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Frequently Asked Questions About Selling Movies


  1. What screen format should I use?
  2. ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN. This means a native screen ratio of 16x9 with it digitally squeezed vertically. That is NOT letterboxed. This does NOT mean you ADD black mattes around the picture. If you do that then they will have to be cut off again and your movie will probably have to be resized. That can result in a loss of resolution and image quality. Don't do that to your movie.

    All decent video camera and editing systems currently on the market have a setting for outputting in Anamorphic Widescreen format. If yours doesn't, don't shoot a movie with it. Follow the link below for definitions and pictures explaining Anamorphic Widescreen:

  3. What are the typical delivery requirements for a feature motion picture?
  4. Nothing is 'typical' in this business.

    Most foreign distributors who are licensing a movie for DVD distribution need:

    1. A Master on a hard drive with the full composite audio track and the M&E tracks.

    2. A Dialogue Script (MS Word Doc format or PDF)

    3. High Resolution Production Stills (300 dpi or greater; no less than 2000 pixels wide on the shortest side) -- stills of scenes from the movie, not behind-the-scenes photos

    4. Key art in layered format. That means the text and other elements must be in separate layers from the background (Photoshop PSD format preferred; PC versions of fonts need to be included)

    Domestic distributors will want all that plus "name and likeness" releases, music releases, copyright certificates, script contracts, music cue sheets and gops of other documents including silly affidavits in which you swear over and over you really did make this movie yourself. Domestic distributors may also ask you to obtain E&O insurance (This is negotiable.) and may require that the master(s) be QCed (i.e. checked for quality) by a lab. But the requirements vary.

    Some domestic distributors and sales agents will give you a four page list which was compiled by adding up all the distribution requirements included in a bunch of contracts from the 1960s, and which contains many things no one uses any more. If you are offering a digital movie for direct-to-video release and their contract mentions film negatives and optical sound tracks, ask them what they really need and request that they delete the rest. Do not leave any deliverables in the contract which you cannot provide. (If you see contracts requesting on masters on Type C tapes, please ask them to join the 21st century.)

  5. What is an "M&E"?
  6. An "M&E" is a "Music and Effects" soundtrack. Out in Hollywood the soundtracks for movies typically consist of 3 STEMS: the Dialogue, the Effects and the Music. If you are creating a theatrical movie or one that you hope to have distributed by a large distributor like Warner Brothers or Lionsgate, then you should also divide the audio into the three stems. Why? Because then the distributor can create dubbed versions of the movie in other languages and other trailers. Even if you aren't aiming that high you need a "Music & Effects" track. You need to remove the dialogue from the soundtrack and replace any background sounds which were tied to the location dialogue.

    Free instructional video about M&E tracks

  7. What is a Dialogue Script? (aka Dialogue List)
  8. A dialogue script consists of the dialogue which is actually in the finished movie with at least one time code per page and more where appropriate. A dialogue script does not include scene descriptions or stage directions. But unlike a closed captioning transcript, it does include the names of the characters who are saying the words. Since actors sometimes ad-lib, lines get cut and entire scenes are rearranged in editing, either a transcriptionist must be hired OR someone needs to watch the movie several times and edit the screenplay or shooting script to match the final version of the movie and enter the time codes. Why? Because distributors will use the dialogue script to translate the dialogue into another language and dub that language on a new language track which will combine with the M&E..

  9. What is a Music Release?
  10. A music release or music license is a contract giving you permission to use the music created by someone else in your movie. If you hire someone to compose the music for your movie then it may take the form of a work-for-hire agreement. You should have a written contract with the composer which designates that the music was composed as a "work-made-for-hire." If you do not, the composer owns the music and you need to get a license from them to use the music. If you use pre-existing recordings then you need to get a "sync license" from the composer and a "mechanical license" from the record company to use the music. Below are links to two generic music releases.

  11. What is a Music Cue Sheet?
  12. A Music Cue Sheet lists each piece of music in the movie with the timecode where it is and who made it. There are many sample Music Cue sheets available on the web. Two samples are below.

  13. What is a "Name & Likeness" Release?
  14. A Name & Likeness Release is a contract which allows you to use the name or likeness of anyone in your movie or movie credits, or in promotional materials. Some distributors will not accept a movie unless you can provide them with a name & likeness release for every name that is listed in the credits. You need this from all cast and crew members because "behind the scenes" shots whether stills or in "making of" videos, often include members of the crew. The "Name and Likeness" release can be a separate document or part of the employment contract. Having it separate allows you to send it to send it to distributors and E&O insurers without disclosing the full terms of your agreement with your cast and crew to outsiders. Below are some generic sample movie production contracts and releases.

  15. Sell Sheets
  16. A movie sell sheet (sometimes called a "one sheet") is typically 8 1/2 x 11 inches on 80+ lb glossy stock. The front should resemble a movie poster and should include your "key art" (the photos or graphics you want to represent your movie). The front should be full color. The artwork needs to be dramatic enough that it will attract people to it from 20 feet away at that size. (Stick it on the wall and stand back 20 feet to test it.) The back can be color or black and white. On the back you should include a movie still or two, a brief synopsis, quotes from reviews and awards won, and contact information. When you are designing the one sheet or key art keep copies of the artwork and text elements separate either as separate files or as a layered Photoshop file. Foreign distributors will want to use those files for foreign releases but they will need to replace the text with their own language.

  17. What is E&O insurance?
  18. That's "Errors & Ommissions" insurance. It's like malpractice insurance. It covers you and your additional insureds (like the distributor) if you screw up and violate a copyright or trademark or use someone's name and likeness without permission. Of course, the trend these days is for insurance companies to only insure people who don't need to be insured. So the insurance company will require that you provide them with copies of all your releases and contracts and will review the movie before they issue a policy. Some distributors will insist that you have it. Most foreign distributors don't. Since many distributors have an umbrella E&O you might be able to talk them in to waiving the requirement.

    Since E&O insurance is usually issued on a "claims made" basis, it needs to be in force during the time period that someone might sue you (i.e. make a claim). That is usually from the beginning of distribution through the running of the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most things you are likely to be sued over have a statute of limitations of six years or less. So don't let anyone talk you into a 20 year E&O policy.

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