Attending Film Festivals As A Filmmaker -Part 2
During this series of articles, Attending Film Festivals, I’m going to be talking about my festival experiences from all the various angles, because I am one of the few, and dear I say lucky ones, that have attended festivals in almost every facet; as a reviewer, filmmaker, distributor, and of course a fan.
In today’s article, we’ll be following on from the last article, which was about Attending Film Festivals As A Filmmaker, but in today’s article, we’ll be dealing with looking for sales agents, distributors, and trying to get your next project off the ground. Hopefully the lessons learnt here can help filmmakers who are attending either because their film is screening, or in competition. So sit back, enjoy, and hopefully learn a thing or two.
Time To Upgrade To A Better Model
What are sales agents and distributors I hear you say? Well, maybe I don’t actually hear you saying it, but I’m sure that’s something some of you are thinking. Sales agents are people, or organizations, that help sell your film to the various distributors from around the world, and they can do this by either owning the worldwide rights to do so, or for specific regions, such as Europe, North America, etc, and the exact same thing goes for the distributors who pick up the rights to the films, but they focus on distributing your film through various channels, be they theatrical, home entertainment, or VOD.
This of course brings extra layers of profit sharing, as normally the sales agent gets paid a fee upfront from the distributor as part of the acquisition fee, and in rare circumstances, they’ll take a profit share from the earnings of that film through that distributor. The sales agents can also handle all sides of selling the film, as not all distributors are made equal, as some focus on only theatrical, home entertainment, TV, and VOD, or a mixture of those.
The experience the sales agents and distributors have in the industry dealing with the contracts and worldwide issues around film and TV distribution is hugely important, and not to mention their extensive networks in markets you may never have heard of, all adds up to them being an integral part of the distribution model. Or at least they were.
These days, and especially for the independent filmmakers and films of the world, online self distribution is becoming the key to a viable and sustainable industry, and not to mention increasing the profits the filmmakers actually see at the end of the day.
The old model would see the consumer buy the product, and then the seller (Cinema or Retailer) will take a cut, then the Distributor, then the sales agent, then all marketing costs need to be covered, then the investors or funders of the film get paid back, and then, and only then, will the filmmaker see any profits. This model normally meant that a film needed to make 4 times its original budget for it to actually make profits to be shared out to people involved in the project, such as cast and crew.
This is of course the old model, and one that is dying a slow and painful death, as many of the layers of the system are refusing to give up their part in this failing and antiquated system. So though the team at IndieReign suggest looking into all your options, including sales agents, distributors, as well as self-distribution, we also back the idea for indie filmmakers to do it themselves with platforms like IndieReign.
Because this article is about attending film festivals with your film however, I will go into how you can look for sales agents and distributors in the old school way, as understanding how the old system works, and maybe even being a apart of it while it’s still around, could help down the road with your future projects, as knowledge is power. Not to mention, for now, they are still both important for helping raise money for future films.
My Kingdom For A Sales Agent
When attending film festivals, the first thing to realise is there won’t always be sales agents in attendance, as they mainly hold out for the markets where they buy in bulk. This doesn’t mean you can’t lay some groundwork to get one to attend, and that’s why my first point is all about doing your homework, well in advance of the festival itself.
Once you know you’ll be attending a film festival, find out if there is a market attached. If so, contact the festival and ask for a list of all attending sales agents. Reach out to them, and ask about setting up a meeting during the festival to discuss your project. You of course won’t get every meeting you hope to arrange, but this is key to getting in front of people, as often leaving it to the actual event will be too late, as their busy schedules will already be booked up.
The same goes for if there isn’t a market attached, as you can reach out to sales agents anyway and ask if they’ll have anyone in the area for the festival, or if they will be attending in a standalone capacity. This can both work to set up meetings if they are going, or maybe even convincing them that attending will be in their best interest.
Because of this, make all communication with them as personal as possible, by using their first names, and also knowing enough about their company so that the idea of representing your film makes sense to them and their company.
Once on the ground, make sure you have all the marketing material you could possibly need to promote your film, so that if you do get face time with a sales agent, you can have something to give them so as to jog their memory after the festival when they look to make their final decisions. Once again, any face time you do get had better be in a personal sense, as often times business decisions can be made based on the product as much as the person selling it.
Make sure to invite these sales agents to all your screenings, and in doing so, make sure you attend and keep an eye out for them, because it really is that personal touch that might get you across the line. Even in a bigger sense this relationship building can pay off years later, with future projects. But be prepared that even if they are interested, deals may not be done till well after the festival or market, as they need to see what projects, and how many, they can actually take on.
Wherefore Art Thou Distributors
When it comes to distributors, it’s actually almost exactly the same as for sales agents, but normally with distributors you’ll be dealing with many different companies about varying markets. This is of course a tough thing to do, which is why sales agents have been important for years, as they did this work for you, and why 1 sales agent can be worth a lot more to you than 5 various deals with smaller distributors of varying far flung markets.
The one thing that makes dealing with distributors different though is that each company seems to have its own unique style or genre of film they are after. This makes research even more important, as trying to set up a meeting at a festival with a family focused distribution company is a waste of both yours and their time if you’re trying to get a deal for your R rated horror film.
Like with the sales agent though, there will be a lot of networking, a lot of talking, and a lot of personal interaction to get these deals across the line. And just like with sales agents, think of the long term game, because if your film doesn’t fit their current slate, they may be very keen to help you get your next project off the ground, as it fits their brief better.
The Future Starts Today
If I was only ever allowed to give one piece of advice to a filmmaker attending a film festival with their film, it would be this, go with other projects, in varying stages of development, be they in logline, synopsis, treatment, script, teaser trailer, or rough edited form, as sales agents and distributors like filmmakers with an eye to the future, no matter how good this one project might be.
In their eyes, when they are either selling your film to distributors, or selling your film to retailers or other forms of distribution, if they can then sell your next film easier, because of your past work, then that makes their job easier. So relationships they build with your products now will pay dividends down the road with future work. If you have no idea of your future work, or it seems too far off, they’ll take that into consideration, as it would mean your brand is harder to sell to their networks.
This isn’t only a benefit for the sales agents and distributors, but it’s vitally important for you as a filmmaker, as the heat and buzz around your current project is exactly what you need to get your next project off the ground. Of which, right now, sales agents and distributors are still a key part of, as deal memos from them can be the last piece of the puzzle, or the first piece, that means you’ll be looking to sell another film in 18-24 months time, instead of 5-10 years.
So there you go, a quick guide to attending film festivals as a filmmaker, and I hope I’ve imparted some knowledge and tips that you’ll find handy the next time you’re attending. Good luck, happy watching, happy talking, happy wheeling and dealing, and never forget, watching a lot of films and having endless meetings is as much a physical challenge as it is a mental one, so prepare for it.