Don’t Outspend, Out-teach and Share

February 24, 2011
posted by sheric

In this last post based on the book REWORK, I want to address the chapter on using your web presence to teach rather than shill. I regularly advise filmmakers and artists on building their brand using online tools and one thing I always say is share your knowledge. Don’t use your website or social networking page to constantly talk about yourself and your projects. Everyone is an expert at something, so use that expertise to build relationships. Some get it, some don’t.

The book chapter is again about a page and a half and it spends some time talking about how to outmanuever the big guys. In the case of the book, they are talking about corporations. In your case, I am talking about Hollywood. Studios have large marketing departments with large budgets to spend large amounts of money to buy people’s attention. You know why that is a problem? They are doing what every other studio is doing. They buy advertising, they sponsor events, they hire agencies to redouble the efforts of the people hired full time to do that job and then complain that marketing costs are just skyrocketing. They go to great lengths to outspend each other. What they don’t do is teach.

“Teaching forms a bond you just don’t get from traditional marketing tactics. Earning loyalty by teaching forms a whole different connection. They’ll trust you more. They’ll respect you more.”

I know several filmmakers doing this right now. My friend Jon Reiss was doing this on his blog before he finally gathered up all of his writing in Think Outside the Box Office. He still blogs. Well before that, my friend Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe gathered up their filmmaking knowledge into a series of books called The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook. Chris still does this on his site and through his bi monthly internet TV show. Gary King regularly shares his experiences and thoughts on filmmaking on his blog An Indie Life. Screenwriter John August devotes his personal site to sharing his knowledge of screenwriting; he even has a tag line that says “A ton of useful information about screenwriting.” It would be so easy for them to use static sites that are completely devoted to one of their films, so much less work, but that isn’t how people get to know them. All of them can’t spend tons of money to get attention for their work, but they can spend time and energy which is not something studios are willing to do. Besides the fact that big corporations are obsessed with being secretive. Everything they do has to pass through lawyers and publicists and upper management. When you are small and niche, you can outmanuever that, you answer to yourself.

I know what you are thinking, you want that studio type success so you will emulate what they do. You can’t, you don’t have that kind of cash and the type of films you are making do not compete with the multimillion dollar extravaganzas they make. Take those thoughts and put them away. Celebrate the niche, OWN it. Where is it written you must scale big to be a success? Believe me, if the Hollywood dream is still your main goal, become a small success. They will come to you to get a piece of that. Isn’t that a better position to be in, having them come to YOU?

Now, consider how do some people become “personalities” and capitalize financially? Often it is by being a respected expert. Do you know Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Martha Stewart, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith? You do because they freely share their knowledge and opinions, they are respected as experts in their industry. You may not like their work, their food, their movies but you have to admit you know who they are. They didn’t get into your consciousness by being secretive and hoarding their expertise. They put it right out there along with their work. Shouldn’t it scare Paula that copying her recipes might give someone else a competitive advantage? No, just following her recipes isn’t going to result in a competitive business model. Paula is a unique talent and so are you. Share your knowledge, champion other people’s talents more than your own. You empire will grow much faster that way, rather than by toiling in secret obscurity. And be patient for god’s sake! It will take some time for you to capture attention; it won’t be immediate gratification. All of the above personalities spent long, hard hours working and sharing long before TV studios and film studios picked up their work for wide distribution so that everyone knows their names and so it will be with you. First, you have to start.

The Return from Sundance

February 1, 2011
posted by sheric

With Trevor Anderson at Sundance 2011

As long as everyone else is weighing in on Sundance 2011, I may as well add my 2 cents.

I went to Sundance to work with filmmaker Trevor Anderson and his short film The High Level Bridge. We had a great time attending parties, doing interviews, seeing a few films (and I do mean few). The High Level Bridge is one of the lucky 12 shorts to be featured on the YouTube Screening Room and in the first 24 hours on the site, the film was watched over 30,000 times. If the goal of making your short is to serve as a calling card film, I can’t think of a better way to get it in front of people. How many other short films get that kind of traffic on the festival circuit? on digital sites? It has now enjoyed over 106,000 views, good for Trevor!

