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Observations From an AFM Novice

2 Mar, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Until last week, I was an AFM virgin. I know that's unthinkable to many of you veterans, but it was my first time covering AFM, and I have to admit, I've never seen anything quite like it. So here are a few random observations from a newbie.

Establishing shot: I had a lunch meeting Thursday a couple of hotels down from Loew's Santa Monica Beach. As I walked down Ocean Avenue thinking about the meeting I was about to have, I looked up from my reverie to dodge a fellow walking in the other direction. He was about my height and had wild, stringy gray hair. He was wearing a black overcoat over clothes that looked like he'd fished them out of the trash the day before and slept in them before coming to the event. Just as I was about to dismiss him as yet another of the prevalent dumpster divers around the Santa Monica Pier, I caught a glimpse of the restricted access pass fluttering in the breeze from around his neck.

Most people think the deals get done in the suites. I saw a lot of activity on elevators. People exchanging business cards, setting meetings and giving that last-minute nod to colleagues as they stepped onto elevators (or held them to keep talking, much to the chagrin of the passengers crammed into the cars like sardines). If that ever gets out, nobody will book suites — they'll just hang around the elevators.

In fact, a substantial portion of what happens on the ground floor is people who don't have restricted access passes (even with better clothes than Dumpster Man) trying to get noticed. Sometimes it works: Maverick's Doug Schwab told me he likes to hang around near the ground floor, because he's bought completed scripts or even movies from folks he found there in past years.

It's no secret that box art is the key with video, but the American Film Market (which one wag called the “American Flea Market”) is the proof. Those box and poster shots look so promising, but so many of the movies are a disappointment. It lends a whole new understanding to how some movies get onto shelves even though watching them is a sentence much like the fourth circle of hell.

The one thing I came away with is a much deeper appreciation of what it takes to make an independent film. Not that everyone should be doing it — a lot of people really should heed the “don't try this at home” disclaimer. But I salute the folks just starting out, trying to make a real statement and get anyone with juice to notice their films. It's a miracle some of this stuff gets made at all, and my hat is off to the aspiring indie filmmakers not only for braving treacherous waters, but for hanging on in storms like AFM.

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