Top 5 List: International Pre-Sales

Originally Published on Linkedin:

https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140623132122-15233163-top-5-list-international-pre-sales?trk=mp-details-rr-rmpost

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As an EP/Director who has also been a partner with a sales & distribution company for several years, I’m often asked for my thoughts on distribution. Particularly, about international distribution in the form of pre-sales.

I hear this all the time…

“Do you think we can cover our budget from pre-sales?”

And this question is not coming from inexperienced producers. Truth is, many working producers really have no idea how it works. And it’s not their fault. The business, especially the TV business, has positioned itself to take a lot of the “producing” out of making content. So producers can go their whole career without being exposed to piecing the budget together from various sources—with international pre-sales being one of them.

Let’s be honest, many producers support themselves with “production commissions” in which they actually own none of the show or feature they produce. Therefore, they never take those shows to market—and so they never experience how international works.

Disclaimer… obviously TV and Film are different, but there are enough similarities between markets like Mipcom in Cannes and EFM in Berlin that some generalities can be made. Here we go.

Truth is, it’s HARD for an indie producer to pre-sell international. International isn’t the sure thing that many producers believe. Buyers are picky. MGs are down. And some countries just seem to be flat broke. Just because Tom Cruise films make money overseas regardless of their US performance HARDLY means your film or show will pre-sell overseas! For the record… I’m a Tom Cruise fan. The above example wasn’t a jab—it was actually a compliment.

Now… before we dive into International it might be easier to quickly touch on US sales as a point of reference. In my experience, there are five things you need to cover-off if you want to be taken seriously by US buyers before the movie is actually made. (Note: Once the movie is made, and buyers can actually watch it, throw most of this out the window!)

Top 5 List: Pitching Scripted to Domestic

1. Talent

2. Showrunner or Director

3. The Relationship With The Buyer

4. The IP as a whole—including the Writer attachment

5. The Script

Explanations…. #1 is Talent. So surprise. Can you see the talent’s face on a poster or billboard? I don’t really care if the talent acted brilliantly in the supporting role of a movie nobody saw. If you can’t see their face on a poster… your sale is that much harder.

#2 The Showrunner or Director. Gimme a safe track record, and selling the show or movie is much easier.

#3 The Relationship with the buyer. If you’ve never sold to a particular buyer before… guess what? Your chances are lower than the other EP who has. Relationships matter. Put someone on your team who has previously sold to the buyers on your hit list.

#4 and #5. The IP and the Script. Many may disagree with the order I put #4 & #5 in. But I think that if you wanna be taken seriously than you first need buyers to get past the synopsis—or the value of the IP as a whole which includes the writer attachment. Without this, the buyer may never even read the script. Basically, the creative concept has to have some merit in some way, shape or form.

Okay. So that’s the over-simplified foundation. Now we’re onto what this article is actually about: International Pre-Sales. Here are the five things you should try to lock-down if you wanna be well-positioned for International Pre-Sales.

Top 5 List: Pitching Scripted for International Pre-Sales

1. US Network or Studio

2. Talent

3. The Relationship With The Buyer

4. The IP as a whole—including the Writer attachment

5. The Script

Explanations… Now, most of these are the same as Domestic for the same reasons—just in a slightly different order. But there is one major exception and one major hiccup.

Exception first:

#1 is the US Network or Studio. We call this the “country of origin” rule. Basically, if you’re making an American movie with American filmmakers and American talent than you had better be able to demonstrate that at the very least—American buyers want it! Put yourself in the Italian buyer’s head. Why should he pre-buy this American content for Italy if nobody in America even wants it?

The day you can say “Our US partner is Warner Brothers” is the day you’ll be taken more seriously in areas of international pre-sales. The same is true for TV Networks. You gotta sell the country of origin first, or your International Pre-Sales challenge becomes very very very difficult.

Now here is the hiccup: #3 The Relationship With The Buyer. This is a hiccup because it’s hard. Think about how hard it is (as an indie producer) to have relationships with all the buyers here in the US—your own damn country! Now multiply that list by 80 countries, and factor in that many of these buyers speak languages that you don’t. Not to mention that it’s not as simple as hopping on the 405 to go see them for a drink.

#3 is the reason that an entire entertainment sub-business of international sales agents exist. These are people who’s primary business it is knowing the international buyers, and traveling to the various international markets several times a year to see them.

So in a nut-shell, this is LocoDistro’s over-simplified take on the 5 most important things you need to focus on when pitching scripted content for International pre-sales. By the way, the answer to that above listed example question… “Do you think we can cover our budget from pre-sales?” …is NO! But more on that in a future post.

Hope you enjoyed the article, and possibly even learned something!

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