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 Sales Agent.
Sales Agents are people who represent dozens, if not hundreds, of movie titles. They take these films to markets such as Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto. (Film Markets are not to be confused with Film Festivals, which sometimes happen simultaneously and in conjunction to Film Markets). While attending these markets, they rent a booth or a space (such as a hotel room), and invite buyers from different distribution companies from all over the world, to stop by their booth and check out their titles. Sometimes the Sales Agent will aggressively track down certain buyers from different countries with promotional flyers about your film.
The Asylum was the first Sales Agent I worked with and they were downright brilliant. They are incredibly nice people, they paid their bills, they were actively in touch with us, and sharing with us ways they were selling PEP SQUAD. They managed to sell my movie all over the globe: Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, China, Greece, the Baltic States, Indonesia, the Middle East, Portugal, Thailand, and Turkey. Oh, and even Canada. I can’t tell you how sad (okay, devastated) I was the day I learned The Asylum wouldn’t be actively selling other people’s movies anymore.
Finding a new Sales Agent to replace The Asylum was a bit like being dumped by the love of your life and having to quickly find a new soul mate or risk perishing into the depths of hell forever. I think I’ve found a nice replacement, but to date they haven’t made as many sales as The Asylum did for us, so I’m waiting to decide if it’s true love or just fond admiration.
In the process of finding the good guys, I worked with a variety of scumbag Sales Agents selling several of my movies. And I’ve encountered many that were so full of themselves, and so rude, that I ended up not hiring them.
First, remember that you are hiring a Sales Agent. They aren’t hiring you. Their egos are sometimes a problem. To keep their egos well fed, they will often treat you badly so you think you need them, when in all honesty, to keep in business, they need you. If they don’t have your film on their roster, they’ll have to find someone else’s film. They cannot afford to remain in business if they aren’t selling as many movies as they can. So if you took your film to the next sales agent, they’ll be the ones in a loss.
The second lesson is to BEWARE of Sales Agents’ so-called “marketing expenses.” I’ve been to the Cannes. I know for a fact it doesn’t cost several hundred thousand dollars to be there.
Most Sales Agents will pad their “marketing expenses” so they can fly First Class, put themselves up at the Carlton, or Hotel du Cap (well over $1,000 a night) and dine at the “in” places, with tasting menus featuring 20 courses, wine pairings, and more. Yes. That’s what they spend their money on. Or, your money, rather. They don’t use it to sell your movie. They think they should be treated like Sharon Stone. Or Madonna. And somehow they will try and convince you they should be.
Sales Agents will sometimes pay you an advance when they acquire your movie, but then as they sell it to different buyers, they keep all the money that comes in until they recoup their “marketing expenses.” Unless you’ve read the fine print and capped their expenses, you may never see another cent beyond the advance.
I prefer not getting an advance in exchange for the Sales Agent taking a commission on all sales, and giving me my shares from the first dollars in. When you’re signing an agreement with a Sales Agent, be sure to discuss this aspect openly.