Sub Genre

  • Black Lives Matter &  Silence is Not An Option

    • Posted on 4th Jun
    • Category: Newsletter

    What a week to begin a social media vacation! While I am not participating in the feed, I am listening, donating, and lending other virtual support. But in thinking about writing this newsletter this week, I was very conscious of two competing impulses – to not post, as the world doesn’t need the opinion of some white guy right now, but that I also couldn’t just skip the newsletter and be silent. So instead, I want to refer to a few other voices, and places to collaborate with, and give support. My readers who are Black, or come from more diverse backgrounds can/will probably skip this, as they likely know everything from here on out. First, I recommend that you head over to IndieWire to read their interview with Stanley Nelson, the renowned filmmaker and co-founder of Firelight Media. I’ve been lucky enough to know Stanley for a long time, and have always admired his artistry, his advocacy and his wisdom. In this interview, he speaks to the current crisis and protests, and perhaps his most important point is this: “One of the things we believe strongly at our company, Firelight, is that people should tell their own stories. We really believe this is a time when filmmakers of color can have a chance to tell their stories. It’s incumbent on white filmmakers to help them do that, to move out of the way so that they can do that. Part of the hierarchy of race in our country is how many times white filmmakers have the access to power and money, the access to equipment. They could get out there and make a film about this that’s in some ways not entirely representative of where we are as a community. It’s really important that people tell their own stories.” – Stanley Nelson. Amen. I work in two worlds – indie film and brand storytelling. In the indie film world, we’ve made strides in recent years, but there remain major issues around diversity and access. The branded content world is pretty much light years behind – meaning worse – than the indie world in addressing diversity. While there are exceptions, it’s a field that is not representative of the diversity of America or the world – in the people making decisions, the people being hired behind the camera, the stories being told, or the audiences being served. And while we need to address all aspects of diversity, inclusion & access, right now we need more Black voices, and they are particularly underrepresented in brand storytelling. In thinking about this, I am also reminded of a recent op-ed by Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the LA Times, where he said: “So what you see when you see black protesters depends on whether you’re living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for “NCIS” to start. What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.” It also matters who is making that show, and who is advertising those corn chips, and as the media sector and brands start to navigate how to get involved in this space, and respond to it in a meaningful and respectful way, the entire sector would do well to hire more people of color for the myriad roles and for the stories being told.

    While there are many people and organizations working on these issues, two organizations stand out to me as places to listen to, work with and support right now – the aforementioned Firelight Media and the Brown Girls Doc Mafia. While there are others, these are two nonprofits that specifically support filmmakers of color, and do a great job – in different ways. Firelight is a premier destination for non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight produces documentary films, supports emerging filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. Brown Girls Doc Mafia is an initiative advocating for over 3,300 women and non-binary people of color working in the documentary film industry around the world. 

    Supporting these two groups can help ensure that these stories get told. You can donate to Firelight Media here.  Donate to Brown Girls Doc Mafia here. For those of you working in branded content, I also imagine both would also be great resources for brands who want to connect with someone for advice on the films to make, or the directors to hire, or the stories to tell. But before you do that, read the BGDM FAQ on how to be a better ally. Read the whole thing, but the last part sums it up: “Overall: Check your privilege, be genuine, be mindful, plan ahead, do the work, be outspoken for this community, be flexible, seek council, and hold yourself and others like you accountable!” I’m pinning this section to my reading list and plan to refer to it often.

    I also recommend reading Beyond Empathy by Sonya Childress, a Senior Fellow at the Perspective Fund now, and former Director of Partnerships and Engagement at Firelight Media (where she posted this). It is essential reading. Here’s one edited excerpt: “What we often miss in character-driven films designed to build empathy towards individuals is an understanding of the structures and narratives that shape our attitudes and behaviors towards entire communities. And frankly, this political climate demands new narratives. (…) The empathy frame also distracts us from more strategic uses of film: to validate and empower those who rarely see their experience on screen, to convene disconnected people and movements, and to build alliances and power. The power when we — the marginalized “others” — use film to speak to our own communities or across identity and issue silos to build common ground and strategize solutions. In this way, film still plays an important role in connecting groups who may see each other as different, but it does so with the baseline assumption that the film subjects are human, and do not need a film to assert that basic premise. When film is used in this way the impact is categorically different, and we see that what lies beyond empathy is solidarity. The notion that our plight, and humanity, are intrinsically connected, and to create a better future I’ve got to get my hands dirty along with you.” – Sonya Childress

    Another important piece of this is how audiences connect with these films. This is done in myriad ways, but in recent years, one organization that has been doing an amazing job is the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia. I’ve not yet been able to attend, but was on a recent panel with Maori Karmael Holmes, the ceo and artistic director. From that panel, I know she’s working hard to put together some version of their festival, which usually takes place July 30 – August 2nd. The organization also recently posted In Defense of Black Life: Ways to Get Involved and Take Care of Yourself, which has a lot of great links and resources. You can donate to BlackStar here. These are just three great organizations to work with and support (IFP just started a list). I know there are many others I should be mentioning, and/or others I don’t know about, but these are three that I respect, plan to donate to, and hope to learn from in the coming months and years ahead. I’m still learning, and figuring out ways to use my platform and voice to help, and get out of the way and just donate when I can’t. (FWIW, I am not just now writing about this (that’s just a recent example), but I must do it more). I hope my other white readers will do more of this too, and will think hard about how they can use their positions to take action and join the cause.

    Photo: National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Credit: Me.

    Last, not long after writing this, Warner Brothers made Just Mercy available for free across all platforms in June. The film is about Bryan Stevenson and his work at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which has done ground-breaking work on criminal justice reform, racial justice and public education. They also founded the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Social Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. My wife and I visited this last year, along with other Civil Rights Memorials in the South, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, and I’ve felt since that it should be mandatory viewing for every American, especially every white American from the South (attendance rates are higher from outside the area). Watch the film, but put the Memorial/Museum on your attendance list for the future. It should open later in June, and you can socially distance easily at the Memorial. You can donate to EJI here.

    Other News:

    Full Frame A& E Speakeasy Conversation Rescheduled The Full Frame festival panel was rescheduled for Blackout Tuesday. It is now being held on June 11: 

    Online Festival Strategy for Documentary Filmmakers 

    THURSDAY, JUNE 11 | 1 PM (EST) | REGISTER HERE | FREE WEBINAR As more festivals make the move online, documentary directors are left questioning, what is the right path for their films? Join us for a discussion on emerging strategies for nonfiction filmmakers, where we’ll tackle the most pressing concerns and questions about the changing festival landscape. Moderator: Deirdre Haj, Full Frame director Panelists: Josh Braun, co-president of Submarine EntertainmentRamona S. Diaz, filmmaker, CineDiaz Brian Newman, founder of Sub-Genre (me!).

    Register today and learn more about the panelists joining the discussion.

    Stuff I'm Reading

    Film

    When Will it Be Safe to go Back to the Cinemas? Asks Bilge Ebiri in an excellent piece for Vulture/New York Magazine, where he breaks down every aspect of the question from how things happened post 1918, to what the scientists think, and the theater owners, and even what's happening in other countries. Of all the articles being written about what happens next to moviegoing, this is the one you should read.

    A Way of Life in Peril: Festival Distribution in the age of Covid is online: I mentioned this earlier, but the panel I did with the Film Collaborative is now posted on their blog. Jeffrey Winter does these in a unique way - he holds the panel privately, then posts an edited transcript of the panel, augmented with Vimeo outtakes of the better parts. I joined the folks from Ro*Co films, Tim from Kartemquin, and Orly from the Collaborative, and we talked very openly about what's working and not in the space right now. Once again, I have to point how important Annie's comments are in this panel - in the changes to educational distribution and how well PBS is handling the virtual space. If you do nothing else, skip to her parts, but I think it's a good (long) read.

    The Information is Running a Free News Summer School - Reports the NiemanLab - a great idea, which I like more than all these panels - in-depth conversations with individual leaders, made into a class for students who are missing out on internships this year. Seems like we could duplicate this in many areas of the media/film biz (and I may try it too).

    The Streaming Wars are fierce. 'Is it too little, too late' for new combatants? In a report on Tuesday, J.P. Morgan media analyst Alexia Quadrani asks whether it is “too little, too late” for new services coming to market now, given the potentially lower demand compared with just a few months ago. Also, the challenges of producing new content during a pandemic mean that new services can’t depend on attractive new original content to draw subscribers.

    Why Film People need to Read Matt Ball's Epic Piece on Epic Games - Matt Ball may be the only person who writes longer posts than me - so be prepared - but he's also super-smart and it's a newsletter everyone in the media business (of any type) should always be reading. His recent 6 part piece on Epic Games, written with Jacob Navok, is super important. If you can't read it all, just read part 6. There are so many good things, but to me, it's critical for us to think about how Tim Sweeney and Epic are building a bigger vision for a better future. In this case, it's about the meta-verse, and making sure independents (designers and gamers here, for now) need to build systems for a future that is more open, more democratic, more respectful of privacy, and well, just better. As everyone in film keeps talking about blowing up the system and building something new, they'd do well to read this and think about how it applies to film. Gaming is much bigger than film in every measurement, but so much of this applies to our world too. 

    Miscellany:

    Microsoft replacing Journalists/Editors with AI - As if things couldn't get worse for journalists and the state of media, The Verge reports that Microsoft is laying off journalists and editors - even the ones who choose which photos go with stories - and replacing them with AI. 

    Why TikTok Stars are pivoting toward gaming - "According to Jason Wilhelm, a YouTuber who started a channel in 2011 with Call of Duty gaming content, and now serves as CEO of TalentX Gaming “Gaming gives you another way to monetize your platform.” As Digiday points out, this has been true since before Tiktok, to the days of Vine, all way back toward when gaming had just begun streaming. 

    This new technology simulates the feel of solid objects in Virtual Reality - Developed by CMU, and using an arm apparatus with strings to your fingers to give more feeling when touching virtual objects. Thomas Reports.

    Trump's Executive Order on Social Media is Meaningless and a Distraction- says Mike Masnick in TechDirt. If there's one article you read about the clown's order this week, make it this one, as per usual, Masnick breaks down the realities that are sometimes being left behind in other reporting.

  • Creativity, Covid & Digital Detox

    • Posted on 4th Jun
    • Category: Newsletter

    Every Summer, since 2010, I take the month of August as a break from all social media, and I take the latter two weeks of it and into Labor Day as a Holiday from email and any phone calls except from my immediate family (or emergencies). It’s always the most creative time of my life. I take all the time I would be spending on social media and put it into something creative, and I’ve learned that even in those times when I might be staring at the wall, or the floor of the subway (oh, to do that again), I’m allowing my brain to get the little vacations it needs in order to be more creative. I’m about to do this again, and I am suggesting some of you might want to experiment with doing the same. (Got no interest in that idea? Click here to skip to the news.)  

