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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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Building Something New

January 12, 2022

This week has felt to me like we entered a fourth – or twenty fourth – wave of pandemic induced insanity. First, there were the numerous people I spoke with off camera on zooms because they were sick, again, from actual covid, while others debated openly how sick we’ll all get at Sundance. Then we had the increasing desperation of nearly every industry (except a notable few, more on those later) as they stare into the recession. Budget cuts, layoffs, demands for more bottom-line focus, insane amounts of busy-work to justify every expense taken. Add the ongoing rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic, as every film/entertainment company makes those same recessionary moves, but also adds the panic of theatrical dying, festivals not mattering anymore, streaming not working, advertising shifting every last penny away from legacy media and into social TikTok, while they try to refocus their business on those same absent dollars. This has led to numerous occasions this week where I have a conversation about pitching a show/film to some buyer only to get an email 30 seconds later announcing they’ve been fired, moved to another job or are “trying new adventures.”
It made for a dizzying week, but then again, most of these grumblings started happening last June, so what’s new, really?! As I sat with a producer friend of mine, sipping aperitivos, pondering what’s left of this business earlier this week, the mood was less doom and gloom and more focused on what’s next. Ok, we had drinks, so maybe we were light-headed, but as we relayed every failure we were seeing around us – which boiled down to a collapse of nearly every way we used to do this business of film, especially artistically interesting narrative films (which could be fun, not just stuffy arthouse films, btw), we weren’t biting our nails in desperation. We were focused on figuring out what’s next. As they said to me – the field is clearly begging for something new, something that might work better, so I’m focused on building whatever that is, and hopefully it will be something that can work for others. If festivals and theaters and distribution isn’t working, why not just try some completely new things instead? I won’t say what they’re thinking about, but let’s just say it was radically different than the norm, and might just work.
I don’t think we are the only ones thinking that way, either. As I spoke with brand reps (some former clients, some just friends) in the days post-New Year’s reflections, most had given up hope on their old ways of doing things coming back, but they were very focused on thinking about what might be the new models to replace them. That’s also been the spirit of many of the producers I meet with as well. As Chris Moore wrote yesterday in the Dear Producer Newsletter, contemplating the death of the “hit driven business model,”: 
All of this soul searching has led me to the simpler solution which is creative producers need to become part of something bigger than themselves and their projects. Rather than wait around and see if the industry is going to make room for us again, we must take matters into our own hands and find the thing that replaces the hit-driven model. If we want sustainability, we have to create a new business model that works within this new era of Hollywood. 
Reading his article, you can tell it’s taken him a year or two of banging his head against the wall to get to this place. And I think that’s what most of us have been doing. If you read any random post of mine from the past three years, you’ll see a lot of that going on, although I started from a place of knowing that model was dead, and have been trying to gather others on this journey. But sometimes it takes awhile for everyone to get on the same page, right?
That said, getting back to my hint in paragraph one, there are a few industries that are not wringing their hands in doom and gloom, staring down a recession, making cuts, and panicking. In general, people building the future are doing pretty well right now. When I was at the Verge conference, the clean tech, green future, blue economy type folks were all shouting from the stages – we’re hiring, come join us in building the future. As has been clear from every post, news article and think piece on ChatGPT in the past month, AI is a booming area as well. There are more of these pockets of opportunity out there, but you get the point (I hope). Those who have given up on old systems and industries struggling to survive – and who are putting aside their fears about what it might mean for their careers and are just embracing the new – well, they’re thriving. And clearly having fun doing it. 
That’s the spirit we need in the story-telling business. Throw away the old. Embrace the new. Build it together, with other smart people – especially those who are new to and/or have been excluded from the business before, because they are the ones with the fresh and/or ignored great ideas. I’ve been trying to do that for a little while now behind the scenes with some folks, and hope to be doing more of it in 2023. Because heck, there’s no other way. Chris ended his post saying  (paraphrasing here): “I do not know what the answer is yet, and I am considering all options… I hope you’ll join me.” As he knows already (we chat about this crazy world a little bit), I’m in. And I think a lot of other people already are too. Here’s to some joining of forces to build new things in 2023. If you’ll be in Park City soon, let’s meet in person to start figuring it out.
Side note: If you are visiting the Sub-Genre website this week, you won’t see much for a few days. In the spirit of the above, we’re working behind the scenes to tear it apart and launch a new website (it’s about time, I know, I know). Look for that to appear, hopefully by next week.

