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Film Sales Company Case Study

Rachel Brown, Sales and Marketing Assistant | September 2016


Proactively seeking out opportunities since 6th form, Rachel now works for an international film sales company.

When did you begin your career?

Good Question! Going way, way back at 6th form I volunteered at a local Hospital Radio station and then took a year out during university and worked for a small corporate media production company in Southampton as a placement. When I finished university, I struggled to get a job in the film industry so in order to survive; I worked in retail for a few years but realising my passion was with film; I wrote to everyone I could to try to get on some internships schemes. I managed to build up some short term experience at a few different companies. This lead onto to longer and longer placements with more varied duties and eventually a full time job.

What inspired you to enter the film industry?

I have always been fascinated by the moving image, I love to escape into another world, to experience someone’s story. I hate it when the film finishes and you walk back out into the real world. I knew I wanted to work in an industry that I had a passion for, something I would enjoy day to day.

I knew I was never going to be a director or cinematographer, my skills are more suited to the business and organisational side, so I have tended to work in distribution. But I still get to experience films at all stages in production, from script reading and development feedback to managing talent on the red carpet at a premiere. I still get that excitement when I hear about a new project or a film going into production and love to see the end result on the screen.

Did you take on any work experience or internships, if so how do you think it benefited you when applying for paid work?

I would suggest only working unpaid for short periods and if you feel it would benefit you. For me, it worked. Coming out of University with no experience in the industry and little contacts, I found it hugely beneficial to build up a number of short term placements on my CV. Employers are looking for hands on experience, they want to know where and who you have worked for before. It does set you apart if have companies they recognise on there when they glance at your profile. Even if you are at a company for a few weeks, you will learn so much and make contacts in the industry that will help you in the long term

What I managed to do was have a job in retail and I would use my holiday allowance to do the work experience, it meant I was getting paid and could work towards my career.  I was lucky being based fairly close to London, having a supporting family, and I had an understanding employer who would allow me to be flexible with my working days! I would advise applying for the various schemes that are out there and if you can make it work for you than an unpaid placement for a few weeks can really benefit your CV.

How long did it take you to get your first permanent paying job, and what was the path you took to get you there?

I did take a few years to be offered my first permanent role as said previously. My path from University to where I am now wasn’t exactly straight and has involved a bit of a career change. After graduating a took a little time out to travel and when I came back I found it difficult to know where to start to look for a role. Looking back I didn’t really narrow down what aspect in the industry I wanted to work in, or what I was good at. But in order to pay the bills, I started to work in retail on the shop floor and started to work my way from team assistant to supervisor. After I while I realised this wasn’t where my heart was so decided to make a real effort in getting as much experience as I could. I applied for every opportunity that I saw and eventually was accepted for 4 weeks work experience at the BBC with the Storyville strand. It was fantastic to see how the team operated and learn how documentaries were selected, scheduling of the films and listening how the films were pitched.

After that I approached a few feature film productions companies with speculative emails sending my CV and months later finally struck lucky with a 2 week placement at StudioCanal. It was a basic runner role, providing assistance to the reception and marketing teams but they did invite me back a couple of months later to help out the production and development team in the build up to Berlin Film Festival. It was a great experience to learn how the ideas are developed, the different stages of productions and what the roles of the executives at the film and distribution company involve.  

Again a few months or so later, I knew that my skillset was suited to more business side of film so applied for a longer placement with an international sales company, Protagonist Pictures. I joined at a time when the company was growing and working on some exciting titles. Again supporting the administrative side, I assisted in the build up to American Film Market, script reading, sending out screeners etc.

Once finished I could feel the momentum building and applied for a 12 month internship at Universal Pictures International Entertainment which was based in the acquisitions for the home entertainment team. The small team would buy independent titles for international distribution through Universal which meant I got to do lots of script reading, screening of films but also would then have to carry out financial research to see if that film would be viable. It was great to be part of a large corporation and I certainly enjoyed the perks of the team events. The team never treated me like an intern, which was great and my opinion on scripts and films was listened to.   

After the 12 months were up, there was a temporary role available so I took that in the same department, but working on a different team. I found a permanent role as the sales and marketing assistant at Independent Film Sales.

Whilst working at entry level position what were your responsibilities?

