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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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Lessons for (all) Film,
from Elevate (brands)

July 20, 2022

I’m stuck in SLC waiting for a plane to be repaired or replaced, as I try to get home from the outstanding BrandStorytelling Elevate conference at the Sundance Resort. Side note - once again, the Clear Pre-Check line was longer than the non-elite/paid line, and once again, I changed lanes to break through while others clung to their status in the wrong line. Doesn’t everyone read this newsletter?? Guess not. But back to this week’s thoughts on the biz, with a few thoughts from the brands and film world, which are relevant to indies, too. 
I’ve been attending the BrandStorytelling conferences almost from the beginning (their second event, I believe), and in that time, the field has matured greatly, and a lot of that is because of this event. The quality of the films being made and shown are markedly improving. The field is starting to figure out some of its biggest issues – the need for more diversity behind and in front of the camera being chief among them, but also things like how to work best with creators/filmmakers, how to get things distributed in different ways, how to have a bigger impact, and how to better measure the value of this stuff (or to make the case that we should do it for better reasons than metrics). 
But the reason for these changes – and what’s relevant to the non-brand film sectors – is that we’ve been purposeful about having these conversations, and are doing so collectively and in small groups, and aren’t ignoring the problems we face. Sure, the event shows movies and has an awards program in January, but as a sector, we aren’t just focused on presenting films and patting one another on the back – we’re doing the hard work of (slowly) talking about and addressing the problems. 
Second, it’s also been building a community – one that shares best practices and mistakes, and that doesn’t only sit around and talk shop – the Elevate event is a retreat, with plenty of time for bonding while getting outside in nature. There are ample opportunities to go hiking, mountain biking, horse back riding, trail-running, Zip-Lining with others and form bonds (don’t hate me for having a great week). 
We need more of both of these things in the indie/arthouse film world. The documentary world has done a pretty good job at working together as a community to address common issues – they’ve built a support network, alliances and gatherings to make change. And I know of many efforts underway to start fixing our current problems around distribution and audience development – they may be nascent, but the conversations are happening. But the overall sector is not doing this so much. Most of the bigger film organizations – Sundance, The Gothams, FIND, etc. – are actually doing less advocacy than ever before, and are more focused on showing the work and patting them/ourselves on the back. I know they’re busy, and struggling, and might not see that as their job (anymore), but it’s what we’re missing. And when we have panels at these festivals, it’s more often self promotion than solution finding (ok, to be fair, you get some of this at events like Elevate, too, but not only that). We need more convenings focused on addressing our problems and finding solutions – and it wouldn’t hurt if those involved some group zip lining mixing fest curators with filmmakers, with sponsors, with acquisitions executives (instead of them all running away lest they get pitched).
A topic that didn’t come up at the Elevate conference, but was on my mind the entire time, was the potential for brands to contribute to some of the solutions we need in distribution of non-branded quality films. This is a tough one, I know – let’s just cut to the main issue – many brands are not going to want to get involved in helping to solve the distribution problems of some of the more controversial and hard-hitting films that need distribution help. But let’s also be honest – most of those films wouldn’t usually be open to big corporate support as it could compromise their own integrity, anyways. 
That still leaves many important films of all types – documentaries of all kinds (even many social issue ones); classic films (help save TCM and Criterion); arthouse films; and I could even see certain brands being interested in genre films (even horror) as well. Not to mention, brands are paying attention to DEI issues and there are ample opportunities there. Second, brands are facing some of the same issues – how to get their films distributed better, how to build sustainable/sizable audiences, how to connect them to impact and action. And we all need better data and metrics. 
While it is hard to imagine any one brand solving this, and many of them are not as good at collaborating on real-world projects as easily as they collaborate on sharing best practices at Elevate, but when we all have the same problems, perhaps some sub-groups of these brands could come together to experiment with and build new models. I think we need to pull together those from both sectors who are open to trying new things, and… collectively try some new things. Maybe that starts with some gathering, and maybe I’ll try to make that happen before long. Pre-Covid, we were just starting to get some momentum with the Brand Foundation Alliance, but that fell apart during the pandemic, and I’m going to look into restarting that soon (with a better name). If your work overlaps with these areas of concerns and you want to be part of all of this (and don’t just want to pitch a brand for funding your movie), drop me a line.
Of course, I am not suggesting this will be a magic, silver bullet. As I have written in the past, we need multiple solutions – I want to see more advocacy for policy change; pushes for better support of PBS and other public media around the world; more support for a more robust NEA (see more on the need for this below); and other market solutions from old and new entrepreneurs. But when I spend four days at a brand conference, these were the thoughts that kept coming to mind (it could have been the altitude). 

