Saturday, February 26, 2011

Selling a Short Film in Foreign Markets

We all know that Short Films are a very  hard sell. So when I heard that David Gould had sold the Italian Pay TV rights to his short film 'Awaken', I had to find out more.

The deal was truly an international affair - it was brokered by Premium Films in Paris who was contacted by a buyer from Italy who had seen his film at the 'Short Film Corner' at Cannes. The Pay TV deal also covered Monte Carlo, Malta, Switzerland ... and even part of Slovenia!

This gives the first clue - I suspect that the first key to selling the international rights to a film involves not sitting around at home. So this led to the first question - how his exposure in Cannes helped him:

His answer:
The film had been selected at the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner. This gave us an opportunity to showcase the film to a wider short film market place. Our film was selected into a thematic program so was screened with others in one of the marketplace screening rooms. Many short film buyers attend the market and can watch all of the films submitted via a bank of computers made available for viewing. You get a list of those people that watched your film, including, in most cases, their contact details. You could then follow up directly with them during and after the market. In addition to the film being available for viewing during the festival, a private event was setup on the last day where you could meet with short film buyers. The buyers included Canal+, iTunes, in-flight companies, etc. It was like a speed dating setup where you had queues of short film makers who wanted to meet the individual representatives so you had just a couple of minutes to pitch and sell your film. I gave them my business card and a copy of the film. The key was to follow up with the buyers after the market. They surely can't have remembered you specifically with the deluge of material that they were being given. After the festival we were contacted by many film festival selectors and directors that invited our film to screen at their festival. It is much nicer being invited to a festival than sending out blind applications. The film has since been screened in Spain, USA, Australia, Italy, Brazil, and France.
I was curious about the deliverables that were required. I'd heard of other deals with less organised producers who had to then chase down the documentation for obscure items - like the sound used for a few seconds partway through.

He had an interesting response:
While the contract stipulated a lot of requirements we reduced it down to just what was necessary. I think this is an important point. Discuss with the sales agent or distributor and find out what exactly they need Often times they'll give a stock standard laundry list of deliverables and not all of them are applicable. For example, in our film the music was an original score that we commissioned. As such there wasn't any need for a music cue sheet. Whats more - we retained all the music rights.
As a result of his discussions, the deliverables ended up being:

  • Copy of the film in Digibeta PAL format
  • The EPK
  • Director's Bio/Filmography
  • Final Screenplay

I was surprised that they still required the final screenplay despite the film not containing any dialog - but I guess it's easier than every person along the way asking where it is. They also didn't require any of the credits to be translated - so either they are going to do the translation or just keep the credits in English.

I was curious about things he did before Cannes that helped make the path smoother:
We prepared the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) in advance and kept it continually updated as the film was selected into various festivals and garnered press. This meant that providing the distributor with the press kit was much easier. We didn't have to prepare all that material after the fact.
I asked about the target audience of a 'no dialog' animation short such as his:
Given that it is an animated film I think a rating above 'G' would have hindered sales as the target audience are children, though adults have always responded well to it. Animation of a 'M' rating is more in line with Japanese anime and this is a different audience. I had the opportunity to show an earlier "work in progress" copy in Taiwan and China during my talks there. The response had been very positive so I knew that the film wouldn't suffer from any cultural barriers. In effect, it didn't need to be translated as it deals with universal themes. The film fits into the broad category of short films for all ages.
As such it is open to all markets where short films are sold.
So what's next for David?

This short film is only the tip of the iceberg. He's developing a feature film project that explores many of the themes in the short film in greater detail. Once the film finishes its run on the international film festival circuit he'll be looking at selling it on DVD and through online short film services such as iTunes. (The iTunes model seems ideal for a product like this)

And that's not even including his technical work with WETA Digital on the upcoming 'Planet of the Apes' film.

(This is a repost from my old blog on 'The Filmmaker's Factory'. It was originally posted on August 15, 02010)

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