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

by Ted Hope
August 16, 2011 12:44 PM
6 Comments
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I posted my query last week whether we could truly build a class of TrulyFree / Indie marketing & distribution experts. Many people believe this can happen naturally. I think we need a unified industry effort to make this happen at the speed the all the great movies being generated these days need. Some beg to differ...
Yet, DIY/DIWO "guru" Jon Reiss has been witness to many of the efforts from this new breed, dubbed PMDs. Although, he and I agree on the need, we disagree on the term (but why squabble over semantics?). People need their films to connect with audiences. Audiences need to connect with each other, and films are a wonderful way to accomplish this. Can we hope that the market and filmmaker need & desire will solve our needs? Or do we need an intervention to solve this crisis? Jon has a front row seat to all that is happening, and today shares his observations.

I believe the amount of comments that Ted’s post last week (“Can We Create The Future Of Indie Marketing & Distribution—Or Is It Already Dead?”) indicates that this is a vibrant area of independent film and is in no way dead.


It is only 2 years since I coined the term Producer of Marketing and Distribution in my book “Think Outside the Box Office” and I continue to encounter people either working as PMDs such as Joe Jestus who is the PMD for a film production company; Amy Slotnick who functioned as the PMD for “The Business of Being Born” (she received producer credit for her work) and did outreach for “Red State”; Stephen Dypiangco who recently served as the PMD for “How to Live Forever” as well as the PMD for the Oscar winning short “God of Love”; Michele Elizabeth Kafko who is the first IMDB credited PMD for “Revenge of the Electric Car”; and Errol Nayci, who is a PMD working in the Netherlands. And there are more. Adam Chapnick of Indiegogo/Distribber told me that he gets several calls a week from people stating that they are “the PMD for _____ film”. I recently consulted with The Scottish Documentary Institute who via funding from Creative Scotland is hiring a staff PMD to work with all of their films.


I believe that the concept is taking hold because of the need for the concept. With an explosion of films (and media) in the past five years, side by side with the disruption of traditional models of media distribution, content creators of all kinds have been faced with the need to distribute and market their own work. But also they are privileged now to have access to a worldwide audience for a very low cost that was previously closed to them. However, many artists do not have the time, desire and/or skill set required to handle these new responsibilities and to fully take advantage of the opportunity. I don’t think there is an argument that if filmmakers are now responsible for distribution and marketing, then there needs to be new team/crew members to handle this new work – hence the Producer of Marketing and Distribution. There will need to be a number of other people working under or coordinated by the PMD just as there is a Line Producer for production who supervises the various production departments. Really in the best of all worlds the PMD starts with the director, writer, producer at inception and works hand in hand with all aspects of the filmmaking process – and hence the “Producer” of marketing and distribution.


But even though the need might be recognized, it is another issue for filmmakers to allot the resources to fulfill this need. I believe more and more filmmakers are allotting financial resources to distribution and marketing, realizing that no P&A genie exists or that raising P&A after the fact is starting too late. When I was in the UK recently, it was heartening to see that agencies in the UK are allowing film funds not only to be used for distribution and marketing, but also to be used for alternative distribution models that incorporate a PMD. I applaud film funds that support the distribution and marketing of independent film, but I feel that it is important for these funds to free filmmakers from an antiquated system of traditional distribution and to allow them to experiment with new models.


For territories without such funds (or for those without access to these funds), filmmakers need to find a way to fund it themselves. What is important for filmmakers to realize is that connecting to an audience can be as, or even more, expensive than making your film. Musicians who have had to deal with a changing distribution and marketing landscape for longer than filmmakers, have already realized this and recognize that it is a fact of being an artist. Many musicians also have people who help them distribute and market their work. Topspin has a team of staffers who do this work – and they are called “producers”. Musicians pay these producers to plan and execute their distribution and marketing. The sooner we as filmmakers follow the lead of our fellow artists, the better.


