By Pickle  November 28, 2019

Curtains came down on the American Film Market (AFM) on a high note with participation of industry professionals from across the world. Pickle presents you thoughts and takeaways from the eight-day event

7,000 from 70 countries

The annual American Film Market (AFM) closed on Wednesday in the US city of Los Angeles with over 7,000 entertainment industry professionals from 70 countries and regions attending the eight-day event. The AFM is one of the world’s largest and most important transaction-based film markets, where an estimated one billion dollars in production and distribution deals are transacted each year.

Every genre and subject

Films of every genre and subject — highend period dramas, family fare, slasher thrillers, animated kid pics and more — all rub elbows in screening rooms that show up to 300 movies each year. Valinda Rothman, a book publisher and newly-minted film producer, arrived at the AFM to sell the IP rights to a trilogy of children’s fantasy books, ‘Alex and the Circus of Secrets’. Kids and family films are box office gold in every territory in the world and proven IP in those genres is on everybody’s Christmas list this year.

From well-dressed to naked

Some 400 production and distribution companies and thousands more independent filmmakers plied their wares in the rarefied atmosphere of Santa Monica’s beachfront hotel row, touting completed films, packaged projects and naked scripts (scripts with no talent or money attached) in search of financing, talent and distribution. Christopher Sean, an Asian American actor best known for his work in ‘Star Wars Resistance’ and ‘Hawaii 50’, hit the AFM with producing partner Paul Hanson to sell their latest film, ‘Stage Fright’. It’s a horror thriller that also promotes an awareness of mental health.

The Rise of AVOD

AFM wrapped its five-days of Conferences with the dedicated 90-minute session, The Rise of AVOD, with all the major players in the space and moderated by Bruce Eisen, President, Digital Advisors.

Counter-intuitive model

Jeff Shultz, Chief Business Officer, Pluto TV, said, “The counter-intuitive model of television is most people don’t know what they want to watch. They stumble upon our James Bond channel or on Unsolved Mysteries. We identify the catalogue, we turn it into a linear channel and immediately it [the James Bond channel] was one of the top 5 channels of our 200 channels. Who would have known?”

Live TV experience

Anthony Layser, Vice-President, Partnerships & Programming, Xumo, said, “We’re offering a live TV experience for the non-cable subscriber. Xumo is creating an AVOD substitute for cable. We are seeing certain channels coming over and performing well on a space that was previously only on MVPDs.”

The tech beneath

According to Adam Lewinson, Chief Content Officer, Tubi TV, “We are a technology based company. We have to talk about the tech beneath the VOD world and about discovery. What I love about our tech is machine learning… the more we have a viewer watching, the more we understand their viewing behavior, the easier it is for us to feed recommendations and that’s where discovery happens. On Tubi every single day when I look at our data or internal ratings I see tons of indie movies performing at an incredibly high level and sometimes that’s a higher level than the brand name TV show or big studio feature.”

Free stuff

Julian Franco, Senior Director, AVOD, Vudu, said, “Most people go for free over paid…if you offer 10,000 movies available for free, chances are that most people just want to watch something to relax and unwind with.” He added: “People go for the free stuff, but a lot of our partners like Disney and Warner Bros. do a great job of creating demand for big blockbuster tent poles as well as independent films. They’re still really smart about how they release them so they will day-and-date them on TVOD sometimes and we will come in and license an AVOD window exclusively so we’ll take it on day 91 after the Home Entertainment window. This is the first year that we’ve seen that more people are engaging with free over a transaction, but the transaction is still a much larger piece of the overall revenue.”

First ever TV conference

AFM’s first-ever Television Conference was a sold out event with more than 600 attendees and featured executives from Disney, Lifetime, The History Channel, MarVista, and more and featured two session

Jonathan Wolf, Executive Vice President and MD of The American Film
Market , Jean Prewitt, President and CEO of IFTA and Chris Lo, Los Angeles
HKTDC at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Hong Kong day at AFM

Clash for eyeballs

Lauren Kisilevsky, Vice President, Original Movies, said, “Relateability, optimism, wish fulfillment, and emotional impact are goals for a DCOM.” “In an increasingly cluttered marketplace, we are competing for eyeballs against streaming services.” He added: “Made for TV movies is a clash of two cultures. We need to make content that appeals to both ends of our demographics.” He also said: “We are looking to make 3x the amount of movies we have made in the past…There is a greater need for more content to remain competitive.”

