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“The problem is that there is no discernible business model in sales”

Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming

Xavier Henry-Rashid • Sales agent, Film Republic

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During our interview, we spoke about how the UK-based company’s business model and the work of sales agents in Europe are both evolving

Xavier Henry-Rashid • Sales agent, Film Republic

Cineuropa caught up with Xavier Henry-Rashid, managing director of London-based sales agent Film Republic. During our chat, we delved into the firm’s editorial policy, its evolving business model and how selling films is changing in Europe.

Cineuropa: Could you please talk us through your company’s editorial policy? How has your work evolved over the last few years?
Xavier Henry-Rashid:
It’s a good question because a lot is changing now after COVID-19. I could say that we used to work with films that were director-driven and arthouse, even though “arthouse” doesn’t mean anything these days. [...] Historically – going back to 11 years ago, when we set up the company – we used to always have a good majority of female directors, which was nice, and we had a heavy focus on LGBT and marginalised filmmakers. Unfortunately, the percentage has actually diminished over the years. As the budgets and projects got bigger, the share of female and minority directors decreased. [...] The key issue is what now, what next? What to pick up next becomes the biggest question mark for us. With distribution, almost everything fails, prices are very low, MGs are low, transparency is low, reporting is low... Traditionally, distributors needed films that could recoup on TV cable-like sales. The theatrical market was the loss-leading marketing tool. The COVID years, however, were very good for business. I know many companies that had record years. During COVID, we started doing a lot more “TV”, in the broadest sense – broadcast, cable, VoD, anything but theatrical... Without theatrical, films were doing okay – quite well, actually! TV buyers were responding fast and paying fast. A lot of filmmakers stayed in business during that period. Now that’s changed. From this year on, after business went back to normal, companies are taking longer to decide. What I see is a lot of big sales companies now going for small films. So actually, now we’re in competition with the big players. They’re going for small, low-risk films that don’t need upfront investments or large MGs. [...] Also, we were doing a lot more catalogue sales. These films work very well in TV deals. They weren’t “extremely” arthouse and had nothing controversial, as the market is looking for much more uplifting films than the traditional festival selections.

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How is the company staffed?
There are three people working here. One person handles festivals, one handles the acquisitions and helps with sales, and I handle sales. We’re a micro-team.

How many titles do you rep each year?
It used to be nine or ten “package” titles before COVID. Now, we handle six. On top of that, we pick up films for catalogue sales. Right now, that accounts for five or six extra titles per year. So in total, we handle about 12.

What about the size of the catalogue?
It includes about 70 titles.

Do you happen to invest in films from the production stage or help fund them?
Not with hard cash; we’re not a production company. [...] Hopefully, we’ll be better positioned in future to invest in films. Like every other sales company, we’re involved with the development, the script feedback and the funding applications, and all that work we do on some projects – maybe three or four per year – really helps financing to be put together. One producer friend of mine once said: “In the USA, that’s an exec-producer credit; it’s a percentage and it’s a fee. In Europe, it’s called being nice.” That’s the point. You can invest a lot of time in projects when you receive scripts [brandishes a large ream], and you’ve got a lot of work to do with no contract in place and no mechanism... We do this on four or five scripts per week.

How do you feel the role of the sales agent is developing within the European context?
It surely needs to change. The problem is that there is no discernible business model in sales. You can’t go to film schools – even though some teach sales and distribution – and follow certain formulas to run a business. The truth is that every company is so different. Some do equity finance, some are TV broadcasters, some only do sales... It’s nothing new. [...] Post-COVID, we know that there’s no market for finished films any more. It’s not a good business model. Many companies still think that getting a sales commission when the film is finished doesn’t really work, so they decide to get a production fee on a film or ten of them, and it’s a more viable model. But now, there are so many talks with so many great ideas about the future, including transmedia and cross-media, which were already hot ten years ago, and all of that has already happened. It’s not just about films. The thing I got wrong 12 years ago was always saying we were selling 90-minute films. We should have said: “We sell stories; we’re in the business of storytelling.” A story can be anything: YouTube, series, content for smart watches and so on...

In the European model, there’s a lot of development, with lots of development funding. When you look at the SVoD model, they fast-track things. Some companies are really successful – they pick up stories based on proven IPs, such as books that have been published or short stories published in newspapers. The likes of The New York Times are doing this, converting their short stories into features. We’ve been really slow because evolving a business model is very difficult. You have to rebrand the company over the years. It’s like closing a shop and reopening it.

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