are still working sometimes. As a director myself who has sold several movies, some at AFM, I know that nothing is worse then trying to hold a business meeting while actors are dive-bombing your table trying to get attention. Read and relate. Timing is everything. Hang back if the conversation you are about to interrupt looks intense. Talk to someone who is on down time.
DON’T be dull.
DON’T be desperate.
DON’T latch onto filmmakers right away. Once you have cut into the group, be dynamic and interesting and act like you are about to leave for the first few minutes. If you are a welcome addition to their night, they will invite you to hang out. They are more likely to do that if you look like you have somewhere else to be. Networking is a bit like dating.
DON’T be a wallflower. You came here for a reason. Play the part of someone who is not going to loose tonight.
DO find out what people do and make a judgment call as to weather or not they are someone you want to get to know. The laminated badges that are worn around the attendee’s necks will usually tell you a lot, but you need to find subtle ways to figure people out. You can’t always tell a producer from a film buyer. Foreign accents usually mean they are there to buy films and not someone you need to get to know necessarily. Directors stand out and look like, well, directors. But ascertain the person’s job title, but do not be blunt. And don’t drop them like a rock if they don’t serve your agenda. It is rude. Besides, they may know of a good party. Quickly ask them if they know of any. Get the info then say “I’m going to go find out if anybody else knows,” and politely excuse yourself.
DON’T be a cheesy “networker” and foist a card on people in under two seconds. Sure, have actor cards with your headshots on them, but be subtle. Let them see you as the life of the party and a fun, charming, dynamic, interesting person before you even mention you are an actor. Make them drag it out of you.
DO leave to go explore the various events going on around the AFM campus in groups of filmmakers you just met. Going to a variety of places with someone is proven to create a bond. You want to make fast friends.
DON’T do this alone or with anyone you feel weird about. Don’t just go to some random hotel room with a strange filmmaker. All the rules from real life party hopping apply here.
DON’T sell sex. Sell personality and charisma.
DO dangle the carrot if people hit on you, but…
DON’T feel like you have to give them that carrot, ahem. Be gracious and convert any sexual energy into leverage to form a cool “friend” connection. Nobody will think less of you if you are off the market, no pun intended. They will see you as a serious artist if you are upfront.
DON’T get plastered. You are there to make friends and connections, not barf in public. You will move fast and follow the action from venue to venue looking to connect with the people who can help you move forward in your film career. Be serious, but know that those who have the most fun will attract the most positive attention. Some parties have open bars and hotels have overpriced drinks. Plan accordingly and if you indulge, keep it on a slow drip.
DO give and receive contact information. In this case, it is better to get their info. It is best to get their direct cell numbers right on the spot. Make the info exchange relevant to the goings on and natural. “Hey, let me get your cell number so when we find out the address to the party, I can text you.” Boom. Put the filmmakers info in your phone. Tell them to save your number in their phone. All right there on the spot. This will pay off weeks from now when you are calling them from a number they now recognize. Think ahead.
DON’T wait to follow up. Send them a text the same night you meet them. “The party at Viceroy is to capacity, nobody can get in. We are all going to a bar on the pier for the Norwegian film commission. Heard it is going off, lol. We can meet you at Lowes. Walk over with us!” You want to become a positive fixture in their night and week. If they trust you and have fun with you, they are on the way to casting you. Remember, filmmakers are not as outgoing as you are. They will be grateful for the help in getting out there themselves.
DO follow up the next day. This is like camp. Make fast friends, but keep them. Remember though, you have to do all the hard work of reaching out and keeping it going.
DON’T bother if you’re not forging an organic friendship, or if you don’t genuinely like the person. Just because they’re a filmmaker does not mean they are the right connection for you. Circulate and duck out of boring conversations by simply saying, “I’m going to take a lap around the room and see if I know anybody, I’ll be back.”
DO get out of the house more. You told everyone you were going to make it in Hollywood. So get out and get to it!
I hope this helps, come say hello if you see me around the market. I will be there with bells on. I attended my first AFM to sell my first film twelve years ago and I still find great value in re-connecting to people at the market (even though I have sales reps who do most of the distribution work at this point).
When you are starting out in Los Angeles, you should be looking to do whatever you can to meet people. Filmmakers have fun at AFM and you should join us there!