    A year ago, I essentially didn’t come back – to social media, that is. I decided to take all of my saved time from social media and use it to increase the frequency of this newsletter. I began writing almost weekly posts – not just here at Sub-Genre, because I also contributed guest posts to Brand Storytelling and some other places. But in general, I wrote more and my audience kept growing and I got more feedback, and was much happier. Behind the scenes, I also focused on more of my own creative writing and journaling, and didn’t miss the social media feed one bit. Mind you – I didn’t unplug from news and become a completely clueless human being – I still read two newspapers in print every morning, and (when not on vacation) read countless online news, blogs, etc. but I just skipped the social feed.   Every now & then, I would post one of my newsletters on social media, but usually on LinkedIn, which is more work related, and very seldom on Twitter or Facebook. But I was not an engaged/participatory poster – which is bad practice, I know, but I had to keep my sanity – and would just post, manage any client pages real-quick and then get out without perusing the feed at all. And I get more feedback off social media too - via email, mainly. Ok, my cheat was that I would post to Instagram every now and then, and look at the feed for five minutes, but even that was rare. I deleted all of the other apps from my phone.   That was B.C. Once covid hit, I kept up the writing, but let myself slip back into the feed. We were all sheltering in place, and I wanted to keep up with my friends. And a lot of that was good – I wouldn’t have known about some people’s struggles with the virus, or of other’s struggles with sourdough, without it. And it wasn’t all personal, several film-industry friends started up very good groups focused on responding to the crisis, and those were quite helpful. And I have loved things like going back on TikTok and finding the incredible talents of people like Jeff Wright or Maria DeCotis on IG, and IGTV theater from the 24Hr Plays #viralmonologues, and comedians saving comedy clubs like Mike Birbiglia,(or what we're trying to do for #pausedfilms on my movie). And I think those people using social media creatively are helping to change the world for the better.   But along with all that good, there has been some bad – at least for me. The worst part is probably the vitriol. From all sides. I get it – we have now lost over 100,000 lives in the US alone (as the NYT captured so well) mainly because of a botched response at the top, and that can piss you off, among other things. And I’m also worried, because the vitriol of the right is much more prevalent. You can’t scroll TikTok for more than ten minutes without encountering some idiot yelling about masks, but aside from NowThis, I don’t see much UGC countering it from the left. But I get enough anger to last me more than a day just reading the news. I don’t need endless variations of the same stuff the rest of the day from everyone else (I am not saying people shouldn’t do this, just that I don’t need to see all of it). Trust me – the anger I need to sustain my protests or my art of dissent is more than well informed by the news I consume. The social media anger around politics has added plenty to my angst, but zero to my fire.   The biggest problem is that even with the good and the bad, it is a time suck that steals time from my brain’s need to disengage to be creative. I can feel it, literally, in my bones. In fact, I am almost convinced that all of social media is an accidental plot to steal away the time we need for contemplation, creativity and real innovation. I say accidental because I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but you could build quite a few here – that’s not my goal.   My grandmother used to say that gardening brought you closer to God. I am not a religious person – or even spiritual, you hippies – but she was right. As monks, meditators, swimmers (that’s my religion), runners, and many others can tell you, she was right because you need to empty your mind to really get anywhere. Checking the feed, quelling the urge by glancing at the phone, and responding to one last post is not allowing my brain the emptiness it needs.   Similarly, I’ve always argued that one reason many nonprofits find it hard to innovate is that they don’t have the “monetary breathing room” to think differently and get out of their rut and dream up something new. The one time I was able to be innovative in my thinking as a nonprofit leader was when I inherited a nonprofit that was going nowhere fast, but had a board that gave it enough money that they could give me three months to contemplate its future, and change its direction. That’s contributed, I think, to the lack of innovation among many arts and film organizations right now. Again, not to be misunderstood – there is innovation happening, I’m not talking about everyone here. But many folks don’t have time to innovate because the house is on fire. For me, stuck at home (in a very privileged position, I am quite aware), social media is adding fuel to the fire analogy and sucking the air out of the room that might spark my creativity. How’s that for not being creative?   But seriously, I’ve come to realize that if I want to come out of this with better ideas for how to build the future I want to see, I need to be operating at maximum creativity. I’ve done an informal audit of my life over the last few weeks, and a lot of things have helped me in that regard, but not social media, and any collateral/accidental good is outweighed by the bad. On top of that, even if nothing creative or innovative comes out of any down-time from social media, I’ve decided it will surely be offset by the other positive of just having more time to focus on things that matter to me more – like my wife, my family and my mental health.   I am writing this from a place of privilege. I know that, and also know that even acknowledging it doesn’t change that it’s true. While my client work is down, and I have a film stuck in limbo, my situation is vastly better than that of so many others. And while I will take some of the gained time from not being on social to do more volunteering (via phone), I’m not pretending, or under any delusions that I’ll be changing the world.  But I am quite sure that I’ll change my world – my personal world – for the better by spending less time on social media and more time doing things that matter more to me. And if that small subset of the world who bothers to read this every week sees an improvement in my writing, then that’s good enough for me.   I do know from experience that disengaging from the social webs can increase my productivity, my creativity and my happiness. So from now – Memorial Day (when this was written) – to Labor Day – I’m taking a social media vacation. I’ll keep writing, hell maybe even more. And I will stay informed via news and politically/socially engaged in other ways. In spite of my skepticism about Zoom panels, I’ll keep doing those and will watch a few. Some clients still contact me on LinkedIn, so I will have to check for that a bit, but for the most part, I’ll be off the social webs. Why am I telling you here? Because they’ve become so ubiquitous that everyone assumes you’re always there, and I need to point it out. It’s also a way to keep myself honest.   But I also recommend that anyone who has made it this far into this long post considers some form of unplugging as well. You don’t have to go cold turkey like a social media AA. Tiffany Shlain does it once a week as a digital detox Shabbat, and she just wrote an excellent Op-Ed about it for USA Today (we must be on the same wavelength this week). It may seem counterintuitive to unplug at a time when those lucky enough to be safely home and with broadband are missing friends. But covid is hard even for those of us lucky but not in the 1% - a lot of people I know say they are doing ten times as much work for 50% less pay (and that’s still considered lucky). Just like some people are realizing that their quarantinis might not be contributing to their sanity, I’d suggest that getting off the social feed can be a much needed recharge for other parts of your life. And if you are in the creative industries, in any of the numerous roles that might encompass, I think we all need more of your creativity – either during or after this mess.   Creativity, innovation, insight, inspiration, hell – even well-targeted rage -  comes from many things, but I’ve found it to definitely come hand in hand with being more disconnected. For some, it’s just sitting down in front of the screen (or paper) until you write that novel, poem, short story, political screed or script. For me, it’s that too, but also about the little down times when your mind wanders. Once the urge to pick up the phone and check the feed goes away, those little moments come more often and your mind wanders more, and it’s never once led me to something less interesting than anything I’ve found via the endless scroll.

    A&E IndieFilms Speakeasy: Online Festival Strategy for Documentary Filmmakers  I'll be speaking on this great panel next week:

    TUESDAY, JUNE 2 | 3PM (EST) | REGISTER HERE | FREE WEBINAR As more festivals make the move online, documentary directors are left questioning, what is the right path for their films? Join us for a discussion on emerging strategies for nonfiction filmmakers, where we’ll tackle the most pressing concerns and questions about the changing festival landscape. Moderator: Deirdre Haj, Full Frame director Panelists: Josh Braun, co-president of Submarine EntertainmentRamona S. Diaz, filmmaker, CineDiaz Brian Newman, founder of Sub-Genre (me!).

    Register today and learn more about the panelists joining the discussion.

    Stuff I'm Reading
    Film
    VR Production is Gonna be Big: I was literally just about to write a post about the upcoming VR studio revolution, but Richard Janes beat me to it, so go read his article. People think this is just gonna be for the Mandalorians of the world, but I already know of producers setting up such studios for smaller films, indies, made for TV movies, and more. And as the examples in Richard's article show, low-budget indie folks are already experimenting here too.  Reimagining Film Festivals Panel Now Online- The panel I spoke on last week about reimagining film festivals is now online, posted by Dear Producer on Vimeo. I joined alongside three of my favorite producers - Marilyn Ness, Karin Chien and Rebecca Green.  AMC Entertainment - Will it Fail or Thrive? Seeking Alpha has the rundown, and about 60% of the bet is on acquisition or folding in some way. I agree with the author, and expect an acquisition soon, probably from a major like Amazon. Can a Film have Social Impact? Yes, says the star of Roma - In an excellent op-ed for the NYT, Yalitza Aparicio, the lead from Roma, speaks to the way the film impacted Mexico and the very real changes, such as "On May 14, 2019, a few months after the Oscars ceremony, in which “Roma” won three awards, Mexico’s Congress unanimously approved a bill granting the two million domestic workers in the country rights to social protections and a written employment contract, along with law-mandated benefits such as paid vacation days, Christmas bonuses and days off." Which also led to calls for reform in the US.  What Does the Film Industry Think about the Future of Exhibition? Stephen Follows did a survey to find out what filmmakers, exhibitors, sales agents and others think is gonna happen next (or should). Guess what? There were differences of opinion. Filmmakers, got any questions for festivals? The Film Fest Alliance has a panel later today with a few different festival directors, and the purpose is to answer filmmaker's questions - about the new festival models, or even the old ones. And it's a good group of festivals. They might also report on their Film Festival Alliance Day, which has been an exciting new model to explore. The New Model Film Fest is Great and Here to Staysays Peter Broderick in his always optimistic and well-thought newsletter. He gives a great rundown of how CPH:DOX made the quick transition to an all online fest, and how this changes the paradigm for the future. I agree with almost all that he says, but... many things, such as a filmmaker being able to build a bigger online audience/fan-base, will only work if festivals listen to him and start building the infrastructure to help make these things a reality, and... they gotta survive to make that happen. Good reading, though. Some movies are making (relatively) good money at the drive-in box office - The Drive In works for some movies - as you've probably been hearing, but AV Club has some numbers. No surprise that genre fare is doing well.
    VR/GAMING Amazon could be a huge threat to the gaming industry - Yahoo Finance covers the launch of Amazon's first big budget game, Crucible, and how their acquisition of Twitch in 2014 leaves them with a trajectory to completely disrupt the gaming industry.  University Project Shows Hot/Cold Tempature Change VR Research - Upload writes on how a college project is breaking ground in VR tech using scents to mimic temperature changes; as Facebook shows a Prototype AR/VR Interface designed to Replace your Laptop.
    Branded Content   TikTok's Augmented Reality Ad-Format is Gonna Be Disruptive - Says Forbes.  Brands will be able to insert interactive elements that consumers can then re-use. DigiDay explains it in more detail. The Atlantic's Layoffs may sound the death-knell for video and live events - Bad news from NiemanLab in analyzing how these layoffs mainly hit these departments, and may signal worse news for other publishers who hoped this would be the holy grail. While technically not just branded content, I think it's important for this sector to consider as well. Do Audiences Mind Brands Funding Film? No, says a bunch of advertising people to PR Week at the...Brand Awards. Ok, I'm only slightly teasing here because I was on the jury for these awards and know all of the speakers and organizers, and also believe that a good film, which is transparent about its nature, by a brand can be acceptable to lots of audiences. But I do find the set-up here to be kinda funny. Why don't we survey audiences instead? Anyway, as said in the article, it's hard for anyone to make a good film, so kudos to the brands that are making the good ones. How Social Distancing is Sparking more Creative Content - Despite the limitations that come with quarantine, content creators have been making successful content not by pushing against those limitations, but by embracing them. 
    Miscellany: No, Broadband has NOT been a success during the crisis, and the FCC hasn't been good for us - go figure. In a well-titled post from Mike Masnick - Beware Of Op/Eds Falsely Claiming The US Internet Only Works During A Pandemic Because Lobbyists Neutered The FCC, he points out that the digital divide continues. In fact, "The pandemic has been making it very clear that might not have been a great idea. It has also brought renewed attention to the fact that 42 million Americans lack access to any broadband whatsoever despite the US having thrown endless billions at US telecom monopolies. There are millions more who can't afford service because captured regulators have intentionally turned a blind eye to monopoly domination of the sector and the lack of competition, high prices, and terrible customer service that routinely results." Read the full article if you want blood to boil.
  • Reimagining Film Fests Panel

    • Posted on 21st May
    • Category: Newsletter

    After I published my recent piece on film festivals (which also ran in IndieWire), I started having a discussion with Rebecca Green of the Dear Producer newsletter about many things, including what the film fest of the future might look like. She invited me to a panel she's hosting on the subject - this Friday at 2pm ET - and you can register for it here. I'll be joining a few people I think are among the smartest in the biz - Karin Chien, Marilyn Ness and Rebecca (moderating) to imagine what it would look like to re-imagine festivals in a way that helps everyone – the festivals, filmmakers and audiences.

    One of the ways I've been thinking about this panel is - if festivals didn't exist at all, what would we create from scratch? I think that helps frame the discussion in a different manner than usual. It's also a question I asked in a post back in 2013 - and that I return to often- "The question should be, what do filmmakers need most now? And is what they need something that a festival can help with, or do we need to start something different to solve this need? If filmmakers got together in the same spirit that led them to create film co-ops and festivals (and filmmaker organizations, and magazines, and…) then what would they make together today?" Of course, festivals also must serve audiences, and they're all trying to survive a global pandemic. But the hope is by asking what would be build that would be most helpful for filmmakers (all of whom are coming with different needs, too, btw), then maybe we can add these ideas to what gets built out of this crisis. It is one of many different conversations being had right now - I've been on two other zoom panels about it this week alone, and know of two more (at least), but it's one I hope will be interesting. 

    Join us for the discussion on Friday.

    Stuff I'm Reading: Film

    10 Great Things about Online Film Festivals: Thom Powers wrote a good, well-researched piece for IndieWire on the good things about how film festivals are moving online. I agree with most of it as well, and think everyone should read it. As he says, many of the positive things being built should be kept in the future - especially the access it gives to more people to watch these films. I think he's too rosy on the prospects that buyers are ok with this, because even just this morning some of those same distributors he mentioned told me the opposite. But I do hope he's right that the situation is becoming more acceptable to some of them. Anyway, check it out.

    10 Questions Every Filmmaker Should Ask About Online Film Festivals - Clay Pruitt over at Seed & Spark posted this piece about how filmmakers can weigh their options with online festivals. And while I am sure they see it as a corrective to my piece - I actually agree with 99.9% of everything he suggests, and you know what - reasonable, knowledgeable adults should be able to realize both viewpoints are not only compatible, but true right now, that's called complexity. It also lines up pretty much with what I've been writing here for years (here's one example from a few weeks ago, and one from 2010). While I don't disagree with much of it, I do have a minor quibble with his ending - I don't buy the argument that your decision impacts whether a festival lives or dies. Last time I checked, there are way more films applying to festivals than can be shown. The small percentage that have to turn them down for distribution reasons can't possibly be large enough for that to be true.

