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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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Brands Cannes Do... More

May 18, 2022

All my friends are on La Croisette this week, attending Cannes, and celebrating the best of cinema, and this year that includes some cool brand films – at least two in the official program, and one in the official car (more below). I can’t be there – none of my brand clients have made a Cannes-worthy film this year (a couple have come close, actually), and it’s too expensive a trip for anyone not being subsidized, but like other cinephiles, I’m watching from afar. 
Cannes is where you celebrate the best of cinema, and also experience the worst – for many, it’s less of a red-carpeted watch-party, and more about back-to-back meetings, hoping to make and sell films, but you can’t really complain about that when you’re doing it from the coast of France, now, can you? I’d be happy to be there to do either. If I were there, I’d undoubtedly be doing more meetings than films, and the last thing I’d normally do is waste one of those screening slots on watching a brand funded film, but this year I would be enticed to spend some time watching two auteur directed brand funded short films from Saint Laurent – Pedro Almodovar’s Strange Way of Life and Drôles de Guerres (Phoney Wars), by the late Jean-Luc Godard. Yes, you read that right – Almodovar and Godard films, at Cannes, brought to you by a brand. 
What’s most fascinating is to see how little the press seems to care about the brand affiliation between Saint Laurent and the films. Lots of people I know – filmmakers, curators, fest programmers, press, and industry – always assume that a brand film can’t be taken seriously, and I have to point out the numerous great examples. Or they think the affiliation will hurt its chances with festivals and distribution, and I always point out that if the film is good, it won’t change anything, and that’s the case here. The Saint Laurent affiliation is not hidden in the slightest, but it’s also barely mentioned in this article from Kyle Buchanan in the NYT. The article has a great background on the film itself, and how they shot, but very little about it being a brand collaboration. It doesn’t matter to most people, but it does get noticed by the brand’s fans, and I’ll bet you they pick up some new ones. This is also true for the Godard film, which is billed more as a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist than any kind of brand film – and here, I don’t know the history, of how this was made/approved and whether it was before Godard’s death? I need to learn more (if you know, pass the word).
It's also not the first time a brand film has played Cannes. At least one other film has in the past few years – 5B from Johnson & Johnson and directed by Dan Krauss, which premiered at Cannes in the main program, and then went on to win a Cannes Lions (an advertising award) later that year – which may be a first. And let’s not forget that WeTransfer/WePresent went to the Oscars with The Long Goodbye from Riz Ahmed and Aneil Karia. A journalist asked me recently whether the Almodovar film might be the first brand Oscar contender, and I had to point out that WeTransfer got there first. And brand films play festivals all over and get major distribution – we’ve played client films at nearly every film fest you can imagine – we just assisted (a tiny bit) with our friends at PassionPoint Collective on getting The Big Idea into SeriesFest, where it also won the Level Forward award, Best Pilot and Best Director. This isn’t a fluke, either, as we see this happen to client projects every year. And they get distributed well – we’ve had films distributed by everyone from Apple, to Disney, Netflix and with traditional distributors like Magnolia; Almodovar’s short will come out via Sony Classics soon. It’s a thing – as long as the movie is a good movie.
Meanwhile, BMW also has a new film premiering at Cannes, though I don’t believe it’s an official selection – just sanctioned. The film is The Calm, which can be viewed now on BMW’s YouTube Channel, and is pretty fun, albeit much more branded than the Almodovar or Godard titles. This one follows the BMW films formula, with a fun car chase and some big names – here, Uma Thurman and Pom Klementieff starring, and with Sam Hargrave directing, Joseph Kosinski as an executive producer, and a music score from Hans Zimmer. Apparently, the film is premiering inside of the official BMW i7 M70 Cannes electric cars, shuttling VIPs around town and with the film playing on a drop-down rear passenger screen. While this one is much more on the advertising spectrum of branded entertainment, it’s a nice homage to their history in the space, and a great way to activate a festival sponsorship. 
But what’s important here is not so much that these films are playing at Cannes, but that the brands are working with real auteurs to make very high-quality narrative films. Saint Laurent is also making a few more of them – they announced a new studio, and have more films coming – including feature films – from Paolo Sorrentino, David Cronenberg, Abel Ferrara, Wong Kar Wai, Jim Jarmusch and Gaspar Noé. They need some women in that line-up, and a lot more diversity, but what a great first group of auteur directors for a brand to work with on their studio. And it kinda lays down the gauntlet for other brands – it’s time to up your game. And that’s what brands should be doing right now – even in this economy, they should be looking to improve what they’re doing, get outside their comfort zone, work with the best directors and talent, and make things audiences not only want to watch, but that they’ll share with others. 
Only the top stuff is selling in this market anyway – your average brand film with its same old story that could fit with almost any other brand, won’t stand out from the crowd anymore. And there’s a lot of great talent – from emerging to mid-career, to established auteurs, who can’t get their films financed in other ways, and more of them are willing to work with great brands – as evidenced by who is working with Saint Laurent. Everyone wins – but you’ve got to think bigger and better. As I hinted in the title – brands Cannes (and should) do more. 

