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This article is part of an ongoing series of articles solely about distribution. A lot of filmmakers are confused about the realities of distribution, and rightly so. I’ve been making and selling movies internationally for over a decade, and I’m still learning about all the secrets and tricks The Industry hides from us. Part of the problem is that no one shares this information with each other, both the good and bad, so I’m making it my mission to do so. Openly, honestly, and hopefully clearly.
When your film is ready for release, there are a variety of ways to get it out into the world. There are aggregators and sales reps, producer’s reps and distributors, foreign sales agents and a variety of “middle men” who can help you.
Today we’re going to talk about just one of those ways. The Producer’s Rep.
A Producer’s Rep is a person who acts as a negotiator for your film and his or her sole purpose is to get your film sold to a Sales Agent, Aggregator, or Distributor. They will hold private screenings (you’ll pay for it, naturally), they’ll send out post cards or other materials (you’ll pay for those too), and they’ll do a bunch of other stuff (some useless) you’ll need to reimburse them for as well. Sometimes they’ll do things that don’t require reimbursement, such as talk to people on the telephone. Eventually, when they make a sale, they will take a percentage of that sale as commission.
There are many people out there who call themselves Producer’s Reps. Some of them are failed Industry executives. Some are failed filmmakers. A few are attorneys and only a couple actually know what they’re doing. All of them claim to know everyone in the business, and most of them will require a retainer before actively taking on your film. Those are the kinds of Producer’s Reps to avoid. Instead, find one who works solely on commission. Those kinds of Producer’s Reps are very rare, but they will try harder to actually sell your movie. Producer’s Reps that have already been paid a retainer of, say, $5,000, don’t really have an ambition to make a good sale since they’ve already made some money.
The first Producer’s Rep we hired was a disaster. We’d stupidly paid him a retainer (not knowing we could otherwise have found someone who would take commission), and he just didn’t have the ambition to get the job done. The longer he didn’t sell the film, and the longer we paid him, the more reason he had to NOT sell it. We believed everything he told us, which was naïve, I know, but he had been a former VP of Acquisitions at a major studio. So why wouldn’t we believe him?
The thing about Producer’s Reps is that they aren’t willing to do anything that rocks their boat. If they were too aggressive, their relationship with Harvey Weinstein, or whomever, would be damaged, so they aren’t going to be an aggressive salesman. They’ll pussyfoot around delicately so they can always look good in the eyes of the buyers they have relationships with.
Like most people in The Industry, Producer’s Reps will act as though you work for them. They will somehow totally deny the fact they are, in reality, working for you. Once I asked our Producer’s Rep to share with me his contact list (mailing addresses, etc) of buyers at each company. This information is publicly available. It isn’t secret. You can make a telephone call to every distributor and ask the front desk, “who is the name of the Acquisitions personnel,” and they will tell you. It’s easy. But it takes time to call them all. Maybe not days and days, but I wanted to save time, so I just asked our Producer’s Rep for his list.
He was flabbergasted. He flew through the roof. How dare I ask him such a thing! He said, “It’s my livelihood, I can’t share that with you.” I informed him that anyone can make that list, that it was just going to save me some time. But, he was the wise and experienced one, and I was some filmmaker from Kansas, what did I know? Of course he didn’t take me seriously and share his list.
So, I did the research on my own. It took a couple days, but in the end, I’d gathering the data and had the list I’d asked him for. When I told him I had my own list, he actually asked me to share it with him so he could make sure his was up to date. Was he kidding?
I think that was the last time I spoke with him. A few weeks later we sold the film. Perhaps he helped. Or, perhaps it was my list and the marketing strategies I did on my own (without his help) that ended up selling our film. Who knows.
I haven’t used a Producer’s Rep since that first experience, and I continue to sell movies without using one, so I’m not sure there’s any reason to hire one. But if you do, be aware. And beware.