specific content needs of the attending companies will help you assess how your film fits those needs. “It’s important to know whether your film is one for theatrical distribution or more appropriate for television or for direct-to-video,” says Valerie Meraz, senior director of content acquisitions at Showtime. “Know where your film will work best,” she stresses. If your film has black family or faith-based elements, you would definitely want to invite executives from Lionsgate–which distributes Tyler Perry’s films–and Screen Gems, which last year distributed This Christmas, she adds.
And, of course, most filmmakers hope to come away from a festival with a distribution deal. But just what are those acquisitions executives considering when they evaluate your film? “The first thing I look at is the production value of the film,” says Meraz. “The film must look professional.” Meraz underscores that the film’s entertainment value and cast are also important. “It’s not necessary to have a star with a household name in the film,” Meraz stresses, “but I prefer films with at least one or two recognizable actors.”
In case you do have the good fortune of having a distributor make you an offer, come prepared to do business. Securing a sales agent to represent your film before you get to the festival is a huge asset. But like any good businessperson, it is ultimately the filmmakers’ responsibility to know what their film is worth in the marketplace. Researching industry trades, press releases from film festivals and film markets on deals and good old-fashioned networking with other filmmakers can prove crucial. Whatever your method, the consequences of not knowing your product’s worth could be grave.
Short of a sales agent, it is highly recommended that you hire an entertainment attorney before the festival who can represent you in any possible transaction. A good entertainment attorney, who has other independent filmmaker, clients would also be knowledgeable of the market.
Yet, of course, as in everything in entertainment, relationships are paramount. For newcomers or those without deep connections in the industry, organizations like the New York-based Independent Feature Project, www.ifp.org, which has offices across the country, and Film Independent, www.filmindependent.org, based in Los Angeles, provide valuable resources on everything from financing to finding a sales representative to self-distribution. IFP’s Filmmaker magazine publishes a listing of film sales representatives at www.filmmakermagazine.com.
George Alexander’s column on the business of entertainment appears weekly at BlackEnterprise.com. He is the author of Why We Make Movies (Doubleday Harlem Moon).