At the indie AFM market, the titles are on-the-nose and the stars may not be top-tier, but the attendees often represent a triumph of dreams over reality.The money has dried up. Costs are soaring. There aren’t any movies worth buying. Cries of doom and gloom are always pervasive at the opening of the American Film Market in Santa Monica. However, the fact that the indie market exists at all represents an extraordinary expression of optimism, if not blind faith. The folks wandering the AFM corridors are not emissaries of Viacom, News Corp. or other multinationals, to put it mildly. For many, being at the AFM in itself represents a financial adventure. But they’re here, all of them — dreamers and rascals, gonifs and gamblers. And the product they deal in reflects a vivid contrast to the wares of Hollywood. The studios may chase Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, but at AFM Nick Mancuso and Michael Pare still symbolize star power. Roy Scheider and Lauren Bacall are big names at AFM, and so is Frank Gorshin. And you don’t have to pronounce them to sell them: Only at AFM will you see a love story starring Michael Sieczkowski and Monica Hilmerova. “Emmanuelle” still thrives at AFM, and so does “Godzilla.” And while Hollywood may consider disaster pictures old hat, at AFM you can buy a package consisting of “Avalanche,” “Tornado,” “Fire,” “Volcano” and “Earthquake,” each costing under $5 million. At AFM, it’s the “big idea” that counts, Joe Drake, president of Senator Films, told a Variety reporter, adding that a trailer alone can often sell a movie. There’s even a company called Big Idea Prods., which hopes to put additional offerings in its “VeggieTales” series on buyers’ plates. Since “concept is king” at AFM, many titles are a bit on-the-nose. There’s “Barbarian,” “Lurking Terror,” “The House that Dripped Blood,” “Naked Weapons,” “Hypnotized and Hysterical” and “Ancient Warriors” (the latter is not a vehicle for Charlie Bronson). Then there are titles whose meaning may have been lost in translation. They include “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” “Heaven’s Bookstore,” “My Life as McDull,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Sushi.” Indeed, some of the titles being offered might make for interesting double bills. “Intermission” could play well with “The Missing Half.” Similarly, “Unborn but Forgotten” might work with “My Life Without Me.” All are available, alone or together, at the AFM. While some of the AFM titles are catchy, the plot summaries that accompany them may provide cause for worry. Red Green’s “Duct Tape Forever” fits this past week’s headlines, but the storyline states: “Red Green and his nephew, Harold, hit the road to save their cherished possum lodge.” OK, that may work for animal lovers. The plot of “Perseverance” concerns “a struggling New England fisherman who finds magical moss that can heal any disease.” Well, audiences are looking for an upbeat story. That’s why they may also go for “The Soul Keeper,” which is “the true story of Sabina Spielrein, the heroine of psychoanalysis.” Admittedly, some of the product that’s offered at AFM may sound a little desperate, but ads from bankers and brokers nonetheless adorn market publications. “There’s no magic to getting a production loan,” proclaims Imperial Capital Bank and the Lewis Horwitz Organization. “Big ideas need backing, and that’s where we come in,” insists Union Bank of California. There are lots of people around AFM who will be delighted to learn all this. In order to get to AFM, they’ve had to cajole talent, appease filmmakers and seduce investors. They’ve had to survive sagging economies and the threat of war. “Every survivor has a story,” states the banner for one AFM movie. Some of the AFM survivors could probably provide a more suspenseful storyline than the movies they represent.
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