AFM 2020 Online has set the ball rolling on an optimistic note, with active participation from a record 562 exhibitors, stakeholders from 78 countries, over 1,450 buyers and 465 film screenings. Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director, American Film Market, tells Pickle in detail as to how the event was pulled off during challenging times
American Film Market (AFM®) began on a bright note with the virtual global industry participation from 78 countries and 42 U.S. states – more countries than any AFM in the last decade. A record number of 562 Exhibitors are registered for AFM 2020 Online from 48 countries with the largest exhibitor presence coming from the United States with 259 companies followed by Italy (59), the United Kingdom (46), Russia (25), Germany (20), France (19), Canada (17), Republic of (South) Korea (14), Japan (12), and Thailand (11).
There are over 1,468 Buyers in attendance from 66 countries — the largest number coming from the United States, followed by Japan, the United Kingdom, Republic of (South) Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, and Canada. Buyers from the world’s leading digital platforms are also in attendance. 465 films from 184 companies and representing 24 countries will be screening in the AFM’s On Demand Theatre.
In keeping with its mission to provide timely information and knowledge, the AFM will present its largest programming lineup to date with 205 speakers from 20 countries across 71 sessions centered on opportunities and solutions for finance, production and distribution in the wake of the pandemic. Panels and presentations in partnership with leading industry organizations and institutions will also take center stage, including AAFCA, BFI,NAACP, NALIP, NIFS, SAG-AFTRA, SAGindie, The Black List, The Film Collaborative, USC Annenberg Hollywood, Health & Society, WGAW, and Winston/Baker.
The AFM2020.Online platform was created to serve AFM’s multiple audience segments and features eight dedicated areas including Industry Offices, LocationEXPO, the On Demand Theatre and MyAFM. One of AFM 2020’s key differentiators is its truly unique and interactive video networking capabilities. With technology provided by the company Filmocracy, participants can meet in the Networking Pavilion with 180 online tables for video discussions on preset topics or meet-ups they can schedule. Filmocracy also supports the two Stages, including session replays, and the Info Center, enabling AFM to provide the “face-to-face” connections that happen organically in Santa Monica. AFM 2020 Online runs from November 9-13
We did some initial discussions and research on what an online market would look like. We made the decision to go online in July. That gave us four months. We had much more time than my colleague Jérome Paillard (Head of Marche, Cannes Film Market) had with his market scheduled in May (Marche happened June 22-26). I don’t envy what Jerome had to go through. But we got to learn a little bit from what he did.
We must have looked at 25 different platforms (and picked Filmocracy). We had to look for platforms that provided pieces of what we wanted to do, so we could put together everything. And the first decision we made was, we didn’t want everyone to feel like they were navigating a website. We don’t want menus and sub-menus and drop down bars and click throughs and searching. You know, there’s a little bit of that here. But for the most part, we wanted this to be engaging, rather than a website. And we also recognized that there are certain things in the physical market that you cannot do online, so don’t try. There are other things in the online market that you can do better than the physical market. So we wanted to take advantage and enhance those things as well. And so, for us, I think the two key decisions were that we were going to make this feel like an event not a navigation exercise, and that we were going to marry together and tie together the best in class of each of the services that we wanted to provide, and then spend our time trying to integrate them as best as possible.
Only about a third of our participants are buying and selling. The other two thirds are part of the production community. There are producers, writers, film commissions, lawyers, bankers, sales agents and those who provide production facilities. So, one of the things we had to do in creating the platform was to make sure that we could serve that diverse constituency.
Film Commissions aren’t interested in going to screenings. Buyers aren’t interested in meeting with Film Commissions. So we had to have all these diverse services. Buyers and sellers are the core and the heart. Even though, they represent only a third of our participants, without the buyers and sellers, you don’t have something called a market. You might have a networking event or a conference, but you don’t have a market. So, this was very important to us.
What’s not good for the independent community is the growth of mega studios to produce in-house. The reason is, actors may be working a lot, directors may be working a lot, set designers everybody else. But the producer is the entrepreneur, the producer is the one that many times has the idea and wants to go out and create and discover the talent. And, what happens with a lot of the in-house productions is producers may do this, but they bring it to the studio and it becomes an in-house production. And the entrepreneur-producer never gets a chance to build his/her own business. Their film is bought and owned by that giant label. So for us, we always believe that the creative process happens best in small pockets. The purpose of the AFM is really to enhance and facilitate that diversity, whether it’s diversity by budget, by language by genre, to make sure that consumers ultimately have the greatest choice. And as long as we have an open marketplace like this, and the artistes and the entrepreneurs can find access to capital and access to the marketplace, the consumer always has choice. And that really is at the heart of what the AFM is.
The global film industry has set aside this week (November 9-13) to connect for deal making, presentations, and education, and to gather marketplace intel from one another. AFM’s engaging online experience, with the types of serendipitous meetings that happen organically in the halls, hotels and parties each year in Santa Monica, will keep everyone in touch and ensure that independent film continues to reach audiences around the world.
One, of course, is we are online instead of face to face. The other is there is some uncertainty about when theaters around the world will open. And is that delaying the greenlight of some films that are destined for theaters? We don’t know. You know, I think most are optimistic that theaters will be open around the world by if not spring at least mid summer. And so a lot of the business that’s done at the AFM is done on films that haven’t started shooting yet. So the business is really about films for next fall, next winter a year from now. And so I think there’s a lot of optimism for that and expect to see a lot of business on that piece. In terms of short term, we see the platforms that actually have a shortage of content. Everybody’s staying at home. We’re all consuming more film, and they see lockdown continuing in many countries often on through the spring. There is actually a shortage of content. The market expected to be brisk for films that are going to be released theatrically in the fall, but there may be some areas that are missing in between or films that may not be targeting the market the right way.
If you walk into a giant party, and there are hundreds of conversations going on, and you want to talk to people about horror films, and you go to the first group, and its French documentaries, the next group, they’re talking about financing in Spain, and you work for two hours, and you never meet anybody in your topic. Now, I mentioned going to the same party. And there’s a little bubble over every conversation that tells you what they’re talking about. So you can look and see what’s relevant to you what interests you and go straight over there. This is where technology actually can improve, in some ways, improve the face to face experience, and put your right in a conversation with people who have a shared interest.
AI won’t work here, we actually looked AI. And the problem with AI is it’s only as good as what you’ve told it. It has to follow you for a while to learn from you. And in four or five days, it will learn…We’ve looked at some AI and it’s a long way away from working in an environment like this.
AFM 2020 can be the example of how a crisis can be converted into an opportunity. At a time when the world is gripped by Covid-19 pandemic, American Film Market was conducted in a successful manner by taking the virtual route. As against 350 people who normally work on the physical market, just 19 from AFM executed everything online working from home
Everyone has seen businesses slowing down, productions slowing down. Film Commissions were all about — we have oceans, and we have snow, and we have desert, and we have very easy permits– then it became incentives and how we can provide economics. But now there’s a third message, and it’s critical how each country and location is dealing with Covid on the sets. So if there was an important market for Film Commissions to be at, it’s at the AFM now. We have more Film Commissions now than we did last year.
It’s almost a summary of what we’ve talked about. I think the first is the education. This is the most diverse education in the film industry than anyone has put on in a week. And I usually don’t sort of overstate things. But I do not know of another event that had such a diverse group of senior executives and experienced filmmakers from all over the world. That’s the first part. The second part, of course, is the networking, the ability to meet people. And then, of course, the online screenings. Again, that’s different than being in Santa Monica, where if you miss a screening, it’s one time and you’re done. That’s not the case with online screenings. It will be online through March 2021 for business, if needed.