    Last, The Film Collaborative has been doing a series of conversations/posts about festivals/distribution during Covid - that are worth checking out. I just joined them earlier this week for one that should be posted here soon, maybe by the time this article runs. I joined Annie Roney and Cristine Platt Dewey of Roco Films, Tim Horsburgh of Kartemquin, and Jeffrey and Orly of the Collaborative to discuss the pros/cons of online fests and the impact on distribution. Read the report when it posts. Tim explains the evolution of their thinking with regards to festivals (more pro as time goes on), I elaborate on my post (and the misunderstandings of it), and Roco spoke about the interesting and great side-impact of covid on educational distribution, which is apparently opening in-roads for high school screenings that previously didn't really exist. 

    The Climate StoryLab Report is Out: The folks at the DocSociety have held their second lab for climate change media, and their report is online now. It's filled with research, case studies, best practices and more. 

    Coronairus Didn't Kill Quibi, but these 8 things Might - says VanityFair. I think there are more than 8 things killing Quibi, but the two most important are at the head of the company. Good read though.

    Stuff I'm Reading: Branded Content & Misc.

    Still from Debater

    IBM Launches New Doc on AI on The Verge -  Self-promotion alert, as I worked a bit on this project, but check out IBM's Debater online at Vox. It's a great little doc - which premiered at CPH:DOX - about an AI robot that can debate a human in real time. 

    Is Now The Best Time for Brands to Make Docs? I moderated this panel for BrandStorytelling this week - and yes, festivals came up even here - with three great guests. The thesis was that the market for docs produced by brands has only gotten better during covid. As cord-cutting increased as much as 43% last month, and more people move to streamers - who also need more content than ever - and consumers look for more authentic stories from brands, now is the time to consider moving marketing dollars into the space (after budgets come back, of course). The other panelists were: Rupert Maconick, producer of 5B for Johnson & Johnson (acquired by Verizon), and Lo and Behold for Netscout (Magnolia); David Charles Rodrigues, director of Gay Chorus Deep South, AirBNB's first feature, purchased by MTV; and Lowell Shapiro, Founder, Black Box,  an entertainment and management company, and DocBox, making documentary content for brands. It was a great, albeit brief, conversation. The stream should be up here by the time of this post.

    hey, We're a Brand PSA: And with so many ads that feel like this amazing spoof, it's definitely a time to consider more authentic content than advertising.   How Advertisers are Using TikTok during the Recession: A good example being: "Procter & Gamble’s Distance Dance sponsored challenge with dancer Charlie D’amelio on TikTok last month has generated over 14 billion views since it launched last month. That’s on the back of ad format that costs $150,000." DigiDay Reports.

    Via MojoLens

    AR Contact Lenses Coming Soon: Mojo Vision is raising money for a contact lens that let's you use AR technology to do lots of crazy stuff. Digital Trends reports. Ok, it might not come soon, but I can't wait, as I still hope to build a program that let's me replace all advertisements with art sometime in the future.

  • Amc_Azon...but, which AMC?

    • Posted on 15th May
    • Category: Newsletter

    The big media news this week was that Amazon might buy AMC, but the problem was – no one was sure whether that meant AMC Theaters or AMC Networks. For an entire day, Wall Street and Hollywood were prognosticating on what it meant for Amazon to buy one of the biggest theater chains, and then…whoops, it might be that a reporter made a mistake on whether it was the stock ticker of AMC (theaters) or AMCX (Networks) about which they were reporting. (!!!) What’s even crazier is that both moves would make perfect sense, and that shows just how seismic are the potential changes coming to the media industry – neither case would be surprising, and we all expect deals like this to happen almost daily as the economy rearranges the business. I’ve been predicting that Amazon or Netflix would buy one of the major chains for awhile now, and in that same linked post, I also predicted that IFC – which is part of the AMC Network – would be acquired soon, too – and that was BC. If you look back at what happened after the 1918 flu, it was a lot of consolidation, with the big studios getting bigger and the little guys disappearing. I suspect we’ll see the same as a result of this pandemic, and in addition to one or both of these AMC’s getting bought, I predict a lot more mergers and acquisitions soon. Some of this will be bad for indies, and consumers, but when it comes to the situation in the world of theatrical, I can see some silver linings. The first reaction to any consolidation is negative, because it would mean Amazon (or some other conglomerate, but Amazon is the biggest one) would be swallowing another part of the world. But while I’m not usually an Amazon-apologist, I don’t think their taking over AMC Theaters would be half-bad, and it might even be good for both makers and consumers of film. Sounds crazy, I know, but bear with me.

    First, I still think AMC Theaters are going to be bought soon by Amazon - or Netflix, Disney, Comcast or AT&T. Or some other studio. Before yesterday, most people seemed to disagree, mainly saying that none of them needs theaters to survive. But I’ve never seen this as a survival move, but more of a way for any of them to sweeten their membership and content offerings, which helps to cut down subscriber churn and give more people reason to join their services. And for Amazon, it also brings a lot of other benefits – more locations for Prime lockers, venues for live Twitch gaming, and that’s just the start. Second, I have a hard time worrying that Amazon would be any worse of an owner than AMC’s current owners. Sure, Amazon is bigger, and is eating the world, but Dalian Wanda group isn’t exactly a mom and pop shop, nor is Silver Lake Partners. AMC was also fine cozying up with evil folks like MBS just to break into Saudi Arabia (and NATO’s Fithian saying they’d use movies as a “sword of freedom” is a laughable excuse). Nor was AMC ever a champion of indie and arthouse films. Sure, they would play them sometimes, but they never took them very seriously. One could argue that Amazon Studios has been a bigger champion of good cinema than AMC has been, and they’ve definitely played a bigger role in getting arthouse cinema to the masses as of late. If this was Amazon buying Landmark or Alamo, I might be more worried about the impact on mid-tier films, but with AMC being the target, I don’t see any negative repercussions for the arthouse-set. One of the biggest worries about Amazon and Netflix has been that their streaming services compete with theaters. But I don’t believe that – never have, never will. I firmly believe that in non-covid times, there’s a group of people who like going to see movies in theaters and they’ll keep going, and another group who couldn’t be enticed there with free gold, and they’ll keep streaming. And then there’s the rest of us – we love movies and know that some movies – cinema and blockbusters, mainly – need to be seen on the big screen, but a lot of other movies are just fine on the (no longer too small) home screen. I want to see the new Bond film on the big screen, and Parasite is best there too, but I want to see a lot of others at home, and fast. But a lot of those latter two groups (the non-theater goers, and the rest of us) are left behind by the idiotic windowing practices that are mainly being kept in place by the owners of the major chains. There are a ton of movies that this group, which I’m a part of even as a cinephile, forgets by the time they come to streaming. They get lost in the crappy algorithms and queues of the streamers, and are never watched – or paid for – and that’s a lot of revenue left on the table. Or worse, an incentive to go pirate the same film. But if an Amazon or Netflix buys the major chains, we would see these windows disappear for most films, and shorten dramatically for the blockbusters and more cinematic films. This is a case where the big monopolies (Amazon and Netflix) would be better for consumers than the ones they’d replace (AMC, Regal and other major chains). And that could arguably help film culture, by making it more accessible, which might lead to more revenue for all films. I know these are big “could’s” and “might’s,” but I’d bet on them.

    Amazon (Or Netflix) could also use these theaters to build a more robust MoviePass out of Prime, by merging Stubs with Prime and IMDB. It would make it much easier for audiences to get credit for films no matter where they are watched, and to track/follow the films they want to see. If I miss something at the theater, I could watch it at home, and get credit for it, while the rights-holder gets more of my money. AMC wasn’t doing too great pre-Covid, either. We were likely going to see a lot of consolidation/reduction of venues anyway. But if Amazon owns them, and gets valuable real-estate for delivery, local shipping, etc. they may actually keep more of them open. They would also gain a venue for other live events – most notably, gaming, which is a key part of Amazon’s future. Again, more chance of them keeping these venues open. Yes, there are some major downsides to Amazon owning more of the world. Especially when it comes to what they know about us from the data they hoover-up. But AMC was only a better steward of that data by (our) luck of incompetence. I am a bit worried about film festivals and other sometimes renters/four-wallers getting anyone on the phone to make a deal, but again, AMC/Regal weren’t exactly easy there, either. And yes, I’d rather shop local and not have major conglomerates, but again – that wasn’t AMC anyways, and I’ll (hopefully) still have the Film Forum and other local arthouses (and I believe in their business, if they can survive this crisis). When it comes to the chains, I think there’s more upside here. Personally, I’d rather see Netflix as the owner, but that’s because I think Netflix has shown a more consistent commitment to diversity, more than anything else. Now, what I also see happening next is Comcast, AT&T or even Verizon kicking the tires on Regal. You could see a wireless store inside the lobby soon, and waive your phone instead of a ticket, or get a Peacock/Crown-Club subscription before long (h/t to Christopher Escobar of the Plaza Theater/Atlanta Film Fest who has written about this, too). But I don’t see a future where AMC and Regal remain unless they get bought by one of these bigger conglomerates. And right now, I see more good than bad in that probable future.

    Now, what happens if they buy AMCX? That's another post...

    What I'm Reading: Film

    Will it be Survival of the Fittest or Collaboration for the Future? That's essentially the question producer Rebecca Green asks in her fabulous post on Dear Producer this week. She notes that everyone is working in their silos to save their way of doing things in the film world, instead of coming together to save the indie field, and she calls on the "companies and institutional organizations in the U.S. whose mission statement is to support independent film is this: Don’t just focus on your own agenda. Join forces with each other. Use your combined ingenuity, money, resources, and perseverance to ensure that independent films can continue to get made and be seen." 

    Kudos to KinoLorber for Releasing VOD Box Office Numbers - Score One for Transparency! Indiewire Reports on KinoLorber's very transparent release of its VOD numbers for eight titles. Pretty detailed stuff here, and while these numbers are small, these are also small, arthouse films undergoing a very fast experiment in the VOD-only world. ScreenDaily also reported updated numbers later. 

    Ted Hope of Amazon Studios Tells All - Ok, not all, but he does talk about what Amazon looks for in a pitch, and gives some other great hints, in this interview with the Woodstock Film Festival's Meira Blaustein. These kinds of talks are just one way festivals can add value outside of their normal programming.

    Guide to Doc-Making in the time of Corona - The Doc Society, Sundance and Field of Vision collaborated on this handy guide to the ins/outs of trying to film during the virus. 

    How is China Rebuilding the Movie Business? Slowly. Theaters have yet to open and are offering alternative programming. Production companies are closing and the box office is projected to be cut in half. Just a few items to note on a country (albeit very different) that's ahead of us on the curve. China Film Insider Reports.

    Only 7% of Americans are Ready to Return to Theaters - according to a study reported in Screen. Interestingly, of the cinema-goers who go often (more than 6 times a year), only a third reported the communal experience as being what they miss - going against most theories about the reason for movie-going.

    Endeavor Is Hiring a VP, Production Health and Safety: Probably the first of many postings for a completely new job created by the virus. Apply away, if you can figure this stuff out (which most producers are trying to do right now, anyway, right?).

    Shelter Shorts: RollerCoaster

    ShelterShorts Launches - (H/T to the Great Sundance Institute NewsletterShelterShorts launched recently - read the Sundance link for background- proving three things, at least - artists will make great art, no matter the circumstances; we can probably find all the creativity we need in these extreme low-budget experiments to fill our future slates; and - a bunch of bored filmmakers can out-Quibi a Billon dollars any day (see below for more)

    Quibi Founder Katzenberg Calls into the Podcast that makes fun of Quibi - well-played, Jeffrey, and same to the founders of the podcast, who call him "Shrek-Daddy." Slate reports. They are also pivoting their podcast to one that tells him what Quibi should be doing, to try to save them. Meanwhile, Jeff spoke with the NYT and blamed everything on the virus. I don't know about you, but I've been glued to my phone even more during the quarantine, actually, but it's been on more interesting stuff that cost a lot less to produce. Try again, Jeff.

    What I'm Reading: Branded Content

    Winner Ben Proudfoot's May Day

    The BrandFilm Awards Winners Were Announced. Last week, they announced the BrandFilm Awards, and you can see the full list of winners, honorable mentions and finalists here. Kudos to everyone who was nominated and who won. I was on the jury, and there were many good projects. 

    How are the Biggest Media Companies Doing? Digiday takes a look at everyone from Peacock to the NYT and how they are faring during the crisis.

