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.

PMD FAQ 2: What are the responsibilities of a PMD?

PMD FAQ 2: What are the responsibilities of a PMD?

The responsibilities of a PMD are wide and varied. Not all films will utilize all of these elements (since every film is different and will have a unique approach to distribution and marketing), but each should be considered when strategizing and planning for the film’s release.

1. Identify, research and engage with the audience for the film.

2. Develop a distribution and marketing strategy and plan for the film in conjunction with the key principles of the filmmaking team. Integrate this plan into the business plan for the film.

3. Create a budget for the M&D plan.

4. As needed and appropriate: strategize and implement fundraising from the audience of the film in conjunction with or in replace of traditional financing which would include: crowdfunding, organizational partnerships, sponsorships and even modified versions of traditional fundraising.

5. Assemble and supervise the necessary team/crew elements to carry out the plan which can include social media, publicity, M&D production crew for extra diagetic material, key artists, editors, bookers etc.

6. Audience outreach through organizations, blogs, social media (including email collection), traditional publicity etc.

7. Supervise the creation of promotional and (if necessary due to the lack of a separate transmedia producer) trans media elements: script and concept for transmedia, the films website and social media sites, production stills, video assets – both behind the scenes and trans media, promotional copy and art/key art. As with marketing and distribution it is always best to conceptualize any transmedia aspect of a film project from inception.

8. Outreach to potential distribution and marketing partners including film festivals, theatrical service companies, community theatrical bookers, DVD distributors, Digital and VOD aggregators, TV sales agents, foreign sales agents as well as sponsors and promotional partners.

Just FYI – nearly all of the above and much of 9 happen before the film is finished.

9. Supervise the creation of traditional deliverables in addition to creation of all media needed for the execution of the release as needed including:
• Live event/theatrical: Prints either 35 or Disk or Drive. Any other physical prep for event screenings.
• Merchandise: All hard good physical products including DVDs and any special packaging (authoring and replication) and all other forms of merchandise: books, apparel, toys, reproductions of props etc, and hard versions of games.
• Digital products: encoding of digital products, iphone/Android apps etc.

10. Modify and adjust the distribution and marketing plan as the film progresses as information about audience, market, new opportunities, partnerships arise.

11. When appropriate, engage the distribution process, which includes the release of:
• Live Event Theatrical – Booking, delivery, of all forms of public exhibition of the film including all elements that make the screenings special events (appearances, live performance etc.)
• Merchandise – Distribution of all hard good physical products created for the film.
• Digitally – oversee all sales of the film in the form of 0s and 1s: TV/Cable/VOD/Mobile/Broadband/Video games etc.
• This not just in the home territory – but also internationally.
• Some of these activities may be handled in conjunction with a distribution partner in which case the PMD would be supervising the execution in conjunction with that partner.
• This release should integrated into the overall transmedia plan of the film if one exists. Of course the best case scenario is for this integration to occur from inception.

12. Ramp up the marketing of the film to coincide with the release, which includes:
• Social Media
• Publicity
• Organizational Relationships
• Sponsorship Relationships
• Affiliate and Email Marketing
• Promotions
• Media Buys (as warranted)
• Pushing Trailers and other video content
• Any specific marketing especially tailored to the film.
• Promoting and releasing trailers and other forms of video material

This list should indicate how it would be difficult, if not impossible to expect existing traditional crew categories to accomplish or even coordinate the work outlined above. Due to the amount of work, a team would need to be assembled to accomplish all of these tasks, just as a production team is assembled. In addition while some of the work above is “quantifiable”, much of it is not – just like much of what a producer or even director does is not “quantifiable”.

PMD FAQ 1: What is the purpose of having a PMD?

PMD FAQ 1: What is the purpose of having a PMD?

The purpose of the PMD is for one person on a filmmaking team to be responsible for audience engagement (aka distribution and marketing). It derives from the recognition that filmmakers (filmmaking teams) need to own the audience engagement process and that this process should start as early as possible – either at inception or no later than the beginning of pre-production for the best results.

The need for a PMD also results from the recognition that audience engagement is a lot of work (perhaps as much or more work than actually making a film) and that traditional filmmakers (writers, directors, producers etc) are already busy with the task of making a great film. These traditional members of a filmmaking team rarely have the extra time to devote to distribution and marketing (so it often falls by the wayside). In addition, many traditional filmmakers are not suited or interested in the kinds of tasks that audience engagement requires.