Whereas I spent the majority of my time in Park City last year with Slamdance, this year I learned some of the ins and outs of the authentic Sundance experience. I have to say the Sundance program truly is top notch in the way they take care of filmmakers. From the unique swag (special director’s jackets from Kenneth Cole) to networking opportunities within the industry and access to future opportunities in their lab programs, it is no wonder those who are invited to screen at the festival feel part of the “chosen” group. It is just not possible to get this kind of nurturing from many other places in the independent film world and they are to be commended for providing what they do.

Even if you haven’t (yet!) been chosen to screen, I think it is an educational experience just to attend the festival. Before jumping in, I think you should spend time watching. Observe how things happen, start watching what the film teams are doing before they get on the ground, how they are covered when they are there, what opportunities are presented, all of it you appreciate more when you are in the thick of it instead of seeing it from afar. Plus, seeing the films before anyone else which just raises your insider knowledge.

BUT…mostly watch. Park City is also full of the wanna-be, didn’t- make- it- into- Sundance- even- though- my- film- is- brilliant filmmakers. The more you see it, the cheesier it is and you can’t really see it when you ARE it. No, everyone doesn’t get in. That’s what makes it special. That’s why the opportunities are greater for the ones who do. Even if you don’t get in, you can still learn from it.  You just have to be patient and be willing to observe. Study the articles written about those filmmakers, how did they accomplish it? You’ll see a pattern, trust me.

If you want to check out my pics, they are on my Flickr account.

*****

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention I was ecstatic to hear Kevin Smith’s announcement. Yeah, there are those who defend the status quo of the industry and bemoan how awfully they were treated at his premiere. I am not one of them. I was utterly surprised to hear his statement and can do nothing but cheer him on. He is living my Building the Community Web Around an Artist post and I can’t wait to see how it turns out for him. Can everyone copy this? No, not initially. Smith has been building his web for over 15 years. It takes time and consistency. But I wager that it will work.

*****

I have a few projects coming up. Lots of writing for me as well as working on a few new projects and continuing with some familiar people like Jon Reiss, Roberta Munroe and The Film Collaborative. I am also booked to attend SxSW in March, so if you will be attending, we’ll have to catch up. I really enjoyed meeting in person some people I have only connected with online while I was in Park City like Laura Costantino, Gregory Bayne, Tiffany Shlain (you HAVE to see her film Connected), Elsie Nwankwo, Zack Godshall (you HAVE to see his film Lord Byron), Ira Deutchman and Michael Barnard. It is always a good idea to extend the online relationship into the offline space. Great meeting you all!

With the increasing interest in my friend Jon Reiss’ term PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) as a vital role in the indie filmmaking team, Jon and I want to highlight people who are actively working as PMDs and have them explain their responsibilities to a film’s  production. These people are integrated into the process early on and they become part of the overall support on a production, hopefully forming long term relationships with the filmmaker on all of his/her work. A PMD doesn’t just handle social networking pages or design a film’s key art or handle festival publicity. They develop the entire marketing strategy for the film and carry out the implementation of it as well as chart a distribution path to release the film.

Today’s guest post is from Joseph Jestus of Trost Moving Pictures.  He is a full member of Trost’s production company who figures out all aspects of marketing and distribution of the projects they produce.

Sitting down to write this article and looking back it’s hard to believe that just a year ago the independent studio I work for (Trost Moving Pictures) had just one feature film, “Find Me” that was starting to appear in small retail stores and sporadically at that. Fast forward to present day, where we just wrapped principle photography on our third feature film, “The Lamp” a few weeks ago and our second feature film, ”A Christmas Snow” is now in 2,500 Walmart stores around the country and in numerous other stores as well. The last 12 months have been nothing short of a whirlwind and I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned as a PMD (which I didn’t even know existed 12 months ago).

