Lining/queuing up calls for the sales staff. When not at the film markets they can be found working the phones for the majority of the day, chasing up Deal Memos and sending out contracts.
Film sales is the perfect mix of creative flare, business acumen and intuition. If you have all this and a passion for films, working in film sales could be the path for you.
Whilst studying look for internship opportunities. Research all aspects of the industry to know how the film business works and what sales companies do.
Research sales companies and apply for jobs via MFJF and other resources. Make sure you research their body of work, are they aligned with any other companies, producers and filmmakers?
Expect to be working as an assistant/co-ordinator for at least a year before promotion. Take your time as an assistant to understand the markets and how the sales people negotiate them.
Traditionally, film sales companies make deals which place the correct film in the hands of the right distributor dealing in the right market. While this is still true, many sales companies have expanded over recent years to incorporate film finance, production and distribution into their remit. Sales executives are investing in films or sourcing investment, developing scripts, packaging and casting, and essentially acting as producers or at least executive or associate producers, making sales companies far more involved in the filmmaking process than ever before.
The sales executives (also known as sales staff) act on behalf of the company to represent producers and filmmakers who seek a distribution deal. Pre-sales (another term for a distribution deal) before the green light (production) can be a vital asset for filmmakers looking for finance, not only ensuring revenue to enable production, they act as added security to other potential investors such as banks, private investors or co-producers. A distribution deal can also be sought once the film has been made, or is in production.
Film sales executives take the pitch package to the film markets (global film industry events) and proceed to license the theatrical and ancillary rights to a film to distributors around the globe, usually country by country. As part of the package, sales companies also put together a forecast of advances the film could achieve within the marketplace, which gives financiers an idea of what to expect from their investment. This estimate is also known as the Minimum Guarantee, or MG for short. Sales executives work around the clock at the markets to represent the interests of the producers, while simultaneously making sure the distributor is well catered for. Sales companies and distributors are often engaged in long-term relationships, which are grown over time and can be beneficial to both parties at certain times. For example, if a sales company has a challenging film that needs to find a deal or the distributor needs a favor, they often reach reciprocal arrangements. It's important to remember the long-term relationship when negotiating individual deals.
Film markets, not to be confused with festivals (although many film markets and festivals operate in tandem) are not only for viewing and selling films, they attract a cross-section of the filmmaking community who attend events, workshops and networking opportunities. In addition to the film sales companies, you will also find distributors, exhibitors, festival directors, film financiers, lawyers, members of the press, directors, producers, and writers. Producers and the studios use the film markets to keep tabs on upcoming releases and trends, which in turn help plan out their next 18 - 24 months.
The primary film markets are:
European Film Market or EFM (February. Associated with the Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival).
Hong Kong Filmart (March. HK/Asia)
Marché du Film (May. Associated with Cannes International Film Festival).
Toronto International Film Festival (September. Not a formal market but an active informal one. Toronto).
American Film Market or AFM (November. USA).
The markets are currently all at different stages of postponement/rescheduling. To find out more, look at Screen Daily’s list of the international markets and their schedules. On the plus side now is a great time to experience a virtual festival.
Sales execs and assistants prepare and research who is going to the market, setting up meetings and arranging screenings. As a rule, all meetings are by appointment only with sales executives involved in 20 meetings a day. The days can be long for all concerned as the execs strive to stay on schedule and close as many deals as they can.
Before they attend, they will have produced a set of projected sales estimates to go with each script or treatment. Most likely each salesperson will be representing some or all of the company's slate, which means intensive planning and preparation. Part of their prep includes working out how much they can ‘ask’ from the distribution company and how much they are willing to ‘take’ for the rights, also known as the 'highs and lows'. The ‘takes’ are what matter most; this price will form the correct valuation of the project and be the selling point for financiers and investors.
