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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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Not a Quiet Place in the House:
and the logo launch that dreams are made of...


June 2, 2021

For once a good news newsletter! Cinema-going is not dead. That was the conclusion everyone came to after the performance of Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II at the box office this past weekend. That, and the fact that Alamo Drafthouse emerged from bankruptcy and is planning five new theaters. Not that anyone reading this newsletter ever doubted theaters would come back, mind you, but a ton of pundits were writing them off as permanently damaged goods just months ago. My, how quickly they all forgot about that. 
But now we’ll have to suffer through months of arguments over how long of a window we need – Paramount (A Quiet Place IIsays 45 days - ““We crunched a lot of numbers to get to the conclusion that across five years worth of film [releases], 98% of box office is done in 45 days,” but Disney is happy with day and date with a premium price to Disney+ subscribers. Guess what – they’re both right, kinda. As Tom Nunan says in Forbes: ““Paramount proved that movie-goers will still rush in if a title has enough going for it, which A Quiet Place II certainly provides. Disney showed that a movie can perform quite handsomely, even if it’s offered the same day via its streaming platform.”
Paramount’s A Quiet Place II  made close to $60 million in the box office, while Cruella only made around $30 million. BUT, these numbers don’t account for streaming. Forbes’ Tom Nunan writes, “it’s highly likely that the combination of digital purchases of the 101 Dalmations adaptation, along with the weekend box-office opening, will come close to matching, if not eclipsing, John Krasinski’s thriller sequel.” 
I agree, and I’d go further, and say that as great as Quiet did, it is leaving money on the table. I’m super happy that a sizeable number of people are ready to go back to movie theaters and dine in restaurants and stand in line for Smalls to listen to jazz. But I’m not. Call me over-cautious, whatever. But I would pay a premium, pretty close to the $30 bucks Disney is charging for Cruella, to watch Quiet at home now, even though I know it would be better on the big screen. I’d do the same for La Piscine, which is having a long run at the Film Forum and other theaters before it gets the Criterion treatment. But by the time it gets there, I’ll have forgotten that I want to see it again, and they’re losing my money, along with that of thousands of potential customers – just judging by the convos on the interwebs. Being pristine about it is not bringing more butts to the distanced seats, no matter how much theaters want to believe that. They’re just getting the same butts they’d get anyways. Can’t we all just get along already and end this windowing debate? Do some profit-sharing and let the audience decide. 
Anyhoo, this is not a diatribe against theaters article, because I’m glad they finally have some proof that once people started to feel safe again, and there was something worth watching, they’d go back to the big screen. And people went back – with shows reportedly selling out all over the place on Memorial Day weekend. It didn’t hurt that it was windy, rainy and cold in NYC, keeping people off the beach. If it weren’t for (needed) distancing rules being in place, we would undoubtedly have seen even bigger numbers being reported. 
Add that to the Alamo Drafthouse news – which to be fair, is barely news, since they said they’d be re-emerging when they went into bankruptcy – and it was quite a positive week for cinema-going. Alamo founder Tim League said to Variety: ““This is likely the first time in Alamo Drafthouse history that every single film for every single showtime for a theater has been sold out across a four day period.” Some people would add AMC to this list, but they just got lucky that a bunch of Reddit-fueled investors are driving up their stock enough to go through shenanigans, but it may help them take over the Arclight soon. Like their power-grabs or not, they had a great week, too. 
This all adds up to a much better news week than, say that of the new “Warner Bros. Discovery: Shit we Dream Up in Board Meetings” logo launch. Seriously, if this was a winning week for cinema-going, it was a painful one for those proclaiming the future of streaming. Because that there logo debacle is proof that the suits are in control, not anyone with an artistic bone in their body, and that’s not a good sign for the future of that marriage. Wasn’t that merger supposed to be about putting art back into the equation? Guess that didn’t last long – Zaslav is clearly no Bogart… or John Huston (nor Shakespeare). But if we think about this too long, we’ll be questioning not just the value of art, but of reality itself. 
So, let’s just stick with the fact that people are going back to the movies – even while watching them at home – and maybe, just maybe, that’s a good sign for all of us. After a year+ of bad news, I’ll take what I can get. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Maisie Williams Launches FrankFilmClub: Maisie Williams, the actress known from Game of Thrones, has started a podcast with three other women from the film world, and they're reviewing films - everything from little indies to big blockbusters. Mashable has the news and you can get the links here. I hope we see a lot more of these film clubs soon - whether via podcast or other means, because film clubs, curated by a mix of celebs and people who you trust from this business (or other walks of life) could help audiences cut through the noise.

Exquisite Shorts Program: Taking a page from the Surrealist game, filmmaker Sophy Romvari has launched the new shorts specific platform, Exquisite Shorts (how did none of the press catch this reference? Here's Indiewire). She curated the first film, by Isabel Sandoval, and Sandoval will pick the next from the submissions, and so on. A nominal fee is paid to the selected filmmaker, and maybe this will get some traction.

Lessons from HBO Max’s First Year: It's been a year?! Josef Adalian of Vulture has these take-aways: 
• “Strong subscriber growth: [HBO Max] currently boasts 44.2 million U.S. subscribers, a huge 35 percent jump from the roughly 33 million Classic HBO had a year ago. Throw in international subscribers and the number rises to nearly 64 million.” (I would dispute this one, as that includes 33M folks who get it for free).
• “A brilliant same-day movie-premiere strategy: [The move] to have all Warner Bros. 2021 theatricals stream the same day they hit theaters… instantly made Max competitive with Netflix in the big-budget feature-film space.” 
• “The strongest library: Max has assembled the best collection of quality retro content of any other major streamer — period.”
What does the future look like for HBO Max? “Max is behind Netflix, Hulu, and arguably even Peacock when it comes to docuseries and competition reality…. That should change quickly once Discovery and Max share a parent.” Author Josef Adalian suspects Max will receive a ton of new content post-merger, and notes that HBO Max will reach Latin America in late June, meaning millions of more subscribers.

