MMP 2012

Film Sales Event



Mannheim Nov 13th 2012

The responsibilities of an ISA (International Sales Agent)

Stelios Ziannis


Market Attendance - at the five most important Markets with a stand brings up a financial outlay of approx €50,000 for an ISA (International Sales Agent). This cost is shared as expenses among clients, amounts varying according to the newness of the film.  

Berlinale: (stand cost 4000 euros, accommodation 1500, market screenings: 1500, ads: 2000, print 1000, + registration fees travel, preparation,) = 13,000 euros. MIPTV _= 5,000 euros Cannes Marché = 13,000 euros MIPCOM  = 5,000 euros AFM = 13,000 euros Festivals - You can also add visits to Toronto, Venice, Sundance, Hong Kong and Busan Festivals for sales purposes. Festivals can take up precious time and cost nerves and too much money….
And by the way, the figures above are nearer minimum scale than average….

Potential representative expenses at markets and festivals can be high. Stand and design costs, screenings and accommodation need pre-payment up to 6 months in advance, then there are flights ,meals, communications costs to take care of, appointments, possible receptions, dinners, press, promotion, advertising etc, - only a part of which can  be covered from public funds or perhaps even from a production budget.

Dr. Gabriele Röthemeyer

Public Support - There are some public funds, e.g. in Germany, who give support to films in competition at festivals , and sometimes parts of publicity and marketing costs incurred by the ISA can be off-laid. The Media programme is a donor, and the European Film Promotion gives support for certain markets such as Busan, Toronto or Hong Kong. Funds such as MFG can support local titles out of a pot of €600,000 which includes all local theatrical  distribution and some ISA support for MFG connected titles. (data as supplied on the day by Dr. Gabriele Röthemeyer, head of Baden Württemberg’s MFG Film Fund). In other countries limited sales support might be available from national promotion funds – popular figures quoted are between 5 and 10,000 euros.

Acquisition of Titles - interest can take place (and often should) start early in the production process. Very often an ISA will not commit fully before rough-cut stage, unless they were already involved in setting up co-production or other financing. Most often an ISA will choose a title he/she is suitable for. Some decisions even come “by heart” – but that mustn’t happen too often.

Sales Network - Agents have a world–wide network of clients and buyers. This grows with time, experience and the quality of titles handled, as ISA credibility increases.

Distributors - very much prefer to be in contact with sales agents than with producers. Longer-term relationships are established and groomed. Producers will be one-offs and too personal, agents will show more professional  understanding for the individual distributor and their needs.

Promotion - Agents send out materials, screeners, mailings, design posters, one-sheets, etc.

Co-production – is considered  a door opener and in fact more co-productions make it to European screens than domestic productions. (AV Observatory stats). This is also because practically all films today are co-productions of one form or another.   

Negotiation - Agents work out best price

Agreements - Agents prepare contracts and know what to look for in each individual case.

Sometimes the right kind of legal expert needs to be involved.

Materials delivery - the right materials in the right place at the right time….

Payment collectioncan take up time.

Reporting - regular reporting and updating

Payments to Producer – minus Agent expenses of course…

FAZIT: “it would be good for a producer to sell his own film worldwide at least once in his life to make the experience. Or have his production budget include €50,000 for sales.”

Javier de la Fuente


1. ISA Attributes

Product and Library: An ISA has a line-up of new titles and a catalogue of films to attract clients – not only one film.

Producer Time : When selling, a producer is not doing his/her job

ISA Expertise:  Giving the film to a sales agent the producer gains the expertise of the agency.

Sales network: The ISA has a portfolio of customers – most producers don’t. And new clients contact the ISA and demand to be shown new product.

Sales presence: ISA’s attend film markets and festivals all over the world, mostly with a marketing investment: sales stand, posters, displays, advertising… This gives visibility to the film ..and the agent.

ISA packaging expertise: Sales to TV channels and all rights clients. The package with stronger title(s)  is also one of the few tools to sell a bad or unpopular film.

ISA specialisation: Specific clients such as Inflight companies enjoy relationships with steady suppliers, not so much one-offs. The same can be said for pan-regional clients such as satellite TV channels. In-flight companies can mean good income.

Festival service: A Sales Agent’s Festival department will create a Festival strategy, based on longer-term relationships and a given film’s attributes. There is also the question of optimizing the balance between screening fee income with attendance invitations for the director and/or producer.

Ease of communication: ISA teams are mostly multilingual.