To position the film in the international market place the sales company will create a marketing campaign, making a feature of the talent attached to the project and the track record of the screenwriter and director. The marketing can also involve utilizing teaser artwork, stills, and if the film has been shot, they will cut a sales promo (different from a trailer which is for the public, the promo targets distributors). When they arrive at the market the sales executive will be:
Licensing the rights to the following territories, which break down into five main sectors: North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America and what are classified as ‘others’ (Middle East, Africa and any other country that does not fit into the above 4 ). The “license” is for a particular period, or window, defining the various aspects such as theatrical, TV, DVD/streaming, each has different terms and percentages to be negotiated.
Individual members of the team (usually the MDs or heads of the company) will take meetings and form key relationships with financiers, private equity groups, banks, and members of the national film boards (e.g, Screen Australia, Creative England, National Film Board of Canada). Due to the changing nature of the sales company, they are now handling these relationships to source finance for films alongside sales.
The first step once a deal is agreed is to sign a Deal Memo. This lays out the principle terms of the agreement and is followed up by a more detailed contract known as the Long Form Agreement. Typically the Deal Memo will define: MG (Minimum Guarantee), payment terms, term of contract, territory, holdbacks, division of gross receipts and expected P&A commitment and limitations on spending which can be deducted before revenue sharing.
Once the market is over, sales executives return to the office with a significant amount of paperwork that the assistant is handed. It's then up to the executive to follow up on the Deal Memos and make sure the Long Form Agreement is signed, sealed and delivered.
Finding work at a film sales company can mean applying for internships before you find full-time employment. It’s a very particular area of the industry that might not be suited to everyone. For many candidates, however, it’s the perfect mix of business acumen and creative flair, which can see sales executives going on gut instinct while brandishing a spreadsheet of figures. Opportunities to work in a film sales company can include:
Film sales assistant
Sales and marketing coordinator
Larger sales companies will have some of the departments below, whilst smaller operations may outsource the work to specialist boutique companies. At one of the larger sales companies you can expect to find:
Film sales executives. Salespersons negotiate the licensing of theatrical and ancillary rights with each distributor in each separate territory. They build relationships with global distribution companies and filmmakers.
Acquisition. The primary goal of this team is to bring projects from producers into the company. It's vital for them to build strong filmmaker and producer relationships to ensure that their agency is the producer's home of choice. Members of acquisitions will be reading scripts, following the markets and using internet resources to see what is in production.
Marketing and publicity. The role of the marketing department within film sales fulfills two purposes. Marketing of the sales company itself within the film industry, establishing the company's ‘slate’ and credibility of its personnel to attract attention from producers and financiers. The marketing team will also be responsible for positioning the film in the marketplace. They will pull together materials to place the film in the right light at the festivals and film market. The marketing team in this environment do not market to the film's intended audience, which is the role of the Marketing Department within the distribution company. In this context, they provide the distributor with the materials to do the job, such as:
Produce teasers/sales promos and posters, used to convey some of the key elements of the film such as genre and tone.
If going to market with the completed film a publicist will arrange junkets, press screenings and generate publicity creating a 'buzz' around the film. Getting a film noticed is essential to locking in a deal with a distributor.
Liaising with talent over arrangements for personal appearances and press junkets at film festivals.
Legal and business affairs. This is where you will find the legal team, in smaller companies, this will be outsourced to legal firms or freelance paralegals. A majority of the documentation such as licensing requires tailor-made terms and conditions that need to be factored into each separate contract.
Delivery. This is most often outsourced to a specialist company that assembles, stores and, subject to the Minimum Guarantee being paid to the sales company, delivers to the distributors the physical and digital film elements and marketing materials of the film. This includes the print (film or digital), M & E (music and effects) prints to foreign territories, marketing and the huge amount of documentation necessary to accompany the finished product.
You will be working very closely with sales executives, especially if employed by a larger company with a larger slate. The more there is to manage the more heavily the assistant will be involved in the workload. Regardless of how many films they represent execs work tirelessly to get each film noticed and sold. Some of the tasks you will be called upon to fulfill in your capacity as an assistant will be:
Lining/queuing up calls for the sales staff. When not at the film markets they can be found working the phones for the majority of the day, chasing up Deal Memos and sending out contracts.
Numerous markets and festivals take place throughout the year, not just the top 4. Sales companies will be present at the markets that offer the best opportunity to sell the films they represent on their slate.
