So, at the advice of filmmaker Jonathan Skurnick, we submitted "Bible Storyland" to Docs for Sale in Amsterdam which runs as part of the International Documentary Film Festival.
"Bible Storyland' did not run in the festival, so we were able to focus on the market. Though it would have been nice to be included in the festival - (we weren't done in time to make the deadline - and wanted to wait to hear back from Sundance in any case) it was a very good thing that we went to Docs for Sale.
I loved meeting the other filmmakers who had films in the festival, but I thought we actually had an advantage at the market by not being in the festival - we didn't have to hustle to get audiences for our screenings - or be present for Q&A's. We just had to get to know the players looking for films.
SO: if you finish your film in late August, early September and if you want to get a distributor or a sales agent for your film then apply to Docs for Sale. If you get in, then go. We made posters and brought large post cards. Both were useful. We considered making tee shirts and making buttons etc and in the end, I think small buttons might have been nice, but tee shirts would have been too much. There were some American filmmakers who were very aggressively handing out buttons and marketing material and that was not looked on favorably by the European vibing attendees.
We got there the day before Docs for Sale Opened, it's good to get there as early in the day as your jet lag will allow so you can hang up your posters in prime spots in the Docs for Sale room. Consider putting up postcards in the bathrooms as well. Now - here's the real inside scoop - the first few days of Docs for Sale are pretty quiet. You can bring your computer into the docs for sale room and send emails to people you'd like to meet - or you can see a little bit of the city. Just be sure to do two things: 1) sign up for the meetings offered (I think they start a day or two into the DFS) and 2) show up for the cocktail parties. If you do hang around DFS in the day - your time will not be wasted, you may meet some of those folks you were just trying to email. It definately picks up as the week goes on - so best to plan to be there as much as possible to maximize your travel budget.
Okay - a quick run down: who is there and why do you care?
Attending DFS are: 1) filmmakers (that would be you!) 2) Festival Programmers 3) Sales Agents, 4) Distributors 5) Commissioning Editors and Buyers 6) consultants and reps from digital world
You want Festival Programmers to know about you so they put you in their festivals.
What is the difference between a Sales Agent and a Distributor? Well it's a slippy slidey question with most folks considering themselves on a continuum. Consider this: on one end of the continuum is a small operation who reps films to buyers all over the world. These Buyers can be channels in European cable networks - or on "public television" in Europe and around the world. A distributor (at the other end of the continuum) Also has ways of "getting your material out there) i.e. their own channel - or VOD (video on demand) capability etc. But they might also be selling rights.
So - at a place like Docs for Sale - while it might be nice to get say, a danish television channel that resonates to your material and has "slots" to fill to get to see your film, (a buyer) what you are really looking for is the man or woman who knows all these people and is willing to take your project to all of them. Yes, you are looking for a sales agent or a distributor.
The other thing that might be nice, is that if you have a new project or a partially done project you can talk to the commissioning editors. Now most commissioning editors are pretty well sewn up by the time you get there - and the real place to be pitching them at IDFA is THE FORUM - which is a pitching session where you will be able to pitch your project (complete with edited footage) and have feedback from commissioning editors. To get into The Forum, you should check the IDFA site and see - it's required to apply months before, and spots are highly coveted. Good luck!
Okay - so back to searching for your sales agent: Basically you are looking for a good fit - someone who will resonate to your project who "gets" your film. Also you are looking for someone you can communicate with, and who you feel comfortable talking with. Finally you are looking for someone who checks out when you research them with other filmmakers and other people in the industry.
What worked for me:
1) being around every party
2) being personable - just introducing myself.
3) not being pushy, just kind of fun, but ready to talk about my film. Even to name drop a little:
"So and so loved it" was a line I actually used upon meeting a potential sales agent.
4) having graphics/cards that really convey your film that attract attention of people so they can know to check out your film
I ended up having to leave before the end of the festival - but before I did, I had three offers of representation, two from a sales agents and one from a distributor. In the week that followed the agent I wanted the most also made an offer.
So - you've got an offer - what next?
With an offer of distribution and a sales agent offer what to do? Well we were advised to hire the sales agent to negotiate the distribution deal. Where to get advise? Well there is plenty out there - that will be another posting.
One person advised us to go to more festivals before we accepted these deals. While that might work for some people, for us, I decided that I'd rather go into a festival premiere with representation. Why? Because the filmmakers who were repped were filling houses, getting articles written about them and were the tops of the views by the folks from channels and festivals. Because they had great films? Maybe. But it certainly didn't hurt them to have veteran reps shepherding their films through the forest of other films that are there at the festival - so I've concluded that given the options, I'd much rather go into a festival with my guy then wait to hear from someone else. AND another thing - I think that not enough people in film get rewarded by making a move on something good before there is a run on it - so when someone is ready to make a move - I say it should be rewarded!
I will let you know who we are moving forward with as soon as the deal is finalized, but in the mean time, I hope this helps someone ten months from now trying to decide whether it's a good idea to spend money and go to Amsterdam.
Oh - AND - IDFA/Docs for Sale had many Industry oriented panels that were very helpful - specifically the one on digital distribution. I will dig up my notes on that and do my best to share.