We Make Movies (Better): Inside the Distributor’s Mind with Precious Hilton
Securing distribution is that final nail in the construction project of making a movie—but it’s so hard to tell what exactly goes through the minds of a potential buyer.
We Make Movies actor/writer/producer Andrea Dolbec (Hot Zombie Crush) sat down with film distributor Precious Hilton, CEO of Hilton Entertainment Group, to get the dish on what distributors are actually looking for.
Didn’t have much luck at the European Film Market last week? Tackle the next major sales event with Hilton’s insights in hand.
Andrea Dolbec, We Make Movies (WMM): Your career as a film distributor has blown up over the past couple of years, with successes at the 2013 AFM. Can you tell us what kinds of films got your attention at AFM this past year?
Precious Hilton (PH): Thank you! I was interested in horror, action, thriller, sci-fi and animation. Lots of blood, fighting, suspense, action, stunts and crime—I look for what the general audience likes to see.
WMM: Can you explain the film market process to the uninitiated, from a distributor’s perspective?
PH: AFM and other film markets are where most buyers and sellers meet. A distributor is a buyer and a seller, also. They have to acquire titles and then sell the titles. So at the markets, a distributor is selling their already-acquired films to other distributors, and is looking to acquire new titles for the next market, and to sell after the film market is over. The aspiring producers have to set up meetings with the distributors and hand out screeners, flyers and other marketing materials. Distributors then look at the content and decide if they are interested in the distribution of the product.
WMM: What are some of the titles you acquired from last year’s AFM?
PH: I acquired the Justin Timberlake: The Man of the Hour documentary from a producer to market at AFM. It had a lot of attention and interest because he is very saleable. I had to bid hard against studios and I won the bid, which was, as you could imagine, very expensive… but attracted a lot of interest. However, there had to be some changes in the content and title.
The producer gave the film to me because he wanted to work with me for future titles and to have a long term business relationship. And he was right: I eventually acquired his other titles, including documentaries about Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Nelson Mandela. Currently, I am looking to get the documentary of the life of Katy Perry, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
WMM: When you are meeting moviemakers, what makes you want to work with one? Likewise, what might turn you off from working with a moviemaker?
PH: Their approach and proposal for distribution makes the difference. Also, their storyboards and the quality of that content. The camera the film is shot with—the clarity of the resolution—and how well it is edited.
WMM: What is often misunderstood about the process of attaining distribution?
PH: Every producer is always looking for exposure for their title—which is difficult to find, as the ratio of producer to distributor is approximately a couple hundred producer to one distributor. Distribution is a very expensive area in the entertainment arena. There is a lot of work to be done from when the producer delivers to the distributor the completed product. For a first-time director and producer, their end product usually is incomplete, and a lot of work has to be done before the finished product is ready for distribution.
WMM: What kind of deals can you broker for a moviemaker that they could not otherwise have access to on their own?
PH: I can expose the film to other distributors to buy the title. Distributors don’t usually buy directly from producers they don’t know that well, and are skeptical to take the risk. In most cases producers are not aware of all that is required for the distributor to sell the title to another distributor for specific territories and for specific platforms. There is usually a long list for deliverables, and the distributor who owns the title finds it very hard to get the contents of the list to sell the title to the other distributors. [Editor’s note: See the article “Selling Out Smart,” by David Albert Pierce, Esq., in MovieMaker’s Winter 2014 issue for legal tips about these deliverables.]
WMM: What is the best way for moviemakers to pitch themselves to you and network with you?
PH: By sending a screener (online or hard-copy DVD) of their title. The best way of contacting me and meeting with me to pitch their content is through approaching me to speak face-to-face, or getting my contact info and arranging a face-to-face meeting. They can visit www.hiltonentertainmentgroup.com, or contact me through my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/HiltonEntertainmentGroup).
WMM: Are you pitched to more by the producers or the moviemakers themselves?
PH: Generally at AFM and other film markets, it is the producer who is marketing the film. The director rarely markets the title, unless they’re the same person. Often a newbie director produces, finances and directs it himself; then of course he markets it himself.
WMM: Any final advice for sellers about presentation or networking approaches?
PH: The content is most important, as that is what the distributors market. I look for a film to be well-edited. The content should tell and show the story clearly. [Poor editing] leaves a gap in the story: The audience was expecting it to be one way to make sense, but instead this expectation was not fully developed. This is different from directors intentionally wanting their film to be suspenseful or open-ended for the audience right until the end! MM
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