AFM Chief Jonathan Wolf Talks Netflix, Importance of Physical Market: "The Goal Is to Drive Up Prices"

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Jonathan Wolf

The streamer is turning entrepreneurial producers into workers for hire, he says.

AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf on Sunday sat down mid-market for a candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter, holding forth about market dynamics and streamers as he sipped coffee in a green room at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel while a panel for producers took place in an adjacent ballroom.

"Sales happen best face to face," he said. "Markets create a sense of urgency. Markets create an auction environment." If that sounds like the same wisdom one would find in a souk, so be it: Wolf disclosed that his team studies the Consumer Electronics Show, the National Association of Broadcasters conference and even furniture trade shows for tips.

"The goal," he added, "is to drive up prices." Wolf’s organization — the Independent Film & Television Alliance, of which he is also executive vp — represents sellers: independent production and distribution companies. "The sales company says, ‘Our goal is to sell and sell out while we’re here.'"

That urgency also helps Wolf’s members package projects, by creating a deadline that "drives talent to the table" when a producer is trying to get them to commit to a movie. "The market creates a true deadline," he explained. But if a producer’s job has always been hard — which is a much more apt truism than the popular "meetings by the hotel pool" image — it’s harder still today, and Wolf didn’t mince words as he assigned blame.

"Netflix is wonderful for directors, writers, actors and cinematographers, [but it] is destroying the entrepreneurial producer," he said, "who historically would have had a back end."

The streamer, Wolf said, “is following a 1940s studio model: Everyone is work for hire [and] no one has any participation,” or upside on the back end. And on the consumer side, he added, Netflix isn’t selling movies at all: “They’re selling subscriptions, which is a different thing,” since all the streamer needs are just enough content in various categories that it becomes a must-have for any given subscriber.

Where is all this going? Wolf offered that today the market is bifurcating. "The budgets are getting bigger or the budgets are getting smaller, [while] the middle ground" — which he defined as $2 million to $8 million pictures — "is disappearing." But he had no predictions for next year’s AFM, other than that "the films will be different, and that’s always exciting."

Still, we can rest assured that there will be an AFM next year, which Wolf and his team will start planning as soon as this year’s market concludes. After all, he said, “we’re still a species that wants to connect face to face.”