On October 31, 2023, opening day of the six-day American Film Market (AFM), attendees had to contend with a noisy strike protest staged by hotel workers at the entrance to the AFM’s new venue, Le Meridién Delfina Hotel in Santa Monica, California. Members of Local 11, the union representing hotel workers, kept up their barrage of drum-banging and shouting for several hours each of the first two days.

Once inside, rooms and corridors in the new quarters seemed claustrophobic compared to the event’s previous venue, the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Elevators had attendees packed like sardines just as in previous years, despite notices suggesting that use of the stairs would be quicker.

More than a surprise for many attendees was the appearance of not just buyers but sellers from Russia. This did not go down well with many.

More than 3,000 participants converged in Santa Monica for the second post-pandemic edition of the AFM. All 299 rooms at the Le Meridién Delfina had been rented to exhibitors.

The AFM press office reported that over 245 production and sales companies from around the world exhibited at the market. Buyers came from nearly 70 countries, with companies registering several people from their teams. There was significant representation coming out of South Korea, Japan, and China.

Lise Romanoff, CEO of Vision Films, saw that, “buyers are back, they need product, [and] some attended both MIPCOM and AFM, but for the most part it’s a different crowd.”

The new venue has caused some consternation? “My room is smaller,” said Romanoff, adding that “the corridors seem thinner, but it is what it is because a Chinese [company] took over the Loews. They’re making suites and renovating. This was the best in Santa Monica at the time [when the choice of a new venue had to be made]. AFM had to stay in Santa Monica because there are lots of screening venues, everything is really close. And anywhere else you just don’t really have that. Otherwise people would be all over the place.”

In the “thinner” corridors and “smaller” suites of the Le Meridién Delfina hotel, AFM exhibitors reportedly prioritized pre-sales for projects introduced previously at the Cannes Film Fest, Venice Film Fest, and Toronto’s TIFF.

Exhibitors were also focused on getting interim agreements signed on projects that will commence principal photography in Europe and Canada, working with local producers and actors in countries not affected by the strikes in Hollywood.

Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, president of American Cinema International, had a different take on the AFM, “All the trade publications were low on ads seemingly because of so many markets on top of one another and companies don’t want to waste money on an ad in every publication for every market.” She continued: “MIPCOM was good for us, but [at AFM] we only had two meetings on Day One, though the rest of the week looked good. However, she added: “There’s no Germans, hardly any Spanish people, there’s no South Africans, there’s nobody from France!”

But overall, the biggest issue seemed to have ben that the new hotel, which is close to the AFM’s old venue, the Loews Hotel, had several parking issues (as many predicted). Le Meridién is located on Pico Blvd. between Lincoln Blvd. and Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica. There’s no parking nearby, and the hotel itself has limited space for cars. The drive-in area is small and can accommodate 20 idling cars at most at the same time. Therefore, long lines were formed on both sides of Pico for drop-offs.

Scenes from the AFM 2023 (from top) l. to r.: Multicom’s Josie Childs, Irv Holender, Darrin Holender, and Jesse Baritz. Lise Romanoff of Vision Films. Day 4 seminar at the Hilton Hotel: l. to r.: Richard Botto, CEO of Stage 32; Vijal Patel, writer and producer for Black-ish; Leila Cohan, writer & producer for Bridgerton; Kate Gill, SVP of Development for Paramount Television Studios; and Nathan Varni, Executive Director of Current Programming for ABC/Disney. Local 11 strikers outside the hotel.

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