10 Tips To Closing the Deal in the Film Business

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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 TO CLOSING THE DEAL

I am very excited about this week’s article.   How to close the deal is the topic and I think for all of us in this industry, and probably every industry, it’s one of the most difficult and uncomfortable things to do.  It certainly takes us out of our comfort zone!  In fact, just writing this article made me anxious since it got me thinking about my upcoming projects and the business details that need to be handled to actually close the deals.

At the same time writing it was valuable for me as a wake-up call because I clearly saw where and why I wasn’t closing the deal on certain projects.  Many of us are great at creating some heat around ourselves and our projects from time to time, but how do we close the deal… how do we push it to that next stage?  How do we get them to read our screenplay?  Sign that option agreement?  Watch our acting reel?  Hire us as the director on that film or TV show?  Commit to investing in our film?

In this “10 Tips” article, I’ll share with you some ideas that will support you with this extremely important issue.  And there are some amazing gold nuggets here for those of you who will be attending the American Film Market beginning November 1st.  Enjoy!

1) CREATE A STRONG RELATIONSHIP

The first stage is always “relationship.”  Creating a rapport between you and the buyer.  It puts them at ease and creates a bond or common ground.  It also creates an affinity between you and them that has them want to move forward with you.  When things get stuck in the dialogue, it is usually because there isn’t sufficient relationship.  I promise you, we tend to overlook this.  We jump right into action every time… “Read my screenplay,” “look at my production designer portfolio,” “listen to my CD”, “check out my short films on my website.”  It just doesn’t work and it’s actually off-putting.  Create a relationship first.  Even if it’s just for a few minutes.

2) HOW TO CREATE THAT RELATIONSHIP

I always start with research.  Find out about them in advance.  The more you know about them and their company, the easier it will be to create rapport.  If you can, use referrals to get to them.  Acknowledge them; genuine and informed acknowledgment is important.  Ask about them – their needs, concerns, goals, and commitments.  And share who you are and why you’re meeting with them.

3) HEAT (aka: PASSION / EXCITEMENT)

Create an excitement that’s contagious.  You want the buyer to be lit up and excited by your vision and/or what you’re offering.  They’ll get excited when what you’re saying touches them, solves a problem and/or fits in with their needs and desires.  As I mentioned in an earlier article, before any call, email or meeting, get back in touch with your commitment.  Remind yourself why you wrote that script, what it is about that story that just had to be told.  What is it about that project that has you so committed to producing it this year.

For those of you providing a service – actors, DPs, make-up artists, set designers, directors, etc. remember why you chose this particular profession.  What is it about set design that you love?  What is it about acting that you are so passionate about?  When I was speaking with Adrian Paul (actor/director/producer and star of “Highlander” TV Series) on set during the filming of my thriller, “Séance,” we talked about this issue and he said, “there is nothing like having passion for what you are telling… know your material and have conviction about what you are saying.”  So share your vision, passion, and enthusiasm.  What turns you on about what you’re offering and why?  And as I noted, your energy and enthusiasm is contagious.

4) WHAT IS IT THAT THEY NEED

It’s very important to speak to what it is that they want.  Tailor what you say to their specific situation.  Remember, it’s about targeting and satisfying their needs.  Be clear and concise in describing what you’re offering and if there is a personal connection to what you’re offering, let them know.  Be sure to listen (really listen) during the conversation.  My husband has gotten nearly every TV writing job he’s interviewed for over the years.  When I asked him his secret, he said “It’s never so much about what I say, it’s always how I listen.”  The more you listen the more you’ll pick up on what they need and want.

5) EXCITEMENT DOESN’T LAST LONG

I think this is the biggest problem for all of us.  It’s not so much because we don’t know how to deal with flagging enthusiasm, I believe it’s more that we don’t know that we even need to.  But just because the buyer seems so thrilled in the room doesn’t mean they will remember what you talked about (or who you are) a week later.  You must continually create heat by adding logs to the fire.  Your job is to keep the excitement alive.

6) GET THE FACTS AND THE DETAILS

As I just mentioned, most of us think it’s enough for the buyer to get excited in the room.  We so often leave the room in ‘hope.’  But this isn’t enough.  There may be additional hurdles that have to be crossed before the deal can close.  It’s important to find out what they are and address them.  What else needs to happen to move the deal to completion?  I have been guilty of this and it had to do with me not wanting to “wear the business hat.”  I used to tell myself that I was just to creative to concern myself with the business details…

“Is the paperwork in place?”

“Is the option agreement signed,”

“Did the location manager confirm the deal on the location?”

I’m sure I knew deep down that I was kidding myself and that it was my own fear of those business details that was really the underlying factor.  It was just a way for me to let myself off the hook and not take responsibility.  I don’t care what facet of the industry you are in it’s essential that we take this seriously and “wear the business hat” at all times.  If you read my book, “Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking,” you’ll know I spend an entire chapter harping on this issue.  It’s that important.

7) MOVING THE ACTION FORWARD

Find out all the things that must happen to move the action forward… Who else needs to be on board?  What is the decision-making process?  Who else should you meet?  Are other people being considered?  What is their timetable?  Is the money in the bank?  What’s the best strategy for making this happen?  Also, make sure they have all the key information about what you are offering.  How will it work?  When are you available?  What will it cost?  What will you (or they) charge?  How will you (or they) be paid?

8) GET YOUR HANDS AROUND THE REALITY

Get the hard facts that you and they are dealing with.  For example, what has not yet been disclosed?  Are there any further concerns?  Find out and address them.  Are there any further obstacles to be overcome?  If so, in the spirit of partnership, discuss how best to overcome them.  Ask a lot of questions and leave no stone unturned.  Find out who has to say “yes” to the deal and what you can do to get them on board.

9)  REQUESTS AND PROMISES – THE KEY TO COMMITTED ACTION

Requests:  For example, I request you do X by Y time.  It is important that you get committed speaking from them, instead of lip service or good intentions which is so often the norm in the entertainment industry.  You have to generate this and if they accept your request, you must manage it.

For example, follow up with a phone call.  Promises: For example, I promise to do X by Y time.  Be sure you are committed to what you promise and do what you say you will.  If you promise to follow up at a specific time, do it, or the entire deal may be jeopardized.  Be creative with using promises to move the action forward.  For example, “How about I write the first act for you on spec and deliver it by the end of the month.  If you like it, you hire me, if not, there’s no obligation.”

10)  DRAW THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION

Once you agree to who’s going to do what by when you need to establish how you will communicate with each other to follow up.  Will you call them in two weeks to see if they’ve read your business plan and want to invest in your film?  Will you meet again in one week?  This establishes accountability.  It’s best if you keep control of the process by assigning yourself responsibility for initiating the follow-up communication.

NOTE:  I realize that the tips and suggestions in this article may be a bit hard to handle.  In our industry, as creative people we seldom make these types of requests, hardly ever put the ball in our court or keep the power in our hands.  We find it awkward and uncomfortable.  Yet, it’s the difference between getting the role, or not… the job, or not… the deal, or not.  It’s a muscle we must learn to flex and we really need to become great at it.   

BONUS:  Something else to try when closing the deal, is creating urgency.  Especially in this town, when your script, your headshot, your composer reel, your resume, etc. can sit on someone’s desk forever.  Find a way to create urgency.  It works! 


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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