Seminars, screenings made more accessible

Guards posted at the elevators. Pricey photo badges required. America’s largest market for indie film takes over the Loews Santa Monica hotel Feb. 19-26, and only registered buyers and sellers are welcome. Right?

Wrong. This year more than ever, the American Film Market seeks to re-position itself as a business hub for everyone involved in independent filmmaking, from development and production to completion and sales.

“The AFM is evolving into a marketplace for all kinds of services,” says AFMA exec VP Jonathan Wolf. “Our theme this year is ‘filmmaking starts here.’ We’re taking advantage of the fact that we’re the only major film market held in Hollywood’s back yard, and evolving to serve the broader industry.”

To that end, AFMA has devised a number of ways for newcomers to participate, short of taking an office or investing $775 in a full-market badge.

For starters, there’s the lobby floor of the Loews — an all-day, everyday networking opportunity open to anyone who walks through the door.

Then there are the seminars, for which admission prices were cut in half — to $30 each — two years ago, and which are now being programmed by outside organizations such as the DGA, WGA, IFP, Women in Film, and the British Film Commission.

“They pick the topic, and it brings a much more diverse audience to the AFM, since the majority of attendees tend to be from their own membership,” Wolf says.

Preem screenings

There is the free screening series, AFM Premieres, in which more than 50 independent films debut at a Santa Monica venue, open to industry professionals and film students. AFMA originally charged $50 for the screening badge, but recently decided to offer it at no cost. Attendees need only register online at Variety.com.

“This is an opportunity to see what is being done in the various crafts in new movies at no charge,” Wolf says. “You could literally spend a week at the AFM going back and forth between seminars, screenings and the lobby at very little cost, and that’s fine with us.”

For those who want to penetrate the upper floors of the Loews, where film buyers, sellers and financiers do business in office suites, a half-market badge is available for $295 for the dates Feb. 23-26 only.

Attendance by non-office holders has dramatically increased since the half-market badge was introduced, says Wolf — up 37% in 2001, the first year, and an additional 3% in 2002.

“The fact that people came back the second year meant that they had found value,” Wolf says. “For the first few days of the market, companies are focused on selling films they’ve already invested in, so the second half is a better time for people on the production side to approach them.”

Who invests in the half-market badges? Actors who make the rounds with headshots and resumes, writers with scripts under their arms, post-production execs promoting their facilities and producers with film packages seeking equity to secure a start date, among others.

Quarter bil biz

“I would estimate that a quarter-billion dollars in business is going to be done at this year’s AFM on films that haven’t started shooting yet, and much of the industry is not yet focused on that fact,” Wolf says.

This year, AFMA initiates two more ways to bring fresh blood to the mix: an internship program for AFI producing students, who’ll assist member companies in their sales offices; and the Producer Screenings, a brand-new showcase, to be held on the final day of the market, for films seeking worldwide distribution. Up to 20 films will be selected for screenings at a fee of $2,200, which includes two full-market passes.

Filmmaker Dan Ireland, an AFM vet and former exec veep at Vestron, says he applauds AFM’s outreach to the creative community.

“In the past the market wasn’t filmmaker friendly,” says Ireland, director of “The Whole Wide World” and “Passionada.” “I never felt compelled to go except when I had to go for Vestron, because the kind of people you saw were only there for the deal. To have more inclusion of the whole film community, and of real and significant filmmakers, would only make it stronger.”

Of course, there are always some who will try bolder, more creative ways to sneak past security and partake in the film market free of charge.

“Some people think they can wear last year’s badge and we won’t notice, and several have gone the color-photocopying route,” Wolf says. “Every year we confiscate 30 or 40 badges that are found on the wrong person. We just chalk it up to the tenacity of the people who work in the film business. We escort them out and say, ‘nice try, see you later.’ “

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