Critical Lessons from the Market and What You Should Take with You into the Future
The Lift-Off team took 12 projects, from 5 countries to the Cannes Marche du Film. We met with over 25 sales and distribution companies. Including;
Fizz -e- Motion
COFFEE & CIGARETTES
NEW EUROPE FILM SALES
The Festival Agency
Reason 8 Films
The gap between the hard face of the industry and the creative vision of the artists involved is often a hard bridge to cross, yet connecting with the market is vital if a career is to be fully realised.
In the first instance, Lift-Off’s agenda at the Marche was to get Network Members’ talent in front of key strategic partners and to generate interest in current or future projects. In this regard, Lift-Off acts merely as an introducer, and this is a service for the most talented of the Network membership.
The team had many interesting conversations throughout the week. And talks between some Network Members and the industry are in the initial stages.
Beyond these talks, here are some key takeaways from the conversations with the market, that everyone can learn from.
We hope that these will serve as guidelines for your future activities.
What are sales agents looking for?
It feels important to say that the main thing we took away from this year’s Marché was the extent to which different companies look for / and prefer entirely different things. That may seem obvious, but the point is that proper research will always be vital before approaching a sales agent/distributor.
It is always a good idea to research projects that are ‘like yours’. Who were the companies involved? What was their route to market? How much money did they make? What can you learn from them?
Knowledge, after all, is power.
Below are a few pointers ranging from general requirements to “top tips”…
Concept, script or completed projects?
Ultimately this entirely depended on the company. We met with acquisition teams that won’t accept anything other than a completed feature film, while other companies are extremely keen to come onboard in the early stages of development.
Early collaboration is attractive to various companies so that they can have more input throughout the creative process if that is something you are open to. Other benefits of an early collaboration include an ability to generate press from the get go, and an initial view on engineering the film’s marketing, festival and release strategy in the current marketplace, to maximise all opportunities.
Some companies we met with (such as Shoreline) really love being sent a rough cut, which they can then give feedback on. Others are more than happy to engage with work at treatment stage (or even just a synopsis), while companies like Reason8 must see a completed script.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that every single company we met (bar one – New Europe Film Sales) will not accept shorts. There is minimal market potential for shorts on their own, so sales companies rarely touch them.
Shorts really come into their own, however, as a useful commercial tool when used as a proof of concept for a feature film. Usually, a feature-length script would be required along with the short.
We recommend setting up the project from the outset with an eye on the future feature project. Deciding that your short has ‘feature potential’ after the fact, usually won’t do it.
But a package with a feature-length script, alongside a short as a proof of concept, is an attractive option.
Feature-length narrative / documentaries:
The majority of the projects acquired by sales agents or sold to distributors at the Marche were completed feature narrative projects. There should be no surprises there.
Some companies were gladly accepting docs, stating that they have a “clearer route to market”.
Equally unsurprising was the demand for an attached cast / “name” or “star”, or an attached director with some profile.
Again, no real surprises here, but almost every single person we met with confirmed that it is easier to guarantee sales with a known name attached to the project.
Pre-sales (where the production raises funds through the early selling of territorial rights – usually at a discount) are only possible with ‘bankable’ quantities. Stars, or named directors, have a specific market value; therefore, initial guesses can be made at the potential revenue of a project in pre-production.
In fact, a large number of companies sadly will not even look twice at projects with no names attached.
Most sales/acquisitions companies we met with want to see a producer attached to the project. In fact, several people (such as Moviehouse) mentioned only accepting pitches from producers, not writers.
If you are an aspiring writer, it is a good idea to find a producer with a track record to partner with.
The same can be said for aspiring first-time directors. If you can get a producer with a track record to believe in you, you may be onto a winner.
Everybody loves the idea of discovering ‘the next big thing’.
Without exception, pitches must include clear examples of previous work.
This is, of course, especially important if the project will be your first feature. Companies will want to see a handful of shorts, plus ideally a proof of concept for the feature film itself.
Budget in a treatment/ proposal:
It might come as a relief to hear that acquisition professionals are not expecting a complete budget breakdown in the initial stages. This comes later. What we did learn is that it will serve you well to at least be able to show you have considered the basic outline for this.
Some companies will take on projects which have not been fully financed yet, but any details you can provide regarding where some funding will come from/ who you will be approaching will be gladly noted.
Interestingly, we heard several times that films without brilliant artwork/poster will rarely get picked up.
In fact, Coffee & Cigarettes founded their company for this very purpose, after working in distribution and seeing this common downfall. The lesson is, don’t fall short on your artwork!
While there are no hard and fast rules, the key takeaway is to really consider carefully what the next step for the project is. Perhaps it is too early to be talking to the industry? Maybe you need to engage a producer with a proven track record to help you on your way?
Seeking funding for your film will always be easier the more complete the ‘package’.
And sales companies love a completed feature film. These make up the majority of acquisitions. There is no risk of financing the production, and they can come in at the end to help with the final connection with the marketplace.
Often with a completed financed project, you will be able to find interest from the market, but it is crucial to be sure that the parties that you are connecting with will provide value to the equation.
The industry is rife with tales of filmmakers signing away the rights to their films, without understanding that (huge) marketing expenses can be recouped, and (often) low minimum guarantees usually mean that they don’t see a penny back from all their hard work.
If you are stuck on your next step, engage with Lift-Off for a career road-mapping session, and we will strategise your way forward together.
Missed out on Cannes representation? Applications are now open for TIFF representation! Find out more information and apply here!