Film Commissioners Report Quality, Less Quantity At AFM LocationEXPO
David W. Schoner, Jr., associate director, New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission
  • SANTA MONICA, Calif.
  • --

A variation of the glass either being half full or half empty argument--underscoring perceptions of quantity and how they translate to assessments of quality--emerged at the American Film Market’s (AFM) LocationEXPO, held November 3-6 in Santa Monica. 

While the glass was far from being filled to the brim in terms of EXPO attendee traffic, the quality of the contacts that flowed through the film commission space was in many cases enough to quench a number of exhibitors’ thirst for business. Perspectives on quantity vs. quality were evident on the EXPO exhibit floor, having sprung in large part from the decision by event organizers to limit visitors to those who paid for a confab pass.

In years past, a badge was necessary in order to get into the American Film Market indie film distributor suites but not some of the outlying booths on different floors of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel which often included film commission exhibitors. This applied to last year’s inaugural LocationEXPO held in conjunction with the overall American Film Market. 

However, for year two of the recently concluded EXPO, a badge was required to gain access throughout the hotel. Several film commissioners bemoaned the resulting reduced traffic while others viewed the admissions policy change as a valuable filter to help ensure that only serious business prospects would come calling.

David W. Schoner, Jr., associate director of the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission, described the EXPO as “a great opportunity to talk to so many quality contacts in one concentrated area.” Schoner and Charles Ricciardi, operations and creative director with the New Jersey film commission, had much to discuss with those EXPO contacts, including the state’s tax credit for features and TV. Eligible production companies can, after meeting certain criteria, receive a New Jersey transferable tax credit equal to 30 percent (35 percent in select counties such as Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer or Salem County) of qualified production expenses.

This marked the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission’s first time at the AFM event and Schoner was impressed with the results, having no problem with the paid admission policy, noting, “If you are going to pay to go to something, you really want to be there.” At the same time, Schoner said that if a student filmmaker or a start-up producer contacted the film commission at the EXPO, he and Ricciardi were happy to meet with them outside the venue and provide them with whatever info they needed.

Schoner added that the AFM offered one-day (Saturday, 11/3) complimentary credentials for EXPO admission to the Locations Managers Guild International (LMGI), affording its member location scouts and managers the opportunity to connect with the film commission community. AFM even held a reception for those LMGI members who turned out.

Jonathan Wolf, managing director of the American Film Market and EVP of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), which produces the AFM, estimated that some 40 LMGI members accepted the invite, which was extended to ensure that location professionals could access the EXPO in light of the policy otherwise calling for paid admission.

Wolf explained the decision to change overall AFM admission policy this year, noting that under the old system, paid attendees to the AFM, billed as the world’s largest indie film marketplace, would find themselves repeatedly checked by security personnel for badges to get into the distribution suites on different floors of the hotel. AFM organizers found that on average a paid attendee during his or her visit would be checked 22 times for a badge at various points of entry to the event. Furthermore, peripheral visitors who didn’t pay for badges often filled the lobby area of the Loews Santa Monica, making it difficult for paid attendees to sit and network in that central gathering place. “We had to make a change and we’re not going back,” said Wolf, who anticipated that some film commissions might not be enamored with the new policy. But he felt that ultimately being able to connect with quality contacts--and hopefully to lay the groundwork for landing a film or TV project--would be enough to convince film commission exhibitors of the EXPO’s value.

A number of film commissions, said Wolf, have been accustomed to the Association of Film Commissioners International’s (AFCI) former Locations Expo event which at one time generated a lot of traffic consisting of attendees who came in free of charge. But that show, he noted, dwindled from over 200 exhibitors to less than 80 in its last year. The AFM LocationEXPO, related Wolf, is a decidedly different event--not confined to Hollywood-centric attendees but also tapping into an AFM marketplace of qualified producers from some 50 countries. He sees growth opportunities for the AFM LocationEXPO which in its second year presented an exhibitor contingent of more than 60 film commissions, production services and facilities. He added that some tweaks might be considered for next year, including perhaps expanding complimentary admission to two days for LMGI members.

Christopher James Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, part of Louisiana Economic Development, tapped into AFM and the LocationEXPO as an official exhibitor without a booth, instead opting to hold an evening invitation-only reception for select AFM attendees, courting independent filmmakers, producers and distributors spanning features and TV. “We had a great turnout with quality prospects,” said Stelly who said having a presence at AFM has proven to be of value to Louisiana Entertainment for each of the past two years.

Louisiana Entertainment’s focused message delivered to producers at AFM LocationEXPO centered on the state’s revamped incentives program which went into effect in July 2017. Since that time, Stelly noted that Louisiana has seen a 200 percent surge in independent films as compared to the prior 16 months. TV has also experienced an increase. Half of that TV activity consists of recurring business from such shows as NCIS: New Orleans, Queen Sugar and Cloak & Dagger.


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