Friday, December 6, 2013

Making Foreign Sales for Indie Films Yourself

Looking back at my indie films and how they performed in both the domestic and foreign markets, I am coming away with the thinking that we need a much better system for selling small independent films into the foreign markets.

Duh!, you say. And rightly so. I am a broken record but it really hits home when you personally experience the inequities that exist for small indie films.

It's such a struggle to find a foreign sales agent to take on a small indie film. And once you do find that company, they will present you with deals that don't have you earning any money until after they have recouped tens of thousands of expenses.

I understand there are expenses to travel the world and sell titles to foreign buyers but indie films can't bear tens of thousands of expenses. Too often all of your revenue is eaten up by these expenses. So you spend years making a movie and then you get excited to share it with the world and earn some money to pay your investors and yourself only to find out that ALL the money is lining the pockets of your sales agents. It's a harsh reality and one that needs to change.

So how do we sell our small indie films into the foreign markets without foreign sales agents? That is the question.

Sure, you can email foreign distributors and ask them if they want to consider your title. I have had some success doing this and I have sold one of my small films myself in a foreign territory in the past. But what happens if you do reach out to foreign buyers yourself and you aren't able to get any deals that way either?

I don't have all the answers - yet. But I'm working on it.

Right now, I am seriously considering sites like IndieReign or Distrify. I just have to get to that point where I feel that our title has a chance to reach a large audience through these sites. I have a couple of shorts on IndieReign right now. Their performance isn't great but they are shorts and I don't have time to actively promote them so their underperforming is largely my fault. I think a feature that I and my team actively promote will do much better.

The fear is that you load your film on these sites and then you have no way to market the film to an audience in these global territories and then your film lies idle in that territory. At least with a deal through a foreign sales agent, you are assured of getting your film distributed and exposed to an audience in the territories they sell. The problem is you may never see any revenue from that sale.

So is it better to get exposure through your foreign sales agent's deals and the real possibility of seeing no revenue or is it better to control the rights yourself, approach foreign distributors yourself and/or put it on a site like IndieReign, and take the possibility of getting little exposure and the high probability of little to no sales? It's a Catch-22 to be sure.

I'm leaning toward controlling my own foreign rights on the small indie films I make. I have great appreciation for the work of foreign sales agents. But they are best for larger films that have the ability to garner major sales. And I think they would agree with me.

When it comes to small indies, I'm thinking it's better for me to control the foreign and establish my own way of selling into these markets through relationships I establish or through marketing efforts we employ.

The upside to a site like IndieReign is that you do control the rights to your film. The success of your film is up to you and you can get creative on how to promote your film on these kinds of sites.

The downside is that once you expose your film in that foreign territory, you run the risk of that country's distributors never wanting your title in the future because you have already exposed it in their territory. A sale to a major distributor in one country can be significant to your bottomline so you don't want to take this decision lightly.

In the end it comes down to a fear of the unknown - could you one day get a sale in that foreign country so hold onto those rights or is it better to take your chances on a self-distribution platform and risk the sale to a distributor? It's a tough question.

Whatever you do, you need to think about the best interest of your film and investors. Do your research and come to an educated opinion about what the best path may be for your title.

I am definitely a risk-taker and I think we may be ready to embark on the road less taken and start making our films available in foreign territories ourselves. We just need to make that leap!

Has anyone else been able to sell foreign themselves? What are your stories?


Kobi said...

Hi Jane, great post with a lot of great value for filmmakers! We encourage you to consider selling your next feature on Distrify, we are selling all over the world, and we're the only platform to offer 8 different languages including Japanese, and the only platform enabling viewers to choose from 20 different currencies.

janekk said...

Hi Kobi,
I'd love to learn more. Could you email me at Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, Kim from IndieReign here. We also geoblock, which allows for distribution worldwide. We're more than happy to see how we can help you promote your films that are already on our site and give some advice around your next feature. Give us a bell on kim at indiereign dot com.

Unknown said...

Hi Jane,

Your dilemma is my dilemma -- has been for a long time.

Great piece.

I've sold some foreign territories with varying degrees of success. The problem is always the sales agent's inflated expenses versus returns.

The majority of foreign sales agents are not honest. The honest ones are not handling indie films without 'names' these days, especially not if you need to be returning between 30 - 50K in licensing per key territory.

I have been reading about both Distrify and IndieReign and, for me, they represent a potentially lucrative option. I'd like to see some real figures on what's being returned to producers, though. Just getting your film "out there" doesn't put food on the table. I'd rather have a film sit on my shelf that have it tied up for years without any chance of new revenue.

In all circumstances, once you've signed away your rights in any territory, you're shut out of that territory for the licensing period. If your sales agent isn't pulling their weight or is gobbling expenses, it's an unpleasant place be in.

As I'm about to embark on a trio of features over the next 12 months, distribution options are definitely part of my daily conversation.

The on-line hub model may be workable, but I have little faith in new avenues such as Netflix for producers. Returns there are pretty abysmal. There are other avenues emerging such as hubs dedicated to indie films where studio films are not your 'competition'.

VOD? Lots of potential if aggregators don't swallow up your revenue.

janekk said...


It's tough to know which path to take. At some point, you have to make an educated decision on which direction to go in and then give it your all.

Good luck with your projects!