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The American Film Market

Indiewire By Peter Belsito | Indiewire October 27, 2012 at 3:35PM

Jonathan Wolf, Executive VP of The Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA®) and Managing Director of the American Film Market discusses the current market climate with Peter.
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Jonathan Wolf, IFTA and AFM
Jonathan Wolf, IFTA and AFM

I spoke about the upcoming American Film Market / AFM with Jonathan Wolf, who is The Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA®) Executive VP and American Film Market Managing Director. 

(For your information -  The organization that produces the AFM each year is The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) which is the global trade association of the independent motion picture and television programming industry. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the organization represents and provides significant entertainment industry services to more than 150 member companies from 23 countries, consisting of independent production and distribution companies, sales agents, television companies, and institutions engaged in production finance.)

Sydney and I view the AFM as one of the biggest of the three formal film markets held each year.  These are the EFM European Film Market held in February in Berlin alongside the Berlinale Film Festival and the Cannes Marche du Film in late May next to Cannes Film Festival.

It should also be noted that while not Markets, in the formal sense, Toronto (September) and Sundance (January), are primarily film festivals, have lots of press and trade people (film industry types) present and much activity in the buying and selling of films.  Sydney and I call them (Toronto and Sundance) "informal markets" or "de facto markets".

So I then asked Jonathan what is the difference between this AFM, which is a very large market and a film  festival (e.g. Sundance?) .

Jonathan replied as follows.  "There are 4,000 film festivals around the world and all but a handful of these are cultural events for their local area and there is no market and no ‘b to b’ side.  Large established festivals such as Seattle and Chicago etc have no biz component, it is all local.  Sundance however is not a cultural event for community or local people.  It contains events for industry pros.  But Sundance is not a market.  It is a different type of event from AFM which has no Festival side and is different from the Markets at Berlin or Cannes which do have festivals."

I asked Jonathan about this quote from the AFM I found interesting.

 “We are seeing a shift in the way sub distributors acquire film as they steadily rely less on local distributors and more on direct acquisitions.  We also expect a significant increase in buyers from China.”

I started on this above by reading it to him and he said, "That’s from our website and there are two separate points there."

I said okay, about sub distributors then, in which territories are you seeing this happen?

Jonathan replied as follows.

‘Well the trend is not unique to any film buying territory which can be multiple countries (e.g. Scandinavia, 5 countries), or any single country.  But this is a trend we see and do not know exactly why it occurs.  But, we hypothesize as follows:  a) international companies are growing and thus are seeking more products.  b) we assume they are not getting what they want at home from distributors and so they come to AFM to meet directly with our sellers here.  This year, post AFM we’ll measure what’s gone on during our Market.  One reason for this could be that new media (meaning digital streaming and / or download services) are seeking more product video on demand.  So as a result now instead of waiting at home, they are coming to the Market to buy directly and much earlier.’

China is always on our minds these days, so I asked about that next.

He went on.  ‘There’s not a lot to say today about China that you could not say 5 years ago.  China as a buyer of our films is growing.  The numbers will go up in terms of sales and attendance at international events such as ours.  By the way this is similar to what I’d have said  5 years ago, or for that matter 5 years from now.  We are looking forward to their evolution and all I can say definitely is that we are not able to predict either specific numbers or dates.’

I then asked about who comes to AFM, besides buyers and sellers.

‘What we see now is that attendees include many aspiring filmmakers with projects, scripts.  AFM can also be a ‘pre sale market’.  At AFM you can see many people selling projects to buyers sight unseen.  So If you ask most companies there at AFM I think you’d find of projects in the Market, one third are screening and two thirds are from pre sales.  So more business is done during AFM on pre sales.’

‘The Market exceeds 350 companies and there are 130 to 140 screening films with 600 or 700 separate screenings of these at different times.’

So, I asked, why is the AFM different from the other two big formal markets?

He replied. ‘Well there’s a few reasons.   AFM is not side by side with a festival like Cannes Marche and Berlin EFM.  Also it is the ONLY event in film permanently based in Hollywood.  This affects the dna of the event.  Also the calendar helps us.  AFM is 6 months after the previous market in Cannes.   As a result of this long period we benefit and get more films and projects here.  Both Cannes and AFM each have unique benefits and are indispensable to film professionals.  I’d say this about Berlin or the EFM and that is that if a distributor or buyer skips AFM or Cannes they are conspicuous by their absence.  But not Berlin.’

‘Another important difference AFM is the only market for film, TV or music actually produced by the content providers (note – he refers to the IFTA membership of companies which run the organization hosting AFM) in the film business, TV or music.  The other markets are run either by the festival organizations they are paired with or by for profit organizations like REED Exhibitions.  Or even by government organizations.  In the case of NATPE (a TV market) it is run by a conference organizer or associations that represent attendees of market, that is the hallwalkers or buyers not by sellers who run the booths and screenings.  This is the reason why the AFM is the least expensive of markets by far.  Berlin is double the cost.  MIPCOM (another TV Market) is double the cost.  Cannes costs 50% more than AFM.  So we are the least expensive market for sellers in their desire to meet their customer’s, the buyers, needs.  Lastly I note that when some years ago the AFM moved successfully to November from winter both Cannes Marche and Berlin EFM grew.’

Lastly I asked Jonathan about overall who attended AFM and where he saw the future growth.

He replied.  ‘There are three types who come to the show.  These are sellers who have stands and films.  There are buyers who come looking for product.  And then there are all others.  The two previous groups are stable in number year after year.  However the third group has increased by 50% in recent years.  We see in the future that growth will continue and that the AFM will also continue to grow services to that group’. 

‘Our perspective on the AFM, the long view is, that AFM has evolved from being pure import export show to an event relevant to all who bring film forward and among them I include filmmakers, producers, financiers, lawyers,  writers.  Our Conference this year 800 seats is sold out.  It runs during the Market on November 2-6.  One half day each day for 5 days.  Our purpose is to get people in the conference room from 40 countries.  We consciously do NOT target LA residents.  We target those others who do not have the opportunity to hear industry leaders such as we’ll have speaking.  So for these film business travelers we are about enhancing the value of their trip to LA.  We consider it extremely important to reach ‘them’.’

Lastly I include this listing from the AFM website as to who should attend the Market.  It speaks to their ambition:

Acquisition Executives • Advertising Agencies • Agents • Artist Managers • Attorneys • Bankers • Broadcast and Cable Networks • Development Executives • Digital Media Distributors • Directors • DVD Distributors • Festival Directors • Film Commissioners • Filmmakers • Financiers • Mobile Content Buyers • Online Content Providers • Post Production Facilities • Press • Producers • Public Relations Agencies • Studio Facilities • Theatrical Distributors • Trade Associations • Writers ... and all who provide products and services to the motion picture industry.

To explore a bit further I recommend their interesting website at:

http://www.americanfilmmarket.com/

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