Giulia Prenna, an executive sales and acquisition consultant at Cinema Management Group, won the Best Seller Award at the 3rd Cinando Awards’ Best Seller Contest, which took place May 15-16 at the Cannes Film Market.
Prenna was among eight up-and-coming sales executives who pitched from a choice of two first feature projects, Sylvain Robineau’s French comedy “Sabine” and Fisnik Maxhuni’s “Syzygy,” a Swiss-Kosovo production, to a panel of international buyers. The Honor Prize was awarded to runner-up Anil Ravdjee, a sales executive at WestEnd Films.
The competitors pitched to a jury of prestigious distributors and producers, including Michel Merkt, from Monaco’s KNM, Jakub Duszynski of Poland’s Gutek Film, Elba McAllister, owner of Cineplex in Colombia, and Cyril Burkel of France’s Metropolitan Filmexport.
Cannes Film Market executive director Jerome Paillard praised Prenna’s award-winning pitch, noting that “what makes a good sales agent [is] the capacity to take…the market point of view and transform it into something that is sellable.”
Prenna began her career as an intern for Akiva Goldsman at Warner Bros., before moving on to Paradigm Talent Agency and then working with Hollywood Gang producer Gianni Nunnari.
She set out to start her own production company, but soon realized that she didn’t have enough experience selling indie films to excel at the likes of the Cannes Film Market or the AFM. So she “started again from the ground up,” interning at a sales company to help her understand “what happened to independent movies” once they entered the market.
At CMG, “I’m trying to weigh what the marketplace is looking for at the moment, and what I know I can put forward that…will work in my distributors’ territories,” she said. At the Cinando competition, she chose to pitch “Sabine” because it had universal elements, like love and grief, and Prenna knew “it can make money for my distributors.”
Though the jury panel included “some pretty heavy-hitters in the business,” she said she keeps her cool by trying to anticipate her prospective buyers’ needs. “You just think, ‘I know this project’s for them, and I know they can do really well with it.’”
Sales, said Prenna, is about building personal relationships that come down to knowing and understanding each other’s needs. “I want [buyers] to succeed, because it helps me succeed as well, because they’ll want to buy more films, and they’ll still be in the business in 10 years’ time, and we’ll have this long-term relationship,” she said.
The France-born Ravdjee entered the industry as an intern at SBS Productions before producing music video and commercials. He moved to London “to work in a more international environment,” joining WestEnd Films in 2016 and beginning to sell films at the 2017 Cannes Film Market. He admitted that stepping into the Palais for the first time, “you have stars in your eyes.” He called the experience “a dream come true.”
Sales for Ravdjee is a process of trial and error. “You start pitching, you see how buyers react, and you adapt your pitch to that,” he said. A year after his first visit to Cannes, he feels himself “getting more at ease with trying to get to the core of the project.” Ravdjee tries to focus on the key elements of a film that will “make it a bit more appealing to distributors,” including delivery time, casting choices, and production budget. As a sales agent, he said, “you try to put yourself…in the shoes of the audience [and ask], ‘What do I want to hear about a film that will make me want to go see it?’”
In describing his approach to pitching “Syzygy,” a complex Balkan drama with no well-known talent attached, Ravdjee noted the success WestEnd had with “The Hostages,” a Georgian hijacking drama by director Rezo Gigineishvili that premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama section in 2017. Though Gigineishvili and the film’s cast were unknowns, Ravdjee said he was able to connect with the film in a way that fueled the passion in his sales pitch, propelling the film to a strong festival run, including Telluride. “You have to try to be able to convey your passion for the project to convince buyers that it’s something for them to look at,” he said.
In assessing the competition, KNM’s Merkt said there’s no such thing as a “perfect recipe” when it comes to making a sales pitch, although he stressed a good pitch should be “simple and clear.”
“I really need to have…a great story, a believable world, and engaging characters,” he said. “If you put that together in three sentences, it’s done.”
He added that he likes to see a “road map” that shows a script is leading to a big payoff. “You go from paper to emotions, so I want to feel these emotions,” he said.
Just as important, said McCallister, of Cineplex, is a detailed plan that shows a producer has a clear strategy for production and distribution. “As buyers, we ask for references, how much the budget is, where they see the film being played for the first time,” she said. A strong pitch will zero in on the key “selling point” that will hook movie-goers. Because buyers, she noted, “become sellers to the audience.”
Merkt agreed. “I want to know who’s going to be my audience. Because if the guy who’s pitching me doesn’t know, we are in big trouble. I want them to tell me why I have to buy it now.”
Though the eight competitors in the Cinando Awards’ Best Seller Contest included seasoned pros, Merkt praised the newcomers who learned the ropes during the two-day event. “They’re not all sales agents, so I’m very happy they came [to pitch], because it’s not easy,” he said.