Indie filmmakers abuzz about new PMD position


Right now, the indie filmmaking community is grappling with the new concept of a role called PMD, the “Producer of Marketing & Distribution.”

The confluence of the collapse of the indie film biz, scores of digital distribution options, and the ascent of social media has resulted in an incredibly strong and vibrant online community of filmmakers, especially on Twitter and Facebook and, of course, on various blogs. This online community is, in my opinion, more effective and vital than all of the panels and seminars about indie filmmaking that I’ve heard of and attended over at least the past decade.

And it is currently focusing on the PMD role.

The role was first described and crystallized by author and director Jon Reiss (see http://jonreiss.com/blog/) a year or so ago, as he described in his canonical tome “Think Outside the Box Office” how the collapse of the indie film business, pegged as 2008, means filmmakers must take charge of their films’ distribution and marketing.

That wasn’t always the case. The standard procedure until the past couple years was for filmmakers to—wait for it… MAKE A FILM! And then they would hand it off to distributors and marketers who would deliver the film to audiences. There was hope that lots of money would flow back to the filmmaker, but amazingly, that seldom happened. And now, with the collapse of the indie film biz, old distribution and marketing structures are severely hindered.

So, if you want to make an indie film, which may mean the same as “If you don’t want to make any money,” you will have to take charge of it all the way through the distribution and marketing processes. Thankfully, this may also increase your income.

Maybe.

And that’s how the position of Producer of Marketing & Distribution arose. It’s a gargantuan task, akin to herding cats, yelling into cyberspace, and looking for that needle in a haystack.

The position is gaining credibility, although there is a lot of skepticism and pooh-poohing, too. Professionals in marketing and filmmaking are ramping up their skillsets to meet the need. Jobs listings are appearing.

But who is a PMD and what are they worth?

A significant issue is the fact that this new indie film biz is only a couple years old.

Overall, the entire film biz is very mature, and even the recent vibrant indie film biz, as it existed prior to 2008, was a quarter-century old and followed patterns parallel to the existing studio film biz. It was all Hollywood.

But no more. The new indie film biz is immature.

There’s no track record. We have a vibrant, intelligent online community with an incestuous round of theories, and an occasional film that seems to have employed some of the theories. But, there is no body of work that can be pointed to as a basis for mature assumptions about the new world of digital distribution, Direct Distribution (also referred to as “DIY” for “Do It Yourself”) and marketing.

Social media is also only a few years old. So, for instance, we have theories about “the Twitter effect” (see http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2009/10/is-the-twitter-effect-a-big-media-hype.html), but there are no proven long-term examples, and many in the industry don’t see “the Twitter effect” as valid.

We have a vibrant community discussing and exploring exciting visionary theories, but there is no basis yet for any metrics that could underlie financial assumptions. Right now, the only legitimate assessment of Direct Distribution that I know of is from Jeremy Juuso (see http://www.jeremyjuuso.com/), and his last Indie Box Office Report (see http://www.baselineintel.com/research-wrap?detail/C8/diy_film_releasing_call_to_action_save_cash_lest_you_run_out_of_gas) is built on data that aren’t more than a couple years old.

There are no metrics whatsoever yet to match what the industry —any industry— has relied on for decades to justify anyone’s financial decision-making. And that includes determining the value of a PMD.

We used to create business plans based on comparables — a slate of a few recent films similar to the one we proposed, from which we extrapolated certain reasonable predictions of financial performance. There no longer are any comparables. We cannot extrapolate reasonable presumptions of returns from various markets because not enough movies have been out in the new marketplace to produce a legacy of metrics. Further, we have no access to the numbers being generated by Digital Distribution. Unlike theatrical numbers, which are public. Home Video numbers are kept close to the vest, but can be found. Digital Distribution numbers, however, are locked away from public view. And the indie film business was so different a few years ago that any movie from the mid-2000s is invalid as a basis for comparison.

If we can no longer craft Cash Flow reports that predict reasonable assumptions for, say, 4th Quarter of Year 4 of $XXX income from DVD, $XXX income from theatrical, $XXX income from cable, etc., etc., to justify to investors the logic of investing in the movie, then how can we logically predict a true value for the new position of PMD? In my opinion, we have no basis for building such a figure within any 5-year pro-forma because, sadly, we can’t make a 5-year pro-forma these days.

