How Do I Know if I am Dealing With a Reputable Investor / Distributor / Sales Agent? And How Do I Protect Myself?
It's a huge compliment (and often an enormous relief) for a complete stranger to tell you they love your film and they'd either like to invest in it, or distribute it, or both. Be very cautious with such approaches, especially if they are made over the Internet. Always bear in mind the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
You may find offers of investment only after you pay to the "investor" a fee -- it may be termed an application fee, a fee to cover expenses, a deposit to be leveraged to raise additional funds -- but whatever it's called, if the investor is asking you for money before they give you any money that's not a good sign. Generally speaking, if any money changes hands at the outset of the relationship, the investor should be paying the filmmaker money in exchange for rights in the financial proceeds of the film if it becomes successful. In the case of a distributor, it is reasonable to expect an advance in exchange for the right to distribute the movie and collect money on the producer's behalf (see important exceptions in the following FAQ, though).
Verify the backgrounds on any investor or distributor or sales agent or other representative that you are considering doing business with, before committing. If they are the real thing, they won't mind giving you contact information for other producers and filmmakers they have helped in the past. Always ask for references and follow up and call the references. Ask the references if they have been happy with the services, responsiveness and financial results of the professional in question. Find out what films the professional has helped finance, distribute or otherwise promote and see how well those films have done, in terms of critical and economic success. How widely distributed were these other films? Have you heard of any of them?
Regrettably, the Internet is rife with scams. Falling prey to such predators is an emotional and economic drain that you can ill afford at this critical moment in your career. Take your time to evaluate any offer before signing on the dotted line.