Now that you are set up for assessing interested distributors and foreign sales agents (which I’ll often call distributors now for convenience), how do you find them to get them interested and assess the best ones for you?
The main ways to find and connect with them include the following:
– Go to film markets, such as the American Film Market, and meet with exhibitors or obtain their names from a list of distributors and phone or email them after the market, since most of the exhibitors are the biggest distributors or sales agents. The other major film markets, according to an article “Top 14 Film Markets” by Minhae Shim in Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution include Hot Docs, held in Toronto, Canada; the Independent Film Week/Project Forum in New York City; INPUT (International Public Service Television Screening Conference); the National Media Market, in Charleston, South Carolina, and NATPE (National Association of Television Executives) held in Miami. The other major film markets are outside the US and Canada – CineMart in the Netherlands, the European Film Market in Berlin, the Hong King International Film and TV Market, the Marche du Films and MIPTV in Cannes, and TIFFCOM (Tokyo International Film Festival Content Market).
Most realistically, the one to go to is the American Film Market, held in Santa Monica in early November. I attended it several years ago, and have since obtained information on the exhibitors who are listed publically, and I am now a member of the AFM365, which provides a way to contact other attendees during and after the festival for the following year. If you go to this festival, you can get a pass for the whole festival for $795 or for the last 3 days for $295. Either pass will enable you to go to the showrooms, where you can meet distributors, though most filmmakers on a low budget buy the 3 day pass and hang out in the lobby on other days to meet people who are there. You have the best opportunity to meet exhibitors on the last three days, since on the first four days, they are focused on speaking to buyers and making deals to sell their films. If you have a packaged screener, it is best to set up meetings with distributors in advance, although you can also go to their showrooms when they aren’t busy. If they are interested, you can leave your screener and any press materials with them, or get their business cards or other contact information and send the screener later. If you don’t yet have a screener, simply introduce yourself and get their business card or flyers with contact information for follow-up later. And even if you only get their contact information because they are too busy to see them, that’s fine, since you can contact them later by phone or email.
However, don’t expect to make any deals at the AFM or other film markets. Unless you have big names attached, the distributor will want to see your screener first.
– Go to conferences, workshops, and panels which feature distributors and sales agents. This can be a way to personally meet a few of the speakers and panelists who are distributors or can refer you to them. You probably will only be able to say hello and maybe ask a question or two. But get the contact information for later follow-up once you have a screener ready, and in your follow-up, mention that you have met the person at the event you attended. In some cases, conferences and workshops will provide attendees with a directory of distributors, such as a film funding conference I attended several years ago in Los Angeles which was put on by the Independent Film Forum. Whether you meet a distributor personally or get their name from a directory at the event, it’s generally best to send a query letter or call first rather than sending in the screener and any press materials unless requested to do so, since different distributors have different procedures for requesting material. Tell them what you have to send them, and they can tell you what to do next.
– Research the names of distributors in different directories and industry listings. Doing this research can be a time-consuming process, but much of this information is available for free or at a low cost. Here are just some of the lists of distributors that are available:
– Independent Filmmakers Showcase’s “Independent Film Distributors List”
– Video University’s “Video and Film Distributors”
– Indiewire’s “Guide to Distributors at Sundance 2014”
– The Numbers “Market Share for Each Distributor 1995-2014”
– Film Journal’s “Distribution Guide” to Domestic and International Companies
– Insider’s Guide to Film Distribution, edited by Minhae Shim, Erin Trahan, and
Michele Meek, Independent Media Productions, Cambridge, MA.
– The Producer’s Insider Guide to Selling Films – Film Distributors Directory by
If you put “film distribution directories” in Google search, you’ll find even more. You can use these directories to find distributors for your type of film. Then, write to them about your film and ask if they want to see a screener. If they are interested, send it and go from there.
– Use a query service to send a query for you to distributors. Instead of doing all of the research to create a list of distributors to contact yourself, you might use a query service, such as Publishers, Agents & Films (www.publishersagentsandfilms.com), since it has already done this research for you and can send out a query to 1000 plus distributors, including AFM exhibitors for the past two years. The advantage of using this service is the company has gone through all of these directories and created an email list, so you don’t have to spend the 20 or more hours to create your own list. Plus the query goes out under your email using their special software, so the responses go directly to you, and they help you write a good query letter.
That’s what we did in distributing SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE, and 20 distributors expressed interest after our initial query with a link to the trailer. Then, we will send another query once the screener is ready to follow-up with those who have already expressed interest as well as to others, since they may be interested now. Some other filmmakers used this service several times to invite distributors to a series of showings they set up for private screenings in Manhattan.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on films: HOW TO WRITE, PRODUCE, AND DIRECT A LOW-BUDGET SHORT FILM and FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR FILM OR TV PROJECT. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 feature scripts, and has one feature she wrote and executive produced to be released in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (www.publishersagentsandfilms.com), and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.