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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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New Year's Wish List

Dec 21, 2022

What I’d Like to See in ‘23
I stopped making predictions for the next year when Covid took a wrecking ball to every industry – it became impossible to predict what might come next. My last one was in 2019 and some of those held up okay. In 2021, I had questions for the New Year, with my first being whether Sundance would cancel (it would), and my last being a bit of a hint towards today’s column. 
This year, I have a list of the things I’d like to see happen in 2023. These aren’t predictions, some would take more than one year to come to fruition, and some aren’t new to readers of this newsletter, but these are the things I hope people might start doing in 2023.
Producer’s Collectives – Independent producing is always hard, but it’s gotten tougher as of late. One of the problems is the continued reliance on the one-off model. Sure, every producer has multiple projects in various stages of development, but the funding models are largely set up on single projects. I’ve long thought that it would be smarter for a roster of strong producers to put in collectively and raise funds across a slate of their projects – and the investors and producers would all participate in the successes of that slate together. The best indie producers seem to have a track record of one hit for every 10-12 movies (anecdotally), so why not have 6 producers with two projects each, raising funds across the slate as a group and everyone crossed into the totality of the projects. There are other efficiencies to be had, and if done right, there could even be package deals to be explored for their distribution and marketing as well.
Roll-Up – I’ve been talking about the need for this for quite some time, both in the newsletter and behind the scenes, but think we need it more than ever going into 2023. There are many struggling mid-sized distributors, and even those doing okay are not exactly big enough to make a big dent in the market. There’s also many struggling exhibitors, and throughout the years, some of the most successful distributors have had an exhibition component or background. A smart roll-up of a few of these places and some vertical integration might just be the ticket to greater success. You’d have the product, the screens and the footprint to bring a package of films to a wide enough audience to ensure more digital success. Of course, you could couple this with the collective idea above, but that starts to become a little unwieldy. But given that the major streamers have no interest in the smaller arthouse films, there’s a gap in the market that needs bigger solutions and I am convinced this could be one of them.
A New Docker’s Tour – One of my earliest jobs in the film business was at the IFP, and while I was there, the organization was running the Docker’s Classically Independent Film Tour, which I only recently learned was the brain-child of Gary Meyer. There were a few incarnations of this tour, but essentially a major brand sponsored a curated tour of indie films to a select set of markets as a traveling film fest. And as an IFP employee, we got some free pants out of it – and trust me, as poor, underpaid nonprofit employees that was a highlight of our year as none of us could afford them otherwise (!). I’ve been arguing lately that more brands need to skip the filmmaking and think more about the film curating, and this is a good historic example to look back to for inspiration. A well-run tour of indie and arthouse films (sure, throw some shorts and even brand funded ones in there, too) would be able to get more attention and buzz, break through the noise, bring some good vibes to the brand, and likely sell as a package to one of the streamers. Another gap in the market looking for a smart brand to take the lead.
Funding to Experiment with Replacements for Theatrical: In a recent article for Filmmaker Magazine about the release of several Sundance films in 2022, Anthony Kaufman quotes a producer saying, “I still don’t know if anyone has solved the issue of distinguishing a film for audiences without a theatrical component.” Bingo, that’s the issue. Few films are working theatrically, but we haven’t found a better way to break through the noise to get some attention for these titles without a theatrical release. And we need these solutions because theatrical is great and all that, but it’s getting harder to realize and many screens might disappear in the next year or two as the sector struggles and focuses on the biggest titles for assured revenues. The problem is, the entire business was built around theatrical, and no one has figured out how to get that buzz when you are only online, in fests, and on demand. We need a lot of experimentation, and this will take investments of capital on risky bets. To me, this is an area ripe for underwriting from both foundations and brands. Maybe together. 
Brand collaboration for impact – Ok, another one I’ve been going on about for a bit. But all you brand folks, get with the program. No one else thinks they must be the sole funder of an impact documentary. In the regular world, an impact doc has multiple funders, and many of them also care about the cause and have ways to help the impact campaign. You have not just money and the desire to have an impact, but the means to get attention for these films via your brand marketing. If you do it together, the buzz and the impact will be even greater. Outdoor brands- shame on you, because you all care about the same things, but never collaborate to have greater impact. Get started in 2023, and I recommend you do it around DEI outdoors while you’re at it.
More Data: We need data to help us figure out what’s working, what truly isn’t working (not just what we think isn’t working) and what could help things work better. But we have very little of it. We need more studies and in-depth data dives on multiple areas, here’s just a few. People complain about great films not getting distributed well enough. Let’s look and see if that’s true, maybe by analyzing how many critically acclaimed films aren’t getting picked up? And what are their release patterns and trends? Where are the gaps? Brands keep asking what’s my ROI? Well, let’s collaborate to develop KPI’s everyone should be measuring and make new ones we can all tap into. Let’s expand our studies on DEI to include representation of disability (a point brought up to me recently by XXX) behind and in front of the lens – and what those audiences want, because they’re a sizable audience.  Let’s bring back things like the Transparency Project and see what’s being spent to make films, what’s being spent to buy them, and what’s coming back to producers and their investors. There are thousands of other things to study, and this is just a start. 
And let’s solve the single biggest issue facing indie film – the gap between cost to produce and what the market can bear: That data could also help us figure out how to solve the biggest recurrent issue in the field, which is summed up best in this quite from Kaufman’s Filmmaker Magazine article mentioned above: 
“I think we all have to adjust our expectations about what these films can sell for and what they can do in the market,” says IFC Films president Arianna Bocco. “It’s a tricky situation because, while costs may have gone up to make movies, buyers aren’t going to spend more just because the filmmakers spent more money to make them.”
This is not a new problem, and it seems to come up cyclically. It’s here again now – buyers aren’t paying what films cost, and that’s partly because the ROI for them isn’t big enough, meaning neither is the audience… or what will be paid by streamers for reaching that audience. But we can’t start to solve for that if we don’t have the data to show how big this gap is, or how frequent we hit it, or what might be done in terms of marketing to change it. 
Those are seven of the things I’m hoping for in 2023 – now tell me what you’re hoping for?