Lesson 1: Placement and Sell Through

Last year when we began looking for a way to get “Find Me” into stores we checked out traditional distributors and kept getting the traditional response: their money goes in last and comes out first and besides a small advance we get an even smaller portion of DVD sales. We thought we could do better, so we hired a consultant/product placement person to work on getting our film into stores and we used a fulfillment house that already had supply chain connections with the stores we were trying to get our DVD placed in.

When thinking about marketing, we all know you have to get people in seats at theaters and people at shelves in stores or having your film in theaters or on shelves is not only pointless but expensive. But what you might not know is that before you can get your film on a store shelf you have to market to the stores and then more often than not, pay for that spot on the shelf through one of two ways and that is what’s known as your placement cost.

Stores aren’t just in the business of selling things, they are in the real estate business and they want to be paid for their space. That end cap, front of store spot, custom display, special doorbuster promotion, even the difference between having your film spine out or face out will cost you. You can pay for this with an upfront placement cost, which can run from hundreds of dollars to millions of dollars depending on if you have ancillary products that go with your film and also how many stores you want your film in. Another option is to give a greater discount to the store on your film to either get the placement cost discounted or reduced. But because it is an independent film, more than likely you’ll have to pay some sort of placement cost, because the store is not sure if it will sell enough product to make up for in margin what they lose in placement fees.

So in order to get into stores, there will be a cost and you’ll need to know who is paying for this and how much are they paying. With “Find Me” we didn’t have a lot of money (surprise, surprise) so we opted to just get it in stores wherever, whereas with “A Christmas Snow” our distributor has paid for better placement and it’s helped with walk in sales. In fact, over this last Black Friday weekend, one chain of stores did a special doorbuster promotion with “A Christmas Snow” and moved 6 times the amount of DVDs another similar chain did, but those sales do come at a cost. This is where the ability to test, learn, and refine your marketing and distribution comes into play. Is it better to move thousands of copies at a lower margin or less copies at a higher margin? Another good point to include in any contract with a distributor is to make sure you get final approval on any major discounts given to a specific retailer. Yes, Walmart may want 20,000 DVDs but at what percentage discount? Does it make sense? This all depends on the goals you have set for your film, as Jon Reiss said in his book, “Think Outside the Box Office” These are all questions that I’ve had to consider on a daily basis as a PMD.

As important as it is being on store shelves (there are some people who still would rather walk into their local store than buy online, not to mention those who still think it’s not a real movie until it’s in a theater or major store – like your relatives and friends), it’s really no better than being in a theater without marketing. Marketing to the consumer to get them to the store to buy you film is called sell through marketing. Without this second type of marketing, placement can become a money pit.

Yes, you have walk in sales and some stores will market your product to their lists and in their catalogs, but once again you probably had to pay for that spot. There are some independent stores that come together under an organization for marketing and you can get in their catalogs as well, but you need to be sure to ask two things from these groups: 1) What does it cost? (then figure out how many DVDs you have to move to break even or make a 20% profit at least) and 2) Are the stores required to carry the products in the catalog? Some organizations require the stores to carry the products and others don’t. So you might spend $2,000 to get into a catalog and then when someone walks into that store asking for your film, they walk out empty handed because the store didn’t carry it.

With “Find Me,” we learned some tough lessons and one of the most important was that stores work on relationships. They have certain fulfillment centers they can use and others they won’t use. Certain distributors they like and others they don’t like – ask around and find someone that is well respected. Our consultant was well respected and a great guy, but because we didn’t have the capital to garner better placement or drive customers into stores we weren’t profitable due to production, replication, and brokering costs. Something had to change for our next film.

For “A Christmas Snow,” we partnered with a publishing house that was looking to get into films. In addition to the film, we created two books. One is a novel of the film written by best-selling author Jim Stovall and the other is a companion teaching book written by the director Tracy J Trost. The companion book, called “Restored” is a journal of one of the main characters and follows them from before the film right through to the end of the movie. With these extra products, we could make a higher margin on the DVDs while our distributor made a higher percentage on the books. We also had a wider reach with placement into larger store chains. That said, we have turned down some well known stores simply because the placement costs were too steep and it didn’t make financial sense, again this is why it’s important you have some say in your distribution.

