Jonathan Wolf, the executive VP of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) and managing director of the American Film Market (AFM), shares with TV USA some of what delegates can look forward to and the topics that will be addressed at AFM.
The next edition of the American Film Market (AFM) will take place from November 1 to 8 at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. More than 7,000 industry leaders are expected to converge for eight days of deal-making, screenings, conferences, networking and parties. Participants come from more than 80 countries, and this year there are plenty of new highlights that are meant to add value to their participation, including the LocationEXPO, AFM Screenings On Demand and a Writers’ Workshops series.
WS: What are some of the timely issues that are facing the independent film sector?
WOLF: The answer to that question keeps changing every day. We always want to look at piracy as an issue. We want to look at the impact of Netflix as an issue. Collapsing windows are always a question mark. [We also address] how consumers want to consume entertainment and on what size screens. The marketplace is always evolving; it’s sort of like the weather. The best producers and financiers are able to look a little past the horizon and understand how the marketplace, technology, business models, etc. are changing and position [themselves accordingly]. When you start on a script, it’s a year and a half to two years before an audience sees anything. So you have to understand what the marketplace is going to be [like a few years out]—and have you positioned that script with a budget that’s going to work?
WS: How has AFM evolved to keep pace with the rapid changes in the industry and the challenges that attendees are dealing with?
WOLF: There are a few ways. For maybe its first 20 years, the American Film Market was almost purely an import/export event. Nearly all of the participants were either sales companies and distributors bringing projects or territorial buyers from around the world coming to acquire them. Starting around 2000, we developed programs and embraced the production community. We did this through a variety of services, from developing the conference series to adding a filmmakers lounge to creating an online [hub] just for the production community called MyAFM. It used to be that if you walked in the Loews everybody had to look at each other’s badge—“Oh, you’re a producer, I’m looking for a writer”—but now we’re using technology to enhance the value of attending. MyAFM is a way that participants from the production community can connect. We started adding roundtables. If you look at our programs and events for this year, there are 24 or 25 events that are targeting and serving the production community, not the buyers and the sellers.
We said, here we are in Hollywood, which for some is the mecca of filmmaking. Here we are with decision-makers from hundreds and hundreds of companies under one roof for a week. There’s a lot to offer the production community! The education is part of it, the networking is part of it, the various services that we offer are part of it.
We’re continuing to expand on that as well. This year we’ve added LocationEXPO at the AFM. LocationEXPO is within the Loews. It’s about 50-plus film commissions who combined are bringing billions of dollars in production incentives with them. That’s helping to educate the production community; it isn’t targeting the buyers and sellers, who are continuing to do their work, screen the films and close a lot of deals. It’s another value-add that the production community has. The LocationEXPO will make the Loews feel like we’re bursting at the seams. In just our first year we’ve got more than 50 film commissions, even though we didn’t announce it until March. We believe that will probably double next year.
First and foremost, we want to make sure that the buyers and sellers of films are well serviced. Then, we turn our attention to the production community and how we can create added value for them. When you have the production community coming to the AFM, they come for access, because they are able to meet all the various companies; they come for education and all the sessions that we have; they come for networking and making connections. Some achieve the holy grail, which is visibility—whether it was Harvey [Weinstein] listening to their pitch in an elevator or one of the trades writing about a young filmmaker bringing their special project to market. We have really looked to provide value to the production community. That’s been our biggest area of growth.
WS: Any other new areas that you’d like to highlight for this year’s event?
WOLF: We have started online screenings for the AFM this year, AFM Screenings On Demand. Only sales companies that have offices can screen films. The audience for that is determined by the sales companies; they can select buyers or other AFM participants. It is invitation-only. This allows companies that may have sold most of their rights to a film, have some countries left and don’t want to go through the expense of a screening. This can also be used for catch-up screenings; maybe not everybody made it to the one screening at the AFM, so after the market, they can see it online. Most importantly, it can be used for smaller-budget films. When you have a $300,000 or $400,000 film that has a terrific chance to be profitable but an AFM screening is about $1,500, and it’s only 90 minutes during a seven-day market that has 29 cinema auditoriums simultaneously running, you’re gambling that you’re going to get your audience. Instead, a smaller-budget film can choose the online screenings, which will open on October 23, a week before the market, and run through March 31, 2018.
In terms of what’s new for 2017, it’s the online screenings and also the Writers’ Workshops. What really is new, though, are the films, the projects and the information that the thought-leaders talk about during the sessions.