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Jon Reiss on “Why A Producer of Marketing And Distribution?” Part 1

Jon Reiss on "Why A Producer of Marketing And Distribution?" Part 1

Yesterday’s HFF post on the plethora of new platforms & options for truly free filmmakers should have made you leap for joy and run for the cliff simultaneously. It is wonderful that filmmakers have SO many great tools and services at their disposal. But how does anyone take advantage of this situation. The choice is overwhelming. Sure the rewards could be great — but so is the risk. Well, the answer, my friend, is… best explained by Jon Reiss.

The Producer of Marketing and Distribution and The New 50/50

On the recent discussion concerning the Producer of Marketing and Distribution on Ted’s blog recently, there was some confusion as to what are the responsibilities of the Producer of Marketing Responsibilities. I offered Ted the list of responsibilities that I wrote for the introduction of a book that I am writing on the PMD. Ted offered to post the entire introduction in three parts. This first part concerns why I think a PMD is useful to independent filmmakers. The second post concerns responsibilities of the PMD. The third post will look at how the PMD is currently being adopted and what kind of training could help not only people who want to be PMDs, but also the filmmakers who want to have them as part of their teams. Here is the introduction.

As a filmmaker myself, I am well aware of the paradigm shift that has occurred in the last several years as independent filmmakers try to get their films distributed. Through my own work – and talking to countless filmmakers – I have become a firm believer that filmmaking is a two part process. The first part is creating the film – the second part is connecting that film with an audience. There is still a strong belief in the independent film world that filmmakers are only responsible for creating the film – someone else will take care of distribution and marketing. For a very few filmmakers this might still happen. But for the vast majority of filmmakers – and all artists and media content creators – it won’t.

Loose estimates range that there are between 5,000-17,000 feature films made in North America every year and that approximately 35,000 feature films are on the international festival circuit. Most of these are looking for, hoping for, a company to give them a check in exchange for the right to distribute their films. Even in an excellent year of acquisitions – only a relative handful of films will have some form of distribution entity “take their films off their hands”. (Whether having a distributor is the best course for any film is another debate – I am also a firm believer that every film is different and each film thus needs its own unique distribution and marketing strategy and implementation – but that is for another chapter.)

So it is up to filmmakers and artists to not only own the means of production – but also to own the means of distribution and marketing.

Hence the New 50/50 is as follows:

50 percent of an artist’s time and resources should be devoted to creating a film or artistic work. 50 percent of their time and resources should be devoted to getting the film/artistic work out to its audience, aka distribution and marketing.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule. Rather, it is a guide to changing our preconceptions.

In the year and a half since I coined “the New 50/50” I feel that it creates too much of a dichotomy between creation of a film and the distribution and marketing of a film. In the best of circumstances – these two “halves” should be integrated into an organic whole. Audience engagement needs to start as close to inception as possible – and with advances in technology – mainly Internet and mobile technology, it is more possible than ever.

I believe that this integration allows for not only much better results in filmmakers achieving their goals of their releases (whatever those may be) – but also allows for the distribution and marketing process to open up to new forms of creativity as well. Distribution and marketing can be as creative as the filmmaking process – even to the point where they become indistinguishable. This should not be scoffed at, as some form of branded entertainment – rather should be embraced as a revolution of artistic possibility. (However it is actually branded entertainment in which the artis is the brand.)

The Birth of the Producer of Marketing and Distribution

I find that most filmmakers (directors and producers both) I speak to are so overwhelmed with the amount of work involved in creating “a film” –they don’t have the time to connect with audiences or create additional assets during production to aid in later marketing efforts (or as creative extensions of the project). Further, many filmmakers (especially directors) do not have the skill set or inclination to engage directly with audiences. As a filmmaker, I can relate to these feelings myself.

In addition, just like you most likely did not make the film on your own, you should not be distributing and marketing the film on your own. I would propose that from now on, every film needs one person devoted to the distribution and marketing of the film from inception, just as they have a line producer, assistant director, or DP.

