Jeff Dowd: To Pay or Not to Pay a Producer’s Rep?

Guest: Jeff Dowd

Writer, Producer, Producer’s Rep

Project: Feature film- Local Color


Known affectionately as “The DudeĀ,” (as many know by now the Jeff Bridges character in the Big Lebowski is based on Dowd) Jeff Dowd was his Dude self on Filmnut last night talking about filmmaking based on his vast reservoir of knowledge. Drawing on insightful metaphors, his past relationships, and past experiences, he dispenses advice on storytelling and more. He also uses films, past and present, and famous writers & directors to further illustrate his points.

His answers to my questions were kind of like story telling and were so rich I wanted to let him go. As a result we didn’t get in to some areas I would have liked.

One area, has to do with the debate that when it comes to Producer’s Reps, should they work off a percentage only or is some kind of fee or retainer okay?

I fall on the side that it is okay to pay a reasonable retainer fee to a rep. Or that it is not unethical in and of itself for a rep to ask for a fee. To illustrate I start by paraphrasing an example from the other side of the argument that I read on a message board. You wouldn’t pay a real estate agent an upfront fee or a retainer. A rep should work on a film that he believes in and get paid after the fact.

The problem I have with this argument is when you sell a house you immediately know what the asking price is and have an idea of what it will sell for best case scenario and worst case scenario. Further, the percentage of homes that sell versus the percentage of films that sell offers the real estate agent far more security in the fact that they can count on making some money for their time. Film is so nebulous, you can have a great film, you can have a great rep and the film still might not sell or might not sell for much money.

(Keep in mind, showbiz is a risk averse business, saying a movie is great after the fact doesn’t take courage, being the first does. Thus many movies that deserve a home do not find one.)

In addition, a film that doesn’t sell for much money can still advance the filmmakers career and lead to future work. This does not benefit the rep that helped sell your film for a small percentage of that sale.

So a reasonable retainer fee (say up to five thousand) against commission of the sale is not out of line if the person has a track record. If you want to talk to me about scam artists, I will say fine, they do exist as they do in any field. This is where your due diligence comes in. Look at any potential reps track record, what deals they have made etc. Get references. How many clients are they working with at one time?

A filmmaker will spend untold thousands on unlimited film festival submission fees, why not spend some of that on a rep who can set up a distributor screening?

As an actor I know many actors who on principle will not pay to do casting director workshops because of a similar thought process that some filmmakers have about paying reps. They shouldn’t have to and they won’t. Well you know what? I know of many actors who have booked work through those workshops (I’m one of them), and as for paid reps? Well I paid one and made a deal with my first movie.

Having said this, in the future would I rather find a rep that worked off a percentage only? Of course. But with all due respect, I think if you rule any and all reps out on the basis of them charging a retainer fee you may be missing an opportunity.

For the purposes of distribution, a good rep has relationships and can get your film to the right people, the decision makers, including acquisitions people, festival directors and or press but ultimately, like a house, it has to sell itself.

No one says it’s easy, but the competition is vast and any avenue to give yourself a competitive advantage should at least be considered if not explored.

If you missed the episode with Dowd, you can see it here:
other past episodes of Filmnut are here:

That is it until we are back on November 14th with director Michael Lembeck whose credits include: The Santa Clause II & III starring Tim Allen, and tons of sitcoms including over 20 episodes of Friends, plus Everybody Loves Raymond and more.

Comments or questions on this show or topic? Let me know here:

Jeff Schubert

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