The Works' Clare Crean on Why Pre-Sale is Not Dead

Clare Crean nearly knows everyone. And most buyers know her. She's been with what is now called The Works International since 1999 when it was then operating under the moniker the Sales Company. Just weeks before the AFM, Crean was promoted to head of sales amid a major corporate restructuring and the departure of previous sales chief Carl Clifton to K5 International. Her AFM badge was taken so long ago that it's in black and white but, despite the years between then and now, Crean doesn't seem to have aged much. She talks to U.K. Bureau Chief Stuart Kemp about why the pre-sale is not dead, economizing at markets and why Oscar-winning documentaries are cheaper than fiction for buyers but remain heavy on P&A wallets. Before The Works, Crean sold television and library assets for the U.K. sales, finance and production house J&M Entertainment.

The Hollywood Reporter: Is the pre-sale dead?

Clare Crean: For the right project, I believe pre-sales do exist. But I do think that what buyers are looking for is recognizable cast and an established director. Anything that doesn't have either of those two components is going to struggle.

THR: You're sales slate happens not to have any pre-sale projects at the AFM. Why?

Crean: We're not pre-selling anything at this market. It's to do with timing issues rather than anything to do with an AFM strategy. There is s project we are talking about boarding but we're just not in a position to talk about here. Hopefully by Berlin, we'll be in position.

THR: A lot of folks say you can't sell European art house at the AFM?

Crean: Generally, I agree with that comment however the Works has a tradition of successfully selling European art house projects here. We successfully sold I Am Love (Lo Sono L'Amore) here last year. We began selling it during Toronto (2009) and came into the AFM last year and we screened it here last year. We concluded a Latin American territory deal for it with Sun Distribution at the beginning of the market.

THR: If it's difficult for European art house, what about feature documentaries with which you have enjoyed big successes?

Crean: We've been fortunate that we have handled sales, in the last three years, on three incredibly successful feature docs, Man On Wire, The Cove and Countdown to Zero. Both Man On Wire and The Cove won the Oscar for best documentary feature. They have all been sold widely but it is still a genre that certain territories stay away from completely.

THR: Such as?

Crean: Scandinavia is very difficult to sell feature documentaries partly because they make them very successfully themselves for their home territories.

THR: But it's a hard proposition to sell feature documentaries generally?

Crean: Box office figures for what feature documentaries take are small. The feature documentaries that do sell always have something about them that makes them really stand out from the crowd. They have to because for people to choose to go and see a documentary at the cinema amid all the choice, it has to be special.

THR: Is a feature documentary cheaper to buy than a fiction feature?

Crean: Generally a feature documentary is less than a feature film because we do still, somewhat bizarrely, operate as a sales company on the basis that what buyers pay is linked to the budget of the film. MG's are lower for feature docs but that doesn't mean to say P&A costs for distributors are lower. In fact, P&A costs are just as high for a feature as a non-fiction project.

THR: We're now in the second year of feeling the global economic downturn. Has a equilibrium been reached between prices sellers want and money buyers are willing to pay?


Crean: I think buyers will tell you that sellers have to be more reasonable about their pricing. And sellers will tell you they have to price in such a way that reflects the environment but also because pricing is dependent on budgets and financing packages, the cost still has to allow the producers and financiers to recoup their investment.

THR: Have producers reduced budgets to reflect the current economic climes?

Crean: In all honesty, I am not sure that that is what is happening. It is getting harder and harder to find the money to make the film so it's a bit of a Catch 22 for all of us. It all starts with budgets in order for there to be any chance of an upside. The producers really need as much soft money as possible because the prospects of covering budgets with sales are as hard as ever.

THR: Do sales companies have to sell themselves harder these days to get the job?

Crean: Sales companies have always tended to be able to sell themselves. From my own personal experience I am very lucky because I have an acquisitions person who is totally on the ball. Most sales agents have relationships with producers built up over years and those relationships are incredibly valuable.

THR: How do you get paid?

Crean: Each deal is done on a film-by-film basis. The constant for all sales agents is we take a commission fee on the deal. I'm always at great pains to explain to producers new [to the sales agency world] that the sales agents role is not just about the deal. What we do is far more than just selling the film. The commission is for everything from delivery of the film, to collections, chasing boxoffice revenues, collecting any overages (if there are any!). And a good sales agent hopefully has a great deal of contact with all the distributors.

THR: The AFM is an expensive market to attend is it not?

Crean: It is expensive and sales agents have to look very carefully at the merits of attending all these markets. There are so many markets and that is not necessarily what the sales companies or the buyers want. Part of it is that festivals believe putting on markets alongside them encourages attendance and profile, but it's not necessarily what the industry wants. We are swamped with markets but there are certain ones we have to attend and the AFM is one of them.

THR: What are people doing about the costs, if anything?

Crean: I think if you did a straw poll of sellers and asked them how did they travel here and where are they staying you'd find a lot flew in a lower class and are staying in slightly less expensive hotels. Everyone has looked at the number of people they need at the market and how big the suites need to be.

THR: What's the future for sales companies?

Crean: It would be nice to feel we are going out of what has been a tough time for a lot of people. I think genuinely everyone wants to move forward. There are some signs that things are picking up and some territories are back being more competitive. Germany, for instance, seems to be picking up. I think people are fed up with having spent two years talking about how awful everything is.

THR: How is it selling movies into the U.S. as a European company?

Crean: We've always much rather keep the rights together and sell the projects on a global basis. It doesn't always work, of course, because producers sometimes sell the U.S. themselves or hire someone separately to do that job. More and more producers feel they have to hire a U.S. agent to handle U.S. rights. I don't buy into that really but it is a growing trend.

THR: You sold Duncan Ward's Boogie Woogie to IFC Films, I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton rocked up on Magnolia's release slate and Sarah Watt's My Year Without Sex went to Strand Releasing. You've struck a host of U.S. deals so a European based sales agent can do it?

Crean: We know the buyers from all the major territories so we can certainly do the deals. And we do.