Just before sending Think Outside the Box Office to print, I came up with the concept of the Producer of Marketing and Distribution or the PMD. I gave this crew position an official title of PMD because without an official position, this work will continue to not get done. I gave this position the title of producer because it is that important.

In addition, in doing the work as a PMD for my own film as well as consulting on a number of other films, (and having produced three feature films myself) I can state that this work is producorial in nature.

The purpose of the PMD is for one person on a filmmaking team to be responsible for audience engagement. {Note that I use “distribution and marketing” and “audience engagement” interchangeably. I do this so that filmmakers will start to view distribution and marketing (the whole process from beginning to end) as audience engagement. E.g. Audience engagement starts at awareness – and keeps going through consumption and beyond to the future. }

To continue: the purpose of the PMD 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. It also recognizes that most split rights distribution partners and some traditional distributors will not spend adequate time or money on promotion when the film is ready for distribution. The earlier in the process this is started, the more successful it will be for everyone involved.

Jon Reiss is a filmmaker and author of Think Outside the Box Office. His new book, Selling Film Without Selling Your Soul, co written with The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter with social media marketer Sheri Candler, is sponsored by Prescreen, Area23a Movie Events and Dynamo Player available September 13, 2011 via Apple iBooks, followed by Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, a printed edition and free ePub version.

He can be reached at:

You can order Think Outside the Box Office here, or on Amazon.

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so, in a few words, anyone with a good knowledge of the cinema industry and social medias who knows his bits in trade in marketing can proclaimed that he is a Producer of Marketing and Distribution?

Am I right?


There aren’t enough jobs for people with this skill set. I’m all for it!


Reading my previous post I realise that it might look offensive. This is not what I intended to do. Sorry about that. What I meant is, how do you differentiate the good from the bad when it comes to hiring a PMD?



Michael Craig

Essentially you are right. I think the point in this article and elsewhere that Jon Reiss is making is that it ought to be a recognised professional status with the corresponding training etc rather than somebody just assigning themselves this status in the way that you have characterised it. How realistic creating such a professional status and how valuable it would be to film makers is another question. I think Jon Reiss makes a fair case given the changes which are happening in the industry.

Amy Slotnick

As someone who has done this job for several films now, ones I produced and ones where the producer hired me to consult on the marketing & distribution of the film, I love that Jon is giving it a name and a place in the industry. And I love that is has found a forum in blogs and books like Jon’s & Ted’s.

To respond to the comments posted on whether anyone can do the job and how to find the right person for it, I think that, similar to the role of Producer, the position requires someone with industry knowledge, experience and relationships, especially with platforms offering non-traditional forms of marketing & distribution, creative thinking, fiscal responsibility, expertise and/or ideas on how to engage a niche audience pertinent to the film’s topic/themes, ability to juggle many things, excellent follow through, articulate a film’s message, drive results, meet budget mandates and think outside the box.


Thank you all, I have a better idea of the right candidate now.

Gerald Heller

Promoters of this and related approaches to film sales really need to a answer a basic question first: do they believe that audiences have an endless hunger for movies? Is there no limit to the number of movies the public will pay to watch, if the product is effectively marketed? Has that limit been reached? Or are PMD advocates just claiming that they can shift the finite, and diminishing, consumer market from one title to another, with superior marketing?

How many productions on which PMDs are hired can expect to seen any return at all? Does a production which needs to hire a PMD in first place have any realistic expectation of seeing a return?

Seems strange that we’d be talking about new marketing approaches, with no apparent need for additional product or, in advance of its production, any compelling reason a consumer would want it.

100% improvement in the marketing of the unmarketable is still zero.

Michael R. Barnard

Jon has a tremendous amount of information and thought, all very important to indie filmmakers.

I posted my views about PMD on my blog, “Indie filmmakers abuzz about new PMD position” at which might add some more insight to the discussion of the PMD position.

Jerry Lentz

It really seems to me that the more power one has on the laptop to edit the film, post the film, market the film, blog about the film… The trajectory points to the filmmaker being the solitary artist much like a painter or author.

We will aim for less in sales, for more control of content and marketing, and possibly find our living expenses covered (hope-fully) in the crowdfunding. Maybe looking at that (crowd of giving fans, friends and family) like presales.

