Our International Sales Agent (ISA) of the Day coverage is back again for this year's Cannes Film Festival. We will feature successful, upcoming, innovative and trailblazing agents from around the world, and cover the latest trends in sales and distribution. Beyond the numbers and deals, this segment will also share inspirational and unique stories of how these individuals have evolved and paved their way in the industry, and what they envision for the new waves in global cinema. 

Andre Relis
Andre Relis, President of VMI, shares how he stumbled into film from his life as a punk rock singer and got the bug for international sales. Relis's passion makes it easy to understand why international sales in the film industry are so important. This year's Cannes Film Festival is more than exciting for VMI, as it will be its largest festival lineup so far, including Kat Candler's highly regarded film Hellion

With eight new films at Cannes, Relis is a perfect example of nontraditional entry into the film business, hard work and innovative approaches to content and business.

How did you get into International Sales?

It's kind of interesting how I got into film distribution. It's not really traditional. I used to be a singer for a punk band. I was a musician for ten years, and how I got into this whole thing was we got a record deal from a very small label called Overall Records, and the owner of the record company was an entrepreneur who had all these things going on. He had this other company called Media Webcast in the late nineties during the whole dotcom boom, when there was all this money. They had all this financing, and basically (kind of like Mark Cuban did) they were acquiring content to air on the Internet. At the same time, they had a contract to play shows from Fox Sports.

VMI will Bring Cat Candler's Hellion to Cannes
VMI will Bring Cat Candler's Hellion to Cannes

At the time, I was touring a lot. I didn't have a lot of ways to make money, so, to offer me a way to live, he offered me a job at his company to be a production assistant on various gigs. As the Fox Sports shows started to grow, they formed a new show that integrated music and extreme sports. They needed someone who could really understand this music, so they could book bands and whatnot. I was brought on as a producer, and I just really started to get involved in media. After that, the company imploded, because of the dotcom crash. They ran out of money, and because I had experience in online distribution, I was offered a job at a small independent film company called Amazing Movies (which morphed into Picture This!, one of the first LGBT international sales agents) It was a small sales agency. I went from a production job that was really exciting – I was traveling all the time – to sitting behind a desk. The president would come home from these markets all the time, like the Cannes Film Festival, and then he'd hand me a bunch of business cards. He'd tell me to write these guys and tell them "I enjoyed meeting them", and try to make some sales. 

So that's what I did for the first couple of months, and I absolutely hated it. It was the most boring thing in the world, but then I started to put the pieces together. Sales started coming in, and I realized that producers were producing these independent films and they had no other way to monetize them. This was really interesting, because we were really the force behind getting these producers paid back. We were the way of monetizing these movies, so I really started to like it. Basically, after six months of being there, I really got the bug for being a sales agent. I fell in love with the whole concept of it.

I was then offered a job at Troma Entertainment. At the time, they had one office out of New York, and one out of L.A. They offered me a job to run the L.A office. I got to deal with the distribution of all of Troma titles, as well as international. At the same time, I was working international sales.

I was there for a while. If you work for Troma, the average lifetime of an employee is two years. You don't make a lot of money, but you learn a lot. There are a lot of people in this industry – who are sales agents now – who started at Troma, so it's a good place to start. Really, it's like boot camp.

Four years ago, I formed VMI worldwide, and the music catalog came with me; we have a music division called Vision Music. We had a handful of films, and a bunch of documentaries. We came up with the name Vantage Media International, and opened business here in Hollywood. So just about four years ago, we opened this business, and since then I haven't really looked back. It was stressful during the first year, of course, but after that, one big thing that happened was that I was able to get into presales and start producing films. Last year, we produced three films.

I'm going to be at Cannes. Last year was a big year, because I had always envisioned taking a big risk. I envisioned getting into presales, and producing films and whatnot, but I never knew it was going to happen.  And it accidentally happened to us last year. We went to Cannes and we presold $1 million dollars on this picture, and we didn't find out until afterward that none of these attachments they had were there. Being that it was our first major presale for this company, we knew we had to deliver. We had to produce this movie, and we completely took it on and financed it.

What are you looking forward to at Cannes? 

One of the films we're really, really excited about is a movie called Hellion, and it stars Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis. It's a very cool film, and that's one of our headline pictures. 

We also have the biggest lineup as far as number of films; it's a big deal for us! We're bringing eight new films.

What kind of content are you looking for? 

We're doing more commercial and action content: the traditional millennial films. We did another action/thriller with Sean Dean and Abigail Breslin. We're producing a WWII picture – it's genre driven – but as far as our acquisitions go, we're all across the board. Some of the content that we've acquired is just very straight commercial, action, thrillers, family movies... but then on the other end of the spectrum, we're acquiring stuff that a lot of traditional sales agents wouldn't know what to do with. For instance, we have a lot of music specialty documentaries. There was a film called Lemmy out of SXSW that we acquired three years ago that featured the singer Lemmy from Motorhead. Based upon my interest in music, I really knew that it was going to be very appealing to a lot of other people out there, but people just didn't get it. They thought it would be a failure.

Pussy Riots: The Movie - VMI strives to include nontraditional content in its catalog
Pussy Riots: The Movie - VMI strives to include nontraditional content in its catalog

I just persisted and went to SXSW by myself and convinced the producers to sign with us. It was one of the most successful documentaries I've ever handled. We do stuff that's outside the box. Even Hellion has a great cast, but it's a pretty special film. It's not a straight up action movie. We also have some foreign language films. The hard part is that I'm trying to consolidate and be more focused. I hate the corporate mentality and I like to have the creative vision of acquiring and distributing content that may not traditionally fit into a certain box. I think that comes from my music side.

Learn more about VMI's Cannes lineup here.


More about VMI:

VMI is a worldwide distributor of quality independent film, documentary and music content with an impeccable reputation in the industry.  Originally founded in 2003, in Sherman Oaks, the company has recently moved its base to the heart of Hollywood.  VMI prides itself on lasting and loyal relationships with its producers where the goal is to promote not only the current production, but also upcoming projects.  The company has an extensive network of buyers and has cultivated longstanding direct relationships with the top networks, distributors and releasing companies throughout the world.  To that end, VMI attends and exhibits at all major film and television markets including: NATPE, Berlinale, Hong Kong Filmart, MIPTV, the Cannes Film Festival, L.A. Screenings, DISCOP, MIPCOM, AFM and ATF in addition to regular sales trips throughout the world.