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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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Taking the Temperature at Sundance

January 18, 2022

I’m starting to think I can get most of my Sundance networking done in the Delta Lounge at JFK, and then just watch the online version of the films and call it a day. It’s definitely easier to navigate than the streets of Park City, and I even get the excitement of passing through a velvet rope and getting free food and drinks. But of course, I’m going to get on that plane and hope to see some great films and catch-up with people not in NYC at America’s pre-eminent film fest, which none of us has been able to do for far too long. 
This week’s Sundance and (for a subset of us) BrandStorytelling Conference (and let’s not forget Slamdance) is where we’ll get a chance to take the temperature of the film world. Park City promises to be frigid, but everyone hopes the business might finally wake up from its slumber a bit and get moving again. Between Sundance and Berlin coming up in a few weeks, which I unfortunately must miss, but is the bigger party for our European colleagues, we might find out if the new films are any good, if the buyers are buying and if the deals to make new ones can start getting made. I also suspect we’ll hear of some folks with new jobs (a fair amount of new gig announcements hit my inbox last week), and just maybe, some new mergers or business deals.
As I’ve written here before, I am a bit of a skeptic. It’s undoubtable that a few big deals will get made, as they always do, but when the world-news continues to be filled with recession planning, cost-cutting and layoffs at the big corporations, that means more pain coming for the film/media businesses as well. I think we’re all just hoping that folks will get some spending done in the snow before bigger cuts and a harsher reality hits their budgets (further). But the people I’m bumping into at JFK seem pretty happy just to get back to Park City and enjoy themselves IRL instead of via zooms, virtual party booths and social posts about films they’ve seen on demand. Of course, you can still do that if you aren’t attending Sundance, as they’ve got great offerings online, and I plan to do both – with my hybrid pass, I might be watching more films from my condo late at night than in the actual theaters, and that’s certainly safer than trading covid breath with the late-night partygoers.
Sales agent John Sloss seems pretty optimistic about the prospects for sales this year, and he makes a convincing argument to IndieWire’s ScreenTalk podcast that he doesn’t see the budget cuts and slow-down in acquisitions that others (including myself) have been noting, especially for better docs. But he does seem to agree that things are tough for smaller narrative speculation, saying ““Until the arthouse market comes back, I would not be an equity investor in a scripted narrative film,” he said. “I don’t know what the market for that is.” I couldn’t agree more, as I’ve written about many times, including more recently here.
I’m feeling optimistic as well. Less so about the sales market perhaps (I’m also not a sales agent, so what do I know…), but definitely for good things coming out of the beginning of this year. As I wrote last week, it’s a good time for people to start building new models, and that’s been the spirit of many people I heard back from following that post, and who I am meeting with in Park City – let’s meet up, and talk about moving in new directions. I bet those same conversations will take place at Berlin and many other fests this year. If I see you at one of these places, grab me and let me know what you’re building – or just say hi. 
And another side note: The Sub-Genre Website remains under reconstruction and should launch soon. 

Stuff I'm Reading

This Film Does Not Exist: Nine years ago, filmmaker Frank Pavich released Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary that tells the story about one particular adaptation of Dune that was never made. My rough summary: Alejandro Jodorosky, a Chilean filmmaker assembled a super-team including Salvador Dalí (who was going to be paid $100,000 per minute), H.R. Giger (the artist behind the Alien films), comic artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, and Mick Jagger to produce an epic 10-14 hour adaptation of Dune. Hollywood, of course, never agreed to fund such a lengthy production which led to a devastating crumbling of the team and abandonment of the dream film. In short, while the film was never made, Jodorowky’s almost-film made a tremendous mark on science fiction in the years to come. 

Fascinated with Jodorowsky’s creative genius and with the idea of works-never-made, Frank Pavich experiments with A.I. to find out what Tron (the 1982 sci-fi adventure film) would have looked like had Jodorowski directed it. The results blow his mind (find stills in his New York Times article) and lead him to ask a multitude of questions, a few of which I share here: “To what extent do these rapidly generated images contain creativity? And from what source is that creativity emerging? Has Alejandro been robbed? How much of art-making is theft, anyway?.... What will it mean when directors, concept artists and film students can see with their imaginations, when they can paint using all the digitally archived visual material of human civilization? When our culture starts to be influenced by scenes, sets and images from old films that never existed or that haven’t yet even been imagined? (GSH)


The clock is ticking on a TikTok ban: ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok has been facing a U.S. ban for some time now – if a ban did go into effect, companies like Apple and Google wouldn’t be allowed to host the entertainment app on their platforms, making it very difficult for U.S. consumers to access. So why is TikTok under fire? U.S. lawmakers make the case that the app is a threat to national security and that it’s an arm of the communist party. And it’s true that some shady business has gone down: Near the end of 2022, ByteDance admitted to “improperly” accessing US citizens’ TikTok data as part of an investigation to track U.S. journalists. And of course, TikTok’s popularity represents a threat to America’s technological superiority in the age of the internet. So what’s ByteDance doing to ward off the ban? For starters, they’ve spent over $11million on federal lobbyists since 2020. They’ve also invested over a billion dollars in ‘Project Texas,’ “an effort to rebuild the app on US servers in order to wall it off from ByteDance and China as much as possible.” The takeaways: (1) “banning one app won’t solve broader issues, such as data privacy, security, and harmful content. Legislation that regulates an industry  rather than one company within it could kill two birds with one stone.” (2) The only way we’ll see a TikTok ban is if it’s found to be a national security threat; (3) with over 100 million users in the U.S, the federal government would have to contend with a lot of angry people, many of whom are of voting age. Sara Morrison for Vox has the news.(GSH)

New Study: No, Of Course Russian Twitter Trolls Didn’t Impact The 2016 Election: Did Russian trolls on social media have any real impact on the 2016 election? A new study published in Nature finds “no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.” Mike Masnik for Techndirt concludes, “[this study] is a really useful addition to the research out there, though it’s not going to stop the, ahem, disinformation that social media magically impacted the election from continuing to spread. Even if that’s disinformation about disinformation.” (GSH)

10 AI Predictions For 2023Rob Toews’ writes for Forbes with his top ten predictions for AI this year. Among his predictions are things like: big leaps in GPT-4; we’re going to run out of data to train language models: “It has become a cliché to say that data is the new oil. This analogy is fitting in one under-appreciated way: both resources are finite and at risk of being exhausted;" conversational search getting big for Google; and more. 

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