Industry Insights: Sophie Doherty – Theatrical Sales Manager, Disney UK

Industry Insights: Sophie Doherty – Theatrical Sales Manager, Disney UK


Why do you think you are a Sales Manager for Theatrical Film at Disney UK?

A good mixture of luck, and having the right profile to match what decision makers were seeking when they most recently recruited a Sales Manager. Progress or movement in our little niche field of UK Theatrical Film Sales depends very much on having champions with influence – be they based in film distribution or film booking and programming.

Therefore once a role became available to peddle the high quality feature film wares of Disney Studios, Pixar, Marvel and – not least for me from a personal geek perspective – Lucasfilm, I somehow managed to prove that my organisational, analytical and client relationship skills were what they needed.

If forced to give one tip to new people coming through, what would it be?

The best box office analysis and forecasting won’t lead to your films achieving their aspirational box office targets – unless you also have the relationships with film booking and programming clients to ensure your film is physically booked to optimum capacity in UK and Irish cinema screens.

Irrespective of how much any film company invests in promoting a film, or how automated or algorithm-driven our industry may become, the final decision still rests with film bookers. Therefore top tip: nurture your client relationships, and ensure they are built to survive any potentially fraught booking or hold-over negotiations.

What tip would you give a newcomer entering your realm so that they might avoid pitfalls?

This one’s a fun tip – and so easy to do. In terms of the wider field of theatrical film distribution – watch as many films as you can. Don’t fall into the trap of having only your own company’s films as a reference point. The more you watch, the better a catalogue of comparative films you can draw on, for commercial analysis, forecasting and negotiation.

Tell us about where you come from and how it filters into your work.

Geographically, I reign from Australia – which I think helps give me licence to be a little more direct than my British colleagues, when the occasion requires it. Definitely useful in the negotiation process with clients.

Professionally, I reign from Film Booking – which gives me insights into both the challenges my clients face in trying to do the right thing for both their cinema and my film; but also helps me to anticipate potential threats to the films I’m negotiating on behalf of.

I therefore was automatically aware that just because I work for a big film studio the bookers do not have to do what we ask. The booker and the sales manager have a shared common goal of doing the right thing for the film – but your client has the additional concern of doing the right thing for each specific cinema and their market share, overall gross and profitability. Recognising this status quo ensures you have a pragmatic starting point for negotiations – from which you can help them to help you!

Tell us about the latest film/exhibition/book/public figure/article to have inspired you.

Two women recently worked really hard for us in the UK promoting Inside Out and Finding Dory – Amy Poehler and Ellen Degeneres, respectively.

Amy speaks passionately to anyone who will listen of her Smart Girls initiative – and made it relevant to both the film and audiences in the UK. Amy helped facilitate one of the best Q&As I’ve ever been to – a kids’ Inside Out Q&A – where she coached many of the children to find the answer to their own questions ie getting them thinking rather than spoon-feeding well-rehearsed answers. Though perhaps no voice talent would have been prepared for “How do you think Riley and her emotions would be different, if she were a boy…?” (Great question – and the ensuing discussion in the screening room was much fun).

Ellen is obviously a tremendous populist humanitarian of our time – and the work she has done to bring a real-life gay person regularly into the lounge rooms of Middle America and beyond is almost incomparable in scope and positive, ground-roots influence.

Ultimately, both these women inspire me as an out woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, striving for the highest standards while being my “authentic self” (thank you, BEV!) and hopefully helping to break down boundaries for myself and other women.

What frustrates you about what you do?

As Ken Branagh’s Cinders said (in response to The Prince hunting the great stag, for context): “Just because something has always been done, does not make it right.”

Routine can be very effective when the processes and strategy behind the said routine are achieving relevant goals. However, once you stop challenging and refreshing both how and why things are done, you risk your processes and strategies becoming irrelevant – like a false economy.

How do you overcome this?

On the occasions where I can also suggest a new way of working, I enjoy challenging how and why we do things. I enjoy looking at processes from different angles, in order to find a new best practice or strategy. Our business models in theatrical film are constantly changing.

Do you believe in the ‘female gaze’ and what does that mean to you?

Absolutely. Having at times worked in entirely male teams, I’ve experienced first-hand that female characters in films are sometimes almost invisible to the lovely chaps I work with. Even when stories have a female central protagonist – I find anecdotally that women tend to place more importance on the lead, and also read that character differently and more deeply, often picking up on different nuances of story, character and production design.

Any final insights for our readers?

As the first woman to ever be appointed Sales Manager at Disney, and with friends achieving the same breakthrough at other film companies, combined with the fact (as far as I’m aware) that the UK and Ireland has never had a woman Director of Sales – I’m passionate about helping more women progress in theatrical film distribution.

Therefore my overarching tip is actively build relationships by getting involved with Birds Eye View and any and all positive industry networking and training opportunities (eg Film Distributors’ Association and the UK Cinema Association). Make allies and multiply!


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