This is where your excellent Excel skills will come into play. While this is a tiresome job, foreign distributors often have revolving doors with their staff intake, and they often form mergers or new companies quickly. Therefore it’s vital that sales execs are taking meetings with the most relevant people or businesses for their projects. Updating the company and film entries in external industry databases like Cinando.com and those connected to other markets or trade publications.
This could be collecting documents or dropping off research. The job will be varied in its remit if some of it feels menial just enjoy the time out of the office.
If working with the acquisitions team, you may be called upon to cover film scripts, research the slates of other companies, look at trends or analyze box office figures to see what similar titles have achieved.
While running between the departments, or desks if it is a smaller operation, remember to introduce yourself and get to know everyone.
Outside of the film markets staff members' diaries can still be packed with appointments with producers and production companies; you can be lining up appointments via the phone as well as making reservations or booking meeting rooms in town.
A single salesperson's diary can consist of 7-8 days of back to back 30 min meetings, including lunches, drinks, and dinners. An assistant will need to secure these meetings, confirming them the day before. Managing this schedule with an efficient, ordered system is key to learning who the distributors are and who are the most important.
Space is at a premium at the markets, especially for dinner reservations.
Including printed flyers, brochures, electronic materials like Ipads loaded with trailers and business cards, lots and lots of business cards.
If you are looking to pursue a career as a film sales executive you will most likely hold a degree or have a strong background in sales, business or finance, a love of films and a genuine interest in how the business side of the film industry works.
If you're coming into the film industry as a career change you need to know that your initial experiences at a junior level are not going to be well paid, neither are the internships, so don’t give up the day job just yet. If you already have a strong business background and wish to move your skills into entertainment then internships may not be necessary, but you will need to do your research on the film industry.
You want to be applying for these placements while you are still studying, many of which can be advertised seasonally:
Fall internship dates September.
Winter internship dates November or December.
Spring internship dates January or February.
Summer internship dates June.
An internship should provide you with some tasks and projects to get your teeth into, so the experience has value for the intern and the company. Ask your college about opportunities and use the resources out there to find internships with reputable companies.
As the industry is so compact it's not unusual for companies to ask for recommendations from other companies before advertising a position. A promising intern who was memorable due to their can-do personality, competence and work ethic could easily get a call. Both placements can provide you with a reference for your resume, having someone vouch for you at a reputable company can go a long way.
When working on your resume check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the advice to help create a resume and covering letter, and you can check your resume against our examples to make sure it includes all the relevant information. You're going to want to keep it short and to the point, as many employers will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, so keep it down to one page.
If you see a job advertised elsewhere, find out who to send your resume to and address them directly, this can be as simple as picking up the phone to ask who is in charge of recruitment, HR or the department you wish to enter. If you are applying via a third party, the companies are keeping their details private for a reason, so the above won't apply.
If you can, follow up a week later and check they have your details on file. If you sent a resume without there being a job advertised you will most likely be told they will keep it for future reference, however, you could get lucky and they might be recruiting that week, or you can make a good impression on the phone. Use your common sense and if you get chatting ask for some advice, they might be able to refer you to another company who are looking for staff.
Alongside opportunities listed on MFJF, social media is a great way to find out what companies are up to, and when they are recruiting for positions. Keep an eye on Twitter, LinkedIn and follow what the sales companies are doing at the markets or what films they are representing. While you are researching companies, look at the other areas of the industry where a sales team is employed, such as distribution, film finance and film production companies.
If finances allow, you could go to a film market as a spectator to understand how sales staff operate in the feature film business. There are plenty of panel discussions and seminars that take place, so although unlikely to be offered a job (salespeople will have their schedule and not much time for anything else) you will be provided with an educational visit. This can be a costly enterprise, however, so again, do your research!
