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New Roles Emerging - Impact Producer

Continuing from my earlier post on the new roles of distribution, I want to look at another recently emerged role; The Impact Producer.

The role of an impact producer has been bubbling up in the documentary film community, with institutions such as BritDoc holding annual Impact Producers Labs to train professionals that can launch film marketing campaigns that have true impact.

But I want to take a step backwards and figure out where did the need for an impact producer came from and what do they actually do.

According to Britdoc, the media and cultural landscapes have shifted profoundly and more filmmakers have had the ambition to create impact with their work. The success of these filmmakers have subsequently created more broader interest in the roles that films can play in effecting social and environmental change.

As great films like Citizen Four, exposing the reality of mass surveillance, Chasing Ice, the capturing film about climate change and Miners Shot Down, revealing the truth about South Africa’s most devastating massacre since apartheid, are among the recent examples of films that have truly made an impact. Films like these and the ones before them have sparked more funds to be available in the US and Europe for films to reach and engage their audiences to create the impact.

Although great, Jennifer MacArthur argues in Bordeline Media’s industry blog, that the emphasis on this kind of funding has put pressure for filmmakers to create full-blown social change campaigns for their documentaries. As an answer to the demand, independent service providers, the impact producers, emerged to take the films off the hands of filmmaker and deliver the campaign work for them. Just like PMDs create distribution and marketing strategies for other, less impactful films so to say, impact producers work to create campaigns for films that aim in social or environmental change.

So what does Impact Producers do?

They help filmmakers to create impact campaigns to make real change, to catalyse and amplify social impact through creative use of media. Tasks include stakeholder analyses, market research, reviewing of all the sociological and behavioural studies on the subject matter, research into the history of the social movement(s) related to the subject matter, and a review of public opinion data, both historical and contemporary, on the subject matter. And all of this before actually designing the campaigns.

According to MacArthur:

‘It’s like taking a 15-week, masters level course in your final year of graduate school. And it must be done before you can define campaign goals, write grant proposals, recruit advisory board members or anything else.’

She says that the assumption is that this work should by definition be conducted by the filmmaker during production. She continues to explain that the creative process of documentary filmmaking is different from the creative process of strategic campaign design. The research and analysis at the production stage is and should be right for the narrative of the film but it is not often rigorous enough to mount a successful social change campaign.

So in a nutshell Impact producers take the subject of the film, and develop social change campaigns in the area of the subject, for example campaigning against death penalty in Asia that was the topic of the campaign around Give Up Tomorrow. Impact producers work in the field of the subject and not so specifically in the field of the distribution and marketing as PMDs do.

Ben Kempas, the PMD hired by Scottish Documentary Institute, agrees. He thinks that the difference is in the focus. Impact producers do valuable work in creating social change campaigns, but Kempas argues that the role would in other fields, such as advertisement, politics or non-profits, be simply called ‘campaign directors’. Jon Reiss, the originator of the PMD title, counter argues that as the word director is protected by Directors Guild of America, campaign director doesn’t really work for the sort of work that impact producers do.

In the TUGG #ScreenBig skype panel about the difference of the two professions, Jon Reiss, continues to say that as opposed to the PMD, Impact Producers really, essentially work to drive for the impact, with more legislation and campaigning involved.

"Things you would not normally do for a buddy comedy for example"

Therefore he argues that the work can be essentially the same, but PMDs working on a larger scale.

To conclude there seems to be a true evolvement going on in the documentary field with new practices emerging and new professional responding to the new demands. Some overlap definitely exists between PMDs and Impact Producers, but essentially we need both. Because furthermore, it needs to be underlined that filmmakers are not often equipped to the evolving world of distribution not to mention social impact campaigning. If filmmakers go down the route of self distribution, then help is needed as it seems to be a full jungle out there, getting our films seen.

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