The flip side of having resources, is having a pool of talent to do the work required. As I indicated above, a growing talent pool of people skilled as PMDs is emerging. I do feel that organizations such as Sundance, IFP and FIND can do more to push this along as can film schools. I welcome the creation of a PMD Lab, just as there are directing labs, screenwriting labs etc. The IFP Filmmaker Lab, as the first completion, distribution and marketing lab, is a first step in this direction. This lab emphasizes distribution and marketing from day 1 and a number of the teams bring on PMDs. Ted and I also started to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum combining courses from film and business schools. Until this process becomes more uniform, it will take place on individual films. Sheri Candler and I have started training PMDs on specific films.


The shift towards a new paradigm is slow, frustrating and fraught with pitfalls, and will mean a mindset shift for artists which is painful to some, but I personally see more cause for hope than for despair. Assistance from schools, labs and funds would be great and would speed the process along – helping many artists in the process, but in no way are the new concepts “dead”. The purpose of creating the role of the PMD was to formally name this needed position within independent film so there would be a pool of people trained to help facilitate that process. I know the concept will not die because there will always be people who are too driven to create work and will seek out help to connect that work to an audience.


Jon Reiss can be found on Twitter and Facebook. His new book co authored with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul” launches at IFP Week September 19th, 2011. His forthcoming book on the PMD will come out in 2012.

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6 Comments

  • PJ | August 24, 2011 4:55 AMReply

    I've gotten a couple of projects under my belt as a PMD. This is easily the most interesting category of projects I've had, it gives me such a chance to learn about the world and apply my skills.

    Something George says reminds me of when I played Little League. The pitchers just aren't very good. If you wanted to get on base just make the strike zone really small and draw a walk. Then steal second.

    Everyone here makes so many good points. But one thing I have noticed as a major difference between music as a model of comparison to film, is that musicians would never stab each other in the back for a gig. In film it is quite commonplace. I am careful to promote my techniques in this environment.

  • Nicholas Jayanty | August 16, 2011 10:12 AMReply

    Jon!

    Couldn't agree with you more. As one of the only CMO's in independent film and someone who has taken on the role of 'PMD' on the independent rock doc Echotone (opening in NYC Sept. 9 at the reRUN theater), the recent feature film Crosstown, and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize Nominee Skateland, being involved from day one of development is essential. While the Line Producer and other Producers immerse themselves in the day to day operations, there needs to be someone keeping an eye on the audience at all times. Beyond just being intimate with the wonderful social media tools available to us, it is important that these PMD's learn how to create strategic partnerships to augment their messages' reach either with non-profits, or brands.

    It's a complex matrix to get alternative forms of funding aka brand money or soft money in the form of free reach into indie film. While the majors have done it for years, how do you work with a global brand or a non profit that shares an interest in reaching your target, often niche, audience of early adopters, tastemakers, and key influencers (THE INDIE FILM AUDIENCE.)

    It's important to understand the coin of the land for PMDs, and while an emphasis on 'SALES' has dominated the indie film industry since John Sloss and the Wild Bunch got on the scene, for those working to circumvent traditional distribution channels, it's important to understand what drives consumer focused sales - which is ultimately impressions aka eyeballs.

    What's most important however for the role of PMD to become a career path is that is recognized by the PGA, so there is a mechanism of protection and respect for those taking on the role of the PMD. Often times a PMD is involved with a film for 9 months - 3 years (if you're self distributing), while the Line Producer is on to the next once the film premieres at a festival.

    Thanks for shedding light on an essential piece of the puzzle in this new paradigm of indie film.

    - Cheers!

  • mindy affrime | August 16, 2011 8:38 AMReply

    Hi all, as the producer and self distributor of Golf In The Kingdom, I am now embarking on the 'PMD' job.. I am happy to share with other producers and experts on Indie distribution what I am discovering. My major advice is to find your core audience and do everything to get them into the theatre.. from outreach, events, advertising to ff's... The theatres are out there! Each film is different.. so any PMD strategy must be tailored to each film..

