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

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The Crisis in Indie Film History Viewing (and Preservation)

I don’t normally link to IndieWire articles because I imagine everyone who reads this newsletter also reads IndieWire already. But this week, they ran a great little story about the Crisis in Indie Film Preservation, and I think it’s a must-read for the field, but it also points to an adjacent problem with no easy solution (although I’ll propose one) – access to viewing the history of indie film online.
Chris O’Falt, the writer, does a great job of describing the problems, so read that first, and by interviewing IndieCollect and Ira Deutchman, he heard from the most knowledgeable people on the subject. But in short, the crisis is that the history of indie film is in danger of disappearing. Films shot on actual film are often degrading, improperly stored, un-findable, or perhaps worse – we might have the original negatives, but no one can figure out what company owns the rights anymore so no one can digitize and distribute it. And the situation is no better, and actually worse, for films that originated on digital because digital formats actually disappear more quickly than film (do you own a DVD player anymore, much less a floppy disc?).
I take issue with only one point in the article – he says the crisis in indie film preservation was one that “no one saw coming,” which is ridiculous because almost anyone who is active in indie film has known about this issue for quite some time, and there have been efforts to fight this problem going on for decades.

I launched a program called Reframe with Amazon and support from the MacArthur Foundation, back ten years ago (2008), and we managed to digitize and preserve almost 1000 titles, and I was late to the game back then. Since that time, multiple archives have been working on the issue, as have the Sundance Institute and now IndieCollect.
But the problem hasn’t gone away, and is arguably getting worse because it’s just not sexy for Foundations to give grants to film preservation instead of film making (side note, this proves most grant giving is just brand building, but that’s another article).
But one of the reasons it’s hard to spend the money it takes to preserve indie film history is that once you do the work, it’s impossible to make money back. As O’Falt observes in his interview with Ira Deutchman – “Netflix and the other profitable streamers aren’t interested (in these films), according to Deutchman – so the cost of preservation is a hardship.”
This is a problem that goes beyond film preservation. In the past two years, I’ve had multiple filmmakers approach me because they’ve just recently gotten back the rights to their films, and have spent the time to make quality digital masters, but have found that no distributor wants them, because no platform wants their films. Netflix won’t license most of them, and as one distributor told me this week – their only option is to put the film on Amazon Prime via Amazon Video Direct, but the problem with this is that no one rents them and the revenues back aren’t worth their time and effort.
So filmmakers are stuck with another “self-distribution” dilemma – they can put the films on Vimeo, or they can pay a service like Quiver a few thousand dollars and get them on Amazon, iTunes and some other outlets, but without a marketing budget, no one will find them, and this also takes time away from being an actual filmmaker.
There’s no easy solution to this problem. The costs are enormous and the return on investment is likely small – there’s a reason Netflix doesn’t want these films. They aren’t the villain here; they just have the data to prove that people aren’t watching them enough to either pay for them or probably even store and deliver them to the small audience that wants them.
But I’d like to propose that there is a solution to be had here, and while it isn’t easy, it’s the right thing to do. It seems to me that there are thousands of film festivals, indie film organizations, film societies and film theaters that have arisen on the backs of all of these films. Collectively, they showed these films, built an audience, and while they all have their struggles, they’ve become long-standing organizations with a somewhat stable footing. Some have become rather big institutions – IFP, FIND, Sundance, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, etc. And I’d argue it’s their (and our, as fans) collective responsibility to do something about this. There are multiple ways to go about this, but here’s just one idea. It may not be practical, but perhaps it will help start a conversation that leads to something better.
Almost all of these institutions have members, who pay monthly or annual dues and often their primary reward is discounts on tickets and an email newsletter. These members also happen to be the main potential audience for these films. I’m pretty sure that most of these members don’t think they get much value for their membership, but instead see it as their donation to help a local group they care about, and most of them could easily be persuaded to pay a little bit more if they got something in return.
If each of these organizations collectively raised their membership dues by $25 annually, this money could go to a pool for film preservation and access, perhaps managed by IndieCollect. They could then partner with someone like say, Kanopy, to provide free access to these films via their membership fee to their local organization of choice.
I’m sure the numbers here have to be tweaked a bit, perhaps it’s a bigger annual fee or $5 a month more. And Kanopy needs financial compensation from the pool as well, but it also gains a lot of users, and titles, and has more to offer to Universities and library systems who will pay hefty fees for access. And of course, filmmakers need to receive some compensation. Like I said, the potential solutions aren’t easy, but we need to think about them.
Perhaps a major foundation or three could help underwrite this as a clever joint for-profit/nonprofit collaboration. But something like this could help solve both the crisis in preservation and the crisis in being able to view these films, and take the onus off the filmmakers who are least able to deal with these problems.
Hate this idea? Send me some others, my contact info is easy to find. Like it –let’s plan for a summit, sometime, to make this work.
A Note on the Missed Week: You might have noticed that I skipped last week’s newsletter. I’ve been trying to publish weekly, but the trauma of last week’s Kavanaugh /Ford hearings was just too much and I couldn’t imagine writing or reading a newsletter. I’m 100% in her camp and he proved himself unfit for Court, but I have nothing to add to this conversation that hasn’t been said better by someone else. Just letting you know why this was delayed.

