SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The annual American Film Market (AFM) ended its six-day run Nov. 5 at its new home, the Le Méridien Delfina Santa Monica, and the verdict among independent film distributors who attended the event was that it was equal parts chaotic and productive.
Chaotic, because the venue change necessitated splitting the conference program from the hotel suites where most of the business gets done. Sessions were held at the Hilton Santa Monica Hotel & Suites, nearly a mile away. Parking information was vague, and the lines for elevators were as long as ever. Compounding the confusion was that the host hotel was being picketed by striking hotel workers belonging to Unite Here Local 11, who crowded the sidewalk while loudly chanting, banging drums and tooting horns. Their demands include higher wages and an end to bringing in replacement workers from homeless shelters on Skid Row.
And yet inside the film market, it was very much business as usual. “AFM was productive – it was great to have face time with so many sales agents, buyers and producers,” said Andreas Olavarria, president and CEO of Level 33 Entertainment. “As I’m sure many have remarked, there were challenges with the venue: it was difficult navigating the new location, elevators, maze-like halls and stairwells; not to mention the noise of striking hotel workers which seemed to affect mostly the priciest suites facing the ocean.”
His takeaway of the current state of independent film distribution: “The SVOD business is more difficult and confusing than ever with so much consolidation, change of personnel and lack of clarity about who is actually buying indie films. AVOD is a bright spot, with many platforms doing meaningful business. Theatrical presents some opportunities but seems to be mostly about branding films ahead of VOD….”
Among several acquisitions, Level 33 nabbed North American rights to Cottontail, a drama from British director Patrick Dickinson that stars Lily Franky and Ciaran Hinds. The film had its world premiere late last month at the Rome Film Festival, where it picked up a prize for Best First Feature.
Mitch Mallon, the founder and CEO of Stadium Media, said his company “did not acquire anything in particular, but we did create a few new relationships with newer/startup production companies. We also reconnected with companies that we have been in contact with for the past few years and a few of those look like they will be bringing some of their programs to Stadium Media in 2024.”
Mallon agrees that the show was productive. “We connected for the first time with local film commissions in our state, Arizona, which means Stadium Media will now be in the conversation for film makers as a possible asset for their production’s distribution.”
As for buzz, Mallon said “the one that surprised me is that I did not hear much discussion around the show floor in the way of FAST channels, whereas the previous week while attending Sportel Monaco, the talk was all about FAST.”
Ed Seaman, CEO of MVD Entertainment Group, a family-run business that has been releasing music and film to home viewers since 1986, also gave the show high marks.
“We are considering a number of different product lines for acquisition but we don’t kiss and tell, not until the ink is dry,” he said. “Most importantly, anytime we can get together with our trade partners, have some quality time to explore opportunities and break bread, great things happen. And AFM this year did not disappoint.”
Bill Sondheim of Greenfield Media LLC, a content consulting company, said he sees AFM as “as opportunity to buy and sell content. I was here to sell a few movies and was able to get several offers that I am now negotiating to complete the terms.”
Overall, he said, “I found the show exceptionally productive, and I was pleasantly surprised by the ease in setting very busy back-to-back meetings away from the main event hotel with meaningful distributors and platform operators. This allowed me to have quiet and engaged meetings in a pleasant environment. In just three days, I had 27 meetings and three delicious dinners. One dinner helped me secure a host for a TV series, another allowed me to get a few collector boxed sets in motion, and a final dinner provided ideas for new MOD services for international territories.”
That said, Sondheim added, “I heard frustration from many foreign sales companies that the new host hotel was not accommodating. I also heard attendance was down in part due to the huge attendance at MIPCOM a few weeks ago.”
On the product side, he said, “The disc dialog I heard centered around MOD and collector sets. MOD will extend the ability to get revenue out of an increasingly small consumer base for slower moving titles. Collector sets cater to an audience that wants a physical item to display because they are passionate fans, and that consumer may start to resemble the older vinyl consumer that has driven a retro hipness despite newer technologies.”
Attendees also commented that they felt the panel discussions, at 90 minutes, were far too long. Said one observer, “I felt like sticking needles in my eyes.”