They laughed at me when I started Hollywood Wizard, my film sales company.
While exhibiting at the 2004 American Film Market for the first time, I would walk the hallways, and employees of other sales agencies would say “here comes the Hollywood Wizard,” snickering. Even a sales agent I knew very well told me, “What are you doing here? Go work in a gas station.”
I had no idea how to run a sales agency, and never worked for a sales company before−that did not stop me. Not only did I succeed at being a sales agent, but in less than 2 years I was elected as a board member to The International Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) board of directors, and was re-elected 3 more consecutive terms serving on the board from 2006-2012. Maybe that was a sign I was doing things right.
I remember when I first came to Hollywood, I used to drive on Sunset Blvd and other streets, and I would see all the big film company signs on office buildings, I used to dream of meeting all these big producers who ran these companies.
A few years later, here I was, a board member sitting between the legendary Roger Corman and Avi Lerner (Nu Image), across from Paul Hertzberg (Cinetel Films) and Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment). Poor Mark Damon (Foresight Unlimited), I am a big fan of his; I hugged him every time I saw him.
I was very fortunate and grateful to serve with some of the most influential indie producers and film executives in the world, from companies such as Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, Voltage, Crystal Sky, Lakeshore and The Weinstein Company. For 6 years, I learned from them and they welcomed me with open arms, I had so many good ideas that I brought to the board, and I remember being called visionary, innovative, and strong.
Mark Damon -Foresight Unlimited
Lloyd Kaufman – Troma Entertainment
Paul Hertzberg – Cinetel Films
Steven Paul – Crystal Sky
Kathy Morgan – Kathy Morgan International
Kirk D’Amico – Myriad Pictures
I am not writing this to show off or stroke my ego; I am merely telling others who say it cannot be done−they have not tried hard enough.
Before I started my sales company, I was a frustrated filmmaker. I couldn’t find the support I needed from sales agents to produce my films. Most only wanted my films when they are completed. They were only focused on the commission they can collect on the sales. I said to myself, “I work so hard to make each movie, and every new film I complete becomes like my new born, it literally takes around 9 months to produce an indie film, and after I bring that new film to life, I hand it over to someone else, it’s like handing over my new born to a stranger to raise for me.” It did not make sense.
I no longer was going to allow others to control my destiny in the film business. By becoming a sales agent, I will have direct contact with worldwide distributors and broadcasters who will buy my own movies, and at the same time I can presell the rights to the movies I wanted to make in the future, which will facilitate the financing of those movies. In addition, I knew many filmmakers who were frustrated with the film distribution process as well, so I wanted to help them overcome the challenges they faced, by creating a different kind of a sales agency, a filmmaker friendly company.
As a filmmaker I fully understood what independent filmmakers go through, unlike some sales agents who have never produced a film or been on a movie set before. That’s where the name Hollywood Wizard came from…it was befitting to my mission statement: “come to us and we will help you with all your production and distribution needs.” The name was not created out of hot air, and it worked.
I started by taking a booth at the American Film market, printed posters of my films, and took out ads in the following industry magazines: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Screen International. I emailed and called buyers who were attending the market and took meetings with them, and I started selling my movies. It did cost me $25K for my first market; the advertising costs to announce the company creation were the most expensive.
Before I knew it, filmmakers started coming to me to help them distribute their movies. My 2nd market was the Cannes Film Festival in 2004, at that market the sales of all the movies I represented including mine, tripled, I was well on my way, and the company grew from there. The Cannes Market cost me $15K, I learned fast how to save money, so I did not need to charge the filmmakers unwarranted market expenses, thus allowing them to see bigger returns on their investment, which made them happy and grateful. They became my repeat clients.
It’s funny; many of the people that snickered at me in the beginning envied me later on, because they did not have the guts to do what I did. I looked at them as my competition and the more they laughed at me the more I was determined to succeed, so I was not angry at them. Instead in my mind, I thanked them.
It’s true what they say, the higher you go up on the ladder, the nicer the people are, and these are the people who championed me and helped me, and they are the ones who mattered.
I do want to add, that not everyone has the financial resources to start their own sales company. I did take an equity line of credit on my house to start mine, I took a risk and it paid off for me. The other way to do it is work for a sales company, learn the business, make contacts, and when you prove yourself you will find it easy to raise money from investors, and start your own.
For filmmakers who are in the beginning process of making a film, a good sales agent can contribute so much to the success of your project. Research and meet with as many as you can to find a company that is willing to help you. Here is what you want them to help you with.
- What to spend on your film based on your script, your cast wish list, and genre.
- To give you an idea of how much they can sell your film for.
- Provide you a list of who are the best salable actors suitable for your script and budget.
- Presell your film and obtain contracts to advance the financing process.
- Help you utilize tax incentives and work with you to facilitate bank financing.