Knowledge of how the film industry works is going to be essential when working in film sales, one of the first things you are going to need to be familiar with are the magazines and online resources the industry use for information such as:
Check these websites and get to know how to use them, or how best to search for information. If you're asked in for an interview, you need to be able to demonstrate your eagerness to learn on top of your interest in the industry. If they ask you about the last film you saw, they don't want to know if you watched John Wick on Netflix last night. Employers want to know that you are interested enough in films to pay to see a current release in the cinema (if safe to do so) and know, for example, if it was a critical hit but box office flop. Alongside researching and understanding back to front the Film Value Chain, you may also wish to continue your reading to further your knowledge of film production:
You could also dip into the classic biographies and film industry essential reading such as:
High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood culture of excess. Charles Fleming
You’ll never eat lunch in this town again. Julia Philips
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Peter Biskind
The kid stays in the picture: A Hollywood life. Robert Evans
Taking time to research your chosen occupation is going to inform what you put on your resume and how you present yourself at the interview. When you're asked for an interview make sure you have done your research on the company and how they work, you will also need to know you can answer the fundamental questions such as:
What does a film sales company do?
How is a film financed?
What interests you about film sales – which area of film sales do you like?
What is the process when taking a film from script to screen?
What is the difference between film sales and the Sales Departments in distribution, production companies and finance companies?
When are the film markets on, who goes and which one is best to sell a particular genre of film?
If you wish to work in film sales, you will most likely be looking for a job in a major city, and everyone knows that can be very expensive. So, to provide for yourself while on the search for a full-time job, you're going to have saved money, or you'll need to work in the interim.
Temping can offer you the flexibility to take on internships here and there; you will also get a chance to hone your Excel and office skills. If you take a full-time job make sure you're gaining those skills you need in film sales, keep it relevant to the area of film sales you wish to enter. Working for a Marketing Department in a non-film related industry still enables you to work in the right discipline.
At points, it can feel frustrating when you’re not getting the roles you want. Go back to your resume, think about what you can do to make it better, what experience could you gain in another capacity to start ticking boxes for potential employers. Reflect on the possible reason you're not being chosen for roles; it could be a lack of experience, the way your resume is presented or if you’re sending in generic resumes and covering letters - you should give yourself the best possible chance by tailoring each one to each job role.
Looking for some advice or have a question on careers in this area? Then please get in touch, we are here to help!
If you have a few internships under your belt, you will be looking for assistant roles. The role of office assistant or sales assistant will most likely be your first paid job within film sales. Once you've been working in this capacity for a few years, it’s time to consider branching out.
Working in film sales can offer options as you progress your career. The skills and contacts you make could potentially take you anywhere in the film industry. What you're bringing with you from the sales background is a solid knowledge of what it takes to makes a film work, knowledge of the industry, contacts, business experience, and a grounding in how to sell what is ultimately a concept. You could use your experience in sales to progress as/in:
Sales or acquisitions in distribution.
Head of development or development exec within a production company.
A sought-after and busy sales company is never a quiet place to work. With film markets held every few months all over the world, the work of the sales team is ceaseless, especially if their slate keeps growing. During markets and festivals, the sales office operates at maximum capacity, providing support for the sales executives working away, and dealing with a significant amount of paperwork when they return.
Life in the office between markets will be spent preparing for the next market; researching who is going to be there, what the sales executives need regarding package and marketing materials and researching potential new acquisitions. There should never be a dull moment, especially for junior members of the team whose remit will expand daily to fit the multitude of tasks that can be thrown their way.
As a junior member of the team it may be daunting being confronted with large personalities in the workplace, but try to take it in your stride. When being introduced always make sure you can reciprocate a firm handshake and try to keep eye contact when you say hello. If you have designs on a career in film sales, you are going to need a robust personality.
There are no formal requirements for academic qualifications to work in film sales. However, if you're entering the business side of the film industry with a degree in business, sales, marketing, finance or MBA it can put you at a significant advantage. Higher education can signify to potential employers that you have the required analytical skills to fulfill the role, look closely at any job advertised to see what the requirements are.
Relevant experience will always help your cause, for example, experience working within the broadcast, distribution or a film company within their Sales and Acquisitions Department. If you are entering the workplace at the assistant level; passion, hard work, commitment, and a love for films can hold equal weight. You will find that sales agents love films too and feel passionate about many of the films they represent, so you too need to demonstrate the passion for cinema alongside solid business skills.
