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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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Solutions for Indie Film from ChatGPT

Dec 8, 2022

I've written before about the rise of AI and its importance to indie film. And this past week, my feed has been overtaken by people experimenting with the newest toy – ChatGPT – which is both pretty awesome, and a bit of a toy. Some people think it's going to kill creativity, others think it will give us amazing creative tools, some think it will kill professions like journalism, and others worry their students will just use it to cheat. Ian Bogost sums up most of these arguments, and explains why he thinks it's all bullshit in this Atlantic article, which I highly recommend. You can also just go sign up for ChatGPT here and try it for yourself, which is what I did this week. I’ve also been busy as heck with client work this week, so I thought – why don’t I just use ChatGPT to write my column? Wouldn't it be nice if a robot could do this for me?
After some experimentation, I am pretty sure that would be possible, with some smart prompts, but I didn’t even have time to make those smart prompts. But what it returned was a bit uncanny. Here are some sample answers from a robot to my generic but pertinent indie film questions, unfiltered and unedited. They’re pretty good. I would argue that nothing here is game-changing or new, but it’s as smart as anything I’ve said recently, or any other film pundit that I follow. Meaning, the AI probably cribbed from all of us, and that we’re all pretty robotic and saying the same old things. 
That said – I did this same experiment with my wife, who is an epidemiologist (MD, MPH, EIS Officer, and more degrees than any of us losers arts folks), where she asked common epi questions, and the AI failed miserably. First, all of the AI answers below took a split second for a response, whereas her questions led to entire minute long gaps while the AI looked up some answers, and the responses were “big nothingburgers” to her. Or as she said – this is what McKinsey would say based on Wikipedia. I can’t argue with that, but… this is the first year of this tech’s public launch, it’s early, no one ever thought McKinsey was super smart but they make a ton of money, and the solutions for indie film might be as easy as McKinsey + Wikipedia aided by some AI, so I’ll bet on the future being solved by ChatGPT or its successor before me or any of my colleagues figure it out. 
Anyways, here’s some samples, with italics/underline added to what I think are good ideas:
Prompt: How can we make a new streaming service that caters to independent and arthouse film fans?
Bot: One way to create a new streaming service that caters to independent and arthouse film fans is to focus on offering a diverse range of content that includes a wide variety of independent and arthouse films from around the world. This could involve partnering with independent filmmakers and production companies to secure the rights to their films, as well as working with film festivals and other organizations to showcase the best in contemporary independent and arthouse cinema. Additionally, the streaming service could offer exclusive content, such as behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with filmmakers, and special events, to engage and connect with its audience. It could also feature a robust recommendation system and curate personalized lists of recommended films for each user. Ultimately, the key to success for a new streaming service focused on independent and arthouse films would be to offer a unique and compelling selection of content and create a community of passionate film fans.
Prompt: What are the barriers to distributing independent films today?
Bot: There are several barriers to distributing independent films today. Some of the most significant barriers include the high cost of distribution, the limited number of distribution outlets for independent films, and the strong competition from larger studios with more resources. Additionally, the rise of streaming services has made it more difficult for independent films to reach audiences, as these services tend to focus on producing and distributing their own content. Overall, the main challenges facing independent filmmakers today are finding an audience and getting their films distributed widely enough to be financially successful.
Prompt: what are the solutions to this problem? 
Bot: One solution to the problem of distributing independent films is for filmmakers to take a more active role in promoting and distributing their own work. This can involve building an online presence and using social media to engage with potential audiences, as well as reaching out to local theaters and other venues to try and secure screening opportunities. Filmmakers can also form partnerships with other independent filmmakers and producers to pool resources and create collective distribution strategies. Another solution is for independent filmmakers to seek out alternative distribution outlets, such as online platforms and streaming services that are more open to showcasing a diverse range of content. Ultimately, the key to overcoming the barriers to distributing independent films is to be persistent and creative in finding ways to get their work seen by as many people as possible.
Prompt: How can we include diversity into this mix?
Bot: One way to include diversity into a new streaming service focused on independent and arthouse films is to make a conscious effort to showcase a wide range of films from diverse perspectives and backgrounds. This could involve seeking out and promoting independent and arthouse films made by filmmakers from underrepresented groups, such as women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, the service could offer a variety of films from different countries and cultures, to provide viewers with a rich and diverse range of perspectives and experiences. Another way to include diversity is to create opportunities for underrepresented filmmakers to showcase their work and connect with audiences through the streaming service. This could involve hosting virtual Q&A sessions, creating a platform for filmmakers to share their insights and experiences, and offering support and resources to help independent filmmakers succeed. Overall, the key to promoting diversity on a new streaming service focused on independent and arthouse films is to be intentional and proactive in seeking out and supporting diverse voices and perspectives.
Prompt: how can someone make a sustainable career as an independent film producer in the US today?
Bot: Making a sustainable career as an independent film producer in the US today can be challenging, due to the high costs of production and distribution, as well as the limited number of outlets for independent films. However, there are several steps that someone can take to improve their chances of success. One approach is to focus on developing a niche or specialty, such as a particular genre, style, or subject matter, that sets your work apart from the competition. This can help you to build a reputation and a following among audiences and industry professionals. Another approach is to build strong relationships with other independent filmmakers, production companies, and distributors, and work together to create collective distribution strategies and support each other's projects. Additionally, you could seek out alternative sources of funding, such as grants, crowd-funding, or private investors, to help finance your projects and reduce your reliance on traditional funding sources. Overall, the key to making a sustainable career as an independent film producer in the US is to be persistent, adaptable, and strategic in building your network and finding ways to finance and distribute your work.
Amen to that last one. Thanks bot, problems solved.