Yet.

With all due respect to the marvelous and talented people who are working to solidify the PMD position, it seems to me at this point that filmmakers are going to need to attach Co-Producers to their film projects who will evolve into the PMD role as part of their co-producing responsibilities.

I fully understand the difficulties, vagaries, talents, and vision involved in the PMD function (I’ve served this function myself, and have a guerrilla marketing background–see my resume), and how, with the collapse of the old way of doing indie film, the new world of marketing and distribution is a challenge of mammoth proportions that requires heretofore unknown focus by filmmakers themselves.

So, we absolutely need the role of PMD.

But we do not know yet what that role really involves, how it will evolve, what pathways will turn out to be proven, and how to measure the results. For instance, Ted Hope’s assumption (I say this with respect) that one probably needs 5,000 or more Facebook fans (see http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2010/05/38-ways-the-film-industry-isfailing-today.html) prior to production, is an unproven theory. (It’s number 24 on the list.) We lose track of this fact: cyberspace is NOT reality. Theories abound online because we are all frustrated and scared about the malaise of the indie film biz, and we are all trying to figure out the new path. (If you’re not frustrated and scared, then you’re not paying attention.)

Where are the dozen indie films that have been successful because they had 5,000 fans prior to production? We are not there yet. There are no valid metrics, only theories — good theories, but still, only theories.

Because there are no metrics and no proven pathways — there is not even agreement on duties (a major failing, in my mind, is that most lists of duties do not include debt collection, a huge issue in distribution) — I assume the PMD will be most safely evolved and developed from expansion of a Co-Producer role. And every Co-Producer has a unique financial arrangement.

In this new world of indie film, indie filmmakers must grasp and take responsibility for their own marketing and distribution. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a distributor to pick up your film and handle it for you, you must be prudent enough to understand the marketing and distribution in order to protect yourself, because this new world is extremely volatile. Maybe the old school will someday return, but even if it does, the filmmaker who understands and successfully navigates marketing and distribution will be better off than one who doesn’t.

The Producer of Marketing & Distribution is a valid, imperative evolution in filmmaking.

ALSO SEE:

Further Clarification of the PMD and Economics, by Jon Reiss

Why A Producer of Marketing And Distribution? Part 1 and Part 2 by Jon Reiss on Ted Hope’s blog, HOPE FOR FILM on indieWire.com

Ted Hope’s Masterlist of PMDs (“Producer” Of Marketing & Distribution)

UPDATE:

Producer Ted Hope, with five dozen or more major indie feature film hits under his belt, made this comment when he posted his MASTERLIST of PMDs:

“Okay, I am not truly a fan of the term “Producer Of Marketing & Distribution”, but I am even more NOT a fan of how easy we throw around the term “Producer” in general. To me the Producer of a film is the individual or team that is there from the very beginning until the very end—there is no in between—and ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING. If you were not involved in any aspect of either the development, financing, casting, production, post, sales, marketing, distribution, and reporting, then you are not a “producer” and should not take that credit. There: I said it.”

Since I agree with Ted about the rampant dilution of the Producer credit, and am also listed on his MASTERLIST as a PMD, here was my response to him:

“Ted, I stand alongside you in decrying the dilution of the Producer credit. I support the PGA guidelines for definitions and usage. It would be prudent to have the PGA discuss this subject. As I personally envision the PMD role, it should be a Producer role, not less, as I had described that in my blog “INDIE FILMMAKERS ABUZZ ABOUT NEW PMD POSITION” and referred to the Producer role. Being thoroughly embedded in the film is a key to success for the PMD, I believe. Also, the future of the film itself now requires that level of commitment from all involved toward the ultimate goal of finding and delivering the audience. I’m personally open to any nomenclature that’s appropriate and descriptive. It’s a whole new world, this indie film biz 3.0, and we still need to find our way around. For instance, we all still encounter myriad definitions of the “DIT” on sets, so I guess this is to be expected. For me, I have no interest in knocking on a filmmaker’s door and selling rah-rah-rah. I want to make successful movies just as much as any filmmaker does.”

