It’s the middle of August 1993, I had the final cut of L.A. Wars, I still needed to complete the post production on the film, edit the audio, add sound effects and music, do the color correction and so on. But, I was broke, I only had $25 left in my bank account, I remember that day very well. So now what?
I had to move fast, I reached out to everyone I knew and worked with in the past. I was in luck, Mark Morris our cinematographer and an investor in L.A. Wars, knew of a Bill Donnelly, a producer’s representative whom represented a well known indie producer and director Andy Sidaris at the time, and since Mark worked and shot many of Andy’s films, Andy got us a meeting with Bill. Bill liked our film so much and became our producer’s rep, and he hooked us up with Atlas International the same sales company that was selling Andy’s films. Atlas was excited about our film, they agreed to sell it to distributors on our behalf at all the international film markets.
The deal I made with Atlas was for international sales rights only, I kept the rights for the USA and Germany as we had buyers already lined up through Bill, our producer’s rep. Atlas advanced me $50,000 to complete the post production and guaranteed me a minimum of $250,000 in sales revenues, meaning, if they do not sell for that amount, they will pay me the difference.
So it’s the end of August, Atlas wanted to start selling the film on November 1st at the Mifed Film Market in Milan, Italy. I had only two months to complete it, many doubted I will have it ready, but I really worked day and night on it, with the sound house, the composer and the film lab, it is a complex process and usually takes 4-6 to months for independent films to complete. I managed to pull it off, and I finished it on time.
The film lab setup a screening for me at their facility to see the film. Although I was exhausted at the time, but I tell you what, it was exhilarating to sit there and watch it. It all started with me just having a story in my head, and after 7 months of bringing so many people and elements together, and all the hard work, it paid off ꟷ I had a movie. At that moment, I felt I was in movie heaven, it just was magical.
On October 30th, I was on a plane to Milan with the film print in my hand, literally I carried it the whole trip. The next day, I am at the film market, I go and deliver the film to the projection room because Atlas booked a screening for the buyers, the screening was a success, I remember just standing there looking at all these buyers watching my movie, I had the biggest smile on my face, that was a moment I will always cherish.
After the screening the buyers started coming to Atlas’s booth, we started getting offers. Dieter Menz, the owner of Atlas is an amazing man, he allowed me to negotiate the prices with the buyers, he figured I was so passionate about my film, and I can get to the buyers and engage them, his method worked. We started selling and we were on our way. I also closed Germany and the USA at the market, I was in the hallway outside the booth negotiating, I sold Germany for $80,000 and the USA for $85,000. So only from these 2 territories we made our money back and that was my first experience in film sales and distribution.
At Mifed 1993, in the hallway outside the booth closing the sale to Germany for $80,000.
When all was done, L.A. Wars cost us about $216,000, and the sales revenues were $465K; we got $165K from Germany and the USA, and $300K from the rest of the world.
But the investors and I we did not make all that profit, we had to deduct and pay for commissions and marketing expenses. Atlas’s sales commission was 15% from the $300K = $45K, producers’ rep commission 10% of $465K = $46.5K, marketing costs $35K, and we had to blow up the film negative from 16mm which the film was shot on, to 35mm, so it can be played in theaters, that cost an additional $35K, all the deductions came up to $161.5K.
Our profit was $87.5K, I kept 50% = $43.75K as the producer and the rest was divided among the investors. It wasn’t a large amount of money as profit for the investors, but they got their money back as well. Also let’s not forget the crew who invested their work in the film, they got paid their rates in addition to the profits, so overall everyone was happy.
That was $161.5K in deductions. Atlas had to take out ads in film industry magazines, do screenings, print posters and press kits, make screening copies to give to buyers and additional needed distribution materials. Some of the items they over spent on, for example; blowing up the negative to 35mm was not really necessary as we only sold it to S. Korea, so the one sale did not justify the cost, they over printed posters and press booklets, that additional money they spent came out of our profit at the end.
Believe me, I am grateful and thankful that Atlas believed in the film and advanced us money to finish the film and got it sold for us worldwide, and I have to say I was lucky to have worked with them because they were very honest and always paid on time. It just the crew and l worked hard on the film, we saved so much money on everything and then to see all that extra money being spent on unneeded items, hurts a little.
That was one of the reasons I decided to open my own sales and distribution company, so I may take control of the finances of my films.
Few tips that I can share with filmmakers when signing with a sales agent that might help them:
- Many filmmakers are just anxious to get their films out to the public, and end up making a bad deal in the process, you have invested time and money in your film, you have to make sure the deal is fair and at the end you get a return on your investment.
- Do your homework, research sales agents, look at distribution fees, put caps on market expenses, what happens if they cannot sell the film, ask questions, it’s your right.
- Do not go at it alone when you enter into a distribution agreement with a sales agent, you spent all this money to make a movie, what’s few hundred dollars to have an entertainment attorney on your side to protect you, do not be “penny wise and a pound foolish”.
- It’s important that you keep your investors in the loop, and more important make sure that whatever deal you make has their best interest in mind. Pay them back their money, otherwise no one will ever invest with you again.
- Be humble and nice, nice guys do not finish last. “I know I repeat this in every part of my story, because it always helped me and never failed me”.