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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Rhenals

Blog Post #166: My Experience at MMFM 2023!

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Miami Media and Film Market (MMFM) took place September 18-19, 2023 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. MMFM is "a fast growing film and entertainment international co-production forum and marketplace focused on content development, helping to bridge the gap between the global entertainment industry and diverse, fast growing, multi-cultural markets."

Poised to complete production on my 3rd film Death Cleaning and beginning to look ahead to future film projects that would necessitate outside financial support, I eagerly registered for MMFM 2023 and attended its preliminary and highly informative webinar. Despite harboring a small degree of apprehension about the lack of name studios and production companies invited, I quickly realized that there was significant value in attending the event to promote my work and engage with other creative professionals, local and not-so-local.

My private expectation was that the event would be heavily populated, highly cut-throat and rife with opportunities primarily catering to more established media creators. Thankfully, I would be proven more wrong than right.

Despite arriving far later than I was comfortable with due to my novice understanding of Miami Beach-bound traffic, I arrived at the city's impressive convention center shortly before the event's Day 1 program was set to begin. The atmosphere was immediately quiet and unintimidating. It stands to reason that the state's evisceration of film incentives and tax breaks had robbed Miami of a fulsome professional film community. But at least one presentation later that day would promise a change to this unfortunate state of affairs.

Accustomed to intensely solitary creative work and all its concomitant mental preoccupations, I must admit that I felt like a fish out of water at the start of the event. While wrestling with a mild case of nerves, I hoped the event's first panel would help quell my anxiety and motivate me to work up the right energy to begin chatting and networking with fellow attendees.

Unfortunately, the first panel, titled "The Producers' Forum", did not help matters. It featured Stewart Mackinnon (CEO of Circle Pictures; Executive Producer, The Man in the High Castle), Gustavo Ferrada (Head of Scripted, Mediacrest) and Joe Menendez (Director, Producer, Writer; Star Trek: Picard, Snowpiercer, Ladron Que Roba Ladron).

While I've always been sympathetic to the producing side of the film business on account of my own assumption of the producer role on every film project I've ever put my name on, I found the panel centering on the more practical side of my hallowed art initially rather off-putting. An overbearing emphasis on market and audience metrics flew in the face of my life-long belief in the power of a consummate artist's intuition. While it makes sense for investors to feel secure, universality should be any art's greatest aspiration - not the satisfaction of finicky bean counters.

The next panel I'd like to mention was titled "Miami-Dade Industry Mavericks" and included Gustavo R. Aparicio (Managing Director, Spanglish Movies), Bruno del Granado (Head of Global Latin Music Touring Group, Creative Artists Agency), Marco Giron (Film & Entertainment Commissioner, Miami-Dade County; FilMiami) and Lisette Garcia Arrogante (Tourism & Culture Dept. Director, City of Miami Beach).

This panel, taking place later on in the afternoon of Day 1, instantly picked up my crestfallen self. Here, the panelists' presentations were an outstretched hand to this gathered community of local creatives. Much in the way of incentives, grants and tax credits were promised - at least at the city level. A great spirit of optimism pervaded the hall where the panel took place as Mr. Del Granado alluded to the chance of Miami becoming a new global capital of art and entertainment in the years to come!

Day 2 of the event offered two other panels focusing on the film industry in Spain and the United Kingdom. Here, one was made plainly aware of the far greater dedication to the audio-visual industry than is found in the US. The Spanish speakers focused on the generous financial help available to foreign or Spanish co-productions while the UK speakers described the flurry of film studio constructions and skills training taking place in the island country right now. It was an eye-opening look at two societies unsullied by the cultural distrust of the media industry so rampant here in the US.

Despite my initial aversion to gabbing with those immediately around me, I knew it was imperative to share some facetime with some of the established figures on the various panels.

So, I approached Joe Menendez (read above), whose endearing introductory reel featured him as a young man filming with an 8mm film camera on a makeshift set. I introduced myself and described my rapt commitment to local and micro-budget filmmaking. While he was less sympathetic to my grassroots filmmaking exploits than I hoped he would be, he did offer some critical advice about the need for filmmakers to speak two different languages: one appreciable by fellow filmmakers and one attuned to studio executives. I'd never heard it put that way but it made absolute sense.

I also introduced myself to Marco Giron (read above), to whom I gifted a copy of my book 20 Years a Filmmaker which I happened to have on-hand. He was most gracious to receive my book and listen to what I had to say about my experience as a filmmaker. At the conclusion of our brief interaction, he recommended staying in touch with his office for some share of the help and support offered by the city which he had alluded to in his panel presentation.

Two other notable figures I had the chance to speak to were Bruno del Granado and Stewart Mackinnon (read above). To the leader of Miami's most renowned talent agency, I asked Mr. Del Granado if I should seek representation after having made three feature films and his response was a resounding assent. Credible, no? To producing magnate Stewart Mackinnon, I queried him for any advice at this point in my modestly forming career and, after describing what I'd accomplished thus far, he conveyed that my generation (millennials, I assumed) making movies on their own terms was the future of the industry. I sure hope so!

Throughout the event and certainly after regaining some of my lost spirits, I did enjoy various opportunities to engage with other fledgling media makers casually standing around between panels and other event activities. I was sure to hand out plenty of business cards and listen as often as I spoke. Some of the folks I met included a charming screenwriting duo who would be pitching one of their TV series scripts at the event, a writer/producer of feature films who already had at least one profitable film under his belt and an enterprising couple of whom one was an acting guru who'd worked with the likes of director Ridley Scott and other film industry luminaries.

After a second day of attending panels, networking with other locals and interacting with well-cemented industry figures, the two-day event came to a calm and well-earned close. It had been a new and illuminating experience.

In the few days that have followed my attendance at MMFM, I feel I've matured as a filmmaker. The tension between art and commerce will likely always persist but a view about the distinct demands of the more pragmatic side of the equation has been sharpened as a result of this experience. Intuition is no doubt pivotal to purveyors of any art but so is ensuring the safety and security of benefactors who may trust you but need to protect their investment. For this reason, conventional regard for "the market" gains a new, less pejorative connotation after this mid-September 2023 occasion. With the growth I foresee in my future as an increasingly prolific feature filmmaker, to understand the added nodes and levers of expansion is an urgent necessity. There's more to learn and appreciate about working in film as a result. Still, I'm thankful I've been able to operate as long as I have without ceding to the cliches and desolation of exclusively success-minded activity.

Thank you to the more visible members of the MMFM team, Patricia Arias, Jose Luis Martinez and Joe Garcia, as well as all other staff and coordinators who so effectively executed this remarkable event! I will definitely return for future editions! Until next time!

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