One of the questions I get asked a lot is, how does it actually work? How do you buy a film?
As I’ve said in a previous post, we buy movies for Australia and New Zealand. The rights we buy generally include theatrical, video, VOD (Video on demand), and TV. Sometimes we get airline rights too, but that’s not as common. So this means once we buy a movie, we can then exclusively release it at film festivals, in cinemas, on DVD/ Blu-Ray, VOD and sell to TV channels across Australia and NZ.
Most deals get done at the markets – right now, we’re gearing up for the Cannes film market which starts in two weeks. For the past month or so, emails have started trickling through each day from sales agents (the companies who represent films from lots of different producers) with their line-up, i.e. what films they’re selling. What started as four or five emails a day is now, at this stage before a market, anywhere up to about 80 emails a day. This will continue right up to, and through, the market, getting increasingly more desperate in many cases!
Each email contains anything from a couple of movies up to ten or even twenty. The main priorities of these emails are, firstly, to show us what they’ve got, and secondly, to try to arrange a meeting at the market. You do the maths, but that’s hundreds of different companies with thousands of films to check out. The films will be at various stages, some at script stage with cast attached, some in production, and some completed and screening at the market.
So then begins the slow process of trawling through, looking for the diamonds in the rough. The longer you do the job, the easier this process becomes, for many reasons. One, you get to know the sales agents well and there are many who consistently have top quality movies from solid directors. Two, films which premiere at festivals such as Tribeca or SXSW will be on your radar, so when they pop up, now being represented by a sales agent at the next market, you already know those titles are important to check out. Three, there are often movies left unsold from the previous market, e.g. Berlin in February, which were potentially very interesting but too expensive at the time, so following up on those you might just get a great deal on a quality title. Four, you recognise just how much content is out there; it’s very easy initially to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles and get drawn into a movie with a relatively well known star, or lots of festival laurels on its cover which, unfortunately, probably don’t mean much outside of those office walls. And lastly, you will often have read scripts previously for movies which are now ready to screen, so those are very important to add to your screening schedule.
Meetings are set, screening schedules are fixed, many scripts are read and trailers watched pre-market. The couple of weeks leading up to any market are hectic. I spend all my free time reading, watching, emailing, compiling lists and checking them twice.
On a typical day we’d have around eight to ten meetings and three or four screenings. Competition is, of course, fierce, at any level. So if we like the look of a movie, no doubt some of our competitors will be interested too. The sales agent always has an asking price, and a ‘take price’ which is the amount they’re actually willing to accept, although they’ll never tell us that amount up front just in case we think it’s worth a lot more than they do! That’s where it gets tricky, or fun, depending on your outlook: the game of back and forth to agree a price, first and foremost, to secure the movie before anyone else gets their hands on it. Then to agree the terms (how long we’ll own the rights for, what royalty percentages we’ll have to pay back, how much we guarantee to spend on the theatrical release, etc). Sometimes the deal will be done there and then, other times it can go on for days or even weeks, until the market is a distant memory.
And how much do we pay? Well there’s the big question. This really depends on the movie, of course, and the competition! While you quickly come to an understanding of what a movie is worth based on the stars appearing in it, or the director, or the budget, there are so many different possibilities. We have to decide there and then if it’s going to be a theatrical release or a film festival title and how much revenue those might achieve, and conversely, how much it’d cost us for materials and advertising to release that film. Or it might be a direct to video title (DVD / Blu-Ray / Video on Demand) with a really strong possibility of TV sales. So unfortunately there’s no easy answer.
It’s easier to figure out potential revenues if you see the movie first, which is why buying off script is a risky business. But it’s often essential for a really strong script or director, and necessary for us smaller companies to guarantee we won’t get pushed aside when the big guns come running on release! However, it’s expensive and just a little dangerous. And that’s one of the main reasons the whole day-and-date around the world argument for all movies is completely impossible for independents the way the business is currently structured. We can’t buy everything up front, most often we have to wait til they’re finished and releasing in their home countries before we even get to see them, and therefore buy them. And despite consumer demands, it’ll take a long time, and some people with very big pockets and cojones to change that.
But that’s another discussion, right?!
A bientôt, dear reader.