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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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Focusing on the Core

June 29, 2022 (written June 28)

I showed off my old white man skills this week, and went to Brooklyn Made to catch an acoustic set by Jeff Tweedy (also front man of Wilco, for those of you who aren’t aging Gen-X’ers), who made me feel better about my old self as he complained of his aching hip – bone on bone, in need of a replacement. Our idols, they’re just like us! 
But more importantly/germane to this newsletter, was that he reminded me of the importance of building your core audience over time and knowing them well. As he joked to the crowd, he’s played for all of us long enough now that he knows each one of us. As he played one of the rare Wilco anthem songs – Kingpin – he suggested the song was a joke, but quite a success, and maybe if they had made more of them, he could afford a silk hip replacement next, and would own a house nicer than anyone in the audience – but that wasn’t the path they/he took. They didn’t just follow the formula, and keep making the popular, stadium filling songs. They kept to their art, to what they wanted to do, and it found an audience that loves it – it might not be a Taylor Swift sized audience, but it’s one that has supported their careers (his house is probably nicer than most of ours). And as the photo above shows - they get a crowd, and know what their audience wants.
And that’s the path most filmmakers should take, and the model of success they should look for, especially in a market like this one, which favors sensational hits and not the slow, artful films many of us like to make. Sticking to that core audience, and not just chasing the hits, is also what my brand clients should be doing. Unless you’re making films for Pepsi, you want to build your brand with the core audience that loves you, not the masses. 
Seems common-sense enough, but I see people forget it all the time.  As Kevin Kelly said back in 2008 (maybe earlier?), all you really need is 1000 True Fans. The true fan will leave the beach, take an hour subway ride back into town, pour out their water and throw away their apple for the doorman, just to see you perform (which is what I did). They’ll stay in town for the launch of your new restaurant, even though they’d rather be back at the beach again, which is what I did the next night for the opening of Nasrinlaunched by an Iranian chef we’ve been following and ordering online from since Covid, and who we want to succeed (go there now; help her succeed; the food is great). Ok, leaving me out of this – the true fan will stick with you, and support your career, and find your films, and love your brand, even when Netflix, Apple, DiscoverMax don’t want what you’re making. 
It's also what I find happening with a new trend in YT town worth paying attention to - the #youtubenewwave movement. As reported in a multi-part article for Publish Press, a group of creators is taking the anti-Beast-ification approach to YouTube publishing, and "encourages our industry to shed views and likes as metrics for success. They prize making what they consider to be meaningful art over making content optimized for retention." Or as I will call it - the slow video movement (as in slow food, etc., and H/T to Zach Blume at PortalA who brought this to my attention this week). They are focused on making what’s authentic to them and their fans. They care more about authentic engagement with their fans, than shares and clicks. Turns out, this can also be measured. As Julian Saliani writes – they can measure metrics such as comments per thousand views, and likes as a percentage of views, and see that the community might be smaller, but it seems more engaged with what it’s watching. (Some of the artists are:  Ryan Ng, Max Reisinger, Natalie Lynn, and Simon Kim. I've only watched a bit of their work (was only familiar with Ng before), but they each show talent and promise, imho).
It also feels like the beginnings of a new indie film scene, but made for today, online and more native to the platform, so it won't look like normal films, but might become something more interesting than the current creator/viral video craze. Maybe. We won’t know til we see what happens next, but reading about these creators starting their own Creators Camp – in Utah no less – reminded me of the beginnings of both Sundance and Slamdance – artists focusing on the art they want to make, not what the larger market demands, and this leading to a whole new market.
When times are tough, follow the artists. Let them get together and figure out the new model. It works, time and time again, especially if they stay true to their artistic goals, and focus on cultivating their audience (it helps if a large part of that core audience is made up of other artists). Which also happens to be the theme of a talk I’m giving tonight to some core supporters of the Points North Institute and Camden International Film Festival. They have slowly built a core community, focused on empowering artists and bringing together those in the industry who want to see something different. It’s been built over time, slowly, and they probably have more than 1000 true fans. I am writing this now from a train en route to see them on Wednesday, and I love them so much that when my flight there was cancelled, I took a subway, to a train, to a rental car to drive all the way to the middle of Maine, just to talk to them for a few minutes about how important Points North is to the future of our business. 
That’s what true fans will do for you. That’s where we should also be focusing our energies as we try to figure out the next steps forward in this topsy-turvy film/media market. It’s tough out there, but if we focus on artists telling authentic stories to true fans, we’ll find the next new thing. 

NOTE: There will not be a newsletter next week, the week of July 4th, as I am actually going to sit on the beach and not think about the future of film.

Stuff I'm Reading

TCM is a National Treasure: If you read the newsletter regularly, you got my update on TCM last week. Now, Richard Brody of the New Yorker shares his smart thoughts on the situation. He thinks that the Academy should have bought TCM instead of building its museum, and it would be a great place for TCM to be donated to, for ongoing safekeeping. Some kind of plan like that would not be a bad idea, if only we could find the right place, with less (typically) poor leadership. (BN)

IDA Teachout, Distribution 101: My friend Rachel Gordon has written a book about distribution, and she's teaching a class on it for the IDA (online) on July 19. Think Before You Shoot! Based on feedback from the producers in her book, Rachel will provide a broad overview of distribution basics every documentary filmmaker should know before starting their journey. She will explain the importance of creating technical and strategic goals to approach the markets that are receptive to utilizing documentaries, such as educational facilities, non-profits, and public television. We’ll discuss how to work with distributors and on your own, based on defining your audience first. Useful definitions and industry trends will be reviewed. Questions are encouraged. Rachel wants filmmakers to spend their time and money wisely. Info and Register here. (BN)
Branded Content
DuoLingo Switches to TikTok: DuoLingo took a look at where it was finding its core audience, and it was mainly word of mouth. They switched their campaigns away from film and towards TikTok, to great success. The WSJ reports on how it's working - and it's mainly by integrating the product and the marketing, but via smart campaigns - i.e., not selling the product in the campaigns, but having overlap between the messaging and how the product works, and vice versa. Smart moves. (BN)

Inside the AI Factory: NYMag's Josh Dzieza takes a look at the realities behind how the AI sausage gets made, and guess what - it's all being done by a ton of (mostly) underpaid workers. And there's a lot of weird stuff going on, which explains all the weird stuff coming out the other side. I read this in print, and there is a paywall from hell on NYMag/Vulture, but it's worth a read. (BN)
GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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