In short, a sales agent cannot stop a filmmaker from contacting a distributor directly, as long as the latter didn’t sign a contract with the sales agent. If one did though, they have to check what the said contract says about directly contacting the distributor. If it’s you, make sure you will not be in breach of your contract, if you get in touch with the distributor/s directly.
However, if you haven’t signed a contract with the sales agent but only have been casually talking about your project and potential representing you and your project, you will have to decide if you want to build a long-lasting relationship with this particular sales agent or not. If you decide that the relationship isn’t too important, nothing should stop you from contacting distributors directly.
What to do when you decide to contact a distributor directly?
– Before you reach out to a distributor, check their website to see what type of films they represent. If the distributor makes a point of saying on their website, “no unsolicited material” contacting that company is totally counterproductive.
– Nowadays, many distributors are aggregator companies, which means that they will upload your film on different VOD platforms, charging you through the roof for the file conversion as well as collecting a percentage of your revenue. Unfortunately, you will still have to do the marketing and promotion yourself because those companies don’t invest money in the marketing and promotion of individual projects. Watch out for that kind of companies and “representation”. In all honesty, you don’t need the type of service they offer, since you can do all that work yourself or hire someone to do it for you while still keeping the control and distribution rights of your film and revenue from your film. Oh, and saving a lot of bucks.
– When you contact a distributor, be sure what you need from that particular distributor. Do you want them to represent your film internationally? Do you want them to sell your film to hotels or airlines? Do you want them to represent your film at markets and festivals? Be very clear about what you want and what you need. Clarity will make your relationship from the start easier to navigate.
– Once you contact a distributor and you start a relationship, you need to be certain what they promise you. Does the distributor promise minimum guarantee payment upon completion of the film? If so, with that you can go to the bond company and apply for a production loan, which can/will cover your production costs. In this case, the distribution deal is being used as collateral for the bond company. Does the distributor promise you a marketing and promotional budget? If so, how big would the budget be and how it’d be spent?
– Be caution of distributors who charge upfront for their services. I never trust them, as there is no motivation for them to do any work for you and your film once you pay them. Besides, if they only want to take your film to make quick money on you, it’s not worth you putting your film in their hands. Often the upfront costs are so high that it’s better to invest that money in self-promotion and self-distribution than paying for a service that will surely not meet your expectations.