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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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Can Film TikTok Save Film?

Films, filmmakers and those who show films all need an audience base, and that’s why people often refer to Hollywood as a marketing machine. But the reality is that aside from Hollywood blasting hundreds of millions of dollars to get “butts in seats” or “eyeballs on screens” with each release – starting from scratch, each and every time mind you – we’ve actually kinda sucked at marketing and failed miserably at owning an audience. And this is doubly or quintupley true for indie and arthouse film. I often say in my brand film lectures that the film industry has figured out how digital effects production and distribution, but we still fail at how it’s changed marketing, and that’s why we should work with brands – because they “get it.” This is especially evident when you take a moment to consider #FilmTikTok.
What, you haven’t done that lately? I have; I’m obsessed with it, and I hate social media more than most people hate root canals. Every time that I look at Film TikTok, I see a lot to hope for, but also a gigantic, wasted opportunity for film – to market movies, to engage younger audiences (which we so desperately need), to fill seats and capture attention, to increase our festival audiences, and to just maybe, create a new paradigm.
TikTok will likely fall off our radar before long, and some argue it already has – right now, the old folks love Clubhouse (the loud LinkedIn), and my younger friends are probably exploring twenty things I haven’t heard of yet. But right now, it remains extremely popular across ages and time zones (where it isn’t banned). If you haven’t yet explored it – which seems more common an absence among my film friends than say, my nieces, nephews and well, society  - I can do no better intro to both TikTok and #FilmTikTok than this video:

Seriously, if you do nothing else, go watch that video and then think about what you’ve been missing. And if you want to go further, go watch the creators she mentions. Or you can go further still, and start exploring different hashtags and see what you find – and don’t – when it comes to film.
This is an old story in two senses – I’ve been wanting to write about #FilmTikTok for six+ months now, but couldn't articulate my mixed thoughts on it (I started to, here). But it’s also old in the sense that we in the film world are repeating the mistakes of missing the rise of every other internet phenomenon from YouTube to Facebook and every/anything else you can think of now. To this day, you can search for most of your favorite filmmakers (or distributors, or festivals, or theaters) on Facebook or Twitter and they’re barely there. They may be absent, or at best, most of them are broadcasting not participating in the conversation. I am guilty of this as well (like I said…root canal, but I’m not selling tickets), but it’s amazing how many film people spend hours on social media for their personal lives, but barely use it appropriately for their work ones.
But if you want to see a real wasteland, search for anything or anyone related to film’s actual profile on TikTok and you’ll find something fascinating – most of them have a page because some intern helped them grab their handle, but they won’t have posted any content or followed anyone. But if you search for that same company’s name, in many cases there will be an untended, un-engaged-with set of hashtags from their fans.

My favorite example… A24 is one of the hippest film companies on the planet. They have zero presence on TikTok. But if you search for #A24 as of this moment, there are over 154M views. If you add similar tags like #a24film, #a24films, #a24aesthetic, and so on, you are looking at over 200M videos. Sure, some of them are glomming onto the hashtag, but most of them are actually about A24 films. Yet the good folks at A24 have not posted any of their own videos, and don’t seem to actively engage this community at all.

Or take a look at this past week’s Sundance Film Festival. Again, no real engagement coming from the actual festival, but… millions of posts are hashtagged Sundance or Sundance Film Festival. And one of their sponsors – Audi – was smart enough to engage some film influencers with free passes – check these out:

But weirdly, they don’t have their own Audi accounts pushing Sundance, and I can’t find any real presence for any of the films, distributors, sponsors, participating satellite venues, etc. (I am sure I missed someone, and please fill me in if that’s true).  I know the folks at Sundance were just a little busy pulling off a virtual fest – and it worked very well (kudos to my friends there) – but it seems odd to me that they invested so much in the New Frontier and VR (which no one else seems to use other than the artists making it), but didn’t use the one tech people are actually using obsessively right now.
Anyway, you can't blame Sundance, because you can do this all day – over a period of check-ins, I’ve probably spent more than 24 hrs looking at not finding TikTok accounts for almost anyone in the film world. But while no one is creating hashtags for #sonyclassics (1200 have, actually), the only folks here who are actually engaging this audience are the majors – Netflix, the studios, etc. Take a look at just a few of the Netflix posts, or Amazon.
It seems odd to me that film is a moving image culture, filled with people who know how to tell creative stories, and others who know how to market them, or show them to audiences, but few of them seem to be participating in the one social media form that is actively trying to engage with film.
You could chalk this up to budgets – maybe distributors, theaters, festivals and others don’t have time and money to do this, but... I have been arguing to friends that festivals and theaters need to spend as much on their online presence as they did on their physical ones – it’s the minimum requirement of our age. And if you can’t afford it – guess what, you don’t get to be a festival or cinema anymore. Or be a head of marketing at a distributor. And part of this is investing as much in your TikTok presence as you do in say – your travel budget to other festivals to acquire films, or at least your pizza budget for volunteers!

