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How To Choose (a sister wife) or a Foreign Sales Agent…

by Jeff Steele

If the relationship between a producer and a financier is like a marriage, than the sales agent fills the role of your sister wife #2.

PRODUCER: Hey Jeff, I’ve got a $12m thriller with attachments, but I have a problem.

JEFF: A problem, eh? How can I help?

PRODUCER: I need the best sales agent; who do you recommend?

JEFF: Easy, you will want to work with ***** *****.

One of the more difficult questions I receive on a weekly basis is who I recommend as a sales agent.  There are a lot of good agents out there – in fact, I would say that there are more good agents out there then there have been for quite some time.  A lot of key sales people from established sales institutions have struck out on their own in the past couple years: Nick Meyer, Stu Ford, Glen Basner, to name a few.  In the past, the general rule-of-thumb was that AFM was just an endless cycle of “same names, different companies.”  But now, those names (along with Nic Chartier) have setup their own shops and are doing things different, and I think…better.

So who do I recommend?  If you need somebody to make presales that a bank will lend against (i.e. “bankable”), then I would recommend one of the above names, as well as some of the established players.  However, bankability is more than just who is selling.  It’s actually a combination of factors:

1)      Who is selling?

  • Do they have a history of hitting their Take numbers?
  • Can they collect?
  • Do they have enough quality product to keep buyers from stiffing them, or renegotiating?

2)      Who is buying?

  • How deep are their pockets?
  • Do they pay on time?
  • Do they pay in full, or do they renegotiate?
  • Is the buyer paying a 20% deposit?  If not, then there’s no incentive for them to pay the MG (or not renegotiate).
  • Who is lending?

NOTE: Different sales companies have relationships with different lenders.  Some are universally bankable, some may just be bankable by the one or two lenders with whom they’ve had a long relationship with.

All of these factors can positively or adversely affect the credit discounting applied to presales (e.g. will the bank lend at 100% of the value of the contract, or 80%, 50%, or zilch.)  As you can see, there are more to sales estimates than just the Take amount.  You need to look deeper.

Sometimes a film may need a more hands-on/nurturing touch in order to find its audience, wherein somebody like Robbie Little or Cedric Jeanson would be a good choice.  Their backgrounds and their relationships are top notch, but they prefer a more hands-on pipeline of product.

If you have a completed film, then there are agents who are very capable. These agents have chosen not to actively pursue the bankability business and are very capable of getting your film out to the market.

Obviously, there is a lot more to know on this topic and each film may have different needs, so there is no best.

However to be nice, I will leave you with 3 last important notes:

1. If a foreign sales agent ask you to pay anything upfront, move on. 2. It’s a good idea to include a portion of the foreign sales agents marketing fee in the film’s budget. 3. if you squeeze them too hard on their commission, they won’t be incentivized to sell your film – so if it’s not a commercial film, then give them a higher commission – you’ll be better off for it…

Or in other words… your sister wife needs to feel special too.

Copyright © 2010. Film Closings Inc. All rights reserved.
9 Responses leave one →
  1. February 21, 2010

    Reminds me of an story my dad told me one day. Mind you, he has nothing to do with our industry.

    He said, “Stan? You know what my impression of Hollywood is?” I replied, “No pop. What is it?” He went on, “Well, I can see this producer in a room with a bunch of studio execs and he says ‘I have a three picture deal with Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy and Arnold Schwarzenegger attached, signed and ready.’ The execs then say ‘Wonderful! Let’s do it!’ and the producer replies, ‘There’s just one minor problem.’ They say ‘What?’ The producer replies we need two hundred and fifty bucks to pay the lawyer to draw up the paperwork.’

    He has never worked in this industry.

    Gotta love my pop.

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  2. February 21, 2010

    A nice parable.

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  3. Louis Mitchell permalink
    February 24, 2010

    Jeff,

    I have been a Producers Rep. for some twenty years and have worked on many
    low-budget films. From $500K (“Baraka”) to $2 million (“Graves End”) and I find that the toughest thing to convey to my filmmakers is how to sell the film after they have made it! Every time I go to the AFM I pause my clients outside of Loews and ask them to look it the Hotel. Then I ask them “Nice Hotel?” They nod! I then tell them “Now If you imagine that everyone in that hotel is a Pirate, and if you believe only half of what you are about to hear you have a chance of making a good deal!”. Usually I have steered them away from the usual suspects and to several distributors that I have found to be better (“Honest”) that most. The ones I have found that I have always had a positive experience with include Larry Goebel, Darren Rapage and Adam Wright among others. Bear in mind that these are First Films that don’t have A-List names or big budgets but are the life blood of the industry. I love working with them because “most” are willing to listen! These independents are usually doing their first feature and with their family or friends money. The second feature is the hardest to finance when they don’t have that friendly Money! This is were they need a healthy dose of reality! You can’t succeed in this business without knowledge! That’s why I appreciate your website it gives the filmmaker a reality check and an understanding of how to get to the next level of filmmaking. I will recommend it to my filmmakers!

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    • February 24, 2010

      Louis, thank you . Your comments are appreciated.

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  4. March 1, 2010

    Jeff,

    I just found your site and it is going to be a favorite. Great Information.

    And Louis, contact me if possible…would love for you to see the trailer for my film that’s currently in post-production.

    I did AFM in 2008 with a couple small films and was definitely swashbuckled :)

    thanks,

    Martin

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    • Louis Mitchell permalink
      March 1, 2010

      Martin,

      Contact me at my email. I would be happy to direct you away from the Black Frigates of Film!
      Give me the address of the trailer.

      Thanks,

      Louis Mitchell
      sunsetprods@yahoo.com

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      • March 2, 2010

        Not sure what your email address is.

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  5. jimmy permalink
    October 24, 2010

    i very much appreciate your informative blog and in particular this posting. you mentioned that if we had a completed film, then “there are agents who are very capable. ” but you didn’t list any of them. could you please give me a few names of good foreign sales agents that would represent a film once completed? i would greatly appreciate it.

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