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.