Working within the office environment will require you to have strong IT and administrative skills. You would be at an advantage if you have:
Strong knowledge of both Mac and Windows operating systems.
Good working knowledge of MS Office, specifically Excel.
Being able to collate, store and analyze data using the software can become a crucial part of your job.
Knowledge of another language would be useful as you will be dealing with foreign distributors, but it is not essential.
Long Form Agreements.
Make your peace with going on the coffee run and use it to your advantage. The coffee run is an excellent way to introduce yourself to people and strike up a conversation. It's better to be known as the person who gets the coffee than the person no one knows.
It sounds simple but can be harder to master than you may think, especially when you are introduced to the whole office on your first day. Everyone finds their way of remembering, try to find yours.
Learn how to read contracts and watch how senior members of the team negotiate deals. If you get the opportunity, take some time to go through the Deal Memos and see how they are translated into Long Form Agreements.
Develop detailed knowledge of distribution companies around the world, who are the main buyers in each territory. Start by looking at successful indie films on IMDB, then see who represented the film's distribution in each territory.
Study the attendee guide that will come with the badge for the sales executive. Make sure the list tallies up with the one the company will have already if there are any new faces make the executives aware of this.
If you get the chance to go with the sales executives to market take the time to talk to people, as many as you can to find out what they are doing and why. Gather information, but stay focused on carrying out your tasks too.
When kick-starting your career in the film industry, you're going to need to look at a lot of films. If you are working at a sales company, you will need to delve a little deeper when viewing a film. Ask yourself questions such as how much did the film make, why was it received badly by critics but still made money? What was the marketing campaign, was that successful, why?… The list could go on. Analyze films, not only engaging with them as a member of the audience, look through all aspects of why it was successful or why it bombed.
If you want to work as a salesperson, you will need an abundance of enthusiasm and confidence. Enthusiasm for the films you're selling and exceptional people skills for negotiating with first-time business associates and old friends.
Commercial awareness is a skill you can develop over time, but you want to be able to demonstrate that you have a grip on the market, or more importantly can identify what the market is.
If you're a natural networker and socializer, then this can be one of your greatest attributes when working in film sales. If you find social engagements challenging watch how your senior colleagues navigate this process and emulate them. Initially, it may feel a little like acting, but once you have navigated the water a few times you'll find yourself naturally able to strike up a conversation.
Territory. Refers to a country or a group of countries the sales executives will license to the distributor.
Slate. When a company refers to their slate it's in reference to the films they represent.
Pitch package. A selection of contracts, documents, agreements and of course a script or treatment. Attached above the line talent are made a feature of, many films attract a distribution deal on the reputation of a director's last film.
Hot film. A film that is desirable to distributors could be due to cast who have signed on, a notable director with a great track record, finance already in place, all three or more.
Delivery. After the film’s completion, the sales company will only ‘deliver’ the film to the distribution companies once all funds have cleared and paperwork has been signed.
Promo. A teaser that a sales company can show at film markets, not the same as a trailer, which is created or commissioned by the distribution companies for audience consumption. A promo may include uncleared music so may be shown in private but not published on the internet.
Minimum Guarantee (MG). Amount paid by the distributor as an initial (non-refundable) advance against the future share of revenues for the rights to the film.
Payment terms. When and how the MG will be paid e.g 20% on Deal Memo and 80% on Notice of Availability.
Term. How long the distributor will have the rights for.
Division of Gross Receipts. Often called the ‘back end’, it refers to how revenues from each media are split between the producer and the distributor e.g TV 70% to producer and 30% to the distributor.
One Sheet. Executives use these flyers at the film markets, to sum up a film in a nutshell. An image giving the visual representation of the film is on one side, with a treatment and any secured talent laid out on the other. These are becoming less popular for reasons of sustainability and because younger buyers are less inclined to carry away information in paper form that they can find online.
Overage. When the film has recouped all the financial investment and begins to turn a profit.
