Film lawyer's AFM parties pack plenty of indie punch

Frazzled execs welcome low-key affairs

There's nothing scandalous, no DJ playing loud trance music for an overflow crowd and no neighbors threatening to call the cops.

But Los Angeles-based attorney Patty Mayer has nonetheless become well known for her three days of parties thrown during the American Film Market.

Mayer's parties are casual but astutely calibrated soirees where a clutch of behind-the-scenes movers and shakers in the indie film world can get away from the lights, music and crowds of the market and relax at her cozy Culver City home where a home-cooked meal awaits.

As a partner for the past three years at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, Mayer specializes in transactional entertainment law, with a sub-specialty in international indie film finance.

The idea for the parties sprouted from her former London law firm's cocktail parties in Cannes, which take place in a rented villa, as well as dinners she and two colleagues host during the Berlin International Film Festival.

When she moved back to Los Angeles from London about three years ago, Mayer decided to keep the tradition going during AFM.

"People really liked getting out of the market," she said. "It's a way to meet people in a more relaxed setting."

Mayer's guest list at her first AFM party of 2007 on Thursday night was as diverse as the menu: trout (complete with head), wild rice with cranberries, steamed veggies, asparagus, her homemade pesto sauce and a fair amount of wine.

The global mix of 30 guests — including Arenas Entertainment's Santiago Pozo; International Film Guarantors' Steve Mangel; Italian attorney Mossimo Sterpi (whose clients include Gucci) and Hong Kong attorney Michael Leow — worked the room as smoothly as they seemingly move the money that oils the indie film biz. Taking it all in was Mayer's ice-breaking-helpful dog Cheyenne.

"I look forward to it every year," said Maarten Melchior of Fintage House Entertainment Assets. "Where else do you have a hostess who just left the shower the moment you arrive and walks around in flip flops?"

Melchior, whose company works in exploiting the copyright and image rights of clients , said the setting allows for an atmosphere that's different from large AFM parties, where guests often just introduce themselves and move on.

"We do talk business here, but it's more about relationship-building," Melchior said.

Said another guest, "This isn't so much a business opportunity as it is a chance to see colleagues from all over the world. I've never closed a big deal here, but I've met very important people I do business with in a casual environment."

As Mayer prepared dinner, many of the guests were drawn to a piece of unique artwork that New Zealander Graham Burt had brought along.

It was a custom-bound book, inside an aged oak box, that told the illustrated story of "Alveridgea and the Legend of the Lonely Dog" by New Zealand artist Ivan Clarke. Only 95 prints were made of the artwork, valued, Burt said, at $50,000 each. Burt, a client of Mayer's, was in town with investing partner James Covert to hash out a deal to develop the artwork into a film.

Other guests, like producer Francesca Barra, lingered near the fireplace talking shop with Melchior and others about the latest Spike Lee project, while a duo of London lawyers sat in the dining room discussing variations of American accents.

"It's a nice break from AFM," Leow said as the party wound down. "It's nice to come to someone's home and have a home-cooked meal. It's refreshing."

For Mayer, it was just one of three parties she throws. Her second soiree is tonight, while the third is scheduled for Tuesday.

Why three? "People come and go at different parts of the market," she said. "The people who came Thursday are not going to be here Tuesday. And the people who are coming next Tuesday, haven't arrived yet. It's also because I don't get to see all my friends if I don't.

"So, once you kind of vacuum the cat hair off the furniture, you might as well give all the parties, instead of just one."