Sellers Cry Foul Over AFM Rules

Film Nation founder 'furious' at what he sees as a dirty-tricks campaign being waged by market organizers after Santa Monica city inspectors arrived to investigate his offsite office.

In the red corner a tag team of disgruntled sellers stare across the ring at the blue corner occupied by the American Film Market and organizers the Independent Film & Television Alliance as the sparring parties rest between rounds.

The latest bout between sales companies and the AFM showcase has seen some serious punches landed with Film Nation Entertainment founder Glen Basner, a sales veteran and former Weinstein Co. sales chief, "furious" at what he sees as a dirty-tricks campaign being waged by AFM organizers. With his ocean-view office offsite at a hotel behind the official Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Basner has had to deal with Santa Monica city inspectors who arrived at his market digs to investigate a brace of "anonymous tips" first that he was operating public screenings, and then that he was operating as an art gallery.

"I'm not a renegade and we're just trying to do our own thing quietly and properly," Basner said. "We have the right to be here and it is disappointing this happens."

For his part, AFM managing director and exec vp of the Independent Film & Television Alliance Jonathan Wolf is quick to point out that the issues Basner has faced has nothing to do with AFM, but with the city of Santa Monica. "The city [of Santa Monica] always asks us [as AFM organizers] for a list of companies who do not exhibit with us in our show. We are good corporate citizens having put on this show for the last 20 years in Santa Monica so we tell them. The companies all know we do it so it is not a surprise to them."

Wolf says any dispute or issues with Santa Monica city officials and companies setting up shop off site is entirely between the two and nothing to do with the AFM.

But Basner says he would have hoped that the AFM show might have done more to adjust to the tough times everyone has been facing.

"It's not just about us [at FilmNation], the AFM and IFTA is supposed to support the film [sales] community instead of monetizing everything," Basner said. His company is handling several titles high on the wish list of buyers at the AFM including Jonathan Glazer's sci-fi drama Under the Skin, touted here with Scarlett Johansson as the perfect alien woman.

Wolf says the rules for show participation and the benefits are totally transparent as it is an non-profit organization and it simply has to be.

"You're either signed up and in the show at the AFM or you're not," Wolf said. "You can't opt out and then expect or be able to use certain facilities when people who have paid to be part of it do."

Take French umbrella organization Unifrance, which reps in excess of 20 smaller banners from France here. The outfit opted out of the Loews suite option and set up shop in an airy gallery down the street from the hotel.

By opting out, they miss out on screening facilities, passes to work the main halls and access to the shuttles and other such perks.

Wolf said the decision by Unifrance was taken without proper discussions over what options they might have gone for this year within the Loews or Le Merigot. But he is hopeful talks later this week will see them return to the AFM fold next year.

"There is no animosity there [with Unifrance], we just didn't get a chance to work out a more suitable space or way of setting them in something other than a suite."

Long time sales chief at Luc Besson's Europa Corp. Gregoire Melin and his banner Kinology faced the same issue two years ago. Melin was shuttered after setting up and working from his suite in Shutters.

He's back in the AFM fold though and is operating here.

"We have contracts with the 16 or 17 major properties in Santa Monica and it's a rule that living space shall not be used for business meetings so it allows us [at the AFM] to keep it under one roof and be able to offer rooms to attendees at the others."

Wild Bunch hasn't been operating within the AFM fold for six years plus now.

"We're not unhappy about any of it," Wolf smiles. "The part that makes me unhappy about these situations is when companies choose not to be in the show but want to benefit from some parts of it. It's an expensive and complicated thing to put on and for those that pay to participate, they have to be the priority."