Monday, June 28, 2010

The End is No End

So you finally finished your movie. Congratulations! Many, many people have set out to make a film, and they haven’t gotten as far as this. But I have some sobering news for you, my weary artistic cinephile: you’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.

Because movies, like all artistic creations, are meant to be seen. To do that, you have to get them in front of a paying audience. These days, that can mean any number of things: theatrical, Video on Demand, Netflix, Redbox, YouTube, iTunes – the list is enormous. There are even filmmakers who do it themselves, selling DVDs of their films directly through their website.

But if you want a bigger audience, you need to go to a bona-fide film distributor. A company who knows the business, the sales outlets, the contracts, the marketing, etc. We literally finished our movie four weeks ago, and we’ve already been approached by sales agents, producer’s reps, and distributors. They all want to see “Fugue,” and if they like it, they all want to be involved with the selling of it to an audience.

This can mean any number of things. Right now, the film distribution market is like the Wild West: there are no rules, there’s not a lot of money, and there’s plenty of crooks trying to take advantage.

We haven’t signed any deals yet, so we can’t mention specifics, but we have developed a methodology that seems to be worthwhile. Here it is:

DO A BACKGROUND CHECK. If someone wants to get into business with you, the first thing you should do is check out their website. Does it look reputable? Do any of the films look familiar? Where are they based? No matter what, DO NOT send a copy of your movie until you’re satisfied they won’t plaster it all over the Internet.
If everything seems above board, then you can move to Step 2:

TAKE A MEETING. In person is best, but phone is a good back-up if you’re not in the same state. It’s a lot like a first date – you’re trying to get a sense if the two of you work together. You don’t have to be best friends, but you want to make sure the people you’re working with are honest, they understand the market, and they have sufficient experience/contacts. Ask them about recent, similar films they’ve worked on. Definitely ask them for references. Remember, they are working for you. Without your product, they have nothing to sell.
Once you get a good feeling from them, and a sense of what they will do with your movie, you can go to Step 3:

GET A SECOND (AND THIRD, AND FOURTH) OPINION. Call other filmmakers the company or rep has worked with. Ask them if they were satisfied with the relationship. How long did they take to get a callback? How timely were their payment disbursements? Do this enough times, and you should get a good sense of who the people are you’ll be dealing with.
If you decide to sign with them, you move on to:

READ YOUR CONTRACT. There’s a reason it’s called the film business. There are contracts for everything. It’s all in extremely boring, dense legalese, but read every line. The difference between 24 months and in perpetuity is literally infinite. If there’s something you don’t understand, have the company or an entertainment lawyer explain it to you. Realize that everything in the contract is negotiable. If there’s a bit of language you don’t like, ask to take it out or change it.
This process may take weeks, even months, but it’s okay to:

TAKE YOUR TIME. You’ve been working on this movie how long – two years? Three? The last thing you want to do is rush things at the end. Because once you sign that deal, you are locked in for a long time. At the very least, you want to be satisfied that you exhausted all your possibilities. Even if you don’t end up with the best deal, you’ll know it was the best you could do.
Finally, throughout all of these steps, remember:

BE PROFESSIONAL. Return emails and phone calls, be polite, deliver stuff on time. If you act like a pro, then hopefully the people you’re working with will do the same. And if they don’t, you will be well within your rights to call them on it.

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