AFM expects small boost | What’s new at AFM | Where to eat

Adjusting to digital cinema is this year’s challenge for the organizers of the American Film Market.

Out of the 21 commercial screens the market employs in Santa Monica, eight are now exclusively digital, with no 35mm projector. As AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf explains, not many sales companies are geared up for digital screenings until their films are actually ready for commercial release.

“We had eight theaters for digital cinema but didn’t have enough companies that wanted to use them, whereas the 35mm screens were somewhat oversubscribed,” he says.

The AFM has just about managed to juggle around its schedules to fit everyone in, but Wolf predicts this situation is going to present a logistical and financial headache for many film festivals around the world over the next couple of years as more and more theaters make the digital transition.

But there are some digital upsides for the AFM too. Sellers are able to do HD-Cam screenings of unlocked films that haven’t yet struck release prints. Image quality is becoming more an issue for d.p.’s, connoisseurs and aficionados, less for general viewers and digital saves money on making and shipping prints. “You can carry an HD-Cam in a suitcase,” Wolf points out.

Four screens are also equipped for 3D, with 20 movies set to unspool in this format at this year’s AFM vs. just three last year.

Overall, the AFM is expecting fewer sellers with fewer films following the deflation of the production bubble that grew between 2004-08. The AFM will occupy only half a floor in Le Merigot vs. three at its peak. Wolf welcomes the contraction as a return to a healthy equilibrium between supply and demand.

“We didn’t celebrate that bubble because we saw it destroying prices,” Wolf says. “In the early decade, we were screening 400 films, then it was up to 530, and now we’re back to 400, which is more in line with what the marketplace can absorb.”

Buyer registrations are tracking level or slightly up on last year, and other attendees — producers, lawyers, financiers, film commissioners, press and the rest — are expected to be 10%-20% higher. That reflects a tougher financing climate, which means everyone has to work harder for deals.

For this third category of delegate, the AFM has created a social networking tool on its website, MyAFM. It has also created a link between its online film catalog and Facebook, which means any buyers registered as AFM’s “friends” will be automatically notified any time a seller updates the information on its films.