About Michael R. Barnard

Michael R. Barnard Writer | Producer | Director Independent. Film, TV and Digital. Development and Production. View all posts by Michael R. Barnard

26 responses to “Indie filmmakers abuzz about new PMD position

  • Sheri Candler

    Well reasoned Michael. The only thing I might add is if you wait for enough metrics to justify a plan, you’d probably be waiting a long time and be way behind the curve. This is an exciting time I think, a success could come from anyone, anywhere. The old guard is no longer in charge and films that were dependent on their attention can break out where they may never have been given achance. I think filmmaking was always a risk, a gamble so it is no different now. A least with a PMD you have one of your own working your film without giving up rights and sharing the resources of an overcrowded distrbutor slate.

    Like

    • MichaelRBarnard

      Sheri, you are right. We can’t wait for a new set of metrics before we take action.

      Unfortunately, without metrics, there are no standards from which to determine the value and the pathways of PMDs. We are in a “wild, wild West” mode; PMDs are pioneers, and we recognize pioneers because they’re the ones with arrows in their backs.

      When someone approaches a producer to become the PMD on a project, it’s my assumption that there will be push-back, not on the need, but on the price, tactics, and measurement of success.

      In situations like this, in the history of indie film, it almost always means working for free or nearly free to prove oneself, or, as I believe will become common, working as a Co-Producer and taking on the additional tasks of PMD.

      And I’m saying this only about this immediate period of time when everything is in turmoil.

      Like

  • Jon Reiss

    Michael – Thank you for the thoughtful assessment. I created the position of PMD because of the need to recognize the work. I like how you indicate that it is an incredible amount of work – more work than nearly every other member of a film crew (and I say this respectfully as a producer and director myself). So much so that it will frankly require teams of people. When done correctly it also requires a lot of creativity (just met Tyler Weaver this morning and I loved his “marketing is another type of storytelling”). I personally do not feel that while some PMDs will be credited as Co-Producers – I do feel that the having a category of PMD is important because it recognizes a different skill set from other crew – so just as you put out for a call for a DP – you get people who have trained for that and are good at that – same for production designers. When you put out a call for an editor – you in the main don’t want DPs for instance. The position creates clarity. I also created the position so that people will train for this role – which is desperately needed. Already in less than a year – people are starting to train (and schools and film orgs are already training people) in these tasks. I feel that if you create a job position – people will see that their skills are being valued – and that their is a role for their special abilities in film – and will come join us in our endeavors. It is important to recognize – as you have done – that this work needs to be done by film crews, done from inception, integrated into the filmmaking process and the clearest – most direct path to this is through the PMD.

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    • MichaelRBarnard

      Thank you, Jon, for your comments. I agree.

      As clarification, my thinking is the PMD is likely to evolve from Co-Producer positions, not so much as an add-on to Co-Producers but as a learning and defining experience that will ultimately propel one into a PMD position.

      That’s the parallel that always exists in the film biz: film school vs. bootstrapping. Yes, film schools will (finally, IMHO) teach the business/fundraising/marketing/distribution elements of the film biz and lead to trained PMDs fresh out of film school. But when we sit here right now, looking at those who are ready to take on the PMD role, most producers will probably, in my experience, want to see it proven and defined in the real-world experience of a Co-Producer. Bootstrapping. Yes, it will be an unreasonable burden upon a Co-Producer, and the amount of work will surprise both Producer and Co-Producer, but that’s the way the film biz has always evolved, IMHO. For instance, DITs evolved because digital production was originally thrust upon regulars such as DPs and Camera Ops, until it became clear, and well-defined, that the task required a whole job description of its own.

      That’s my thinking, Jon. Does it sound logical to you?

      Like

  • MichaelRBarnard

    Thanks! I appreciate your support.

    Like

  • Hugh Guiney

    I see the PMD as the small-scale, indie equivalent of big-name production companies. The economy has made scaling down a necessity; the Internet has made it feasible—so that what used to take an entire organization now takes a single person or a small team of people.

