Reps and Agents - Search for Representation

Reps and agents: do you need them? How do you choose them? Now that technology has made it easier to self-distribute a film, some people say that filmmakers no longer need producer representatives and sales agents. Attitudes are changing. Many distributors don’t care these days if an independent filmmaker is represented. Still, films with a rep or agent may look more impressive. The choice is yours.

Reps and agents are similar, although some say that producer reps look more closely at filmmakers’ long-term goals for their careers. A rep can help you pick the right launch festival for your movie, and help boost the guest list as well. Agents are pretty much responsible only for wrangling distribution deals for films. (Note that reps typically don’t specialize in foreign sales; they tend to assist filmmakers in finding foreign sales agents for that.)

A good time to seek out a rep or agent is while you’re applying to film festivals. If you find the perfect representation for your film at that time, then the rep can help introduce your movie to the festival scene. Otherwise, wait until you’re traveling the festival circuit. Reputable reps and agents may approach you there, and may think more highly of your film now that it’s already hit the screen. You can also find someone through word-of-mouth.

Reps and agents want to get the best price for your film in each territory for one simple reason: They work on commission. They’re also experienced in sales, and know tricks for increasing revenue such as splitting up cable and theatrical rights into different deals. A distributor simply may not want to negotiate with a filmmaker, as filmmakers specialize in making movies, not making deals. And you may not want to spend your creative time trying to figure out the distribution process and marketing trends.

Expect to pay between 10% and 25% for each distribution deal to producer and sales reps. You should not get charged up front, but rather after the sale is made. Larger sales companies have more overhead and may charge more, but they’re also more likely to handle such responsibilities as printing up marketing materials. Otherwise, you’ll pay for these services on your own.

How do you know if a rep or agent is a good fit for you, or even trustworthy? Check their references. Find out what other films they’ve represented, and what their success rate has been in selling them. Meet with them to find out what their strategies are for your film.

Don’t assume that just because an agency is bigger, it’s better for your project. Large agencies have large catalogues, which can be good for deal-making, but you may not get as much personal attention.

Overall, keep your expectations realistic and be sensible. Foreign sales on their own will probably not win back your investors’ funding. Marketing costs may be higher than you expect, so negotiate a cap on marketing fees with your agency. In addition, you should work with your bank to set up a collection account: an independent third party that will help you understand your project’s financial status, and protect you from fraudulent behavior.