Independent film distributors, whose target audience primarily watches movies at home, are gearing up for the annual American Film Market (AFM), which starts its six-day run today (Oct. 31) at Le Méridien Delfina Santa Monica (530 Pico Blvd.).
Andreas Olavarria, president and CEO of Level 33 Entertainment, said he’s “looking to meet with sales agents and discover some good feature films for our 2024 slate of theatrical and on-demand releases. We are open to content in all genres, but typically look for movies with a strong hook and known cast/elements. We also are selling several wonderful feature films from festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca at the market this year.
Olavarria said he’s attended AFM for more than a decade “and bought many films over the years. We acquired the movie Simmer from Sublimity Entertainment, and it went on to air on HBO and Max after a successful VOD and DVD release. Deadly Cuts is a film we acquired from Myriad Picture at AFM, and it is currently on Showtime and Paramount+. We were approached last year by the director of the award-winning film Waikiki, which will be released in select theaters in November and on demand beginning in December.”
Ed Seaman, CEO of MVD Entertainment Group, a family-run business that has been releasing music and film to home viewers since 1986, also will be at AFM 2023.
“It is a great opportunity to spend face-to-face time with clients and customers, to have some time to be cerebral and creative with our trade partners,” Seaman said. “We are not so much looking to buy films here but strengthen our relationships, and build new ones. So often we think we know what our trade partners do until we have some unstructured time, and we find there are new ways we can help each other.”
Another indie who will be at AFM this year is Richard Wolff, CEO of Breaking Glass Pictures, which licenses about 30 titles a year and produces 10 films annually for worldwide distribution. “Yes, we are attending from the beginning to the last day,” Wolff said. “We’re looking for films of all genres – we’re hoping to secure about a dozen pictures.”
Wolff, too, is a longtime regular at AFM, “beginning when the market was in February. We always made great deals, as this is the last market of the year. I’m curious to see how the new venue fares – and the condition of the elevators!”
Bill Sondheim will also be at AFM this year. A veteran home entertainment executive who once was president of PolyGram Video when the company was approaching the ranks of the majors, he now runs Greenfield Media LLC, a content consulting company that helps content creators find distribution and financing for their films before they are made, helps producers develop and package films, and represents films already made for licensing deals.
“I am going to AFM and looking forward to a busy few days,” Sondheim said. “I have several films at various stages of development that I will be pitching to distributors. I also represent some distribution companies, and I will meet with program suppliers that might benefit from added distribution capabilities. This show allows me to meet with dozens of content companies in a pleasant and convenient meeting area.”
Sondheim said he’s gone to AFM “for many years and always found it productive. Last year I sold two films as a producer that started with dialogs at AFM. I also got a new representation deal due to meetings at last year’s AFM. Going to the show is a very productive time.
Mitch Mallon, the founder and CEO of Stadium Media, also is attending the show. “We attend to continually measure where the business is and possibly progressing to, as well as to meet and establish initial relationships with some of the newer suppliers from the United States and around the globe.”
Stadium Media is a global distribution company established in 2015 with a catalog of over 400 titles. Mallon and his team work directly with most digital and OTT platforms throughout North America “and the ever-expanding global digital landscape,” Mallon said.
“I have been attending AFM since our launch and have met, and developed relationships with, several suppliers that we still work with to this day in releasing digitally. AFM is where I began to formalize what Stadium Media might become.”
Absent from AFM this year is Michael Rosenberg of Film Movement. “We went last year, but decided to skip it this year,” he said. “We’re in regular contact with everyone and saw a bunch of sales agents in Venice, at TIFF, and in Karlovy Vary. Also, we have a lot of films in the pipeline already at this time.”
Another no-show is Dan Gurlitz, the founder of Soundview Media Partners, which specializes in independent films as a sales agent, represents films for non-theatrical exhibition licensing, and publishes The Sound View: Independent Film Digest, a monthly publication focused on the release of unique films, both classic and contemporary.
AFM, he said, “is not a show that caters to the kind of films Soundview Media Partners traditionally specializes in. More importantly, business has been extraordinarily strong. Leads and new clients come in mostly via word of mouth, so there’s little need to attend a show like this at this time.”
