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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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Legends - of Shang Chi and More

September 8, 2021

Shang Chi and the Legend of Windows
Good grief Charlie Brown! I thought the argument over windows might have been put to rest back with Black Widow, but apparently, movie theaters and just about every damned reporter out there are saying that the reason Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings performed so well over Labor Day weekend was because it wasn’t available on Disney+ at the same time (during the same window). This, somehow, even though Black Widow (barely) outperformed it, while being available online at the same time – making Disney plenty of extra money via its $30 home price tag. 
As I said back then, you can’t really make much of a true story out of anything during these covid-times, but let’s also note that Black Widow had a higher per screen average ($19,319 vs $17,532 for Shang Chi), and arguably had less going for it than Shang Chi – because as Hollywood should’ve learned from Black Panther – diverse audiences will show up for diverse cast/directors/stories, and 18% of the audience was reportedly Asian-American (yes, that’s huge, more than double similar films). I’m happy for Shang Chi and its filmmakers/cast, but I think the story here is more about desirable IP and diversity than it is about windowing. We might learn a little bit more when we see how it performs next week, but probably not much.
Telluride and the Legend of Safe Screenings

Meanwhile, a bunch of liberals got together to watch movies in the most expensive place in America, spreading covid while denigrating red state residents for not wearing masks. That’s not my headline, but it’s one you might expect if you looked at my Instagram feed this Labor Day weekend, as it filled with photos of everyone enjoying parties (both indoor and outside) sans masks at the Telluride Film Festival. Yes, the festival did the best job it could – requiring vaccination, masks in theaters and official venues, and a recent negative PCR test. And some studios, like Netflix, even supplied at-home kits that people had to use to test 48-hrs before their parties. But sure enough, within moments of Pete Hammond of Deadline posting that “A Vaxxed And Tested Telluride Film Festival Is A Triumph In The Age Of Covid,” another critic tweeted that his wife – vaxxed and negative tested – had just tested positive after the fest. You can’t win with this disease, folks. Let’s just hope this is only one of a few cases, and not the super-spreader that Benedict Cumberbatch joked that it was as he presented an award to Jane Campion. Mind you, I’m not picking on the festival here – as I said, they did their best, but it is a sign to potential attendees of future fests that you might want to wear your mask, even where it isn’t required. That should be easy, since everyone is going to the fest just for movie-watching, not going to parties, right?!
CODA and the Legend of Buzz
While folks celebrated cinema in Telluride (yes, for the record, I am jealous), I was celebrating Labor Day weekend with family in a small town in Kentucky. No, I’m not from there (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but that’s where my people are now, so that’s where I went. And what a lesson in the realities of the state of cinema-going vs. what we think in cinephile-landia it was! I recommended we watch a movie – CODA to be specific, because I knew it would be a family crowd-pleaser, and especially of interest to my niece who is a rising singing star. Had they heard of it from anyone? No. Had they read about it anywhere? No. Did they subscribe to AppleTV+? No. Had it crossed their social media feed at all? No, not even for the hyper-connected younger ones. 
This was the multi-award winning movie from this year’s Sundance, mind you. A critic’s pick in many outlets. A huge buy for Apple, and one they’ve supposedly marketed the heck out of, because it’s gonna be on every short list for various Academy awards. But if it weren’t for me bringing it up, none of them would have known about it. What about another AppleTV+ hit? Like Ted Lasso, perhaps? Say who? Again, nada. I assure you, my family reads and pays attention to most things going on, but none of the “buzz” for these leading AppleTV+ items had any buzz at all with my family. And I’m willing to bet… not with many folks not already “in the know” in our industry. Is it that Apple doesn’t know how to market movies/shows yet? Or that the buzz doesn’t creep into the middle of the country? Or is it that how we think we should build buzz for movies (especially ones mainly available online) is all wrong?
Which brings me back to Telluride, because part of the problem is really one about how we as an industry build buzz and connect – or don’t – with consumers. As Bob Lefsetz said in his newsletter back on August 29th - 
“We live in a world too often disconnected from the customer. These "auteurs" make their movies which play at film festivals for attention and deals and then they're released to theatres and reviewed in the major papers you really expect me to get in my car and drive and then sit through the trailers to watch not even ninety minutes of film for twenty dollars? It's a bad proposition. But by time these movies finally hit the flat screen, there's so much else to watch and I oftentimes don't get to them, if I even remember them.”
That’s a discovery problem, and it starts with how we think we should build buzz – at film fests. But those build buzz with Oscar voters and cinephiles, not with the general public, who pay zero attention to Telluride or Sundance. Heck, they often don’t attend or even know whether their own city has a film fest. And if they do, they won’t remember that film once it comes to theaters, much less when it comes to digital. They also don’t follow the critics who attend these fests either. Nope. It’s all about the word of mouth from your friends, and that’s all on social. And as I’ve said elsewhere – none of the distributors (or critics) are doing much of anything there – at least not that’s being consumed by the masses, not just other critics and industry. And that means… no buzz. Except for those drinking champagne in the rarefied air of Telluride and other festivals. But that isn’t translating to buzz among the rest of our potential audiences, and that’s a problem we need to start trying to solve.
Generation Z and the Legend of a Future Audience
And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the bigger problem, which can be seen in the behavior of my nephew. He’s in fourth grade, and when we told him we were watching a movie, he sighed, and went downstairs to play more video games. He was glued to a screen for nearly every moment he was awake – but he was always either playing a video game, or watching someone play them on YouTube, usually with friends, online. As my friends with kids know already, but I learned this weekend – movies aren’t remotely on that generation’s agenda, and I don’t see them coming around to it anytime soon. Even if the movie is based on one of his video games, because it’s not interactive, of the moment, or (to his mind) anything resembling fun. 
So we can argue about windows all day long, but unless we start figuring out how to reach a general audience with specialized fare – and CODA isn’t too niche, mind you – and how to engage Gen Z, we have bigger issues on our hands than 45 days vs. 90 vs. zero.