    What I'm Reading: Misc

    Has Anyone Asked Artists What They NeedOver in Dance Magazine, Raja Feather Kelly asks a question similar to my post about asking filmmakers what they need. Raja says, "take us off your mailing lists asking for money" and ask artists what they need, and continues: "Artists are a force for change. Artists carve the path forward. Artists will design the plan for the reclamation of culture. Artists are here to transform, challenge and make meaning. Artists are here to constantly reimagine our world and show us what our world could be. Artists are here to bring people together and build communities. Artists have been here for entertainment and culture time and time again. Today, in these uncertain times, now more than ever, you can be here for artists." He also includes a script for the questions to ask.

  • Innovation vs. Inertia

    • Posted on 8th May
    • Category: Newsletter

    Innovation vs. Inertia. That's the tug of war I'm feeling most during these crazy times. If you know me and read this newsletter, you can guess which one I prefer. I want to see more innovation coming out of this crisis. But while everyone says they're innovating, I feel that inertia is winning out. It often does. It's always easier to maintain the status quo, and during a time of crisis, just getting back to the status quo can seem like a big win.

    I admit - it would be nice to go back to the world I was living in around early March. But in actuality, we're learning that in early-March, we just thought we were living in the BC. In actuality, the virus was probably already in Europe as early as November, and in the US by January, if not earlier. Underneath the calm, we were already in the middle of the crisis. Inertia was killing us, and we didn't even know it.

    Likewise, the film business wasn't all hunky-dory before this crisis hit. I don't care what part of the film business you work in - if you are honest with yourself, I'm pretty sure you'd admit that the old system wasn't working all that great. Whether you're a filmmaker, or a festival programmer, a sales agent, a brand film marketer, or a studio mogul, the status quo hasn't been great for awhile. Heck, even Netflix and Amazon were dealing with debt, competition, standing out in an attention economy and runaway costs. Wherever you sat in the film world BC, things were shaky. There's a reason Netflix's break-out show was called House of Cards

    I bring this up because I've been having a lot of conversations with people in the industry lately, and the conversations always fall into two categories - people who want to blow things up, and build something new, and those who feel we just need to get back to normal again. Innovation isn't technology, either. If you re-build the same system, but just move it online during covid, that's not innovation. That's just maintaining the status quo with some newfangled trappings. That comes from inertia, actually.

    Innovation vs. inertia. And if I was to bet on what will happen next, I'd bet on a lot of inertia and return to the status quo, and a lot less on innovation and new models. Because innovation is hard, and the opportunity costs can bring on...inertia.

    That's one of the reasons I've been writing this newsletter (since 2006) - to try to push for less inertia and more innovation. My very first post was about imagining possible futures for the media arts. In retrospect, that post is pretty clunky, but the push towards innovation was there. During this past week, I've been getting a lot of feedback to my post about film festivals, which just ran in IndieWire as well, and most of it has been positive. But the emails, posts and conversations I've enjoyed most have been the ones where people say something to the extent of - ok, how do we come out of this and build something better? And that's what I hope to keep pushing for while most of us are stuck at home - getting past the inertia and innovating for the future. That's definitely not easy when you're wearing a mask and gloves, and trying not to touch your face. But it's a lot better than going back to the status quo. 

    My Interview on the Content That Moves Podcast

    Jesse Roesler of Credo Nonfiction has a great ongoing podcast called Content That Moves, which is sponsored by BrandStorytelling, and he interviewed me back in January during their conference at Sundance about branded content and distribution. 

    While I am biased, I think we had a great conversation that would be useful for any brand thinking about how to make quality films that get real distribution - in film festivals, theaters and/or broadcast and SVOD. And as people seem to be moving budgets away from traditional marketing into more "genuine" content, this can be a good time to think about when it makes sense to get such content out beyond YouTube or your owned channels. Those also make sense, and should be part of any distribution equation, but often you want things on Netflix or NatGeo, or something like that, and that's what we're discussing here. It's probably also a useful conversation for anyone working in this space, or wanting to, as a filmmaker, but that wasn't the focus of our talk. 

    I also recommend checking out Jesse/Credo's other work - he's a good filmmaker and his company is making some great stuff. And the podcast has other strong interviews, with many more good ones coming soon.  Listen here.

    Stuff I'm Reading: Film

    Can Filmmakers and Festivals Collaborate to Make a Better Future? That's the gist of what I'm asking in my updated Op-Ed for IndieWire, which is a slight rewrite of my piece here last week. They titled it: Filmmakers Should Avoid Online Film Festivals, Unless They Ask These Questions — Opinion: Many filmmakers are wondering if they should accept offers from online programs. Here are the hard questions they should ask. Not a ton of changes from before, so no need to read it again, but if you missed it, this version is edited and adds some small points.

    Drive-In O-Rama - Everyone wants in on the drive-in game now. Some recent great links - Vilnius (Lithuania) turned its airport into a drive-in; a guy made a home-made drive-in for $100 (this is half-brilliant and half-The Onion; and h/t to Kelly Devine); and the CTC folks made a guide to opening a drive-in (via Celluloid Junkie

    Vimeo Launched Stories in Place - a small collection of short films made by artists about small businesses, supporting them during this time of crisis. I'm loving the creativity that I am seeing on so many platforms during this crisis, and this is among the better ideas. Here's a shot from one of my favorites of the batch:

    Deadline Shows the P&L for Yesterday - In a real coup, Deadline got a hold of a participation statement from Universal for Yesterday, which shows how a film can gross almost $154-Million globally, be on track to net $45-M but somehow show an $88-M loss. A lot of it is because of hefty distribution fees, plus overhead, and other creative accounting. But while this is a bigger movie, any indie filmmaker or investor should read this article and the attached screenshot of the statement closely. When I ran the Transparency Project at Sundance, I saw about a thousand of these from multiple films, and they were all pretty similar to this one. It shows just how hard it can be for any cast/crew or investor to make back anything once a distributor does their accounting. 

    The DPA Reports on the Impact of Covid-19 on Doc Filmmakers - Last week, I reported on how the crisis is impacting artists, and one of the Documentary Producers Alliance board members sent me their recent survey results - Among those surveyed -  "80-85% had already been significantly, negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and as of late March, roughly 70% of projects had already been delayed, with 40% of all projects being postponed indefinitely. For the roughly 30 projects for which our members could determine, and did report, actual or estimated losses: Overall losses for this small subset of projects totaled more than $3 million, with a median loss of $60,000 per project." Not insignificant numbers. Note: the data isn't online yet, but is public and should be reported on soon.

    The Death and Rebirth of Hollywood? - Everyone and their mom has sent me this post from Richard Janes, so it's probably worth reading if you've missed it. I think most of them are just hoping he's right that things look good for indie producers. And I hope he's right, but too few people are noting what I think is his most salient point, and one that very few producers are doing: "Indie producers have to become real entrepreneurs building brands, direct-to-audience relationships, and building strategies to generate the heat that agents once did for a very select few." Amen, and now is the time to do that brand-building work.

    Reviews are in on the VR Film Premiere - The SF Weekly review of the Ask No Questions VR premiere is in, and apparently the experience was pretty good - if you can stand wearing VR goggles for 2 hours. I'm not a fan or doing this anytime soon, but it was a good way to approach a premiere, and get some press, during this lockdown.

    Archive Valley is offering free Archival Footage Consulting to Filmmakers During the Month of May.Great offer for filmmakers at a time when you can make a lot of content with archival.

    Quibi is What Happens when you value content more than users - According to Mike Masnick at TechDirt, and I agree. I could write 20 posts about everything done wrong and how to fix it at Quibi, but I'd have to charge someone a billion dollars. Masnick's post is pretty good. Funny thing is, I think more people may be talking about the VR launch above than Quibi.

    And they've turned to YouTube to Try to Boost Growth -  Wait, isn't Quibi not TV, not IGTV and not...YouTube? But as TubeFilter reports, they've started airing episodes on YouTube (twice, in both horizontal and vertical formats...I'm laughing so hard I am crying as I type this). This is going to be the funniest biz-school case study of failure, perhaps ever. At this point, having fired their head of marketing, they should just randomly grab some user off TikTok and appoint them head of marketing. Or maybe anyone with a phone in their hand (or breathing...)? Because almost any random person could do a better job here.

    What I'm Reading: Branded Content

    The Brand Film Awards take place today (May 7, 2020) and they have a set of online panels and you can watch the awards online. Info and registration is here. I was on the jury this year, and there was some great work, so I can't wait to see the awards show. The online workshop is at 2pm est, and the awards should run at 4pm est.

    How to Do Brand Journalism Right: The folks at Brand Storytelling continue to do great work, and had a great panel last week on brand journalism: The True Story of Brands Telling True Stories. You can watch the recording on their YouTube channel, and if you haven't already, look into and sign up for future events here. (and I'll be participating in more of them soon). 

    Entertainment Consumption during Covid-19 Tips - UTA posted on LinkedIn about 4 tips for brands thinking about content. They are: develop your streaming strategy now (because SVOD is where it's at); embrace comedy (the top genre); Go live (stream); and double-down on talent alliances. Read the full post here.

    What I'm Reading: Misc

    Watch The Diary of Anne Frank, performed on Zoom - by the Park Square Theater, normally of St. Paul, Minnesota, the theater has performed and recorded a Zoom-based production of the play, and it's surprisingly awesome. I think I found this via the NYT, but while it doesn't replace live-theater, it has its own charms and it seems, so new artistic possibilities. You can watch the full performance here and donate here.

  • Where's the Filmmaker in the Online Fest Planning?

    • Posted on 30th Apr
    • Category: Newsletter

    With all of these online versions of film festivals popping up, I keep getting asked by filmmakers – “should we participate in this?” Or more often – “am I missing something? Why would we do this?”   My answer is always the same – if you are launching a brand-new film that is still seeking distribution, no. If you have a short, or an older film, or one where you have locked in distribution (and if your distributor agrees), or one where you are doing a DIY release – sure, or at least maybe. But if you are trying to premiere a feature film, and you don’t yet have distribution, then as of now you can’t consider these online festivals because buyers consider them a conflict with their distribution of your film. They do NOT see it as word-of-mouth building, or good PR, or a way to test/prove audience demand. They see it as a distraction at best, and lost income, or a loss of control or a loss of premiere status at worst.

    That’s why you don’t see many feature films premiering as part of the SXSW/Amazon deal (the terms didn’t help). And its why Tribeca quickly announced that their new “We are the World” festival isn’t intended for new films, either. Because until Ted Sarandos, or someone else at Netflix, gives the greenlight for films to premiere at online festivals before streaming, then no one is going to do it.

    I am helping about eleven films with their festivals and distribution right now (brand clients and one film that I produced), and most of them are in festival limbo land. Almost every day, I get new updates from film festivals that are canceling, postponing or rescheduling. Dozens of festivals have emailed to say they’re launching an online/virtual festival (it’s not virtual unless you’re in VR, but that’s another post), and they ask whether the selected film wants to participate. Of those letters, only two addressed why the filmmaker might want to participate, and how the system would work. Only one offered any kind of compensation to the filmmakers. But even when the festival offered compensation, that wouldn’t work for my clients with new films. There remains too much danger that distributors will see this as a problem. But still, kudos to those two festivals. Even though my clients couldn’t take their offers, we had something to consider, and it was clear that the festival had thought about how this impacted the filmmaker.   It seems to me that film festivals launching these new online events are thinking about many things – how to serve local audiences; how to keep their brands alive; how to salvage some part of their festival; how to not lose as much money; how to build a new model; and all of these are good & valid things to consider and they might be solved by an online festival (I remain skeptical). 

    Film festivals have two main sets of constituents – audiences and filmmakers – and you can’t build a program for the former and forget the latter, but that’s precisely what’s happening. Too few people are asking – how can we build something that best helps filmmakers? And that’s the question that matters. Especially at a time when most of them have lost all of their income, and when they are under severe duress – remember, festivals, even as they struggle, might bounce back next year. But a film stuck in limbo could completely disappear, possibly along with the career of the filmmaker who made it.   As I speak with other producers, the common question is – are any of these festivals gathering any kind of input from filmmakers on what we want? I’m sure a few are doing this, but this is a field-wide issue, and it needs a field-wide debate and solution(s). If we’re going to use this crisis to build a new business model, let’s not do it in a vacuum. Wouldn’t it be better if we could step back and use this opportunity to build a new system that’s better than the old one? Perhaps one that helps filmmakers while serving audiences?

