GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “NYDENION” AT EFM 2011: ANATOMY OF SELLING AN INDIE FILM

Greetings from Berlin! After flying home to Los Angeles from the Super Bowl in Dallas last Tuesday, I wasn’t even home for twelve hours before I had to repack and catch a flight to Berlin. Edward Stencel and I are here for the European Film Market (EFM), which runs concurrent with the Berlin Film Festival.

We came here primarily to hold a film buyers screening for  Nydenion, a Sci-Fi film we represent. In fact, Nydenion was the focus of my October 5, 2010 article titled “‘Nydenion,’ a German Sci-Fi?”

In the previous article, I detailed how Edward and I flew to Frankfurt, Germany to see a private screening of Nydenion with the filmmakers in order to strategize how to roll it out.

Today’s article focuses on initiating the worldwide sales process for Nydenion, a highly sought after independent Sci-Fi film. Should you wish to gain a more complete understanding of how this fifteen-year labor of love was developed, produced and the process in which we acquired it, you may want to check out the earlier article linked above.

So, for all of you filmmakers who wonder how your international distributor/sales agent sells your film, here are some key points to the selling process:

Position The Film Early So Film Buyers Can Track It
When my company signed Nydeniona year ago at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, we knew it was still one year away from being completed. However, we contacted sever key film buyers to alert them of our acquisition, and to have them put it on their 2011 calendar of films to keep an eye on. It also didn’t hurt that our acquisition of Nydenion got some ink in Screen International during the EFM and Berlin Film Festival last year, which created a nice buzz for the film with worldwide buyers who were in Berlin at the time.

Have An Easy To Navigate, Ass-Kicking Website
Nydenion has a great website, www.nydenion.com It’s detailed, dynamic, and it allows visitors to track the progress of the film and learn the specifics on what it took to put together. The website also highlights a cool trailer for the film, and it’s offered in both German and English.

Although my company had zero to do with building the website, (the filmmakers did it themselves), it has certainly become a healthy sales tool for us because we can guide our buyers to it, knowing that they’ll admire its professionalism.

Truth be told, if a website for a film we’re representing sucks, we won’t even mention it to our buyers. A bad website can only reduce the value of your film. This is because film buyers will assume the quality of the film is no better than the quality of the website. Thus, Just remember while your film’s website is not a key reason for it’s value to be higher or lower, it certainly is a factor that can do you harm if it’s not well done.

Know The History Of Selling A Film With A Trailer
In the early 1980’s to early 1990’s, far before I was in distribution (I was in junior high, high school and college), international distributors/sales agents could easily sell indie films based on their trailer. In fact, many distributors would lay down $500,000 or more in cash at film markets, as an advance to filmmakers for the VHS or international rights, based on their trailers. The problem was most of the filmmakers either ran off with the cash and never finished the film, or they made the film at a far less quality level than the trailer was made. Distributors eventually grew wise to getting burned by paying for something incomplete, so they changed the rules of the game and demanded to see the film in its entirety before they would pay for it.

Trailers: Show It Don’t Say It
English is not the primary language for most film buyers worldwide, so your trailer has to convey the story of your film with visuals, not words. Most buyers won’t even pay attention to the dialogue in your trailer. Instead, they’ll just analyze how well the scenes convey the story, because your film will have to work as a dubbed film in the language of their home country.

Send A Well Made, Fast-Moving Trailer To Key Buyers
Soon after Edward {Stencel} and I saw a rough cut on Nydenion in Frankfurt last October, we started sending an awesome trailer to key buyers in order to showcase the film’s quality. This is a move you only take when you know your buyers will like what they see, because sending them a sub-par trailer will kill your sales beyond belief.

Set Up A Market Screening At A Major Film Market
Since Nydenion is a German film, it made sense for us to have its initial market screening for buyers here at the EFM during the Berlin Film Festival. Scheduling such a screening not only plants your film in the grid of films available to film buyers attending the market, but it also gets your film listed in several trade magazines like Screen International and The Hollywood Reporter as a new film for sale. While market screenings are not cheap, they are a useful too to initiate your sales.

Blow Up Your Rolodex Prior To Your Screening
We sent out a flier about Nydenion to nearly 7,000 qualified buyers worldwide, a few weeks prior to our screening. Luckily, the response was extremely positive, as we fielded several hundred e-mails of interest from various buyers worldwide. In fact, the response was so strong, that we had firm offers for the film from multiple territories, before our screening actually occurred. I assume getting offers before the screening occurred for two major reasons: 1) the film is very well made, and 2) Sci-Fi is a sure-fire genre that is currently the easiest genre to sell.

Your Screening Should Occur Early On In The Market
Our screening for Nydenion was on the first evening of the EFM, which positively affected our attendance. In fact, I was quite pleased with the healthy turnout we enjoyed at our screening. But, I’m well aware that our attendance would have suffered mightily if our screening had occurred beyond the fifth day of the ten-day market.

To clarify, the EFM/Berlin Film Festival began on Thursday, February 10, 2011 (the night we held our screening). Since the world economy is still down, distributors and buyers have less money to spend on their travel. Thus, they are now leaving film markets and film festivals far earlier than in previous years.

What this means is if your film is screening past Monday at a market that started on the previous Thursday, fewer buyers will attend. While a Tuesday slot may not be devastating, a screening on Wednesday or beyond is a total waste of time, energy and money, because no buyers will be there to see it.

Field Offers And Sign Agreements
Several solid offers from buyers flowed in for Nydenion after our screening. This is a relief, since I always hold my breath during our market screenings, because you never know how buyers will react to the finished product. But after the positive reaction we received over “Nydenion,” I can say with absolute certainty is that this film will play in several countries.

Our job now is to not only earning the filmmakers the most money we can from international sales, but also to place them with reputable distributors whose contracts are fair and reasonable. Don’t laugh, because such entities are out there. In fact, I’ve worked with several of them for over five years.

As we wind down this edition of Going Bionic, I wish each and every one of you filmmakers out there the same response from film buyers that Nydenion is currently getting. While I can’t say that Nydenion creator/director Jack Moik and his team is lucky,  (they deserve every bit of their success), I can say their timing of completing a well-made indie Sci-Fi at a time when indie Sci-Fi’s are really hot, is impeccable.  But then again, most successes in life are about having the right timing. Here’s to you having the timing needed for your next film to go global!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentines Day and as always, I thank you for lending me your eyes. See you next Tuesday!




Posted on February 15, 2011 in Features, Going Bionic by
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2 Comments on "GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “NYDENION” AT EFM 2011: ANATOMY OF SELLING AN INDIE FILM"

  1. Film Slate Magazine on Mon, 21st Feb 2011 11:25 am 

    Love your features – this is such a great resource on producing and distributing a feature-film.


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  2. anon on Wed, 11th Apr 2012 3:28 am 

    I think if guys behind nydenion had done their film with open attitude of Star Wreck/Iron Sky they would have got a lot more publicity and probably release contracts as well. Currently Iron Sky has been sold for 70 countries (8 theatrical releases at least) and film made 2,3 mil.€ just during release weekend. Good equation for film of 7,5 mil.€


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