Appointment audience

Tia Maggini, Vice-President of Programming, Lifetime Original Movies, said, “Lifetime has been around for 35 years. We have a very strong brand. They know what they are going to get when they go to Lifetime…We are looking for appointment viewers. We are still measured by what we can bring in on Saturday nights.” “We are tasked with making up to 50 movies a year. Our target audience is women ages 25-54… they want to be inspired, they want to go deeper into the stories, they want to relate to the characters. They want to go on an emotional rollercoasters.”

Creating ‘History’

Mike Stiller, VP, Development & Programming, The History Channel, said, “History Channel is 25 years old this year. It is a huge accomplishment in television. We originally started as a spin-off of A&E.” According to Stiller,
“We have done research–our viewers see themselves as explorers…What History desires to be, is the little pop-outs you see in history textbooks.”

Boom time

Brad Krevoy, Producer, A Christmas Prince franchise, said, “There is a reason why the Hallmark Channel has increased ratings. Because they have a brand, and their movies fit that brand.” “Because of the economics [in Canada] we can shoot more days at a time.” Krevoy added: “In the 80s it was Pay TV, and in the 90s, there was the DVD, and now we have the streaming services…As a filmmaker you should assess each one of the streamers and see what each is looking for.” “These 5 years are going to be boom time. We have been spending a large amount of time researching to figure out what each of these streamers want and that’s where you come in…”

Urban titles

Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, President, American Cinema International, said, “What we found as a niche…for Netflix is urban titles. They want thrillers. Those stories that were already made with white actors, now for black audiences.”

Netflix, Disney & Fox

Tony Vassiliadis, Chief Operating Officer, MarVista Entertainment, said, “8-12% of the content on Netflix is Disney or Fox. That content that is going to go to Disney+. So we’ve been thinking how we fill those slots, fill in the gaps that start existing when all the major start to take their content exclusively for their streaming platform.”

Good news

Pierre David, ReelOne/Lance Entertainment (major producer of movies for Lifetime), said, “The good news is – you know ahead a time exactly what your movie is going to bring back. So you know what you can spend. Then you go foreign. You have a very specific marketplace and you have to make it with a certain margin of profit.”

Diversity in projects

The AFM in partnership with ReFrame, gathered leading independent executives and producers Glen Basner, CEO, Film- Nation Entertainment, Zanne Devine, CEO, Pacific Northwest Pictures & President, Montana Pictures, producer Cassian Elwes, and Monica Levinson, President of Production, ShivHans Pictures, and Jane Fleming, Partner, Court Five Productions, moderated a candid conversation on bringing diverse projects to the marketplace and audiences, the ability to get these stories financed, produced, and distributed whether theatrically or with a streaming platform, as well as what each is doing in their own companies and productions to change unconscious bias.

Financing model

Glen Basner kicked off the conversation saying, “the independent financing model has shrunk but within the newer smaller pool, this year in particular, it feels like it’s coming back and is quite vibrant but vibrant in a different way because the traditional ways that international distributors are analyzing films has really changed.”

Basner also talked about measures he’s taken within his own company, saying, “We’ve created a diversity committee at FilmNation to progress our company. We’ve had the entire company take on unconscious biased training…we have revamped our hiring process to address unconscious bias.”

Future business

Producer Cassian Elwes said, “In 2019, the fact that we’re still talking about whether we should make movies with women or people of color is embarrassing!” “The studios have dumped the most appalling garbage onto us as cinema goers…Disney, great they are doing a lot of television trying to be diverse. I don’t see that in their future business. And I certainly don’t see it in the future business of the other studios.” “Now we’re letting in all of these streaming companies coming into the marketplace and that’s positive on some level because of the amount of money they’re bringing to the table.”

More is good

Zanne Devine, CEO, Pacific Northwest Pictures & President, Montana Pictures, said, “I think the massive amount of content is good because there’s many ways to interpret a hit or miss. Filmmakers are more open to exploring different platforms and ways of releasing a film.”

