Norman Lesperance is a writer, director, producer, and actor whose first feature film Looking for Lions premiered at Austin Film Festival in 2014.
INTO THE VALLEY OF DARKNESS: FILM DISTRIBUTION
by Norman Lesperance
We had the pleasure and honor of competing in the Austin Film Festival in 2014 with our feature film, Looking for Lions. It was a micro budget indie crime thriller, unorthodox in its structure, and as most films of the micro budget nature, it had no star power to help sell it to distributors.
After our festival run ended, we sent a wave of emails out to a list of sales agents we had found online. We got some passes, but most never responded. We quickly learned the film market is saturated with product and the market itself is evolving faster than distributors and sales agents can keep up with, leaving them all in a mad scramble to figure out new ways to stay profitable. Persistence is key to making people aware that your film is out there, but personal referrals are even better.
It was through such a referral that I was introduced to a young producer’s rep who was well-connected in these circles and convinced him to take on our film. With a well-cut trailer and some strong key art, he sent out inquiries to a new and expanded list of sales agents. The lines can get blurry between sales agents and distributors, but typically you find a sales agent who in turn makes deals with distributors to handle your film’s foreign rights, as well as your domestic rights.
We had much more success this go round, with our rep doing the pushing. Within three weeks, we had the good fortune of having three offers on the table. Aside from having a knowledgable rep, I also attribute this success to excellent timing. There are several film markets throughout the year. We approached sales agents at the most opportune time, as they were building up their film roster for the American Film Market in LA, which is one of the biggest markets.
We weighed the offers of the three sales agencies, examined their film catalogues to make sure we were a good match for them. We wanted to ensure they didn’t have 18 films just like ours.
Then, we got on the phone with two of the agencies to get a better feel for their plan and their passion for our film. Passion was very important to us.
In their offers, the sales expense caps varied, as did the percentage they would take as sales agents, but the call is what made the choice clear. The first call was comical. The acquisitions guy was gruff and came across like a used car salesman. He had a specific formula for selling his movies. It worked for him. But it didn’t work for us. We didn’t fit his typical film profile, yet he was still planning to give our film the same assembly line treatment that every other film had, and if it didn’t work out, it would come out of our pocket. He couldn’t wait to get off the phone and truthfully neither could we.
The second call quickly chased the sour taste from our mouths. This sales agent, with whom we ultimately signed, was incredibly personable. She walked us through each step of how she approached film sales and how she would vary her approach depending on the film. If her approach wasn’t working, she would adjust and try something else. Now this was music to our ears. Since signing with her, I’m happy to say that she has maintained a very open line of dialogue with us and has been true to her word.
The profits in film sales are often little to none if you don’t have stars or if you aren’t in the horror genre (and even horror is tough these days), so I believe it is imperative that you find someone who really believes in your movie, someone who is less likely to give up on it if it doesn’t set the world on fire financially right out of the gate.
Our film came out for purchase on DVD last week. We’re elated to finally be in this position and hopeful that it will do well out in the market. But one more thing that is important to realize is that as the producers of this film, it us up to us to keep promoting it. Small distributors don’t have much capital to invest in marketing these films, so that responsibility ultimately falls on the shoulders of the filmmakers.
Hope you’ll check out our movie. We’re all very proud of it. Let us know what you think at https://www.facebook.com/lookingforlionsthemovie. Best of luck to you!