Packaging Case Study: Success With 'Hell Hole' at AFM

By Stacey Parks, founder of Film Specific

Hi everyone - I'm back with another Packaging Case Study to keep you inspired and motivated as you are getting your own projects together. This one is from another one of my Comprehensive Pre-Production clients, Paul Collett. 

Paul and I started working together almost 6 months prior to AFM to begin packaging talent on his horror script "Hell Hole". And even though 6 months is a short period of time when trying to get talent attached, we managed to get lots of interest from solid B list talent on few different roles that he was then able to leverage to 1) bring an experienced producer on board, and 2) get pre-sales interest from distributors and sales agents. 

Anyway, I won't spoil the rest of the story - I'll leave it to Paul to tell you how it all went down. Over to you Paul...
What is the name and log line of your film?
Hell Hole, Three friends try their luck at an abandoned gold mine only to discover it is possessed by an Native American spirit demon.
What is the website for your film? - soon to be revised
What is the budget for your film?
$750K - $1M
Why did you decide to spend your time, energy, and money packaging your film with talent before looking for financing? 
I have never ever met a real live investor even though I have hunted for them for years. The only ones I have met were all talk but always dodged real commitment. I'm not a great salesman. I would rather work hard and show my results than try to wine and dine, so I decided to go the packaging route and work on building up a real value proposition. I like the phrase: "I need men who can fix a wagon, not take bets on how long it will take." So this seemed the only path. It was terribly humiliating, exhausting and you never feel like you've done enough until you see results. But we made progress.
What stage were you at with your film for AFM and what was your strategy and overall goal going in?
Actually by AFM we had a full package and I was approached by a producer who wanted to come on board and take over doing pre-sales, so I didn't end up taking Hell Hole to AFM (instead I progressed our next films and took them). I think you should always have a few projects moving, so if one falls, you've got another to take it's place.
What did you do most to prepare for AFM? 
Create good one sheets and researched the distributors. I also pushed to make appointments with them two weeks in advance. Some were more responsive in meeting up than reviewing the package over email.
What were some of the obstacles you've encountered in the packaging process and at AFM, and how did you overcome them?
At AFM some acquisition people were not in when I came by, so I just kept trying or emailing them. I think in person contact is important. It's easier to trust someone you have met in person. Packaging... painful, stressful, time consuming. I was putting in 60-80 hour weeks working on it. Most of the managers and agents don't want you to contact them at all. They want you to go out and get your money and then make them an offer before they will read the script. So I would say 80% - 90% of the time I just got a "go away" response if any response at all. But the more you present yourself professionally and show you know what you are doing, the few open-minded ones (or desperate ones) will warm up to you. 
What have been some of your biggest mistakes or wastes of time with regards to packaging your film and AFM?
I've accidentally emailed managers a pitch including the name of one of their clients. Oops. I had spoken to them before and forgotten. They did not want me using their clients name in pitches. But all in all not a lot of major mistakes. I think it helps that I've already produced a couple films and have an understanding of the business.
What resources or tools did you find most helpful in preparing for and attending AFM? 
Stacey Parks. IMDB PRO, Wikipedia. Phone calls. The trades. Sisters and friends as you refine your pitches over and over till they sound as good as they can. If the pitch is good, the concept is fresh, they are the right distributor and the one sheet looks great, you don't need to be a great salesman. And if they say no, don't be down or offended. You are there to build a relationship not sell a film. It doesn't mean it isn't good, they just aren't the right fit right now. I think it's important to act like you really don't care if they say yes or no. You've got other options. If you seem confident they assume there are others interested. So you create artificial demand. I think especially for AFM, if you don't have anyone attached or at least reading the script that is a name, you should not pitch it at AFM. There are too many film-makers like that and you just blend into the mass.
What was the outcome of your trip to AFM and did you accomplish your goals? 
Originally it was to pitch Hell Hole so when I couldn't I wasn't sure if I should still go. But I now see value to it in meeting people in person. It's sometimes a cruel truth but you work with people you like. Distributors, managers and actors are the same, they will go out on a limb for someone they see working hard; are trust-worthy, confident and someone they like but they will shut out someone they don't know. You fall into their "I do not like" grouping. Meeting in person is the best way to get liked and you can't do that as readily with managers and actors. So yes we did accomplish the goal. I met several. I pitched to all I met. And many asked to read the script.
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently? 
Sadly the biggest waste are the people you want but you can't have or won't help your project. There are people who are a perfect fit for the role in prominent tv shows, but if their name won't get me a pre-sale it's a waste of time. People who are too big will reject your film, not because of the script but because it's humiliating for them to work on a $1M budget film. There is a prestige they have to maintain. I think as a producer you have to learn to embrace this philosophy: "It's more important to make a film than make a good film." It's your job as a producer to make the film, it's the director's job to make it good. That's why they fight all the time. If you get too caught up in quality and someone who is the right fit for the role, the film may never get made. Some day you may be able to be that demanding. But for now, be generous in your casting pool.
What are your next steps from here? 
Working on the current plan for that film and leveraging it's progress for the other films. Maybe once we have a deal we can get higher managers to actually respond to our emails. And progress every option. I would have to say if you "kinda want" to make a feature film, don't. Just make short films or small films and be happy with that. Film-making today is only rewarding if you have an all consuming passion for it. You won't get rich doing it. You won't get famous. The amount of work is disproportionate to the the reward. If normal people could see all the labor it takes, they'd say, "You're an idiot. You spent a hundred dollars for an apple!" But if it is your passion, you can't live without doing this, then it is the best path.