Stuff I'm Reading


Free Solo is killing it at the box office, and also deserves an Editing Oscar. Free Solo just opened to the best Doc opening ever, and the best per-screen average of any film for the year reports Variety (among others). And it deserves it. It’s a great movie that you need to see on the big screen – and due to my work with brands in this space, I’ve seen every recent outdoor film and can say this is honestly one of the best; one that rises above the norms for the field and should be seen by all audiences. It also recently won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, after playing Telluride (not MountainFilm, either) and coincident with a premiere at the Camden International Film Fest as well. NatGeo and Greenwich films did a great job here, as did the directors. But my vote is that it deserves to be nominated for Best Editing (Bob Eisenhardt) right alongside Hollywood films. I’m not even sure this is possible, but it deserves it. Bob’s editing keeps the momentum going for even the non-Climbing film fan, and even when you know the outcome. It’s truly suspenseful and very well done. Kudos to the whole team. Also, IndieWire has a great interview with Alex Honnold, the star of the film, and it’s worth a read.
My friend James notes that I haven’t commented on MubiGo – which was announced in Screen in early September, but it hasn’t gotten much traction in the US since that time, as it’s not available here. MubiGo is kinda like a MoviePass for arthouse films in the UK, where if you are a Mubi subscriber you can go to one free curated movie per week. Mubi curates the films- so it’s not the same as MoviePass, but has some similarities. You have to download a separate MubiGo app (aside from the Mubi app), and Here’s the MUBIGo FAQ page if you want to learn more.  My take: I like any experimentation. I assume this is coming out of the recent funding initiatives from the BFI and the EU for promotion of European films, and it it’s an interesting experiment to follow. It could be something for Fandor and the Arthouse Convergence to explore here in the US. I’ll try to report more as I get more info (which is shockingly hard to find online).
Free SVOD Services are Growing in Importance in the US: It seems people are hitting a wall on paying for SVOD services after Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, and are now tuning in to free services like Pluto TV, the Roku Channel and similar services. I’ve heard from filmmakers lately that aggregators are getting more aggressive in wanting fast AVOD rights since Netflix is buying less indie films for SVOD, and this must be why.
Netflix Adding Choose-Your-Own Adventure Interactive Features to Black Mirror and then to many other shows, reports AdAge among others. Gimmicky, yes, but interactive story-telling is (part of) the future, and that such a giant of the field is doing it already is kinda exciting. I just can’t wait til things get more interactive.
Showtime Launching Doc about the NYT’s article about Trump’s Tax Evasion on Sunday: Ok, but seriously – if Showtime cared more about the country than branding, wouldn’t it have made more sense to do an Academy run and keep this thing in the news all the way through the Oscars instead of hitting at the same time as the NYT piece? You can’t possibly tell me they couldn’t afford to hire Abramorama or that some theaters in NYC and LA wouldn’t make room for this run at the last minute?! Come on.
Blatant Self-Promotion Department: I’m distributing a new documentary called Long Time Coming which opens Oct 23rd at the SVA Theater in NYC and multiple other cities via a new system called Nagra MyCinema.

Here’s some more info on the film: The players of the first racially integrated Little League baseball game in the South reflect on this revolutionary event, building a bridge to heal the social divide that exists in our country today. Featuring Major League baseball and civil rights icons Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken, Jr., Gary Sheffield, Davey Johnson and Ambassador Andrew Young.  The film opens theatrically Oct. 23rd Nationwide, the week of the World Series. Special one-night-only screening event in New York Oct. 23rd at SVA Theatre. Buy tickets here.
AI Produced Artwork is Now a Thing: The “first” AI produced artwork is being auctioned at Christie’s next month, according to Recode. The French art-collective Obvious made the algorithm that made the work. The AI learned from old portraits and kept generating it’s own versions while a “discriminator” tool would keep rejecting them until it couldn’t tell the difference between man-made and machine-made images anymore. That final image is what’s being sold. I guess art isn’t what makes us human, after all. And it will come to movies next. Oh wait, that’s already been done as well.
What I Want to Read: on Medium The Big Disruption by Jessica Powell available on Medium now. When the former head of communications for Google writes a book about a fictional Silicon Valley powerhouse whose logo is a giant squid, count me as sold. Starting it soon, and hoping it’s at least half as good as Jarett Kobek’s I Hate the Internet, which is a must-read btw.

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