Stuff I'm Reading

The Programmers at Sheffield Doc/Fest Have Left the Building: This hit the news as I was on vacation, and again last week, but it's a doozy - and worth making sure that everyone knows about it. The Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK recently fired its artistic director - Cintia Gil, and after she left, they removed the remainder of the programming team, locking them out of their email accounts and (only after inquiring about wassup?!) were told they could reapply for their jobs later. They penned an open letter asking what the heck is going on with the board of directors, and Variety has a copy of the letter and a report of the miscellaneous shenanigans. Apparently, the board didn't like Cintia or the other programmers's artistic leanings, and wanted more of their TV docs shown (many of the board work for public broadcasters in the UK). The board, or some poor underling, have now posted their call for entries - even though they have no programmers. 

Here's a hint - don't submit. This is a clown car, being pushed by a board of dunces towards a cliff of obscurity...again. They're heading right back where they were before Heather Croall took it over and made it relevant back in the early 2000's. It hasn't really been the same since she left, but a few folks (such as Luke Moody) tried to keep it going, only to have the board continually interfere and ruin the best laid plans. I've seen boards ruin many places (see Edinburgh...) and this is a case where its probably unsalvageable, and filmmakers and industry should just boycott the place for good.

You can Make a Netflix Doc About Anything: This too has been going around the interwebs - I found it via Redef - and it's just about perfect. I can't say much more without giving it all away, but check out the video and tell me it's wrong... (I do hope he skewers cooking docs and social issue ones next):

Branded Content
Enter your Brand Film in the Brand Storytelling Theater - My friends at BrandStorytelling are accepting submissions for a brand film showcase at their upcoming event during Sundance in 2021. You can learn more about the event, how to apply and why at this link, where founder Rick Parkhill explains the event and how it works. Submissions are open til Oct 1, and they have a great selection committee and I'm sure it will be a great event.

Hello Sunshine partners with Bumble and Bailey's Irish Cream for "Meet Cute" series - What I like here is that they went for narrative short story-telling, and tried to do something original. Does it work? You be the judge. Each short is based on a "true" story of people "meeting cute" on Bumble, and branding seems to be light (there is some product placement)... as does viewership, but check them out. Deadline has the story and the links.

Four Art Dealers Merge to Fight the Powerhouses - I link this here for the obvious reason - to encourage film distributors, festivals and others to consider the same: The NYT reports that four pretty big, but not gigantic, art dealers are merging their practices to counter the mega-dealers that are conquering the art world. The new, combined gallery will be able to represent the different strengths of each one's practice - different art types, regions, etc. and they also plan to buck many conventions - not attending any fairs outside of Asia, for example, doing quicker, leaner shows, and even reducing fees. It's a smart move, and I think the film world needs to think similarly, because not everyone is gonna sell to the highest bidder (like A24 wants to do, and Hello Sunshine did), and many will disappear. 

TikTok Ovetakes YouTube for average watch-time in the US and UK: the BBC has the news - just one more reason to pay more attention to TikTok. If you want a deeper analysis, The Information has a good break-down of what this means, but that requires a subscription.

Burning Man was Held in VR this year: Burning Man was pushed to 2022 due to Covid-concerns, but a bunch of people recreated it, to the best of their abilities in VR. Laptop News has the rundown of what took place, and while it sounds like nothing beats the real thing, it wasn't a bad experience, and had some surreal set-ups. But there were only about 40-50 people in attendance at any given time, versus the 80K plus IRL. That said... it was free!

But Venice's VR Expanded will Likely Be Better: Because its programmed by my friends and VR experts Michel Reilhac and Liz Rosenthal, and it's always the bomb. Check out their preview video here, and apparently it's free to participate in VRChat.
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