American Film Market Considering Big Move From Santa Monica to Downtown L.A. (Exclusive)

6:02 PM PST 08/31/2011 by Alex Ben Block

The move from the Loews hotel to the L.A. Live complex, which must be voted on by the IFTA board, would likely take place in 2013.

The annual American Film Market is exploring a move from Santa Monica to the L.A. Live complex in downtown Los Angeles, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The AFM, one of the world's largest film markets, is run by the Independent Film & Television Alliance. Its contract with the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, which has been headquarters for the market, conference and screenings since 1991, ends after the 2012 event. Apparently the Loews asked for an increase in the rates it charges, which is part of the reason the AFM started to look at other options.

Sources tell THR that Anschutz Entertainment Group, which manages the L.A. Live complex, has stepped in with an offer at a much lower cost than the Loews bid. Loews is said to have made a counteroffer earlier this week to try and retain the nearly two-week-long event, which each fall attracts more than 8,000 people involved in the independent production and distribution of movies from over 70 countries. IFTA estimates more than $800 million in transactions are done at the market on both competed films and pre-sales of movies in development.

A spokesman for IFTA and the AFM declined to comment. 

This year's event, scheduled to run Nov. 2-9, would not be affected, nor would the 2012 AFM likely be impacted. The 2013 event would likely be the first to move downtown, though a deal could possibly be worked out to move the 2012 event as well. 

The IFTA board must still approve any move. Sources say the board is expected to discuss the proposal on Tuesday during a conference call.

IFTA, the nonprofit that organizes and runs the AFM, reported 2009 income of about $11.5 million (of which $8.2 million came from running the market), and total assets of over $22.5 million, according to tax filings.

Founded in 1981, the AFM was first held at the Westwood Marquis Hotel, moved to the Hyatt on Sunset Strip, then shifted in 1986 to the Beverly Hilton. During the five years it was held in Beverly Hills, market screenings were mostly held at the Beverly Center.

When it moved to Santa Monica, the AFM helped launch the then-new Loews, as well as the city's Third Street Promenade, where last year nearly two dozen screens were used to show about 400 market movies at area theaters.

As it has grown over the years, some events have been farmed out to other hotels and restaurants in the area. In recent years, that has included the Le Merigot Beach Hotel, run by Marriott, which is next door to the Loews. Many of the conference events have been held at the nearby Fairmont Miramar Hotel. IFTA announced in June that the Miramar will be the site this fall for a new five-day AFM Conference Series (Nov. 4-8). It includes finance, production, marketing and distribution conferences, as well as an event where people pitch ideas for movies.

While the beachside Santa Monica location has strong appeal to international visitors, there are also issues of traffic, congestion and the high cost of retail and restaurants. Still, there is said to be some opposition to a move downtown from foreign participants who like the Westside location and are mostly unfamiliar with the urban areas of L.A.

In addition, since 2004, the AFM has had a relationship to the AFI Fest, put on by the American Film Institute. Most screenings for the festival are held at movie theaters in Hollywood, primarily those around the Hollywood & Highland complex, far away from the Santa Monica-based AFM. A move downtown would close the distance gap between AFM and AFI, which would be connected by L.A's subway system. The AFI Fest is not expected to move downtown, however. 

AEG has been aggressive about trying to lure events to L.A. Live. The Independent Spirit Awards moved form their traditional Santa Monica beach location downtown for a year, but then moved back to the beach.

L.A. Live, which is adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center, has more than 5.6 million square feet of ballrooms, bars, restaurants, concert theaters, a condo tower and two large hotels in one tower. The sales suites could be in the hotels or they could be in the adjacent convention center. 

There also is an 879-room JW Marriott Hotel on floors 4 through 21 and a 123-room Ritz Carlton Hotel on floors 22 through 26.

For screenings, the complex includes a multiplex operated by the Regal Entertainment Group. It has 14 screens and 3,772 seats and a three-story art deco style atrium. One theater, known as the Regal Premiere House, which has 806 seats, has been marketed for movie premieres but so far has had only limited success in attracting Hollywood downtown.

L.A. Live also includes the Nokia Theater (7,100 seats) and Club Nokia (2,300 seats), most often used as a venue for live music.

Most recently, AEG has been promoting plans to build a new stadium on the site to be called Farmers Field. It is intended to be home to a NFL football team. The LA City Council has tentatively approved the plan, but it has many hurdles ahead before it will actually be built, a process that could take years more.

Email: Alex.BenBlock@thr.com

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