Sheri Candler Brings Independent Films to Market – Part 2

Published On February 24, 2011 | By admin | film distribution, film marketing, Filmmaker, Independent Film, Q&A

Part 2 of the Filmmakers Notebook Q&A with the very bright, talented and opinionated independent film marketing expert Sheri Candler.  Find out more of her thoughts about the role of PMDs and who the people are that influence her the most.

Making filmmakers aware of the benefits of PMDs has been a constant pursuit for you during the past year or so.  Do you feel like you’re making progress in demonstrating the need for the position?   

I feel like we are making progress. Every day we hear from someone who says they are doing this work, but didn’t realize until recently it had a title.  I think the concept needs more sharpening, both for people interested in doing the work and for filmmakers who want this person on the team.  Here is how I look at it. 

A PMD is meant to start at the beginning of the production process, generally helping to identify audience characteristics from the script, researching where to find them, start embedding themselves in that community WELL BEFORE anything is trying to be sold.  It is very grassroots, organic and slow, it can’t be hurried along at the end right before you are trying to sell something and it certainly can’t be started after release with the only goal being sell this DVD or get people to the theater screenings. Those are some ultimate goals and most in business will say those are the only goals worth having.  I don’t see it that way; I don’t think those are the only goals.  It is easier to keep delighting the audience you already captured than it is to constantly start over.  Less work, less money.  Those are valid goals too.

Sheri with Trevor Anderson at Sundance (photo by Fish Griwkowsky)

If you are using online tools and you want that audience to stay with you over time, someone has to cultivate it and be the voice of your productions, the public face.  It is full time work.  That person is the PMD and you would do well to form a collaborative partnership over time, not hire someone quickly (or worse leave it to an unpaid intern) just to babysit your Facebook page.  There are many examples of filmmaking teams, screenwriters and directors, producers and directors, directors and cinematographers, directors and editors, that form a long lasting partnership.  A PMD is now part of that kind of partnership.  It is also why a true PMD cannot work on many projects all at once.  With the understanding that large amounts of time must be devoted to be successful, someone can’t be a PMD on say 10 projects.

A person being hired to find high profile publicity opportunities before a festival or build up “buzz” a month before release is not a PMD.   That kind of work always existed, festival publicists do this work, advertising is your best bet if you have waited until the month before release to start building “buzz” and you buy it from media.  A PMD may hire a specialist for a short time to help reinforce efforts that have already been started, to handle a campaign, but people solely doing that kind of work are not PMDs.   And filmmakers who hire people to do this work only should not call them PMDs, call them publicists or advertising brokers.

You and Jon Reiss have started putting together workshops for people interested in becoming PMDs, so how would someone who wants to pursue this attend a program and how would you advise them to begin gaining experience? 

Originally, Jon’s idea was the TOTBO (Think Outside The Box Office) workshops were for filmmakers or filmmaking teams and the material covered was for a broad understanding of all the elements to marketing and distributing a film.  In the future, this will be narrowed for people who are not making films themselves but want to work with filmmakers.  The information will be geared more for people with marketing/publicity/distribution backgrounds.

He is working on a new book that is devoted just to PMD work and we are formulating an online site that will be a community just for PMDs where they will have resources, information, opportunities that are tailored just for people doing this work.  Right now, there is no place available to support the people working with artists (and it could be they are working with authors, musicians, choreographers etc not just filmmakers) so it is only natural that we provide a place.

Describe what you look for in a client and are there any types of filmmakers you wouldn’t want to work with?

Here’s how not to approach me:  Ask what’s your rate card?  As if everyone is equal except for price. 

Tell me about your project using detailed words, make me feel your enthusiasm and why you want this story to be heard, what drew you to me, how do you see us working together?  What I personally believe in is pretty easy to find online and if you think we are a fit, mentality wise, then contact me.  It sounds arrogant to say, but I don’t shill for work.  I have far more offers than I can handle and I turn down many jobs where I just don’t connect to the material or the filmmaker has waited too late to come to me and now has no money and no patience for results.  My methods aren’t fast, they are consistent, but they take time and effort.  For some material, I do already have a network of media outlets for coverage and groups I am in contact with, but often I have to go out and start from scratch.  It is time consuming to form relationships and it can’t be hurried.  I can only do it effectively if I have a passion for the material, if I feel something for it. Material I have no passion for: slasher/horror and zombie films.  I don’t understand why that is entertainment.  It doesn’t mean that people aren’t entertained by it; it means I don’t know how to reach them because I have no feeling for it.  Someone else would be a better fit for you.

Also, don’t tell me how your film is the next Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity [insert any other lightning in a bottle title].  I’m neither impressed nor attracted to that posturing.  I believe in starting small and highly engaged, but filmmakers who want the success of those films cannot abide by small so we won’t be a fit.

Which filmmakers and/or marketers have influenced you the most during the past year and why? 

Filmmakers, not many.  There are still way too many entrenched in the old way of thinking.  Too many still making a film, selling it to the highest bidder and relinquishing their rights to it in order to go make another.  They are kind of like a woman who loves being pregnant and giving birth, but doesn’t want to raise children, then bitches about the way they are raised.  It just doesn’t interest me.

I find what Lance Weiler does to be intriguing, and I’ll definitely be watching it.  I actually jumped for joy when I heard what Kevin Smith was doing with Red State.  I had really hoped he would be the first mainstream-ish indie director who would crowdfund and bring higher profile attention to that kind of funding, but he wimped out.  That’s alright, it will be someone else.  I was so happy to see someone high profile take the leap into self distro where it wasn’t their “last resort” as self distro seems to still be looked upon.  Power to Kevin.  I also admire Edward Burns for doing the same.  Both have built up an audience following over a period of time and are now showing that it is possible to take control yourself, reach audiences and get your films seen.

Anyone who reads my writings knows I follow Seth Godin like a hawk and I am definitely watching his Domino Project.  I want to see his form of self distro though I worry about it being so tied to Amazon.  Anytime someone is tied to a platform they don’t directly control, there is a danger to the business model.

I am influenced by reading Mike Masnick’s Techdirt, Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine, Clay Shirky, Gerd Leonhard’s presentations, Larry Lessig.  I wish there were women in that list!  I am way more interested in learning more about creative commons, business models built on niches rather than masses, using “free” to build up relationships that pay than I am about using social media to sell.  Relationships are far more interesting to me and I find them far more valuable than to just look at them as ways to squeeze money out of people.  Yes, money has to be made, but I don’t start from that motivation and I don’t think people respond well to that being an artist’s motivation.

We’ll have the final section of our Q&A with Sheri coming up in Part 3, but in the meantime you can keep up with her on Twitter @shericandler and visit her website at

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