Lesson 2: Get Help

In addition to continuing work on “A Christmas Snow,” I am transitioning to “The Lamp” and on both films we’ve had the pleasure of finding other talented people to add to our team, both salaried and temporary. Everyday, I’m communicating with our contacts at the distributor and our publicist as well. Publicity is another relationship based industry contacts and having a publicist who knows publishing people is key. We’ve learned a lot in regards to publicity including a 6 week tour that I took with my family, my business partner/film director Tracy J Trost and his family – but that’s a story for another day – thousands of miles, 7 kids, and 2 RVs, it sounds like a Disney film.

Most recently, we’ve brought on a Special Events Manager to begin building relationships with charities, churches, and other family based organizations so that we can team up with them for charitable screenings of our films. She’s also taking over some of the daily social networking updates, newsletter, and blogging from me as well so that I can focus more on big picture planning and relationship building. It’s important to find people who are good at what they do and let them do it. In all honesty, the list of what a PMD doesn’t do would probably be much shorter and quicker to write and that’s why it’s imperative you find people who can help out with certain tasks or projects or you’ll quickly fall behind and you won’t catch up. Whether its planning your premiere, updating your site, social networks, getting versions of your film for International distribution and TV broadcast made/shipped, or getting the word out to the press – these things all take time and the more you can empower talented people around you to accomplish these tasks while you oversee the process, the better. After all, what’s the benefit of doing what you love if you’re so worn out at the end you can’t do it again?

Even if you don’t have the capital to hire salaried employees, you need to “start thinking like a studio” as Sheri Candler says. With each project you’ll find people you want to work with again and others that you’re pretty sure you won’t be sending a Christmas card to this year. Either way though you need to get help… or I guess you could move back in with your parents, not have a spouse, kids, or pet and that might work too.

Lesson 3: Adapt and Respond

Another important lesson we learned was in the casting process of “A Christmas Snow,” we had this idea to do an open casting call in December 2009 for every part in the film. Actors and actresses could upload a video of themselves to our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/AChristmasSnow as an audition, not only would it possibly help us find a cast for our film but we thought it would be a great way to get the word out about our film. The director, Tracy J Trost, recorded a video for each part with his vision for the character and his direction for the lines they would need to read. We had hundreds if not thousands of submissions and most people loved the entire process. However, one thing we hadn’t thought of was some actors/actresses didn’t want to put their auditions up publicly for all the world to see, in addition to that, one of the parts was for a 10 year old girl and a few parents were uneasy about uploading their daughters’ audition to our facebook page as well. We hadn’t figured anyone wanting to be a movie star would have an issue with being seen publicly, but we found out they did.

This was one of the many times we found out you will always need to be ready to adapt and respond as you begin to deploy your plans. Some plans will work almost exactly as you had planned and others will look nothing like what you thought and there is one common reason for this: PEOPLE. You can never guarantee what they are going to do, or more importantly, how they are going to see things.

What you thought was a great idea might be a terrible idea to the audience you are trying to reach so you need to be ready to adapt and respond. What you think is a great deal, might seem like a ripoff to your audience and you need to adapt accordingly, all the while keeping the goals you have set for your film in mind.

Look Mom No Hands

These are just three of the many important lessons I’ve learned over the last year as a PMD and quite honestly I wouldn’t change a thing, except for maybe a few more DVD sales :-) But the truth, is if you want to be an experienced PMD, then start getting some experience. There is no right or wrong way to do it, as long as it gets you where you want to go.

So find out where you want to go, take off the training wheels, get out there and start trying something – anything, all the while learning from those along side you who are trying as well. Follow other PMD’s on twitter and befriend them on facebook, when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. I look forward to hearing of your successes and soon to be successes (formerly known as failure) and please above all else, enjoy the ride!

About Joe Jestus: Joe Jestus is currently the PMD at Trost Moving Pictures an independent film studio based in Tulsa, OK and according to his Twitter Bio he’s also a husband, father, and BFF. You can reach him at: Twitter orFacebook but please don’t interrupt his daily epic ping pong match.

