International Film Distribution & Territories

The world of film distribution has never been smaller  or more complex. Let’s examine the dominate territories and the top tier of internationals sales agents to learn how producers initiate and maintain relationships.

International Film Distribution-RelationshipsBut first consider the following. 40% of the world’s population live in China and India alone, and these two countries are already the world’s number one audience for daily news, and the number one and two producers of new film releases. Not only that, but the new raising middle classes are also picking up the Internet faster than television.

The biggest individual spenders on entertainment are the USA, Japan, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Australia and Italy.

English remains the dominate language and savvy producers from non-English speaking countries now make films in dual languages or even entirely in English. An example of this is the French movie franchise, Transporters.

US Dominance

The US box office takes more than $10b each year and remains the biggest market for US made films,  however 60-70% of the entire box office takings will happen outside of the US. Thus producers should not underestimate international territories.

In addition, since 2006 the box office earnings in the US have remained more or less flat (although that still leaves them the biggest share of the market).

There are more films produced each year in China and India than in the US, yet the Hollywood films still dominate the worlds screen and psyche. Some say  they produce better stories whileothers contend that it’s the world’s interest in American culture.

It’s interesting to note that American independent films take up less than 10% of  box office receipts in the US.

A producer needs to evaluate and determine the benefits of each territory. Consider things such as whether or not the film is culturally specific to the core territory. Now, that doesn’t mean it won’t warrant a release in international territories but they need to be specialized and thus identified.

Online Global Markets

Like the music industry, film content has taken like a fish to water and spread to every territory at a speed that is sometimes difficult for film marketers and distributers to control. This is due to a number of obvious factors 1) the audience’s appetite for content beyond their own shores 2) viral marketing and social networking including the likes of Facebook, Twitter and blogs 3) distribution via downloading and streaming.

International Distribution and Film Events

Contact with international distributors and sales agents should happen as soon as the film has the green light.  Just as it’s up to the producer to identify distribution windows and sales breakdowns, they should also prepare for their picture’s unique territories.

Film producers use film festivals and sales markets to pursue new territories, manage relationships with contacts and centralise meetings between distributers, studio heads and distribution chiefs. For example, at festivals like Cannes filmmakers stay for much longer than a few films and  not just for the parties.

Here are the most powerful international events.

The American Film Market, Santa Monica, California (November) focusses on films sales rights.

The Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France (May). Focusses on packaging and promotion of sales rights with the international media gathered. It could be called the world’s biggest junket and is very beneficial to films that are set to be released shortly after the festival.

European Film Market (EFM), Berlin, Germany (January) runs in conjunction with the Berlin Berlinale film festival and is the first major film event each year.

Good producers treat their international distributors the same as their core distributors, recognising they are the expert who will optimize your film’s promotion in their territory and respect the strength of their market.  They all have the four core windows but the timing varies in different territories. Distributors who enter license agreements before a film is produced usually purchase all rights in their territories. However, those purchasing after completion may cherry pick and buy rights separately for i.e. cable or free to air, depending on their knowledge of the viewing habits in their territory.

The producer’s attitude to core distributors as well as international distributor should be the same-  the production company will only develop and  produce a film that the distributor is committed to investing in.

Establishing Distribution Relationships

In the first meeting expect the producer to do a presentation to distributors on the creative aspect so that the distributor can start considering target audience, comparable pictures and other analysis that they would undertake if they decide to take on the film.

If the distributor is interested, they will want an initial financial plan as well in this meeting. If an agreement is reached between producer and distributor, the distributor usually begins working on the film straight away even though nothing has been signed. The producer should not expect an agreement or even a letter of interest at this stage, but rather the establishment of a relationship and some parameters established that suggest that:

  1. The producer is committed to this distributor.
  2. The producer will have a fully funded film before production takes place.
  3. If the distributor is not interested, the project will not proceed. .
  4. The agreements made in the meeting are of good faith but not a legal obligation.
  5. The distributor will continue to validate the market and audience.
  6. There will be continued creative liaising throughout the film making process.
  7. The producer and distributor will exclusively communicate in this territory.
  8. The distributor will exclusively do the advertising for this territory and provide copies for film festivals and events to the producer.

These parameters allow other major distributors in other market to contribute and  gives the producers room to move with distributor as they research and make discoveries such as changes to the  talent or scripts if the film looks like going into the footpath of failed rather than successful films from their comparative research.

From a distributors point of view preproduction can be a precarious time collaborating and contributing to the marketing and creative aspects of a film that has not yet begun production. The producer needs to be sure the marketing and creative will correlate and the producer needs to listen to the distributor.

The next step is commitment. In the next meeting the distributor will input on the list of directors, however, the producer is the ultimate decision maker here.  Once the director is attached, the distributor is informed; the process is repeated with the cast and heads of department.