The Film Business

Working in International Film Distribution

The Film Business

Photo by: mK B

I find this end of the business fascinating, and it’s the perfect career for a movie lover who’s always wanted to be a diplomat or get involved with some form of international relations.  A foreign sales company or the international department of a studio or distribution company is responsible for the international launch/festival participation of a film along with the marketing, sales, delivery and collection of the film, television and video productions (“titles”) it represents.  If you were to work in this facet of the industry, you’d most likely be spending a great deal of time on airplanes and in airports, traveling to various countries and cities around the world (depending on the “territory” you cover).  You’d also be attending international film festivals and markets throughout the world (Cannes, Toronto, Shanghai, Rio, Sundance, etc.) and interacting with people from all walks of life.  Sounds pretty good to me!

I have a cousin named Michael J. Werner who’s a veteran of the foreign sales business and co-chairman of Fortissimo Films, which is headquartered in Amsterdam and Hong Kong.  I asked Michael for his thoughts on what sort of person would do well in this profession and what those interested should know about the field.  The following is what I learned from him.

An international background and/or an MBA would be highly desirable, and you should be someone with an open mind, an international perspective and a relatively well-developed level of sophistication, culture, politics and history.  Big Hollywood egos aren’t a good match for this type of work, and you have to be equally adept at talking and listening.  When dealing with 80 to 100 different countries, it’s not likely you’ll know more about your buyers’ own markets than they do; and successfully pre-selling films not only requires a certain amount of humility but also the ability to create strong business relationships and generate a great deal of trust.  Michael claims you have to be what he calls a “zen diplomat.”  A keen knowledge of business with an international focus would be extremely helpful, as would speaking more than one language.

Should you have the education, background, and the desire to get into this end of the industry, you could apply at any of the studios’ international divisions, but getting in with a smaller, independent “boutique” company would most likely afford you the opportunity to get more involved, have more responsibility, learn more and advance faster in a shorter period of time than you would working for one of the majors.  For a comprehensive list of companies to contact, Michael suggests checking out The Independent Film & Television Alliance (formerly The American Film Marketing Association []) to get a list of their 150 or so member companies.  This is a terrific resource for sending out resumes and setting up general information meetings.

When I asked Michael my two favorite questions—what’s the best thing about what you do and what’s the worst, this is what he had to say:

“For me, the best thing has been the opportunity to interact with film industry professionals from around the globe.  By attending numerous international markets and film festivals and meeting with filmmakers, other distributors, journalists, festival programmers, critics and all manner of related professionals, I feel I’ve been able to achieve far greater insight into our common humanity than I otherwise would have found in any other profession or industry.  As for the worst, it’s the interaction with people who gain a certain measure of success (which sometimes comes very rapidly in this business) and then forget how to act properly and treat other people who may not be as fortunate or as lucky as they are.”

Excerpt from Hollywood Drive: What It Takes to Break In, Hang In & Make It in the Entertainment Industry by Eve Light Honthaner. Copyright © 2005. Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment
   charly ryan said on January 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Thanks for that,that was really interesting.

I’m a recent Film School graduate in the UK. I have studied film and media for 8 years and my “production” background covers mainly Producing roles… which I do love. But recently I have been feeling like I would like a change but don’t want to change “area”.. I love film! I was thinking about Distribution and wanted to do a bit of research on it.. this is a good place to start!!! So thank you.

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