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My sales agent says not to show my film at film festivals

The biggest question you should be asking is why?

By Spencer HawkenPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
My sales agent says not to show my film at film festivals
Photo by Riccardo Lo Re on Unsplash

One of the biggest mistakes that rookie film makers make is that when being persuaded by a potential sales distributor, they are persuaded to not show their film at film festivals. You need to think about the logic of this why would a distributor not want your film to be shown at a Film Festival before you make a decision.

As someone that runs a Film Festival one of the things, I hear every year from people that have already submitted their film to our festival is “Oh I've spoken to my sales agent and he doesn't want me to show the film, he (or she) thinks it will affect how the film sells”. This to be perfectly frank is rubbish, and the reason why it is rubbish is because you only have to think about films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Now appreciating that these are both genre films and genre films have niche audiences anyway. There's something about their story that only happened because of their film showing at film festivals and what we know from history is both of those films were sold for large sums of money and both those films raised significant funds for the companies that bought them.

Unfortunately the answer to this age-old problem is slightly more sinister and it is simply that sales agent wants to get the film that that you're selling off of you for as cheaply as they possibly can the cheaper they can get this film from you the more chance that they can sell it and make a significant profit off the hard work you slave over they control the narrative of your story, and the chance is that once they have bought the film from you they then just submit it film festivals anyway they are simply cutting you out of the equation once you've signed on the dotted line your film is theirs and there's nothing you can do about it.

The problem being here is that ultimately the dream is to make a film and sell it, when you sell it, it sells for more money than what you put into it so when the sales agent comes and knocks on your door and says “oh we'd like to see your film”, shortly after if they like it they say to you actually we'd like to talk to you about purchasing your film. Now it might be that you don't care about your film enough to have a level of resistance and if you're a first time film maker the opportunity to sell your film is as we've already outlined a dream come true. But you need to question seriously early on why your film is being kept from film festivals how is holding your film back going to make you better off?

By Riccardo Sanmartini on Unsplash

So there's two genuine reasons why early on, the sales agent may want to prevent you from showing at film festivals. The first reason is they think that your film may be pleasing to an audience and they want to prevent you from showing it at Film Festivasl in case it's not a very good film but they've already got the catch that would make it buyable, so say for example you've got a big star in it or you've got someone who's on their way up, or it has a connection with another film that may make the film buyable but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's good. The alternative is that you have a film that is really, really good and the sales agent wants to maximise as much money out of this as they possibly can and by selling the film for a large profit but buying it very cheaply.

So the big gamble for you the film maker is to decide whether you all prepared to let your film go in exchange for getting out there and not potentially getting the money back, or if you're going to hold firm and continue to stick to your guns and get your film seen in Film Festivals, grow the popularity, get pockets of interest across the world and get everyone talking about the film that simply must be seen. A recent prime example of that came out about three years ago and that film was called Antrum, Antrum did a very good thing with their marketing on the build-up to release of their films to film festivals and that was that they pitched this film like it was a real film, they said that people have died watching the film so they already had the hook the film wanted. On top of this the film was pretty good and it did sell quite well in lots of territories. While it never got anywhere near the peaks of Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity and IMDB says it earned just $26 at the box office, it’s a popular online download, with tens of thousands of ratings an comments online from verified purchasers on varied platforms.

When you are told by a sales agent that they want to buy your film you have to realistically ask

Is it any good?

Is there something else (a spin) as to why they might want to buy it?

If you can sit back and 100% say, your movie is very good and you think its worthy of an Academy Award a BAFTA, Golden Globe or even a Palme D’or you need to go back to your agent with a resounding NO!

If however you can clearly see flaws and others have made you aware of flaws, then you need to weigh the odds, there could be a limited sales window, that could close if you pay hardball.

The other variable will always of course be what type of festival is offering the screening, If its Venice Film Festival, Sundance, Locarno, Berlin International Film Festival, Frightfest or Cannes, you’ve potentially got a film million dollars in your pocket.

Be realistic that’s the best guidance of all, if a sales agent has seen your film, and wants to buy it, remember there are global territories and at least 10 major sales territories, whatever your film cost, if a buyer offers you $10,000 for global sales, you actually can do better yourself through self-distribution…. But that’s another chapter.


About the Creator

Spencer Hawken

I'm a fiftysomething guy with a passion for films, travel and gluten free food. I work in property management, have a history in television presentation and am a multi award wining filmmaker, even though my films are/were all trash.

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