The American Film Market, AFM, is a sad affair. It's held in Santa Monica, California - right on the beach! - so you'd think it would be more glamorous or fun or exciting. What it really is is a trade show for motion pictures, but not even a particularly sizzling trade show; most of a hotel on the beach is taken up with production companies trying to sell their movies to prospective buyers, working out of cramped hotel rooms strewn with concept posters and giveaway junk.
Some of the movies that come to AFM are actual movies, films that have been shot and completed. These films screen all day long to crowds made up not of film lovers, but film buyers - people who have their phones out the whole time, and who will leave the theater fifteen minutes in and return for the finale. There are some film festival folks sprinkled in there too; film markets like AFM are great places to find undiscovered gems for your festival.
But many of the movies at AFM have not yet been made... and probably never will be. While completed films look for buyers, prospective films look to pick up financing by selling themselves to foreign territories or home video labels in advance. These movies aren't always scripted; sometimes there's simply a ridiculous poster with a silly tagline. Vampires vs Leprachauns has not yet been shot, but it was at AFM trying to find backers. If we're being charitable we can say that these people are at AFM with a dream, but the reality is that most of them are at AFM with a hare-brained money making scheme.
In many ways this 'poster first' school of filmmaking is venerable. That's how AIP did it, and how Roger Corman decided on his projects. Many of the greatest exploitation films of all time began with a poster and a tagline and a general sense that there needed to be boobs and/or blood every ten minutes. I feel like something has changed in the process, though; once upon a time the money men would let directors just make these exploitation movies without much interference, but in the modern world of schlock factories like The Asylum, every trust fund financier thinks they're Orson Welles.
This year was my first visit to AFM, and I have to admit I was disappointed. I was hoping for a carnival atmosphere, but instead found a laid back, boring atmosphere. There were some booths, and there were plenty of weird, wacky posters (some, thanks to Tim League, presented below), but mostly it was what you'd expect from a convention of insurance agents or Bluetooth manufacturers or anything boring. What I thought was interesting was the undead nature of AFM (and no, I'm not talking about how many zombie movies were there, but if you go by the official listing and ONLY count movies whose titles begin "Zombie" something or other, it was over a dozen). I have screenwriter friends surprised to learn that old scripts of theirs are still kicking around AFM, attached to new posters with new stars supposedly involved. I was at the market with the director of my YouTube show, who had also done some work for hire as the director of a disaster movie this year, and he was stunned to see that film's poster hanging in a hallway.
By the way, while AFM might be the saddest of the markets, these things happen all over the place. The next time you hear about a bizarre cheapie movie playing Cannes, know that it actually played the Cannes Film Market, the French version of AFM. Anybody with enough money can buy themselves a space at the market, which is happening at the same time but separate from the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. AFM happens at the same time as the increasingly prestigious American Film Institute Festival in LA, so maybe in a decade people will also conflate the two.