    So, what do filmmakers want? Well, we need to gather a few of them and figure that out, and at minimum this will require another post, but in my conversations a few things keep coming up. First, we need to acknowledge that in the current climate, we don’t just need festivals for industry discovery. We also need them to help audiences discover films, but that discovery/premiere aspect needs to be timed to the release of the film to the public. That probably means most festivals – all but the biggest industry fests – need to rethink their “discovery” programming and focus on bringing audiences to films that have distribution sorted out, and are just about to launch. This probably means that festivals need to think differently about how and when they promote themselves and their films (a lot earlier for both). And we need to figure out how to push those audiences to films post-festival as well (via email lists with opt-ins, on social media, etc.) We also need to discuss compensation. There was an argument – one that I believed in for a long time as a festival programmer, that discovery and promotion were enough. But in a “virtual” world, there needs to be compensation for filmmakers, even when your festival is struggling. And there needs to be data transparency – to filmmakers, amongst festivals, to distributors, and in some cases, to the public.  These are just a few of the things that I keep hearing, but I’m sure that if we gathered some filmmakers with festivals (and distributors, and press, etc.) we’d get even better ideas. And yes, this is another argument for needing a new AIVF

    Data via Film Fest Alliance

    Now, I can’t close this post without acknowledging a few things. First – I am not slamming festivals here. I am saying we need to re-think the current online model, but I understand why everyone has rushed to just get their festivals online. I also know that a lot of these festivals are understaffed and are just trying to survive as well. And I know some of them are probably having this conversation already, through the Festival Alliance and other places, and I’m just not part of all of those conversations. But I also know that many filmmakers are having these conversations and questioning this model in their own forums, and I think it’s time we have more of this conversation out loud.

    What I'm Reading: Film

    NYWIFT Webinar: Brave New World: Reimagining Film Festivals in a Time of Crisis - TONIGHT - I'll be a panelist joining this conversation tonight, 6pm est I doubt we'll discuss the above issues, but focus instead on the good stuff. From the organizers: When SXSW cancelled, it sent shockwaves through the indie film world. But the creative forces that have kept independent film vibrant over the decades are rising to meet the current crisis. Until we can once again gather in large crowds, the show is going on. Film festivals are moving online or reviving older forms such as using drive-ins for locations to gather at safe physical distances. This panel brings together a group of creatives to discuss how people and organizations are responding nimbly and re-imagining ways to connect and support filmmakers and audiences. We will explore the possibilities for evolving out of this crisis to create more fluid and far-reaching concepts of film promotion, audience engagement, and distribution. Join us for a conversation with Lori Cheatle, Maori Karmael Holmes, Brian Newman, Alison Willmore, Jeffrey Winter and Michelle Materre (moderator). Register here.

    Trolls World Tour's digital Release Worked - The WSJ reports (paywall) that Trolls has made an estimated $100M+ in rentals, meaning about $77M back to Universal, which is more than the original made in theaters in the same time period. Whether it does well with ongoing rentals and has a better total revenue take remains to be seen, but as the WSJ reports, this is good news for Universal and bad news for theaters. Importantly, they also did a survey, and 51% of respondents said they "definitely" would have seen it in theaters, and one-fifth said they never rent digital downloads. With 5-Million rentals, that's 1 million new customers gained for the online sales. As I said at the start of this crisis, this will lead to some permanent window re-ordering. Of course, this has led to a massive freak-out by theaters, especially AMC - read the raving mad letter fired off by their CEO in Deadline; which led Wall Street and Indiewire to beg for some calm. This is gonna be fun to watch. Pop some popcorn and wait and watch for more fireworks soon.

    Quibi Sent a Cease and Desist Letter to a Fan Podcast - In the 'you can't make this shit up' department- some fans made a podcast devoted to all things Quibi, and called it Quibiverse. They soon received a cease and desist letter from the lawyers and changed their podcast to an anti-Quibi site called Streamiverse. Other than industry folks, no one I know has bothered to talk about Quibi once, and they shut down free publicity. As I said to David Beebe when he posted this story on LinkedIn, "If you made a show about some old folks screwing up the launch of a platform..." via AvClub.

    Festivals are Starting to Report on their Virtual Results - With CPH:DOX up first. While Screen reported on this earlier, The Danish Film Institute has a great interview with Festival Director Tine Fischer on how it came together, what worked, and what didn't work as well. A great piece for anyone contemplating virtual events.

    Another Survey Shows People Aren't Excited about Returning to Movie Theaters and Events - Variety has the results of this survey, showing an unsurprising expectation to keep streaming a lot more, but going to a movie theater ranks just above going on a cruise again. Both will survive, but no one is going back to them fast, that's for sure, and festivals should pay close attention to these ongoing, always similar survey results.

    What are the Ethics of Documentary Production in a Pandemic? Asks Carrie Lozano of the IDA, and the answer is she doesn't know- nor does anyone else, yet. But as she says, we do know, "As I write this, there is no scientific understanding, no testing capacity, nor treatment, to ensure that you will not contract or spread a potentially deadly disease." So she argues for a lot more caution and for doc makers not to make quick judgements based on what covid-19 is NOT (not a war, etc.) meaning the ethics are different and still being decided. Worth a read and more contemplation.

    People are Making some cool DIY Outdoor Community screenings - and The Atlantic has a great photo essay showing them, now.  Check out this photo from Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty below, and click on the link to see more:

    Aerial view as a film is projected on a giant screen at a park, so that quarantined people in their apartments watch a movie from home amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Bogota, on April 23, 2020. - Colombia extended mandatory preventive isolation due to COVID-19 until at least May 11. (Photo by Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP) (Photo by RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP via Getty Images)

    What I'm Reading: Branded Content

    Brands Should Become Executive Producers - says William Swann of BBH LA in Muse by Clio - where he argues brands should work with the major platforms to jointly fund/produce/market better content. I've been helping clients do just this for 8 years now, but welcome the enthusiasm for more brands to do the same - it's time to become content partners (EPs) instead of just making branded content, and "create content that's attractive to distributors and delights audiences." Swann's article is a great intro into how it works. My one issue with it - very few agencies can actually do this work (although they all say they can). 

    What I'm Reading: Misc

    We have some (ugly but much needed) data on how Covid-19 has impacted the arts Artist Relief, an emergency grant program started by a few arts orgs and their funders, has an online data tool that reports survey results from artists applying for aid. The results are updated in real time, and it ain't pretty, but man, is it needed and useful information. As of the time I write this, the economic impact (lost income and incurred expenses) was already at $285 Million+. And as Indiewire reported from the data, 71% of filmmakers were fully unemployed as a result of the pandemic. And the survey isn't finished yet (or the crisis, of course). 

    Art Galleries have lost 70% of their income, and one-third don't expect to survive the crisis - according to a survey from the Arts Newspaper. And in a separate article, they also report that the UK could lose half of its creative businesses. Heavy stuff.

    How to Move Forward without a MapIdeo has some ideas on how to move forward when there is no map. I like this the most: "Experimenting doesn’t have to result in a full-scale business model transformation or a polished new offering. This is a moment of extreme leniency: Customers will forgive scrappiness and even mistakes, and they’ll appreciate effort and vulnerability from organizations who try. Moreover, experimenting in low-fidelity ways allows teams to quickly iterate, minimize costs, and preserve optionality. In other words, there’s little investment required for potentially high return."

    Permission to Pause - Arts Programming During a Crisis - This is a great article for anyone working in the arts, even film festivals, and I found it via Noah Cowan, a film fest professional on LinkedIn. Peter Hemminger of the QuickDraw Arts Society gives some great advice on slowing down, re-thinking what your event would look like the way you want to do it online (not just moving it online), and asking what your audience wants/needs now. As well as giving yourself time to adapt. Highly recommended reading for all arts professionals.

    Facebook to allow Paid LiveStreams - In a first for the platform, they will now allow artists to charge a fee for LiveStreams, which will not only help musicians, but also anyone offering live events - like a film with a live Q&A for example. Good news, and a smart move from FB, who usually only allow these things with free or ad support. Variety reports.

    Travis Scott's Virtual Show on Fortnight Had 12M+ Viewers - setting a record. CNN reports - along with everyone - but this is newsworthy stuff, and part of the future of media, so I thought it was worth noting here.

  • We Need an Army

    • Posted on 23rd Apr
    • Category: Newsletter
    from NowThis

    Lately, when I speak with my closer film business friends about this Fall, the topic inevitably returns to how the film industry might re-open and whether we’ll be able to attend Toronto or other Fall festivals? The answer to this is no, but my new reply is always: I’m less concerned about whether or not we will gather in theaters than whether we’ll be able to gather in Washington DC, in protest, come November when Trump tries to stop the election.

    Fair Warning – Stop Now if you don’t want politics – non-political news is “below the fold.”

    Don’t think I’m crazy for too long on this one. And if this despot doesn’t try to stop the elections or seriously curtail voting, we have another issue already ­– Biden is going to lose. Now, before you get in a fuss and think I’m some Bernie-Bro or whatever, I’m not (promise). But we need to win outside of our bubble, and that’s where we’re losing.   Biden has no traction online. And that’s the only place that matters anymore – if not BC, definitely after, where we live now. As Bob Lefsetz recently said, “Joe’s got no media traction, he doesn’t know how to make news. And he’s too old to figure out social media. The only sunlight he’s gotten recently has been when Bernie, Barack and Elizabeth endorsed him.”  And while Lefsetz thinks the right VP pick will make the difference, it won’t – no one has ever voted for a VP.   Bottom line, Joe’s got no game. As one filmmaker told me recently, “Everyone is stuck with the notion that we are generally winning the battle over facts and losing the battle for hearts. Biden does nothing to help with the battle for the heart and soul of America.” And that’s going to be a huge problem come November, when our media is overwhelmed/inundated/obliterated by a sea of misinformation, all while truth is already distorted. The recent astro-turf protests are a harbinger of what’s to come; and if you aren’t terrified by how a few thousand people, organized by a handful of folks, could take over the news and change the conversation, then what does terrify you?

    But I do see a way we can win. What we can do, as a film industry, is come to his rescue. We are storytellers, and we know how the web works, right? We know how to shoot, edit and post (online that is). We know how to craft a message and we know how to get it out to people. But instead of spending our corona-time worrying about when our industry can tell its stories again, we need to be using all of this time towards one thing – winning the information/attention war.   We need an army of filmmakers making the short form, social-friendly video that Biden will never get around to making for himself. It needs to be persuasive – capable of swaying someone’s opinion. And it needs to be a massive effort. This video by Nico Pitney on NowThis (screenshot above) was pretty popular and effective, but imagine what all of our filmmaker friends could do with a little time. I bet it would look more like this – from Inequality Media – and it would have more impact.

    from: Inequality Media

    Guess what else we have – an army of unemployed filmmakers sitting at home, with time to spare. But who will pay for them to work, you ask? No one. I am sorry to report that there will be no WPA for this. The major foundations won’t fund it, as they are too timid. This is going to be free work, but it has to be done, and all of our free time should be going towards this goal.   (A quick aside here- I realize I am writing from a place of privilege, and that not everyone has free time, or can afford to think about political battles. I am also guessing most of my readers fall into a similar camp as me (same bubble). I’m also aware that tons of people are doing the hard work- on the ground organizing, etc. to win this, and I am not trying to belittle that work when I say it needs to be augmented with more work from all of us in the film world.)   We need thousands of new films every day. We need creatively made stories- that tell the truth, but that appeal to the heart. And we need help spreading these messages. If you don’t want to spend the next four years (or longer) hating life, then take your talent and put all of that energy into making media that helps, now. Have a camera on your phone – oh yeah, we all do – use it to film something creative now. Know how to edit, use that skill to help other filmmakers to edit these stories into something compelling. Already finished a film about topic-X that really matters, and don’t have time to make another? Well, I bet too few people saw it, or will see it. So re-edit your old films into shorter messages that get to the point fast, and show people how we can make a difference on that issue. I assure you, whatever you care about, and whatever your old films are about – there’s an angle to be pushed here.  Don’t live in the US? We’re ruining your country from afar, so you’re part of this fight, too. Don’t want to make videos for the election? Make them just to get out the real news – there’s too much crap from those who decry fake news while spreading it…like a virus.   Need inspiration? Copy Inequality Media. But make it for your cause, your issue, your talent. Because we all need it.    Now, off my soap-box and back to the news:

    Stuff I'm Reading:
    Film   #PausedFilms on The Outside Story - Self-promotion of film promotion of other film promotion, alert -  we launched a cool new feature on The Outside Story's IG page this past week, and will be keeping it up for awhile - we're turning the spotlight on other films stuck in limbo post-SXSW, Tribeca, etc. We call them #pausedfilms, and we hope people will follow their films, track them and watch them once you are able. Here's this week's #pausedfilm.

    The NYT Covers the Fragile Eco-System of Festivals - Aisha Harris writes a nice Op-Ed for the NYT on the fragility of the fest eco-system. As she notes, "When there isn’t a crisis going on, putting up a festival is already an often financially precarious endeavor. Of course, some organizers will find ways to adapt and work around it, or are already doing so, but the ability to undertake an event with so many moving parts and variables just became infinitely more difficult. The ramifications are reverberating far and wide." My fear is that it's gonna be worse than anyone quoted in this article seems to be contemplating. 

    Netflix Made Some Docs Avail for Free to Educators - On YouTube - This is a pretty cool gesture from Netflix for teachers stuck at home. Educational guides as well. Surprising that they worked out rights to show them for free on YouTube as well, but great. 

