Securing an International Sales Agent

We got an international sales agent!

How ridiculous is that? Chronesthesia is now being represented internationally by WPE, operating out of the United States of America, selling around the world. As many territories as possible, as much money as possible, getting seen as far and wide as possible.

Hold up – what’s a sales agent and why do you need one?

A sales agent is a person or organisation who represents a film and filmmaker in the marketplace in order to secure the film’s distribution. They develop market strategies, negotiate deals and in return for a percentage of profits, work hard to make as much revenue from the product as possible.

As for whether or not you need one, that’s arguable in this day and age. Traditionally, yes, having a sales agent is preferable. They take a lot of the heavy lifting away. They have connections and existing relationships that film producers and creatives don’t have time to foster or upkeep, and they have the hard nosed hustle to work the best deal. However, with the rising accessibility to platforms like Amazon, various Video on Demand platforms and self distributing to cinemas, many filmmakers are deciding to self distribute which has varying degrees of success. Check out this awesome article to see if a sales agent is best for you.

How on Earth did we score such a feat?

It’s been a long road. For sure. I didn’t expect the film to be finished in six months, but I didn’t think we’d still be working on it two years after shooting. That’s what’s happened. I’m exporting different versions, I’m exporting single shots, I’m exporting still frames from the raw footage, Phil from Underground Sound is exporting new audio stems, and the most interesting update of all: we got a new poster made.

Love and Time Travel movie poster
Chronesthesia’s international release poster: renamed Love and Time Travel

Hold on, a new title?

Big time. It’s part of the international push. Turns out a lot people can’t remember, pronounce or spell Chronesthesia. Go figure. How did we settle on the name Love and Time Travel? Let me go back a few months and explain how we scored a sales agent step by step.

Step 1: International festivals

Austin, Texas. The Austin Film Festival 2016. Chronesthesia was selected in the Narrative Feature category, one of only seven films to receive such an honour. This was huge news. It’s expensive to submit to film festivals when you’re coming out of nowhere (like we were), so we were strategic. Kelly and Steve, Chrono’s producers, made a wish list of film festivals to get into, then we considered what was realistic to hope for and set about spending the money and sending the screeners.

Lo and behold, Austin selected us. Which meant that our American premiere took place in October 2016, two weeks before the American Film Market in LA. This presented a great opportunity for the film to be seen by a lot of people and also for Steve to attend and work some of his American magic (he’s American).

Step 2: Film Markets

The American Film Market. Early November saw Steve landing in LA for AFM. There are thousands of films up for grabs at this thing. Stalls are set up everywhere, garish promotion screams why their films are the best; everywhere you look are distributors and agents and marketing and promo and flyers and seminars and meetings and bullshit. The most important skill you need here is hustle. We are incredibly lucky: Steve has impressive hustle.

Steve (middle) schmoozing (or ‘networking’) at AFF2016

Again, Steve made a list, an Excel spreadsheet even, listing the potential sales agents we could get in touch with. Then he set about meeting them. He used cold call emails, he used existing connections to garner introductions, and old fashioned handshakes in person. Steve did it all. After a full on week, the spreadsheet was filled with large red mark-ups. People weren’t interested. The film doesn’t fit into a simple genre. It’s indie, it’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s thrilling, it has time travel… how do you sell a film like that? On top of that, it has no cast! Julian Dennison from Hunt for the Wilderpeople counts as a name, but even still… Americans could barely understand our kiwi accents!

Luckily, we had step three…

Step Three: Persistence

Back in NZ, we had a few sales agents express interest. They watched the trailer after Steve bleated a few sentences at them about the film’s charm, and wanted to know more. We sent out a six minute sizzle reel I cut together showcasing the film’s multiple facets of beauty. After watching that, the sales agents’ interest either increased or dissipated. For those who were keen on more, we sent an online screener so they could watch the whole film and after a month we had three offers for representation.

Crazy. That blew my mind. We were coming up a year since shooting the movie, and finally we were getting somewhere closer to eyes on screens. All we’ve ever wanted is for people to enjoy the story and be touched, give them something to think about, and getting a sales agent is a huge step toward that. The hustle continued. Emails flowed back and forth. We researched the companies and decided the WPE is a good fit and the head honcho Phil Gorn has a fantastic reputation as a just and honest person.

Step Four: Deliverables

Contracts are fun. Not really. Good god, not at all. Thank goodness for Steve and Kelly. They read everything, translated it so we understood it, discussed it with us, and took care of the heavy lifting. I think I iterate often how grateful Simeon and I are to have them, but I’ll say it again here: Good producers rock.

Contracts aside, there’s a lot of deliverables you have to provide to a sales agent. They need:

  • Every shot with text in it to be re-exported, so they can re-do the text in different languages.
  • A music cue sheet, which is the title and rights information about every music or score track in the film
  • A dialogue cue sheet, which is the timecode and line of every single piece of dialogue in the film
  • So many stills. We didn’t have a photographer on the shoot so I pulled stills from the footage
  • Credit lists
  • Poster files
  • Different codec exports of the film
  • Any Behind the Scenes footage (of which I have plenty)
  • Electronic Press Kit, which is a simple document that explains what the film is and anything interesting about tit
  • Reviews, awards, festival info

That took a little longer to organise than signing a contract. Because we’re independent and not part of a studio, we don’t have employees to sort these kind of things out. We just had to do it. It was our first time, and all things considered, I’m very proud we managed to deliver on everything. I transferred everything onto a hard drive, then couriered it to the USA with a wink and a kiss.

Step Five: What Now?

With the dialogue cue sheet and the textless shots, Phil at WPE has the ability to prepare the film for any territory around the world. Eventually, money will come in and we can give that straight to all the people who worked so damn hard on this film with no up front fee. Our cast and crew signed contracts that grants them a percentage ownership over the film, while Steve, Kelly, Simeon and I have pledged that we won’t accept any monetary payment until we’ve paid an agreed amount to these people.

Basically, we wait.

Wait, what about the name change?

Oh yes. That’s quite straight forward. Phil at WPE was confused by the name. We never say the word Chronesthesia in the film, so why settle on such a complicated name?

I spent a few weeks pondering whether or not titling the film Chronesthesia was a good idea or not. The pros is that it’s unique and meaningful. The cons are that it sounds like a Japanese horror film, it’s impossible to spell or remember upon first hearing, let alone type into Netflix. The tagline for the film was, ‘Love, sex and time travel of the brain.’ This was suggested as a title, as it’s what the film is about, but it’s quite a mouthful. We considered that when boiled down, the film is about two things: Love, and Time Travel. And there’s the title.