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Interview with Film Mode Entertainment President Clay Epstein at 75th Cannes Film Festival

Interview with Film Mode Entertainment President Clay Epstein at 75th Cannes Film Festival

Clay Epstein started his career at Kushner-Locke, after which he worked as sales executive at First Look Studios where he was solely responsible for all distribution of the company's 300-plus title library to Asia, ancillary and new media markets. He then went on to work with the late Robbie Little at “The Little Film Company” where he served as Vice President of Sales and Acquisitions. He joined the company in 2002 where his responsibilities included film development, acquisition, and distribution. While there, he helped the company grow into a leading boutique sales agency representing prestigious titles such as Academy Award nominees “Tsotsi” (2005) and “The Last Station” (2009) as well as “Eye of The Storm” (2011).

In 2012, Epstein spent several years at Arclight Films as Senior Vice President of Sales and Acquisitions. While there, he represented such feature films as “Paper Planes” (2014), “Predestination” (2014), “Last Knights” (2015) and “Dog Eat Dog” (2016). Today, Clay Epstein is President of Film Mode Entertainment, a worldwide sales and production company he launched in March 2016, which aims to present 10-15 theatrical titles a year.


In an interview with Epstein about his Cannes 2022 film market experience, here is what he had to say:


How long have you been a sales agent and how did you get into it?

CLAY: I’ve been in the indie space for 21 years, after graduating from film school. I was hired by Kushner Locke to answer phones and do all the fun secretive errands for the big bosses. I stuck with it, networked, paid by dues, gained experience, and had a wonderful mentor.


Can you explain what sales agents do at international markets like Cannes, Berlin, and AFM?

CLAY: We meet with distributors from around the world and present independent films at all stages of production to them, in hopes they will acquire the distribution rights and in turn release the films in their country. The activities include meetings, meals, parties, and presentations.


Many producers in the film business say that sales companies are phasing out because of streaming platforms, etc. Is this true or are they more important than ever?

CLAY: The role of a sales agent has evolved, and most companies do much more than just sales. This includes producing, financing, development, and distribution. While producers who create content for streamers may not need a traditional sales agent, strategic partnerships will always be a necessity.


After many years at Arclight, you started your own company. Can you tell us about Film Mode?

CLAY: We are celebrating six years of Film Mode. We are fully independent and work with incredible filmmakers to help them realize their projects. We are commercially driven when it comes to films that we work on, but that includes cast driven dramas as well as thrillers and horror.


What kinds of films does Film Mode sell and produce?

CLAY: We look for prestige films with A level cast as well as more genre driven thriller and action stories with globally known cast. We are also getting into the family space with high concept family friendly films such as our new film “Spirit Halloween” (2022) about a group of friends locked in a Halloween store and haunted by a spirit. It’s more goonies and ghostbusters than scary horror and lots of fun.


What are some of the titles you are producing and selling now?

CLAY: We are producing the next installments in our “Occupation: Rainfall” franchise and Jake Hoffman’s romantic comedy “The Problem with Poets”. We’re also in pre-production on “All My Friends Are Dead”, a fun horror from the filmmakers of “Happy Death Day”.


What have been some of the films you have been most proud to work on?

CLAY: Academy Award Winner, “Tsotsi” (2005), and our recently critically acclaimed, “As They Made Us” (2022), starring Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergan.


You attend Cannes every year. When was your first Cannes and how have things changed for you since then?

CLAY: I think it was 2003 or 2004 and I was running around coordinating 15 executives while trying to grab tickets to red carpets! Surprisingly, not much has changed really. We do business the same, although some of the people and companies have changed and generally less money is thrown around. Restaurants come and go but it’s a great festival to attend.


How was business for you at this Cannes 2022? 

CLAY: We had a lot of meetings and closed deals while we still hope to close more over the summer. Overall, we are delighted with our success.


What's next in the pipeline for Film Mode Entertainment?

You’ll have to check back when I’m allowed to announce it!


Interview by Vanessa McMahon

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