AFM 2023 has lined up 245 exhibitors, according to organizers. Film screenings will be held at theaters throughout Los Angeles, while the AFM’s conference series will take place at The Hilton Santa Monica Hotel (1707 4th St).
The exhibitor list features independent film and TV production, sales and distribution companies as well as national pavilions from China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Thailand and the United Kingdom. International trade organizations, film commissions and production service companies also have a significant presence as part of this year’s enhanced LocationEXPO exhibition, according to organizers.
Registrants include buyers from more than 65 countries, according to organizers.
Sharknado producer The Asylum is releasing two films to home audiences in partnership with Greenfield Media, the company owned by industry veteran Bill Sondheim, whose credits include top leadership posts at PolyGram Video, USA Video and Cinedigm.
The first release, available Sept. 1, is the street-race thriller Fast & Fierce: Death Race, starring hip hop superstar DMX. The jet-fighter action film Wingmen Under Siege, with Eric Roberts, follows on Nov. 3.
Asylum will handle digital distribution; Sondheim’s companies will distribute the titles on disc through Distribution Solutions. Fast & Fierce will only be available on DVD, while Wingmen will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
“A wide DVD release is never an easy decision these days,” said Asylum partner David Rimawi. “But when Bill and the Sony alum team at Distribution Solutions were excited about the titles, we knew we had a couple of hits on our hands.”
Sondheim added, “I have had the pleasure of working with The Asylum team for many years and their product always delivers powerful stories with great casts, which results in terrific sales. I am thrilled to bring these films to the mainstream market with the assistance of Distribution Solutions.”
Fast & Fierce: Death Race follows Jack Tyson (DMX), who is near victory in an illegal street race from Mexico to California when a desperate woman jumps into his car. She asks him to help her escape from her violent boyfriend, the same gangster who organized the race.
Wingman Under Siege revolves around cadets on a secluded U.S. Air Force training base who must protect a gene-editing bioweapon from the Russian operatives who are desperate to seize the deadly viral agent at any cost. Roberts stars as the masterly base colonel.
Greenfield Media has set a Dec. 3 digital and DVD release date for The Reliant, an independent faith-based film with a pro-Second Amendment rights message that stars Kevin Sorbo, best known as television’s “Hercules.”
The film is being released to home audiences after a limited theatrical run in late October. The Reliant grossed close to $500,000 and sold approximately 35,000 tickets, Greenfield says.
The film follows a young family as they struggle to survive on the outskirts of their burning town after an economic collapse – and a government seizure of guns. When they capture a thief attempting to steal from them, they discover the attack on their home was no random act of violence. “They are torn between justice and mercy, and struggle to trust in God in the crisis of their lives,” according to a news release. “The film answers the question of what will you do to protect your own family.”
The Reliant opened Oct. 24 with a one-night Fathom Events showing on 722 screens. The marketing program included a media tour by Sorbo, targeted social media ad buys and support from the NRA.
“We focused on a grass-roots push in middle American markets, which resulted in a successful Fathom event that exceeded all expectations,” said Bill Sondheim, the veteran home entertainment executive who launched Greenfield Media earlier this year.
“That enthusiasm has carried over to both the physical and the digital releases as witnessed by the film grabbing the No. 1 pre-order spot on Amazon the week after the Fathom event.”
He said the film will be distributed to home audiences through Distribution Solutions, which is “ideally suited to maximize this mass merchant-oriented film.”
In addition to Sorbo, The Reliant starts Brian Bosworth, Mollee Gray, and Eric Roberts.
Prior to launching Greenfield Media, Sondheim most recently served as president of the entertainment group at Cinedigm Corp. Before joining Cinedigm in October 2013, Sondheim was president of entertainment and worldwide distribution for Gaiam, later Gaiam Vivendi, which was ultimately sold to Cinedigm. From 2005 to 2007, he oversaw the development of Sony Music Entertainment’s dual disc technology initiative.
Before Sony, Sondheim was president of GT Brands LLC and, before that, president of Polygram Filmed Entertainment’s video distribution entity when it appeared PolyGram was on the cusp of becoming the seventh major, through hit theatrical movies like What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr., and The Game, with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.