5 Tips on How To Work With Film Packaging Agents

March 2, 2017
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Kevin Iwashina, Founder & CEO of Preferred Content, Maren Olson, Agent at CAA, Jessica Lacy, Partner/Head of International & Independent at ICM, Mark Ankner, Partner of Global Finance & Distribution at WME, and Rena Ronson, Partner/Head of Independent Film Group at UTA, speak at the American Film Market Production Conference:  (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision for IFTA/AP Images)

Film packaging agents working in film finance divisions at talent agencies wear many hats. They attach talent, directors and financing for in-house projects the agency represents. They work with outside producers and package projects to pull financing together. They represent finished films for sales and worldwide distribution. And they do all the above.

Packaging agents are often times the core element of a film getting funded, as they understand the pre-sales and domestic distribution markets and have their finger on the pulse of who, what and where is hot.

The question is, how do you get one of these agents to read your script?

The Key, according to a panel of top sales agents at the 2016 American Film Market panel “Working With Sales Agents,” is an established or known producer the agent trusts. This experienced producer can be an invaluable resource for the agent to get things done, and therefore someone the agents look to for new material.

Rena Ronson, Partner and Head of UTA Film Group, shared that although agents handle many of the tasks that an executive producer may do, they are not producers, and don’t want to be. Their role is to be a conduit to the right elements (i.e. cast, equity and distribution) but they are not responsible for the day-to-day work required to get a movie financed and made. They are looking for real partners in a producer who will do their share of the work to keep the project moving forward.

If they trust you and your producer, you can get the script read.

Maren Olson, an agent in the finance and sales group at CAA, noted that the biggest mistake newbie producers make is sending out a script pre-maturely, before it is its best version. “Never send out a first draft just to get the ball rolling. Make sure it is the best version it can be. You may only get one shot to have that script read, and it will most likely be read by a script “reader” in the lower bowels of the building. If that script gets bad coverage, the end of the road may be right there.”

If the agent likes the script, they will work in-house and with outside agencies to “package” the film with cast, director, international sales and ultimately a domestic distributor. For that work they are paid a fee — usually similar to an executive producer fee — plus a percentage of any international or domestic deals they sell.

The second area packing agents get very involved in, is in the distribution process. A strong agent will be integral advisor in strategizing when and where to premiere the film in order to maximize its sales potential. That strategy could mean submitting to major film festivals, sending through a digital link, or it could mean setting up private screenings for groups of distributors to see all at once. The agents have a vast knowledge of what the buyers are looking for and which executives to target. If they have taken on your film to represent, they have a passionate and vested interest in making the best deal.

To get the most out of the distribution process, the agents recommend putting money to cover film festival expenses into the budget. That would include money to hire a publicist, a lawyer, and travel and entertainment money for the team members attending the festivals. These are all critical elements for a film to have a shot at being sold at a major festival or market.

These are the top tips straight from the agents’ mouths:

  • Go into the agency with the strongest team possible.
  • Make sure the script is the best it can be.
  • Be ready to do your share of the work and provide the agent with the tools he or she needs to do their job.
  • Be a team player.
  • Be ready for the long haul.

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