Stuff I'm Reading

Sundance/Slamdance Housing: If you are heading to Park City this year for Sundance, Slamdance, Brand Storytelling or another event, and don't yet have your housing, check out the Facebook Group dedicated to that. (BN)

The New Netflix Ad-Supported Tier isn't Too Popular (Yet): According to Antenna, an analytics firm, as quoted in the WSJ, "The plan accounted for 9% of new Netflix sign-ups in the U.S. during the month. Some 57% of subscribers to the ad-supported tier in the first month were people re-joining the service or signing up for the first time, while 43% downgraded from pricier plans," Netflix claims it's still in the crawl stage, but others suggest things aren't going as planned. The WSJ has the report. (BN)

Peak TV Has Peaked: This NYT article by John Koblin has made the rounds, but IYMI, Koblin does a decent job of describing the slow-down in orders for new series on the major streamers, as they all start making budget cuts. Giving some numbers, "The number of adult scripted series ordered by TV networks and streaming companies aimed for U.S. audiences fell by 24 percent in the second half of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to Ampere Analysis, a research firm. Compared with 2019, it is a 40 percent drop." And this here is the money quote, summing up what I've been hearing (emphasis added):

Jay Carson, the creator of the Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show,” and who currently has several projects in development at outlets like FX and Peacock, said that his talent representatives had warned him in recent months that it was a “blood bath of a market.” “They will love and believe in the project and know the material and package are strong, but they’ll tell you that right now if you take it out, you’ll end up like the guys in the opening scene of ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” he said." Read the full article here. (BN)
Branded Content

USPS documentary ‘Dear Santa’ lands a spinoff on Hulu: A couple years ago the United States Postal Service partnered with UM (global media agency) to create an award-winning branded documentary called Dear Santa, about the USPS’ Operation Santa initiative, where postal workers answer childrens’ letters addressed to Santa that’ve ended up in USPS mailboxes. On Dec 19, USPS and UM premiered a spinoff series on Hulu aptly called Dear Santa, The Series which features 6 episodes highlighting the stories of different USPS workers and volunteers through last year’s Operation Santa. Dear Santa — the film and the series — was a first stab at branded film by the government agency, but we can expect more to come. Sabrina Sanchez for PRWeek has the news. (GSH) Side Notes: The important thing the team did here was to make something seasonal and (no pun intended) evergreen. This one can come back and be something new, or repeatable every year. Second, they started with a great director, Dana Nachman, which made the first one something people would want to watch. (BN)


OpenAI releases Point-E, an AI that generates 3D models: This week OpenAI released Point-E, a machine learning system that can create 3-D models in under 2 minutes by generating point clouds (hundreds of data points) to represent a shape. Just like text to image models, users can use text commands to get Point-E to spit out any given digital object. It’s nowhere near perfect (objects are often grainy or misshapen), but it can produce samples with incredible speed. Once improved upon, the AI tool will likely be applied to generate real-world 3-D objects and be used in game and animation workflows. Kyle Wiggers for Techcrunch has the news. (GSH)

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