Top 10 Things Learned in the IFP PMD LAB

 

Jon talking Merchandise at the IFP PMD Lab

Top 10 Things Learned in the IFP PMD LAB

By Jon Reiss

I have had the good fortune to be involved in IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs for the past several years now and I have seen innumerable benefits to the films and filmmakers who participate.  The Labs provide an opportunity for first-time filmmakers to not only receive feedback on their films from their peers and experienced filmmakers but it is the first lab to prepare filmmakers for the essential work of distribution and marketing.

This year we launched the IFP PMD LAB (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) the first of its kind.  This year, the PMD Lab worked in conjunction with the Filmmaker Labs, with all the participating PMDs attached to a film in the Filmmaker Labs.

Since the end of the year if full of 10 best lists – I thought I would compile the 10 best results of the inaugural year of the PMD Lab.

1.  Defining What A PMD Is. I think this is of critical importance as this nascent crew position develops.   A PMD is not just a social media manager.  To be a PMD a person must be involved in all aspects of a film’s distribution and marketing, including audience identification and engagement, creating a distribution and marketing plan, budgeting that plan, creating marketing elements, creating and managing other assets to help promote the film, etc. All of this in concert with the filmmakers.    See this post for more.     I think the PMD trainees were amazed and excited about the scope of this position.

2.  Learning how to identify audience.  After understanding the goals of the team, the first assignment for the trainees was to identify the audience for their film.  Many of the films had already started this process in the spring Filmmaker Labs sessions.  But rarely do first-time filmmakers fully understand their audiences in the first go round.  It also takes time for the notion of niche vs. core audience to sink in – and how to view how audiences can expand from a core. See this clip from one of my workshops for reference. 

3.  Learning how to engage that audience.    This is a career-long process and can be daunting at first.   It is important again that it is not just about social media – we stress that it is crucial to know how each particular audience learns about films and then to target that source – influencers, social media, organizations, traditional media – whatever works.

4.  Develop marketing tools for the film (after understanding who the audience is).   We have the PMD trainees (and in fact all Lab films) create initial marketing materials most of which are essentials for a press kit: logline, one line synopsis, short synopsis, key art, website and, if possible and appropriate, trailer and social media sites.

5.  Workshop those marketing tools.   One my favorite parts of the Filmmaker Labs and PMD Labs are the Marketing Labs held right before IFPs Independent Film Week.  Each team presents the marketing plan for the film and it is workshopped with a panel of professionals.  Some heated discussions result.  The process either helps crystallize the beginnings of a plan for the team – or makes them realize they have a ways to go.  Either way I find that they are so much further along than most filmmakers by starting this process in post.

6.  Writing a distribution and marketing plan for their films.  The last assignment for the PMDs was to write a distribution and marketing plan for their films.  I am a broken record on this: every film is different and needs a unique plan.  It is essential that PMDs learn not only how to write these plans – but to understand all of the aspects contained within.  It is hard to teach this in a crash course (which we had in September and December).  But what I found most instructive was:

7.  Evaluating different distribution options.   In the December Distribution Labs, we had the opportunity to see each of the 20 filmmaking teams present their distribution plan, and to have that discussed by incredible experts in emerging distribution models. It became very apparent what types of distribution options are available to filmmakers and how those can be crafted for each individual film.

8. Learning how to budget that plan.   In order to execute a plan you have to figure out how much money you need to execute the plan.   Going through an extensive distribution and marketing budget can be daunting – but it is also important to know what you need to pay for in order to achieve that film’s goals.

9.  Creating a community of PMDs.  The trainees told me that one of the best outcomes of the PMD Lab was the community that they created amongst themselves.  While we had monthly phone sessions and 2 separate Lab meetings, the trainees would contact each other on a regular basis, which has continued even after the Lab’s completion.  They are even supporting other films from the Labs that did not have PMD trainees.   Several of the trainees have been so excited by the concept that they will be participating in the PMD website that we intend to put on the IFP site next year and to determine a way that PMDs around the world can find community (stay tuned!).

10.  Learning how to develop a career as a PMD.  This was a strong interest for the trainees – naturally.  What I stressed is that the PMD is just like any other film position.  You have to start small to build your way up – finding any way to gain experience.  Little by little filmmakers are realizing that they need to budget for this crew position.   One of the goals of the above mentioned site is to provide a centralized place that filmmakers can find PMDs for their projects.

If you think you can be a PMD please feel free to contact me so that I can keep you abreast of these developments.

