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Technician Geoff Brackemyre sets up the audio/visual displays for the American Film Market inside the lobby at the Loews beach hotel on Ocean Avenue on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

OCEAN AVE — For the next week, Downtown will become the world’s largest boardroom, as thousands of filmmakers, agents and distributors from roughly 70 countries gather in local hotels and movie theaters to compete in an intense bidding war for the latest crop of potential Academy Award winners.

While film festivals like Cannes and Sundance provide opportunities for celebrities and Hollywood hotshots to celebrate the art and culture of filmmaking, the American Film Market (AFM), which opens today and runs until Nov. 11 is more like a prolonged power lunch where independent films are critiqued by producers and distributors looking to make bids in hopes of landing a lucrative project.

It is estimated that $800 million worth of transaction will be made during the market’s run.

The AFM was founded in 1981 and is produced by the Independent Film and Television Alliance to pitch projects to 8,000 industry professionals. It is an annual gathering in Santa Monica that brings film industry professionals and their expertise from around the world to the largest film market in North America.

Sales agencies represent at the AFM with bundles of films to sell to regional film distributors whose companies set up shop here to buy. Projects in all stages of development meet with whom they need to facilitate reaching their goals. Independent filmmakers with a single finished product to sell to a foreign distributor can do that at the AFM. A script with talent attached can find a financier.

The market is also for hundreds of movie screenings important to developers, packagers, pitchers, financiers, licensers and distributors — 445 different movies will be shown at market, 100 per day and 73 of them world premiers beginning at 8:30 a.m. running every two hours and culminating at 9 p.m. daily.

During the market the freshest comedies to supernatural thrillers, and the latest in content from Arabia to L.A. to China, are marketed and screened, selling out many prominent Santa Monica theaters and screening rooms. Only films represented by exhibiting production and distribution companies may screen at the AFM. The film catalog for 2009 and the screening schedule are posted on thefilmcatalog.com where you can also watch trailers.

Santa Monica businesses like Uroborus on Main Street notice the increase in revenue that comes with the friendly international visitors that enjoy and want to take home some West Coast flavor. Local production facilities treat more visitors to tours of their facilities, said Ken Locsmandi of Filmworks/FX, a local production company attending the AFM.

The Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) funded a report in 2006 on the economic impact of AFM locally and found that the event contributes $11 million to the local economy, generating an estimated $500,000 in taxes for City Hall and $300,000 for the state. The breakdown of tax revenues generated for City Hall are approximately $400,000 collected from hotel taxes and $100,000 in retail sales tax and related fees.

The AFM offers an impressive line-up of discussions moderated and paneled by top executives and savvy industry big shots. Seminar programmers include the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), the Screen Actor’s Guild/Indie (SAG), Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), American Society of Cinematographers. AFM badges are not required and the cost of admission is about $40 to attend an informative hour and a half panel. There are at least two different AFM seminars each day. Scheduled seminars begin Friday 9 a.m.

The weekend is rich in constructive seminars. Saturday Nov. 7 at the posh Fairmont Miramar Hotel is the event “Pitch Me!” where filmmakers pitch their product to a panel of industry experts and receive candid and personalized feedback and coaching. Moderators include the producer of the “Wonder Years” and the director of “Capote.”

Saturday afternoon there is a class with director Dov S-S Simens on producing topics such as deal memos, revenue sources, profit participation scenarios, foreign sales, split rights deals, production and distribution agreements. Sunday at 11 a.m. the British Academy of Film and TV Arts hosts a distribution strategy class at Le Merigot Hotel.

Concurrent events are strategically scheduled around the AFM. They include the AFI Fest, AFCI Cineposium ‘09, and the Brittania Awards. The AFI Fest is headquartered at Mann’s Chinese Theater through Nov. 7, where all American Film Institute screenings are free to the public this year and winners qualify for the short film category in the Academy Awards. Other film related events hosted in Santa Monica include the Santa Monica Film Festival scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14.

Here are some recommended tips for newbies on how to work the film market. Find 30 to 50 companies that may be right for your film considering budgets and genres. Create a list of each executive in charge of acquisitions (from trades and company Web sites only). Focus on the furthest first. Call the AFM Office and request a 15 minute meeting with the right person by name. Keep in mind that the second meeting is the next goal. Leave behind a card, a synopsis, a summary of the film’s unique, creative and financial attributes, a list of people attached or committed, and a half-page budget summary. If you have a completed film, prepare a promo trailer and make it accessible via the Internet.

Contact buyers and distributors one month in advance with the reel and then request to set up a meeting for the first four days of the market. Having an attorney available is recommended. Admission is $795 for full access, or $295 for half market, allowing access starting on day five.

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