Why Pre-Election Anxiety Is Hitting AFM

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Nervous dealmakers are concerned that Tuesday's vote could have a direct impact on business: "We’re worried about what could happen to the value of the dollar."

Even in the halls of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, in between posters promoting future cinematic classics like Attack of the Killer Donuts and the disaster drama Tsunambee (“It’s not a storm, it’s a swarm!”), you can’t escape the horror that is the U.S. election.

Politics has infested AFM with international buyers and sellers discussing the impact next week’s historic vote will have on the business — and the world.

“Everyone thinks it’s a joke, a big joke,” says Jeffrey Greenstein, president of international sales at Millennium Films, about how foreign buyers view Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. “But they’re also worried about what could happen to the value of the dollar. I mean, we’re here this week doing deals, in dollars, and next Tuesday, depending on what happens, the dollar could stay relatively stable, or it could take a big dip.”

Ironically, for international buyers, the vast majority of which are pro-Hillary and anti-Trump, a victory for The Donald could be a boost to business. A weak U.S. dollar would act like a subsidy on acquisitions for companies paying in euros, pounds, the yen or the yuan. But if a Trump triumph triggers a global anti-American backlash, the USA brand, a big part of what many companies at AFM are selling with its films, could suffer.

So far, however, that isn’t something that most people at the market are worried about. Greenstein, whose company’s slate includes Navy SEALs thriller Hunter Killer and Angel Has Fallen, the latest in the patriotic action franchise that includes Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, says he doesn’t expect anti-Trump sentiment to impact reception of gung-ho Americana.

“Buyers aren’t worried about a film being too American, as long as it has the right emotional beats,” he says. “But we aren’t about to go out and make a movie that says America is the greatest country in the world, or focus on the election. Unless it was a satire.”

“The audience can tell cinema from reality,” adds Jasna Vavra, head of theatrical entertainment at German distributor Universum, dismissing the idea that international film fans will turn against American movies if Trump gets in.

Indeed, most AFM attendees are choosing to take a fatalist, tongue-in-cheek approach to next week’s vote. Sales outfit Fortitude is offering its international clients election-themed swag in the form of branded water bottles with either “Bad Hombre” or “Nasty Woman” printed on the side, referencing Trumpisms from the debates. They’ve proved to be an instant hit with AFM attendees.

“People have been coming in specifically for them,” says Fortitude co-founder Nadine de Barros, who admits she’s only met one Trump supporter at the event. “One buyer even took 20. Hopefully I won’t end up in jail after the election!”

Among Fortitude’s more prestige AFM titles is Ideal Home, in which Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd play a bickering gay couple. And it’s this type of film de Barros thinks is the necessary medicine for the planet’s woes. “With all that’s going on in the world, I’m trying to focus on comedies. That’s what the world needs,” she says.

But not all comedic titles are suitable, as she found out with Coup D’etat, starring Michael Caine and Katie Holmes. “I had a Turkish buyer who came in and I said, ‘You should get that one,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the one we’re not going to buy.’”