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A week of indie film deal-making at American Film Market in Santa Monica

Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director of the American Film Market
Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director of the American Film Market
Brian Watt
Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director of the American Film Market
The American Film Market has turned the Loews Santa Monica Hotel rooms into offices where indie film deals are made.
Brian Watt

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The independent film world has converged at the Loews Santa Monica Hotel. The 34th American Film Market is drawing film producers, distributors, buyers and sellers from around the world for seven days of deal-making around a wide range of films.

Around 8,000 participants registered for this year’s American Film Market,  but none of them actually sleep at the Loews Santa Monica. The hotel’s beds are removed and its rooms become offices for indie production companies, looking to license and sell their upcoming films. 

Buyers drop in on the makeshift offices to take a look at trailers or negotiate, say,  a film’s DVD rights in Japan or TV rights in Argentina. 

American Film Market managing director Jonathan Wolf estimates more than $1 billion in business is done at the trade show. He says 19 of the last 31 winners of the Academy Award for "Best Picture" were licensed or financed out of the American Film Market.  Films like "Million Dollar Baby", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy were all brought forward at the event.  

"What's happening here is not lead generation," Wolf says.  "The buyers and sellers all know each other already- they’re here to close deals.  They’ve got contracts, computers, desks and a lot of pens with blue ink to get the deals done."

But more than half of the deals revolve around films that haven’t even started shooting, where a script, producer and director are already in place, but the project needs to be pre-sold in foreign countries to help raise the financing.   

"These kinds of negotiations need to happen in private, not in the fishbowl of a tradeshow floor," says Wolf. "That’s why converting this hotel into offices makes sense."

The trade show featured a discussion on crowdfunding, and writer/producer Marc Zicree was a panelist. Zicree has written a lot of television shows like "Star Trek", but now he wants to make a six-part film series.  He’s had some success raising money for it with the website Kickstarter.

"3,000 people around the world gave me $221,000, and so I don’t necessarily need a distribution company or production company or anything like that,"  Zicree said.  "I have my own studio now - I’m making movies.  I can reach out directly to my audience." 

Nevertheless, Zicree believes the American Film Market will continue to be an  important place to build relationships and support for independent projects.

Jonathan Wolf of the American Film Market believes US-made independent films will begin to face more challenges from films made in countries with developing film industries.  Those countries used to import more indie films from the U.S., but as their own film industries develop, more locally produced films will begin to compete, Wolf says. 

"You will see an independent industry grow in Chile, Argentina, France,  all over the world, and the U.S. who’s been the dominant exporter, you’ll the see the independents face more challenges," Wolf says. 

The 34th American Film Market began November 6 and concludes on Wednesday, November 13.