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!

Doug E. Fresh (scene)

Doug E. Fresh! In this clip from the Hip Hop Horror film You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You, hip hop icon Doug E. Fresh spits a new rhyme in a scene featuring James McDaniel and Michael Mosley.  The film You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You is executive produced by Spike Lee and Gabriel Gornell—who is also handling sales & distribution through his LocoDistro shingle.

Condoms in Cannes

Easy-onSpending last week in Cannes I decided that this week’s blog post should be a little something about my travels, but I didn’t want it to be yet another rant about my Mipcom slate.

Now, thousands of folks who work in TV and Film descend upon Cannes three times a year (MipTV, Festival, and Mipcom) and spend their days going from Hotel to Palais to Dinner to The Grand.  And repeat.  But how many of us actually lift up our heads as we go about our business?

ManixThe day after the market I decided to keep my iPhone in hand, and photograph the goings-on as I shopped for the wife and Durex_01kids.  What did I notice?  Condom machines!  Condom machines on almost every block.  It made me think about a few things.  Sex was obviously the first thing.  But attitudes about sex was next.

The French clearly look at sex differently than Americans.  And I’m a little embarrassed to be prudish about it myself (and that’s the story I’m sticking to!).

The French look at sex as a fun, in the moment experience that feels good, that may (or may not) be tied to any level of love.  And that’s all fine.  In fact, it’s all perfect.  Sex is fun and sex happens. Therefore… make condoms available to everyone.   Men, women, teens, etc.  Put them on every corner.

2 EuroAmericans on the other hand do their best to make a teenager have to go to planned parenthood for a rubber.  Or bring a pack of condoms up to the counter at the local drugstore in front of their neighbor.  Or worse, have to ask for them behind the counter.

In America, we’d rather deal with the consequences of STDs & Teen Pregnancy if it means we can Durex_02go on pretending that we’re pure and without human urges.

Jeez… Is sex so bad that we have to hide it behind some counter as if to say “If teens must have sex, I’d rather it be unprotected.  That will show them!”  Not to mention the tipsy adult couple that just wanna get it on.  I say let them have sex.

Viva dispensers!

Daytime Emmys & 2nd Screen Content

Gornell speaking about 2nd screen integration
Quote from Gabriel Gornell
TV Guide
June 10-16, 2013 Issue

Speaking about the integration between Television content and 2nd-screen content, Gornell was quoted in TV Guide regarding the decision to place nominated actor reels online for the first time—driving fan interest, 2nd screen viewership, brand impressions, and ultimately TV ratings:

All the nominated actors’ reels are available to the public for the first time, via www.hlntv.com. “The response from the Twitter world has been overwhelming,” says executive producer Gabriel Gornell “Now anyone can go online and see exactly how the judges based their decisions. IT’s going to bring the fans right into the ceremony in a very exciting way.”

Cable TV: What’s watched. What’s actually produced. And Why.

Written by Gabriel Gornell

Looking at the Cable TV Ratings last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see the all the scripted content that made the list since we so often associate Cable TV with reality & unscripted programming.

It got me thinking…why does cable TV, the entertainment category that delivers the best that entertainment has to offer (think Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Walking Dead, Phineas & Ferb, etc.), also delivers such crap?  Here’s is another question: Why is it that Cable TV Producers so often sit in pitch meetings with network execs who profess to know it all (from their brand to their audience) while those same networks continue to deliver primetime shows with under a 1.0 despite a reach of 100 million homes?!

The answers to these questions are not the fault of one position or department at any cable network. The answers are tied to a cyclical process of cause and effect.

Common financial wisdom says cable networks require (1) inexpensive unscripted shows with (2) loud characters that will maintain viewership despite a lack of production value in order to (3) maximize profits.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.39.43 PMThis is the result of downward pressure on budgets from the bean counters having more influence than the upward pressure of solid creative from the programmers. What ensues is not that different from one common result of the “Walmart Effect” at retail in which the cable networks then place the entire burden of this downward financial budget pressure on the suppliers. In this case, the immediate casualty of the financial pressure is the producers’ creative rates and fees.

Guess what happens next? No longer able to make money from the creative fees, most unscripted Cable TV Producers are then forced to treat their business like glorified rental shops—because the only place they can make money is from renting their own production or post-production equipment on the shows.

