Every filmmaker has heard horror stories of distribution deals gone wrong. Sometimes this is due to something completely unpredictable like a change in the demands of buyers or distributors, or a freak occurrence that makes the movie unpalatable. More often than not, however, this is due to a poorly negotiated deal with a less than reputable sales agent. So with that in mind, it’s incredibly important that you vet your sales agent. Here are a few ways to do just that.
1. Get Professional Help
Distribution deals are complicated things. It’s easy for one clause that seems innocuous to strip thousands of dollars out of your pocket. Get yourself an entertainment attorney or producers rep to help you through the process. Entertainment attorneys are generally expensive, but can save you money in the long term. Producers reps SHOULD work on a commission for brokerage tasks, but may or may not be able to negotiate as well as they claim.
If you can’t afford an attorney, and are wary of hiring a producer’s rep then take extra time on the next several steps.
2. Carefully Review their base distribution agreement
Similarly, is the recoupable are higher than about 25,000-30,000, you should be VERY careful on dealing with them if you have a lower budget film. If they’re at this level, you’ll want them to attend at least 5-7 markets. That segues nicely to.
3. Ask the Sales Agent Which Markets They Attend
Traditional Film Distribution happens primarily through face to face meetings at markets. Establishing good relationships with buyers takes several touch points a year. In order to really trust a sales agent with your film, you need them to attend both Cannes and AFM at a minimum. Ideally, you want them attending EFM as well, but that market is slightly more arthouse so it can be given a miss if you’ve made a genre picture.
Read More: What is a Film Market and How Do They Work?
4. Look the Sales Agent Up on IMDb
You need to verify some of the films that the sales agent has helped distribute recently. Looking them up on IMDb is a great way to get started. You’ll want to look for films that are similar in genre and feel to yours, and you’ll want them to have represented quite a few films in the last 3-5 years.
5. Visit the Sales Agent Website
The Website of the sales agent will help you understand what they’re currently promoting. It will also have some things that IMDb won’t. These are things like recent press coverage, and links to their other social media profiles. You want the sales agent to have gotten your films a good amount of press.
6. Call Filmmakers they've worked with in the past.
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this. ALWAYS call filmmakers the Sales agency has worked with in the past prior to doing a deal with them. Filmmakers they’ve worked with in the past are the best way to get an unbiased account whether the sales agent lives up to expectations laid out in their contract. While other sales agents will give you opinions on that front, the sales agency game is quite competitive, so they might overstate the issues with their competition to gain a competitive edge.
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My name is Ben, I'm an Entrepreneur, Producer's Rep, and Author. I'm the founder of Guerrilla Rep Media, Co-Founder/CMO of ProductionNext, and founder of PRoducer Foundry. Together, the organizations seek to help make filmmaking a more economically sustainable endeavor. I am dysic, I have capitalization issues, and the blogs are often unedited. opinions all my own.
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