Films age quickly: The ISA accelerates the sales process as well as issue Agreements, looking after payments, and delivery logistics. The “fresh” film goes through an initial sales

process and then has a further life as a catalogue title.

Servicing and Delivery: (nightmare). Once the Producer has delivered the Master to the ISA, (one delivery), the ISA has to take care of a myriad of formats, copies, auxiliary materials, special requests or restrictions…

Sales knowhow: The ISA can show the critical sales points of a film to buyers, who often see hundreds of titles a year.

2. What might make a producer hesitate to give his film to an ISA?

  • The producer can be afraid to lose visibility among the other films offered by the ISA
  • Seeing the ISA commission as a loss, or unfairly high
  • Fear of an unfair agreement with the ISA
  • No advance from the ISA (Latido in fact pay m.g.’s for less than 25% of their line-up, and of the recent ones it was an Oscar Foreign Film prize-winner, so it was special in every way.)
  • recoupment of expenses that “never end” and bring no money
  • initial delivery expense and administration


Katayoon Shahabi

Katayoon Shahabi has both worlds: she is a producer and her own salesperson. She started as a sales agent  (the first in Iran) . This gave her direct contact to clients and the market, but she failed to make her producers understand what would make them more successful. So she decided, with 12 years sales experience to become a producer who follows the market as well as stays integral to her own aims.

Selling her own productions, she says, she starts with a better insight of each film’s strengths and weaknesses, and subsequently promotes them better. As her own sales agent she has more security that her film is under optimal care. At the beginning it was very difficult to play both roles, so the number of projects was limited severely. Then there was the problem of different theatres of operation: as a sales agent you have to be present at all the markets to gain continuum. and to keep evaluating every change in trends. As a producer you need focus and no outside disturbance, with a sole concern to finish a film properly. You need a competent staff to work on sales and festivals when an active production needs more attention.

Financially it helps to do both activities together – when a film is finished and ready to sell, the income helps enormously for investment in the next production. Producing the wrong film can finish you, however, and too much money can be spent on sales effort.

Taking part in both activities is for people who like both challenges – a sales agent for example will miss out on the creation of an idea for a film and its execution, while when it is finished and being sold that is also part of the process of sharing that transforms the original idea to reality.

However it is necessary to spend a long time in sales before becoming a producer  with their own sales effort. Trust between producer and agent, Shahabi contends, bases on mutual respect of the film involved, teamwork and a good sense of communication.

Voices from the floor


Pavlina Jeleva

“There  is a path to be walked from both directions” – Pavlina Jeleva from Bulgaria on the subject of “East” and “West” European film product handled by sales agents. “Why aren’t some form of minimum guarantees being paid by Sales agents to help producers approach sales from a better psychological standpoint?” Ziannis’ answer: “When we paid mg’s, even small ones, we never could recoup them, so we were losing two ways…”

Rudi Teichmann


"The collecting agency is a tool of control between producer and sales agent" - Rudi Teichmann (Berlin). "Sales agents are specialized and a producer should try to judge which ISA fits his film best. Once out of a hundred times a producer has a film which is so special it can work without a sales agent - the example being 'Trollhunter' from Norway, that went to Universal for a sum 'larger than the production cost' after a festival screening in the US.


William Furnivall

"Producers often have over-inflated expectations." - William Furnivall (Cosmosis). "And occasionally veracity among ISAs can also be a problem. There can very little meeting room in between. It is up to the producer to do his or her homework to find the most suitable instrument for their purpose and then go and do the right deal."


Ben Gibson

Ben Gibson
(London) - "The higher end arthouse ISAs may give you no up-front, but (opinion shared by Latido - ed.) their knowhow, inspiration, and trading clarity serve instead. And you need to make that choice as a producer. You only pre-buy something as a sales agent or distributor if someoneelse is going to take it...otherwise if you put your hand into your pocket you may end up bankrupt if you pre-buy things when someone else doesn't want to buy them."

Frank Stavik

Would Frank Stavik (Fidalgo, Norway, theatrical distributor) buy a film from a producer? A loud NO. Buying from a sales company is much less work, he adds. Check the agreement and once any changes have been negotiated, sign it and continue. Buying from a producer often involves having to write the sales agreement oneself, and then the whole nightmare of following up with inadequate control of materials etc.  

Aylin Derinsu

Whereas Aylin Derinsu (Filmpool, Austria, theatrical distributor) says YES. "It'll likely be cheaper and you can avoid the wise worldliness of the sales agent - ready to take the risk."