September 2012’s TEDxToronto speaking event has as its theme the concept of “alchemy,” that deft blending of seemingly innocuous worthless elements into something greater and more valuable than its constituent parts. Not only is the sum greater than its parts, but the sum is something entirely different from the ingredients comprising it.
It’s with this idea in mind I’d like to give a TED Talk this September about that very thing which occupies much of my professional time – PMDing – more broadly, its tie-in to the entire DIY Movement here north of the 49th and as it relates to independent film and documentary. I and my local colleagues have been laboring for change in this area.
The PMDing concept took off in the US with the advent of the Producer of Marketing and Distribution’s role following Jon Reiss’ 2008 publication of Think Outside the Box Office, but here in Canada things continue to lumber along slowly.
Why is this so?
Canada, like the majority of well-endowed non-crisis-riddled Western European economies – maintain publicly-funded cultural jurisdictions, states which spoil their artists lavishly with gifts from the public coffer, nations which have identified culture as a key and constructive societal need.
Sadly, resources in this area were subject to cutbacks in the latter part of 2011 in this country, and what’s left of the resource pie continues to be fought over tooth and nail by ravenous Canuck artists and filmmakers eager to leave their artistic mark or make their filmmaking breakthroughs.
The sad reality is these resources aren’t available to everyone. Nor will they ever be (harsh Canadian realization #2).
Filmmakers with a burning desire to shoot their flicks don’t receive the cash just because they’ve spent nights compiling a stellar funding application or puckering up for the right posteriors.
Therefore, other more effective methods need to be employed if they expect to gain a measure of escape velocity. Filmmakers, as we PMDs are wont to nag, must start thinking like artist-businesspeople, a role whereby they constantly swap between two competing and not altogether cooperative hats: the creative and the commercial.
No longer are “art and business” to be viewed as frenemies. No longer are filmmaker-artists reliant exclusively upon the dictates of the funding establishment to perform all elements of their marketing or depending on them to reach out directly to their unique audiences. By the way, this isn’t the big news I wanted to share in this post.
The bigger news is the how. The bigger news is how we PMDs actually do the tasks we do for our clients – a propos to the topic of alchemy. It’s more about how we stew these various elements together into the bubbling witches’ brew we call DIY marketing and distribution. This is take away filmmakers seek when they attend one of our talks. This is the nugget they’re desperately digging for in the muck, not on the need to be told that the potential for DIY marketing methods exists.
In the States, when you raise private equity to make a film and don’t earn your investors’ nut back, you’re gone. You don’t get that second chance to call “action!” at least one where other people are footing your shooting expenses, and if they are, underwriting your budget for any considerable amount. If you blow your one shot, you pay the price for failure. There are almost no second chances in the US.
On the other hand, here in Canada – and especially in mollycoddled Europe – commercial flops are rarely harshly penalized. Filmmakers who administer box office poison and who don’t shoot films which earn their budgets back aren’t subject to the same censure. It’s as if there’s zero risk: another application for funding, another envelope of funds opened, money again magically flooding the production kitty. Market forces don’t even play a rational part in this process. Cardinal laws of supply and demand aren’t even inverted – they’re non-existent! No rhyme or reason dictates who gets funded, how they receive their money, in what amount, when, or even who. It’s all chaos, all the time. Yet governments continue to do this because culture is a human right, something governments feel the public should be made to pay for out of taxpayer revenue, not necessarily out of their own billfolds.
I’m not positing that there’s anything wrong with the model. The model is responsible for giving plenty of first-timers their lone shot at getting up on the board. Sure, these first-time cash handouts aren’t much and filmmakers have to jump over application hurdles and sign their lives and rights away to land them, but these are more than most rookie filmmakers would ever succeed in raising independently. And the more the indie product produced, the better. And it’s not as if the public funding bodies refuse to acknowledge the role targeted audience outreach plays in the marking and distribution process. It’s just that it’s a model which applies only to the projects which make it past the post. For their “in,” or establishment, films, which succeed in landing public cash, not a model to be promoted for Canadian filmmakers as a whole.
According to this model, there are more losers than winners. Demands on limited funding far exceed available supply, and this is by design a “survival of the fittest” approach. It’s not sustainable, either, in light of DIY methods which continue to entrench themselves in our community, albeit at a comparatively slovenly pace here north of the border.
But who’s to say approved projects are the ones which have ultimate commercial potential? Are statistical audience metrics applied to applications received? Plus, isn’t there a heap of inscrutable behind-the-scenes politics dictating which projects receive cash and which filmmakers are grata?
Bottom line is this: the process isn’t altogether fair — neither here nor in Europe — and it’s is why Canadian filmmakers, in particular, need a new attack plan. It’s why the Producer of Marketing and Distribution’s role must make greater inroads within our local filmmaking community. And it’s why I want to give this TED Talk.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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