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.

SELLING YOUR MOVIE: The First Rule (Part 1 of 2)

Upon hearing any kind of feedback from someone, I keep this in mind.

A person’s notes or feedback does NOT tell you about your movie.  What it does is tell you about THAT PERSON.

It’s a pretty unique way of thinking about something, and sometimes it’s hard for people to wrap their brains around it, but try and follow.

By hearing a person’s perspective about something, we learn more about that person.  They tell us what they like and don’t like.  That simply means we now know what that person likes and what that person doesn’t like.

As you unveil your film to buyers, festivals, end viewers, you will be inundated with everyone’s two cents on what he or she would do better, what they love, and what they didn’t like.  But keep in mind, that unless that person is writing you a big fat check, or sending the private jet to fly you to Wherever for the screening, none of their feedback really matters.  Actually, the only aspect of their feedback that can help you is by learning how better to communicate to your audience in your marketing materials.

If someone tells you “it isn’t funny” then you might consider removing the words “comedy” or “funny” from your advertising plan.  Likewise, if “it isn’t scary” then you might consider swapping out the word “frightening” with “drama.”  And so forth.  But never change your movie to suit everyone’s tastes.

When an audience (you and me) goes to watch a movie, we know what we’re going to see.  We’ve seen trailers, clips from scenes shown on TV interviews, press junket Q&As with actors, photo stills, websites, we’ve read tweets, facebook posts, heard music, etc.  We have a very good idea the kind of tone the movie will have.

When a movie executive, festival selection committee, or distribution buyer or sales agent watches an unreleased movie—they have none of these things.

Anyone who walks in to watch a movie totally cold will not have an honest perspective of what they’re watching.

The only people (industry-wise) who might be useful watching a movie cold are advertisers and marketing people.  They aren’t worried about the details of a storyline, or a scene, or the micro-attention to certain characters.  That’s not what the advertisers or marketers are thinking about.  They’re thinking about how to communicate to the viewer (the audience member) everything the viewer needs to set some expectations.  So that by the time the viewer buys a ticket and sits down to watch the film, they know exactly what kind of ride they’re taking.

This is why your presentation to agents and executives must be paramount.  (No pun intended.)

The entire purpose of making the press kit and to have a list of blurbs, is to tell the viewer what it is they’re about to see.  It helps communicate something more, and sets up an expectation.

If your film is different, unusual, you might consider presenting it in a different unusual way.  Then the movie will come as no surprise.  Without any kind of set-up, the viewer could be expecting something standard or normal.  And then, when those expectations are not met, they will either dislike the movie or be confused.

Imagine not knowing anything about SharkNado and sitting down to watch it, only hearing the one-liner.  Perhaps you’re expecting Twister with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.  What a surprise that will bring when the credits start rolling.

Advertising is everything.