"Not Dead Yet" Jon Reiss on The Tremendous Rise Of The PMD

I posted my query last week whether we could truly build a class of TrulyFree / Indie marketing & distribution experts. Many people believe this can happen naturally. I think we need a unified industry effort to make this happen at the speed the all the great movies being generated these days need. Some beg to differ...
Yet, DIY/DIWO "guru" Jon Reiss has been witness to many of the efforts from this new breed, dubbed PMDs. Although, he and I agree on the need, we disagree on the term (but why squabble over semantics?). People need their films to connect with audiences. Audiences need to connect with each other, and films are a wonderful way to accomplish this. Can we hope that the market and filmmaker need & desire will solve our needs? Or do we need an intervention to solve this crisis? Jon has a front row seat to all that is happening, and today shares his observations.
I believe the amount of comments that Ted’s post last week (“Can We Create The Future Of Indie Marketing & Distribution—Or Is It Already Dead?”) indicates that this is a vibrant area of independent film and is in no way dead.
It is only 2 years since I coined the term Producer of Marketing and Distribution in my book “Think Outside the Box Office” and I continue to encounter people either working as PMDs such as Joe Jestus who is the PMD for a film production company; Amy Slotnick who functioned as the PMD for “The Business of Being Born” (she received producer credit for her work) and did outreach for “Red State”; Stephen Dypiangco who recently served as the PMD for “How to Live Forever” as well as the PMD for the Oscar winning short “God of Love”; Michele Elizabeth Kafko who is the first IMDB credited PMD for “Revenge of the Electric Car”; and Errol Nayci, who is a PMD working in the Netherlands. And there are more. Adam Chapnick of Indiegogo/Distribber told me that he gets several calls a week from people stating that they are “the PMD for _____ film”. I recently consulted with The Scottish Documentary Institute who via funding from Creative Scotland is hiring a staff PMD to work with all of their films.
I believe that the concept is taking hold because of the need for the concept. With an explosion of films (and media) in the past five years, side by side with the disruption of traditional models of media distribution, content creators of all kinds have been faced with the need to distribute and market their own work. But also they are privileged now to have access to a worldwide audience for a very low cost that was previously closed to them. However, many artists do not have the time, desire and/or skill set required to handle these new responsibilities and to fully take advantage of the opportunity. I don’t think there is an argument that if filmmakers are now responsible for distribution and marketing, then there needs to be new team/crew members to handle this new work – hence the Producer of Marketing and Distribution. There will need to be a number of other people working under or coordinated by the PMD just as there is a Line Producer for production who supervises the various production departments. Really in the best of all worlds the PMD starts with the director, writer, producer at inception and works hand in hand with all aspects of the filmmaking process – and hence the “Producer” of marketing and distribution.
But even though the need might be recognized, it is another issue for filmmakers to allot the resources to fulfill this need. I believe more and more filmmakers are allotting financial resources to distribution and marketing, realizing that no P&A genie exists or that raising P&A after the fact is starting too late. When I was in the UK recently, it was heartening to see that agencies in the UK are allowing film funds not only to be used for distribution and marketing, but also to be used for alternative distribution models that incorporate a PMD. I applaud film funds that support the distribution and marketing of independent film, but I feel that it is important for these funds to free filmmakers from an antiquated system of traditional distribution and to allow them to experiment with new models.
For territories without such funds (or for those without access to these funds), filmmakers need to find a way to fund it themselves. What is important for filmmakers to realize is that connecting to an audience can be as, or even more, expensive than making your film. Musicians who have had to deal with a changing distribution and marketing landscape for longer than filmmakers, have already realized this and recognize that it is a fact of being an artist. Many musicians also have people who help them distribute and market their work. Topspin has a team of staffers who do this work – and they are called “producers”. Musicians pay these producers to plan and execute their distribution and marketing. The sooner we as filmmakers follow the lead of our fellow artists, the better.
The flip side of having resources, is having a pool of talent to do the work required. As I indicated above, a growing talent pool of people skilled as PMDs is emerging. I do feel that organizations such as Sundance, IFP and FIND can do more to push this along as can film schools. I welcome the creation of a PMD Lab, just as there are directing labs, screenwriting labs etc. The IFP Filmmaker Lab, as the first completion, distribution and marketing lab, is a first step in this direction. This lab emphasizes distribution and marketing from day 1 and a number of the teams bring on PMDs. Ted and I also started to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum combining courses from film and business schools. Until this process becomes more uniform, it will take place on individual films. Sheri Candler and I have started training PMDs on specific films.
The shift towards a new paradigm is slow, frustrating and fraught with pitfalls, and will mean a mindset shift for artists which is painful to some, but I personally see more cause for hope than for despair. Assistance from schools, labs and funds would be great and would speed the process along – helping many artists in the process, but in no way are the new concepts “dead”. The purpose of creating the role of the PMD was to formally name this needed position within independent film so there would be a pool of people trained to help facilitate that process. I know the concept will not die because there will always be people who are too driven to create work and will seek out help to connect that work to an audience.
Jon Reiss can be found on Twitter and Facebook. His new book co authored with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul” launches at IFP Week September 19th, 2011. His forthcoming book on the PMD will come out in 2012.