INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: 5 Things I Learned Being A Sales Agent That Can Benefit You

With another Cannes Market behind us there's been some questions rolling in about what it's actually like to have a film at a market like Cannes. Being that I was a sales agent for many years I can tell you first hand what the experience is like of selling your film at a market... and I thought I would frame it around a 5 Things I Learned Being A Sales Agent That Can Benefit You list. For better or worse, here they are - I look forward to your thoughts and comments below!

Trailers & Artwork Sell
Yes it's true - I've had buyers buy films just by looking at the one sheet and/or trailer. I'm not saying this happens all the time but it does happen. Famously the original Saw film was acquired this way from Lions Gate - off the killer poster they did that was displayed outside their suite at AFM. The rest is history. Moral to the story: don't skimp on your presentation materials! Make your trailer and artwork look better than the film itself and you'll have a much better shot at the sale.

Relationships Are Everything
If trailers and artwork are what sells a film, then relationships are the vehicles for the sale. One of the biggest values a sales agent brings to the table are their long standing relationships with buyers which in many cases are the reason a sale is made. I'll give you an example - once upon a time I was repping a film that I really liked, a drama, that I hadn't made any sales on but really needed to. I tapped into my relationships with buyers and was able to convince many of them to take the film, even if they weren't totally confident in it's marketability. Why would they do this? Because in the sales world it's a little like 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'... meaning, they were willing to put in the extra effort to acquire and market this title based on the fact that we had a long standing relationship, and knew that it would come back around one day when they really wanted a title from me and needed a better price on or in general needed me to do them a favor. Moral to the story: What goes around comes around. Don't underestimate the leverage a sales agent can have with their key buyers to make a sale on a film that normally wouldn't sell on it's own.

It's Never As Much As You Think
The amount of money you're going to make with your film is never (and I repeat never) as much as you think. Without exception, every filmmaker I worked with as a sales agent had inflated notions of the amount of revenue they were going to pocket from foreign distribution, and without exception, they were wrong. They often relied on hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign revenue so they could pay investors back. And the reality was sometimes we only made as much as $10,000 in sales. Ouch - a huge discrepancy! What your film is capable of making in the foreign marketplace is never as much as you think especially when you take into account sales agents commissions and marketing expenses. The 'net' is often small. Moral to the story: Get real on what you'll make with foreign distribution and don't rely on that revenue too much. When you're dealing with foreign buyers and middle men, the revenue has a long way to trickle down before it reaches you, the producer. 

A Deal Isn't Always A Deal
One of the most frustrating things coming home from a market like Cannes was that I would often have dozens of deal memos signed, but the work had hardly begun. You see half the battle after a film market is in doing all the follow up and actually sending long form agreements to buyers and getting them to sign and wire a deposit. It's safe to say that sometimes only 50% of the deal memos signed resulted in actual deals, sometimes less. Why? Because buyers like to pull things off the market and once they get home, they realize they've over-bought and don't have the budget to support all the deals they made -- so they have to pick and choose which ones to honor. Moral to the story: don't be alarmed if your sales agent tells you they've made X amount of deals on your film and then you never hear about it again. It probably fell through which is totally normal unfortunately. A deal isn't always a deal!

Nobody Cares What You Spent Or What Camera You Used
Filmmakers love to tout what they spent on the film and what camera they used - but in reality, buyers don't care about any of that. I explained this before in a previous post but  I'll say it again - buyers only care what they see on the screen and more likely, who's in the film. They don't ask what the budget is and frankly don't care. They don't adjust their acquisition price based on the fact you spent too much making your film, they offer what the market will bear. They don't care if you've used the newest and fanciest Red camera....they only care that it's not standard def. Yes this all may sound shocking but it's true. Moral to the story: focus on what's important - marketable genre, bankable cast, and genres that sell and you won't be disappointed with a sales report that reads a big zero. I hated having to send those out knowing I did my level best to sell someone's film and really push it to buyers, but all they cared about was certain genres and 'names'. 

About Stacey Parks: Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert and Producer with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site The 2ndedition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at