Thoughts on AFM-A Stomach For War?

November 22, 2010
posted by sheric

It has been about 2 weeks since I returned from attending AFM (American Film Market for those new to the industry) and I have been mulling over what to write about it. I like to be positive (ok I try to be positive) when I put my thoughts out into the universe so I don’t want to go on a negativity rant here, but the whole scene made me really depressed. I think it is because of all the unloved films gathered together in one place, staring you in the face with their tacky posters and endless loop trailers and people callously walking by, looking for the cheapest deal on the easiest sells.

I took part in a panel discussion hosted by BAFTA on using new media. One of my fellow panelists was screenwriter Sacha Gervasi [Anvil:The Story of Anvil] who said something very telling about the way he viewed that low budget doc he executive produced. “You have to really have the stomach for war.” During the panel he recounted the many small (tiny small) fests the film played after its premiere at Sundance in 2008. His story was much like what was covered in the film; heart, passion, disappointment, ass breaking work and luck  for something that eventually became successful. I wonder if the filmmakers and investors of all those films showcased and trying for sales at AFM have that? I think they don’t.

My friend and collaborator Jon Reiss has said many times that DIY is a mindset, a determination to make your film a success in whatever way it can be accomplished. It doesn’t mean literally Do It by Yourself. For some films, it definitely makes sense to utilize the services and connections that a distributor has to offer, but it doesn’t suit every film. For films that have a definite niche appeal, take the responsibility of building an audience, connecting with them on a personal level and have someone on your team handle those relationships every day. No outside company is going to take that on for you; no outside company is going to go to war for your film. Don’t give your baby over to the orphanage that is AFM and walk away from it. If you believe that the story you are telling NEEDS to be told, you NEED to be armed and ready to fight the noise and get it seen. If you don’t believe that, either don’t make it or don’t expect anyone will ever see it.

Start early, it takes a while to prepare for war.

Equation for Independent Film Financial Success

October 30, 2010
posted by sheric

photo credit Berkeley Repertory Theater

This is your new formula for financial success: Awareness+Engagement+Acquisition=Monetization.

You cannot skip any of these steps if you hope to make money from your films. This point was made crystal clear by a person who knows about making money from independently made art, Bob Moczydlowsky of Topspin Media. I interviewed Bob for the upcoming November issue of Microfilmmaker Magazine about how Topspin is being used by musicians and now filmmakers to build awareness of their art, engaging in conversations online, acquiring a relationship status with fans and using all of it to make money from their work using the software the company developed. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

“Filmmakers should be asking themselves: 1) What am I doing to make my audience aware of my work? 2) What have I provided to that audience that engages them, or inspires them to pay attention and then take action? 3) How am I acquiring direct connections with my audience? This generally means email addresses, mobile numbers, Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, MySpace Friends… etc. Connections that allow you to communicate with the audience directly. 4) What are my plans for monetizing this audience that is connected to me directly? What amazing, non-commodity product can I offer these fans who have gone on this journey with me?” said Moczydlowsky. The article goes on to point out that only offering DVDs as product on your site is NOT going to sustain you in future. Check it out on November 1.

I wanted to make more of a point about this because increasingly I am being asked about how to build “buzz” as if that is all that will be needed to make money from a film. Buzz is indeed needed, but it is only the first step. You can’t skip from awareness to money as the studios do. Hollywood studios do this effectively because they spend millions of dollars on spraying their message to the masses, mobilizing their press network to write about it everywhere and hoping for the best. They do not engage with that audience in conversation and they do nothing to acquire them for further releases of their films. Their process immediately starts over again for the next release. An independent production cannot afford to take this route; building an audience will take lots of time and lots of work but the idea is that you want to keep that audience loyal to you and your work so that you do not have to start over again when a new project comes out. The earlier you recognize this and can start on this work, the more likely you will have a sustainable career devoted to doing what you want to do, make films. I am not going to go into the need for producing superior work, that goes without saying (well, it is said many times in film courses so I think that point has been discussed repeatedly). No amount of marketing and advertising will save a poorly produced product or a film that has little to no audience.

