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411 at AFM: Day Four

M. Galas


For someone involved with helping place AFM ads in the Variety Dailies for two years but had never attended the event itself, I was extremely excited to spend a day in Santa Monica, getting a feel for the atmosphere and the activity surrounding one of the major international film marketplaces.


For eight days in November over 8,000 various industry professionals, distributors, and financiers gathered in Santa Monica, CA.  This year there were representatives from over 70 countries in attendance looking to close production and distribution deals.  Early figures posted on the IFTA website indicated “over $800 million in deals will be sealed.”


The first stop on my AFM journey was the AFM Headquarters, situated at the Loew’s Santa Monica Hotel.  The hotel’s front entrance was wrapped in the sponsor’s banners, and street hawkers attempted to drum up interest for films screening at the market.  A few renegade producers who were not officially registered for the market were also passing out flyers and postcards to promote their films.  The international presence was very strong as individuals from Italy, France, and Japan milled about, quietly discussing business in clusters along the hotel’s grounds.


Although the lobby was filled with many attendees chatting on phones and hunkered down behind laptops, the consensus from the exhibitors was that the show was the slowest in years.


“We thought it would pick up being a Saturday, but there is less traffic than yesterday,” said Florence Swamy, Manager of Marketing and PR for the Fiji Audio Visual Commission.    


Jamie Cope from the West Virginia Film Office agreed.  “It’s been really, really slow.  It’s been the slowest market in years.”


Despite the poorly attended show floor, it appeared that the production company offices were maintaining steady business.  All offices had meetings in progress.  I stopped by one well-known company to arrange an interview. “We only make appointments for dealmakers,” was what I was told. 


Continuing my AFM experience, I participated in the People’s Choice Awards & American Film Market “Favorite Film Pitch” contest.  The contest invited attendees to record a feature film pitch.  Each recorded pitch would be reviewed by a panel of producers and distributors, and the finalist would then be shown to the viewing audience during the People’s Choice Awards and, a la “American Idol,” the winner would be selected by popular vote.


I was given two minutes and thirty seconds to conduct my pitch. Two takes were allotted to each applicant, but I was warned, “If you feel good about your first take, go with that.”  The second take would be the take used in competition regardless of its quality.    Although I never pitched a screenplay before, I went in, offered a brief synopsis of my idea, described the prospective audience, gave a casting suggestion, and completed my pitch in less than two minutes.  I felt good about the experience but realize there is definitely an art to making a good pitch.  


So many venues house AFM activities that three different color-coded shuttle buses help the attendees move from hotels to theaters.    As I thumbed through the bound guidebook describing the 435 films screening during the festival, I made my choice primarily on what I could get to on time.  That film was “180 Degrees,” a Mexican feature directed by Fernando Kalife.  It was a family drama that dealt with love, infidelity, betrayal, and soccer.  I enjoyed the cinematography and was happy to see that the press kit provided a description of cinematographer Eduardo Flores Torres.  In addition to shooting 2nd unit on “Babel,” he’s been nominated and received awards for his cinematography around the world.  This film was also edited by Hughes Winborne, who received the Oscar for “Outstanding Achievement in Editing” for “Crash.”


I concluded my AFM experience by sitting in on the “Produce and Sell Your Film” workshop offered by Dov S-S Simens.  Taking the wrong shuttle to the site, the session had already begun, and the house was full.  Listening in, it seemed that the information was geared towards independent producers with small budgets.  His advice hinged on creating the most professional impression of your company as possible.  Suggestions included: if you can’t afford a publicist, pretend you are a publicist and get your film listed in the trades, producers should always state that they have “numerous projects in various stages of production” even if they only have one project they are dealing with, and that a new producer should find a project that shoots for one week at one location, and build up from there.