Unless you're lucky enough to get a sales agent or international distributor on board early in the film's life, getting your film sold depends on getting it seen, which means taking it to the right film market. Sort of like a trade show for films, the market is a strange beast somewhere between film festival and cattle show. The granddaddy of the lot, of course, is Cannes, followed by the American Film Market (AFM), MIFED in Milan and the Pre-MIFED Screenings in London. The London Screenings is one of the UK industry's best kept secrets, playing host each year to the likes of Harvey and Bob as they prowl the back corners of Soho for fresh new talent. Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of deals are made during the screenings as theatrical, video and TV rights are sold territory by territory.
The London Screenings began as an informal stopover for US & Asian execs travelling to Milan for the annual MIFED market each October. Tired of overpriced and cramped screening facilities when they got to Italy, sellers began to show their film in London's comfier preview theatres the week before. As a few started to offer screenings, more and more buyers and sellers followed, terrified of missing out on The Next Big Thing. Now, London is a huge market in its own right, arguably third in the world league tables after Cannes and AFM. However unlike both these events, London Screenings isn't run by a single company, and herein lies much confusion.
PR company DDA began offering services in London for a few select clients around a decade ago, and these continue today, although largely separate from the main event. In 1996 Sandy Mandelberger's International Media Resources (IMR) launched the London Pre-MIFED Screenings, and two years later both Fusion Events, in association with Moving Pictures; and Single Market Events, in association with PACT and Screen International joined in. This year, Single Market Events pulled out and Screen International joined forces with Fusion, leaving two separate organisations (IMR and Fusion) in charge of organising venues, screenings, registrations and press liaison. This has its benefits - the price of screening rooms remains competitive, and the whole event has a casual and almost anonymous feel to it - as well as its drawbacks - namely the lack of central registration or organisational structure.
So, unfortunately, for a producer taking their project to London for the first time, this means dealing with twice as many hotels, websites, and organisations as they would do in Milan. It's a five day event, but most of the action takes place between Monday and Thursday - and here's what you need to know:
- The Screenings - It's almost definitely too late now to book a screening room so I trust that if you have a film to sell you've already sorted that out. If not, well you can at least start planning for next year. For a list of the day's screenings - which take place at both Soho preview theatres and West End cinemas - grab a copy of Screen International or Moving Pictures, or check one of the websites listed below.
- Watching films - The London Screenings is a great place to watch a lot of films for free, sometimes years before they get released. To get into a screening you need a business card, but you should ALWAYS ask the production company or sales agent behind the film showing in advance, because although a screening may be advertised, it may only be for buyers. When there's a shortage of space, taking the seat that a potential buyer could have taken is not just rude, but unprofessional. Some companies will welcome an extra viewer with open arms, others will start loading a shotgun.
- Walking out - if you're screening a film, don't be disappointed if people start walking out after ten minutes. There are typically twenty or more films playing at any time across London, and buyer's time is limited. At a screening of Dead Babies last year I remember three buyers walking out before the first title card.
- Hotels - The central point for much of the London Screenings is the Meridien in Piccadilly, which takes the form of an airport departure lounge for the week, turning over most of its suites into office space. Then there's the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel, right in the heart of Leicester Square where there's a reception lounge and information pick-up point. There's also the Berners, Covent Garden Hotel, Charlotte Street Hotel, and Radisson Pastoria, Marlborogh and Mountbatten.
- The Trades - Both Screen International and Moving Pictures publish dailies with a list of that day's screenings as well as news of the previous day's deals. These can be picked up from the Hampshire or the Meridien, as well as most screening venues. Variety and Hollywood Reporter also publish special London issues.
- Websites - This year both independent londonscreenings.com (run by former IMR partner Parent Productions) and screendaily.com are offering online registration for buyers, sellers and films - you should register at both. In addition netribution.co.uk/london offers regular updates, alongside screening and hotel information.
- Publicity - London is no Cannes, and the event has been kept largely spare of huge banner advertising or publicity stunts. The best way to get the right buyers to see your film is carefully targeted letters and sales packs left at their hotels - or better still, phone calls in advance. To find out where each buyer is staying, both IMR and Fusion provide their clients with a buyer list in advance of the screening week.
- The Press - There is no reason not to also invite the UK press to your screenings, although a disgruntled critic could put off a potential buyer. Plus, if this is your first screening, you may want to listen to feedback from buyers before you present a final cut to the press. The trade press, however, should be kept updated of deals and acquisitions. Your mail-out should include Screen International, Moving Pictures, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen Digest, Screen Finance and Netribution.
- Parties and schmoozing - low key though the event is, there are still plenty of parties and receptions throughout the week, although if you aren't looking to snap up Korean video rights, then the event hosts are probably less keen to keep you filled with free Champagne all night. Most notable are the IMR reception on Sunday night, the Fusion/Screen event on Monday, and the Bafta/NPA/Netribution event on Tuesday. By Wednesday you should have made enough contacts to keep fed and watered until the week's unofficial end on Thursday afternoon when buyers start flying out to Milan.
Further information - www.londonscreenings.com, www.netribution.co.uk/london and www.screendaily.com
Nic Wistreich runs Netribution.co.uk with Tom Fogg. He is the author of International Film and TV Rights 2000 for Theodore Goddard and Informa Media's recent Digital Asset Management report.