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The Film Industry in Cannes - The International Sales Agent

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by Zack Coffman
June 13, 2012 10:21 PM
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For new filmmakers and veterans alike, navigating the waters of the international film sales scene can be a daunting task.  Halfway through the hectic Cannes Film Market I had a chance to sit down with Scott Bedno of hard-working indie sales outfit Spotlight Pictures.  He took a few minutes to help shine a spotlight on the film industry from the international sales agent's perspective.

So tell me a bit about Spotlight; who are you and how long have you been in business?

Spotlight Pictures is a full-service film sales company licensing all media rights of feature films worldwide.  Spotlight started in 2005, but the core members of the Spotlight team have decades of experience in the international arena.

What is your position in the company and what is your background?

I am the President of International at Spotlight Pictures.  I started at Spotlight in September 2011, but I have known the company CEO, Matthew McCombs, since I first started in the business, as an assistant to legendary buyer’s rep, Gordon Steel.  I don’t want to mention how long ago that was!  After working with Gordon, I then worked as an acquisitions executive for the Australian distributor, Becker Entertainment, working under Mark Gooder, where we acquired titles such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Buena Vista Social Club.”  I dabbled in the “new media” space for a while, then settled into sales about a decade ago. 

You seem to be doing better than just surviving, but actually growing in the past couple markets, what's your secret?

We find that as we’ve grown as a company, producers have gravitated towards us.  They appreciate our straight-talk; some sales companies are prone to give out overblown sales estimates just to secure a film, we analyze the market for them realistically.  We also try and lay out a road map of the sales strategy and discuss marketing ideas with our producers, as it truly is a partnership.  We know how much time and energy our producers put into making the film, so we want to match that time and energy in selling the film.  We don’t represent a  large number of titles so we can devote enough time and resources to the films we do represent.

Lionsgate acquires Summit, eOne gobbling Alliance, seems like the pond is shrinking; as an "indies' indie" what's your take on the current climate for independent financing and distribution?

Certainly independent financing has taken a hit since the banking crisis.  However, there always seems to be a steady stream of investors who want to be involved in the film business, so I feel the death of independent cinema is exaggerated to some degree.  Mergers and acquisitions seem to be cyclical as well.  At one point, there were no mini-major studios or studio/indie hybrids, then there were a bunch of them, now there aren’t as many.  Two years from now, who knows?  All I know is, quality product will find a market. 

What are some of the titles you currently have, and how was Cannes for you?

We had a great Cannes, I’m pleased to report.  We closed deals in Germany, Japan, Latin America, Turkey, Middle East, UK, just to name a few.  I will also be closing deals after the market.  Our recent titles include “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” which had a theatrical release in the States on over 450 prints, “Millennium Bug,” a creature feature using only practical effects (no CGI!) which buyers loved, the family/dog, “I Heart Shakey 3D,” and the zombie comedy, “Detention of the Dead.”  As you can see, it’s a diverse slate, but we know different buyers are looking for different types of product, so we want to make sure we have something for everyone.  What they have in common is the passion of the filmmakers behind them.

What's your advice to indie producers? 

My advice to producers is to make the film you want to make, but it couldn’t hurt to talk to a sales agent before you start down the path.  Our current producers bounce ideas off us for their next projects all the time, and we’ll give them our advice from what our buyers are saying to us.  We have no ego, so you can say, “I’m making this movie about a dandelion growing in the desert, as it’s a symbol of a young woman’s coming-of-age in post-World War II Mongolia, and you can’t talk me out of it!”  And we’ll say, “If that’s your passion, and you have to make the film, then go for it…but can you at least have some name cast?”

What one piece of information would producers be surprised to know?

All producers are concerned about piracy, as are we.  However, most producers have been given the advice that you don’t want to have your film released in foreign territories ahead of the US release, due to piracy.  In fact, the opposite is true.  There is more piracy flowing out from the States than flowing into the States.  Which makes sense, as pirates take advantage of the promotion and awareness from the US release.  You’ve seen the studios catching on to this, as “Battleship” was released very successfully in foreign territories well in advance of the US release.

Are you open to being contacted even if a film hasn't won a prize at Sundance?

Certainly!  We’re always looking for quality product, and that doesn’t mean you need festival accolades to be considered.  Producers please check out our website, www.spotlight-pictures.com, and contact us directly regarding your project.

Next up...The Distributor

Written by Zack Coffman.  Follow Zack's film marketing tips and adventures @choppertown on Twitter.

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