Sign in

Each of the panelists has signed on to ReFrame, a joint initiative of the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles. The ReFrame stamp is a mark of distinction for projects that have demonstrated success in genderbalanced films.

Pitching essentials

Effie Brown, Producer, Duly Noted, Inc, on what is important in a pitch, said, “Why you are the person to do this story. And what emotionally resonates with you which usually makes the other person care.” He added: “[when pitching], You have to know your audience.”

Listen please

Cassian Elwes, Producer, ELEVATED, said, “Part of what you do at AFM is to go out and meet people. Make sure you not only talk, but also listen.” On being pitched a story, Elwes said, “it is great when somebody gives me a one-liner or a little bit to begin with so I understand the story they are trying to tell.”

Importance of script supervisor

Randi Feldman, Founder, Cinema Workshops, said, “The script supervisor has thought of where we’ve been [within the story], where we are going, and how we can get to where the film needs to be.” “A script supervisor has to have a strong relationship with the director, producers, and writers to understand what they want accomplished. We have to be flexible to carry out their vision.”

Future of film rights

Arjun Mendhi, MIT Technologist & CEO, MTonomy, said, “Every film that we make today will live forever.” He added: “Streaming penetration in China is at 6%. Let’s envision a future where media content can live and grow autonomously… forever.”

Animals in film

Mark Harden, Senior Trainer, Animals for Hollywood, said, “First thing I do
when I read a script is ask myself what is the animal’s purpose. Why is the animal needed in the script?” “Animals are just as important in script as a costume, prop, or actor.” Stating that “Animal trainers become brand representatives for a film,” Harden added: “We recommend bringing animals and their trainers to production meetings to get comfortable with your staff. Do a show & tell when introducing your animal trainers & animals to your production!”

Finance conference

Scott Roxborough, European Bureau Chief, The Hollywood Reporter, said, “Never has there been another time when there’s been more production, demand and money.”

Partners to filmmakers

Aaron L. Gilbert, Chairman & CEO BRON Studios, said, “We want to be good partners to filmmakers…we’re in a wonderful place with creators and filmmakers…We’re really looking at this business on a global level.”

Multiple platforms

Ashley Levinson, Chief Strategy Officer, BRON Studios, said, “There are so many platforms to tell stories…to be able to support that is something we are excited about.” “We know there is an audience, it’s a matter of telling the kinds of stories that can be able to reach that audiences.”

3 things about making movies

Jeffrey Greenstein, President, Millennium Media, Inc, said, “Making movies is about 3 things…story, story, and story.” “Your director is like your quality assurance, you actors help you sell the film and will really make it great. So it is really about those stories.”

Market demands

Alan Siegel, President & CEO, Alan Siegel Entertainment, said, “The market demands theatrical. I believe people still want to go to the cinema…the business is very cyclical. Right now streaming is king…I think at some point the field is going to be leveled…you want to see a great movie in a theatre.”

The Innovators

Amy Friedlander Hoffman, Investor & Former Head of Business Development & Experiential Marketing, Uber, said, “The expectations that we have change so rapidly…so how do you make a connection with your consumers?”

Great war

Tim League, Founder & CEO, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, said, “It’s interesting to talk through it because there is a great war going on. We are supporting Netflix releases. If it’s a winwin situation for us then we’ll do it… Breaking Bad made sense. That’s one we did a day-and-date release for. We look to the studios as partners, we look to the streamers as partners.”

Platform agnostic

Erik Feig, Founder & CEO, PICTURESTART, said, “We are truly platform agnostic. It’s all about finding the right model for the right project and what makes sense for your story and your audience.”

Make something amazing, simple

Christian Parkes, Chief Marketing Officer, NEON, said, “It’s really does start with the audience…you can have the greatest story in the world, but if you don’t have an audience, you have nothing. The beauty of cinema is that it brings people together.” “Make something amazing but make something simple.”

Understanding audiences

According to Aron Levitz, Head of Wattpad Studios, Wattpad Studios, “It’s about understanding audiences but it’s also about what is driving them.” “We have the ability to tell everyone who read the book the dates that it is coming out in their country but we also have the ability to tell those who like similar content.”

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