Every year hundreds of films are sold before they’re actually made. This process is called pre-sales. The way pre-sales works is a distributor basically loves the marketing potential of your film project and buys distribution in their region/territory in advance. As the film producer, you then use that money to make your film, or use the money to get more money.
A independent film’s budget is more of a crutch than an asset. If a filmmaker brags about how little the film was made for, he might screw himself out of a nice five-figure advance. If a film cost too much, distributors may not want to buy it. Best case scenario is for the filmmaker to shoot the best-looking film possible with as much production value as can be mustered on the budget.
Here are five tips to consider when looking for pre-sales or international distribution.
- International distributors who might offer an advance on a film in exchange rights to certain territories don’t care abut the budget of the film. All they care about is how much money they can make. In fact, a distributor doesn’t care if the filmmaker gets his/her budget back during distribution. It’s not their problem because they don’t have to pay the investors back. Distributors get paid regardless. Remember that when budgeting the film.
- International distributors see value in explosions, car chases, exterior shots, etc. A dead giveaway of a low-budget film is the lack of exterior shots, overhead shots, etc. Low budget films seem crowded. To make a film seem bigger than it is shoot outside, shoot on a soundstage with overhead angles, blow something up, add action or fight sequences and use as many extras as possible.
- is a scenario to be avoided at all costs. Since perception is everything in Hollywood, it’s important to always be seen as a success. Simply put, having the perception of being a person who made a micro-budgeted film that turned a profit is far more impressive than being seen as a person who made a healthy budgeted indie film that tanked.
- Keep the budget secret. Don’t tell anyone how little the budget was for the film. All it takes is one slip during an interview or one Tweet with your budget and that information cannot be retrieved. Many indies have seen their offers rescinded after the distributor found out that they were paying $30,000 for $5000 film.
- International sales agents will cut your budget by 50% before they make an offer. In consideration of this is best to make your film look twice as expensive as it actually was (see #2).
- Making an excellent $10,000 film doesn’t translate to making an excellent $10,000,000 film unless the $10,000 film actually made $10M. When negotiating presales, trying to rest on previous laurels of making a hot $10,000 film won’t translate into million-dollar budgets. The little film you made three years ago may com back to haunt you. Never ever list a film’s budget.