  • Jeff Lyon | August 16, 2011 4:02 AMReply

    The PMD phenom is certainly catching fire and there is a growing demand. I'm producing a film now and our producing team is vetting multiple PMD candidates as we speak. Stephen D's comments that the PMD must be a project manager first is right on. But, this is true of any producer on a film.

    The problem with indie prods is budget constraints. If your budget is small or limited then any production support team will be likewise limited. If you bring on a PMD and can't hire the ground staff to do the videos, email lists, bookings, etc., guess who's doing all that—the PMD. Goodness knows on our show we're all wearing multiple hats. So, while it's a correct thing to describe any producer as a PM... the reality is often less cooperative.

    Re George R's point about PMD timing, I think his point about the centrality of storytelling is a given. Most people are not really very good with story, thus the plethora of bad movies. No amount of prioritizing on storytelling will solve this problem, unfortunately—unless the producers tell themselves the truth, i.e., that they need to hire a real storyteller! Short of that, they're doomed. The PMD role, however, is one I think Jon Reiss is correct about in terms of timing. Sooner is better.

    Producers managing the PMD simply have to be good project managers themselves and make sure they have the budget, the staffing bandwidth, and the organizational savvy to support the PMD role WITHOUT sacrificing the other creative pieces of the production. This is simply project management 101 and can be easily handled if the producers have their act together. In short—PMD sooner, not later... that's my 2 cents.

  • Stephen Dypiangco | August 16, 2011 2:12 AMReply

    Totally agree that the concept of the PMD will continue to catch on and spread because of filmmaker demand. However, I think it's important to establish clear definitions of what a PMD is and what his/her work actually entails.

    From my experience working on "How To Live Forever" and "God of Love," I've come to realize that the PMD must be an effective project manager. Instead of trying to do all of the work themselves, PMD’s facilitate the entire marketing and distribution process. Their work is not to post status updates on social media sites, communicate with fans, edit short videos for the web, write blog posts, design posters and websites, generate taglines, edit trailers, set up an eCommerce workflow, build an email list, book theaters, produce and sell merchandise, coordinate semi-theatrical screenings and review distribution deals. A PMD’s job is to make sure that all of this work gets done.

    Currently, there is no specific list of the duties and responsibilities of a PMD (I'm sure Jon's forthcoming book will address this in great detail). Every project is different, and no two filmmakers have the same set of goals. This makes figuring out a PMD’s precise responsibilities very difficult. For this position to catch on and improve the way independent films are marketed and distributed, PMD’s must not only start working on films, but they must also do a great job. But since most PMD’s have little hands-on experience to offer, we need tangible support and training for the PMD position. Establishing a PMD lab that clearly defines the PMD position and offers comprehensive training would allow both independent filmmakers and PMD’s move forward with the right knowledge and set of tools to reach their goals.

  • George Rush | August 16, 2011 1:46 AMReply

    This is a good idea on paper, but I think practically speaking, a good part of it is just spinning our wheels. The fact is most independent films are bad. Like unwatchable bad. That is the nature of filmmaking when you have few resources. Everything on an indie film production needs to go right in order to have a shot. Taking those limited resources and bandwith away from the filmmaking and storytelling process to have a developed marketing and distribution plan is a mistake in my opinion because everything hinges on having a strong film. Indeed, most filmmakers I've worked with that have had a developed marketing strategy prior to production, it has taken energy away from making a strong film. The PMD, in my opinion, has to be after the film is done. Raising additional films for a strong marketable film is easier and saner once the film is done. Doing it before hand I'm sure makes everyone feel better about the speculative nature of the business, but if you have a crappy film, you're PMD ain't going to save you.

    I'm not opposed to the PMD idea, but a lot of filmmakers are hearing what they want to hear from the DIY movement and fail to recognize the deficiencies and/or lack of audience for their films. I just wish people were rock solid with their storytelling before they threw themselves into a big marketing plan.

    Keep up the dialogue, sir!

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