Recently I had an interesting conversation with Gwendolyn Alston who has been working in the film industry for more than 10 years. She is a co-founder of MocaMedia, where they design and execute marketing and community engagement campaigns and strategies for independent films.
We talked about the industry, how filmmakers don’t know about the importance of marketing their movies (a conversation I personally have over and over with professionals in the industry) and, in the midst of our conversation, Gwen mentioned the impact producer and I got curious about this title and what she/he does during production and these are the answers Gwen shared with us for understanding better this job position in film production.
What is an Impact producer?
The term was coined or certainly cornered, by Jon Reiss, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, author, and speaker. The impact producer, now considered an essential role to bear in mind when preparing a film budget and putting together a crew, is responsible for designing and implementing the impact strategy for the project. Not all films want to make an impact, so the role is not for all films. This is a specific role more often for documentary films which have a mission and a message, and want to effect change—whether this is raising awareness, inspiring action, or actually changing policy. Examples of films that have implemented successful impact campaigns include Lioness, by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, A Sea Change, by Barbara Ettinger, and Sands of Silence/Arenas de silencio by Chelo Alvarez-Stehle.
What are the tasks around production that an Impact producer does?
The impact producer must fully understand the film’s mission and message, be able to prepare the materials that transmit these, identify and connect with stakeholders who will participate in and support the film in its promotion and distribution, and create a strategy that will reach and connect with the film’s core audience. Finally, the impact producer also evaluates the actually impact of the campaign at every stage and must be ready to make changes in the course of action in a flexible way when certain steps or connections have not achieved the desired effect.
When is the best time for the Impact producer to get involved in the film/project?
The sooner an impact producer is brought into the film team, the better. If the impact producer is on board from the very moment the filmmaker is preparing the treatment for the film project, then he or she can be instrumental in defining the film’s message, who its core audience and key stakeholders are, and beginning to design the outreach strategy to reach and connect with them. It is critical to get your audience and alliances on board in the very early moments of putting together your film, sometimes even before the production stages, so that when you are in post-production and ready to launch, the film already as a community waiting to receive, support, and share it.
Where can you find an Impact producer?
There are two important lists in the U.S. where impact producers (also known as outreach or community engagement consultants or strategists) can be found: The Fledgling Fund, PBS/POV, and TUGG. In the U.K., organizations such as The Bertha Foundation, BritDoc, Sheffield Doc Festival, the Good Pitch, and the Scottish Documentary Institute provide funding for and classes on the role of the impact producer and can probably provide contacts.
Why should filmmakers hire an Impact producer?
The filmmaker is already juggling a great many aspects of making his or her film—looking for funds, researching for and writing the story, finding the characters, directing, managing a crew. One area that very often falls by the wayside until it is too late is how the film that the director envisions and so painstakingly puts together will actually reach and make a difference to its audience. The director has found a topic that she or he esteems is of critical relevance, whether it be about the environment, or an aspect of society or have a spiritual theme, and feels that his or her film will help others to not only become aware of the topic but incorporate this awareness to make change in themselves and in their community. However, making the film, no matter how well, is not enough. The film must have its support network—the key stakeholders and the core audience, those who connect with the topic immediately. Sometimes the filmmaker is so caught in the story and bringing it to life, he or she cannot and does not have the time to focus on these support groups. That is the role of the impact producer.
Where can we find you?
Angela and I can be found via our website: Mocamedia. Angela is based in Dallas, Texas and I am in Madrid, Spain. For large campaigns, we have two other key consultants who work with us, one in Los Angeles and the other in New York. We are listed on the Fledgling Fund, the PBS/POV and TUGG websites for recommended outreach/impact strategists.