Stuff I'm Reading


White, Male Directors Dominated Early Documentary Streaming Era, Study Finds: "The Lens Reflected" report conducted by the American University’s Center for Media & Social impact (CMSI) examined over 1,200 documentary films made between 2014-2020 and measured the racial and gender identity of their subjects and directors. CMSI additionally compared how different distribution platforms — streaming, cable, and public media — fared in terms of diversity, behind and in-front of the camera. The Hollywood Reporter’s Katie Kilkenny does a great job summarizing their findings, so head to the link for the (concerning, but unsurprising) details. Some key findings are as follows: (1) 78% of documentaries distributed across all three platforms were directed by a white person/team, with 66% of those titles directed by men; (2) Streaming and cable had greater racial inequalities behind the lens (directors…etc) than public media; (3) Across all three platforms men dominated directing roles (71% in streaming and 65% with cable). These numbers signify that our media system is failing us (viewers, creators, and the subjects portrayed onscreen). “There are huge gaps in the stories and lived experiences that we get to see… We need to have serious conversations about how to work together to showcase the many incredible stories we could be seeing in this vastly expanded marketplace for nonfiction storytelling (Caty Borum, principal investigator).” (GSH)  Most important to me (BN), is the final conclusion of the report: "And yet, despite the vocal and visible presence of BIPOC and women filmmakers across the documentary industry, their work is still not reflected in the media marketplace on parallel footing with those of White, men-identifying filmmakers. Something is preventing these talented, financially-resourced makers from getting their work seen, completing distribution and licensing deals and thus, offering their stories to a broad cross-section of audiences. It stands to reason, then, that the end-road decision-makers at festivals and distribution companies need to be engaged in the same structural equity work as pipeline programs. And if social networks and social capital continue to enforce the status quo, then shifting the composition of decision-makers who program, commission and acquire documentary films would also be an important step." (BN)

