I was sitting in my sales booth at the European Film Market in Berlin watching a film seller in a neighboring booth boast about his upcoming film slate to a few overtly uninterested film buyers. The seller was positive his slate would surely afford him a yacht, or a Rolls Royce, by next year, while the buyer was even more positive that the seller’s future toys would be less amazing than the toys the buyer already had. As I tried to block out the bullshit littering the air around me, I couldn’t help but to notice that the market bag hanging on the shoulder of the seller was three years old. I had the same bag. I had given it to my wife (like always) and she had soon thereafter fed it to the monstrous mountain of market bags in our closet. And just like that, it dawned on me how much filmmakers can learn from a simple market bag.

My topic today is: Film market bags, sales booths, and you. An odd mix, I know, but it’ll all make sense soon enough. You may be wondering what the hell free shoulder bags given out by film markets have to do with anything, but trust me; these “badges of stability” can give you invaluable insight into your international distributor.

First let me refresh you a bit with what film markets are: Film markets are worldwide swap meets for film buyers and sellers to negotiate, deliberate and orchestrate sales of motion picture and television programming to various parts of the planet.

Secondly, let me explain what market “booths” are. A “booth” is a fiercely overpriced sales booth that film sellers spend between $15,000-$80,000+ per market to showcase their films at. Since the markets are usually three to five days long, with 10 days (Cannes Film Market) being the longest, film sellers (i.e. international distributors/sales agents) spend several thousand dollars per day just for the right to display their films for sale. These sales booths are no bigger than an ambitious lemonade stand, but they cost as much as a three bedroom home in much of the Mid-Western United States.

So, what great prize do us film sellers get for enduring countless hours on airplanes, being sleep deprived and spending a sick amount of money for booths, travel and advertising to make sure our clients films are exposed to film buyers worldwide? A free market bag.

Market Bags
Every market attendee expects a damn good market bag; because it’s so f-ing expensive to be at the film markets in the first place. Attendees will either praise or curse the market bag, and their ‘bag approval rating’ will partially mold their opinion about that market. The market bags given out in Berlin are clearly the best and most durable in the business. They last for years, and they are quite well thought out. The Cannes Film Festival/Marche Du Film bags are usually a close second, but the 2009 Cannes market bag was the ugliest and cheapest one ever made. That bag ripped apart the first day. When I had it replaced, my replacement tore apart by day three. It’s almost like Cannes had the foresight to know that a vast number of film sales companies would go bankrupt in 2009 (which happened), so they chose not to spend money on market bags when less companies would exist to buy their booths in 2010. Such foresight must be why Cannes is clearly the greatest film festival and film sales market in the world.

Some sellers will hang on to their favorite market bag for years. Others will change out their bags from market to market in order to nonchalantly prove their financial strength to their buyers (i.e. to show how many markets they attend). As for me, I give all of my bags to my wife. She gladly keeps the ones she likes. I donate some of the other bags to Goodwill, use the primarily useless ones to house toys for our dog “Pepper,” and the rest get the pleasure of joining me throughout my market-to-market trek.

Note to filmmakers: If your international distributor/film sales company hasn’t earned a mountain of useless market bags over the years, then something is definitely wrong with how they’re representing your film. This is because if they don’t have market bags, then they are a) not investing the $15,000 to $80,000+ into buying booths or worse, b) they’re not even buying the $800-$1,500 passes at film markets to meet with buyers. It’s elementary, actually: cheap passes + no booths = no market bag.

My favorite market bag ever was the Cannes Film Festival 60th anniversary bag – which printed every Palm De ‘Or winner since the inception of the Cannes Film Festival – right on the bag. Too bad I lost that bag – the only one I’ve ever lost – in a ridiculous act of stupidity. Please allow me to share how it happened:

Circa Fredonia, Kansas, April 2007: I was at my grandmother’s funeral in the middle of nowhere when I realized that I’d lost my cell phone (there’s a pattern here – I lose everything), so I had no way to touch base with my office back in Los Angeles. After a nearly two-hour drive back to my hotel – which was north of the middle of nowhere, I called my office for my messages. I was quickly surprised to learn that my friend David Blake, a co-producer on Julian Lennon’s “Whaledreamers”, had recommended my company to Julian. To my further surprise, Julian Lennon wanted to meet me at Cannes and discuss the possibility of having my company represent his film worldwide. If you had any idea how big of a fan I was of Julian’s music – (I bought his album Valotte on vinyl, before CD’s, with my lawn mowing money when I was 17), and how much I idolize his father John Lennon and the Beatles (I’ve loved the Beatles since grade school and I even named my dog “Pepper” from Sgt. Pepper’s…) you’d understand how thrilled I was to meet Julian and possibly represent his film. The stage was set…

