Founder, ANDY1967 Pictures, International Film Production, Sales & Distribution Consulting
I first met Foreign Sales Agent Alex Hundt when we were both in Los Angeles and she kindly agreed to meet me to talk about the international appeal of a couple of projects on my slate. Now she’s based in London, and en route to the AFM, I asked her a few questions.
In your view, what is the key role of the Foreign Sales Agent vis-à-vis the Producer?
Providing a direct relationship with buyers from all over the world, from the European majors like Germany or the UK to small territories like the West Indies, and even the obscure ones like Mongolia. Which is surprisingly active.
Although, depending on the Foreign Sales Agent, the line between agent and Producer can get blurry (since a lot of production companies have their own sales arm these days), the main distinction is still access to Distributors. We sit down with them four to six times a year. Foreign sales are a bit archaic in that respect. Although deals are quite often done via email between markets, we still all meet face-to-face at markets throughout the year to re-instate that relationship. And sell movies.
What are some of the common mistakes Producers make when dealing with you in your role?
One of my pet peeves is being approached with the line “I looked at your line-up and my project would fit perfectly with you” – and when I look at it – it’s not a fit at all. Foreign Sales Agents are a diverse bunch. Some of them handle no-budget Indies or straight-to-DVD genre fair or controversial documentaries – some don’t. I believe that sometimes when I pass on a script because it doesn’t fit on the slate, Producers take that as a decision based on taste and not business strategy. My advice would be to learn from your passes in order to find your audience – a Sales Agent that fits your needs.
And at the other end of the sales circle: not having a great Post Supervisor. Once your movie is finished, you will have to hand it over to your Sales Agent to deliver to Distributors. I handle this for my clients on a daily basis. It can get very technical very fast and there is only a slim margin of error so have someone at hand who is on top of it for you. This will be a long, arduous and money-intense process if you skipped out on that. Delivery really works like an audit of your entire production process from green light to finished film. And every issue that wasn’t dealt with properly will come up.
What advice would you give a Producer in terms of how best to approach building a relationship with a foreign sales agent?
For Pre-sales: don’t approach unless you are prepared, which means have a well-rounded script at hand (not one that is two drafts away from being a Consider), ideally a director attached or maybe some cast, and an idea of the financing. This doesn’t mean that we need you to have packaged the movie, done a market study and hired a Line Producer who has written out your budget to the last cent. But be as specific as possible. What is the realistic budget range? Are there any opportunities for soft money? Do you have any equity attached? Are any stipulations attached to that equity? How is your cash flow? This helps us determine what piece of financing you need from foreign sales and whether or not we want to come on board to provide it. This sounds daunting but it’s really just the basic homework. A lookbook can be helpful too. If has great comp titles or a succinct director’s statement, this will make a difference for marketing further down the line. But it’s not necessary – better to send no lookbook than a half-cooked one. And if you drop in at AFM to pitch, make sure your elevator pitch is on point. Take my business card – email me the Monday after AFM, don’t expect me to pick up your movie there and then.
What makes for a good Producer – Sales Agent relationship?
It should really be understood as a partnership in which both parties work under the premise of “help me to help you”. Be in touch – with purpose. And I don’t mean calling your agent daily to check on sales. In an ideal situation, Producers keep the Sales Agent up-to-date on all Production matters. Sometimes Producers are hesitant to share stills or footage during Production or Post – which I understand – it’s their baby. But keeping your agent abreast is crucial for laying out marketing strategies. A well placed still in Variety or a teaser promo that can be cut in time for a market will help your sales immensely. Also, trust your agent on foreign marketing. We put posters and promos in front of distributors all year long and witness their reaction first hand. There are a lot of red flags in terms of marketing for certain international territories that would be absolutely fine for US buyers and audiences. It’s a different game. Of course, we strive to find a balance between staying true to the project’s vision and selling it (which is what you hired your agent for). Also, the more we know about how production is coming along, the better we can communicate with our buyers about delivery and release dates, which helps them to creative powerful marketing strategies for their own territories – that boosts your revenue. It’s about managing expectations. That’s also one of the key roles of the Sales Agent in the partnership. Managing the Producers’ expectations on how much and when revenue will come in. To help them understand the commercial life of their film. And with foreign sales, you are in it for the long run. I don’t believe in bloated sales estimates or sales expenses – it’s just not conducive to building a long-term relationship. Yes, it’s Hollywood and it’s the sales world, but the best-case scenario for everybody is still when you can over-perform on your estimates because they were attainable in the first place.
What do you believe are the key terms in a Sales Agency Agreement? Any insider tips?
Maybe I should not say this [laughs] but as I mentioned before, I think it is best when both parties go into this with open eyes. In that spirit, review the sales expenses paragraph closely to understand what can be recouped as an expense by your sales agent, what percentage is accountable (i.e. the sales agent needs to keep records), what percentage is a flat fee (i.e. the sales agent will recoup this whether or not they spent as much on selling your film). Review the sales fee – maybe try for a scenario where it is staggered and tied to reaching certain sales thresholds. In general, this should fall into the 15-20% range. You might get a lower fee if you already have a relationship with the agent or if the agent is looking for a multi-Picture arrangement. Review the delivery schedule – make sure it’s not bloated or outdated. Delivery is expensive so if you can agree with your Sales Agent to skip a couple of deliverables it might help your post budget. Review the waterfall, that is, the order in which the parties recoup from gross receipts. Make sure you’re not too far down the food chain – you will always be further down than you expected.
Why did you get into Foreign Sales?
It was really more of an accident. I come from a film philosophy and analysis background – I must have seen Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN about 15 times at University. Same for MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. I was fortunate to receive a great education in the Humanities in Europe – for free. When I moved to LA, I started out in Development and then decided, just to switch it up, to move into sales and distribution – and it stuck despite the lack of a Finance degree. I had lived in Berlin and Amsterdam before I moved to LA and am now in London so come from quite an international background, which goes along well with foreign sales. There are certain intricacies about foreign territories (and buyers) you can really only grasp if you have lived in the country for a while. Sales and distribution are an exciting place to be in right now – there is so much in flux. The European Digital Single Market, Netflix going theatrical, big US studios caving in on the window-model, Apple getting into the movie business … it’s exhilarating (and challenging) to be in the middle of that, and to hopefully even shape it a little.