My Top 5 Film Distribution and Marketing Tips of the Week

We’ll start with creating and managing your team

Last Updated: May 14, 2010 @ 5:38 PM

Each week for the next couple of months I’ll be posting five distribution and marketing tips. This week and next, I will look to helping you create and manage your team.

Tip 1: Hiring a domestic sales rep is a choice, not a mandate.

In honor of this Cannes Film Festival, I will take this opportunity to explore crew people that you might want to engage on your film and whether or not they are right for your project. There are several types of sales representatives/sales agents. Today the topic is Producer’s Representatives. A classic sales representative or producer’s representative, as has been known to the independent film world for the past 20 to 30 years, is someone who will broker your film to the various distribution entities, generally in search of an overall deal. The main advantage of sales reps is their relationships with the various companies that buy films, from full-service distributors to DVD companies to cable companies. In the old model, it was almost taken for granted that an unsold independent film would engage a sales rep. Not anymore. Whether or not to engage a sales rep is one of the first decisions you need to make in the execution of your overall distribution strategy.

Tip 2: Be prepared and know what you want before hiring crew.

If you have one or more sales representatives interested in your film, certainly talk to them. But have your distribution and marketing strategy ready before even talking to sales reps, then present it to them to determine whether they can help implement that strategy. This is so you can put their recommendations into context for your film. Remember, your strategy will evolve, so at least have the first draft before you take these meetings. In general you should go to any meeting with the following:

1. Knowing what you want from the meeting or person.
2. Having researched the person you are meeting with so you know what they want, or can provide for you. 

Tip 3: Don’t despair!

Since sales reps generally work on commission, they will be choosier about the films they select. Hence more and more films will end up not being represented by a sales rep or will not have a sales rep for each right. So don’t despair if you don’t have one. If a sales rep is helping you obtain and negotiate split-rights deals, that’s helpful, but you can function without one. If a sales rep requests a large upfront fee to represent your film, I strongly recommend doing your research before paying such upfront fees. You must talk to filmmakers with whom the rep has worked to make sure it was worth it.

Tip 4: Why you may not even want or get a foreign sales rep.

These are reps/agents that are relatively established in the split rights world and specialize in the sales of foreign rights. Generally they take a higher percentage (25 percent) than producer’s reps for domestic deals, and many of them charge expenses as well. However, it is much harder to get a foreign sales advance because overall deals in foreign territories are diminishing, just like overall deals in the United States. The reasons for this decline in overall deals are the same as well. Television sales, however, remain the strongest of the traditional rights sales in foreign territories.

Tip 5: You may want a TV sales rep instead of a full rights foreign sales.

Television is a market that is hard to monetize if you DIY. You should get yourself a TV sales agent if you can. These agents/reps deal with television buyers all the time; they also go to specific television sales markets throughout the world.

Like foreign sales reps, foreign television sales reps typically take 25 percent of the sale as a fee, less expenses. Make sure you limit the foreign or TV rep’s expenses in your agreement. At most, you should be paying a percentage of their market expenses (split with the other films they represent on a proportional basis). At best, you should not be required to reimburse them for market expenses, since they attend these markets with a large slate of films.

I want to know what you think! @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check my book "Think Outside the Box Office." I look forward to hearing from you.