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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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The Good, The Bad, The Delusional

Dec 1, 2022

What a crazy week. I don’t know about you readers, but for me it seemed like everyone treated this year’s Thanksgiving as an entirely new year. It was just four freakin’ days folks, but it seemed to me like now that we’re back everyone’s acting like it’s a brand-new world and everything needed to be done this week. Maybe because in this business, everything is shutting down til January. Or maybe because no one knows whether they will have a job come January. So, I’ve been busy and am late with this week’s news.
And this week’s short news has been a mixed bag I would call the good, bad and ugly, but decided they all add up to delusional. Trust me, I’ll get there.

But first, the good. For a select few, this past week (or two for some) brought the very good news that they got into Sundance. Sundance traditionally tells everyone the good news around Thanksgiving, and kudos to those of you who got the call. I know of a few of these, and the list will be hitting the news sometime soon. And that’s not just good news for those selected, but for all the industry because everyone is looking towards Sundance 2023 as some kind of reset. 
We hope. Most of the US film industry, and many of those abroad, are looking forward to attending once again after such a long absence, and we’re all hoping that it will bring some kind of new energy to the business. Maybe sales will start again. Maybe we’ll see some exciting new voices. Maybe we won’t just get cancelled by some new strain of Covid, or find out that none of the money folks showed up because they got cancelled by layoffs and budget cuts. As you can read between the lines, I am skeptical that Sundance will bring the change we need. But not so skeptical as to not show up, mind you.  So, this week’s good news was the Sundance “secret” announcements. Oh yeah, and the Gotham’s took place. Or as Gothamist put it:

(the ? says it all; I mean 32 years of brand building got you that?!)
The bad. Aside from the obvious fact that if you didn’t get the Sundance call, things are bad, (or if you work at AMC, