View this email in your browser
Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

In This Issue

Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media


Past Newsletters


Keep Up With Brian:


Field of Dreams

July 14, 2021

The WSJ had a giant exposé on the crushing debt that many grad students get from Master's programs in the US, with a particular focus on what they called the most egregious of programs - the Columbia MFA Film Program. According to the article: "Recent film program graduates of Columbia University who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000. Yet two years after earning their master’s degrees, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 a year...Recent Columbia film alumni had the highest debt compared with earnings among graduates of any major university master’s program in the U.S., the Journal found. The New York City university is among the world’s most prestigious schools, and its $11.3 billion endowment ranks it the nation’s eighth wealthiest private school." And the median is much less than the $300K and up that many students interviewed for the article had in debt. To make matters worse – if those students don’t ever pay, which most won’t be able to do anyway, then after 25 years, they get to write it off, and we, the taxpayers, get to pick up the tab. For schools with nice endowments, and plenty of profit.
This one raised a lot of ire on the interwebs over the past few days – I saw hundreds of angry posts on social media, in addition to replies to my postings that were none too happy with this situation. But don’t think Columbia is the only school guilty of these shenanigans. In the world of film, it’s also not the only place. It’s not just every other film school – it’s our entire field. A field of dreams. Why would it be anything different? Hollywood is a dream machine, and independent and arthouse film is the same dream but worse – because it posits that you can do the same thing, but more artistically and free of the business-minded constraints from those “suits.”
That dream isn’t just fed by Columbia. It’s fed by places like Sundance – enter your film here and enter the big leagues. Or come to our labs, and learn from – and rub shoulders with – your idols and maybe you’ll make it just like them. Or come to the Gotham’s Film Week and pitch your film to table upon table of decision makers… one might bite. Or come to IDFA or Hot Docs and pitch in front of a crowded, angst-provoking room of people to a small cadre of commissioning editors… who mainly are there looking for anything else other than what’s being pitched. 
Not that I hold any of these people in low-regard for offering these things – or the zillions of unnamed ones like them – because I’ve done it too, when I ran nonprofits that supported filmmakers. And I support Sundance and all of these places. The underlying ethos of almost everyone offering access to this dream, including most of the faculty of these schools (I’m not so sure about the Deans and other admins) is to help people get a leg up in an industry that’s hard to break into. And those who are offering it to those who have been historically excluded from this field, are doing god’s work, so to speak (more need to be doing this part). But they are also feeding the myth machine at the same time. 
That’s the rub. It’s hard to work in the dream factory, and keep it going, without perpetuating the myths at the same time. It becomes egregious when it becomes a profit machine, and when it gets separated from the reality of today’s art and business. The myth that you can just get into Sundance (or Cannes, or Columbia, or insert any name here), and make it in this industry can be countered by more information sharing – of the type I try to do here, or that Rebecca Green does over at Dear Producer, or Scott Macaulay does as editor at Filmmaker Magazine, which regularly updates folks on the good and the bad of the business. But what Columbia and other film schools like them are doing feels more egregious because it’s just so disconnected from what anyone – or at least anyone who isn’t already rich – should ever think of doing. And they know it. 
One of the only jobs I’ve ever applied to in the past ten years was to run a film school (to remain unnamed). This particular school had a great program for bringing in low-income students, a generous financial aid package, and a lot of diversity in its demographics, which is what made it appealing to me. But when I met with the Dean who I’d report to, they made it very clear that the goal wasn’t to do more of that, but instead to bring in more “rich foreign students who could afford full freight” or those who would take loans to do the same. It needed to become more of a profit center, and the entire discussion was around those strategies, none of my ideas for how to make it better at preparing the students for the real world of the business (and the art, mind you). I didn’t get that job, and I’m glad I dodged that bullet. I'm quite sure that mind-set is common among leaders at all of these schools.
Whether one should go to film school or just go make a film is an old and tired debate. My take has always been that if you can afford it, film school is worth it just for the connections you make – people you might work with for the rest of your life, if you do the schooling right. But no, no one needs to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t own to break into the business – and they never did. NYU, for example, talks about its famous alumni, like Scorsese. But back when Scorsese went to NYU, the education was mainly watching films and talking about them, reading criticism, and getting access to a Steenbeck down in a basement, an Arri or two, and a few Nagra recorders. Not much else. And the tuition was much lower – as were the costs for making your first film. 
Circling back to the article – it spent so much time dissecting the royal rip-off that is Columbia’s MFA in Film, that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger point of the article – that many other graduate programs are also guilty of becoming profit centers that aren’t actually helping their graduates get better careers. It’s not just film – the dream factory – it’s also a lot of higher education. You don’t need to look far to learn that many people are beginning to disrupt the traditional higher education system. Scott Galloway writes about this quite often. Alternative degree programs, certificates, specialized training without universities, and just learning on the job are all becoming more of the norm – especially outside of the film sector. My hope is that we’ll see more of that innovation come to film soon, because that will help more folks learn the craft and the business – and make more of a difference – than the “education” any $300K can buy from those Ivies.

