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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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5 Things Brands Can Do Now to Make Better Films

July 28, 2022

One of the great things about attending conferences like Elevate – the BrandStorytelling conference I just attended and wrote about here – is not so much the content itself, but having a few days to immerse yourself in thinking about the state of the field and what comes next. I think this is true of most good conferences and film fests, too. It’s not what you learn on any given panel or workshop (you do that too), but it’s rare to have an hour to just dedicate your mind to thinking about that subject, and for me at least, that’s what I enjoy most – getting the gears turning on ideas for the future based on having that mental space to hone in on a topic. You also get this by not thinking about work at all, which I explain below (click here to skip ahead). But while at Elevate, I was thinking a lot about things I wish more brands were doing in the entertainment space – specifically, films – and how many of these things could also help move the film world forward as well. I came up with five things, explained briefly here, but I hope to turn to each one more in the future.
1. More Support to Producers – Producers are the folks who find the best projects and bring them to fruition. They’re the ones who really do the work, even/especially if they are hired by your agency, and they’re also the ones who make sure you get what you want – when they’re good – not just what the director wants to do, as their mission is to make the best film. They’re also under-resourced, and too often, those from more diverse backgrounds have the most trouble breaking into this part of the business. And guess what – most of them are open to working with brands on quality projects. And guess what else – most brands need more diverse talent behind the screen and in their stories, and that’s what some of these producers can ensure. I’d love to see more brands putting resources into support for independent producers (especially when it comes to DEI), instead of into contests with some film fest, or just hiring some hot new director. 
2. P&A and Impact Funds – Too many brand reps are focused on wanting to be a director, and they sublimate that desire into wanting to tell “their” stories. This can be fine – I’m helping at least three brands to figure out how to do just that now. But there’s no lack of great stories out there, and I probably see a new film that would be perfect for some brand in different categories every day of the week. But few of them are looking at projects already in development, much less films that are done. At the same time, many great mid-tier distributors (basically anyone not named A24 or Neon) are struggling to compete with the streaming wars, and also need more financial support to do better marketing and broader/more creative distribution (what we call Prints & Advertising or P&A) in a tough market. In addition, many films have a social impact component, and these are also often lacking in funds, but are the perfect places for a brand to do smart activation that feels genuine. Giving money to a distributor can be a good way to burn money, but there are many creative ways to structure P&A and Impact funds that could direct where the money goes and how it’s accounted for (Cinecitta supports Italian film distribution in the US, for example, by augmenting a distributor’s campaign and directly paying for the extra services). Last, in theory, brands know marketing, and non-studios kinda don’t. Collaborations could be mutually beneficial.
3. Moving the Product Discussion to what’s done around the film – As we go into recession land, every brand is wondering how to tie all this stuff to results, and that means moving product. But in most cases, good films that anyone wants to watch aren’t tied to product, can be ruined by product integration of any kind, and just aren’t that great at doing that. They’re good for building brand affinity, earned media, signaling values and a lot of other things that usually aren’t directly tied to product – although you feel better buying a Patagonia jacket knowing they make cool movies about environmental issues (for example). But as I’ve said before, often the movie just gives you an excuse to do a lot of cool stuff (activations) around the movie, and these can include more ties to product and moving folks “down the funnel” to becoming customers. In fact, too few brands are taking advantage of these opportunities. I don’t know how many times I’ve worked on a film with a brand, perhaps where one of their brand ambassadors is in the movie, and then seen them go shoot a product campaign with that same ambassador in a similar location, but the two campaigns weren’t done at the same time (wtf?!). I speak to indie producers who have projects that would fit a brand, and who would be happy to shoot “shoulder content” at the same time, but brands don’t take advantage of it. And they can do it creatively and in ways that don’t detract from the “real” film campaign. If I like your non-product film, I should be retargeted with messaging that is more brand-centric and then retargeted again all the way down to a coupon for purchase. This can also be built into impact campaigns, and is easy – and cheaper – to do around existing film projects if brands just start having those conversations with film teams earlier.
4. More Collaboration – I’ve written about the need for brands to collaborate on films before, but I think we need to get serious about it. Both between brands and between brands and the traditional film sector. I’d love to see non-competitive brands collaborating on financing and making movies and supporting creators. But I’d also like to see them just networking more around sharing best practices in this space, introducing one another to top (and diverse) talent, and getting advice on their campaigns (I think some of this may grow out of the new BrandStorytelling Network, which is coming soon). I’d also like to see brand film teams mingling with distributor marketing teams at conferences, or hobnobbing with traditional film financiers at film fests. Why don’t we have a Sundance Labs, but for brand filmmakers with brands? We need more collaboration here, and that should start with point five – the biggest collaboration we need – 
5. KPI & Metrics Sharing – Every year at every conference I attend with brand folks, and on almost every biz dev call I have, the conversation quickly turns to metrics and KPI’s. How do we measure the real impact of these films? How are other brands doing it? Can you share how X brand justifies this? And while some of my brand clients have developed pretty robust KPI measurement “systems” (that may be too robust a word), few of them are sharing it with others and I usually can’t because they’re all proprietary. But everyone who does this would benefit from being able to point to good case studies and best practices. Or from new ones – why aren’t we all jointly funding development of these tools in conjunction with a smart University program? Or a smarter AI being developed? And while we’re at it – the film business is pretty weak when it comes to any real metrics beyond box office, too. This is another area where collaboration across sectors could be beneficial for everyone.
I’m sure I’m missing some other good ideas here, or maybe these aren’t even the right ones. If you have better ideas, or want to help make any of these stronger or to come to fruition, let me know. But don’t do too much of that before Labor Day, because as I’ll explain below, I am going to be hard to find for the month of August as I hit the road for work then vacation, and take my annual social media and newsletter vacation. See you ‘round here come early September.