Awareness is the part everyone gets; bringing the news of your film into the minds and hearts of its potential audience. It is the part that outside companies are hired to do and the thing that is always requested from a film’s creator. In the online world with its overabundance of noise, it is much more difficult to achieve without some big money to spend both on staff resources and media buys. Engagement and acquisition are much more labor intensive and it is not the work outside companies do best. Who besides yourself or the team involved in making your film will know the project intimately enough to accomplish engaging personally with its audience? If you are using social media and grassroots screenings as your marketing tools of choice, that is what you will have to do. Having written out advice for a filmmaker on how he could be doing this better and all of the work that will be involved, it turned out to be a 5 page document! Do you really want to do that every time you have a new project? Wouldn’t it be better to build an audience for all of your work over time?

Acquisition in this equation means collecting a way to communicate directly with your audience because they have given you permission to do it. You won’t be relying solely on a third party, like Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, to communicate with them and deliver your work to them. Why not? Because technically they own the permission to talk to your fans. When you speak through a platform, that site could change its rules, go offline, shut you out and you have no way of reconnecting with the base of supporters you built. In the case of iTunes or any third party distributor, they collect the personal details of your buyers and can use it to sell future products. That information isn’t available to you though. Really think through whether you want your buyers to go to outside services to buy your products especially when you have put in all the work of awareness and engagement.

Besides creating a dialog with your fans and connecting them with other like minded people, social media pages should really be used to drive them to your website where you collect information and sell to them directly. Both tools are very needed, but they function differently. A big Twitter or Facebook count looks good, but few of those people will actually buy; be mindful of that. Psychologically, those high counts do motivate people to join your page. Think about it, everyone wants to be in on something that looks popular, it is a human desire. Just don’t be fooled into thinking those are your sales numbers. Far more reliable numbers come from your monthly web traffic and the size of your email list so you must focus on growing those numbers too.

I go into how to do this in depth during the workshop I do with Jon Reiss for Think Outside the Box Office. We have another one coming up November 13-14 in Atlanta, Georgia hosted by PushPush Theater and Atlanta Film Festival. If you’re a filmmaker in the South, consider spending the weekend with us. This opportunity doesn’t come up often outside of the major cities and I assure you it is money well spent. Why make a film if you have no idea how to tell people about it and get it out into the market?

Further Clarification of the PMD and Economics

August 27, 2010
posted by sheric

This from the man himself, Jon Reiss, in response to the many wonderful posts this week from Michael Barnard, Lucas McNelly and Dennis Peters regarding the PMD.

Let me clarify some of my feelings about the PMD.   I will add my universal caveat that every film and situation is different.  But  here are some important guidelines:

1.  The best case scenario is that a PMD is on board as a full collaborator and worker from as close to inception of the film as possible.  No later than beginning of prep.  This allows for, what I feel, the optimum of the integration of audience connection and engagement (which is what distribution and marketing is at its essence).   If you wait till you have finished your film – you are in a world of hurt (I’ve said that before, but I don’t think I can say it enough) because this connection building and engagement take time and effort and cannot be hurried.

2.  The best marketing is as creative as traditional filmmaking now – and frankly the line is blurred between what is the “film” and what is marketing.  This is a de facto state of things since the rise of transmedia.  If anyone just wants to make a traditional feature these days – that is great,– I am not going to tell anyone what his or her creative output should or should not be, but  I am only pointing out that there is a tremendous amount of creative potential that focusing only on feature films ignores.  I feel as a film community we should embrace it – and many filmmakers are. It is tremendously exciting.  Look at what Lance Weiler is doing.  I was fortunate enough to be at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh yesterday – and many things struck me (more blog posts coming on this subject) – but he was one of the first transmedia artists – we can learn a lot from him about what it means to be a creative person AND what it means to connect with audience.  (And Sheri Candler – yes he was an incredible leader of a tribe – another post on that coming too).   I know for many of you this is old news – but I still feel there is a battle being waged about this – one that is a waste of time in my opinion.