Stuff I'm Reading


Infrastructure Making for Rock & Roll - The Cannes Artinii Panel
: This past Sunday, I spoke on a panel at the Marché du Film - Festival de Cannes (virtually) about a new film technology, called Artinii, and what it means for the future of film. One of the other panelists was Ted Hope, and he kicked us off in style talking about how technology can enable artistic revolutions (Rock & Roll, but I'd add many others), and how Artinii can help empower new artistic and business practices. The panel should have been called - it's the infrastructure, stupid, because that's what Artinii does - gives a cheap, easy to use infrastructure to community screenings, new ways of running film fests and theaters, and a lot more. The panel was moderated by Wendy Mitchell, Journalist and Film Festival Consultant, and included Ted, myself, Karol Martesko-Fenster of Abramorama, Daniel Baur (CEO and Founder of K5 MEDIA GROUP & INVESTMENT GmbH), and the Artinii team of Vit Krajicek (founder and CEO) and Betty Růžičková (Key Account Manager). The panel was recorded and is now available on YouTube here.

The Collapse of the Windows Panel: I'll be speaking on a panel at the New Directors/New Films Festival in Portugal (not the one in NYC) this coming week on July 22nd at 11am CEST (yes, that's 5am ET...). The panel description: Seismic changes in the media landscape and resulting audience behaviour, which were already undergoing, have been accelerated by the pandemic. Is it time to create a new blueprint for film distribution. How to reach audiences, maximize revenue and release films in a post-pandemic, post-streaming world? What will be the role of the distributor in this new environment? With Nuno Fonseca, from the Portuguese Film Institute (ICA); Gareth Wiley, CEO at Screen Advantage, and me, Moderated by Jorge Pereira, Journalist. You can check out the full conference schedule here, and tickets are free.

Where Have All the Low-Budget Indies Gone? They're disappearing as a result of a few factors, says Anthony Kaufman in Filmmaker Magazine. It's partly because IATSE, the union, has gotten more aggressive and that is raising budgets, and also because of some changes in the SAG low-budget agreement, but it's also because of the shift in how the SVODs are buying and financing films. And it's not good for the sector, as this is often the starting zone for the next crop of up & coming talent. 

French Cinemas to Require 'Health Pass:' as should we all: France has decided that all venues where more than 50 people gather - including cinemas - must require proof of vaccination and/or a recent test from all patrons. As the variants continue to wreak havoc, we're going to likely see more of these requirements in smart countries. I wish we'd see it here, too. It's easy, it's smart, and it makes everything that much safer. Deadline reports.

Navigating Music Curation & Licensing for your Documentary: Realscreen has this great article for new filmmakers on how to go about licensing music for your film, and the importance of a music supervisor - preferably one you bring onto the film early - in making sure you fulfill your vision and stay on budget. Of course it's good, because it's written by Aurelia Belfield, an actual music supervisor, who works at Trailblazer Studios - and Eric Johnson, who also works there, clued me in to this article.

Netflix Revenue Moves Post Covid: The Quick Takeaway: While some predict Netflix will turn to ad-supported streaming, the fact that they’re making moves in gaming and VR indicates it’s not happening anytime soon. Recent research pointed out “a dramatic slowing in Netflix’s subscription growth.” So what will Netflix do to keep their revenue expanding? Forbes writer Mike Vorhaus has some ideas, including: (1) raising the cost of a monthly subscription; (2) limit sharing of passwords; (3) “add free content that is advertising supported or even create a branded Advertising Supported Video on Demand (AVOD) service”; (4) “add sports content and charge a supplement for sports content”; (5) “add games that would generate advertising, in-app purchase, or supplemental charges for gaming content”; (6) and maybe even create a platform with creator tools where users can make videos, audio, and games, thus placing Netflix in direct competition with YouTube and TikTok. While Vorhaus shares Wall Street analyst, Michael Nathanson’s predictions about Netflix moving to ad-supported streaming, I just don’t see it happening anytime soon, if ever, especially as the SVOD giant seems to be making moves in gaming and virtual reality instead –– just this past week, Netlix signed a deal with TV producer Shonda Rhimes. “Netflix...said the Rhimes partnership includes the opportunity to exclusively produce and distribute potential gaming and VR content.” 
Branded Content
How NOT to do branded content deals: Juul Rented A Scientific Journal For a Month To Spread Glorified Marketing. TAKEAWAY: The manufacture of science through the hijacking of a scientific process is an old story. What’s new here is how freaking blatant it is. According to Karl Bode in TechDirt, “Buried in a New York Times report on the looming FDA decision [to ban most Juul products in the U.S] was an interesting nugget: namely that [Juul] had paid $51,000 for a month of favorable coverage in the American Journal of Health Behavior: " paid $51,000 to have the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior devoted to publishing 11 studies funded by the company offering evidence that Juul products help smokers quit.” What’s more, “of the 26 named co-authors on the 11 studies Juul funded and included in the journal, every last one was financially linked to Juul in some capacity” 
Not cool Juul, and not cool American Journal of Health Behavior –– way to spit in the face of the scientific process and its dissemination. Even sadder, I’m betting that most of the journal’s readers didn’t know about the massive conflict of interest when they read all those articles, and the impacts of that not-knowing are real. And EVEN SADDER, “only three people at the journal found [the blaring conflict of interest] gross or disqualifying (or at least were willing to act on those beliefs) [making] it very clear how normalized this sort of stuff has become.” The whole thing represents the scientific community’s “apathy to the steadily eroding line between expertise (journalism, academia, science) and marketing and lobbying."

5 THINGS BRANDS SHOULD KNOW TO PREPARE FOR THE OLYMPICS. The QuickTakeaway: In order to make an impact on virtual Olympic spectators, Brands have to be sensitive about where the world is at with COVID, abide by strict International Olympic Committee rules, and creatively cater to younger audiences. No thanks to COVID-19, the Tokyo Summer Olympics (Jul 23 - Aug 8) won’t be open to the public. This means Brands will have to get creative and be careful about how to bring the Olympics (and their brand) to the people, rather than the other way around. Ilyse Liffreing writes in AdAge about five strategies to do this. First and foremost, brands can’t come off as too celebratory, the article cautions –– though 70% of Americans are vaccinated, the pandemic is still wreaking havoc and brands have to be sensitive about that. Second, non-Olympic partners (brands that aren’t sponsoring the games) need to abide by the rules and regulations set by the International Olympic Committee. For instance, non-partnered brands CANNOT work with, mention, or tweet about olympians, or reference 2021 olympic iconography (i.e the Tokyo Tower) in their marketing. Third, brands need to connect with Gen Zers, but this comes with challenges: A survey finds that for the most part, Gen Zers will be watching the games (or clips of the games) on TikTok and YouTube. They’re hungry for narrative-driven content, behind-the-scenes footage, and japanese culture-related content. Brands have to be able to cater to them on their platforms. Gen Zers are also some of the hardest to reach, with 78% saying that “a brand sponsoring the U.S. Olympic team would not influence their decision to purchase products or services.” Brands should also know that fans are interested in watching both men and women compete (“insights found that 66% of U.S. fans are passionate about gender equality.”). (emphasis mine) And while we're on this Olympics subject, the WSJ also had a good article about how sponsors are getting screwed in Tokyo, and what they're trying to do about it. Check it out here.

