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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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Owning Your Film's Destiny

July 8, 2022

The biggest mistake I’ve seen both my brand friends and my indie filmmaker friends making lately has been one of the oldest – not saving enough money to implement any kind of distribution and marketing campaign on their own. This could be as a back-up plan, if they don’t sell their film to an all rights distributor, or to augment a campaign, even if they make a deal, but want to be sure that someone hears about their project. 
I get it, people hope that they’ll sell their film, and a distributor will do the rest. But even in the hypothetical “best case” scenario, that’s often a sale to someone like Netflix, yet they still get lost in the noise. As always, there are exceptions. Maybe you are like Fire of Love, getting a NatGeo deal that includes not just a major broadcast and streaming release, but also a theatrical campaign in 20 countries, that “might be the widest global documentary release of 2022” as my friend Tim Horsburgh put it today, but that’s the exception proving the rule. You can’t count on that kind of love. 
More often, I see films premiering at major film fests (SXSW, Tribeca, etc.) that aren’t getting that kind of deal, and end up a year later with an offer for $15K USD for all (or most) rights, and they must take it because they have no other options. Or they make a deal with Netflix (I’m using them as a stand-in for all streamers), maybe even a deal that covers their budget (unlikely) and a profit (highly unlikely), but it isn’t a big enough priority for Netflix and they get thrown into the queue-gorithmic hell … read never to be seen again. 
It’s a crowded marketplace, and an attention economy. Being distributed doesn’t mean being seen. Or even noticed. You must break through the noise. There are many ways to do that. The old-fashioned way, which still actually works for the most part, and contrary to popular opinion, is to do a theatrical release and build attention and buzz before or during your launch. The newer ways would include smart digital marketing that event-izes your release, even if you don’t do theatrical (or non and semi-theatrical) stuff anymore. And there are myriad hybrids. (How to do this, and how it applies to shorts or episodic, are all other posts). 
You can ensure that happens – as an indie or a brand – by thinking about distribution and marketing (P&A in the film world) early and budgeting for it. But you can’t be sure that happens unless you’ve prepared for it, usually early in the process. As I tell my clients in the brand world – worst case scenario, we don’t need to spend this money, but if we don’t save it, we have no options. For a brand, augmenting a distributor’s campaign – even the best of them (read A24) – this would still be a worthy investment for the film and your brand. So, I’d budget and plan for what we can do to co-market a film even in that scenario. As an indie, you can’t even begin to negotiate without knowing what you could do with the resources you have (which can be money, but also your time, your friends/favors, your mailing list, etc.) if you didn’t think about this before you get in the (zoom) room where the decisions are made. 
This is all old news – those of us in the indie world have been hearing this for many years. But I feel like it’s gotten lost a bit lately, as there was so much froth in the market that people could forget about these fundamentals due to how much was being paid for films, and how bad most indies are at actually implementing any kind of campaign. But as fewer films get these deals anymore, and as the marketplace has gotten so crowded that breaking through the noise is becoming a common issue, I feel like I’m having this conversation again and again, again. And I’m headed to a brand/film conference where I’ll be talking about this topic, so it’s on my mind as of late. 
 If you are an indie, just trying to put every penny on the screen, you have an excuse. But if you are a brand, ostensibly doing all of this film stuff to build your brand and get in front of new audiences, there’s just no excuse anymore, beyond naiveté. And if you’re reading this, you can’t claim that anymore, either. Plan for and budget for the campaign. In fact, if you are a brand or a film trying to have an impact, I’d argue that the film is (almost) an excuse for everything else you can do around the release of the film, but that’s another post. Regardless, if you want anyone to know you exist, and see your film, you’d better be planning and budgeting for that from day one. What’s old is new again. 

Stuff I'm Reading


The Rise of #Gentleminions: Why Gen-Z Is Wearing Suits to See ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru: A new viral TikTok trend/challenge called #Gentleminions is taking movie theaters by storm. Young moviegoers dressed up in suits are heading in hoards to see “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the latest “Despicable Me” spinoff. While Universal expressed their affection for the trend’s pioneers and participants (“To everyone showing up to ‘Minions’ in suits: we see you and we love you”), theaters aren’t so happy. Apparently it’s been hectic during a few screenings, leading a handful of theaters to deny tickets to Gen-Zers in suits. One cinema manager described the trend and its effects as “absolutely heartbreaking”. What’s paradoxical though is that Gen-Zers (particularly young men), are largely responsible for the period of regrowth that theaters have seen in the past few months, according to Variety’s Jackson Kim Murphy. While I’m sure there have been some bad apples, I’ve seen the videos of these ‘Gentleminions’ online and it seems like a pretty entertaining, dare I say wholesome movement. My opinion: The TikTok trend speaks to the immense power of Gen-Z to create change (and a pinch of chaos) and perhaps save an industry that suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jackson Kim Murphy for Variety and Joseph Lee for BBC have the story. (GSH)