    CauseCinema (iGems) made a free e-book for Earth Day, with info on some of the best environmental docs - Get info on the films, links to where you can watch them and more. Check it out here.

    Sundance Responds to Covid-19 with Emergency Grants and More: The good folks at Sundance have responded relatively quickly to the crisis, with some great grants for artists, film organizations and more. Some items are for alumni only, but not everything, and many resources are online for free. I'd dig into this more, but it's been reported everywhere, and you can read for yourself

    Arthouse Cinemas are Getting Creative - Via the Arthouse Convergence Newsletter,Sidewalk Cinemas and the Texas Theater are making "home cinema survival kit" concessions available for curbside pickup. And I'm loving Reel Rumble from Bryn Mawr Film Institute and featuring ArtsQuest vs. Renew Theaters in a Family Feud style show. Small efforts, but very crafty and interesting ways to engage audiences during the crisis. 

    Reel Rumble

    Fandango Bought Vudu - I think Vudu is actually one of the better interfaces out there, and while it wasn't a good fit for WalMart, maybe it will be for NBCUniversal/Fandango. The Verge reports.

    Unfortunately, movie theaters remain last on the list of cultural events people see themselves attending anytime soon - according to actual data - from IMPACTS data - which is tracking which cultural institutions people expect to attend at pre-covid levels. One chart:

    Return to Normal:Note Theaters being Last

    But we can watch a documentary in VR instead - Ask No Questions - a film which premiered at Slamdance and was set for many other festivals, is holding a VR screening in conjunction with San Francisco's DocFest and VR MovieHouse. You can get more info and tickets here, Deadline wrote about it here, and this is what it will look like:

    Branded Content:

    Every Covid-Commercial is the Same - Great video on the same-ness of every company's crisis ad. Yes, we all know why this happens, but it shows why another approach is needed. 

    But Not Yeti-Streams - Not your average Covid-Commercial and quite possibly the most original idea from a brand during the crisis, yet - Yeti launched Yeti+Virtual Streams, which you must experience to understand. Brilliant stuff, folks. Like most of what Yeti does (former client, but I wasn't involved in this one). 

    BackBone Media takes a Look at Trends Across Lifestyle Media and Marketing - and finds some good news. I've worked with the folks at Backbone on many campaigns for clients, and they're good, hardworking people. They've done a good job compiling what's going on in this space, and among the findings - a positive response to positive messages, at-home tutorials, entertainment, and escape from the news cycle (all to be expected). They recommend focusing on the long-tail over short-term sales. 

    MISC:

    This is the Wake-Up Call for Nonprofits and Foundations to Get Political - Good luck with that, but if there's ever been a time they should take their heads out of their a-ses and get political, it's now. Love the fire analogy here - "So the fires rage on and worsen as the firestarters get smarter and bolder, knowing that no matter what they do, the townsfolks will only respond to the effects of the fires, not try to stop them from setting fires." Via NonprofitAF 

    Strangers Project Collects Quarantine Stories - I stumbled into the Strangers Project in Hell's Kitchen back in December, 2019 and have been a fan ever since. It's explained here, but essentially, this guy collects stories from strangers and shares them online. He's been doing it for over 11 years, and has 60K+ stories. Normally, you have to contribute your story in person, but for a limited (we hope) time, he's collecting stories online. Contribute your story of what it's like to be you, now, in quarantine, here. 

  • Quarantine Questions

    • Posted on 22nd Apr
    • Category: Newsletter

    McCarthy in Deadline

    Some questions on my mind these past few days of quarantine, in no particular order.

    What's Up With Online Film Festival Timing? - While CPH:DOX had a seemingly successful online festival (see below), I have serious questions as to how this works for other fests. But my number one question remains - in a virtual world, why are all of these online festivals taking place at different time periods, dictated by old systems built to avoid conflict, when they could all take place at the same time and amplify their message? Most of them are showing the same films anyway, and even with their idiosyncrasies built in, it seems to me that it would be better to move your dates, slow down a bit and explore the power of collaboration and joint-marketing instead of just plowing ahead. 

    Whither the Trifecta/Fall Festivals? - I've heard rumors that the Trifecta (Venice, Telluride and Toronto) Festivals plan to take place in some form this September, along with many regional Fall film festivals. But I give you one quote: "There have been 10 influenza pandemics in the past 250-plus years—two started in the northern hemisphere winter, three in the spring, two in the summer and three in the fall. All had a peak second wave approximately six months after emergence of the virus in the human population, regardless of what initial introduction occurred." (emphasis mine), This comes from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's expertly named report - Rapid Expert Consultation on SARS-CoV-2 Survival in Relation to Temperature and Humidity and Potential for Seasonality for the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 7, 2020). Let's do the math: March+6=September. So either these festivals get cancelled or we show up there and risk dying. That math doesn't work - and your potential attendees know it, even if you and your board don't, Fall festival folks.

    Where's the Limbo-Film Social Media - There are hundreds of films stuck in limbo after the cancellation of SXSW, Tribeca and other major festivals. For a variety of reasons, I was looking up many of them on social media this past week. Without naming any names, I was surprised that by my estimates, more than 90% of these films have zero presence on social media - not a Facebook page or Instagram account, much less anything on other platforms. Isn't this 2020? Aren't we trying to build audiences? Have you checked out the social media presence of any distributor not named A24 or Neon lately? Do you think they're going to build your audience for your virtual premiere? Aren't many of us stuck at home with some time? Isn't this a good time to get creative and build an audience? To wit:

    When do we get our IGTV Films? I spent two hours the other night watching the brilliant #24viralmonologues on IGTV from the folks at the 24Hr Plays. In brief, a playwright sends a short script to an actor who performs the piece by themselves, on their phones, and submits the results, which are entered into the contest. Who cares about the contest. It works. It's brilliant. It's pretty much a new art-form, and it could be duplicated and turned into a film. Or a campaign for a limbo-film. Why aren't we seeing more of these? Am I missing a treasure-trove of them? If so, please send them my way, or start making them now, filmmakers. Here's my favorite: Motherfuckers by Stephen Adly Guirgis, performed by Andre Royo. And yes, I am hinting that limbo-films should copy this strategy. 

    And how are people finding time to stream movies with all of this new content? Yes, streaming hours have skyrocketed. But I can barely find time to turn on Netflix, much less think about any new service, when I have so much new online content to watch elsewhere. Not just the IGTV #24hrviralmonologues, but Alvin Ailey dancers in #aileyallaccess, or @NewYorkNico's #bestNYaccent or even print stuff like Quentin Tarantino's Movie Reviews on the New Beverly Cinema's website. or Orchestras around the world recording Beethoven with every musician at home, and I haven't even mentioned all the stuff like #goodnightwithDolly on TikTok, gaming, etc. It was an attention economy before this virus hit, but it's even more of one now. 

    Can Quibi Survive its horrible launch? I'm a known Quibi skeptic, but the response to their launch was so bad that it almost made me flip to being a supporter, I mean I love indie films which means I'll always root for the underdog. Here are my favorite two quotes: Bob Lefesetz: “the kids can smell a rat.” And “it's chopped-up television. Do you think that's appealing?” Or try this one from Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic in a piece titled - Quibi is a Vast Wasteland: "After having spent a day and a half gorging on “quick bites,” I have zero shows to enthusiastically recommend. What I instead have is the sort of soul-deep burnout I haven’t felt since middle-school sick days spent on the couch with Regis Philbin." Ouch. And don't get me started on the fact they disabled the ability to share content- on mobile - in 2020 - jeesh.  They claimed 1.7M downloads in week one- which no one believes, but is definitely less than they'd hoped to receive (but more than any indie/arthouse film app ever got). You can't make this shit up, but you can imagine what could have been built with a Billion dollars instead of this garbage.

    Quibi v TikTok

    If people aren't flocking to VR headsets for entertainment now, when exactly is that going to happen? I can find lots of thought-pieces about how we might switch to VR now, but very little evidence that anyone is finding time to bother with VR for entertainment, and more reports about what isn't working. Tribeca's Immersive program, Cinema 360 launches tomorrow, and maybe they'll prove this wrong, but it's looking like people prefer drinking virtual happy hours on Zoom over actual VR. 

    How do the Trades survive an Academy-awards advertising slow-down? Valence Media already announced major cuts at the Hollywood Reporter today. That same report had them losing $10M a year before the virus hit. The dirty secret of all of the trades has been that they make the majority of their revenue from Academy awards campaigns each year - it ain't the news, folks. So with the Academy Awards themselves in question, and the Summer block-buster season taking a major hit, and as I mentioned above, a possible issue with Fall launch festivals, how does this work for the trades? Sure, there will be a massive push for whatever films can launch this Fall, but is that going to make up for the lost revenue before that time? This sucks for all of us, but none more so than the good people who just lost jobs. Read critic Todd McCarthy's "It's a Bloodbath" piece here.

    Ok, I've got more questions, but this could get depressing.

    Stuff I'm Reading:

    Film   New York State Extends Tax Credits (good), but screws low-budgets (packs bags...): Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine (a producer as well) reports on the situation. With budgets being cut like crazy, this is better news than perhaps we'd hoped. But by making a floor of $1M in NYC to qualify, the system is telling low-budget filmmakers to take a hike. Producer Mynette Louie sums up the problem well, " “I think that excluding smaller productions from being subsidized by tax credits might mean that some bolder, riskier films (which are generally smaller budget) become harder to finance,” she agrees. “It might also mean that lower-budgeted films helmed by working-class filmmakers with limited connections to rich people will have more of an uphill battle. Both outcomes would be really unfortunate as the world may need these types of films the most to help digest, heal, and progress in a post-pandemic world.” And Mike Ryan gives us the subtext: "“This seals it, New York is no longer a town that supports edgy alternative culture media. Get the message, young artists? Other cities await you.”

    MoMA celebrates Home Movies: IndieWire reports on what might be my favorite MoMA project ever - How to See Home Movies - an archival project to preserve, protect and project the "largest body of moving-image work created in the 20th Century - " home movies. Don't get it? Think it's not important? I dare you to watch this entire 6 minute video and a) not cry; b) not go looking for your (grand-) parent's old home movies. CPH:DOX Did Pretty Well as a Virtual Festival - Screen International reports that they had 66,500 streams, which they translate that via a factor of 1.7 (thinking more than 1 person was at home watching) as 113,000 attendees, which is just 1K less than attended in person last year. I'm not buying that factor, but regardless, that's a pretty good number for a first time, last-minute effort. My worry is that the Danes are like Torontonians - there's something in the water there that makes them greater cinephiles. But let's see. AFI Does Online Right, by Curation - Another festival doing it right, curating great selections and making value-add content around these films online, instead of simply pivoting to an online festival. AFI launches AFI MovieClub: Movies to Watch Together While We're Apart. You can sign-up for updates here. Twitch Opened up Its Watch parties to Partners - this could end up being big news, as Twitch allows some partners to hold massive watch parties using its system. It's not just a watch party, but one where you can interact in real-time with a lot of others. Only with Amazon Prime and for Prime members, of course, but this could be a good virtual solution. CordCutters reports.
    Branded Content   Purpose-Based Storytelling During & After the Global Pandemic  – I participated in this BrandStorytelling-hosted panel last week, and the video is up now on their YouTube Channel. Tune in for advice on what brands should be doing when it comes to story + action.   BrandStorytelling LiveStreams - Tune in to other virtual panels in these great BrandStorytelling Livestreams being offered a couple times each week. I honestly don't have many links to share about branded content, because there's been a huge slowdown in the space as companies deal with other aspects of the crisis. But the folks at BrandStorytelling are soldiering on, with some great online content to help prepare people for the future. 
    MISC Nonprofits - Tough Times Call for Tough ActionA Decision Framework for Nonprofit Leaders and Boards. SeaChange has this brief report (pdf) with strategic advice for nonprofits during this crisis, including thoughts about saving cash, considering mergers, and what you can and can't do now. I know many nonprofits in the film world who should be reading this, or should have read it a few weeks ago. Key advice - "resist magical thinking." (h/t to Erik Speakman, a smart consultant in Atlanta)
  • Inventing the New Reality

    • Posted on 9th Apr
    • Category: What We Do

    Rube Goldbergin' some Sanitizer

    Last week, I looked at all of the ways I think the film industry is going to be impacted by this crisis, and how we won’t be going back to normal. I promised a Part Two that would be more positive, but remember that I did post positive thoughts just a week earlier. If you are looking for a list of clear solutions, quit reading now. I don’t have them, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. Instead, here’s some thoughts on how we should approach this new reality – a mindset we might bring to the situation – in the form of some slogans we would do well to remember. These are mainly written towards arthouse/indie filmmakers, but I think they apply to branded content folks (my other audience) as well.