 

Top 5 Misunderstandings About Self Distribution

In the US many filmmakers are starting to get that they need to be responsible for distributing and marketing their films. We’ve been in this new paradigm since 2007 at least. But here in Europe – the mythology of white knights rescuing your film and you and carrying your film into the limelight is still very much alive. Most likely because there are still remnants of broadcast deals, co-production and government support even though those are declining precipitously. So Chris Jones asked me to write a blog post to address the top 5 misunderstandings of self distribution. Here it is – would love to know your thoughts.

1. “I don’t need to worry about distribution – a company will buy my film and do that for me.”

Unfortunately the world has changed. Estimates range that 35,000-50,000 new feature films made every year. Only 600 get on the international festival circuit. 200 get into Sundance. Of those, last year only 20 made deals starting in the low six figures. Multiply that by 5 sales markets worldwide. In a great year 100 films out of 50,000 are making deals starting in the low 6 figures. All rights distribution deals don’t exist anymore except for the lucky few. Part of the reason the Sundance Institute started Sundance Artist Services was to help all of the films who had been in the Sundance Film Festival but never received distribution. Around the world broadcast licenses are decreasing and film fund revenues are shrinking. However the world rewards entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy.

2. “Distribution and Marketing is something I can worry about later – right now I need to focus on making my film.”

Filmmaking used to be only about making films. Now filmmaking has 2 parts – making a film – and connecting that film to an audience. It is what I call the new 50/50. But this is not a sequential process any longer. The earlier you start engaging your audience the more successful you will be in achieving your goals. Full stop. The process will also be more organic – since you will involve your audience in the process of making the film and as a result they will be invested with you and your project. A very good example of this is Iron Sky.

3. “If I think about my audience I am selling out.”

A better way to think of this is: You are not changing your film for the market (that usually results in failure anyway), instead you are connecting with the audience that already exists for your film.

However by thinking of the audience in advance perhaps there are elements that you might include that will aid in financing or marketing. For instance the documentary Ride the Divide received sponsorship from some of the manufacturers that supplied clothing to the endurance bikers featured in the film. This way the film benefited from considering the larger audience with no sacrifice to the creative spirit of the film.

Taking this one step further, it is better to know in advance that your film might have a very small audience – since then it would be best to keep your expenses low in creating the film (if you need to be concerned about recouping your financial investment). Better to make a film for less than be saddled with a mound of debt later. Even further if you have $100,000 to make a film, better to spend $50,000 on making the film and $50,000 on connecting that film to an audience. You will be far ahead of 95% of other filmmakers.

4. “I can’t imagine doing all that work by myself.”

Self distribution is not self distribution. It is not DIY. I am known as the “DIY guy” because I wrote a manual to help filmmakers distribute their films. However in that book I stress that distribution and marketing is about collaboration and partnerships. I prefer the term Hybrid Distribution. You as the filmmaker manage the process but you engage various entities to do much of the actual distribution: digital aggregators, DVD companies, shopping carts, fulfillment companies, television broadcasters, bookers, publicists. It still involves work – but not as much as doing everything yourself, which I only recommend as a fallback. Partnering with companies extends your reach tremendously and there are more and more companies forming every month for you to help you. American: The Bill Hicks Story is a wonderful UK example of this.

5. “I am not a salesperson, I am an artist.”

Well that may or may not be true. Many great filmmakers are also salespeople. It takes sales skills to sell your film to actors, financiers or anyone else to believe in your film and get involved. Most successful directors in the traditional Hollywood world are “good in a room.”

In the new model of artistic entrepreneurship (which musicians have been engaging with for a number of years now) artists need to think more and more creatively about making a living. Look at the products on OK Go’s website.

In the spirit of collaboration (see #4 above) I recommend that films have what I have termed a Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or PMD) on their team to be the person on their team to spearhead audience engagement (which is what I call distribution and marketing). Since nearly half of the work of filmmaking (if not more) is distribution and marketing and since distribution companies cannot in any way handle the glut of films that are made every year, filmmakers need a PMD as much as a DP, Editor, AD, Line Producer etc. The earlier filmmakers recognize this, the more they will achieve their goals and the happier they will be. This concept has already been embraced in the UK: Sally Hodgson is the PMD for Sound It Out, Ben Kempas is the PMD for The Scottish Documentary Institute and Dogwoof has started being a PMD for select films.

Don’t be one of those filmmakers that I constantly encounter who say “I made a film, I’m in a mound of debt, I’ve been in a ton of film festivals, and no one has bought my film and I don’t have any money or energy to do it myself and I don’t have anyone to help me.”