How did Minions Topple the World? By Taking it Easy on Copyright: Perhaps it wasn't just the fanboys and the marketing campaigns, says Zack Kotzer at Polygon. He argues that Universal has always taken a laid-back approach to copyright on the Minions, allowing people to make unlicensed merchandise, mash-ups of their own creation, etc. which helped the Minions spread like mad. Contrast this with the Disney approach, which sends the lawyers after every iteration that isn't sanctioned, and you can see his point. Sometimes, not being a copyright troll can help your brand more than being over-protective. (BN)
Branded Content
Las Vegas Sports Betting Giants Roll the Dice on Hollywood Talent: With about half of the country on board or likely to launch online sports betting after a pivotal 2018 Supreme Court ruling, betting firms are turning to content creation to attract consumer cash. Most recently Caesars Entertainment signed a deal with Peyton Manning’s production company to produce video and podcast content. Why? They’re betting that the content will attract Peyton’s loyal following to its gambling platform. The reality is that customers are tired of the old betting apps – they’re boring and they’re not great at attracting newbies. “[We’re seeing] the streaming wars version for casino operators”, Hal Vogel, former Wall Street analyst explains. Alex Weprin for The Hollywood Reporter has the news. (GSH) And brands should pay attention - if content works for gambling, you can bet that it works across the board - these companies aren't spending a single dime that doesn't bring them back a dollar. (BN)

Niantic is making a real-world NBA game: Niantic, the Pokémon Go developer has come up with another game called NBA ALL World, which like Pokémon Go also relies on augmented reality and location. Described as “NBA lifestyle meeting the real-world metaverse”, the game turns real-world places and objects into video game items (i.e. your local corner store might be where you pick up stamina for your NBA player.) If you were wondering how AR was going to be a part of/enhance our real-world experience, look no further. Gaming and software dev. companies like Niantic are leading the charge. Andrew Webster for TheVerge has the news. (GSH)

Mary Matheson speaks about storytelling in VR and the importance of 360 movies: XR professional and YouTuber Skarredghost hosts an interview about cutting edge on-screen storytelling mediums with Mary Mathenson, an award-winning director of traditional films and pioneering VR movie director. Check out Skarredghost’s blog for the transcript or watch the full interview here on his YouTube channel. To save you some time, here are my key takeaways: 
  • We’re at the dawn of a new age. XR tech allows us to tell stories in new ways and provides the building blocks for the creation of the metaverse. With the opportunity to literally world-build, we’re responsible for creating a new ethos… to create an inclusive and equitable industry and ensure diversity in the people who are making and distributing the stories/experiences. 
  • Teaching people how to use modern storytelling tools is key. In order to equip a diverse cast of now and future storytellers, classes and exposure to immersive technology is crucial. Check out a masterclass Mathenson helps lead here
  • Creating a successful VR movie requires knowledge of techniques used in theater, gaming, radio, and more.
Some of Mathenon’s favorite 360 storytelling experiences include Traveling While Black and Battlescar (GSH). 

What people are Googling in states where abortion is now illegal: In our post Roe V. Wade world, Vox asked Google for the top trending questions Americans posed since June 24 in states where abortion first became illegal and nationally. One disturbing question that made the top 10 list of questions asked nationally was “is abortion legal in the Bahamas?” The #1 question asked in Alabama was “why is abortion illegal?” #4 in Arkansas was “is ectopic pregnancy removal an abortion?” #4 in Oklahoma was “is a miscarriage considered an abortion?” #2 in Utah was “what is the penalty for abortion now?” Furthermore, “people across the country made it clear their concerns about the Supreme Court decision were about more than just abortion. The No. 2 trending abortion question: What does Roe v. Wade protect besides abortion? People also wanted to know if Roe v. Wadewould affect IVF, LGBTQ rights, and interracial relationships.” Rani Molla for Vox brings us the numbers. (GSH)

TikTok Removed 41,191 Videos Related to Ukraine War in Q1 2022: According to TikTok’s Community Guidelines Enforcement Report of Q1 2022, the social media platform took down nearly 42,000 videos dedicated to the Ukraine war mostly because they spread harmful misinformation. “Content from 49 Russian state-controlled media accounts was labeled, and six networks and 204 accounts globally were removed for coordinated efforts to influence public opinion and mislead users about their identities.” You can check out the article for more concerning stats. TikTok announced they’re increasing investments with their fact-checking partners, they’re continuing to develop detection methods, and are experimenting with labeling content to provide important context to viewers. David Cohen for Adweek has the news. P.S. If you think you’re immune to blatant misinformation, think again: I watched a TikTok of Ukrainians miraculously taking down a line of Russian tanks with RPGs only to find out later that the “footage” was actually a screen recording from a videogame… yes, the graphics were that good. (GSH)

Why Silicon Valley is fertile ground for obscure religious beliefsVox’s Rebecca Heilweil asks, “How do ideas about faith and God influence conversations about artificial intelligence?” Remember when Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer was put on leave after claiming his AI chatbot became sentient? Well, it turns out that engineer was also an ordained Christian mystic priest, and it was the chatbox’s comments about religion and spirituality that convinced him that his creation had become something…more. What’s interesting is that Lemoine’s train of thought isn’t entirely unique in Silicon Valley. Check out this piece for Helweil’s interview with Professor of theology and posthumanism Scott Midson for a conversation about how injecting religion/spirituality into AI development might guide what AI tech looks like now and in the future.  (GSH)

When Paying Dues Doesn't Pay the Rent: A look at the pros and cons of the movement for more equitable pay in the theater industry. I don't agree with all of the arguments here, but it's worth a read for anyone thinking about how this applies to film as well. Read the good and the bad of it all from Jesse Green of the NYT. (BN)

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