request | Filmmaker MagazineFilmmaker Magazine

Are you capable of standing outside your film’s premiere and smiling as people politely avert their eyes when they leave? Or wonder out loud where they’re going to go for dinner? Or, if you’re lucky, approach you with outstretched palms saying, "Congratulations! It looks great! Who was the d.p.?" If so, you may — and I repeat, may — be capable of selling your own film. Not every film can attract a sales agent. If you wind up selling your own film, here are a dozen things to keep in mind.

1. Don’t buy into your own hype.
The hardest thing for any independent producer to do is form a realistic assessment of his or her film’s value in the marketplace. You may have raided your IRA’s, bankrupt your parents and are living on food stamps, but none of those facts relate to the actual worth of your film. Gather as much information about the acquisitions of films similar to yours, work out best- and worst-case scenarios, and be realistic in your expectations

2. Develop a strategy and stick to it.
Come up with first, second and third festival choices and submit to them in that order. If you can’t get into a major acquisitions festival, move to a plan B – a key second-tier festival, an Independent Feature Project (IFP) Market work-in-progress viewing, or well strategized AFM or industry screenings. Control the time and place of the first screening. Don’t let tapes float around.

3. Know the terrain.
"In any military operation, it is important first to know the lay of the land," writes Sun Tzu in his classic guide to strategy, The Art of War. So too in distribution. Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? Be on the outlook for new companies, new players and new outlets. If the theatrical terrain is rocky, consider a straight-to-cable deal or video deal.

4. Know the calendar.
Acquisitions execs plan their calendar a year in advance. If you are holding industry screenings, hold them in the pockets between the major festivals. Don’t compete with the weeks in which executives are assigned dozens of films to screen.

5. Know the players.
Read interviews. Attend panels and seminars. Form an assessment of buyer’s individual tastes. More importantly, know who the key decision makers are and get on their radar. Cultivate both the low-level players but also their bosses. Don’t let a low-level acquisitions exec kill your film without trying to have his or her boss take a look at it.

6. Keep the heat down until you are ready to screen.
Protracted buildups may have worked for Stanley Kubrick, but they are a little ridiculous for an indie film. Your film may be three years in post, but quit with the constant updates and faxed press releases outlining every tidbit of news. When your film is near ready, you want it to appear to the acquisitions community as new and fresh.

7. Enhance your film’s value.
Without genre elements coupled with major stars, an independent film has no inherent value. Your process of selling involves creating value for your film. Things like a Sundance Competition slot, a good review in The New York Times, and great word-of-mouth from a festival screening add value. So do a database of the 250,000 people that have visited the film’s Web site, a promotional tie-in with your uncle’s chain of 500 seafood restaurants, and the $1 million in prints and advertising funds offered by your biggest investor. Translate marketing and promotion ideas into tangible deals and alliances that will demonstrably enhance the value of the film.

8. Seek outside validation.
One key person’s positive opinion of your film is enough to get the ball rolling. Consider showing your rough cut to an established producer or director and ask them to sign on as an executive producer. If you have connections with a key agent or manager, have them help spread the word. Or, hire a reputable publicist who likes the film.

9. Hand the ball off.
If you’ve hustled a small theatrical deal or a hot festival slot, consider bringing on a rep to handle things from here. You’ve done the heavy lifting; the rep will be in a position to enhance the value of the film from now on.

10. Reevaluate and follow-up.
After your screening, make sure that acquisitions execs know how to reach you, and follow up with them a day or two after the screening. Don’t be desperate, and have some kind of positive news to convey that makes it seem good things are happening. If they have criticisms of your film, listen. If you recut after your screenings, do it quickly and rescreen. It doesn’t take long for films to feel old.

11. Close deals quickly.
There’s an old saying, "Never take your first offer." In film, this is not always true. While most offers can be bettered, sometimes the first offer comes from the best, and certainly most enthusiastic, buyer. But whether it’s your first offer or your tenth, don’t let offers hang out there indefinitely. Bad Variety reviews or a poor screening in a sweaty theater can sour a distributor’s good vibes towards your film.

12. Declare victory and move on.
Don’t flog your film to death. It is unlikely that a better deal will pop up a year from now. Okay, your investors poured $2 million into the film, and all you’ve got is a no-advance deal. If that’s all that’s out there, take the deal and be happy with it. If the film is a hit, your investors will get their money back. If it isn’t, and you feel guilty, cut them in on your next project or repay them when your penny stock hits the Dow. If you have the energy and smarts to do grass-roots self-distribution, that’s one thing. But too many filmmakers spend too long pushing films that will never sell. It’s best to cultivate an impression of success and move on to the next project.

Back to: Honest Brokers.


Filmmaker's curated calendar of the latest video on demand titles.
Free Men Sensation Restless City
See the VOD Calendar →
© 2022 Filmmaker Magazine. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of The Gotham