Homework before you sign a sales agent
Further to my last blog, here’s a little advice on working with sales agents. Before you sign with a sales agent, it is critical to do some homework to figure out whether the deals you could get with their help will be better than the ones you could get on your own.
-What films has this company sold? Are they similar to the kind of film you have? Do those films have the same assets (cast, budget level, festival pedigree, cause or interest based)?
-Where did they sell? Domestically or internationally? Only very large agencies have the ability to handle both and sometimes a large agency won’t be a good fit for smaller films. Bigger slate=less attention to go around. Bigger agencies tend to give preferential treatment to their bigger name clients so if you are just starting out or haven’t built up a strong name yet, don’t expect to get red carpet service.
-For what kind of prices? This may get cagey as many people in the film business don’t like to talk about other people’s deals (unless it is gossip of course!), but they should be able to give a realistic narrow range of what you can expect based on similar films they have sold.
-What are the terms? Query if the fee to the sales agent and recouped expenses are worth it or if you can just do the couple small deals directly…
-Was the revenue remitted to the filmmaker? Can the agent collect? You should want to know what percentages and recoupment will reduce your share of the sale as well as this agent’s track record for collecting from distributors and paying filmmakers. On this question, you’ll need to contact the filmmakers who have worked with the company and see if they did receive their advances and further revenue. We always recommend making sure that all rights terminate upon material delay of payment. Be specific and be clear so you are not stuck in a deal where you won’t be paid.
Agencies love to show off nice catalogs of films they represent, but a list of titles will not tell you the information you need to know if you want to make your money back or make it back for your investors.
If a sales agent or lawyer approaches you or you want to approach him or her to sell your film, drill into the details. Even on the LGBT front not all films are alike. Not all of them can do the same deals, or any deals at all. Not all have the same revenue stream potentials. Documentaries are different from narratives, for example. And of course this is true of other categories of films. One of the hardest for TFC to handle and one of the hardest to sell in general, especially out of a non-A-list festival, is a drama without name cast.
Working with a sales agent that is taking a 10% commission off of the sales she brings in doesn’t bother me. 10% is not a lot of money for an agent who brings in a six-figure advance, and most likely she will bring in less for the majority of independent films. But I am concerned about paying a producer’s rep a big up-front fee, as there are many bottom-feeding producer’s reps whose business model is only collecting the fee and offering little else. For a good one who offers invaluable advice in the early stage of production and whose contacts may indeed be useful, it could be worth paying for. It is easy enough to Google someone’s name and see the kinds of projects with which they have been associated. If the only sources citing their involvement belong to sites they run, be cautious about making upfront payments and giving an ownership stake in your work.
Let me end with saying any industry professionals reading this please, please share the types of films you are handling and the deals you are doing, be specific. We share our film slate and numbers and if you do too, filmmakers can make educated choices.
I think much of the time filmmakers will still want someone else to handle their distribution and may be happy to do deals even if there is no profit, if only to establish and develop their careers. But let them make that choice as informed filmmakers, not still clinging to the allure of the 1990’s.
Orly Ravid July 25th, 2013