I first met Julian in Cannes at my sales booth, where we (luckily) clicked. We then lunched and soon thereafter he agreed to have my company handle his film. Wanting to tell the world of my prized acquisition, my company teamed up with www.Hollywoodtoday.com to put together a massive party for “Whaledreamers” at the Hotel 314 beachside bar – a very highbrow bar planted oceanfront on the sand in Cannes. Julian agreed to play a midnight concert – his first show in a decade – and my company Lonely Seal Releasing and www.Hollywoodtoday.com both agreed to host the party as a charity event for Greenpeace. Julian’s song “Saltwater” was (and may still be) the international theme song for Greenpeace, so everything was flowing toward becoming a magical and memorable night. Simply put, it was. What was supposed to be a 350-person party, swelled to 1,653 people and Julian’s midnight set was an amazing memory that is firmly tattooed in my mind for as long as I have a memory.

So, what does that story has to do with my Cannes market bag? Well, the afternoon before our party, my Lonely Seal Releasing compadre Edward Stencel and I had just made about 30 VIP laminate passes for the party. In a rush, I stuffed the VIP passes in my market bag, and barreled into the parking garage of the Palais at Cannes, then put them in the back seat of our rental car…too bad it wasn’t our car! Yes, I actually planted my beloved 2007 Cannes Film Festival 60th Anniversary market bag – filled several VIP laminate passes to one of the hottest parties at Cannes – into the backseat of a stranger’s car. In the few seconds that I had my head turned looking for Edward, the wrong car’s owner drove off. Our party wine sponsor Ben and I ran after the wayward car for a block – but the driver never noticed that they had two frantic guys running and screaming behind them. Then again, maybe the driver did notice, and drove away because of it.

I often wonder how long it took the driver to see the “prize bag” in their back seat. They could’ve thought it was their own market bag, in which case they may have not noticed it until the following day or beyond. Then again, maybe the driver was a struggling filmmaker, or better yet a film student-turned-temporary-American-Pavilion-waiter, who found the passes, attended our party, got a job, a deal, a lover, or at least a lasting memory. I hope it’s the latter, as its certainly more cinematically romantic!

Incidentally, this year’s 2010 Berlin bag is their 60th Anniversary bag that sports all 15,000 plus films that played the Berlin Film Festival over the last 60 years on it. I’m sure printing all 15,000 films onto a shoulder bag was an effort to upstage Cannes’ 60th Anniversary bag that listed their 60-film festival-winning directors. After all, 15,000 is greater than 60. It’s a very cool bag indeed….

Since your international distributor is charging you a “market fee” to cover the expenses of taking your film to several film markets, you must find out what markets they are attending and which ones are they “boothing” at. In all fairness though, ever since the world economy melted, all international distributors are boothing at fewer markets. It just doesn’t make sense to spend $15,000+ on a tiny booth, when virtually no buyers are willing to pick up small independent films for anything more than a few thousand dollars. Thus, until the international film sales tide turns in favor of independent films again (which I hope it does), most international sales companies will limit where they booth.

Sales Markets That Can Change Your Life
There are four significant film sales markets that mold the trend of film sales worldwide. Ironically enough, three of them happen to take place in Cannes, France. The Rolls Royce of all film sales markets is the Cannes Film Market, which runs concurrently with the Cannes Film Festival in May. MIPCOM is at Cannes every October, MIPTV is at Cannes every April, and The American Film Market (AFM), America’s premiere film market, is in Santa Monica every November. The one clarification I wanted to make is that MIPCOM and MIPTV are officially TV markets, not film markets. But, since most independent films are not star-studded enough to get theatrical releases, they do far better sales wise in TV markets.

Film market bags and sales booths can’t tell you everything about your international distributor, but they can tell you about how your film will be positioned on the worldwide stage.  Since you need to make sure your film gets its share of the spotlight with buyers, there is no better way to do so than to understand the intentions of your distributor before you sign with them. Thus, asking about their favorite market bag and where they booth will give you some sharp insight into if they’re a good match for you and your film.

Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Leave a Reply to Richard Johnson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Always great reading Hammad’s articles. Genuine, fun and full of good info.

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon