Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons
This is a series of articles that film producer and best-selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.
10 Tips for a Killer Sales Presentation
Years ago, my film partner and I decided to launch Windchill Films. A low budget genre division of Snowfall Films where we had done bigger budget films. Thriller/horror movies were doing fantastic box office back then so we chose our first project, “Candy Stripers.” It was early fall at the time and we did the paper work, opened the LLC, created a great business plan, set the production date for May 12th, and even opened a bank account. We were thrilled to get started.
Christmas came and went and the next thing I remember is looking at the calendar and screaming, “Oh my God! It’s March 1st!” Two months had gone by and we’d sold two units (shares in the film) and that was to each other! I called Kate and together we realized that the fear of getting out there and selling the units… raising the money and approaching potential investors was overwhelming. We had completely shut down and disappeared. In the past our projects had for the most part been co-productions where you work with a representative from an investment group, get government funding, tax incentives and do gap financing.
This was different. Our budget was SAG ultra-low and we’d be going to friends and colleagues. So, right there on the spot we decided to set up a timeline and schedule two sales presentations to invite potential investors and present our project. We needed to move forward and we needed to do so with velocity. We had lost two months so the first thing we did was move our production from May 12th to July 12th.
I found that doing a sales presentation was useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, preparing for it forced us to get crystal clear about our project and our pitch. Secondly, it put us directly in front of potential investors and finders (people who could help us find investors) and thirdly, it made it all very very real! It completely altered how we spoke about the project.
Within three weeks from the sales presentation, we went from two units to twenty-two! I learned a lot preparing and presenting the sales presentation for “Candy Stripers” and I really look forward to sharing this information with you.
I’ll take you through these 10 tips by sharing what Kate Robbins (my former film partner for over ten years) and I did for our “Candy Stripers” sales presentation.
1) PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES: It’s how I plan and do everything. I always think, if I were the one sitting in the sales presentation, as a potential investor, what would I want and need to hear? How much time would I be willing to sit in the room? With this in mind, I prepared the evening. I decided that 45 minutes was enough time to get through the presentation and then I allowed 45 minutes for a Q&A. Of course, Kate and I would remain after the hour and a half to speak privately with people. I booked a Monday evening and a Wednesday evening one week later, both from 7:00 to 8:30.
2) RESEARCH THE VENUE & SCHEDULE THE EVENT: We didn’t want to spend much money and we wanted a fairly small room so it would look like standing room only. I found a hotel with a meeting room that held 40 people and it was only a few blocks from my office. I booked the room for two separate evenings so we could accommodate everyone. Then Kate and I came up with a clear, short, simple e-mail invitation that covered the following: We mentioned we were producing CANDY STRIPERS… that we were holding a small sales presentation (where and when)… we explained a little about how the evening was going to unfold and we ended the email letting them know how to RSVP to the event. We sent this e-mail (in groups of 10 in blind copy) to all our friends and colleagues. We also invited some specific people personally. In addition, we made certain we had two assistants to help us with set up and logistics so I put that request out around this time as well.
3) PREPARE YOUR LOGISTICS: Take time to type up your logistics list. Here are some examples of what was on ours. A sign-in sheet which has ‘Name, Phone # and E-Mail’ typed across the top, pens, masking tape and cookies for the water table. On the side table we had copies of our bios, business cards, our company Mission Statement, a sample script (only one as we don’t offer it unless asked) and we had our BAFTA award sitting on the table as well. Also, on the table, we had one-sheet posters of CANDY STRIPERS with the synopsis on the back, the Director’s vision notes, and copies of an LA Times article about the success of Horror films. On the walls we had taken quotes about the success of horror films and had them blown up on big poster boards. In addition, we had posters of the films we had already completed and a blown up version of the LA Times’ article. On the table behind us (not accessible to everyone) were the LLC/PPM (Private Placement Memorandum) packets with a sign-out sheet. We also had a small TV and DVD player to show our trailers of our other films.
4) WELCOME TO THE SALES PRESENTATION: Okay, the night has arrived. Your assistants are signing people in and you are greeting people. It’s 7:00 o’clock, time to begin. Firstly, welcome everyone and thank them for coming to your event. Secondly, tell them the purpose of the evening. Be direct and clear about this. For example, “the purpose of the evening is for you to hear about Candy Stripers, LLC and get any questions you might have answered. We would love for you to invest in our film project and we look forward to doing this sales presentation for you this evening.” Thirdly, go over the outline for the evening starting with logistics, like where the washrooms are located and mention the water table at the back of the room. It is hard for people to be present and fully listen if they don’t know the purpose and details of how the evening will go.
5) INTRODUCE YOURSELF & YOUR COMPANY: Now it’s time to introduce yourself. People will be investing in you, not just your project. They need to get to know you. So share about yourself, highlighting the areas from your career and personal life that will instill credibility. Mentioning the fact that I had been a VP of Marketing at a TV network and co-founder of the Flash Forward Institute having trained 1000’s of entertainment industry people and Kate sharing about her background as a stock broker created a comfort level for the people in the room. It is not just about how many films you produced, directed or wrote. It is important to include other aspects of your life as well. Now, you can speak about your film company and show trailers (if you have them) of your previous projects. Share about what you are planning and read your company mission statement. Writer/director/producer, Becky Smith, shared with me what she did during her presentation to investors for her first feature film “16 to Life.” “I consolidated my credits and experience, emphasizing that I was an Emmy-nominated television director, and had a great deal of experience getting big projects in on time and under budget. I also emphasized my ability to direct fact and efficiently, and my connections to a wide variety of people in the industry in Los Angeles. I found, when fund-raising, that money people were most interested in me and how I presented myself, not in the story. They didn’t pretend to understand screenplays… their strength was in reading my character.”
6) WHY THIS FILM & WHY THIS BUDGET: Why did you choose this script? This genre? This size budget? We had actually started a genre division WindChill Films, so we shared about how great those films were doing (at that time) and how with the amazing digital cameras and our huge number of contacts and relationships we could do these films for a low budget. We gave specific examples of several projects that were doing well and gave the numbers. We also read parts of the LA Times article and pointed out and read the quotes that were on the wall.
7) DIRECTOR‘S VISION: Be sure your director is well prepared to share about her/his vision of the project. It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out, you just want to give your audience a sense of how it will look and that it is well planned and well thought out. We also mentioned that there were “director’s vision” one-sheets on the side table and they were welcome to pick one up at the end of the evening.
8) INTRODUCE YOUR TEAM: I had my line-producer and DP there. If you have some other major keys available you can have them there to say hello and they can be available at the end of the evening. Our line-producer spoke briefly about how we could shoot CANDY STRIPERS for our budget, reinforcing what Kate and I had already discussed. He shared about his relationship with professional experienced keys, crew and with vendors. And how he was able to keep cost at a minimum. Our DP had 25 years of experience! He was amazing in front of the room and his confidence was impressive. If you don’t have a lot of credits (or trailers of your own films) now would be the time to take advantage of your team and show a few trailers of their projects.
9) WHAT ARE YOU OFFERING: This is what the potential investors have been waiting for. A critical part of the evening. What’s in it for me… the investor? We were very clear about what exactly our offering was and we made certain to tell them that it was high risk. We had made a point of having a sales agent do sales estimates for us and we brought hand-outs of a “Revenue Scenario” to show what possible percentage they could receive if the estimates came in as planned. This hand out was a big success. It showed we had done our homework and it looked great. PLEASE mention the high risk factor a few times during this part. Very important. NOTE: If you have any investors who have already invested or made a commitment to invest, have them in the room and call on them to share about why they are investing in your project. If they can’t be there then have them put it in writing so you can read it to everyone. Once of our investor, a retired stockbroker, was in the room and he stood and said, “38 years on Wall Street taught me to look for 4 things in investment opportunities. 1. A good product, 2. A market for that product, 3. Good company management, 4. Good profit potential. Candy Stripers contains all 4 things. I’m happy to be an investor.”
10) Q & A and WRAP UP: It’s been nearly 45 minutes (stay on time!) so it is time to open up the evening for the 45-minute Q&A. After that, we wrapped up the event. “We will be here to answer further questions one on one and we have our LLC/PPM packages available for anyone interested in investing in Candy Stripers, LLC. Thank you so much for coming this evening and feel free to come up and say hello. We will be here as long as you need us.” Don’t forget to make sure they sign out (name and phone number) the LLC/PPM packages.
BONUS: FOLLOW UP – No one can write you a check that evening because they have to read the PPM and Operating Agreement. So, it’s your job to follow up the next day. Call both the people who had signed out packets as well as the other people to see who has questions and who is interested in investing. Good luck and as always have fun!
Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She recently launched a game-changing online course called Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching. Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.
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