Deal Memo. Signed by the distributor at the market to be followed up by the sales company. They send out the Long Form Agreement which will be drawn up by the legal team. Until the official contract is signed, the distributor can still back out at any point.
Theatrical rights.The distributor who purchases the theatrical rights to a film has the legal right to work with the theatrical exhibitors (cinemas) to exploit the film (show the film).
Ancillary rights. The ‘ancillary rights’ give the distributor the legal right to use or ‘exploit’ the material (film) in other media after the theatrical release such as TV, VOD, Pay per view, DVD. This may also include creating other forms of content which differ from the original source such as merchandise, soundtrack CD’s, web content, related literature (magazines, novels, comics), etc.
P & A. The print and advertising budget is set by the distribution company.
Comps. Comparing proposed new films to previous ones that have similar a genre, top line cast and directors to predict their future box office performance. This can vary territory to territory due to different audiences' preferences to a certain genre, cast or concept.
Windows. Periods of time during which the film may be exploited (or marketed) in specific media (theatrical, TV etc). Often there is an exclusive "window" for theatrical when VOD and DVD are not available. This is also sometimes called a "holdback" because those media are held back until another medium has had its run. A subscription TV service may have the right to start offering a film on a specific day but be prohibited from marketing the fact that it is upcoming any earlier than a month before. Industry common practice sets most windows, but in some territories, they are established by law. Proponents of simultaneous releasing in all media describe as "the pirate window" the gap between the end of a theatrical run and the legal availability of a film online. Windows are the topic of hot negotiation and heated debate.
Your contract will probably state a standard 40-hour workweek, but film sales can be a very involving occupation. If you are asked to work at a film market, you may be called upon to work longer hours as the sales executives' day is dictated by the schedule, meaning you will follow suit. This could mean you start work at 8 am until at least 7 pm, and then potential screenings, networking drinks and dinners. If you are back in the office, you will most likely be working your hours with an hour lunch break to boot. Expect to start work at 9.30 am and finish at 6.30 pm.
Film festivals and markets are often a hectic two weeks of meetings, handshaking and deal-making. It’s going to be noisy, packed to the rafters and if it’s your first time at one of the big three you are going to need a map! If you're working for a company that are regular attendees you will most likely have been involved in pre-booking everything; meetings, restaurants, evening drinks, films, events and panel discussions.
If you do attend a festival or film market, it will most likely be the EFM or Marché du Film. You will normally work over weekends at these events and can be unlikely to receive time off in lieu. The EFM held in Berlin is going to be chilly, actually not just chilly close to freezing. Take a good winter coat and make sure everything is waterproof, turning up to the next meeting drenched is not a great start. If you get a chance to watch some films while you're there you’re going to be glad of that coat, as the queues can meander around the block. The EFM spreads itself out over the city so take comfortable shoes as you will be doing a fair amount of walking, but what a city to walk around!
On the flip side, Cannes will be extremely warm, extremely busy and held in an extremely small area. The small town with a population of 75,000 will hold anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 extra people during peak times of the festival/market. Take everything you would associate with summer, sunscreen, hats and once again equip yourself with a map and a good pair of shoes; if you are feeling very organized a light raincoat. If you get a chance take a step back from the festival to appreciate the beauty of Cannes, it’s a slice of the French Riviera that is steeped in history and a glamour of its own that can’t be replicated.
The producer's rep is mainly found in the US dealing with domestic distribution, leaving US salespeople to deal with international.
Despite the overlaps between the roles of the sales company and rep, they can perform two very separate functions. The rep will become involved with a project in its infancy and can help the producer to:
Help put the ‘package’ together to take to market, or the sales executive to sell internationally.
Help a producer develop the sales strategy.
Offer advice on which festivals to enter, being able to identify which festival or category in the festival the film may fit.
At a festival or market, they can help with publicity and set up screenings.
If the producer is new to feature filmmaking a rep can work with the sales company, using their experience to assess the offers received from distributors.
If the producer is happy the rep may be able to negotiate deals on the producer's behalf, thus negating the need for a sales company. For this to happen a great deal of trust would need to be bestowed upon the rep.
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