Start early, plan for it, engage and embrace the new world.

All of these concepts and more I will be covering in my 2 Day Distribution Master Class this weekend in London June 23, 24.

10 Ways in Which I Would Release Bomb It Today

Posted on by Emy

Chris Horton asked me to write this post for the new Artist Services website that Sundance has set up. However, many filmmakers don’t have access to that site, and so I am posting it here on my blog for anyone to be able to read. Here is the post:

In 2005 I started a documentary project that became Bomb It which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, was released on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via New Video and has had an extended life on VOD (Gravitas), Web series (Babelgum), various foreign sales (PAL DVD this month on Dogwoof) etc. As many of you know, my experience releasing Bomb It inspired me to write a manual for other filmmakers to release their films in this new distribution landscape: Think Outside the Box Office. Chris Horton approached me to write a post on how I would release Bomb It in today’s distribution landscape (and knowing what I know now). I’ve actually thought about this a lot (mostly kicking my self for what I could have done better!)
Continue reading →

Report from the UK: The PMD, Digital Rights and Booking Theatrical in the UK

I’m back now from my trip to the UK – workshop and consulting at the Edinburgh Film Festival as well as a workshop at the London Film School.  What I love about travelling and doing these workshops is meeting people who are really helping change the lives of filmmakers, creating tools and resources to help them release and monetize their films!

First – in Edinburgh:

I had dinner with Peter and Andy from Distrify which I think is an incredibly powerful Broadband VOD platform.  The most significant aspect of it is that it not only allows your audience to share your trailer (with a direct ability to buy) but it also incentivizes your audience (and others) to do this via a built-in affiliate program.  You can also set different price points in a number of different currencies so that you can adjust pricing for local financial circumstances (eg different prices for first world buyers and third world buyers).  In addition:  you can take your money out whenever you want, you can sell different combinations of streaming, download and DVD (only on-demand currently – but they are working on fulfillment) and their user interface is very simple.  I strongly suggest checking them out.

I also spent a fair amount of time with Michael Franklin from Creative Scotland who is very eager to develop new models for film coming out of the north.  One of my meetings that he arranged was with the Scottish Documentary Institute who are in the process of hiring a Producer of Marketing and Distribution for the institute to work with all of their films and filmmakers.  Of course I love that idea.  I’ve heard of other government funds considering this action – but this is the first one that I know of that will be put into place.

In London, I had a nice chat with James Collie who produced and released Beyond Biba and is currently distributing Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo in the UK.   He told me about an accessible digital rights and VOD aggregator in the UK called Re:Fine that is a bit of a cross between Distribber and a conventional aggregator.  For 300£ they will aggregate your film to iTunes and then take 19% in addition to the standard iTunes take of 30% – so filmmakers end up with 51%.   A pretty decent deal.  According to James, they also aggregate to other platforms.

At my London workshop, James gave a great presentation about booking theatrical in the UK and revealed two significant resources.  The first is Launching Films which for 30£ they will list your film in a schedule used by most film reviewers and bookers in the UK along with all the major releases.  He indicated that through this listing he was called up by all the major reviewers in London for Beetle Queen.  In addition, included in the fee, they will also set up your press screenings in London (you have to pay for the screening room).

The second resource is The Independent Cinema Office which lists contact information for most of the independent theaters throughout the UK – giving you direct access to the people who program theaters.

VOD seems to still be in its formulative stages in the UK with only 2 major players:  Skynet and Virgin.  I heard that you needed to have a very significant theatrical campaign (over 1 million spend) to get on Virgin although this was just something I overheard – but didn’t strike me as odd.

Finally I met with Terry Stevens who runs home video at Dogwoof (Dogwoof is releasing Bomb It July 25th in the UK).   At my LFS workshop he spoke about the Ambassador program they are setting up – coordinating with community groups and community screenings venues to create a network of alternative screening locations to host live event/theatrical screenings.    Initially this will be for Dogwoof films, but it seems that eventually the goal is to open up this ability to all films.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

And a heads up – the book that I am writing with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler: Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul (link to fb page) is launching at IFP Week in September!  Stay tuned.