    The PMD(s) should act as promoters do for bands. They book venues, then get the word out to fill those venues. This doesn’t necessarily have to take place in theatres; it can happen online; in which case the lines between marketing and distribution sort of blur together. People could for instance watch the full movie from home and then click share links to create a viral effect.

    Naturally, the strategies and technologies used will vary widely and for that reason I don’t think there will ever be a universal definition for “PMD”. Some may be combination social media strategists and Web designers, and others may be social media strategists who are in charge of hiring a Web designer to bring their campaigns to life.

    But when considering what tasks a PMD *could* or *should* do, I think it makes sense to look at what is currently done in terms of marketing and distribution, and adapt to the current landscape accordingly.

    A non-exhaustive list off the top of my head:

    ## Marketing
    * Promotional materials (posters, flyers, commercials, newspaper/magazine/website ads, etc.)
    * Audience-building
    * Blogging/vlogging/other content creation (self-promotion & value-addition)
    * Interacting with influencers and potential/existing fans (online and offline)

    ## Distribution
    * Booking venues
    * Transmitting video to hard drives, DVDs, websites, download services (such as BitTorrent), etc.
    * Securing retail/rental outlets

    However, I do think it’ll be important not to overload PMDs with *every* marketing and distribution task, unless they’re truly capable of managing it all themselves. Again it can probably be fewer people the smaller the production is, but ideally, just as you’d have both a DP and Lighting Technicians, so that the DP is not running back and forth between setting up lights and checking to see how they effect the shot (although some do this; I know I have); so too would you have someone in charge of blogging, and another in charge of securing rental outlets. Each one of these tasks is as important as the last and they should all get the attention they deserve, or your film may suffer as a result.

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    • MichaelRBarnard

      Thanks for your thoughts, Hugh.

      Yes, the PMD is presumed to be an uber-efficient in-house version of the old Distribution Company and Marketing Agency.

      Yes, one would not want to overload a PMD. As with every Producer, this is not a single-person task. Producers know what needs to be accomplished, and determine who can best accomplish the tasks. As with all Producers in the indie world, they themselves will be good (or adequate) at some tasks, and bring in people who are far better at other tasks.

      I think the ultimate definition of PMD will be the same as the definition of Distributors and Marketers: BRING THE MOVIE TO THE AUDIENCE AND BRING THE AUDIENCE TO THE MOVIE. Whatever it takes to accomplish that.

      Like

  • Jason @ Filmmaking Stuff

    The challenge for the role is trying to decide when the job is over. The second challenge is trying to figure out a compensation structure that makes sense.

    In terms of compensation, this isn’t something that can be paid as a day rate. Nor is PMD a role that can be thrown into the same bucket as any other role on the movie. Years after the movie is made, seen and selling, the PMD still has to manage the marketing and sales.

    This said, the only way this makes financial sense is to provide the PMD with some equity and pay compensation based on back end performance… Hence the idea of making the PMD a producer.

    I think the concept is great. Having produced and marketed several features, hiring a PMD sure seems like an easy way to combine the role of publicist, sales agent, internet marketer and distributor into one person.

    But the bigger issue is – as indie filmmakers, the paradigm has shifted so much that one has to ask – can we still raise a million dollars and expect to recoup it? If so, how long will it take? And if not, how long can we continue to run the indie movie industry like start up? (Meaning: Investment money spent without a return on investment.)

    Sooner or later, someone in the investment community is going to realize there are now well defined sales channels. And we can no longer just sell em’ on the dream of Sundance and a 3 picture deal. So the question then becomes – how many VOD downloads (or unit sales) does it take to recoup the initial investment?

    And how many social networking “friends” will it take, if only 1/4th of a percent buy what you’re selling?

    Jason Brubaker
    Filmmaking Stuff

    http://www.FilmmakingStuff.com

    Like

    • MichaelRBarnard

      Jason, you are so right about the question, “can we still raise a million dollars and expect to recoup it?” That is my own situation right now, with my efforts to make A FATHER AND SON.

      Your points about the duration, commitment, and compensation are the key concerns. That’s why I think the PMD will begin as an expansion of the Co-Producer role.