Struum - a Bundled Content Provider-  Launches: There are way too many streaming services, so former Disney and Discovery execs have built a potential solution: “Their upcoming app, Struum (pronounced "stroom," which is "stream" in Dutch), uses a credit-based system… to let subscribers access shows and movies from dozens of niche streaming services… For a monthly fee, users get access to programming from providers including BBC Select, Tribeca, Magnolia Pictures, Cheddar, Indieflix, Filmbox, Cinedigm, Docurama and Revolt in one place, rather than by jumping from app to app.” Struum, founded in April 2020, is expected to launch this month. GM Today (of all places) has the story
Branded Content
REI Launches Co-Op Studios and Short Film Series by Angela Tucker: REI, the outdoor retailer, has launched their Co-Op Studios division and announced a new short film series directed by Angela Tucker. I am biased here, as I helped them build this Studio, and helped a bit on this film project, and it's by a filmmaker I know well, but... it's still news, and it's still pretty awesome. The Studios will be investing in film projects - not just shorts, but also feature narratives and docs, as well as episodic series, and has a slate of podcasts, digital series, a digital magazine and other original content. This particular series, The Trees Remember, is a good example of what they want to support - "Across films, podcasts, and editorial programs, the studio develops and produces stories that entertain, enrich and explore the power of time spent outside, while complementing the co-op’s broader climate and racial equity, diversity, and inclusion commitments."  From the Trees Remember website: "Spanning across 60 years, “The Trees Remember” is a series of compelling, reflective and sometimes humorous short fiction films that feature Black women of different ages growing and thriving in the outdoors — exploring connection through movement, stewardship and grace." Check them out. 

Brand Film Awards: How Brands Went Hollywood during Lockdown: I was on the Brand Film Awards jury again this year, and there was some great work. Check out their site to see all of the winners. Mariah Cooper of PRWeek (they host the awards) writes up a summary: "Brands elevated their cinematic storytelling during the pandemic in an effort to grab consumers’ attention as they shifted to ad-free streaming platforms.” Felipe Ambra, global VP at Corona, and Priyanka Rathore, brand communications manager at KitchenAid say that “branded films aren’t a fad of the pandemic, and should be considered a serious contender for brand awareness in the future.”

McDonalds and BTS deliver exclusive content: Two articles on this one. The first in Adweek, and another in FastCo, showing how McDonalds is co-producing content with celebs to stay culturally relevant. From Shannon Miller in FastCo: "McDonald’s will release never-before-seen digital content featuring BTS over the next four weeks. Fans can view all of the behind-the-scenes clips exclusively on the restaurant’s app. This multi-week content release schedule is a first for the brand, which hopes to hold the collective interest of the fervent fanbase until the deal ends on June 20." 

YouTube announces a $100 Million fund to reward top YouTube Shorts creators over 2021-2022. YouTube, like Snapchat, hopes to draw creators away from Tik Tok, and toward their own platforms (Youtube Shorts, Spotlight...etc). The incentive? Lots of $$. Sarah Perez has the story in TechCrunch, including: "YouTube is giving its TikTok competitor, YouTube Shorts, an injection of cash to help it better compete with rivals... The company expects to dole out money to “thousands” of creators every month." The fund is expected to launch in the next few months. Snapchat, too, is funding creators: They’ve been paying Spotlight creators (Spotlight is a Snapchat video service which looks a lot like Tik Tok) from a $1 million daily pool, and have created several millionaires overnight. 

Why high fashion brands are getting into gaming: To stay relevant, because that's where everyone is now, and it's an obvious next step as people pay "in game" to outfit their avatars. The Drum has the story. For instance, for Gucci’s 100th anniversary, Gucci partnered with Roblox to create an in-game Gucci Garden. Visitors (players) can purchase Gucci items for their avatars with in-game currency. One player purchased Gucci’s limited-edition Dionysus Bag with Bee for the equivalent of $6 and sold it for the equivalent of $800 to another player. Other brands such as Givenchi, Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, and Anna Sui have released collections with Roblox and/or other gaming platforms. 

This New Tool Lets Brands Create Digital Humans That Are More Lifelike Than Ever: Patrick Kulp of Adweek has the story, along with a cool video. Soul Machines, a New Zealand startup, has released new tools to enable companies to more realistically create and customize digital humans. Soul Machines “bills these avatars as solutions for everything from virtual customer service reps and sales assistants to digital brand ambassadors and online bank tellers.” Clients include Nestlé Tollhouse, Procter & Gamble, NBA star Carmelo Anthony, and Maryville University.” These 'digital people' can even interact with content. “Cross (the founder) believes the next big chapter for the company is better integration into the so-called “metaverse,” the term for collective digital spaces in which people can move around and interact via their own avatars, like the Roblox gaming system."

Epic Games launches Unreal Engine 5 early access, shows Great 3D scenes: Just after the antitrust trial against Apple, Epic Games announced the imminent launch of Unreal Engine 5, “the latest version of the company’s tools for making games with highly realistic 3D animations.” Epic released a stunning video (view in article) featuring the Engine’s capacity to recreate Utah’s Moab desert rock formations. Dean Takahashi has the story in VentureBeat.
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