Hey, Filmmakers. Welcome to Going Bionic #221. Today we’re continuing our series on Managing Expectations with an emphasis on what to expect from international distribution. While the simplest answer would be to expect “very little to nothing” unless your film is embedded with a serious amount of star power, that answer is a bit too simple. Thus, I’m going to focus are why things are the way they are. So, without further ado, here are a few tips on how to manage your expectations from international distribution.

Finding An International Distributor
Landing an international distributor/sales agent has become excruciatingly more difficult in recent years, because the value of indie films has collapsed mightily worldwide. To make matters worse, the cost of doing business, i.e. travel overseas, booth costs and advertising, has gone up. Thus, most distributors and sales agents need to be guaranteed of making money on a title, or they won’t sign the film. Just remember, distributors and sales agents would rather represent films they don’t love, as long as those films sell, as opposed to representing a bunch of films they love that don’t sell.

The best way to find an international distributor or sales agent is to find the ones that have been successful in selling films like yours (not merely representing films like yours, but actually selling films like yours). Many companies target certain genres based on the tastes of their most significant buyers, so it’s crucial to find the right team to sell your work. Should you be able to crack this most difficult nut, you’ll give your film its best shot to achieve international success.

As for the most sellable genres for films without stars, the usual suspects still apply; action and sci-fi are still your best bet, while comedies and romantic comedies are your most realistic tax break situations.

The Timing Of Your First Sale
This depends on when you land a distributor/sales agent, and how close it is to them attending a major film markets like Cannes, EFM in Berlin or AFM in Santa Monica. TV markets like MIPCOM and MIPTV are also key sales points, because most indie films draw far more interest from cable and satellite than theatrical buyers. For example, if you land a distributor in the summer, (after Cannes in May) you’ll probably have to wait several months until MIPCOM or AFM, in order to realize what your film may be worth internationally. Furthermore, if there is interest in your film, fielding an offer will be anywhere from two to eight weeks after the market. Thus, it’s not uncommon to wait eight months or more to land your first sale overseas.

Side Note: We’re assuming there actually is a “first sale.” At least 50% of all indie films without stars fail to wrangle even one sale internationally; so getting sold internationally is no easy task.

Expecting Payment From Your First Sale
This could take a lot of time, especially since your film will first have to make enough money to pay the distributor’s administrative fees. Most fees run between $35,000 to $250,000, depending on a) the budget of your film and b) the size of the distributor. Thus, it’s not very smart for a small film to go with a monstrous distributor, because all of the money your film makes will go into the pockets of your distributor.

Once your film pays the distributor’s admin fees, and your distributor actually owes you money, getting a check will usually take three to five months, because most payment cycles are quarterly or beyond.

How Many Sales Should You Expect?
Zero to three within the first 12 to 24 months is a realistic.

How Much Of An Advance Should You Expect?
Advances for indie films without stars are dinosaurs, i.e. historical relics that future generations will doubt. So, if you’re waiting to find a distributor that will give you a healthy advance for your film, you may be waiting a long time.

When Can I Expect To Be Paid On Money Guarantees?
Maybe never, because quite a lot of them don’t pay out. For example, if you get a $200,000 money guarantee from a distributor, but your film tanks and only makes $16,000 – there is no way in Hell your distributor will pay you the remaining $184,000 they owe you – regardless of what your contract says. They may offer you a $10,000 settlement, and if you don’t take it and threaten to sue them, they’ll invite your lawsuit, knowing you can’t afford to stay in court for as long as they can. Thus, Money Guarantees are not money in the bank!

Okay, filmmakers, that’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. Until then, have a tremendous week! I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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