To the New and Future PMDs

July 24, 2010
posted by sheric

I am so excited to see that the crew position my friend Jon Reiss coined in his book Think Outside the Box Office is being embraced by people all over the globe. There seems to be a lot of interest in this kind of work that is mostly forgotten about or avoided by the average indie filmmaker in the hopes that a distributor will come, give them a big check and take that baby off their hands. I was always a huge champion of the position when I was given Jon’s book as a draft copy and I am glad to see that he is now inspiring so many people to take up this work. But I do have some concerns and advice to share.

I always saw this as a position for a person trained in marketing or sales. It isn’t enough, in fact isn’t even needed, for a person aspiring to be a PMD to be a filmmaker. This work requires a different mindset and a different set of skills and knowledge that are not acquired in film school or behind a camera. While Jon has often maintained that this is knowledge filmmakers need to have, I have always thought it would be easier to teach a trained marketing person about the business of film than it would be to train a filmmaker to be a business person. The workload of trying to be both is just too overwhelming for each endeavor to be done well. Filmmakers have asked where they can find someone to do this work and potential PMDs have asked how they can ¬†find filmmakers to work with?¬†Both are very warranted questions and I am going to share a few thoughts on that coming from the perspective of having done this work.

I have never claimed the title of PMD because I have yet to be involved in a production from the beginning and I am being very careful about the project I pick to work with from conception. Usually projects come to me in the middle of production or more commonly after post, so the work I would have been doing from the start has to be sped up in order to launch properly. Generally this is the work of a publicist, not a PMD. The worst is when a filmmaker comes to me after the film has failed to find an audience or a traditional distributor and now wants me to work miracles. With no money. I do not take those projects because that is unrealistic work, a fool’s errand. Take note of this PMDs! The filmmaker will not have the patience to wait until an audience is built and you will be blamed because you are working with extremely limited financial resources and they will expect sales immediately.

I also don’t think that it is possible for one PMD to take on the work of more than about 2 projects at a time and do them successfully. More than this and the time devoted is too stretched and can’t be done effectively for the amount of time and attention that has to be spent. As a producer, how many films can be produced at one time and do all things necessary to make them successful?

To say you are hanging out a shingle to solicit clients is really the wrong way to look at this job. You aren’t going for volume unless you have an agency with a staff to handle each film. Perhaps in the future there will be PMD agencies, with a staff member to handle the duties of each film project. It is going to take that kind of one on one attention to do this well. My opinion is there are already marketing companies that say they can do this, but this work shouldn’t be outsourced to a company with no connections to a film’s audience. So, they shout at them with messages instead and hope to make enough noise to get some sales. These connections cannot be bought with money, the attention is acquired through spending time with the communities where the audiences live and I don’t know any outside company that can accomplish this because they have to be embedded in the community and it doesn’t scale with a large business. A PMD is part of the filmmaking team just like all of the other crew, maybe more so as their work starts at the beginning and ends long after the tech crew and actors go home.

During a recent interview, I was asked what I thought were good skills and characteristics for a PMD. Here is what I came up with:

-Some kind of marketing and/or sales training. This would be a background in the fundamentals of marketing, advertising, public relations. One of the most important duties of a PMD is being able to draft a marketing plan and budget as well as know distribution pathways for film. Distribution can be figured out relatively easily, negotiating contracts and terms will be done with an attorney if an outside distributor is used and there are those whose work is solely devoted to distribution to help navigate this path. A certain amount of information gathering never hurt though.

-Someone with great communication skills who can speak with knowledge and purpose. By communicate, I don’t just mean someone who likes to talk. There is a lot of listening in this line of work in order to find great communities to connect with, collaborate with, mutually respect. Someone who only knows how to advertise will not make a good PMD. Someone who only knows hard sell techniques will not make a good PMD. This kind of communication is subtle, careful and respectful. Not everyone will love your project and that is ok.

-Someone familiar with online tools and how they are used best. It isn’t enough to be a prolific blogger or have thousands of personal friends on Facebook and Twitter. If one uses these tools as free advertising platforms only, they will yield very limited success. These are tools that demand a strategy behind how they are used. They may not even be useful depending on the audience for the project. They certainly won’t be the only tool to use so don’t be overly dependent on them because they are free.

-Someone with research skills. This is definitely important and strangely the job often given to the most inexperienced intern. Not only must online and offline communities be researched and evaluated, they also have to be contacted and, through the research, a determination will be made as to what motivates these groups, who is the most influential in the circle to convince so that the contact will be done in a respectful and genuine way. No one likes to be contacted out of the blue. The first instinct is trepidation about the motivation. How can communication be genuine if you haven’t done the research yourself? The key to this research is narrowing down the scope of the audience, to really get to the core of the interest in your film. Without a significant media budget, a wide audience cannot be reached and time and effort will be wasted to try. Start small, grow wider as you go. Better still, research niche groups of a special interest where there is a need for content and make that content for them. Again, if you can’t genuinely connect with that audience, do not try this method or it will fail.

Another note about research. You will be researching to find interesting topics to provide for your audience. As I said, your communication cannot only be about your project. It gets boring to hear about you, you, you all the time. You will also need to be a resource for your film’s community. This means constant surveillance on topics of interest, the latest news stories appropriate to both the audience and the film, interesting video content that is not footage of the film. You will populate your site and networking pages with this information and it has to be relevant.

-Someone who can write. There is a ton of writing in this work. Blog posts, feature articles, web content, press releases, synopsis, biographies, social networking content, email blasts, advertising copy. A PMD must be a great writer and have mastery of the basics of grammar and spelling.

-Someone with technical skills like web or widget design is a bonus but that mentality very rarely mixes with the other attributes and it is too easy to find people who are experts at just this. Use them, don’t try to learn these skills too. You’ll have plenty to do on the project.

First and foremost think of yourself as the ambassador of the film. You will be providing the voice the audience hears for the project, figuratively as it will be most likely be online but perhaps it will be off as well at events, meetups, screenings, festivals etc. If a project is presented to you, really evaluate the fit. If you can’t stand zombie films, for example, you will not be effective in presenting that film. Pass and find a more suitable project. This goes for filmmakers as well. Look at the personal interests of the PMD you are considering because they are going to represent the voice of the film in all the work to be done. If they have no discernible interest in your topic, if they aren’t a member of any target audience groups for the film or able to connect with them on some level, find someone who is.

Notice I didn’t say they should have lots of experience. In looking through these skills and attributes, this isn’t a role many people have worked in previously. I can’t think of many publicists, distribution execs, or sales agents that can claim that they were ambassadors for one film, solely. They have worked on some aspect, usually after the film was finished but they didn’t do the end to end job of marketing a film by themselves. Not to worry, most of all this job is about passion, connection building and the ability to learn new things. Most filmmakers who come to me are new too and I don’t judge them because of their inexperience, but if I can’t connect with the project or I see the outcome of the film and decide it won’t be successful no matter how much marketing is done, I will pass.

Most of all a PMD is NOT a consultant. A consultant only provides advice and tells someone else what to do. A PMD actually does the work. I hope to connect with all of you at some point to see what you are working on and if ever you need someone to talk to, I am here.

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