Is film distribution institutionally racist? Why is it harder for films with actors of colour to get distribution? The answer partly lies in the importance of the international market and audience preferences.

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There’s nothing like a list to make sense of jargon. Here’s a guide to film distribution terms from A to Z. I’ll continue to update this post. If there’s anything you’d like an explanation for, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll do my best.

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Welcome to the circus. Tomorrow, the Marché du Film opens its doors for the largest film market in the world. Over 11,000 attendees will flood the Croisette – distributors, sales agents, financiers, festival programmers and producers, all hustling for business, space, money and time.

How do you get people’s attention and make a great impression as an independent filmmaker? Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. Here’s a few pointers.

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Film sales and distribution is a year-round business, and film markets are the engine which drives it all. Film markets are the film version of a trade show, but with more champagne, canapés and celebrities. Every couple of months, thousands of buyers and sellers descend on cities around the world, ready to do business and hunt for the best films.

Film markets are the busiest times of year for both sales agents and distributors. In the weeks before, sales agents are frantically working the phones and hustling for meetings with buyers, to showcase their newest acquisitions, with the end goal of closing distribution deals. At the market, they set up shop in stands, emblazoned with carefully designed film posters, stacks of sales sheets at the ready, and TVs and iPads queued up with slick trailers to hook buyers into going to a screening or taking a screener to view at home.

If you’re an independent filmmaker, particularly if you’re a producer, you should go to a least one film market to see how distribution works first hand. Your film has to fight for space and attention against thousands of others for a shot at distribution. Once you start to understand what the market wants, you’re in a better place to make a film that’s going to have an audience and hopefully make money.

Below is a list of the major film markets in the distribution landscape.

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So, your film’s completed and you want someone to help shepherd it out into the world, to fame, fortune and acclaim. How do you find a film sales agent?

First, do some research.

Film Export UK has a list of UK film sales agents on their website.

IFTA, the Independent Film and Television Alliance in the US, have a list of their members here, which includes sales agents, distributors and financiers.

Cinando, the online industry database for film distribution and the bible for all things film distribution allows you to search for sales agents by country and market attendance. As I write this, there are 682 companies listed as film sales agents as their main activity, and 1330 companies who include being a film sales agent as part of their wider activities, which commonly includes production and distribution.

Screen International puts together the Screen International Product Guide as part of their dailies for the major film markets, with a list of film sales agent companies attending the market and the films they’re representing.

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Film sales agents act as a bridge between filmmakers and distributors. They represent independent films (non studio films) and sell them to distributors around the world in exchange for a percentage on the deals they secure.

Sales agents broker and negotiate international distribution deals, manage the marketing of films to distributors, creating trailers, artwork and even suggest title changes if necessary in order to sell the film more effectively. They handle contracts and legal issues, oversee payment, and co-ordinate the delivery of materials to distributors.

Sales agents can also provide sales estimates – projected figures for how much a film will make from distribution deals across territories worldwide, which can be an invaluable guideline for producers when putting together a budget for a film. If you’re a smart producer, you can find out the market value of your movie and build your film budget around it.

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