Jonathan Wolf

Source: AFM

Jonathan Wolf

AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf is glad his virtual market comes near the end of the year.

“We’re all really happy we’re going second and that Cannes went first,” Wolf told Screen recently. “We learned a lot from what they did. We got some ideas, we saw what they did well, we saw the things that we might want to do differently.”

After the board of Independent Film & Television Alliance, on which Wolf is EVP, took the decision in July to announce that AFM, like Cannes Marché and others, was taking its showcase event online amid the pandemic, Wolf and his team set about building the new-look market.

They knew AFM 2020 Online would need to cater to a diverse range of constituents and set about sampling various technology platforms before it occurred that no one service offered everything the virtual event needed to be.

The task became twofold: to marry technology providers that would serve different areas of the market’s audience, and make the whole thing feel not so much like navigating a website as experiencing an event.

AFM’s interactive event map

AFM 2020 online

Source: AFM

AFM 2020 online

“That led us to the map,” said Wolf.

The interactive AFM 2020 Online site map houses eight clickable buildings serving market participants and their specific needs, powered by different platforms.

Once registered, participants – at time of writing there were 1,450 registered buyers and 480 exhibitors, compared to buyers from 664 companies and 375 exhibitors in 2019 – can pick up a welcome bag, consult the show directory and screenings guide, view items from sponsors, and visit the trades newsstand.

My AFM most closely resembles a traditional website, where participants create their profile, send messages, and schedule one-on-one Zoom meetings. Wolf said he expects the bulk of the production community to convene here.

Sales and production companies are located at Industry offices. Each sales agent will have a page with pictures of staff, not all of whom need to be credentialed to be listed.

A “Contact Us” link takes a buyer to wherever the sales company wants them to go, be it an email address, or scheduling software, etc.

“We found that sales companies and buyers didn’t want to have meetings on the Cannes platform,” noted Wolf. “Some did, but they preferred their own way of working, whether it was Skype or Zoom or RightsTrade… so we made the decision early on that we weren’t going to promote use of a video platform for buyers and sellers.”

Networking Pavilion enables interactive communication via a relatively new platform called Filmocracy that Wolf and his cohorts came upon after testing 20-25 others. It is, he said, “probably the most unique differentiator for the show”.

“It’s all about the face-to-face”

The networking hub is designed to recreate the element of serendipity that often provides some of the most enjoyable and productive moments of a market or festival.

“It’s all about the face-to-face,” said Wolf. “What it really comes down to is, did [attendees] meet people that are going to make a difference in their future? Did they meet three or four people and develop contacts and relationships that they can carry on? Those that did always give the AFM high marks.”

Attendees can visit 10 floors containing tables. If a spot is open they can park their individual icon at a table where a designated topic is under discussion such as co-productions, documentaries, film genres or regional encounters. Icons bear the attendee’s photo, name and company affiliation and the act of occupying an available seat launches a video conversation with others at the table.

“Picture walking into a networking event with 500 people and they’re all having conversations,” he said. “You don’t know anybody and you don’t know who to walk up to because you don’t know if they’re talking about a topic that’s relevant to you. And then picture that same event but there’s a bubble over everybody’s head with a description of what they’re talking about. And you immediately know that’s the group I want to go see.”

Posted schedules will indicate talking points. “We will be taking about 50 or 60 tables and we will be changing the topics of these tables every hour, and they will be open for drop-in.”

Attendees can also reserve tables for private meetings. AFM 2020 Online may also set up advisor corners, where people can join lawyers or producers reps on an ad hoc basis and hear general advice. Tables on half of the top floor will be reserved for participants to continue discussing what they have just seen at a conference session.

More than 300 market screenings currently registered

LocationEXPO is aimed principally at production facilities and film commissions who can create their profiles and indicate how they want to be reached.

Two stages host hour-long sessions programmed by AFM, and topics change every 90 minutes. The stages also use the Filmocracy platform. Panel sessions take over the attendee’s screen and once they have ended and the lights go up, virtually speaking, attendees can see who they are seated next to and engage in conversation.

On Demand Theatre, powered by Shift72, is the place to watch market screenings. Sales agents of any size as well as sole operators can use this service. AS of October 28 330 films had been registered, compared to 400 in 2019. Screenings take place at any time on any day designated by the host, who can include and exclude buyers, press, or all other participants.

On Demand Theatre, like Industry Offices and LocationEXPO, goes live on November 4 and the screenings platform will remain active through the end of March 2021.

MyAFM is live now. AFM 2020 Online runs from November 9-13.