What is the Metaverse thing? The NYT has a pretty good article introducing the concept of the metaverse and what that means, and how it might be built. If you are new to the subject, I think it's as good of an intro as any I've read yet. It's a trendy term these days, but it's basically what the net (or cyberspace) was always supposed to be by now. 

Cuban Artists - especially Rappers - are Leading the Protests in Cuba - The WSJ (again) on how artists are leading the protests in Cuba. If you ever wonder whether art can make a difference, here's some proof.

Osso VR raises $27 million to turn surgery into a video game. Virtual Reality (VR) technology has arrived in the operating room. According to TechCrunch, Osso VR partnered with Johnson & Johnson and other medical devices giants to “upend modern surgical instruction with a virtual reality-based solution that allows surgeons to interact with new medical devices in 3D space, “performing” a surgery over and over on a digital cadaver from the comfort of anywhere they have enough room to stretch out their arms.” Surgeons will be able to collaborate in real time with medical assistants, just like a multiplayer video game. Pretty cool, but in my opinion, we need to couple these kinds of innovations with the more important work that needs to be done for vulnerable populations that rely on our (broken) healthcare system the most.

TikTok blocked creators from using 'Black Lives Matter' in bios: TikTok has failed to curb hate speech on their platform. What’s more, assertions of Black pride, Black protest, Black struggle, and Black identity have been barred. The Hill reports that the social media giant “has reportedly blocked users of its Creator Marketplace from being able to use words and phrases including… "Black Lives Matter", [“Black success”, “Pro-Black”, and “I am a Black man”] in their bios, flagging the words as "inappropriate content."” At the same time, a Black TikTok creator found that phrases like “pro-white” and “supporting white supremacy” were allowed on the platform. For a company that profits so much off of Black culture and expression, this is a complete disgrace. TikTok’s inability to restrict hate speech and their erasure or Blackness comes after Black TikTok users “decided to go on an indefinite “strike,”choosing not to choreograph dances to popular songs after white users of the platform were accused of taking moves from Black users without offering credit.” 

“Big Instagram and TikTok changes mean you’ll see longer videos, fewer friends” and a lot of “App homogeneity: According to the Seattle Times, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said recently, “We’re no longer a photo-sharing app,”... He explained that over the next six months, [instagram] will start experimenting with different types of video – “full screen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video” – [Mosseri] explicitly acknowledged TikTok and YouTube as competition. What’s more, “TikTok is giving users the option to film and share up to three minutes of video — much more time than its original 60-second limit — in a move it says will allow for better storytelling and more entertainment.” “With the changes, Instagram will look more like TikTok, and TikTok more like YouTube.” But do consumers really want this? While the CEO’s seem to be confident, users reportedly enjoy Instagram as ‘the photo-sharing’ app and aren’t keen about their feeds getting bombarded with video content from people they don’t know or care about. And TikTok users feel that TikTok’s charm, once a hub for ‘small creators’ putting out short-form content, is lost. Read more in: "Instagram’s pivot to video marks the end of social media as we know it" by Sarah Manavis in the New Statesman.
Like This Newsletter? Subscribe & Past Issues
Copyright © 2021 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.