Every year, I take a social media and online news vacation for the entire month of August, and that also means I don’t publish the newsletter during August, either. If you’ve been reading my newsletter for awhile, you already know about this, but I’ve gotten a lot more subscribers in the past year, so this may be news to many of you. 
I highly recommend you consider doing the same. Taking a social media vacation helps me clear my brain and disconnect from the group-think that our interwebs have become. It helps me break through to more creative ideas by not getting stuck in the news cycle and whatever is trendy at the moment. It is also increasingly hard to come back – I miss social media less and less every year, but always come back to the newsletter more refreshed, more creative, and hopefully for my readers, more interesting. I’ve been doing this since 2010, and have never once missed something too important, or regretted it at all. I don’t miss any real news, because I still read two newspapers in print every morning, and anything that matters does actually end up there, believe it or not.
If you are just a reader, don’t worry, I’ll be back after Labor Day, and I bet you won’t even miss me. If you are a client or potential client – I am still reachable via email, I just don’t look at any social media or online news. But I go on a real vacation with no phone or internet during the entire second half of August, and this year I’ll be in Europe for work at the Locarno and then Sarajevo Film Fests for the first ten days of August, so it won’t be easy to find me for most of this month. So for most of us, this is a pause until Labor Day. Who knows if the world will still exist, whether we’ll be in a recession, who will be the new head of Sundance (I’m taking bets), or what will have happened in the streaming wars, but I am sure I’ll be much more rested and relaxed, and probably won’t be too upset by anything that took place while I was gone. 

Stuff I'm Reading

‘Are you still playing?’: What the future holds for Netflix’s Interactive Entertainment: What’s the state of ‘interactive entertainment’ today? A handful of Netflix shows — Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Cat Burglar, Ranveer vs. Wild, and a few more — allow viewers to become participants and shape the story on-screen in real time. But Netflix is the only streamer to break into the space to date, in part, because the ‘choose-your-own story’ tools haven’t been developed. Netflix did create their own program for Bandersnatch called Branch Manager which allowed the Black Mirror team to integrate their footage into “labyrinthine visualizations.” Netflix’s Interactive Experiences team continues to develop the product to make the experience for actors, editors, and viewers seamless, and to expand the scope of these interactive experiences. Despite the uniqueness of interactive film/tv, only 1% of Netflix’s content next year will be interactive, according to Netflix’s Interactive Entertainment founder, Andy Weil. But as Netflix competes against other streaming giants and looks for new ways to attract new and retain old audiences, I expect them to start pumping out more interactive entertainment… and I’m sure the other streamers will follow suit. Stay tuned for Netflix’s next interactive romantic comedy called Choose Love. Check out Sab Astley’s article for Polygon for more. (GSH)

Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures Bring Nope AR Experience to Meta Horizon WorldsNope, the new Jordan Peele film is now available to Meta Quest 2 users via a new AR experience in Horizon Worlds called “Monkeypaw Productions: All Aboard. “Users board a train that transports them to other worlds, where they can search for film Easter eggs before arriving at Nope World… where they can explore the world with other visitors, play games and engage with other interactive elements”, explains Adweek’s David Cohen. His two other horror films, Us and Get Out are soon to join Nope in Horizon Worlds. Check out what it looks like here. My take: The world acts as a cool supplement to the film but generally speaking, if the graphics don’t get better ASAP, Horizon Worlds is gonna have zero traffic and Meta Quest 2 will suffer. (GSH)

Are African-Americans Underserved by FAST Channels? Looks like it, according to Variety. The article notes this isn't surprising given the historic low representation in film/tv, but on the other hand... it is surprising when you consider the population and the fact that it's relatively easy to aggregate entertainment for almost any specific demographic and make a channel. If we can have "white people's winter sports" channels, we should be able to have some niches that appeal to more diverse segments, too. (BN)

Odeon Theatrical will build the Broadway of the future with AR: Augmented Reality (AR) is coming to theaters, probably next year. Sunchaser Entertainment, Hexagram, and the Shubert Organization have come together to create the pilot program for a digitally enhanced live theater production. Dean Takahashi, writer for VentureBeat explains how it might work: “An actor playing Hamlet might see the ghost of his father, and if you pointed your smartphone camera toward the stage at that moment, you would see a ghost walking across it.” I’m sorry theater purists, but apparently this age-old artform is ready for a change.  But for the skeptics out there, AR could actually help to make theater more accessible. For instance “[in] moving over into the digital realm, where we can transcend the limitations of physical venues. We can bring AR assets into the platform [and] into the venue. We can hook into show controls that preexist. And we can take that and place that in any location. It might be in a theater, it could be in Central Park, or it could be on a cruise ship (Stephanie Riggs, founder of Sunchaser Entertainment).”VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi has the story. (GSH)

First Peoples storytelling meets Fortnite tech in immersive museum exhibition: The same technology used in Fortnite is being used in Melbourne to form the first museum in immersive First Peoples storytelling. The latest exhibition, Tyama, features large-scale multimedia projections of nocturnal worlds set in Australia. Visitors can activate, animate, and control these worlds, revealing their stories as they walk through. Check out some beautiful stills and a video of the space in-article. Cara Waters for TheAge has the news. (GSH)

The fight between authors and librarians tearing book lovers apart: At the onset of the pandemic teachers and librarians convinced a non-profit called the Internet Archive to loan out an unlimited number of eBooks to libraries. A few months later, major publishing houses including HarperCollins sued the Internet Archive for “grossly exceed[ing]” what libraries are allowed to do. The case has pitted publishers and authors against librarians. Some important background: Public libraries must purchase licenses to rent eBooks from publishers. They end up paying 4-5 times more than what consumers pay for the same eBooks, and then have to renew the same purchases every year. “This is simply an attempt by publishers to grow their e-Book market and force libraries to pay costly licensing agreements that help a publisher’s bottom line (legal director of Electronic Frontier Foundation).” What’s more, the arrangement costs taxpayers thousands of dollars per eBook. The Internet Archive, on the other hand, has been purchasing physical books, scanning them, and loaning them out virtually to patrons, which publishers argue breaks copyrights law. Publishers say that the Internet Archive is taking away income from authors. “The libraries that raised me paid for their books… they never stole them (Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street).” Pranshu Verma for The Washington Post writes, “at stake is the future of how libraries are allowed to buy and lend out digital books to the public, which advocates say is core to a functioning democracy.” Could libraries “become beholden to the whims of third-parties, who might decide not to carry books on queer rights, abortion or other sensitive political issues, if political pressure to ban them becomes hot (exec. Director of Library Futures)”? So, what needs to happen? “As digital technologies flourish, rules around how work created by authors, signers, and movie makers can be shared widely without running afoul of copyright laws need to become more refined.” Pranshu Verma for the Washington Post brings us the story. (GSH, H/T Redef)

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