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Attention, Filmmakers: Here's 6 Traits You Need to Look for in a Sales Agent

By Bill Straus | Indiewire August 13, 2014 at 9:20AM

In a guest post, sales agent Bill Straus provides tips about what to look for us in a sales agent.
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"Bronx Obama"
"Bronx Obama"

I was in the film business in Los Angeles for a long time and did a number of different things there. I started as a screenwriter, then became a studio executive and finally was a producer. The studio would never send me to Sundance though, so I eventually went on my own and a whole new world opened up to me. I loved the films, the people, the culture. Everything about indies was cool and enlightened. After a few years, I got a few movies into the festival as a producer and later had one at Tribeca. In much the same way that being a writer made me curious about executives, being an indie producer made me wonder about sales agents. So I packed my bags and fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving back to the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in. I transitioned into being a domestic sales agent, having now sold films out of Sundance, TIFF, SXSW and many more. I really love it. I love it when clients are happy and I love the friends I have made amongst both filmmakers and distributors.

READ MORE: What Will the Future Look Like for Indie Filmmakers?

"Has your sales agent laid out the realities and are you prepared to accept them?" - Bill Straus

But make no mistake. It's a tough racket - and not all sales agents will serve you well. So here are some tips for filmmakers to keep in mind when they look for someone to sell their movie:

1. Enthusiasm

Is your gut instinct that the Sales Agent really loves your movie? If not, they might peter out two, three, four months after the premiere if it hasn't sold.

2. Time

How many movies is your sales agent handling at one time? You want someone that is going to give your movie the attention it deserves.  Before getting into this, I asked other sales agents for advice. Invariably, they told me that volume was key to making money. So a lot of them will bite off more than they can chew.

3. Connections

Does your sales agent have good buyer relationships? Does he/she cover a wide swath? If you have Brad Pitt's foray into the indie world, you won't need the wide swath, but for a lot of filmmakers, it's good to go out to a zillion places. When I was trying to set up scripts as a producer, there were the studios and maybe five more companies that could buy the script. With indie sales, I have a list of over 100. And at every festival, a client asks me if I have heard of a distributor that is a new one to me. Also buyers should like your sales agent. Those relationships can help or hurt the sale of your film. If they feel they have been burned by that person in the past, they might not be as excited to do business with them the next time. Also do they respect this person's taste and market sense or do they perceive your sales agent as someone who is just throwing stuff against the wall (i.e. volume)? 

Buzzard
"Buzzard"

4. Trust

Do you like and trust this person? This one is a bit subjective. You may want a wheeler/dealer type who is going to only be about the bottom line. But a lot of times things like accountability and integrity go out the window. On the other hand, you may want someone who is really good about returning your calls and emails, involving you in the process and partnering with you about strategy, etc. Bear in mind that if you don't trust them, buyers probably have the same vibe.

5. Vision

Does the sales agent have an idea of who distributes the movie? It's always good if they have a vision of viable buyers -- as well as ones that won't make sense for your film. For example, Fox Searchlight isn't going to buy a movie with no cast about some freak in Utah with funny glasses.

6. Realistic Expectations

What are your expectations? I talk about the crappy climate because a lot of films are being picked up with MG's (minimum guarantee) that are serious fractions of the budget, if there is an MG at all. Not good. Has your sales agent laid out the realities and are you prepared to accept them? If you expect ten times, what the sales agent is telling you the MG might be, you're putting everybody in a bad position.

After working on college classmate John Singleton’s "Boyz N’ the Hood," Straus sold his original screenplay "The Clown Prince" to TriStar Pictures. He earned his Masters at USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program and then worked his way up the executive ranks at New Line Cinema. After leaving the studio, Straus set up his own shingle with a deal at Sony based Circle of Confusion. Straus' producing credits include "The Man," "Weapons," "The Last Rites of Joe May" and the upcoming "Straight Outta Compton."

In 2011, Straus launched domestic sales banner BGP Film with offices at Goldcrest Films. He has sold films out of Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, SXSW and many other major festivals. Among the titles he has represented as a sales agent are "Bronx Obama," "Buzzard," "Uncertain Terms," "Young Bodies Health Quickly" and "Through a Lens Darkly," as well as many others.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, International Sales Agent, International Sales