Tag: Sheri Candler

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.

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.

Jon and Sheri Candler to Join ‘Gone Fishing’ Chris Jones in Workshop in London

Posted on by Emy

Distribution In 2010 For You And Your Film – We are flying in Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler from LA!
By CHRIS JONES

‘Revealing the new distribution and marketing realities is of critical importance to film makers and our community. Media content creators of all types need to understand that the days in which you could merely “create” and let someone else distribute and market are nearly over. A new paradigm exists in which making films and finding a way for that film to reach an audience are not merely equally important, but need to be organically integrated into a seamless whole.’ – Jon Reiss, Los Angeles March 2010

When we wrote the first edition of The Guerilla FilmMakers Handbook back in 1994, people wanted to know… ‘how the heck do you make a film?’ Now in 2010 and six books later, we know that you can make a film. In fact, we are pretty sure you can make a terrific film. But making a film is no longer the problem.

For the first time in the history of commercial film making, YOU THE FILM MAKER, can create powerful, sustainable and income generating distribution models WITHOUT THE EXCLUSIVE NEED for third parties such as a sales agents, distributors and even broadcasters.

Your film CAN succeed or fail based on YOUR HARD WORK, TALENT, THE STORY YOU CHOOSE TO TELL AND THE BUSINESS MODEL YOU BUILD.

Finally, we are in full control of the flow of money back to us… the entrepreneurs and creatives! It’s never been more exciting to be a film maker.

Click here for more info…