    It’s not til the Tide Goes Out that You See Who’s Swimming Naked Often attributed to Warren Buffet, I think this slogan applies pretty well to the film business right now (all business?). While a lot of the damage from the crisis is unique – so many people losing jobs at once, no one can gather or work together, etc. – there’s also a fair amount of things that always sucked about the film business, but this crisis just laid them bare, to where we can’t deny their reality any longer. Guess what? Festivals – other than the top 5-6 – never helped sell films. As Marj Safinia said in a group conference call I was on recently – that was a false security blanket that has now been removed. The indie film world, and docs in particular, were never a sustainable career-path.  Arthouse distribution and exhibition was always a shitty business. A lot of this was a house of cards. It sucks to have a band-aid ripped off fast, but the pain ends quicker. I know this sounds pessimistic, but it’s not – now that we’ve been forced to collectively realize that few of us have our pants on below those Zoom screens, we can also start to build something based less on fiction and more on the reality we now know we live in.

    Invent the Future This has been the slogan of most of my keynotes since 2009 – following the advice of Alan Kay, who said – the best way to predict the future is to invent it (some credit Dennis Gabor). The idea remains the same – predictions about the future are notoriously tricky, but smart folks shouldn’t wait around to see what happens. As I said last week, we’re not going back to normal, but since no one knows what the new normal is going to look like, we should invent (and build) the one we want. And that’s one of the sole things that gives me comfort when thinking about the future – a bunch of folks are probably inventing it right now. They might not even know it yet. But sure enough, a few years from now we’ll have entire new systems – a new reality – that was built out of this crisis.

    Build Your Plan-A – Everything else is Plan B When indie filmmakers try to build a plan for their films, I’ve always given the same advice, but I think it applies to all of us now. Build a Plan A that encompasses what you can do for your film on your own. If you don’t get into Sundance, and don’t get bought by A24 or Netflix, how would you release your film to audiences given your resources – both time and money – what’s the best you could do?   That is your Plan A, and you plan for it as if that is what’s going to happen. Then, if you get lucky and a distributor does want to buy your film, that offer is a Plan B. Plan B might be better than Plan A – in the best case, it should be better than what you could do on your own. But now you have something to compare their offer to, your Plan A, and that gives you a way to figure out just how good that offer is, because you now have a baseline from which to judge. Maybe they aren’t offering something you would do, or you could do better, well, now you can negotiate because you have a Plan A. But if you don’t have a Plan A, then someone else’s Plan B is the only option you’re going to have, because you never made a plan. While this was advice for filmmaker’s thinking about distribution of their films, I think it applies to how we should plan for much about creative-life, post-covid-19.

    Collaboration is Key If there’s one thing this virus should have taught us by now, it’s the importance of collaboration. We’ve seen the bad shit that happens from lack of it as well. We can all point to numerous examples of good things we’ve seen recently that only came about because of collaboration. But while filmmaking itself is a collaborative, team effort, I’ve always found the film community (non-documentary, mainly) to be the least collaborative group I know when it comes to everything except production. I think we’ll need to change this going forward. Here’s just a few examples where I think collaboration would work great:

    A. Filmmakers – so many filmmakers were simultaneously hit with the same problems - cancelled festival premieres, and trying to figure out how to get the attention of buyers and/or audiences with their films. Instead of going it alone, why not band together? Instead of waiting for Festival-X to re-schedule, or Sales Agent-Y to pitch Buyer-Z, why not band together with several others who are stuck in the same boat and bring your films to audiences, together. Why not offer a “festival” of films that were in Spring Festivals as a package? Instead of relying on curators from those festivals, why not curate yourselves? I’d gladly pay $50 for 5 new science fiction films on Vimeo, and if you band together, you might have the mailing lists and resources to reach me. When we can gather again, why not a tour that you curate? This can play out multiple ways, but you get my drift.

    B. Film Festivals – There’s a lot of room for more collaboration between film festivals, and I don’t mean just by joining an alliance. We’ll have to see what this means in practice, but the recently announced Toronto Film Fest initiative to go back to its roots as a “festival of festivals” is a great idea. Let’s take it a step further. Since 90% of the film festivals out there program the same films anyway, why do we need separate organizations in each town? The few festivals that are brands would do well to think about some version of M&A expansion. Others should collaborate to make more efficient tours of films and shared resources. Why launch thousands of small online fests that few people log into, when we could make one bigger one with an SVOD platform? All of these ideas existed before, but now is the time to implement them.

    C. Theaters – Your job is not popping popcorn, but bringing cinema to your local audience – which most theater owners already know. People who like cinema will show back up later, but in the meantime, why give away those audiences (via their email addresses) to others who want to reach them? Band together, via AHC or EuropaCinemas or both, and build your own OTT platform (not individually, but together for scale) and you own the audience and share the revenue with distributors instead of vice-versa. Shift72 is powering many similar ideas, and they would be a good place to start.

    D. Branded Content – so many brands make films about their work on climate change, or empowering women, or other important social issues. But if they really want to have an impact on any of these issues – and aren’t just virtue signaling – why not band together to have a greater impact? A series of films, podcasts, articles and yes, even ads, from multiple brands, simultaneously, would have much greater impact than that of any brand’s content “going it alone.”

    E. Audience Building – Kevin Kelly was right when he said (in 2008) that all you really need is 1000 true fans. Filmmakers are not marketers. That’s been a hard lesson for the field over the years, but I’m going to try one more time – there’s never been a better time to build your fan/audience base. Everyone is stuck at home, scrolling through social media, and many of us have some spare time. Now is the time to focus on building your fan base for you as an artist, and for your (upcoming?) film. And you’re going to need that connection, because guess what – the world is going to have less of what we relied on for audience-building and marketing before – less: film festivals (and their curators), distributors, theaters, print publications, broadcasters, paid critics - there’s a long list of disappeared parts of the system. What will remain? Social media and your direct connection to that audience. But only if you build it, participate with it and nurture it. There’s also a big role here for collaboration amongst the other players mentioned above – theaters, festivals, distributors, and brands. While I argued above that theaters shouldn’t just give away their emails, I would advocate for everyone to join together to build a system, with varying levels of permissions and opt-ins, that would allow me as a consumer to subscribe to updates from multiple artists, distributors, theaters, brands, etc. I don’t want to just hear from Film Forum. I want to know when Tom Putnam releases Dark Divide, no matter where it’s playing, and I want to subscribe to him, just once and get future updates too. I’d be happy for all of you to be able to notify me – when it comes to FilmLinc, or when it comes to Netflix, or when it’s at your festival (but only when I’m visiting your town). Let’s build this system together. Festivals, theaters and brands should be curating selections for me, but not just of what they’re playing or funding. If I trust you, give me a reason to interact year round.

    F. Advocacy – nonprofit service organizations should be merging together, or at least joining forces, and should start doing real advocacy, which means lobbying and other moves to build a better system for our future. The recent IDA/ITVS/Firelight seminars were incredible, but just a start towards what we need to see more often. Last year, I wrote a popular post about the need for a new AIVF – and we still need it. As I wrote then: “Yes, we have great organizations that might take up the cause – IFP, Sundance, Impact Partners, IDA, Kartemquin and many great festivals (if I didn’t mention your favorite org, it’s unintentional) – but solving the problems around building a better ecosystem for independent media artists is bigger than any one of their missions and if they haven’t found the time to do it on their own since 2006, it’s not going to happen now (but they’ll collaborate on the answer). We need a new AIVF, but for the modern era. I’m not sure what it should look like, but I know we need it, or something like it. I imagine it’s more of a with-profit than a nonprofit, meaning some hybrid of nonprofit activism and services, coupled with some for-profit, entrepreneurial activities.”  Let’s get that started, finally.These are just a few, pretty easy to say and hard to execute ideas – I know- but we have to start inventing somewhere, and I’m convinced that these ideas will be key to our success.

    Stuff I'm Reading: Film   Emergency Grants for Filmmakers & Others - I imagine most of my readers have heard about these, but just in case - POV, the great PBS doc series, has launched an emergency fund for artists/filmmakers. Info and application forms are here. And Field of Vision/TOPIC have launched a fund for documentary freelancers, including producers, editors, assistants - anyone in the field it seems, which is great! Apply here. Last, The Opportunity Agenda and PopCollab offer $1K emergency grants for Social Impact artists and cultural strategists - apply here.

      

    Netflix Makes "Spoiler" Billboards to Keep People Inside - brilliant ad campaign here. While the actual "social impact" of distancing is obviously minor here, it's a great idea.  WeAreSocialMedia reports.  Need to apply for Coronavirus Relief as a Filmmaker? The IDA, ITVS and Firelight teamed up to bring together this super-helpful workshop on how to apply for the CARES/PPP relief program- whether you are a freelancer or small business. Honestly, this was probably the single best educational program or Zoom meeting I've attended since the lockdown began. The video is worth watching and the link has many other helpful resources - I think I used all of them. 

      

    The Future of Film Report is live
     - Future of Film's Alex Stolz launched his FOF Report recently, and it's a great read. I particularly like that he and his contributors focused primarily on how technology will change production and development, and most of it is very positive and interesting for anyone thinking about the future of film.  It's time to learn online marketing based on behavioral data - While this was written BC (before-covid), it's very timely now that we all need to learn how to market titles online smartly, using data. Anthony Kaufman reports on some success stories, and how to get started for Filmmaker Magazine. One good example, from Jim Cummings of Thunder Road - "The big takeaway for Cummings was the realization that he could connect with potential audiences and bypass traditional forms of gatekeeping. “Let’s say you’re having a hard time getting a Variety review. Now, you can just target people on Facebook who like Variety, and it’s the equivalent of getting press in Variety,” he explains. “By spending money on this or that platform, you’re able to hijack an outlet that wouldn’t let you have access without them having anything to do with it.” Cornavirus, Streaming and Piracy - I was interviewed in this nice little article from Aric Jenkins in Fortune back in late March (feels like a decade ago, right) about how the virus might impact streaming and piracy. I'm less worried about piracy long term (I see it as a failure in the business model), but do think behavior has changed, ever more quickly, and people want what they want, when they want it, on what device, yesterday. 
    Stuff I'm Reading: Branded Content

      

    Steak-Umm is Leading Brand Messaging around Covid-19 
     - This isn't branded content, per se, but Steak-Umm has been doing an awesome job with its social media account (it's actually a person named Nathan Allebach according to FastCo). If Steak-Umm can find a way to make relevant, smart and informed content during this virus, you have no excuse not to do the same, BrandX (insert your name here). Hell, this is better than most nonprofits I follow. Brand-Purpose Storytelling Post-Covid: I participated in an online panel/Zoom about purpose-driven storytelling by brands - how to do it, and how to do it now - that was organized by Brand Storytelling. The video will reside here when they post it soon. This is one of a series of talks they are hosting, and it's a great resource for brands, brand story-tellers, and just about anyone in the media space. I recommend listening to the discussions, and you can get the schedule and register (for free) here. Budweiser is "not in advertising mode" says Anheuser-Busch InBev US CMO Marcel Marcondes to DigiDay - more than once - saying they are putting money into services and other areas. Like a lot of brands, I suspect. They did run this ad for their program to shift sports support to Red Cross support.    
    Stuff I'm Reading: Miscellany The Internet Archive made more books available for free, and people freaked out - A few folks, including Vox and Redef, picked up the BS-laden Author's Guild version of this story, so do yourself a favor and read the Mike Masnick "real news" version of the same. Basically, the Internet Archive has made digital copies of books - in a completely legal manner - and then made them available for free, with DRM - for lending - just like a library does. Publishers and the Author's Guild freaked out -but don't assume they are in the right here, as if they had their way, regular libraries wouldn't exist either. Oh wait, they barely do right now, and that's why this National Emergency Library is both a great thing, and legal. Video Gaming, Live Streaming and E-Sports viewing is off the charts - this was to be expected, but Techcrunch reports video game usage spiked 75%; while Endgadget reports that Twitch viewing was up 23% to just over 1.2 Billion hrs. That's a lot of usage competing with movies and everything else!  Oh, and while we don't have sports to compete with, we do have E-Sports, which ESPN added, showing over 12 hrs on April 5th alone. (H/T to Unsupervised Learning for the links). Ignore the Pressure to be Productive- Says Aisha Ahmad in the Chronicle of Higher Education (h/t Leah Warshawski) - Lots of variations on this sentiment have run lately, but I like this one the most. From the article: "Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.” The Obie Awards moved online (like everyone) and is donating the savings to artists (like everyone should) - The NYT reports on what should become standard practice for everyone moving their events online.

    Subscribe here

  • Inventing the New Reality

    • Posted on 8th Apr
    • Category: Newsletter

    Rube Goldbergin' some Sanitizer

    Last week, I looked at all of the ways I think the film industry is going to be impacted by this crisis, and how we won’t be going back to normal. I promised a Part Two that would be more positive, but remember that I did post positive thoughts just a week earlier. If you are looking for a list of clear solutions, quit reading now. I don’t have them, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. Instead, here’s some thoughts on how we should approach this new reality – a mindset we might bring to the situation – in the form of some slogans we would do well to remember. These are mainly written towards arthouse/indie filmmakers, but I think they apply to branded content folks (my other audience) as well.