I look forward to hearing what you think about the concept of the PMD. You can comment on this post by clicking here. Here is the complete list of PMD FAQs forthcoming:

• What are the responsibilities of a PMD?
• What skill sets and experience are necessary for a PMD?
• Doesn’t having a PMD make me a slave of the marketplace and crush the passion and vision of independent film?
• Who oversees a PMD or is this role part of the executive (decision making) level?
• How is a PMD different than a Producer?
• Can’t filmmakers be their own PMD?
• Can a PMD be a fellow filmmaker too?
• Can PMDs actively work on many different projects at the same time?
• How do you pay a PMD?
• Does a PMD work by themselves – or is there a Marketing and Distribution team?

What are your thoughts?

Further Clarification of the PMD and Economics

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.

PMD Rising

As some of you may know, I coined a new crew category titled the Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or PMD) in my book Think Outside the Box Office. I came up with the idea when trying to think of a solution to the enormous amount of work that distribution and marketing can be for filmmakers without a distributor. The concept boils down to: you didn’t make your film on your own – why should you release it on your own. You can read about the concept of the PMD in one of my other posts. I am happy to report that this concept is gaining traction. I was spurred to write this post after 25% (20 out of 80) of each of my Perth and Adelaide workshops indicated that they wanted to be PMDs (this is before my upcoming classes in Sydney and Melbourne). In Adelaide, the SA Film Corporation has plans to set up an in house PMD to help support the distribution efforts of independent filmmakers in South Australia.

Also just this week Adam Daniel Mezei who in January wrote a great blog post about the responsibilities of a PMD, has set himself up as a PMD for Hire. One of the attendees of my Amsterdam workshop has another PMD site and is already working on a Dutch film as a PMD. A group of Vancouver attendees formed a PMD support group this past month.

I feel that this beginning indicates that there a huge numbers of potential PMDs in the world who love films, don’t want to be on set and love the work of distribution and marketing. These are the people we filmmakers should seek out to be our PMDs.

This August I will be heading to the University Film and Video Conference (for US film school profs) to give 2 presentations on how and why to teach film distribution and marketing to film students. This is not just so that writer/directors can be aware of the realities of the world that awaits them, it is also to train a new generation of PMDs (and their support crew).

Finally, I will be working on my own educational initiative for PMDs (beyond the 2 day workshops that I am giving).

My goal is that in five years time, whenever a filmmaker puts out a call for a PMD they will receive as many resumes for a PMD as for a DP or Editor or AD. Even if a film ends up with traditional distribution, the work of a PMD during prep, production and post is invaluable. If the film doesn’t obtain traditional distribution (or doesn’t want traditional distribution) a PMD (and a complete distribution and marketing crew) are vital.

from Melbourne July 22, 2010

Totbo Twitter Question Winner 2: What Skills Does a PMD Need

Posted on by Jon Reiss

From @Jakestetler #dist2010 What skills and/or experience do you look for in a great PMD for a film project?
I chose this because I really love when I see people adopting the PMD concept. I love this because I see this as one of the keys toward helping filmmakers cope with their new responsibilities of distribution and marketing, while understanding that they have a film to make:

A PMD should have good sales and marketing experience, should be a good salesperson, personable, good on the phone, enthusiastic. Those qualities will usually mean that they they most likely have a love of social media and connecting with people on line and in person. Additional good qualities: organized, hard worker, gets stuff done, has an understanding of the distribution world, a good numbers sense.

Alternatively especially on very small films – should posses the qualities the filmmaker does not. Eg if the filmmaker is already a good salesperson but is scattered – a PMD should be organized and focused almost more than anything.

Time to start the PMD Academy. The first step of the PMD Academy will be www.ultimatefilmguides.com. A centralized hub of information and resources about distribution and marketing.

Totbo Workshop Twitter Winner 1: How Can We Help Filmmakers?