Getting seen out of the 35,000 films is such a daunting task it’s best to ignore that energy killing thought and focus more on a story that is so wonderfully unique that its concept is your PMD for most of the time.

I can’t wait to get my eyes on my lil’ brain is pulsating with ideas being generated by today’s blog posting and comments.


I’m sure anyone can “proclaim” themselves to be a PMD but if someone makes lofty claims about increasing your numbers I’d run the other way. There are several really talented people out there trying on the PMD label and have done really great work helping their projects. However, it is a vast skill set that is needed to do the job right. One that is rare. 1 PMD hat = 20 hats. I put the PMD hat on this past year. I’m not sure that the title is doing me any favors. It has been a difficult to nail down the responsibilities of a PMD. I’ve manged to come up with a solid list for the purposes of my own work and contracts. I look at the job differently than many other PMDs as I have a diverse set of skills and experience, coding and web design for example, and can handle much of the work other PMDs would hire someone else for. Every PMD has different strengths that they bring to the table. Right now my biggest problem with the whole PMD thing is that few recognize how labor intensive the work is or how many hours it really takes. Also, most indie budgets cannot afford or are not willing to pay a PMD what they are worth. Thank you to Jon and Ted and all who support the PMD movement!

Adam Daniel Mezei
John Frank

Is it just me or is your blog post entirely self-serving? Underneath the surface it definitely seems so.

Thanks for letting us know that YOU coined the terms “the new 50/50” and the “Producer of Marketing and Distribution”. Heaven forbid you don’t get credit where credit is due.

If this PMD position is a producer, then what exactly does this job produce? Bullshit? The subject matter will ALWAYS be most important when it comes to connecting with an audience. If the subject matter is old, derivative, or just plain irrelevant, then the PMD position is a waste of time and money. A large majority of indie films produced have subject matter that will never connect with an audience.

What exactly does a PMD do? Is there a lot of “work” involved? That’s highly debatable. Sure, there’s a lot of time involved, but I’m not sure I would call it work in the same sense of the work involved in creating a movie.

Jon, could you please outline the work you did as a PMD on your last movie?

Mike Allison

I think it’s great that Jon and Ted have given shape to this discussion. I actually frame it a bit differently, however, and believe success with our films starts with the aggregation of an audience – a better term might be a community of interest.

What is going on in the indie film world is typical of an industrial verticalization (or re-verticalization depending on your historical viewpoint). As film production AND distribution costs have declined, increasing the supply of films and fragmenting audiences, the industry must integrate roles which had previously been horizontally segmented. When there were fewer films, it was possible for the industry to support more specialized roles (representing stand alone business entities). It was possible for the creative side of the industry to hand off their creations to the commercial side of the industry, and then look to the next creative project. Increasingly, however, that is no longer a feasible division of labor, and the creative side must be more involved with the customer facing aspect of the film business – all as part of the same team.

If one accepts that premise, and the natural industry structure that is derived from more, but smaller, films, it becomes much easier to envision the PMD role as being appropriately integral to the overall success of the film.

Thank you Ted and Jon. Keep it up.

Jon Reiss

Thanks for all the great comments – so sorry I couldn’t respond yesterday. A few quick comments on the comments: John – Please look at today’s second post which outlines the responsibilities of the PMD. That’s essentially the work that I did on my film “Bomb It” and work that I am training someone on my staff to execute on “Bomb It 2”. I also don’t feel that having a PMD assures success. I’ve said it before – you need either a great film or a very good film with a hungry niche to have a chance of success – and I agree with Laura there are no guarantees. I also don’t feel that there is one audience for “film”, there are a variety of audiences with various tastes and interests and it is important to find the audience for the specific film.

I also agree with Laura that most people don’t realize how labor intensive this work is. As Amy points out that being a PMD is not just a matter of having some sense of the film industry and social media skills – it involves much more than that. I hope it’s also apparent from today’s post (part 2) how much work is involved.

I would love to see what you think about the list of responsibilities that are on Ted’s blog today.

Jon Reiss

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