afm_logoThe Loews Hotel has been a hotbed of activity. People are milling about, the liquor is flowing and the occasional “real deal” is happening at this year’s American Film Market. The people I spoke with are having a great time and business is booming.

Judging by the level of people who are rushing in and out of the building, attendance this year seems to be as big as ever, which is good news considering the sizable challenges facing AFM thanks to the infrastructure meltdown that happened in Santa Monica over the past year.

AFM is the premiere marketplace for overseas distribution of independent films. It is the place where many filmmakers go to find funding for their movies, the theory being that if you can get the movie sold in foreign markets you can then use that money to pay the actors and everyone else to get the project completed.

The foreign pre-sale model was a linchpin in founding the long and successful career of movie mogul Roger Corman — the demi-god who launched many directors’ and actors’ careers. Using other people’s money is always the best way to do business, it’s just not easy to find. But that’s why AFM is so exciting and profitable. It brings together people from all over the world who have money, and those with projects who need the funding.

The market has been in Santa Monica for years, mainly because we had lots of exhibition space and movie screens available, it was easy to get around town, and it was relatively affordable for this type of event. But the events of the last year have put the future in doubt.

Whether or not we continue to be the ideal location remains to be seen. The benefits that were our main selling point are in flux. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, which was a central venue, has been shuttered and its future is murky. It could be refurbished and retrofitted, but that means huge capital outlays, and delays, so no one knows what it will end up as, or when.

The number of screens for movie premieres is down by a third and with the closing of the Criterion and no future theater on the horizon, it would not surprise me to see AFM looking for new digs. Add to that the high costs of doing business here, and the lack of incentives for an industry that has become very used to incentives, and AFM might leave us.

One person I spoke with said their company is spending $75,000 to be at AFM this year and as a producer, he thought it was pretty expensive. Producers are known for being bottom-line conscious so the hotels may be cutting their own throats if they price people out of the market.

The industry is dramatically changing. The meteoric rise of Video On Demand capability will open up many new avenues of distribution for the independent filmmaker. I’ve been very intrigued with the movie making revolution that is happening all around us. The open access to the whole process has been a tremendous boon for those of us who are hobbyists. There’s a whole new level of play to be had.

I’ve been listening to the podcast from Jason Brubaker of FilmMakingStuff.com and he has been a tremendous source of great information. His podcast is inspirational and informative in a no-nonsense manner. He’s inspired me to think that maybe I could write, produce and distribute a movie online, which becomes a calling card for future, bigger movies. That’s what director and screenwriter Kevin Smith said in his AFI podcast from Loyola Marymount about making his first films.

In a way this seems like something that is bad for AFM: a host of new filmmakers, doing their own distribution online should hurt markets, but in reality I think Brubaker’s and Smith’s cheerleading of new filmmakers will lead to a greater number of good movies that need foreign distribution and the skill set that the sales agents offer will come into play.

I see it as very similar to the revolution that has happened in my own industry. Many people are now doing their own divorces and child custody cases online with LegalZoom, and then they discover they need my professional help to be successful.

Just because I can shoot a movie, get it up on YouTube or iTunes, doesn’t mean I can market it in Mumbai or screen it in Sydney. I will still need someone that knows the territory, and for that, AFM is still the answer.

So let’s send a message to the powers that be, we need to keep AFM here. We need to get the screens back, and the Civic Auditorium needs to be fixed, and maybe they should find a way to lower those hotel bills (perhaps a suspension of the Transient Occupancy Tax?).

 

 

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.