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AFM 2011: Possible Relocation to Downtown Los Angeles Sparks Outrage

American Film Market Santa Monica - H 2011
American Film Market in Santa Monica

Several people have indicated that a move from Santa Monica may cause buyers and sellers to question why they should even attend.

Amid mounting resistance to a move from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles by many buyers and sellers, there is a veiled threat to the American Film Market: If you get this wrong, we may not need your market.

“If they move downtown I’ll really have to question whether I should come at all,” said Ruediger Boess, acquisitions head for European broadcaster ProSiebenSat 1.

“There are many film markets around the world and the successful ones are the ones that take into consideration their participants,” reads a petition being circulated at the AFM to remain in Santa Monica. “We do not want to be packed into soulless places in the middle of a crowded downtown.”

Jeffrey Beach, CEO for UFO International Productions, said buyers have told him “it’s a detriment to move it downtown.”

He said some buyers see this as arrogance by the AFM, which reminds them of when the market was moved from January to November killing the MIFED market in Milan.

“The buyers are still furious about that,” said Beach. “The (AFM) acts as if you put on the market, the buyers will come, and that’s not the case. They can easily send sales guys (around the world) and bypass this market and stay in Europe. There’s Berlin now, which is an all rights market; there’s film festivals and there’s the MIPs. You really don’t need this market.”

Julie Sultan, head of sales for W2 Media, said many buyers want to discuss a possible move and most don’t like the idea: “People resist change. They like to be by the pier. They like the restaurants n Santa Monica. It's normal to feel some resistance.”

However, she thinks the buyers will go where the movies are being sold, and she doubts it would kill the market to move. “I remember years ago they said  no one would go to Berlin in February,” said Sultan, “and now were all there.”

A buyer who wants to remain anonymous, however,  said that the AFM could hurt itself. He said with the rise of the market at Toronto “as an unofficial market for project pitches and pre-sales and the growth of business at Berlin’s European Film Market, the AFM is getting squeezed out.”

Jonathan Wolf, the AFM’s managing director, said last week that no decision has yet been made. “There isn’t any urgency,” said Wolf. “Any move is still two years away. A lot of back and forth is going on.”

A source said IFTA board members are using this market to do an informal survey of the buyers, especially those coming from outside the U.S. “We’re looking for stability,” said the board member.

Two months ago the AFM confirmed it was considering a move to the L.A. Live complex and the nearby L.A. Convention Center. The impetus was that in negotiations to renew, the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel asked for increased fees.

That led to a bid by the Anschutz Company which owns L.A. Live and is looking for a strong anchor tenant. L.A. Live  has over 5.6 million square feet of ballrooms, bars, restaurants, concert theaters, a condo tower and hotels, including a 879-room JW Marriott and 123 room Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Screenings downtown would be in a multiplex operated by Regal Entertainment Group, which has 14 screens and 3,772 seats. That includes the Regal Premiere House, which has 806 seats, has been marketed for movie premieres

That is appealing to some in the AFM, who have complained there are no theaters in Santa Monica for red carpet premieres. Currently screenings are split among 23 screens on the Third Street Promenade, and screening rooms created at two area hotels.

Santa Monica has responded to the threat. According to the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau, the AFM brings business during their off-season and results in at least $16 million in direct spending (hotels, restaurants) and $700,000 from hotel taxes. “It’s also an amazing marketing opportunity for the destination, with over 7,000 attendees hailing from all over the world,” said Misti Kerns, President and CEO of the SM Visitor’s Bureau.

Kim Baker of the visitor’s bureau said the theater situation will soon improve. A new AMC Theater complex with 12 theaters opens in mid-2014.

The Loews has also woken up, and submitted a lower bid to IFTA, and made a change in management. Paul Leclerc, who has been managing director since September, said, “We absolutely want the film market to remain here in the Loews.”

A source close to the IFTA said that after the market, the board will meet to discuss a move. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a quick decision.

Georg Szalai and Scott Roxborough contributed to this article.