American Film Market 2008 Overview -- Modest Results, Strong relations

Every year thousands of film industry folk merge along Santa Monica’s Oceanside for seven days of business, movies and the business of movies.  This year over 8,000 professionals arrived, leading to one of the biggest turnouts in history.

The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and the Le Merigot Beach Hotel were the main settings, but that’s not all. All twenty-three theater screens on the Santa Monica Promenade became screening rooms and eight digital and video screening rooms were added just for the events. More than nine hundred screenings of approximately five hundred films, with the majority of them being world or U.S. premieres.

The Art of Commerce

Film markets are global.  Wherever movies are seen, movies are also bought and sold.  The Cannes International Film Festival, which takes place each May in Cannes, France, may be both among the largest and most prestigious, but let’s not forget Toronto, Venice, Berlin, Sundance.  The list goes on.

Marketing at overseas events tends to be outrageous, but certainly memorable.  Wandering nude women wearing body paint, jets carrying banners, docked yachts holding billboards.  And the interior of buildings decorated like a Nascar racer.  Every square inch covered with entertainment paraphernalia.  But AFM is more reserved and aims for a classier image.

“Those” People

Until you’ve walked into the hotel lobby and have seen thousands of people, you may not be able to fully imagine it.  Until you travel the maze and hear snippets of conversation on your way to the bar, you may seem dismissive.  But when you hear, see and experience the work.  Well, ring a bell, ‘cuz your film angel may have just sprouted its wigs.  And that’s everyone’s hope.

So who are they? Acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers.  And they’re busy. Schmoozing. Wheeling. Dealing. More than $800 million in deals set to be sealed — on both completed films and those that haven’t even started shooting yet.

Mavericks Behind Glass

At the end of the day, deeming a market a “success” really comes down more to the perspective rather than the objective.  On the sales' side, activity was certainly more modest this year than recent years, but not for want of effort.  

One Exec, Tim from an independent distributor explained, "It's actually better this way for the audience.  Rather than picking up a number of possible projects, instead we aim for one or two guaranteed homeruns.  You're much more likely to find a great product in theaters.”

This idea wasn't shared by all, certainly not some of the indie filmmakers who attended for the purposes of finding the bucks for their next big gig.  One woman, a peeved Texan vented: "It's frustrating.  We've been building our [investor] package for over a year.  This year the people just aren't as hungry as before."  

While the sentiment was agreed in general, a more observant filmmaker, Los Angeles-based Roger explained better. "I always love film markets. This year is no different, except it's more of an adventure to find the right people and create the right relationships.  People are more guarded. They're protecting their money and hopefully it'll pay off.

But the after-hour smiles and occasional high-fives, it paid off for many.  Which leads to my next question:  what delights will be ready for cinefiles next year?  Well, I met about 8,000 who can give you a hint.

The AFM ran from November 5-12, 2008 and will return in November 2009.   For more information on the American Film Market, please visit:

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