Monday, 4 January 2016

What is a Sales Agent? And Why Might an Animator Need One?

Sola Media - Sales Agents with a focus on animation
Any animator or VFX artist with dreams to bring their own project to the big screen will eventually need to understand the business of making and financing animated films.

This includes the question of who, exactly, is going to sell your film for you. Are you going to do it yourself? Or are you going to bring in experts who know the business?

As part of our series on the business of animation, we take a look at what a sales agent is and what exactly they do.

What is a Sales Agent?

Sales Agents are, as the name suggests, the sales people who will sell your film. They work on a commission-only basis to sell your film to distributors around the world. They are agents because they act on your behalf to sell your film.

What do they do exactly?

Most importantly, they will place a financial (usually US Dollars) value on your film, based on the potential international sales that they think the film will generate.  This is why you want to get a sales agent on board as early as possible -  sales agents help you stay on budget because they will tell you what your film is actually worth. You might think your film is worth $100m worldwide - but sales agents will give you a proper reality check.

SC Films also specialise in animation
But how do they value your project?

Sales agents look at the concept behind the film, the script (often they have professional script readers who will do this for them), the cast, the team behind the film, and form a view based on their experience as to how this will translate into actual revenues. It is not a perfect science, rather it is a guesstimate of the potential value of your project.

What else do they do?

Sales Agents will help you with the marketing of your film. They will create the international poster for the film, and also do teasers and other promotions. They will also deal with the payments that come through individual distribution deals in various territories.

Why might you need a sales agent?

Because you are not Disney or DreamWorks.  Big studios can use their massive clout to release their films worldwide in theatres, but independent filmmakers will need a Sales Agent to get film distributors to take them seriously.  Distributors have a long standing relationship with the best sales agents - and therefore they trust their judgment.

Sales agents also act as your business partners in the making of the film; they will help to make your film as commercially viable as possible. Getting a sales agent on board early could help you secure the investment you need.

What does it cost to hire a sales agent?

Nothing, at least at first. Sales agents work on commission, but they don't take a penny until the film starts to generate income. But - read the fine print. Understand what the charges are and how it works.

Spain's Six Sales also have a focus on animation
How do you find a sales agent?

As early as possible. Do your homework and fine one that suits you.  What kind of films have they sold before? Is it similar to yours? To get a sales agent on board, you will need a great pitch for your project, a good title, a stylish presentation (have a PDF at the ready), and (of course) a great script.

A solid script is the foundation of all great film-making - without this you won't get anywhere. You should also come armed with some good comparisons with other similar films that have done well.

Finally, you need a credible finance plan. Remember that film-making is a business. Know your business, or get a producer involved who does.

If you can't find a sales agent, can you do the job yourself? 

Yes, but it ain't easy. If you can’t get a sales company interested, you will have to go to the big festivals yourself, and personally sell your film to individual buyers. In the UK, you can also ask the British Council for their help - their Film Department hosts private screenings for international buyers.
Lake Annecy, France

What festivals should you go to?

You should always try the big festivals first. The big ones, suitable for securing international distribution, are: Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Tribeca, and Rotterdam. For animation, Annecy should be at the top of your list.

What is it that the big distributors are looking for?

Big international distributors are looking at every revenue stream they can think of to see how they can make money from your film. How much can they make in theatres? How many units can they sell on DVD? Can they sell it to the big TV networks?

And they will come up with the answers to these questions based on the track record of previous films with a similar profile. This makes distributors cautious, conservative, and rather backward-looking. They look at past performance to make their forecasts.

For more information on what sales agents do, go to the BAFTA Guru website, and also watch the video on the Film London Microwave website.

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MArt starting in September 2016, follow this link.   To apply, visit the offical page here

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