Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Producer Reps

You've finished your film.  You've gotten into a few film festivals.  The world hasn't beaten a path to your door.  So maybe it's time to hire a producer's rep.

Maybe.

If your producer rep works for CAA or William Morris Endeavor or ICM.  Go for it.  If not, think twice.

I would love to name some names and tell some producer rep stories, but, since they tend to be lawyers, I will be discreet.  All I can say is look before you leap.

First you have to ask yourself what you expect from a producers rep.  Usually the answer is access to distributors.  But guess what?  Subscribe to the Hollywood Creative Directory and you have access to most distributors.  Granted, you will probably not be able to successfully toss your film over the transom into one of the major studios without a truly connected agent, rep or big buzz from the festival circuit.  However, I have discovered that most of the smaller distributors will be happy to look at your film if you have a good trailer, nice art and a little persistence.  (They will be very happy to look at your film if you have a well-known actor in it.  If you want decent distribution, make sure you have a name in your film.)

On one of the films I worked on, we had the opportunity to hire the famous Jeff Dowd as a rep.  We approached him when it looked like we were going to premiere at the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival.  He told us he would be able to leverage that possible premiere into acceptance at Sundance.  And he knew what he was talking about.  He is quite a notorious character in the world of independent film.  Apparently the Jeff Bridges character in "The Big Lebowski" was based on Dowd.  His terms:  $5000 a month to rep the film, plus additionally money for his PR people.  Needless to say, being young and naive, we didn't include that kind of promotional money into the budget of the film.  We said no.

Instead we went with an entertainment lawyer who had made a name for himself quite a few years ago.  His price:  $5000 retainer, plus a percentage of the deal.  This lawyer came recommended by another filmmaker who was using him.  So how did it work out?  Let me tell you.

He immediately sent us a list of twenty distributors where he wanted to send the film.  We sent him the copies, and he did so.  However, there were a number of other companies we were interested in approaching.  We said we would approach them, and, if they were interested, he would send the DVDs.  He agreed.

A number of the companies we approached wanted to see the film.  These companies included good, high profile distributors like Image and DEJ (Blockbuster's inhouse production company and distributor.)   We sent the info along to our rep, who said he sent the DVDs out.  Then he started pressuring us to accept a deal with a smaller company.  We said we wanted to wait until we heard from Image and DEJ.  He said they had both rejected the film.  Oh, heartbreak!  Then, I get an email from the guy at DEJ asking when were we going to send the film.  Our rep never sent it!   Which, of course, meant neither company had rejected it.  He was lying to us.

Then I began to scrutinize our rep.  Yes, he had real credits once upon a time, but it looks like he hadn't sold a film we had heard of in quite a few years.  And he didn't need too.  He was repping a ton of films, and he could make a very nice living strictly off the $5000 retainers he got from each of the filmmakers.  He didn't have to worry about the percentages.

In the end, he got us a domestic deal.  The question is whether we could have gotten the same deal with the same company without him.  I believe we could have.  Paying this joker was a waste of money.

So do I say avoid Producer Reps?  Well.... No.

I met writer/director Deborah Kampmeier at the Sedona Film Festival.  She was showing her date-rape film "Virgin."  I found her film very powerful and provocative.  I foolishly told her I thought she would easily find a distributor, but, at the time, she reported that she had been turned down by every company that released films and DVDs in the United States of America.  Every single one.  She said she had made one huge mistake:  She had the opportunity to hire Jeff Dowd but she had turned him down because he was too expensive.

If you asked the producer of my film what he thought our biggest mistake was, he'd tell you that it was that we didn't hire Jeff Dowd when we had the chance.   Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

A good producers rep is worth the money.

A bad one isn't.

Check their recent credits.  If you've heard of the films, go for it.  If you haven't, think twice.

Most distributors will look at your film if you approach them correctly.  But be persistent.  Send the aquisitions people a new email, letter or fax every time you get accepted by a new film festival, or if one of your actors get a role in a big new film.  It's their job to find films and filmmakers to exploit.  If they want to buy it, hire an entertainment lawyer on an hourly basis to go through the contract.

And, please, if you get the chance....

Hire Jeff Dowd.

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