3.  As a result, the PMD is not just a social marketer, a dealmaker, a festival publicist, a line producer, a distributor, a publicist – he or she needs to understand all aspects of the marketing and distribution of a film and conceptualize, develop and oversee its execution over the full life of a film.  To do all of the above is a tremendous amount of work – akin to being the sole producer of a film in a crew of 3 (and at times this will happen – just as micro budget films have been produced in this way).  But I do advise that there be a distribution and marketing team (I took a whole chapter of TOTBO to outline this crew and even that should be supplemented now (another blog post later). The PMD is the one who oversees all of the pieces (but as in the case of all who work on indie films – they will be working full time and busting their butt in the trenches like everyone else – because there is never enough money to hire as many people as anyone would ever like).

4.   Just as people cut their teeth in indie film by taking on smaller tasks and working their way up – so it will be with PMDs.   Electrics become gaffers become DPs.  Social media assistants become social media strategists become PMDs. (as an example) While people work up the ladder – if they want to be the top creative in the department – they will learn ALL aspects of that department on their way up.  It is an intense learning curve – but people who want it – do it.

5.  When people cut their teeth in indie film – they usually work for free or for little money to have a chance to prove themselves.  Money, work, and credit are always  negotiated in independent film.  I don’t see that changing with the PMD.  Film has always been an apprenticeship system.  Even with film schools (and PMD training is on its way – more future blog posts) – most film students discover that they still need to apprentice out of school.   This is not just true for film – but for all arts not only in the US now – but throughout the world and throughout time.

6.  An alternative to this is  a group of filmmakers who band together as a team – all chipping in resources and skills – to make a film.  They usually divide up responsibilities and credits.  But each member of the team has his or her own sweat equity skin in the game.   This is where you have new producers, directors, DPs born who have not worked through the apprentice system.  But they take the risk on a project and prove themselves.

7.  The last alternative (which usually involves apprenticeship as well) is to get a lower level paid gig in an established, commercially based company (e.g. a publicity firm, social media establishment, transmedia commercial company etc) and get paid for doing lower level work on commercial projects.  Often people do this and  learn all the ropes, change jobs to learn a different skill (again paid for commercial work) until they have enough skills to strike out on their own.

8.  All of the above goes to say that I feel that if you want to be a PMD in the indie world – it will be difficult to ask to be paid without a track record.  Like all other people in the indie world – you need to pay your dues – work on films – build a reputation, resume, reel – to show what you are worth.   Most people in indie film – especially when they are starting out – have multiple jobs and find multiple ways to make a living.

9.  If you are in film – especially indie film – to make money – I suggest finding another career.  There are many other ways to make money more simply. Chances are you’ll make more money per hour at McDonalds than from working on any indie film. The world of film and media are for people who love film and media and cannot live without it.  It is a tough life except for a very few. (Again from Warhol: “Life is very hard”).

10.  The people whom I have met who want to be PMDs around the world – have a love of film – but feel that they have a set of skills more geared toward marketing than actual production – and are excited by having a way to work in the field they love (film and media) and use their special talents.  They are not doing it primarily for money.  They are doing it because everything else besides film is unsatisfying – and while they do need to find a way to make a living – they need to be involved with film.

11.  The hope is of course – with everyone in independent film – is to find a way to do what you love and sustain yourself.  There are many, many ways that people find to do this.  It is of course tougher than ever now – especially as we are in this transitional period.  I don’t feel I have all the answers – but I am excited by what the future holds, by having discussions with passionate people who care about our world and I feel together we will all find a way to make this work.  I don’t feel that we as filmmakers are alone in this.  All media content creators and artists are facing the same conundrum – musicians, journalists, authors, artists, photo journalists, graphic artists, game designers (massive layoffs in Australia in the months prior to my visit).  We are all facing the same challenges and I feel that we can all learn from each other.

Let me know your thoughts at  @Jon_Reiss on twitter or facebook.com/ThinkOutsidetheBoxOffice

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.