    It’s not til the Tide Goes Out that You See Who’s Swimming Naked Often attributed to Warren Buffet, I think this slogan applies pretty well to the film business right now (all business?). While a lot of the damage from the crisis is unique – so many people losing jobs at once, no one can gather or work together, etc. – there’s also a fair amount of things that always sucked about the film business, but this crisis just laid them bare, to where we can’t deny their reality any longer. Guess what? Festivals – other than the top 5-6 – never helped sell films. As Marj Safinia said in a group conference call I was on recently – that was a false security blanket that has now been removed. The indie film world, and docs in particular, were never a sustainable career-path.  Arthouse distribution and exhibition was always a shitty business. A lot of this was a house of cards. It sucks to have a band-aid ripped off fast, but the pain ends quicker. I know this sounds pessimistic, but it’s not – now that we’ve been forced to collectively realize that few of us have our pants on below those Zoom screens, we can also start to build something based less on fiction and more on the reality we now know we live in.

    Invent the Future This has been the slogan of most of my keynotes since 2009 – following the advice of Alan Kay, who said – the best way to predict the future is to invent it (some credit Dennis Gabor). The idea remains the same – predictions about the future are notoriously tricky, but smart folks shouldn’t wait around to see what happens. As I said last week, we’re not going back to normal, but since no one knows what the new normal is going to look like, we should invent (and build) the one we want. And that’s one of the sole things that gives me comfort when thinking about the future – a bunch of folks are probably inventing it right now. They might not even know it yet. But sure enough, a few years from now we’ll have entire new systems – a new reality – that was built out of this crisis.

    Build Your Plan-A – Everything else is Plan B When indie filmmakers try to build a plan for their films, I’ve always given the same advice, but I think it applies to all of us now. Build a Plan A that encompasses what you can do for your film on your own. If you don’t get into Sundance, and don’t get bought by A24 or Netflix, how would you release your film to audiences given your resources – both time and money – what’s the best you could do?   That is your Plan A, and you plan for it as if that is what’s going to happen. Then, if you get lucky and a distributor does want to buy your film, that offer is a Plan B. Plan B might be better than Plan A – in the best case, it should be better than what you could do on your own. But now you have something to compare their offer to, your Plan A, and that gives you a way to figure out just how good that offer is, because you now have a baseline from which to judge. Maybe they aren’t offering something you would do, or you could do better, well, now you can negotiate because you have a Plan A. But if you don’t have a Plan A, then someone else’s Plan B is the only option you’re going to have, because you never made a plan. While this was advice for filmmaker’s thinking about distribution of their films, I think it applies to how we should plan for much about creative-life, post-covid-19.

    Collaboration is Key If there’s one thing this virus should have taught us by now, it’s the importance of collaboration. We’ve seen the bad shit that happens from lack of it as well. We can all point to numerous examples of good things we’ve seen recently that only came about because of collaboration. But while filmmaking itself is a collaborative, team effort, I’ve always found the film community (non-documentary, mainly) to be the least collaborative group I know when it comes to everything except production. I think we’ll need to change this going forward. Here’s just a few examples where I think collaboration would work great:

    A. Filmmakers – so many filmmakers were simultaneously hit with the same problems - cancelled festival premieres, and trying to figure out how to get the attention of buyers and/or audiences with their films. Instead of going it alone, why not band together? Instead of waiting for Festival-X to re-schedule, or Sales Agent-Y to pitch Buyer-Z, why not band together with several others who are stuck in the same boat and bring your films to audiences, together. Why not offer a “festival” of films that were in Spring Festivals as a package? Instead of relying on curators from those festivals, why not curate yourselves? I’d gladly pay $50 for 5 new science fiction films on Vimeo, and if you band together, you might have the mailing lists and resources to reach me. When we can gather again, why not a tour that you curate? This can play out multiple ways, but you get my drift.

    B. Film Festivals – There’s a lot of room for more collaboration between film festivals, and I don’t mean just by joining an alliance. We’ll have to see what this means in practice, but the recently announced Toronto Film Fest initiative to go back to its roots as a “festival of festivals” is a great idea. Let’s take it a step further. Since 90% of the film festivals out there program the same films anyway, why do we need separate organizations in each town? The few festivals that are brands would do well to think about some version of M&A expansion. Others should collaborate to make more efficient tours of films and shared resources. Why launch thousands of small online fests that few people log into, when we could make one bigger one with an SVOD platform? All of these ideas existed before, but now is the time to implement them.

    C. Theaters – Your job is not popping popcorn, but bringing cinema to your local audience – which most theater owners already know. People who like cinema will show back up later, but in the meantime, why give away those audiences (via their email addresses) to others who want to reach them? Band together, via AHC or EuropaCinemas or both, and build your own OTT platform (not individually, but together for scale) and you own the audience and share the revenue with distributors instead of vice-versa. Shift72 is powering many similar ideas, and they would be a good place to start.

    D. Branded Content – so many brands make films about their work on climate change, or empowering women, or other important social issues. But if they really want to have an impact on any of these issues – and aren’t just virtue signaling – why not band together to have a greater impact? A series of films, podcasts, articles and yes, even ads, from multiple brands, simultaneously, would have much greater impact than that of any brand’s content “going it alone.”

    E. Audience Building – Kevin Kelly was right when he said (in 2008) that all you really need is 1000 true fans. Filmmakers are not marketers. That’s been a hard lesson for the field over the years, but I’m going to try one more time – there’s never been a better time to build your fan/audience base. Everyone is stuck at home, scrolling through social media, and many of us have some spare time. Now is the time to focus on building your fan base for you as an artist, and for your (upcoming?) film. And you’re going to need that connection, because guess what – the world is going to have less of what we relied on for audience-building and marketing before – less: film festivals (and their curators), distributors, theaters, print publications, broadcasters, paid critics - there’s a long list of disappeared parts of the system. What will remain? Social media and your direct connection to that audience. But only if you build it, participate with it and nurture it. There’s also a big role here for collaboration amongst the other players mentioned above – theaters, festivals, distributors, and brands. While I argued above that theaters shouldn’t just give away their emails, I would advocate for everyone to join together to build a system, with varying levels of permissions and opt-ins, that would allow me as a consumer to subscribe to updates from multiple artists, distributors, theaters, brands, etc. I don’t want to just hear from Film Forum. I want to know when Tom Putnam releases Dark Divide, no matter where it’s playing, and I want to subscribe to him, just once and get future updates too. I’d be happy for all of you to be able to notify me – when it comes to FilmLinc, or when it comes to Netflix, or when it’s at your festival (but only when I’m visiting your town). Let’s build this system together. Festivals, theaters and brands should be curating selections for me, but not just of what they’re playing or funding. If I trust you, give me a reason to interact year round.

    F. Advocacy – nonprofit service organizations should be merging together, or at least joining forces, and should start doing real advocacy, which means lobbying and other moves to build a better system for our future. The recent IDA/ITVS/Firelight seminars were incredible, but just a start towards what we need to see more often. Last year, I wrote a popular post about the need for a new AIVF – and we still need it. As I wrote then: “Yes, we have great organizations that might take up the cause – IFP, Sundance, Impact Partners, IDA, Kartemquin and many great festivals (if I didn’t mention your favorite org, it’s unintentional) – but solving the problems around building a better ecosystem for independent media artists is bigger than any one of their missions and if they haven’t found the time to do it on their own since 2006, it’s not going to happen now (but they’ll collaborate on the answer). We need a new AIVF, but for the modern era. I’m not sure what it should look like, but I know we need it, or something like it. I imagine it’s more of a with-profit than a nonprofit, meaning some hybrid of nonprofit activism and services, coupled with some for-profit, entrepreneurial activities.”  Let’s get that started, finally.These are just a few, pretty easy to say and hard to execute ideas – I know- but we have to start inventing somewhere, and I’m convinced that these ideas will be key to our success.

    Stuff I'm Reading: Film   Emergency Grants for Filmmakers & Others - I imagine most of my readers have heard about these, but just in case - POV, the great PBS doc series, has launched an emergency fund for artists/filmmakers. Info and application forms are here. And Field of Vision/TOPIC have launched a fund for documentary freelancers, including producers, editors, assistants - anyone in the field it seems, which is great! Apply here. Last, The Opportunity Agenda and PopCollab offer $1K emergency grants for Social Impact artists and cultural strategists - apply here. Netflix Makes "Spoiler" Billboards to Keep People Inside - brilliant ad campaign here. While the actual "social impact" of distancing is obviously minor here, it's a great idea.  WeAreSocialMedia reports.  Need to apply for Coronavirus Relief as a Filmmaker? The IDA, ITVS and Firelight teamed up to bring together this super-helpful workshop on how to apply for the CARES/PPP relief program- whether you are a freelancer or small business. Honestly, this was probably the single best educational program or Zoom meeting I've attended since the lockdown began. The video is worth watching and the link has many other helpful resources - I think I used all of them.  The Future of Film Report is live - Future of Film's Alex Stolz launched his FOF Report recently, and it's a great read. I particularly like that he and his contributors focused primarily on how technology will change production and development, and most of it is very positive and interesting for anyone thinking about the future of film.  It's time to learn online marketing based on behavioral data - While this was written BC (before-covid), it's very timely now that we all need to learn how to market titles online smartly, using data. Anthony Kaufman reports on some success stories, and how to get started for Filmmaker Magazine. One good example, from Jim Cummings of Thunder Road - "The big takeaway for Cummings was the realization that he could connect with potential audiences and bypass traditional forms of gatekeeping. “Let’s say you’re having a hard time getting a Variety review. Now, you can just target people on Facebook who like Variety, and it’s the equivalent of getting press in Variety,” he explains. “By spending money on this or that platform, you’re able to hijack an outlet that wouldn’t let you have access without them having anything to do with it.” Cornavirus, Streaming and Piracy - I was interviewed in this nice little article from Aric Jenkins in Fortune back in late March (feels like a decade ago, right) about how the virus might impact streaming and piracy. I'm less worried about piracy long term (I see it as a failure in the business model), but do think behavior has changed, ever more quickly, and people want what they want, when they want it, on what device, yesterday. 
    Stuff I'm Reading: Branded Content   Steak-Umm is Leading Brand Messaging around Covid-19  - This isn't branded content, per se, but Steak-Umm has been doing an awesome job with its social media account (it's actually a person named Nathan Allebach according to FastCo). If Steak-Umm can find a way to make relevant, smart and informed content during this virus, you have no excuse not to do the same, BrandX (insert your name here). Hell, this is better than most nonprofits I follow. Brand-Purpose Storytelling Post-Covid: I participated in an online panel/Zoom about purpose-driven storytelling by brands - how to do it, and how to do it now - that was organized by Brand Storytelling. The video will reside here when they post it soon. This is one of a series of talks they are hosting, and it's a great resource for brands, brand story-tellers, and just about anyone in the media space. I recommend listening to the discussions, and you can get the schedule and register (for free) here. Budweiser is "not in advertising mode" says Anheuser-Busch InBev US CMO Marcel Marcondes to DigiDay - more than once - saying they are putting money into services and other areas. Like a lot of brands, I suspect. They did run this ad for their program to shift sports support to Red Cross support.    
    Stuff I'm Reading: Miscellany The Internet Archive made more books available for free, and people freaked out - A few folks, including Vox and Redef, picked up the BS-laden Author's Guild version of this story, so do yourself a favor and read the Mike Masnick "real news" version of the same. Basically, the Internet Archive has made digital copies of books - in a completely legal manner - and then made them available for free, with DRM - for lending - just like a library does. Publishers and the Author's Guild freaked out -but don't assume they are in the right here, as if they had their way, regular libraries wouldn't exist either. Oh wait, they barely do right now, and that's why this National Emergency Library is both a great thing, and legal. Video Gaming, Live Streaming and E-Sports viewing is off the charts - this was to be expected, but Techcrunch reports video game usage spiked 75%; while Endgadget reports that Twitch viewing was up 23% to just over 1.2 Billion hrs. That's a lot of usage competing with movies and everything else!  Oh, and while we don't have sports to compete with, we do have E-Sports, which ESPN added, showing over 12 hrs on April 5th alone. (H/T to Unsupervised Learning for the links). Ignore the Pressure to be Productive- Says Aisha Ahmad in the Chronicle of Higher Education (h/t Leah Warshawski) - Lots of variations on this sentiment have run lately, but I like this one the most. From the article: "Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.” The Obie Awards moved online (like everyone) and is donating the savings to artists (like everyone should) - The NYT reports on what should become standard practice for everyone moving their events online.

    Subscribe here

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