Posted on by Jon Reiss

Here are the winning questions for the Totbo Twitter Contest – providing 3 free passes to my workshop in NY this weekend:

    Question:

@Zaffi What as filmmakers is the best thing we can do to support other filmmakers? #dist2010

    Answer

I love this questions – because it is about giving back to the community which I feel is especially important in this transitional time. Here are my top three quick things filmmakers can do:
Support filmmakers – go to their Live Events, buy their merch.
Promote filmmakers that you like to your networks – be a curator.
A very simple very helpful thing: Review and rate a movie you like on Amazon, IMDB, BoxOfficeMojo, etc.
Be open with your data and techniques. I created a website: www.ultimatefilmguides.com so that filmmakers could share information about distribution and marketing. Rate and review distributors and services. Write up your own case studies – use it and spread the word.

TOTBO Tip of the Day 27 Don’t Do Your Deliveries Alone

Posted on by Emy

Yesterday I mentioned how onerous delivering your film can be. As a result – Having someone on your team either help with or do your deliveries is manna from heaven. This alone is a reason to have a Producer of Marketing and Distribution. If you are self distributing or using an involved trans media project you will have many more deliverables than what is conventional. It is also a reason to start doing them during production when you have the most crew available to help.

My workshops are coming to NYC on June 5 & 6th organized through IFP – and Vancouver on June 12 & 13th. One of the perks of attending is a digital pack of articles and documents including a delivery schedule and blank boilerplate budget in Excel. I hope to see you there! Check out the book and workshops here.

10 Solutions to Ted Hopes 38 More Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today

Posted on by Jon Reiss

On Truly Free Film today Ted Hope writes about 38 More Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today.

My response is to propose 10 Solutions that Filmmakers Can engage in to work against these failings:

1. Consider marketing and distribution of your films as part of the entire filmmaking process. If you do this it will be easier and more organic.

2. Hire a distribution and marketing crew – just as you would a production crew. Hire a Producer of Marketing and Distribution or PMD to run this crew. As a producer/line producer run production crew.

3. If you are interested in film, business, marketing, social media – train to become a PMD so that you can be hired by filmmakers. This is a growth field – if you want a new career.

4. Budget for and raise money for distribution and marketing at the initial raise. That way you can promise your investors a release of the film. This way there will be some assured path to monetization and all share the risk in the costs of that monetization.

5. Put the money for marketing and distribution in escrow – you know what I mean.

6. Consider the audience for your film, the specific audinece(s) that exist for your film. Reach out to them as early as possible. They will help you.

7. Think of how and what that audience consumes. Make products that they want related to your film. Eg Shepard Fairey designed posters printed on linen paper signed by the director of the film Bomb It – 🙂

8. Think of interesting Live Events that you can create that appeal to your audience and are relevent to your film. Steinway brought pianos and pianists to the screenings of Ben Nile’s “Note by Note”

9. Think of interesting ways to reach out to audiences that might engage with the content of your film, but don’t want to watch a feature film (yes transmedia). Check out “The Way We Get By” and their Returning Home community site. Check out Bomb It’s Babelgum webisode site.

10. Remember that you are creating a film or media project for an audience. Creation is one part of the whole, connecting with the audience is the other part to that whole.

Jon

TOTBO Tip of the Day 15 Hiring PMDs in these early days.

Posted on by Emy

I look forward to a near future in which filmmakers/directors will be able to put out calls for PMDs just as they do for DPs and Editors – and that they will get an equal volume of applications. Directors will develop long term relationships with PMDs that “get them” just as they do with DPs, Editors, and Producers etc.

The most natural PMDs initially will be from the ranks of unit publicists and social media strategists. They already have many of the skill sets needed to do this work. If you can’t hire one full time, you should at least have them consulting and advising on the project.

But there is a lot of work to be done and even if you have a PMD they will need help. Don’t just bemoan the fact that you are in distribution and all your producers have had to go onto other work (if that is the case). Go out and get some more producers involved in the project. Again if you have limited means get a social media strategist and perhaps a distribution consultant to advise you and your new distribution and marketing team on how do this right. If you have limited means, you can offer some kind of producer credit in exchange for money – just as you did on the rest of your film. (I know in the future you will properly budget for this work).

Two of the Co-Producers on Bomb It started working on the film six months after we premiered the film at Tribeca. I couldn’t get them on the credits of the film – but they are on the credits of the PAL DVD, and I will back up their credit on IMDB and in references any day – and that is ultimately what matters – a verifiable credit to someone coming up.

My workshops start this week in London and next week in Amsterdam. Check out the TOTBO site for more information. Sign up for London HERE. Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check out the book here. I look forward to hearing from you.