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AFM Pushes Santa Monica Attractions

Frank Gruber for City Council





Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pico Business Improvement District
7th Annual Pico Festival
Sunday, October 28th

By Ed Moosbrugger

October 30, 2012 -- After coming close to losing the annual American Film Market (AFM) in town, Santa Monica is reaping extra benefits as the big independent film industry trade show promotes the beachside city as a destination in its marketing efforts.

That was not the case in the past two years, when it was uncertain whether AFM would remain in Santa Monica beyond this year. Now that AFM is committed through 2017, the trade group is promoting local attractions, including Downtown, to help lure attendees.

“The last couple of years we did not focus on the destination,” said Jonathan Wolf, managing director of AFM. “This year our marketing is very much location driven.” That means promoting attractions such as the beach, shops and restaurants, as well as the comfort of walking at night.

In what should be a boost to Downtown merchants, AFM has even created an interactive map on its website ( of what it calls the AFM Campus, which includes a big part of the commercial district. The campus includes hotels, theaters, shuttle stops, and market and conference venues.

“We’re making a much greater effort to get people to stay in Santa Monica,” Wolf said.

That should bring benefits for local businesses during this year’s AFM, which runs from October 31 to November 7 and is headquartered at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, as it has been since 1991. There is additional meeting space at JW Marriott’s Le Merigot Beach Hotel.

In late August, there were early indications that attendance was running a little bit above last year, said Wolf, who is also executive vice president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which produces AFM.

Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau (SMCVB) has been working closely with AFM to feature the destination prominently in conference materials.

AFM has included photos of Santa Monica in advertisements for the conference at the Cannes Film Festival, shows more images of Santa Monica on its newly designed website and provides a link to download the Official Santa Monica Visitors Guide, the SMCVB said.

It almost didn’t happen. Santa Monica came very close last year to losing AFM to L.A. LIVE in Downtown Los Angeles in 2013.

“It was going to happen,” Wolf said. Indeed, he was taking shuttle buses with key clients to show them L.A. LIVE during last year’s AFM. Then, Santa Monica was thrown a last-minute lifeline.

“What got us back to the table was a change in management at Loews and their change in attitude,” Wolf said. It’s no easy thing to convert a hotel to accommodate a major trade show.

Once talks began again, a variety of improvements planned for Santa Monica weighed in favor of staying put. These planned changes included a proposed AMC cinema complex on Fourth Street, rehabilitation of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, new hotel rooms (including more moderately priced ones), the Expo light rail and a public park across the street from Loews.

“We are thrilled with new hotels at more modest rates,” Wolf said.

Unfortunately, a $47 million plan to improve the civic auditorium was suspended after Governor Jerry Brown dissolved California’s approximately 400 redevelopment agencies to help close a $15.7 billion budget deficit.

AFM is not happy about that.

“There are some long faces here... given that the Civic will be boarded up,” Wolf said. “That’s a huge disappointment for us.” AFM had looked at a rehabilitated and expanded civic auditorium as an ideal venue for red-carpet premiers.

It wasn’t just one factor, however, that weighed in the decision to stay.

“There are so many pieces in the mix,” Wolf said, noting that the final decision was “that close.”

The competition to host the film market isn’t surprising.

AFM brings millions of dollars in businesses as some 8,000 attendees come to town from more than 70 countries. Attendance has increased in each of the past two years, and Wolf doesn’t expect big changes from year to year.

This year, the market will again offer its AFM Conference Series, which was held for the first time last year. The conferences will take place at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel from November 2 to 6. Topics include finance, pitch, marketing, video-on-demand and micro-budget. People without AFM badges can attend the conference but must register by mid-October, Wolf said.

For more information, go to

Meanwhile, SMCVB said local businesses can tap into AFM in several ways, including submitting a special offer for AFM attendees that will be listed free of charge on the bureau’s website and in printed brochures, welcoming AFM attendees, and by displaying AFM-welcome materials. Contact SMCVB for more information.

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