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How to Get Foreign Distribution For Your Film

By Stacey Parks  |  17-Jan-2007

Finding foreign distribution for your independent film is an entirely different beast than finding domestic distribution. While it's true that foreign distribution used to be responsible for 70% of the sales that were made on a film, unfortunately the same is not true today. Once upon a time you could rely on good ol' foreign sales for paying your investors back. Today, you'd be lying to your investors if you told them you would pay them back with the foreign sales revenue on your independent film project.

I'll give you a specific example to illustrate my point. Lets presume you have an average indie film with no big names attached and no U.S theatrical distribution. Realistically, you have the potential to make anywhere from a few thousand bucks to maybe $50K in foreign sales. I know what you’re thinking – how can you survive on that??? The answer is – you can’t! But at least it’s something, right? Every little bit counts. And if you were smart enough to do realistic sales projections before making your film, than you would know not to rely on foreign sales for much revenue, and instead target getting the big U.S deal for the bulk of your revenue. Times have indeed changed.

By the way, if you happen to have an average indie film WITH big names attached and/or U.S theatrical distribution in place, the projections I listed above would be higher. However, it is in fact dependent just who the names attached are and how well your film did at the U.S box office. Let’s just say though that realistically you’re looking at maybe hitting $100K or more in foreign sales if these factors are in place. OK, it could even be MUCH more, again depending on who the stars are and if it was a huge hit in the U.S. (think Spellbound which did extremely well at the U.S box office but didn’t have any big stars attached, or Art School Confidential which didn’t break any U.S box office records but had a name cast in place that appeals to foreign buyers).

In any case, money is money and even a few thousand bucks here and there from foreign sales can help your bottom line. So I wanted to cover a few ways that you can go about getting foreign distribution for your film. Hey, if for no other reason than to say “I’m huge in France!”. Here they are:

1. Do your homework to find a reputable foreign sales agent. Ask around on internet message boards for example, and then once you narrow down your list to 2 or 3 agencies, ask them for filmmaker references. Call a few of their filmmaker clients to see what their experience has been with the agency. Have ever gotten paid? Have they ever gotten a producers report? Filmmaker references are a very powerful tool that hardly anyone ever uses. Don’t sign a contract with any foreign agency without first getting references!!!!

2. Attend a major film market like American Film Market in Santa Monica, CA (AFM) or the Cannes Film Festival’s Market and purchase a pass that allows you access to the sales floor or sellers’ suites. Go around and take note on what films companies are selling. With which company does your film fit in? Try and get the business cards of appropriate sales agents remembering they are there sell, not talk to you necessarily (so be unobtrusive and polite). Don’t give out your screeners at the market rather follow up afterwards with an email re-introducing yourself. Tell them you will be sending your screener in for consideration per their request.

3. Get filmmakers together to form your own booth at one of the markets. Warning: if you’re going to do this option, make sure you know what you’re doing or hire a distribution consultant to be on board with you for the market. Also beware that this option could cost you at least $10K-$20K just to be there selling, but divided up between several filmmakers, it could be doable. Keep in mind that foreign buyers are accustomed to certain ways of doing things – for example, you must have certain styles of posters and fliers, deal memos, and be aware of other protocol. It takes experience and years at the markets to know all this, so don’t mess up your chances at getting actual deals by ignoring the fact that you need someone with you who has experience selling at markets.

4. Get the contact details of some reputable foreign buyers and approach them yourself. Again, a warning: if you manage to get a foreign buyer interested in your movie, make sure you hire an independent sales rep or attorney to negotiate your deal. It’s well worth the commission you’ll pay them – first of all because they’ll be able to negotiate a higher licensing fee than you could yourself as well as save you lots of money in the long run. Most foreign buyers will accept submissions directly from filmmakers, but many will not. So be careful here. Be polite when contacting them by email and ask if they accept submissions or not. I would recommend definitely contacting by email rather than phone, as it is less intrusive and many of the foreign buyers feel more comfortable communicating via email rather than phone.

5. Submit your film to foreign film festivals. Although film festivals are not the same as film markets, I have run into many a film buyer at festivals from Berlin to Thessolaniki. Now granted, if you are at the Berlin film festival there are likely to be German film buyers there, and if you are at the Thessolaniki film festival, you’ll probably be approached by Greek buyers. But if you aim to go to a few of these in different countries, it could add up to substanstial foreign distribution contacts. It's also a great place for them to see your film – on the big screen and with an audience clapping or laughing or praising (hopefully!).

Regardless of which method you choose, or if you choose to use several of the methods I’ve listed, just remember to keep your expectations in check. Don’t presume that you will recover your entire budget through foreign sales, but think of foreign distribution as a way to recover some of your budget, while promoting your film (and you as a filmmaker) in other countries. Chances are if a foreign distributor picks up your film, and it does well for them, they will be eager to pick up your next film. So you are paving the way for a future of foreign distribution deals, and possibly even pre-sales on your upcoming projects.

Stacey Parks is the author of "Insiders Guide to Film Distribution", a comprehensive educational program for filmmakers and producers dedicated to film distribution and the marketplace. Stacey has worked in independent film for over 10 years, and is currently a sales executive at the BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles. She was previously a foreign sales agent for many years. You can purchase her educational programs at
http:// www.film-distribution-secrets.com. and http://www.film-financing-secrets.com

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