A good international sales agent is the conduit to the distribution of an indie film outside of its country of origin. An international sales agent will brand the film to the foreign markets, territories and all media (including theatrical, home video, VOD, cable, TV and other ancillary media).
Pre-selling territorial distribution rights typically involves the producer or a sales agent attending the major international film markets, such as the Marché du Film (Cannes, France), MIPTV and MIPCOM (Cannes), MIFED (Italy), European Film Market (Berlin), Hong Kong Film and Television Market, Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) (Canada) and the American Film Market (AFM) (Los Angeles), which is organized by the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA), with additional business being done at regional markets, such as Ventana Sur, Hot Docs and IDFA. Of course, licensing activities happen year-round and are not limited to these events.
Producers must be careful when attempting to do pre-sales themselves. Unless the producer is thoroughly knowledgeable about the distributors in each territory, she will be much better served by contracting a good international sales agent.
An international sales agent will seek distribution commitments for particular territories for a film that is in development or pre-production, usually with the right package of script and attachments. If a producer is fortunate enough to have a strong script, bankable cast, director and a marketable genre, the sales agent will send the script along with preliminary market materials or footage of scenes to his or her distribution partners.
Since sales agents usually make their offers based on the value they believe they can realize for the film, a sales agent should be able to provide a producer with some sense of the estimated value of the film before they bring it to the marketplace. Whether the producer is trying to get an all rights deal or sell on a territory-by-territory basis, a good sales agent will guide the producer through the film market and festival process. The sales agent will know when to pre-sell and when to wait to screen the completed film.
Many films with budgets in the $3-$5 million range have had major talent attachments, and were able to get pre-sale. However, at lower budgets ($1-$3 million range), it is less common to see financing plans consisting of pre-sales. The added fees and finance costs of a pre-sale deal make it impractical for such lower budget films. In most cases, a producer should forget about pre-sales at budgets under $1 million. In addition to the finance costs, it is almost impossible to get star attachments at such lower budgets.
Many sales agents are also distributors. Others are also involved in production financing. Some have lines of credit for development funding and P&A. Such an agent may co-finance an indie film or offer an advance.
A producer will choose a sales agent based on the sales agent’s reputation, experience and relationships with reputable distributors. The producer does a market study to find similar or “comparable” titles in the marketplace, and then learn which sales agents sold those films. How many films has the agent sold? How well did their films do? How reliable are their estimates – in terms of what they have stated (ask price), what they have sold and what they have received in terms of payments (sell price)? What is the reputation of the distributors the sales agent works with in each territory? Other variables include, whether or not the sales agent will offer any advance, and the level of confidence the agent has in the film as demonstrated by her sales projections. Above all else, when choosing a sales agent, a producer begins by looking for the sales agent who believes in his film and whose company is a good fit.