Independent Film Distributors Gear Up for AFM as Film Market Opens Today

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

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.”

Bill Sondheim

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.  

‘We Are the World’ Commemorated 35 Years Later

Participants, family and fans gathered Jan. 28 at Studio “A” at Henson Studios (formerly A&M Records and the original Charlie Chaplin Studios) on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, Calif., to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the recording of the song “We Are the World,” which over the years has raised millions to feed the hungry.

“We Are the World” producer Ken Kragen, Gina Belafonte (daughter of “We Are the World” organizer/artist Harry Belafonte), singer Dionne Warwick, and USA for Africa board president Lloyd Greig unveiled a commemorative plaque to be placed at the studio. The plaque reads, “On January 28, 1985, 45 superstar recording artists checked their egos at this door and joined together as one to record ‘We Are the World.’ 35 years later, the people’s anthem they created has raised over $100 million for USA for Africa. The song still lends a helping hand.”

As part of the celebration, Stadium Media has just released a documentary We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song to digital outlets, including Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNow, Google Play, Vudu and TubiTV. It is also available on InDemand on Cox and Comcast.

At the event, participants shared stories of the genesis and experience of creating the song. It was a call from legendary performer Harry Belafonte, who wanted to raise money to fight hunger in Africa, that got Kragen involved. In addition to lining up the performers, Kragen enlisted Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson to write “We Are the World” and Quincy Jones — who famously put up a sign at the studio to “check your egos at the door” — to produce.

“It seemed impossible,” Kragen recalled at the event. “We did that in five weeks. We put this whole thing together in five weeks from the day I got the call from Harry Belafonte. One of my philosophies is that it’s easier to accomplish the impossible than the ordinary, and the reason is people pay attention when you’re trying to do the impossible.”

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It also helped that the recording was done the night of the American Music Awards.

“It got all the artists in town and we didn’t have to worry about getting them here, and they all came in their limos from the American Music Awards, one after the other, and I was standing out here welcoming people,” Kragen said. “A guy pushed his way through the crowd in a leather jacket and he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I got a great parking place across the street on La Brea.’ It was Bruce Springsteen.”

Dionne Warwick, who also drove herself to the recording studio, recalled, “I had never seen as many limousines lining La Brea.”

“Quincy Jones wanted Dionne Warwick to be part of this song — and I specifically remember him telling me this — because she was such a great singer,” Kragen recalled. “He said, ‘We’ve got to have Dionne. She has just a fabulous voice.’”

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The limos and crowd of luminaries weren’t the only surprises for Warwick that night.

She recalled, “Quincy said, ‘Guess who your duet partner’s going to be?’ I said, ‘Who?’ And he said, ‘It’s Willie Nelson’ — which was quite a surprise to me, but it was a wonderful duet as it turned out.”

Gina Belafonte also related a funny anecdote her father told her about the night: “Stevie Wonder needed to find the restroom, and when he needed to find the restroom, I believe he asked Ray Charles. And I believe it was Ray Charles that guided him to the restroom.”

On a more serious note, she said her father, who could not attend the plaque unveiling, “finds great reward in what USA for Africa has been able to do with the proceeds” from the recording of that song 35 years ago.

Remembering ‘We Are the World’

Participants, family and fans gathered Jan. 28 at Studio “A” at Henson Studios (formerly A&M Records and the original Charlie Chaplin Studios) on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, Calif., to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the recording of the song “We Are the World,” which over the years has raised millions to feed the hungry. The event will be commemorated by a plaque to be placed at the studio. The plaque reads, “In January 28, 1985, 45 superstar recording artists checked their egos at this door and joined together as one to record ‘We Are the World.’ 35 years later, the people’s anthem they created has raised over $100 million for USA for Africa. The song still lends a helping hand.” (L-R) “We Are the World” producer Ken Kragen, Gina Belafonte (daughter of “We Are the World” organizer/artist Harry Belafonte), singer Dionne Warwick, and USA for Africa’s Lloyd Greig.

Stadium Media Inks Digital Deal With Urban Film Distributor Xenon Pictures

Stadium Media, a global digital content provider, has inked a deal with Xenon Pictures to offer urban films for digital distribution to select platforms.

The deal includes the title The Legend of Dolemite, a documentary on Rudy Ray Moore. Moore’s story is being turned into a Netflix biopic, Dolemite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy.

“We are extremely thrilled to be working with Xenon,” said Stadium Media founder Mitch Mallon in a statement. “They were the first in the market to recognize and realize how important the African-American audience was to the home entertainment field. We look forward to offering their top titles to digital audiences.”

“Mitch is a force in this industry,” said Xenon COO Steve Housden in a statement. “Over the decades, we’ve often competed with him for customers and titles, but we are thrilled to have him on our side. It frees us up to concentrate on producing new content. It’s great knowing Mitch is in position to place the new titles with his accounts.”

Other Xenon titles under the deal include the miniseries A Woman Called Moses, starring Cicely Tyson as Harriet Tubman; the urban thriller Joy Road; the documentary Welcome to Death Row (the inspiration for Straight Outta Compton); and Before They Were Kings, which features early performances by comic stars, including Chris Rock, D.L. Hughley and Martin Lawrence.

Stadium Media’s library consists of classic television shows such as SyFy’s “Van Helsing,” “That Girl,” “The Best of Groucho Marx” and “The Danny Thomas Show”; and independent films such as The Matchbreaker, The Black Hole, It Happened One Christmas, Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent, Peter Bogdanovich’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Runnin Down a Dream and the upcoming Undateable John.