Back to Writing – 3 More Books

Posted on by Jon Reiss

I have embarked on writing again and have two new books in the works and one more on the horizon.   First off, I am writing a book on the Producer of Marketing and Distribution or PMD.  In the tradition of Think Outside the Box Office, the book will define the role and responsibilities specific to the PMD, lay out best practices for those wanting to be PMDs,  lay out the tasks for a PMD over the lifecycle of a film, provide guidance on how to fulfill those tasks.  This includes developing a marketing and distribution plan and budget, the PMD in prep, production and post, audience engagement, timing of rights, as well as different marketing and distribution options available to films.  The book will cover education of PMDs and will propose a curriculum of study for PMDs.    I will be tweeting my progress on this book starting next week.

Secondly, I am working with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler on an electronic book of film case studies.    Each of us are drilling down to the specifics of a number of films distribution and marketing paths and providing hard numbers on their successes (and failures) to help filmmakers make informed decisions about the releases of their films.  This project was generated by The Film Collaborative who brought Sheri and I on board and is part of their educational initiative.  (as you know from my book and previous writings I am a big fan of what TFC does – and you know I’m a big fan of Sheri’s as well!).   We are currently locking down the title – and would love your input:  Please participate in our on-line survey.

On the horizon – I am writing a book about how all the art forms: music, film, art, photography, book authorship, journalism, dance,  comedy, gamers and expanded storytellers (etc) are all utilizing similar techniques to get their work made, marketed and distributed.   I came upon this idea while researching examples for my TOTBO workshops and discovered that many of the other art forms (music especially of course) were much further ahead than film in using these techniques.  But I also discovered that while some people used some of the techniques available, many would leave numerous opportunities unexplored – didn’t even know those opportunities existed.  As a result I saw a purpose for writing a book in which I would adapt and expand the system that I outlined in Think Outside the Box Office for all the arts.  This project will allow artists to learn from others and create opportunities for themselves that they may not have thought of by the nature of the traditional paths of their respective fields.   It will also provide a guide in how to use these techniques.   Over the next months, year, I will be interviewing a wide range of artists on this topic and I will be sharing excerpts on this blog.  I look forward to your input and feedback!!  (Look out for a revamped website and FB page in the future as well).

How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business Part 1

We’ve been exploring alternatives to fulfillment for filmmakers in the last month or two.  Many filmmakers are actually doing self fulfillment when their numbers are low – and using a shopping cart such as E-Junkie.    J.X. Carrera is a PMD who specializes in online media and international entertainment, particularly in regards to China and Japan.   He offered to write up how he uses E-Junkie to distribute a film that he made while doing the actual fulfillment himself.
______________________________________________________

How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business

In this walkthrough, I’m going to break down how to create a simple automated business in which you are selling a video in the form of a download or a DVD from your own exclusive website to a niche market. For illustrative purposes, I’ll be using my own product and automated business – a video tutorial called Crash Course: Final Cut Pro that I sell from papersamurai.net – as a case study. Although the product is a video tutorial, the same DIY process would be applied to narratives, docs, books, music, software, and much more. I’ll also be discussing my decision to distribute downloads through the use of E-junkie in finer detail, since the opportunity for filmmakers to sell their movies as downloads (.avi, Quicktime) is often overlooked.

1. Find Your Niche, Assess its Needs
The niche market I chose was the Final Cut Pro tutorial market. Despite there being an abundance of tutorials already in existence, I strongly felt there was an unmet need for a high-caliber Final Cut Pro tutorial for beginners. Most FCP tutorials touted being 5-6 hours long, which I felt didn’t appeal to the newbies who just wanted a comprehensive crash course that would allow them to “jump right into the game.” It took several weeks for me to script, screen capture, and edit my tutorial, and I did it all with just my laptop and a good external microphone. The only software I used was Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and ScreenFlow, a fantastic screen capturing software. I paid a web designer/graphic artist $800 to work side-by-side with me in building a website using Drupal, as well as design a logo and DVD cover.