Kartemquin Films Moves Forward, and Roasts Gordon: Gordon Quinn was one of the founders of Kartemquin Films, the award-winning, trend-setting, all around awesome film collective/nonprofit from Chicago, and he is one of my favorite people in the business (one of the few my wife likes to talk with!). He's stepping back from the artistic leadership role a bit and handing the reins to their new artistic director - Amir George. Documentary Mag ran a great interview with the two (by Anthony Kaufman) about the transition, and I recommend reading about Amir's vision for the future. Gordon, who was just roasted Monday night in Chicago, also speaks about the importance of advocacy, and the public media system. Kartemquin also has a relatively new executive director, Betsy Leonard, who I recently met and a great staff, history and filmmakers - and it looks like a bright future ahead for the organization (brands, take note... they are open for brand storytelling, too). (BN)

Sundance Announced Their Lineup. Everyone is covering it. Use google. See you there. (BN)
Branded Content
Coke, Amazon and Imagine Lunch Brand Shorts for Christmas: Coke has always been associated with a white christmas, and they're doing it again this year with a brand story placement on Amazon, with "Christmas Always Finds its Way." The project is a series of 3 short films, produced by Imagine Entertainment and Prettybird, featuring some top-tier directors telling three holiday themed stories. It looks to me like a paid media buy, as it is launching on Prime via their Ads division, but hey, that's still distribution. Deadline has the report. (BN)

Floqast, an Accounting Software, makes a good comedy series about accountants: I was reading Indiewire the other day and noticed this blurb about a new comedy show about accountants, that is getting good reviews and is going into its second season. What I didn't realize until my buddy Paul Rachman from Slamdance pointed it out to me, is that the series is branded content, produced by Floqast, an accounting software. The series is called PBC, which is an acronym used by accountants for "provided by client." The series was shot by some Slamdance alums, and while I haven't watched it yet, the reviews are good. Tony Maglio for Indiewire has the news. (BN)

Covid Isn't Over: I know no one wants to hear this, but covid ain't over even if we're over it. it's booming again in NYC and LA. I think the best quote I've read about this is from this NYT article, where Barbara Ferrer, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said about the need for masks in these areas, "We’ll wait, but, you know, from my perspective, I wish it was less focused on whether it’s mandatory or whether it’s a strong recommendation (...) What it is, is this is the time for everyone to put their mask back on right now. Not two weeks from now, not four weeks from now. If we want to make a difference and start reducing community transmission, we need to get the mask back on.” (BN)

AI Isn’t Artificial or Intelligent: When we think about AI we tend to imagine a more efficient and productive future where advanced systems have replaced human labor. “But this vision ignores the fact that much of what we think of as “AI” is actually powered by tedious, low-paid human labor, (Chloe Xiang, Vice),” and is in many ways a continuation of exploitative practices — not unlike the history of colonial exploitation. When you use an AI text-to-image app, for example, it feels almost magical, but the reality is that (North-Western) tech giants at the forefront of AI development rely mostly on low-wage workers in poor working conditions from Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to keep the lights on. “Outsourcing these workers is advantageous for big tech companies, not only saving them money, but also making it easier for [them] to avoid strict judicial review (Xiang).” Chloe Xiang for Vice has the full story. (GSH)

Robo Truckers and the AI-Fueled Future of Transport: If you’re interested in learning about how the human-AI workplace relationship develops over time, consider giving Karen Levy’s piece on Wired a read. The takeaway is that there are many shapes that the division of human-AI labor can take. (1) We might be coworkers who help each other complete a task over time. (2) Or we might decide to divide and conquer (human completes X task while AI completes Y task). (3) Cyborg/Hybridization: The human and AI function as one entity with the help of an external device (e.g. Optalert, manufactures glasses that monitor the speed and duration of a trucker’s blinks and assesses their level of fatigue). On this third type of labor division, Levy writes: “[these technologies] represent a distinct and simultaneous threat: a threat of compelled hybridization, an intimate invasion into [the] work and bod[y]... turning worker and machine into an uneasy, confrontational whole.” Yikes.  (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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