Have you ever wondered how Hollywood movies wind up in Malaysia? The legitimate 10% that aren’t pirated, I mean. Well, hang onto your DVDS, I’m about to pull back the curtain.
American production companies sell the rights – mostly at Film Markets. Vaunted Cannes markets itself as a glamorous “Film Festival,” with yachts, stars, and red astroturf. The reality is exceptionally unglamorous producers meeting with very ordinary owners of international theater chains or television stations. The U.S. production company offers a country’s distributors – perhaps Malaysia — a package deal: the Malaysian distributor can have the Liam Neesom action movie that’s currently in production, but they’ll have to also take the production company’s lame romantic comedy. Malaysia will then throw a pretend fit and insist that the romcom is out of the question due to slight nudity and the government censors will come down hard on them. But Malaysia REALLY wants that action film – that’s Malaysia’s bread and butter, action translates much more easily in their market – and so eventually the producers will lower the price and Malaysia will take both. Half the romcom will end up censored, but Malaysia doesn’t want to see that anyway.
Of all the international movie markets, the most coveted sale is one to Japan. The Japanese box office is huge.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts about my ancient, technologically useless boss, you’ve probably wondered why Boss B had a job. Boss B was THE Original Film Market Salesman. He knew all the players, he was at all the big screenings, and he was legendary for being able to charm everyone with a pinky handshake while his hands were full of popcorn and soda. He couldn’t master speed dial, but Boss B didn’t need to. He had peons like me to connect calls while he joked, wined, dined, and ultimately sold international distributors on our movies…most of which shouldn’t have left the editing booth, never mind the country. Boss B also occasionally asked me to “Telex” documents overseas. (You can look up Telex, just like I did.) THAT’S how old the man was.
The American Film Market is held in November at the Lowe’s Hotel in Santa Monica, CA.* My production company had enough pull/ money to rent a booth (meaning hotel suite) on the top floor of the Lowe’s. Various distribution companies from all over the world would visit our booth, read scripts, watch trailers, preview movie footage, sign contracts, and hand over money to secure rights to our films. Even the bombs.
One of our inevitable bombs involved a very hot, but decidedly B Grade actor. Mr. B Grade Hottie and his agent wanted to come visit the AFM, Boss B figured out when the actor would be most useful, and I was dispatched to collect actor and agent. This is trickier than it sounds. Legitimate distributors and buyers get badges that allow them full access to the AFM. If you don’t have a badge, you can go no further than the Lowe’s hotel bar on the first floor. The bar becomes a holding pen for the desperate, seething mass of wannabe producers, writers, actors, and directors. Some wannabes held onto a film exec’s vague promise to “talk at AFM” like a lifeline. Their hungry eyes tracked every person who passed from the front door through the bar, past the black velvet rope manned by security, and onto the promised land’s elevators. Others, lacking even these vague assurances, staked out the bar like predators at watering hole, ready to wow the unwary film exec with a pitch on earthquake-spewn magma zombies while the beleaguered exec downed a beer. Others hope to spot a friend, an acquaintance, or a cousin with coattails to ride past security.
Sometimes, as I fought my way through the bar, I wanted to hold up my badge and sing, “I’ve got a goooolden ticket!” Other times I was tempted to toss a guest badge in the center of the floor and see whether a shark-like feeding frenzy would develop. Discretion — or cowardice — prevailed.
My company had exactly two “AFM Guest Badges.” These badges were like gold. Each cost a fortune. When guests arrived, I had to head down five flights of stairs (the elevators were always packed and took forever), find the guests in the bar or in front of the hotel, affix the badges to the guests, and escort them up to our suite. After I had chased down and damned near tackled one badge-lifting, larcenous guest, I made a point of repossessing the badges as soon as I had our guests safely in our suite. Even Mr. Grade B Hottie and his agent had to surrender the badges at the door.
Boss B promptly ushered Mr. Grade B Hottie into a sales pitch with Greece and Australia. I got to listen to the female Acquisitions executives react favorably. I also got to listen to the agent chat with his twin toddler daughters. There were squeals and laughter coming from multiple directions. It was a little surreal. In the end, everyone was happy, the sale was made, and Mr. Grade B Hottie and his agent were soon out the door.
Five minutes later, the new head of Acquisitions for the top Japanese distributor showed up, unexpectedly, to introduce herself. Boss B bowed, exchanged pleasantries, and escorted her into a meeting room. As she stepped into the room, he shot me a meaningful look and hissed under his breath, “Go! RUN!” I knew exactly what he wanted.
The former Japanese buyer had been old. Male. Here was a golden opportunity for Boss B to pimp out Mr. Grade B Hottie and close a deal with the top market. I just had to catch Mr. Grade B Hottie and get him back up to our suite in a hurry. My cats needed to eat. I’m super competitive. I ran.
Most assistants couldn’t have made it. Their four-inch heels alone would have cost them the sale. I wear flats, I have long legs, and I had trained to throw elbows with a childhood spent fighting seven semi-feral siblings for limited amounts of food. I made it through the wannabe bar horde in record time and caught Mr. Grade B Hottie and his agent thirty feet from the hotel.
The round little agent was floored. “You ran?”
I steered them back toward the Lowe’s in between gasps. “Yes! Japan….super…important! Maybe you guys …could jog…a little?” I handed them each a badge.
The agent snorted and shooed us ahead. Mr. Grade B Hottie jogged fast, but was way too nice, so I bruised some more elbows getting him through the bar and away from grasping hands. He kept pace on the stairs. I sent him into the Japanese distributor and Boss B with a sexy sheen of sweat on his brow. He also removed his jacket, which undoubtedly helped seal the deal. When the Japanese distributor left, she was actually fanning herself with a small promo poster.
As Mr. Grade B Hottie and his agent prepared to leave a second time, I realized they both still wore our precious badges. I leaned forward to unclip the badge from Mr. Grade B Hottie’s waistband.
Mr. Grade B Hottie thought I was going in for something else – which, given the culture of Hollywood, was not necessarily an unreasonable assumption. He leaned into my lean, wrapped his arms around me, and pulled me in for a kiss. I think there might have been a showy dip in there, too.
Caught completely off-guard, I couldn’t move. I turned scarlet, and when he released me, I stammered a tiny, high-pitched, “I—I—I was just going for your badge!” I hurriedly unclipped his badge and held it up as proof.
Mr. Grade B Hottie laughed, said, “Oh, you’re so sweet,” and promptly kissed me again. At least this time it was on the cheek. His agent snickered and handed me the second badge.
Boss B escorted them out, returned, complimented me on my speed, and told me he’d never seen a face as red as mine.
Then he, too, snickered. But he gave me the rest of the afternoon off.
*Fun Factoid: The AFM used to be held in February, but all the Russians, Scandanavians, and Eastern Europeans kept ditching the screenings for the beach. Hard to blame them, really – after months of brutal cold and snow, why would they sit in theaters when they could strip down to their banana hammocks and bake on the balmy, 60°F beach? Especially when the beach had bikini-clad girls from Michigan equally determined to sunbathe. (Normal Angelenos, of course, were dressed in jackets and scarves and went nowhere near the beach without a wetsuit.)