2: Using E-junkie to Sell Downloads
I knew I wanted to offer my customers the choice of buying the tutorial as either a DVD for $39, or a download for $29, but I wasn’t sure how to handle the digital delivery. After researching all the services available I decided E-junkie was the best choice to handle my needs. E-junkie provided me with buy buttons and a shopping cart that integrated seamlessly with both my website and Paypal, as well as automated the secure delivery of my downloadable video file.
E-junkie’s pricing is determined in two ways: the number of products being sold and the file size of the download. After testing various compressed versions of my tutorial, I found that 500 MB allowed me to deliver a 70-minute HD Quicktime file without much detail loss. For $18/month, E-junkie would allow me to upload the 500 MB file to their server and sell it an unlimited number of times. But it’s important to mention that at $18/month, E-junkie also allows you to issue downloads from any web server. In other words, if I wanted to, I could’ve compressed a 1GB file, uploaded it onto my own web server, and still have used E-junkie to handle its delivery – all for the same price. Note to non-profits: E-junkie also boasts that they will consider giving you their services for free. To quote from their site: “Non-profit organizations (charitable, humanitarian, or otherwise just plain awesome causes in our opinion) can qualify for FREE E-junkie services.”
With E-junkie, when a customer purchases a download from my site, a download link is emailed to him or her. One of my initial concerns about this was that the download link could easily be forwarded to other people or posted on a forum. To E-junkie’s credit, their service is highly customizable, and I could limit how many times the download link could be accessed before expiring. I knew a 500 MB file would be difficult for customers with slow bandwidth to download, and if I didn’t allow for multiple download attempts per link, I would be inundated with angry emails. So I decided to set the limit for the number of attempted downloads to 5. If the customer failed to download the file after 5 attempts, they would have to email me directly for assistance, at which point I’d hop on the E-junkie interface and email them a new download link with no questions asked.
I also use E-junkie to handle the payment for the DVD version of my tutorial. This is the one part of my tutorial business that is not automated but easily could be. Instead of paying a fulfillment service to pack and ship the DVDs for me, I have no problem just dropping DVDs in the mail whenever I go to return my latest Netflix.
In terms of sales, the majority of my business comes from downloads, which outnumber DVD purchases 3-1. I make a few more dollars with the DVD than I do the download, however, so I would never eliminate the DVD option.

PMD and the Oscar’s

We are so excited to announce the Oscar success of “God of Love” (in the category of live action short film), which, our good friend and former assistant here at TOTBO, Stephen Dypiango, acted as PMD. Stephen, now working on several projects as PMD, was given a special shout-out by director, Luke Matheny‘s Oscar acceptance speech.

Congratulations Stephen and to the rest of the “God of Love” production!

Check out, a short interview of Stephen when he found out about the films Oscar nomination and Luke Matheny’s acceptance speech and below:

PMDs In Action

As you know, Sheri Candlerand I have been reaching out to working Producer’s of Marketing and Distribution (PMDs) and a few have contacted me with some festival and awards news:

Stephen Dypiangco who is currently working as a PMD on “How to Live Forever” by Mark Wexler is also working as a PMD on a short film  “God of Love” which was just nominated for an Oscar.   Pretty exciting for Stephen and his team – and the first Oscar nom for a film with a PMD.   Perhaps next year there will be a feature nominated with a PMD!

Sally Hogsdon who is based in England is working as a PMD for “Sound It Out” was just announced as part of the SXSW lineup.  She is working with James Collie of “Beyond Biba” fame who is working as the distribution consultant on the film.    I had the pleasure of meeting when I was in London last spring for the first TOTBO workshop.

Kinyarwanda which was one of the IFP Filmmaker Lab films in 2010 won the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic at Sundance.  Tommy Oliver started off on Kinyarwanda as the PMD but then got so involved in the film he now has full producer credit (and I am hoping he still claims PMD credit as well).

Congrats to all.  If you are a PMD and have some exciting news and/or want to be in the loop for a PMD tips, news etc – drop me an email through this blog!

Guest Post: PMD Training at Break Neck Speed

Today’s guest post is from Producer of Marketing and Distribution who lives and works Joe Jestus. Joe introduced himself to me on Twitter as a PMD living and working in the “next film capital of the United States”: Oklahoma. Joe actually changed his title to PMD when he discovered what it was. I asked him to write about his experiences and he has a lot of great information to share! Special thanks to Sheri Candler for helping facilitate this post. Sheri and I are starting to meet a lot of PMDs around the world and we are asking them to share their experiences with us – so look for more of these great posts.

PMD Training at Break Neck Speed
3 Things I Wish I Knew 12 Months Ago as a PMD
by Joe Jestus, PMD – Trost Moving Pictures

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 or Facebook but please don’t interrupt his daily epic ping pong match.

Am I a Filmmaker or a Brand? Why not be both?

A year ago, I brought the preview copies of Think Outside the Box Office to sell at Independent Film Week, straight off the press. This week in addition to being a lab leader and mentor of the new IFP Filmmaker Labs, I have the honor of being paired in a Cage Match on Thursday against Michael Tully from Hammer to Nail, moderated/refereed by Michelle Satter from the Sundance Labs on the subject: “Am I A Filmmaker or Brand”. I thought I would down some thoughts on the subject.

