Just because you’ve been doing things your way for the longest time doesn’t mean it’s the best way of doing things. Even if’ it’s something that’s worked for you to some degree in the past doesn’t mean you’ll see a resurgence of it in the future. Indie film, as we’ve seen in the five years since indie “Year Zero,” when MGs = minimum guarantees dried up for our brand of pictures, has done a near-180-degree turnaround. Call it a false god or not, but the ease of getting a major deal is no longer what it was with the competition this fierce.
It always amazes me when I’m approached about a prospective PMDing contract by people who have experienced a modicum of success under the traditional system. Men (especially) and women who came up through the ranks under the old model’s rules and who seem believe theirs is the model which will remain intact for all-time. They refuse to listen to the dismal stats and refuse to believe they will somehow apply to them at some near stage. They think they can forever outrun the odds.
Identifying these sorts by their characteristics, I’d say they’re older, male, and reside primarily on the Left Coast. Conversations with them usually revolve around my success in positioning that “social media thing” — or what we PMDs call audience engagement – into some sort of backup plan in they event their main (read: traditional system) plan doesn’t pan out…which they’re convinced will happen for them again, because, well, it’s worked out forever.
Of course, what these filmmakers refuse to realize – what we PMDs harp on all the time at the blog and in other places – is that the old system is flatlined, especially for the kind of lower-end pictures from their camp. I know this because I recently emerged from a couple of hellish scenarios exactly like the one I describe.
When I insisted that audience engagement wasn’t something to be left to a team of trusted confederates, harnessed instead by the filmmaker themselves, my advice was met with scoffing derision. Pity. I don’t think their film will be doing any business, anytime soon.
In the old days, making pictures was simple. Sure, the technology wasn’t as performant or as affordably ubiquitous as we have it today, but the distributors weren’t as discerning. If your film had the right attachments, the right talent, and the right connections, a distribution deal was surely in the offing. Heavy lifting not required.
Pictures were financed. They were shot and post-produced. And then they were sold. Simple as that. Rinse and repeat.
Livings were made and filmmaker-producers were hanging on like sniveling sycophants in Hollywood until their big shot came through. Barring that, they could carry on making less-than-stellar shlock with the expectation that someone would always be willing to buy what they were shooting. Long-term audience engagement wasn’t much of a consideration, because, well, no one believed the mill-like meat-grinder would ever cease, the wheel would keep on turning.
Filmmakers like the ones I describe above never worried about cultivating their own following because that wasn’t their job, and, besides, didn’t it get in the way of “the art?” With creativity being the name of the game, business-y stuff was better left to the stodgy suits who tackled that sort of thing. The professional greaseballs, they thought. Not us. We’re filmmakers. You do what you do best, and we’ll do our job. Stay out of our bailiwick.
Like I said, it was a living and it made sense for years. Some filmmakers today, however, delude themselves into believing that it still makes sense. But it doesn’t.
I worry for filmmaker of this variety, however. Not only is their thinking on the matter Middle Ages-like, but it also leaves audience engagement for long-term career engagement someplace far off in the nebulous future. It virtually ensures nothing they produce today – no creative endeavor which they set their mind to in 2012 – will be entirely theirs.
The means to contacting their most strident fans won’t reside in their databases.
Knowing intimately about where this audience lives won’t be something they’ll know from hard first-hand research.
They won’t know their fans, and their fans won’t know them.
They’ll have never taken the time to reach out and address their fans directly, and therefore there’ll be no measure of trust between and their fans, a totally unengaged audience.
In this era of direct-to-fan conversations, dinosaurs of our indie industry live on life support. We PMDs can preach, cajole, rebuke, and apply as much tough love as we wish, but the ultimate proof in the pudding happens when these dinosaurs jump on the bandwagon, only to tragically realize they’ve squandered their last best chance at entering the new filmmaking era on solid footing.
Audience engagement isn’t a today to tomorrow phenomenon, alas.
I can’t predict PMDs will be around in another three to five years. I’m venturing a guess they won’t (but that’s the subject for another blogpost). It’s because filmmakers will likely become astute enough that what we PMDs preach in 2012 will likely become engrained in film school curricula by the middle of this second decade. Filmmakers will have access to even more tools and analytics to track viewing patterns and behavioral habits of their respective target audiences, hence a swami of sorts, or the-PMD-as-intermediary, as it were, won’t be required in that chain of communication between end user to content creator.
The role of the PMD will change, as will the industry itself, and so what was once “best practices” today will no longer be best come the end of this decade. While it may entail a change in career tactics I say this is a good thing, because it flows perfectly from my premise: what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and all of us in the business need to prepare for that eventuality. PMDs included.
We all need to meet this challenge head-on and prepare now.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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