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Programmer Roundtable:<br>The International Sales Perspective

Distribution in the film industry is changing at a rapidly increasing rate. Tribeca Director of Programming David Kwok sits down with two international sales agents to discuss where we are headed from here.

Films—whether you consider them entertainment or art—get into the world in various ways, but there is always a business side to them. Sales agents play an important role behind-the-scenes that some people may not know about; their job is to sell films and get them seen around the world. Tribeca Director of Programming David Kwok talked with two international sales agents who have films in this year’s Festival. Stephen Kelliher, Head of Sales and Marketing of Bankside Films, is world premiering Accidents Happen. Rikke Ennis, CEO of TrustNordisk, has three titles in the Festival—two that are making their international debuts and searching for distribution (Original and The Swimsuit Issue) and one that she has already sold to IFC Films (Fear Me Not).

We spoke about what they do and what’s changing in the film industry.

Fear Me Not still
Fear Me Not

David Kwok: Some people may not know what a sales agent does. Can you talk about what you do?

Stephen Kelliher: Our primary function is to manage the international rights in films and to appoint or sell the film to distributors in each territory of the world. In the independent film world, a film’s value to investors is not the potential box office but rather the value of the international distribution rights. This means that almost all financiers or investors will require a reputable sales agent to be attached to a project before committing their money. Furthermore, sales agents are marketing professionals who understand how best to present films to the marketplace and whose knowledge and experience is invaluable when formulating the marketing strategy for a film. We also maintain close relationships with film festivals, which means we can assist in choosing the right festivals for a film to play in and actually getting the films selected.

Accidents Happen still
Accidents Happen

David Kwok: I’m interested to know the international perspective of Tribeca. What are your thoughts on the Festival?

Stephen Kelliher: We have followed the progress of Tribeca since its inception in 2002 and have been very impressed by the way in which the Festival has established itself as a key event for film professionals and audiences alike. The Festival is very well respected, and it certainly maintains an international profile.

Rikke Ennis: First of all, Tribeca has always been a quality stamp for a film, and in terms of a US release it makes it a lot easier to create hype and awareness among US buyers. Tribeca has sharpened its profile over recent years, and the fact that the Festival will be expanding to other parts of the world highlights its success.

Original still

David Kwok: Things are changing with the film industry in terms of exhibition. What are your thoughts on the emerging digital market, and how does it affect what you do?

Stephen Kelliher: The film distribution business is on the verge of massive change, and the way in which people see films is set to change forever. More platforms are becoming available every day and home entertainment over the Internet will soon become an everyday reality for households all over the world. It’s an exciting time for independent film, even if there is still a lot of uncertainly over the value of these new rights and how they will be exploited. It’s an area that we are watching very closely before deciding on our own strategy going forward.

Rikke Ennis: Everybody knows that it is coming and when it comes, it will have an enormous effect on the whole industry. The question is when will it be coming? When will the film viewer have a set-top box so that he/she can cherry-pick the films and programs he wants to see on his TV (and not his PC)? So far we are preparing the best we can, so that our films will be digital and available for platforms in the respective territories. We see the emerging digital market as a huge advantage—especially for smaller art house films—since it creates a market for niche film that did not exist before. We also believe that we will be able to launch art house films to more countries because of digital cinema.

The Swimsuit Issue still
The Swimsuit Issue

David Kwok: How do film festivals fit into what you do?

Stephen Kelliher: Film festivals are important for a variety of reasons. From a sales perspective, selection at a major international film festival gives a film great kudos. Festivals also enable sales agents to present the film to audiences and press in a reasonably controlled environment. Good reactions from a public audience and critics really help to get a film sold, even though the converse is also true!

Rikke Ennis: Film festivals are crucial for the buzz about the films we sell. The market as it is today makes it even more important to have a festival platform. The distributors today are more selective, pay less and do not take any risks. This makes it difficult for a sales agent with a broad line-up. This is why I think it is necessary to be very picky with the films you launch on the international market.

David Kwok: What is the current state of the international film market, especially for art house and specialized films? What are some emerging territories and who are the largest markets?

Stephen Kelliher: The international film market is difficult at the moment. Traditional theatrical release is expensive and risky, with cost of advertising and promotion being so high and no guarantee that audiences will turn out to see the film when competition from the majors is so fierce. DVD numbers in many territories are falling due to piracy and competition from other forms of home entertainment—in particular gaming—and television stations don’t buy films in the same way that they used to. Emphasis is now more on reality television, local production and sports. So it’s clear that there are many challenges, but I still believe that good films will always find their audience. In terms of new markets, people look to India and China, although the latter is not as penetrable or profitable for independents as people might imagine, due to government restrictions on the number of imported films that can be theatrically released on a revenue-sharing basis. Brazil and Russia are also on the list, although the film business in both countries is suffering at the moment due to the international economic crisis and falling DVD markets.

Rikke Ennis: As mentioned before, I believe that the digital market will save the art house and specialized films since there is a huge audience out there searching for these kind of niche films. Now they suddenly have the access that they didn’t have before, and that is a real upside for these films. It is not a huge moneymaker so far, but I am sure it will be in the long run. It certainly is not the advance money from distributors that we will survive on in the long run. The digital perspective suddenly makes markets such as India and China interesting from an economic angle since they are very far along in technology, and unbeatable when it comes to number of inhabitants.

Accidents Happen
screens throughout the festival. Tickets are available to the Wednesday showing.

The Swimsuit Issue screens throughout the festival. Tickets are available to the Wednedsay showing.

screens throughout the festival. Tickets are available to the Sunday showing.

Fear Me Not screens throughout the festival.



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