I don’t think that “filmmaker” and “brand” are exclusive of one another. I think that all filmmakers, in fact all creative artists, have the opportunity to be both. For many filmmakers, the sooner they realize this potential, the happier they will be.

I can understand the knee jerk reaction to the concept of “filmmaker as brand”. For years filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, have resisted being pigeonholed. “We’re artists with a broad eclectic taste. I can’t be pinned down to any one type of film.” I can also see how “brand” runs smack against the concept of “independent” which has always had some synonymous relationship to “freedom”. “I can’t be a free artist to express myself, if I tether myself to some concept of who I am imposed by others”.

In addition filmmakers and many other artists are uncomfortable with the concept of “branding” because it is a concept that corporate America uses in their never ending quest for consumer “mindshare”. As a ex punk rock neo Marxist anarchist who made a film about the global explosion of street art and graffiti culture and the resultant battle over visual public space, I understand this point of view. Ironically it is a battle over public space because graff writers and street artists are trying to convey their brand as much as the corporations in their own never ending desire to get up.

Filmmakers need to get over the art vs. commerce false opposition fast. Marketing is about audience connection. I make films because I want to express myself creatively and communicate my ideas to as many people as possible – and continue doing that. Marketing is what aids me in this process.

Many filmmakers whom I admire are brands by the consistency of their work both thematically and artistically: Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino, The Darden Brothers, Jane Campion, Woody Allen, David Cronenberg, the Coen Brothers, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Polanski (from history: Hitchcock, Lang, Anthony Mann, Orson Welles). I know the kind of cinematic experience I am going to get from seeing one of their films. It compels me to see films of these directors even if I don’t know what the film is about. This branding helps enable these filmmakers to garner financing for their films (in the same way that actors names work as brand names and attract financing and distribution). It does because there is a strong identifiable quality and style (brand identity) associated with that director.

These directors didn’t set out to create themselves as a brand – they just created the work. However, instead of allowing the process to happen haphazardly, or to have others define you, I feel that it is best for directors to develop their own voice (outside of their films) and define themselves and in so doing engage, connect with and grow their audiences.

Ultimately, besides making an excellent film, the name of the game is connecting that film to an audience (if you have an interest in an audience – if not this is all moot). Audience connection is at least half the battle for filmmakers.

Think of the power (and freedom) that the artists listed above (or more importantly future artists) could achieve with a direct relationship with their fans. I’d love to see Tarantino crowd fund a film.

Kevin Smith is an incredible example. His audience wants to see, hear and engage with Kevin Smith. He communicates directly with his audience and considers products that they will want to consume in the form of Live Events (Kevin Smith Live), Merchandise (Kevin Smith toys), and Digital Content (Kevin Smith podcasts and iPhone apps).

Branding is a way to create an on-going relationship with an audience. Audience development and connection is hard work. Why reinvent the wheel each time you make a film, why not cultivate those fans who like your work into a core group who can sustain you? Tools exist now like never before to help you do this. Plus talking to like minded people should be a fun thing, feeding off of each other’s ideas, contributing to a community of artists, hearing positive feedback on work you have created that means something to someone, touched them in some way. A more consistent dialogue with your audience can sustain you psychically when times get tough in film (as they always do).

Ultimately you still must create media that people want to see, share, and refer. If you don’t produce good/excellent work – none of this matters. Corey McAbee was quick to point out to me that his “brand” as an artist derived from his films. Even though he collaborates with a partner Bobby Lurie, they created the Corey McAbee site because Corey’s name was the brand, the glue, that linked all of the work together into a coherent whole. It was the one constant that was recognized by their audience.

I understand that some filmmakers still will not want to do the added work of audience connection – and it does take additional time outside of traditional filmmaking. Other’s personalities are not suited for it. In this case, instead of not doing the work, I feel it makes sense to engage someone who wants to this work – e.g. a PMD – or Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or a social media strategist or a brand strategist). However for best results some communication must come authentically from the filmmaker – not all can be done by others.

From my own experience – the time I have spent online communicating with my community has born fruit beyond my expectations not only for my “career”, but more importantly in connections made to interesting, creative people whose friendships I treasure and whose work inspires.

This is not a plea to ask you to abandon your artistic self in favor of a commercialized brand. Creating your identity and connecting with people who really love your work is something you should look forward to doing. Self promotion of your brand is really about helping others, taking part in a community and making connections between yourself and others who should know each other. The lives of all involved will be richer for it.

I look forward to seeing you at Independent Film Week Thursday 4:30pm FIT, NYC.