Stuff I'm Reading


My Panel w/ Ted Hope for Sundance, Streamable Now: Our Advisor Studio Sundance discussion, “Staying Relevant in an Evolving Film Industry" is now live on Sundance. Enter the site for an hour long conversation about how filmmakers and producers can navigate their careers, stay relevant, stay true to their vision, sustain themselves, and stay up-to-date in a constantly evolving industry, (BN)

Call to Storytellers: Apply Now!: Future of Film Incubator 23 is now open to applications to producers, writers, directors and creators across the globe. This 8-month process will mentor, guide and support creators with 1-2-1 coaching, sessions with some of the most respected players in the industry and dedicated learning opportunities with new technology. Application deadline is May 31. You can find out more and submit your application here. (GSH)

Branded Content

YouTube, The New TV?: “Is YouTube TV? Even a few years ago, that question would’ve received ridicule in some advertising circles. It still might. But now that YouTube has become the streaming service people spend the most time watching on TV screens, it’s becoming hard to argue that YouTube isn’t TV (Tim Peterson, Digiday).” Check out the short video “How YouTube is mixing up the TV ad market” for insights from experts and executives from Horizon Media, Omicron Media Group, Havas Media, and UM Worldwide. The takeaway: Yes, YouTube is a TV company. Soon you’ll be streaming NFL games on Sunday afternoons off of YouTube and non-skippable 30-second ads are going to be a thing. This is just the beginning. (GSH)

Supreme Court Rules Against Fair Use and Warhol: Big news out of the Supreme Court just moments ago - with 7 justices agreeing that Andy Warhol was liable for copyright infringement for the Prince series (done for Vanity Fair), saying his reuse of Goldsmith's photos was not fair use. This is a pretty big deal, and I agree with the opinion of Justice Kagan (who dissented with Chief Justice Roberts) who said the decision "“will stifle creativity of every sort...It will impede new art and music and literature,...It will thwart the expression of new ideas and the attainment of new knowledge. It will make our world poorer.” I'm sure there will be a lot more about this in the news and Op-Eds soon (from both sides), and I'll probably have more to say as the news sinks in. (BN)

Google Makes AI Strides: Google is ramping up their AI development across pretty much all their products (Search, Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Drive…etc). Here’s what you can expect in the near future: (1) Shopping by using Search will become more effective and trustworthy with an AI-powered Snapshot section that’ll generate detailed summaries of options, pricings, and reviews; (2) Gmail is getting a Help Me Write tool that’ll allow users to respond to emails with AI-generated written compositions in a variety of styles; (3) Maps is getting Immersive Views for Routes, soon to be available in 15 major cities; (4) Photos is getting a Magic Editor; (5) Bard, Google’s Chat GPT equivalent is getting better and better. Soon it’ll be able to export responses into Maps, Docs, Sheets and more. Bard is also partnering with brands including Spotify, Instacart, Walmart, Zillow, Indeed, Kayak, Uber Eats, Adobe, and more; (6) AI collaborator tools like Duet AI for Workspace and Sidekick will change design workflow; (7) AI notebooks will generate study guides, earnings reports, news articles and more; (8) Perhaps most importantly is the “About This Image Tool,” which will help users distinguish between real and fake content. Google is also working on digitally watermarking all the images it creates. Martine Paris for Forbes has the news. Lots more detail in-article! (GSH)

Admissions Offices Cautiously Using AI: AI will forever change education. It’s already disrupting age-old schooling/learning models and sowing distrust between teachers and students. Best case scenario, AI products will help teachers become more effective and elevate students’ learning careers… we might have to wait a while for that. But how AI will impact admissions is a whole other ball game. Already, a handful of admissions offices are using or experimenting with AI to automate the evaluation of applications. Georgia Tech, for instance, is working on a project that replicates admissions decisions using machine learning techniques and cites a 93% match with their admissions advisers’ decisions. Melanie Gottlieb, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers has this to say about AI in admissions: “For competitive institutions, I think there may be concerns in the application of AI to a process that the public already finds opaque and challenging. I might also have concerns regarding inadvertently hard-coding of bias into AI models. These conversations are certainly coming, but we aren’t having them quite yet.” Scott Jaschik for InsideHigherEd has the story. (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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