And it doesn't take much money. I’m pretty sure Jake Gorst and Mainspring Films isn’t rolling in the dough, yet they’ve got a super successful account devoted mainly to film restoration and clips from old home movies. Here’s one devoted to scanning films, and another where they reframe footage to fit the vertical format. (both of these were given to me by the same person who made the Rise of Film TikTok video above). So you don’t need a ton of money – or even the freshest content – to build a smart profile that people want to engage with here.
But this is not really about a missed marketing opportunity. Or about calling anyone to task for not TikTokking enough (I don't either). My concern here is more fundamental, or existential. There’s an entire generation (or three) that is engaging with the medium – they love film, they love real cinema. They want to be part of it. They’re participating with “it” even when it doesn’t participate back. They are the future of our audience. They’re our future filmmakers (they would consider themselves to already be there). They’re our future programmers, and marketers, and they’re definitely already our critics. And what do they get back from us? Silence.
If we don’t want to become Opera, we can’t afford to neglect this audience – we should be doing everything we can to engage them and participate in this conversation.  That’s why it’s called Participatory Culture, right? I mean, sure it’s great that people love A24 films enough to make fun TikTok’s about their favorite A24 films. Free publicity is always good. And I’m only picking on them here because they’re so damned good at every other form of social media. But they’re not just missing a great marketing opportunity that might increase their PVOD take dramatically (who knows til someone tries it?); they – and we  - are missing an opportunity to increase the audience for quality films.

(that's @Bobi and @theerikacruz above)

TikTok creators - like Youtube ones - consider themselves creatives akin to filmmakers. Studies have shown that the single greatest predictor of whether someone will become a ticket buyer for classical music is whether they learned to play an instrument when young. They have a more visceral connection. They also tend to explore a wider variety of music, because they understand it better. In theory, this applies to film and TikTok as well. As Film TikTokers and other creative TikTokers engage w the medium they are becoming more viscerally connected to visual media, and as you can see from the video above – many of them are exploring more quality films. They might be more open to visiting Criterion or FilmForum to watch a classic film, an arthouse film or similar if they were engaged by them more directly on the platform (in the right way, of course). Yes, they might do this anyways, but given how much we debate how to increase audiences for quality cinema in this field, we should definitely be trying our best to engage this audience and try to turn some percentage of them into audiences for our films, our festivals, our cinemas. It’s not just good marketing, it might just help save the sector by building an audience of engaged cinephiles.

Stuff I'm Reading

Branded Content

Own The Room from Shopify to premiere on NatGeo/Disney+ Great news for a Sub-Genre client - Shopify Studios - whose film Own The Room will premiere on March 12th on Disney+ as part of the NatGeo lineup. This has been in the works for a long time, another postponement from Covid-19, as the film was set to premiere back at Hot Docs in 2020. The film was produced by my friend Rupert Maconick of Saville, and directed by the amazing director duo of Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster (who did Science Fair). It's also a project where the brand is very low-touch- you won't see a lot of logos, and no product placement - it's a real film, that happens to showcase the ethos of the brand. Kudos also to another friend - Colin McRae of Shopify who helped make this happen. 

Death of the Artist: Elizabeth Strickler of GSU's CMII turned me onto this new book by William Deresiewicz - The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech. I just finished reading it, and I have many issues with it, but I still recommend it as a great summary of how artists of all type are struggling right now, and what some are doing to find creative ways to survive. He does a great job of explaining the key problems we're all facing. My issues are mainly that he pins too much of the blame on tech, and especially piracy, when artists were struggling before Napster, and many of the problems he lists wouldn't be solved if piracy were to disappear tomorrow. But, it's a good read, and if you don't have time to read a whole book, you can watch this video instead. 
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