As an intern it was mostly administrative reception like duties, for example data entry, printing & binding scripts, picking up post, doing the odd run around central London. I worked at a company in the run up to the Berlin Film Festival so it was all about diary management, setting up meetings, finding what films are screening when. The scope of things that you can get asked to do can be quite wide. I also folded up about 500 t shirts and put them in carrier bags with stickers once – that took up some time! But the majority it was either reception or administrative duties.

Can you tell us a bit about your current position of sales and marketing assistant, and what your job entails?

I have been in my current role for over 12 months now and I am doing a little bit of everything.

In the run up to the major film markets, I book all the accreditations, accommodation and travel logistics for the team. I also have to plan what we need to take and get this shipped over too.

In terms of marketing at these markets, I help to get posters, brochures and marketing materials designed and printed, we also have promos and trailers to show so I help organise these to be created and then set them up to screen when we are at the event itself. I also do diary management for the team setting up meetings with the distributors and when there I run the reception greeting guests and showing promos.

I also handle the festival requests that come in so would negotiate any terms, I have to ensure we have the correct format of the film available and organise the shipping logistics. Also if there are talent such as the cast and directors traveling to the festival sometimes I also booked their accommodation and flights too.

I support the administration of contracts, ensuring they are signed, filled away correctly and issue invoices for payment.

I handle the delivery of the films, so often I am the liaison between the filmmaker and the distributor ensuring all elements of the film, as well as the legal paperwork and marketing materials are sent to the company. I then have to then deliver this to the distributor making sure they have everything they need for their release.

On the marketing side, on the titles we have I am involved in the creation of posters and trailers, sending the briefs to designers, giving feedback on the designs and ensuring the filmmakers approve.

On the acquisitions side, I read scripts, attend screenings of completed films.

When you work for a small company you tend to have to pick up other roles, so I'm responsible for running the office, stationary ordering, booking couriers, making sure all the various computers are working.

Which all means I have a very full email inbox and there is always something to do!

Are there any processes or elements of the industry that have come as a surprise and you would want to pass onto others?

When it comes down to it, the industry is there to make money, it’s a business. I would really recommend gaining a basic financial understanding of the film world, it will help you greatly in whatever area you pursue. I wasn’t taught about sales agencies at university and now having worked in both acquisitions and sales, I have realised it can make or break a film especially in the independent film side. Its really beneficial understanding the whole process of how films are set up particularly if your long term goal is to be a producer, there is a lot involved before the film even begins shooting.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I've been very lucky with attending film festivals and markets around the world and in the last year have been to Los Angeles, Berlin Film Festival and Cannes. Although I had little time off, its amazing to think a few years ago I was working on the shop floor and now working with filmmakers and producers.

It always exciting to see the film you are working on up on the big screen and attending the premiere nights are extra special. At Cannes this year, the documentary we are representing for international sales was part of the official selection so after all the hard work of organising the logistics it was a fantastic feeling to be walking up the famous red carpet. 

Having gained experience in the film industry what advice would you give to those who are just starting out?

Try to follow the film news and announcements as much as can, The industry feeds off new announcements. Learn who is making what and who are the latest talents to follow, figure out what type of films each company produces and distributes find out what films they have been involved in before and you will start to join the dots in the industry. It really does help to research those logos on the opening credits!

Of course watch as many films as you can and form opinions about them. Even if a film doesn’t work, figure out why doesn’t it work – was it the cast, not enough budget, editing? You can even try and pick up scripts off the award contenders around Oscar season, this is always a good place to start. Or try to follow writers or directors you like on twitter, they normally have an opinion. At the end of the day the film industry is all about telling stories, so its good idea to watch as much TV drama too there has been a resurgence recently.

See if you can make some connections in the industry, talk to family and friends and see if they know anyone. The industry reaches wide in areas not just in production there’s publicity, marketing etc.

Volunteering at film festivals or find your local film club is another good tip, its something to talk about at a job interview and shows you are willing to help out, you may get to watch some good films. Also try to boost any office skills you have, unless you’re on set, the majority of roles involves some sort of computer based role, so its good to be able to organise your emails, be an excel wiz, or know how to split a pdf in an emergency!

Theres no right or wrong path, if you want to work in film you have to show your passion, be willing to put the hard work in and you’ll get there

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