Stuff I'm Reading


Screen Guest comment: “Why are so few Black people in positions of power in the arthouse film PR sector?” Not a single Black Publicist has been the lead on the campaign for a film in the major sections of the Venice, Berlin, and Cannes film festivals in the past 2 years. While conversations about the lack of Black representation in the film industry aren’t unfamiliar, rarely are they centered around the reasons why (not the abstract why, but the tangible, example-driven WHY). Veteran film PR Mia Farrell addresses these ‘why’s’ in a personal essay about navigating an industry that was not set up to support Black people, especially Black women. She underscores the lack of mentorship that Black people receive in her industry and emphasizes that increasing diversity isn’t enough – shifting representation needs to happen across all levels/roles, from assistants to the boardroom, and companies need to put systems in place that will hold them accountable. Give Farrell’s reflective piece a read on ScreenDaily. (GSH and HT to Julia La'Bassiere who posted this in my (BN) feed)

Why Producer Collectives Might Be/Are Doomed to Fail: Back on Dec 21, I posted a "Wishes for 23" post that mentioned my wish that more producers would think about producers collectives. To be honest, I was wishing for this, even though I've tried versions of it, only to see them fail for various reasons, but I hold out hope that someone will come up with a solution. After my post, Mynette Louie posted about it on FB and that got a little traction, with some producers saying they'd like to join in to such an idea (my summary). My friend and indie legend Ted Hope got linked in to it via my news and the socials, and he wrote up a pretty good post about how he wishes for the same, but how producers collectives might be doomed to fail. I agree with most of his sentiments, but hold out hope that someone less white and long in the tooth than us might come up with a better solution. But this also gives me a chance to put in a plug for his great new(ish) Substack newsletter, where Ted is once again opining on the state of and future of the business, which you should all check out and subscribe to post haste. (BN)

Hollywood Doesn’t Have to Worry About A.I. Yet — but Filmmakers Should Embrace It: IndieWire’s Eric Kohn writes about the ramifications of A.I. – in particular, ChatGPT – for filmmakers and other creatives. Unlike Guillermo Del Toro who recently said that A.I.-produced art was “an insult to life itself,” Kohn is “in the business of silver linings.” In short, here’s what Kohn has to say about A.I. and filmmaking: (1) “Anyone freaked out by ultra-smart A.I. ought to recognize that we’ve been living under the thumb of computer-based processes for a long time.” So let’s learn to evolve with the technology and use these tools to our advantage; (2) “A.I. is not an Auteur…. A.I. plays by the rules; art breaks them.”; (3) And finally, in the words of filmmaker Glenn Marshall, “All art is ultimately human.” Check out Kohn’s full piece at IndieWire. (GSH)

Audiences Want Climate Stories Panel:
The Redford Center has announced its Audiences Want Climate Stories panel being held at the Sundance Film Festival. From the organizers:

The conversation about climate has changed. Eight in ten Americans believe climate change is happening – the story of what comes next is in our hands. Films are essential for deepening understanding, countering defeatist narratives, and motivating change to embrace action at the scale needed. Inspired by our co-founder Robert Redford’s commitment to independent artists and environmental activism, join The Redford Center’s interactive session to unlock how your unique creativity and influence is vital to our future. 

This session brings together leading storytellers across fiction and nonfiction to discuss how the landscape and demand for climate stories is shifting. Independent media has led the conversation about climate change for decades when others wouldn’t dare to talk about it. It is now our responsibility to strengthen and fortify the climate conversation, starting with the stories we tell and who is telling them. 

Speakers include: Megha Agrawal Sood (Doc Society), Jeff Orlowski-Yang (Exposure Labs), Tracy Rector (Nia Tero), Anna Jane Joyner (Good Energy), Jill Tidman (The Redford Center), and 2023 Sundance Film Festival featured filmmakers Matthieu Rytz (Deep Rising) and Sophie Barthes (The Pod Generation).
Date: Saturday, January 21, 2023
Time: 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM MST
Location: The Box at The Ray 1768 Park Avenue, Park City, UT 84060
Public RSVP: Register at 
Admission Details: This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first served basis. Attendees are encouraged to create their own Sundance Festival attendee profile here.

Why gaming must be more inclusive in 2023 and beyond: With a staggering 3 billion consumers, the video game industry is worth $180bn, over double the movie industry, and is still growing. But despite their massive consumer base, giant gaming brands are failing on multiple fronts: (1) They fall way too short when it comes to diversity and representation among their employees and in-game characters: According to the International Game Developers Association, “71% of game developers globally are men while just 24% are women and 3% are non-binary, even though 45% of gamers identify as female. And when it comes to race and ethnicity, just 2% of developers are Black while 69% are white.” (2) The companies that are hiring (and firing) are known for their culture of constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation. (3) Gamers themselves – 7 out of 10 players – have experienced sexual harassment, hate speech, and threats of violence.” So, “how accurately can… gamers expect games to reflect their experiences… [and] how safe are the spaces in which they are [playing]?” While Seddharth Seth’s piece for TheDrum paints a rather bleak portrait of gaming in 2023, you’ll also find a few success stories – instances where brands have made progress toward a more inclusive and safe space to play.  (GSH)
GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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