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ISA of the Day: Andre Relis of VMI

ISA of the Day Vantage Media International will Bring Kat Candler's Hellion to Cannes this year.

International Sales Agent (ISA) of the Day coverage is back again for this
year’s Cannes Film Festival. We will feature successful, upcoming, innovative
and trailblazing agents from around the world, and cover the latest trends in
sales and distribution. Beyond the numbers and deals, this segment will also
share inspirational and unique stories of how these individuals have evolved
and paved their way in the industry, and what they envision for the new waves
in global cinema. 

Andre Relis, President of VMI, shares how he stumbled into film from his life as a
punk rock singer and got the bug for international sales. Relis’s passion makes
it easy to understand why international sales in the film industry are so
important. This year’s Cannes Film Festival is more than exciting for VMI, as
it will be its largest festival
so far, including Kat Candler’s highly regarded film Hellion.  With eight new films at Cannes, Relis is a perfect example of nontraditional
entry into the film business, hard work and innovative approaches to content
and business.

How did you get into
International Sales?

It’s kind of interesting how I got into film distribution.
It’s not really traditional. I used to be a singer for a punk band. I was a
musician for ten years, and how I got into this whole thing was we got a record
deal from a very small label called Overall Records, and the owner of the
record company was an entrepreneur who had all these things going on. He had
this other company called Media Webcast in the late nineties during the whole
dotcom boom, when there was all this money. They had all this financing, and
basically (kind of like Mark Cuban did) they were acquiring content to air on
the Internet. At the same time, they had a contract to play shows from Fox

At the time, I was touring a lot. I didn’t have a lot of
ways to make money, so, to offer me a way to live, he offered me a job at his
company to be a production assistant on various gigs. As the Fox Sports shows
started to grow, they formed a new show that integrated music and extreme
sports. They needed someone who could really understand this music, so they
could book bands and whatnot. I was brought on as a producer, and I just really
started to get involved in media. After that, the company imploded, because of
the dotcom crash. They ran
out of money, and because I had experience in
online distribution, I was offered a job at a small independent film company
called Amazing Movies (which morphed into Picture This!, one of the first LGBT international
sales agents) It was a small sales agency. I went
from a production job that was really exciting –
I was traveling all the time – to
sitting behind a desk. The president would come home from these markets all the
time, like the Cannes Film Festival, and then he’d hand me a bunch of business
cards. He’d tell me to write these guys and tell them “I enjoyed meeting
them”, and try to make some sales.

So that’s what I did for the first couple of months, and I
absolutely hated it. It was the most boring thing in the world, but then I
started to put the pieces together. Sales started coming in, and I realized
that producers were producing these independent films and they had no other way
to monetize them. This was really interesting, because we were really the force
behind getting these producers paid back. We were the way of monetizing these
movies, so I really started to like it. Basically, after six months of being
there, I really got the bug for being a sales agent. I fell in love with the
whole concept of it.

I was then offered a job at Troma Entertainment. At the
time, they had one office out of New York, and one out of L.A. They
offered me a job to run the L.A office. I got to deal with the
distribution of all of Troma titles, as well as international. At the same
time, I was working international sales.

I was there for a while. If you work for Troma, the average
lifetime of an employee is two years. You don’t make a lot of money, but you
learn a lot. There are a lot of people in this industry – who are sales agents now – who started at Troma, so it’s a good place to
start. Really, it’s like boot camp.

Four years ago, I formed
VMI worldwide, and the music catalog came with me; we have a music division
called Vision Music. We had a handful of films, and a bunch of documentaries.
We came up with the name Vantage Media International, and opened business here
in Hollywood. So just about four years ago, we opened this business, and since
then I haven’t really looked back. It was stressful during the first year, of
course, but after that, one big thing that happened was that I was able to get
into presales and start producing films. Last year, we produced three films.

I’m going to be at Cannes. Last year was a big year, because
I had always envisioned taking a big risk. I envisioned getting into presales,
and producing films and whatnot, but I never knew it was going to happen.  And it accidentally happened to us last
year. We went to Cannes and we presold $1 million dollars on this picture, and
we didn’t find out until afterward that none of these attachments they had were
there. Being that it was our first major presale for this company, we knew we
had to deliver. We had to produce this movie, and we completely took it on and
financed it.

What are you looking
forward to at Cannes?

One of the films we’re really, really excited about is a
movie called Hellion,
and it stars Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis. It’s a very cool film, and that’s
one of our headline pictures. We also have the biggest lineup as far as number of films;
it’s a big deal for us! We’re bringing eight new films.

What kind of content
are you looking for?

We’re doing more commercial and action content: the traditional millennial films. We did another action/thriller with Sean Dean and Abigail Breslin. We’re producing a WWII picture – it’s genre driven – but as far as our acquisitions go, we’re all across the board. Some of the content that we’ve acquired is just very straight commercial, action, thrillers, family movies… but then on the other end of the spectrum, we’re acquiring stuff that a lot of traditional sales agents wouldn’t know what to do with. For instance, we have a lot of music specialty documentaries. There was a film called Lemmy out of SXSW that we acquired three years ago that featured the singer Lemmy from Motorhead. Based upon my interest in music, I really knew that it was going to be very appealing to a lot of other people out there, but people just didn’t get it. They thought it would be a failure.

I just persisted and went to SXSW by myself and convinced
the producers to sign with us. It was one of the most successful documentaries
I’ve ever handled. We do stuff that’s outside the box. Even Hellion
has a great cast, but it’s a pretty special film. It’s not a straight up action
movie. We also have some foreign language films. The hard part is that I’m
trying to consolidate and be more focused. I hate the corporate mentality and I
like to have the creative vision of acquiring and distributing content that may
not traditionally fit into a certain box. I think that comes from my music

Learn more about
VMI’s Cannes lineup here.

More about VMI:

VMI is a worldwide distributor of quality independent film,
documentary and music content with an impeccable reputation in the industry.
Originally founded in 2003, in Sherman Oaks, the company has recently moved its
base to the heart of Hollywood.  VMI prides itself on lasting and loyal
relationships with its producers where the goal is to promote not only the
current production, but also upcoming projects.  The company has an
extensive network of buyers and has cultivated longstanding direct
relationships with the top networks, distributors and releasing companies
throughout the world.  To that end, VMI attends and exhibits at all major
film and television markets including: NATPE, Berlinale, Hong Kong Filmart,
MIPTV, the Cannes Film Festival, L.A.
Screenings, DISCOP, MIPCOM, AFM and ATF in addition to regular sales trips
throughout the world.

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