by Michael R. Barnard
Right now, the indie filmmaking community is grappling with the new concept of a role called PMD, the “Producer of Marketing and Distribution.”
The confluence of the collapse of the indie film biz and the ascent of social media has resulted in an incredibly strong and vibrant online community of filmmakers, especially on Twitter and Facebook and, of course, on various blogs. This online community is, in my opinion, more effective and vital than all of the panels and seminars about indie filmmaking that I’ve heard of and attended over at least the past decade.
And it is currently focusing on the PMD role.
I believe the role was first described by author and director Jon Reiss several months ago, as he described in his canonical tome “Think Outside the Box Office” how the collapse of the indie film business, pegged as 2008, means filmmakers must take charge of their films’ distribution and marketing.
That wasn’t always the case. The standard procedure until the past couple years was for a filmmaker to—wait for it… MAKE A FILM! And then they would hand it off to distributors and marketers who would deliver the film to audiences. There was hope that lots of money would flow back to the filmmaker, but amazingly, that seldom happened. And now, with the collapse of the indie film biz, old distribution and marketing structures no longer exist.
So if you want to make an indie film, which may mean the same as “If you don’t want to make any money,” you will have to take charge of it all the way through the distribution and marketing processes. Thankfully, this may also increase your income. Maybe.
And that’s how the position of Producer of Marketing and Distribution arose. It’s a gargantuan task, akin to herding cats, yelling into cyberspace, and looking for that needle in a haystack.
The position is gaining credibility. Professionals in marketing and filmmaking are ramping up their skillsets to meet the need. Jobs listings are appearing.
But who is a PMD and what are they worth?
A significant issue is the fact that this new indie film biz is only a couple years old. Overall, the entire film biz is very mature, and even the recent vibrant indie film biz, as it existed prior to 2008, was a quarter-century old and followed patterns parallel to the existing studio film biz. It was all Hollywood.
But no more. The new indie film biz is immature.
So, there’s no track record. We have a vibrant, intelligent online community with an incestuous round of theories, and an occasional film that seems to have employed some of the theories. But, there is no body of work that can be pointed to as a basis for mature assumptions about the new world of digital and DIY distribution and marketing.
Social media is also only a couple years old. So, for instance, we have theories about “the Twitter effect” but there are no proven long-term examples, and many in the industry don’t see “the Twitter effect” as valid.
We have a vibrant community discussing and exploring exciting visionary theories, but there is no basis yet for any metrics that could underlie financial assumptions. Right now, the only legitimate assessment of DIY distribution that I know of is from Jeremy Juuso, and his latest indie box office report is built on data that aren’t more than one year old.
There are no metrics whatsoever yet to match what the industry—any industry—has relied on for decades to justify anyone’s financial decision-making. And that includes determining the value of a PMD.
We used to create business plans based on comparables—a slate of a few recent films similar to the one we proposed, from which we extrapolated certain reasonable predictions of financial performance. There no longer are any comparables. We cannot extrapolate reasonable presumptions of returns from various markets because not enough movies have been out in the new marketplace to produce a legacy of metrics. And the business was so different a few years ago that any movie from the mid-2000s is invalid as a basis for comparison.
If we can no longer craft Cash Flow reports that predict reasonable assumptions for, say, 4th Quarter of Year 4 of $XXX income from DVD, $XXX income from theatrical, $XXX income from cable, etc., etc., to justify to investors the logic of investing in the movie, then how can we logically predict a true value for the new position of PMD? In my opinion, we have no basis for building such a figure within any 5-year pro-forma because, sadly, we can’t make a 5-year pro-forma these days.
With all due respect to the marvelous and talented people who are working to solidify the PMD position, it seems to me at this point that filmmakers are going to need to attach Co-Producers to their film projects who will evolve into the PMD role as part of their co-producing responsibilities.
I fully understand the difficulties, vagaries, talents, and vision involved in the PMD function (I’ve served this function myself, and have a guerrilla marketing background), and how, with the collapse of the old way of doing indie film, the new world of marketing and distribution is a challenge of mammoth proportions that requires heretofore unknown focus by filmmakers themselves.
So, we absolutely need the role of PMD.
But we do not know yet what that role really involves, how it will evolve, what pathways will turn out to be proven, and how to measure the results. For instance, Ted Hope’s assumption (I say this with respect) that one probably needs 5,000 or more Facebook fans prior to production, is an unproven theory. (It’s number 24 on the list.) We lose track of this fact: cyberspace is NOT reality. Theories abound online because we are all frustrated and scared about the malaise of the indie film biz, and we are all trying to figure out the new path. (If you’re not frustrated and scared, then you’re not paying attention.)
Where are the dozen indie films that have been successful because they had 5,000 fans prior to production? We are not there yet. There are no valid metrics, only theories—good theories, but still, only theories.
Because there are no metrics and no proven pathways—there is not even agreement on duties (a major failing, in my mind, is that most lists of duties do not include debt collection, a huge issue in distribution)—I assume the PMD will be most safely evolved and developed from expansion of a Co-Producer role. And every Co-Producer has a unique financial arrangement.
Indie filmmakers must grasp and take responsibility for their own marketing and distribution. Maybe the old school will someday return, but even if it does, the filmmaker who understands and successfully navigates marketing and distribution will be better off than one who doesn’t.
The Producer of Marketing and Distribution is a valid, imperative evolution in filmmaking.