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All Rights Reserved: Film Sales & Licensing


International sales and distribution are still nascent in the Nigerian filmmaking industry but the success of Genevieve Nnaji’s Lion Heart is an indication that it is possible.


By Olu Yomi Ososanya

Early September, Variety magazine announced, Lion Heart (2018), the directorial debut of Nollywood royalty, Genevieve Nnaji, had sold to Netflix before its Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere.  Now you may be thinking, “But I‘ve seen many Nollywood films on Netflix, why is this different?” It’s the first Nigerian film to be purchased as a Netflix original.

Films are usually sold according to territory/region, North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. That is why if you buy a DVD from a region different from yours, your player indicates the difference.  This allows filmmakers to sell piecemeal to different agents for each region. Netflix bought World Rights. All regions.

So what did Ms. Nnaji do? Let’s hypothesize.

Genevieve was a guest at TIFF in 2016 as part of the TIFF Spotlight focusing on Lagos.  At this point, she had made Road to Yesterday (2016), her first film as a Producer and got a taste of what it took.  It’s safe to assume while there, she observed, took meetings and made contacts with sales agents, distributors, producers and understood what they wanted.

Whatever truly happened there, it’s clear she left with a plan to return with a film which could play as an Official Selection.

As at TIFF 2016, Netflix was fresh off the boat in Nigeria; nobody could have foreseen a Nigerian Netflix Original at that point (not so soon anyway).  That was for films like “Beasts of No Nation(2015)”. The company changed film distribution, allowing filmmakers to bypass the cinema process and have their film seen by the world in their living rooms.  But what if you want your film on cinema screens across the globe?

If you are to sell your film “in the abroad” as they say. You need representation, i.e. a Sales agent.

According to Elliot Grove, founder of Raindance Film Festival, Sales agents represent several different films at a film market in order to balance the cost of attending the markets against the potential income from several films.  Let’s presume you go with a US North American sales agent and you want them to sell for all territories. To them, the USA and Canada territory are always referred to as the domestic sale. Due to the US global domination of the film industry, sales are quoted in dollars and the international sales agent will deal in dollars. A domestic sales agent, by definition, would only sell to American companies, while a foreign sales agent would sell to any non-USA country; Europe, Asia, Africa.

Then there is Distribution, which can take many forms.

You can have a distributor presents your film to exhibitors and negotiates agreements to have the film shown in cinemas. There can be a marketing campaign to create buzz. You can get a Film Festival debut (Cannes, Sundance, TIFF, Venice, Berlin). There are test screenings used to judge audience reactions or to evaluate alternative marketing. You can get Digital Cinema Package delivered to cinemas. Your film can be distributed on home/video/DVD and/or pay cable. And your film can be distributed on terrestrial television and released in ancillary markets.

WARNING: No matter how mouth-watering the offer, NEVER sell your film outright, only license it. RETAIN the copyright.  That’s the secret to Tyler Perry’s wealth. Don’t be an Esau.

What happens after executing the best-laid plans, and you don’t sell at the Film Festival?  Is this the end?  No.  You have the option of a Film Market. According to Grove, Film markets are no different from any other type of market. There are goods, vendors, and buyers. At a market, an organizer books a convention space and screening rooms. The organizer then lets out these spaces and screening slots to interested film sellers, and advertises the companies and films attending in the hope of attracting film buyers.

As a Nigerian, the Durban Film Mart held during the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is a good place to start. DIFF is one of the biggest film festivals in Africa. It is also a sister festival to Berlinale, so getting recognition at DIFF is a good springboard. Representatives from Sundance, Cannes and other international film festivals attend DIFF as well as people looking for new talent to work with. As an upcoming filmmaker, Durban is a closer and “cheaper” option.

However, if attending TIFF, Sundance, or Cannes has always been a dream of yours, shoot for the moon, you may strike a deal just like Ms. Nnaji.


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.


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