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The Dos and Don'ts of Selling Your Documentary

By Nayantara Roy

What happens after you’ve finally finished that amazing film you worked on for years? You want to sell it, of course. You want to find a way to get it out there and earn what you know it’s worth. But where do you start? Who do you take it to?

With Preferred Content's Managing Partner Kevin Iwashina at the helm, we brought together an expert panel including top sales agents Josh Braun of Submarine (US sales) and Annie Roney of ro*co (international sales), as well as David Magdael (publicist), to give you a few insider dos and don'ts for selling your documentary.



DO find the right match.

Documentaries are built on passion. Make sure whoever you bring onto your team loves the film as much as you do. That definitely includes your sales agent and distributor, reminds publicist David Magdael. The best sales agents will call you back because they love your doc as much as you do, and because they see something unique in it.


DON’T rush into representation.

Don’t just give your doc away just because someone gives you a two-week deadline. When you do find the perfect fit, fully commit to the company. It’ll pay off in the long run when they stick with your project for ten years. Always remember that distribution is an ongoing process.


DO send in your film as soon as possible.

Kevin Iwashina of Preferred Content recommends sending your sales agent a rough cut early in your post-production process. They don’t care about finished sound and color; they care about figuring out if the film is a good fit for them. If it is, they want to start conceptualizing a sales and marketing strategy right away.


DON’T send in a cut too early.

It’s really hard to get them to watch the same film twice, so don’t send a cut that is too long or too far from your end vision. Be smart about sending something close to your final cut, but don’t sweat the final touches at this point.



DO send your film, not an invitation to coffee.

Josh Braun suggests that you follow protocol when it comes to contacting a sales agent. Don’t be afraid of sending them your film and synopsis. They really like discovering new filmmakers! Instead of asking for a meeting to tell a potential agent about your film, send them a link to it. If they like it, they’ll ask for that meeting anyway. They’re probably too busy for a hypothetical discussion over a cup of coffee.


DON’T practice poor timing.

No sales agent has time to watch your film two days before Sundance. Even if they try to screen it on the plane to Park City, they will probably forget all about it later. Have a little patience with the process.


DO your homework before you send that email.

Annie Roney of ro*co suggests you know about the company you’re sending your film to. Is your film going to be right for this company? Make sure your sales agent’s body of work matches your film in sensibility, style and content.


DON’T send your film to everybody

There’s no point in sending your human-interest documentary to a company that produces indie action films.


DO take a walk on the practical side.

Sometimes you have to be practical about the business side, such as where you’re getting your money from, who controls the creative decisions, and your responsibility to investors.


DON’T be afraid to just say, "no".

Braun suggests that you should be careful about who ends up having the final say on your film. If a financier or equity partner does not share your vision or has a different agenda, you don’t want to get stuck in a deal that prevents you from making the film you want to make.