We talked to the American Film Market’s director, Jonathan Wolf, for a wrap up of the market, collecting the hints and suggestions, on which, he reveals, he will soon start working to build the next edition of the AFM. We start with this year’s most important new initiative, the Location Expo, which gathered together 61 film commissions from all over the world in Santa Monica.
“The Film Commissions told us that they found the producers they want to meet here. There are other location shows around, of course, but they have pretty much a local audience, a fair that could bring together a parterre of international professionals from over 40 countries didn’t exist before. The booths at Location Expo were completely sold out and many commissioners could only get a badge: re-organizing the space will be one of the priorities for next year.
We are thinking of smaller booths for one to one meetings since the majority of the film commissions don’t really need more than one representative and it is important to bear in mind, for those who are not yet familiar with the AFM, that this market lasts for seven days: it is worth using all of these instead of staying for just two or three days, as happens elsewhere. There are producers whose accreditation is only valid for the last four days, so my suggestion for the film commissions is that it is more effective to have one person for seven days rather than two people for three or four. Also, because the most expensive thing is to travel here, it becomes very important to make the best use of the time at one’s disposal. Besides, apart from the accredited producers, film commissions have a chance to meet the ‘Hollywood community’ that passes through here without accreditation because the Location Expo spaces are accessible to everyone.”
And to the suggestion made by many film commissioners (see the article) about organizing more events dedicated to film commissions and to film incentives, Wolf answers this way: “with our conferences and workshops here we have built the audience (around 700 participants each) that film commissions are interested in. In the past we tried to organize panels where they each had ten minutes to talk about their incentives, but they were poorly attended because the producers perceived them as ‘advertising’. The core concept of the AFM is personal discussion on individual films and on how to benefit from existing incentives whereas it is less effective to talk about incentives for films that have not yet been made. There is another thing that we offer film commissions: they are the only ones entitled to go to Carousel Cocktails for the four evenings they are organized after the market. Buyers and distributors are not invited, producers are, but they can choose only one day to attend, so film commissions have the possibility of networking with 500 different producers every night.”
The macro-trend that Wolf identified this year is the market’s gradual return to stability thanks to the fact that buyers are starting to be confident again in their ability to “see beyond the horizon, and determine the product value of a film in the long term.” Something that the arrival of subscription services like Netflix had completely destroyed: “the rise of these new platforms determined, for example, the disappearance of films from television and television consequently had to re-organize itself according to other models. It looked like buyers couldn’t predict what the future of a film would look like anymore 15 years after its release, for example. This uncertainty made them extremely cautious whilst now they feel more at ease in their understanding of market dynamics and they are making offers again. Maybe one problem could lie in the fact that the decisions to produce the films that are sold here today were taken some years ago, under different market conditions, but the market in itself is neither good nor bad: every film can be sold, the important thing is to understand the needs and characteristics of the market at different times.”
The figures actually confirm a slight growth: in sales companies (+17%), in screenings (+10%) and in general market attendance (+6%).
Another new entry at this edition (together with the AFM on demand screenings) was the script writing workshop which is particularly close to Jonathan Wolf’s heart along with the special pitching session that the AFM director rightly defines “the most hilarious part of the market” where 14 selected pitches are judged by expert producers (this year the executive producer Tobin Armbrust, president of Virgin Produced and the independent producer Cassian Elwes).
Great importance is given to writing and, more specifically, to what Wolf calls “Hollywood storytelling”: “I don’t like the AFM to be American in general, but I want it to be American in the writing. That is the reason we call instructors who can provide a ‘Hollywood upbringing’, that come from the university world of Los Angeles. In general, we like to think of all our workshops as university classes: there are themes that need to be addressed and we don’t change them over the years just as we don’t change some instructors.”