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Film Sales Agents & Producer Reps:
What's the Difference and
Why Should I Care??
by Jerome Courshon
(Originally published at Film Festival Today)
Producers and directors who submit a completed movie or documentary to film festivals, are frequently queried by Producer Reps (short for "Producer Representatives"). Sometimes Sales Agents as well, but mostly Producer Reps.
Why does this happen? Once you've been selected by a particular festival, these Reps & Agents get a list of films to be shown, accompanied by contact info on the filmmakers. Then some of you get calls or emails.
So let's discuss the distinction between these two types of sales people, as many filmmakers don't understand the difference -- and there is a BIG difference.
"Film Sales Agents" are those people who work for (or own) a sales company -- frequently referred to as a "foreign sales company" -- and this company will work to sell your movie to the international territories outside the U.S. & Canada. What they actually do is license your movie to another company from a territory, say, a German company from Germany, who will then handle it for that territory. And this is done for as many territories as the Film Sales Agent can license to.
"Producer Reps" are those who will work on selling your movie to a domestic (U.S.) distributor. Some of them will license the movie right from you and then go sell it to whoever they can domestically. And some of them will just have a contract with you stating the percentage they earn when a deal is secured -- whether via their efforts or your own.
Sometimes Producer Reps will also act as Film Sales Agents, and vice versa. And over recent years, some Producer Reps are referring to themselves as Sales Agents. (Those that do are usually attempting to avoid any negative connotations associated with being a Producer Rep.) Ultimately the vernacular used doesn't matter; what matters is, who is approaching you and what are they wanting to sell to? The U.S. & Canadian markets? The markets outside the U.S. & Canada? Or all of the above?
FILM SALES AGENTS vs. PRODUCER REPS
General rule of thumb: This is not an absolute, but you don't want to sign a contract with either one of these people for the whole world. Film Sales Agents are not that good at securing domestic deals (with some exceptions, of course), and most Producer Reps are equally useless for the international territories. All a Producer Rep can do for the international territories is connect you with a Sales Agent for this -- which you can do yourself! It's not that difficult. Really. It is not difficult if you have a decent movie or it's the right genre. If you let a Producer Rep connect you with a Sales Agent, then you're just giving up another slice of your pie to another middleman.
[Side Note: Not to confuse you, but the only good reason to NOT split up your domestic and international rights when making deals, will be when a major studio comes calling, because they'll want worldwide rights if available.]
So it's important to know the distinctions above, and important to know who you've been approached by and what they want to do. You don't want to: a) Contract and lock up rights with someone that won't do you any good for certain markets; and b) Contract and lock up rights with someone who will just be a second middleman eating more of your pie.
WHEN A FILM SALES AGENT IS USUALLY NEEDED
At some point in your journey, a Film Sales Agent is generally necessary to get your movie sold to the international territories. Can you get some overseas markets sold on your own? Yes, it's possible but not the easiest thing to do. Overseas buyers tend to rely on the relationships they have with the Sales Agents they know, and are not inclined to make one-time deals with unknown filmmakers. (This dynamic is only true with international buyers; it is NOT true for domestic buyers & distributors.)
On the other hand, is a Producer Rep necessary to get your movie sold domestically? Absolutely not, and in fact they often do more harm than good by shotgunning your movie along with 20 others to everyone they know. Frequently there's no care or personal attention given -- that many movies require, to be successfully sold in the U.S.
Also, relationships mean less here. Domestic sales are more about the product -- the movie you've made -- and less about who's selling it. Many Producer Reps would have you believe otherwise, namedropping companies such as Lionsgate or Fox Searchlight that you've heard of to get you to sign with them. They'll say "We have relationships with major distributors!" And while they're promoting their "relationships" to you, I've got a sweet deal on Craigslist just for you: Amazing oceanfront Malibu property at just $50 an acre!!
OTHER TYPES OF FILM SALES AGENTS
Lastly, a point of distinction about the handful of people that represent and sell films to the U.S. television & cable markets. Those that do this are generally referred to as Film Sales Agents as well. There are not many who sell to only these markets, but if you come across one who does, be sure to look at their track record before making any deal. And be sure they actually do the selling and don't farm it out to someone else to sell. (Like Producer Reps do with foreign rights.) Additionally, if you have name cast in your film, you don't necessarily need a television/cable Sales Agent; you can approach and pitch your movie directly to the network or cabler.
When it comes to the digital platforms, a new category of representation came into existence about 8 years ago: The Aggregator. This person or company acquires digital rights for the internet platforms and mobile devices. If you choose to engage this service from someone rather than doing it yourself, be clear about what rights you are granting them. An Aggregator is generally not the person you want handling rights other than the digital/online rights. They just don't usually have the knowledge or interest to do a competent job beyond the internet.
I will discuss more fully the pros and cons of using Producer Reps in the next article (Part 2).
Read Part 2 Here
Theatrical Distribution & Creating "Pedigree"
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