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Wednesday, 01 February 2012 06:00

American Film Market (AFM) 2011

Written by  James Thompson
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Held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, the 2011 American Film Market (AFM) was more than a numbers game in the buying and selling of films. Statistics alone often validate success, such as the 8-percent increase in AFM’s buying companies from 718 from 664 in 2010; a 7-percent rise in buying executives (to 1,523 from last year’s 1,417); and a 4-percent climb in overall attendance (to 7,988 from 7,695). But the real story was the superb conferences and top talent that graced various Santa Monica venues for the weeklong event.

For starters, Academy Award-winning Director Ron Howard attended AFM’s opening day to meet with buyers and talk about his vision for his new movie Rush. And Actor/Writer Kevin Pollak and Actress Selma Blair along with Director/Writer George Gallo showed up to promote their film Columbus Circle while Filmmaker Rob Reiner participated in a conversation about his latest film Summer 

afm_pitchingconferenceat Dog Dave’s. X-Men franchise Producer Lauren Shuler Donner also participated in an exceptional “Industry Conversation” about producing.afm_exteriorshot

As a veteran of major productions made within the studio system, Shuler Donner talked about everything from what makes a good film to why she’s avoided going independent. Rather than going through the year-long process of raising money for an indie, Shuler Donner feels that the studios have “the best resources” for distributing and marketing films. “You can have a great movie,” she explained. “But, if you don’t get it in the right theater, at the right time, with money to make the public aware of it in a public market, then it doesn’t matter. My hat is off to all of you that go the independent route.” Director Jon Amiel (The Core) was also on hand to discuss the role of directors. “To me, if an inspiring filmmaker wants to direct a movie I would say, ‘Don’t do it. It’s a really hard life,’” he advised. “Only do it if you desperately thought about every conceivable other thing to do and can’t figure out what it is. I’m not saying that to be negative or to kill some of the competition. It’s an arduous journey. Just know it’s tough.”

afm_producerlaurenshulerdonnerThe AFM Conference Series included panels on Finance, Pitching, Production and Distribution, and all were well attended and headed by some of the biggest names in the business. If you had an idea for a film or TV show and wanted to learn the art of pitching, the Pitch Conference was the panel to attend. Pitching is an art — part science and part salesmanship — and it’s said that a good pitch can get a bad film made while a bad pitch can leave a terrific project languishing on the shelf. This year, attendees could enter into a lottery to pitch their ideas in front of industry experts and a roomful of over 200 people.

The Pitch Conference panel included Independent Producer/Agent Cassian Elwes (Margin Call) and Tobin Armbrust, senior VP and head of production at Exclusive Media Group (Let Me In), and was moderated by “Good in a Room” Author Stephanie Palmer, who laid out some key points about pitching ideas, such as the need to be “clear, concise and compelling.” The conference also reminded attendees that buyers want them to succeed, as they are always looking for the next big project. The main goal of a first pitch is to get another meeting in order to move on to the next step. If buyers are interested in a pitch idea, they’ll want the pitch to be heard by the people who afm_directorjohnamielhave a say in what productions get financed — and it’s important to focus on one meeting at a time as a pitch moves up the ladder. All the panelists agreed that in order to sell an idea, a pitch needs a strong point of view and passion.

On another note, the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) recently announced that the AFM will remain in Santa Monica through 2017. “We tirelessly explored every option to ensure the AFM would have the best long-term home,” said IFTA Chairman Paul Hertzberg. “We look forward to many more successful Markets with the beach as our backdrop.”

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