      I love your comment about enthusing investors with the illusive, now silly, “dream of Sundance and a 3 picture deal”. I have heard that line used even this week: “We’ll be submitting our film to Sundance…” It makes me laugh. First, submitting to Sundance puts you in a group of about SEVEN THOUSAND WANNABES. Second, if God blesses you real good–really, really, good–and you get into that select few hundred who get accepted, then you’re now in a group of SEVERAL HUNDRED WANNABES. And maybe a half-dozen–am I being generous?–leave Sundance with any kind of deal, much less a profitable one.

      But still, the guys with shit-eating grins raise money for their films by saying that stuff to potential investors. I wish I could.

      Like

  • Nathan Wrann

    I’m having difficulty understanding what the difference between a PMD and a “Distributor” is except that PMDs seem to want to be paid up front, out of the budget, regardless of how well the film sells, and Distributors get their money after the sells well. One of the old golden rules was to never pay someone to represent or distribute your movie, are you saying that has changed?

    Like

    • MichaelRBarnard

      Yes. There are few “old golden rules” that exist anymore. And those old rules frequently did not return profits to the filmmaker.

      The turmoil within the indie film biz includes the loss of many distributors. The indie film biz that is now evolving seems to depend on DIY (“Do It Yourself” or permutations of that concept), and paths to distribution that did not exist a couple years ago, including viable alternatives to the former holy grail of theatrical distribution. There are now myriad digital distribution outlets that show promise for potential profit if controlled properly.

      The concept of the PMD is that it is a parallel to the movie’s Producer, Co-Producer, and others who are attached to the film itself. In that old world you describe, the filmmaker handed off the film to distributors; P&A was a responsibility turned over to others. The premise now is, with all the alternatives available and the loss of so many previous paths to an audience, the filmmaker now controls the film from concept through development, production, post-production, deliverables, AND NOW to discovery of and presentation to all of its potential audiences.

      The position that oversees this for the filmmaker is the Producer of Marketing and Distribution, who is part of the ATL of the movie itself.

      Like

  • Jon Reiss

    Michael, I think all of your replies are great – I think we are in a transitional period – and all of this uncertainty will work itself out as any other kind of hiring in independent film – what is your experience and reputation. Are you ready to run a show eg be the editor – or are you still learning – eg you’re happy to be an asst editor to learn unders someone amazing. Is everyone on the team – producer, director, PMD just starting out – eg they are all rising together. Or are trying to move up from gaffer to DP. I’m mixing crew positions purposefully to show how this applies across the industry. Thank you for explicating all of this so well. In 10 years we won’t be having this discussion and people will be so stoked to have experienced people connecting their films to audiences. Which is what its all about.

    Like

  • Dr Joseph P.Sinda

    Dear Michael & Colleagues: The PMD needs to be The Liason from the Producers Pool to Legal and The Distributor. In Japan they have a better handle on this. The Government got together with Film Makers, Theater Owners and Distributors. No More Big Salaries and Big Tent Pole Movies.
    In Japan they have Middle Management. Here in the USA it would be a small division that could handle some of the aspects of PMD.
    We have Unions and Giant Ego’s with kiss Ass Legal & CPA’s that should not have any say in The Creative Process in making a Film.
    A Great Marketeer is a Field General who knows how to bring it. They can Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk.Until we can do what Japan has done. We are just shooting Blanks in The Dark.
    We are Missing The Heart of The Target.
    Think like a Zen Master and be a PMD In The ZONE! Talk is Cheap.Change The System and do something about this. Get OFF Your ASS and Just DO IT!!!!….
    Doc Sinda

    Like

    • MichaelRBarnard

      Dr. Sinda, thank you so much for your refreshing viewpoint. We got rid of Big Salaries here in the U.S., too. But that was accidental. We didn’t want to do that. But we did. Oh gawd how I wish we could bring them back! But I digress…

      You are right on target with your comment, “Get OFF your ASS and just DO IT”. That thought underlies all of our discussions. We want to make great movies, tell fascinating stories, move people’s emotions. We do that by building a great team. The PMD is fast becoming a critical part of any great team making a great movie.

