2004 was a great year for me. It’s the year I became a film sales agent and took a leap into the other side of the film business, one of the best decisions I ever made in my career.
Film sales and distribution is an exciting and rewarding business − not as exciting as filmmaking, but the rewarding part is instantaneous in the form of sales. Making a movie takes months and sometimes years to finish your film and reap its rewards.
In 2004, The American Film Market, which is the major film market in the U.S., was making a move to hold the event in November instead of February. So that year they held two markets, one in February at which I exhibited for the first time, then again in November, where I exhibited for the second time. It was perfect for my business because the AFM was held in Santa Monica, CA. I did not have to travel overseas. It was much cheaper, and I had more opportunities to do additional sales and meet new buyers.
And that is exactly what happened at the November 2004 market. Not only were my sales expanding but I also met with a Greek buyer, Georgios Koufakis along with his partners. Another amazing opportunity came into play. Georgios and I hit it off right away. Even though he hardly spoke any English, he was impressed with the way I was hustling and pushing to sell him my titles. I guess he sensed my hunger for success and the fact that I was a Greek Orthodox Christian from Jerusalem − and on top of that, my godmother was Greek (Marika), did not hurt either. Not only did I sell Georgios seven movies, he also contracted me to become his exclusive buyer, meaning I will find him titles from other sales companies as well; I negotiate on his behalf, make the buy, follow up on sales contracts, payments and delivery of the film materials to Greece.
I confess, that was some of the easiest money I ever made, and it was good money. I was getting $1,500 a month in expenses and 5% commission on everything I bought for Georgios. And he bought a lot of titles at the time. Besides the revenues I was generating from being his buyer, I was also selling him the titles I was representing. I did this for 3 years alongside my sales business.
Year after year my business grew. Besides exhibiting at The American Film Market and the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, I started exhibiting at other markets; the Berlin Film Market “Berlinale” in Germany, MIPTV and MIPCOM, two TV markets in Cannes as well, and NATPE, a TV and film market that used to be held in Las Vegas, and now is held in Miami.
It was a lot of hard work as I was running the company alone at the time. I was acquiring films from filmmakers, preparing to exhibit at film markets, arranging meetings with buyers, preparing all the sales materials I needed, creating DVD screeners, printing posters and flyers, renting booths and furniture, arranging for travel and shipping. Then after the long trip, I had to setup shop to do sales.
At my first market in Cannes 2004, I managed to rent the last available booth, literally the smallest booth in the market. It was the size of a walk-in closet, enough room for a desk and three chairs, TV set and DVD player stand. BUT, lucky me, I was next to Nu Image, a well-known production and sales company who had a tremendous amount of meetings with buyers, and for these buyers to get to them they needed to pass my booth − and the same on the way out! Not only I made sure these buyers got to know me and my company, some of them did actually buy my films.
From that day on, I always managed to rent a booth next to Nu Image at most of the markets, and in Berlin I was across from their suite, 15 feet away. I actually used to hear Danny Dimbort, their sales executive negotiating deals and making sales. Believe it or not I learned a lot from just listening to him. I remember Avi Lerner of Nu Image, jokingly telling me – I owe them 20% of all the sales I made to the buyers leaving their booth. I became good friends with Danny, we would sit in the hotel lobby in the evening and drink wine, he used to share some of his sales information with me, it was a great honor for me as a beginner in the business, I guess they all knew that I jumped into the business with no film sales background and grew my business, so they respected that, and encouraged me.
Exhibiting at markets was hard work, having meetings, doing sales, negotiating and writing up the deal memos, and I was alone, I did it by all by myself. I remember a couple of times I was selling to buyers and we were negotiating prices and I was not sure if the price was too low. I did not want to undersell myself. I would say to the buyer, “give me two minutes” and I would run down the hall to one of my sales agent friends and ask him if the price is spot on, and most of the time it was.
Slowly but surely I became real good at being a sales agent. I also took advantage of being a buyer for the Greek company, for I was meeting with other sales agents. I saw how they conducted their business, what titles they sell, the budgets of these titles, who stars in them, how they priced their titles, executed their contracts and delivered their films.
Besides doing good business at the international markets, I had so much fun, it was a blast, I would be invited to parties on Yachts in Cannes. In those days they used to throw lavish parties, they were amazing, and they don’t do that anymore. I got invited to major film screening parties, for I was a buyer and the sales companies wanted my business − we worked hard during the day, and believe me we enjoyed ourselves at night, good fun that is, and I always managed to do some business at dinners and parties.
As a filmmaker, I am fortunate to have jumped into the sales agency business. It allowed me to continue living my dream of making movies and at the same time reap the rewards of my labor. And in the real world that’s only way to survive and grow.
My advice to filmmakers:
Nowadays, you really cannot make a worthwhile movie and recoup your money without first engaging a sales agent, unless you make a $10,000 movie and hit the lottery where it sells for a few million, we’ve seen that happen a handful of times, but the chances for this to happen is like hitting the lottery.
Nowadays, you cannot finance a movie without a sales agent, the big film companies have their own sales departments, they make and sell their own, and that’s how it works. It’s not like you having an investor who will put in all the money, these companies go to the bank and borrow the money against the presales, they sell the movie first based on the script, director, and cast, then they make the film.
If you do not want to do what I have done and start your own sales agency, then by all means find someone you want to work with, and get in their face and convince them to work with you and become your sales agent. If you have been in the business for a while you are probably doing that, and if not, then you better have the knowledge, experience and great projects for them to be excited about and know they can sell.