Outside of the business, most people don’t realize that things like equipment rental and post production services has largely been brought in-house by the cable TV producers because it’s the only place they can continue to charge the networks and still make some money. Not too long ago, the business of renting cameras, lighting, and grip went to rental houses—and the business of post-production services went to dedicated post houses. But no longer. Now the quality of the final master tapes that get telecast has surely been compromised because most cable TV producers simply don’t own the same high-fidelity equipment as the old-school dedicated suppliers—but nobody on the network side is complaining too loudly because they are getting away with no longer paying creative fees.

And C’mon people. Nobody is fooled by the joint efforts of the network & producers as they attempt to offset the perception of the “equipment-rental business model” by putting more up-front energy into reality talent casting. The downward pressure has created a production model of “equipment rental & casting services” versus a model rooted in creative development. And this ultimately creates what I call the “Big Mac Effect.”

The resulting unscripted television is like a Big Mac and here’s why: I love the smell of a Big Mac. And if you put a Big Mac in front of me, you can be damn sure I’m going to eat it. And let’s face it—during the moment of eating—a Big Mac delicious. But given a few minutes to think about it… They’re not good for me, they’re not as inexpensive as I thought, and I usually don’t feel that good after I eat it. I’m not snobby enough to deny that Big Macs near me don’t get eaten. But if you ask me what I want for dinner, my first choice is Italian or Steak—not Big Macs. The same goes for most unscripted cable television.

Over a short period of time, much of the unscripted Cable TV landscape has become filled with “Rental House & Casting Agent” production companies that sling Big Macs versus quality programming. Oddly, I’m now in the mood for a Big Mac. And sharing this craving is likely counter-productive to the point I’m trying to make!

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.28.41 PMA Cable TV Proucer’s business-model that’s rooted “equipment rental” and who’s sales force is focused only on “casting” will eventually compromise the actual creative—which is why we’re here to begin with. This is the unfortunate truth for the cable networks that created this cycle to begin with. And this idealist believes that soon the audiences with migrate back to quality.

QUESTION:
Last week on Cable TV—what percentage of viewers do you think watched scripted versus unscripted programming?

SURPRISING ANSWER:
73% of all Cable TV viewers watched scripted programming while only 27% watched unscripted programming. So the migration towards quality seems to already be happening. Check out the infographic below.

To figure this out I looked at the ratings of the top 40 shows on cable TV last week, and then analyzed them against a few different cumulative measures. Again, check out the Infographic. Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.31.17 PM

The really interesting thing is that unscripted shows (reality, etc.) aren’t that cheap to produce when you consider the cumulative production dollars that networks collectively spend to make many more shows that ultimately attract fewer viewers than cable TV’s scripted programming. What’s also amazing is the ratings success of categories like sports entertainment in which there is just one player—WWE.

What is sports entertainment you ask? It’s event-based scripted sports-theater with zero competition since we lost the WCW and XFL, both after 2001. Remember the XFL? Amazingly, the first game of the one-season XFL had over 14 Million viewers on NBC before quickly being considered a failure. 14 Million viewers is a failure? My times have changed.

During the same week ending on 11/25/2012 I then looked at the primetime schedules of the top 85 cable networks, and analyzed their programming hours against the same cumulative measures that I looked at for ratings. I did this to see if scripted programming was simply programmed more than I thought in order to have this 73% market share over unscripted programming. It’s not. Wow!

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.35.27 PMHere’s the net net
66% of the total unscripted programming hours on cable TV are arguably only getting 27% of the audience.  Did we learn nothing from broadcaster NBC’s misstep in moving Jay Leno to 10pm simply cause it’s cheaper than producing scripted dramas?

Now take a look at the Purple and Blue bar-chart above. Any category where Purple is higher than Blue is possibly a programming opportunity. Anything where blue is higher than purple is arguably saturated. Interestingly, sports is the only cable TV entertainment category that seems even close to its sweet spot of programming hours versus actual ratings. For the record and for the purpose of this blog—we classified sports as unscripted programming.

The cycle needs to break and the programming challenge needs to shift from (a) finding the loudest reality star in order to command a bigger piece of the pie, to (b) developing excellent creative programming in order to create a bigger pie.  Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.37.33 PM

Ending this article on a positive note—kudos to AMC, USA, Nick, TBS, Disney, TNT, Cartoon Network, Hub, FX, HBO, Showtime, TV Land, We, Lifetime, Hallmark and a few others (from a long list of 75 cable TV networks) for concentrating on creative quality instead of Big Macs.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.41.00 PM

Written by Gabriel Gornell