Hi everyone. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I know I did, because Lonely Seal Apparel, my new company dedicated to helping to stop the slaughter of harp seals, is officially launching on Earth Day, which is this Sunday, April 22, 2012. I also caught a Lakers game this past Sunday, and saw my beloved Lakers beat Dallas in overtime, even without Kobe Bryant playing. So, my weekend was doubly good…. Is “doubly” even a proper word? I wasn’t sure, but my spell check didn’t redline it, so I’m going with it. I’m sitting here on my balcony in Redondo Beach, watching the ocean waves crash onto the sand and I’m thinking about another majestic beach I love; the one in Cannes. Since we’re 29 days away from the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival and its corresponding Cannes Film Market, I thought today would be a good time to start a series on the most important film festival and film sales market in the universe and beyond. Since covering this topic is going to take more than one column to accomplish, I will divulge more insights and strategies into attending or having your film represented at Cannes in the coming weeks. I will also give you an “on-the-ground” report while I’m in Cannes next month.
As for today, I’d like to discuss five key points that every filmmaker should know about dealing with film sales companies who represent independent films at Cannes. Whether or not you, or your project is headed to Cannes next month, you may wish to file this information under “important need to know stuff” about selling your film(s) worldwide. Remember, information is power, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I don’t provide you with at least a little bit of power!
Side Note: For those of you who have been reading this column since the beginning, some of this may seem like a bit of a refresher course (hopefully not a regurgitation). However, for those who are new to “Going Bionic,” thank you for popping in. I hope I earn the right to borrow your eyes again next Tuesday.
Okay, let’s dive into this!
Key Fact # 1 – Cannes Film Market Is The Alpha and Omega Of All Markets
Not to get Biblical on you, but it’s true. No other film market on the planet has the cache, influence or flat-out sales potential that Cannes does. As for how other film markets compare to Cannes, in two words; they don’t. It’s not even close. Cannes is where the world’s film buyers converge at every May. The setting is beautiful, the weather is perfect, and the buyers usually come with loaded (or at least half-loaded) checkbooks. Simply put, Cannes is where filmmakers should want to have their films represented, and where film sales companies need to attend. Thus, your best shot at getting your film distributed is to have it represented at the Cannes Film Market by an international distributor/sales company.
Key Fact #2 – You Need To Avoid Sales Companies That Require Upfront Fees In Order For Them To Take Your Film To Cannes
This tactic is the sham of all shams, and doing so will not benefit you. If an international distribution/sales company asks you to pay them a $2,500-$7,500 “administrative fee” to pay for their travel and related costs so they can represent your films at Cannes, DON’T DO IT! Hell, don’t even do it if they lover their fee to $1,000. Here’s why:
1) They are making the same pitch to 300+ filmmakers.
2) If they get 100 filmmakers to agree to a $5,000 upfront fee, they the sales company makes $500,000 in fees – before they lift a finger to sell the 100 films they got. Thus, they will have ZERO motivation to sell your film. Yes, attending Cannes is excruciatingly expensive for film sales companies (it murders my checkbook every May), but if a film sales company can’t afford to attend Cannes without your money, then they are not a company you should bank your film’s future on.
Key Fact #3 – The Cost Of Administrative Fees Can Vary Tremendously
While upfront fees are unethical in most cases, every film sales company has administrative fees in addition to a percentage of sales they generate (including mine). However, these fees should be paid from the initial sales that your film sales company generates for your film. This way your sales company has to work to be paid, and you’re not out of pocket for their fees. Depending on the company, admin fees run from $50,000-$250,000. But, don’t worry, everything is negotiable and in many cases, fees can be negotiated downward. As for my company, we tend to be on the more cost-effective end of the spectrum, and we generally charge less to represent documentaries than we do features, because documentaries inherently make less money than feature films.
While several factors determine how much a sales company charges in admin fees, here are some important ones:
1) Bigger companies charge a hell of a lot more in fees, (sometimes 10X more) because they have more overhead to absorb. However, “bigger” is not “better.” I’m not saying that because my company is small. The truth is; films themselves – not the sales companies, dictate its value. Thus, there is no need to overspend on a sales company, because you’re just giving your money away.
2) Type (feature, documentary, etc.).
3) Genre (action, sci-fi, thriller).
4) Scope (perception of the film’s potential box office).
Just remember that unless your film catches fire and becomes the one in 12,000 that goes through the roof in sales, you film will probably make less money internationally than you are imagining or expecting. Thus, you have to be damn smart about who you position your film with.
Key Fact #4 – The Value Of Indie Films Has Plummeted Internationally
The value of independent films has taken a serious nosedive over the past three to four years and the depths of the fall keeps getting worse. The simple fact here is if your film doesn’t have A-list stars, it’s going to be very difficult to sell and distribute. By “A list” stars, I mean Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, not Parker Posey and Michael Madsen. The problem is, even the largest stars in Hollywood (like Angelina and Johnny) are worth a lot less to film buyers than they were a few years ago, because the worldwide economic crash has readjusted values in Hollywood. Thus, if the actors at the top of the heap are worth less to buyers, then EVERYONE beneath them has crashed and burned value-wise. What this means for indie films is that they are basically worthless to buyers these days. I don’t mean to seem harsh, but if a film buyer can wrangle a much larger film for what an indie” film would have cost three years ago, then the demand for indie films severely tumbles.
Key Fact #5 – Most Reputable Film Buyers Won’t Deal With Filmmakers
Every year at Cannes I meet a few filmmakers who buy a $20,000 “sales booth” in an effort to “cut out the film sales company middleman” and sell their film themselves. The problem is, reputable film buyers and distributors won’t deal with filmmakers directly. Furthermore, if they do, those buyers will offer far less money to the filmmaker than they would have offered a film sales company that represented the same film. The main reason for these two points is that film buyers and distributors can’t trust a filmmaker without any international distribution experience to “deliver” their film on time – or to even know how to “deliver” a film at all. For those of you filmmakers who don’t know what “delivering a film” means or what “deliverables” are, you’ve just proved my point. If you wish to know what they are, check out my September 28, 2010 Going Bionic” article titled “Delivering Deliverables.” The bottom line is that professionals in every industry like working with whom they have worked with before. This is especially true in the international film business, because the deals are from country-to-country, so a great deal of trust and is needed to pull a deal off. Thus, filmmakers are better served to create and make their art, and let companies who are trained in selling films internationally do the selling.
Okay, people. That’s what I’ve got for you today. For the 101st time, I thank you kindly for lending me your eyes and I look forward to earning the right to borrow them again next Tuesday.
I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.