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21 August 2019
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Katapulting films round the world

Thomas Mai of Katapult Film Sales in California was a guest advisor at the 2006 IndiVision Marketing Workshop in Melbourne last month. Acting Manager of AFC Marketing Frances Leadbeter spoke to Thomas about the film markets he works and the 20-minute window a script has in his hands.

Can you briefly describe Katapult and your slate of films?
Katapult is a fairly young sales company; only two years old. We're looking for global films for a global market. We have an office in LA, an office in Amsterdam and just opened up an office in Copenhagen. Our lawyer's in London, our delivery person's in Berlin, our partner's in New York. We are one Icelander, one Danish, one French, one Dutch and one American. Later this year I also want to hire someone for Tokyo in Japan.

How many films a year can you afford to pick up around the world?
It's not so much what we can afford to pick up, it's more time management. Each film requires a lot of time. But we have eight films so far this year, and we will probably have two, three more before the end of the year; that is definitely pushing it with the current level of employees that we have. But we feel comfortable about that.

Can you talk about a sales cycle of one film that you have picked up - what you do with it and how long you take it to the markets.
There is a film selling cycle and overall it's a year on the film circuit market. Then we take it to the TV markets because obviously we don't sell every film in every territory and therefore we don't exploit all the rights. If it doesn't go theatrical it will have a TV window and a DVD window. So once the film circuit is finished we work on DVD and TV rights at television markets like Mipcom and MIPTV. But the first thing we do on a film is always positioning. Which is the right festival for this film? Has the director been to festivals before? Is it a first-time director? And then of course, there's the struggle about delivery materials. Are there any marketing materials? We start looking at that right away. And then we start to prepare the festival. Hopefully we get into the festival we target for the film, and we start the cycle from that first festival launch.

And within that one-year cycle, how many markets would you be taking it to?
European Film Market (Berlin), Cannes and the American Film Market. I would go to all three, absolutely.

And does it matter which market you start with for a film?
It matters depending on what festival it started with. So if there's a market that is happening at the festival, it matters a lot. It's different for product to product.

With each of the offices you have around the world, are you independent in your selection? Or do you have to make a group decision?
It's very much a group effort because we work so hard on these films, and we need to be in line with that. And if we don't like them, if we don't feel passion for them in one way or another, it makes the job so much tougher. And therefore we all want to be behind [the film] one hundred per cent. We have our integrity to the buyers and we need to be honest with them.

Do you look at coming on at script stage or at completion?
We prefer completed because we are young and because the time span from script stage to finished film is so long. But that said, we are working on films right now which are at script stage but they have cast and directors who have made films before. I mean the film I'm working on right now has Tom Waits attached to it. Of course that makes it a lot easier. For projects with first time directors and no-name cast, we'd wait to see a rough cut before becoming involved.

So if there's an Australian producer who's reading this and they've got a completed project, and they look at your website and they think this film could be something of interest to you, what should they do?
Okay. They send it to me, absolutely. I will look at anything that comes in. I have to.

And how long do you give a film a chance before you decide it's not working for you?
I have a 20-minute limit. I do. It's tough. It's brutal. It's hard to say it that way, but if I'm not into it by 20 minutes I know my buyers will not be into it after 20 minutes.

And is that the same when you do script reading?
Yes. I know it's tough. I know people have spent a lot of time on it. But being a producer myself, you have to be aware that if your script is not standing out by page 20 or by the twentieth minute, then you've got some serious issues.

Do you like to see rough cuts, or do you want the final cut?
No, I like to give input. But I want the producer to give us the film when they feel it is presentable .

If there were up to five things that you wish producers understood about sales agents what would they be?
Nothing happens automatically. Just because you complete a film doesn't mean the whole world wants to buy it. I mean you have to know your audience. You have to know your market. You have to know where a film would sell. What works in Australia might not work in Japan but it might actually work in Germany. You have to understand the market, and it doesn't come overnight. It's a long process. And it's all in the preparation. What else? Delivery, delivery, delivery, delivery. I can't emphasis that enough.

What do you mean by that?
I mean that in order to sell a film, we need the right elements. We're talking anything from stills photography -I've worked on so many films where there's no still photography at all - to poster, trailers, to elements like from 35mm to different masters. That's important always. If I can't deliver the film, I can't get the money and if I can't get the money I can't sell the film.

For more information and contact details for Katapult Film Sales visit their website.

Thomas Mai of California's Katapult Film Sales was a guest advisor at the 06 IndiVision Marketing Workshop.