Stuff I'm Reading


Big Growth For Netflix Thanks to Paid Sharing: Last year Netflix had its worst quarter ever, with 970,000 subscribers dropping the service. But last week, Netflix blew away expectations and gained a shocking 5.9 million global subscribers in Q2 of 2023 (note: experts had forecasted a growth of 1.75 million). The news came shortly after the streaming giant announced they dropped its basic plan in the U.S. and U.K. The massive growth is attributed to Netflix’s new paid sharing rules. Check out Lauren Forristal’s article for TechCrunch for the details. (GSH)

Branded Content
It's Not Just Barbie, Brands are Funding Films: As readers here know well, brands are upping their game when it comes to financing and producing quality films. Lucia Moses from Business Insider takes a look at what's going on now. (BN - note, there's a paywall, but you can find ways around it on Reddit).

The Best Branded Content…Isn’t: Academy Award-winning manager-producer Michael Sugar writes a piece for FastCompany about what needs to happen in branded entertainment for everyone (brand, distributor, creators, consumers) to be happy. He points out that while marketers spend billions of dollars putting their logos in sports arenas, they don’t tell the Lakers or Barca how to play or what uniforms to wear (as far as we know). “The brands simply author the experience the consumer has with that content. But why does this paradigm not apply to film and television shows?” “The new opportunity is for brands to co-create—and consequently, own—the entertainment they have historically interrupted [with commercials]. And create a profit center rather than a pure expense…. Provided that there’s one simple concession: Brands must accept that they may not appear inside every frame. Perhaps the brand doesn’t need to appear at all. Controversial? Yes.” Our very own Brian Newman says it best: “The best branded content… isn’t." (GSH)

Sub-Genre Brand Client News: Self-promotion - Sub-Genre was proud to have a few clients showcased at Elevate this week - John Deere premiered ODD HOURS, NO PAY, COOL HAT with a screening for local firefighters and their families (and conference attendees), and we had a chat with the President of their Foundation, Nate Clark. REI showcased THE RIGHT TO JOY, a new short film that premiered at Tribeca and is online now. Last, Adobe and Anonymous Content showcased an episode of their series, FULL BLEED. I moderated a panel on distribution and new models to reach audiences. It was a great event, and we were happy to have such a showing of client success stories - and hear about others.


One of America’s Proudest Cultural Institutions Is Imploding Before Our Eyes: Scores of the United State’s most iconic, beloved theaters are shutting down or scaling back production, threatening a “permanent shrinking of the possibilities of the American stage.” While this crisis might be less visible to theatergoers in New York, Isaac Butler for the New York Times points out that “Broadway in its current form depends on nonprofit theaters to develop material and support artists. Nonprofit theaters are where many recent hits [including Hamilton]... started out.” Butler explains that for much of the 20th century, theaters were built on a subscription model (loyal patrons paid for a season pass upfront) and relied on grants, donations, and single ticket sales. Now, this model just isn’t cutting it. So how do we revive American theater? “Only the federal government can provide the scope of support needed to stabilize it,” Butler writes. “One easy and immediate first step would be to pass the Creative Economy Revitalization Act and the Promoting Local Arts and Creative Economy Workforce Act, two bills that have been languishing in Congress since 2021 and 2022. These bills would immediately send millions of dollars to local artists and arts institutions across the country.” They also need to greatly increase the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, “an essential national organ that keeps the country’s cultural life alive,” which for a while now has been under threat (“Republican senator Jesse Helms and Christian right figures like Jerry Falwell in the 1980s and ’90s, Congress changed the N.E.A.’s rules so that it can no longer give grants to individual artists, except in the field of literature). Butler leaves us with a compelling quote from the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities act, signed by Lyndon Johnson: “An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone…. Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”(GSH, h/t to Ted Hope who passed this article our way).

Half-Baked A.I Threatens JournalismKarl Bode for TechDirt writes that “early implementations [of AI systems]  into the already very broken US journalism and media markets have proven to be an ugly mess. In part because the tech isn’t really fully cooked yet. But also because the kind of folks that get to run major modern US media companies are incompetent cheapskates.” The Media giants that run CNET and Gizmodo have generated tons of errored and plagiarism-filled articles “that lower brand quality under the pretense of progress” (half of the 77 articles published at CNET had significant errors) and threatens good journalism. Bode signs off with a truth bomb: “The problem isn’t artificial intelligence. It’s that “lazy and terrible managers are injecting unfinished technology into an already very broken U.S. media sector. And they’re doing it without any real transparency… [and] with an eye on cutting corners, cutting costs, and leveraging [AI] as a weapon against already underpaid labor.” (GSH)

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