How To Sell Your Indie Film & Actually Make Money

by ScreenCraft on October 10, 2014

Guest post by: Joe Aliberti, Luke Taylor & Matthew Helderman

Completing a film is a feat in and of itself — but selling a feature film in the current international indie film climate is another story all together.

Before embarking on the writing & development stages of a feature film, take some time to dissect the market and assess the realities:

The market is heavily over-saturated — attending any of the major film markets will reveal this truth. Cannes, AFM, Berlin, Toronto, MIPCOM, etc… There is much more content than viewers could ever possibly absorb.

The shift in and emphasis on studio-produced content today versus years past is here to stay, because tentpole studio pictures offer major studios ancillary revenue streams for years to come...streams like merchandising, cross promoting, theme park and additional tie-in’s along with the notion that international audiences love big-scale Hollywood films.

New digital opportunities are springing up left & right — which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing when dissected — but moreover adds to the growing noise in the market, making it difficult to cut through with original product.

The current system is broken — but there are few (if any at all) ways to avoid dealing within this infrastructure.

Again, before embarking on your project, you should spend some time researching and analyzing what makes your film unique, who in the market wants to view it and how you’ll get your content in front of that said audience with limited overhead with the potential of scaling to a larger audience sector.

At Buffalo 8 Productions we’ve produced 30+ feature films that are currently in distribution — we’ve written a full eBook on our experiences — and below is an overview on the necessities for achieving content distribution.

The holy grail of selling your film is finding the right distributor — the trouble is that this term has become more thrown around in indie film sector than perhaps in any other.

A distributor in the truest sense — meaning Weinstein, A24, the studios, etc… — requires an infrastructure to purchase outright (meaning they must pay you the filmmaker an “MG” or Minimum Guarantee) to promote, account, print, ship, exhibit, recoup and scale their strategy.

Very few companies in today's climate are true distributors; rather they act as sub-distributors to larger entities.

When prepping a project, take the time to get in contact with domestic (North American) distributors whom you can research easily and find contact information for their heads of acquisitions. US/North American contacts are valuable to have as a filmmaker since you’ll need to nurture these relationships in to the future on addition projects.

Furthermore, take the time to establish these relationships yourself since you understand the territory (as opposed to the international space) and you have limited language barriers (if any).

“Sales Agents”
Most entities and individuals who claim to be “distributors” are truly just sales representatives standardly referred to as “Sales Agents” or a “Sales Agency”. Similar to the practice of real estate – these entities are brokers who have relationships within the market that allow them to sell internationally.

They have buyers in 100+ international territories offering them he ability to sell your title many times over during the licensing agreement you structure with them.

Sales Agents are a crucial piece of the puzzle, as they have the necessary relationships with buyers enabling you to execute sales abroad over the course of your agreement.

Sales Agents take typically 15% – 25% of each executed sale — and also invest their own capital to market your film and attend the major film markets.

Be cautious and do your research in this space, as the sales agency business is often full of smoke-and-mirror type arrangements that end up hurting the filmmaker and the investors.

Again — we’ve written at length here in our eBook on the marketing cap structures that tend to burden smaller indie films with unseen costs.

“Acquisitions” & “Licensing
Another term that is too often strewn throughout conversations & website promises — an acquisition team should be able & willing to put cash upfront for a project they believe in.

Understand that big MG’s in the six figures exist only for projects whose merits are exceptional — which has become more and more challenging to achieve.

Smaller $1M films typically take five-figure MG’s upfront & then share in the net revenues generated from the upcoming international sales.

Both domestic and international representatives have the ability to front these figures if the film is strong enough — so be willing to negotiate but also willing to recognize the reality that many representatives operate on very limited spending budgets since the market for buying & selling content has changed so radically.

The standard agreement you’ll seek to negotiate will be directly with the Head of Acquisitions at a domestic distributor (physically purchasing and traditionally distributing your title) and with an international sales agency (who will represent your title abroad) on a licensing term — meaning you remain in control of the intellectual property and your new partners (distributor & agency) profit from the sales executed under their infrastructure.

These terms are typically three years and enable long-tail economic revenue when properly implemented.

General Guidance

Early discussions — start researching, contacting and speaking with these important parties well before you head into production. Great relationships here will result in casting advice, genre-honing and additional opportunities for investment, should the agency/distributor feel that the project warrants pre-sales or a pick-up commitment deal (see eBook).

Relationships — the distribution game is heavily relationship-driven and requires time and introductions. Find members of your current circles who have successfully gotten content in to the markets & pick their brains and rolodex for opportunities. Distributors are guarded and need to be assured that the content they are buying will be delivered on time, as promised and with the necessary elements to pass Quality Control assurances.

Stay present — stay in front of distributors as much as possible & keep in mind that they see a MASSIVE amount of content. Build a Rolodex list of the buyers and companies you want to be in business with — then keep in contact every month leading up to your project wrapping post & preparing for delivery. During this time, you’ll foster new relationships and prove to the buyers you’re serious.

Understand the system — make a plan to attend markets, festivals and panel discussions. Press your contacts and foster new relationships. Study which agencies & buyers purchase which kind of content and curate your reach out to these entities. More than anything, keep the cost of your production low enough to have a chance at recouping with a reasonable buy-out figure from a sales team. There is a new rule of thumb in the business that essentially states MG’s will be the only revenue you’ll ever see from a sale (such that additional long-term revenues are disappearing).

More than anything — stay positive and active in the space if you expect to see results. It is a fast-moving business with many scattered parts and fragmented parties dealing on each project. Find a strategy, build a team and keep your costs low!

BondIt was founded by independent film producers Matthew Helderman & Luke Taylor of Beverly Hills based Buffalo 8 Productions. Having produced 30+ feature films, the team recognized a dilemma in the production process — union deposits — and launched BondIt to resolve the situation to assist producers & union representatives alike. |


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