      Like

  • PMD: A New Role for Indie Filmmakers – VFX Filmmaker

    [...] Click here for the full article….. TAGS:  Facebook, indie film, Indie Filmmaking, Jon Reiss, make-your-own-movie.com, Michael R. Barnard, Michaelrbarnard.wordpress.com, PMD, PMD Role, Twitter This entry was posted on Friday, August 27th, 2010 at 12:00 pm and is filed under DIY Filmmaking. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. [...]

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  • Independent Film Marketing And Publicity | Sheri Candler Marketing And PublicitySheri Candler Marketing & Publicity » Blog Archive » Further Clarification of the PMD and Economics

    [...] 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 [...]

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  • Christi Pemberton

    Interesting blog and something to look at and think about. But you are wrong about “if you are scared yet, you are not paying attention”. Some people thrive on challenges that “seem impossible” or “seem too large”..instead of fear they are bold enough to transform that fear into ” pure creative adrenaline”. That’s part of how you make it in any business, not just film. Really, the 21st century is a century full of brand new concepts and ways of “thinking”, not just ways of acting in business or in society. But, that is the best thing….in any age of uncertainty, you need the brave people not the scardy cats to drive innovation. The independent film industry should take a page out of the book of some of our entrepreneurial musicians and independent musicians/labels who are turning the “music business” on its head..and they are getting some very positive results in both fans and profits…in fact they are leading a new culture of merging online/innovative business into the industry. Film is still a little behind these innovators..but, if we stop fearing the “unknown” and stop putting ourselves hold because we don’t see the metrics yet..then who is going to be the leader in getting Film up to the innovation that we see more in Music/Independent Music industry? Who is going to be the first to do something and be the trendsetter so that we can have something to make a comparison with?

    Like

    • Christi Pemberton

      Oh, I meant…if we don’t stop fearing the unknown and putting ourselves on hold for metrics..then who will be the leader in getting Film up to the type of innovation we see in today’s music/independent music industry?

      Like

    • MichaelRBarnard

      Christi, I whole-heartedly agree.

      I’ve never let fear (nor reason, for that matter) slow me down. Ask my ex-wife, who probably wouldn’t be “the ex” if ever I reacted reasonably to the presence of fear and difficult odds!

      Like you, I can’t imagine any who call themselves “filmmaker” to be thwarted by a little thing like the complete collapse of the entire industry as we know it. To us, that just makes it all the more invigorating.

      Like

  • Name

    Mike,
    NEVER begin sentences with “and,” “but,” or “with” as those are incomplete statements, thoughts, and sentences. Your credibility greatly decreases when you fail to write in your own language properly.

    Precisely due to the grammar issues, I will not be forwarding your note on PMD to my cinematography club that has over 1,600+ members in over 25 nations. The proper use of language is important in determining whether or not I forward notes along.

    All of this does not mean that I disagree with your discussion over PMD.

    Like

    • MichaelRBarnard

      BUT I like my writing style!

      I deliberately chose my voice for blogging. It’s not a matter of ignorance. I’ve written all of my life, including being editor of school newspapers, writing scripts that get professional accolades, writing corporate materials as a freelancer, being a Research Associate at UCLA Dept. of Medicine with responsibility to edit submissions to peer-reviewed journals, and…yes…blogging.

      This particular blog has been considered by many to be quite clear, successfully communicating the concepts of the new PMD role.

      Me, I consider successful communication and personal voice to be as important as grammar nit-picking.

      That must be one hell of a group you moderate. I’m sure it’s my loss…but suspect you deprive your group of valuable information for no good reason whatsoever.

      Like

    • housecoat

      That was a bit of a “sitting in my mom’s basement wearing a housecoat and slippers” comment don’t you think?

      Please post the URL to your cinematography club so that I can check out the grammatical wizardry that is present amongst your peer group.

      PMD stands for producer of marketing and distribution which is a noun based acronym so your comment of “…I will not be forwarding your note on PMD to my cinematography club…” is grammatically incorrect.

      Pot Kettle Black

      Like

  • infinicine » Blog Archive » Do you need a Producer of Distribution?

    [...] PDM may sound like a blessing or a redundancy depending on where your strengths and interests lie as filmmaker. If you hate the [...]

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