Sales Agent Demystified

Sales Agents are often misunderstood participants in the distribution process so this article will give insight into their role and responsibilities within the distribution process.

1. Intermediary

First and foremost Sales agents are an intermediary between the producers and international distributors. They give producers access to the international market through their established networks. Films are of course, an unpredictable product, so it is important to have a sales agent with a good relationship to distributors, where there is mutual trust. In some cases, sales agents have an output deal in certain territories with specific distributors – meaning the distributor must take all of their titles offered. After a sale, the sales agent also has to follow up on payments and royalties from different territories and deliver these to the producer.

2. Financing

They cam become involved with the financing of a film. There are two main models within which this takes place. Firstly, pre-sales: film rights are pre-sold to different territories and a producer would use this finance to produce the films. This is an effective way to spread the risk attached to the films.  Secondly, a sales agent can pay a Minimum Guarantee (MG) for the films international rights. Sales agents like to get involved with a project as soon as it is being packaged (talent attached) in order to provide their expertise to inflate the value of the film (through cultural knowledge etc.), and to begin shaping the films sales strategy. However such is the difficulty within the market presently, they are acquiring mostly finished films.

3. Markets

Attend the key film markets and negotiate the sale of films within their slate to international distributors. The most important markets for selling commercial films are: Toronto, American Film Market (AFM), Berlin and Cannes (pictured). For selling arthouse films the ideal markets are Toronto, Berlin, and even smaller festivals such as San Sebastian, or local prestigious film festivals.

Before the markets  it is  important  for a sales agent  to have good sales estimates and information about different territories: box office, no. of screens, percentage of 3D screens, average of how many times/year a  person goes to cinema, no. of prints for a wide release, percentage of revenues that a distributor gets from the exhibitors etc. With this information a sales agent can run comparatives and get good negotiation arguments.

4. International campaign

They create an international marketing campaign with teasers, posters etc. The materials for the international campaign are used by the distributors but sometimes changed slightly in order to better fit the requirements of a specific territory. They also define the right strategy for the film within the market – the festival or market will be right to platform the film.

Sales agents may also request and check distributors’ release plan and spend. The P&A forms are sent to the distributors and they fill out the information about how much money they will spend for the release; the date of release, which needs to make sense and with consideration to other films that might be released at the same time.

5. Services materials

Sales agents must provide the materials for the international distributor and ensure that they arrive on time. Deliverables include items such as DCP masters, marketing and publicity materials and legal documentation.  Within large sales companies, there are specialist departments who follow up with the delivery items.

Thanks for reading and welcome any comments!

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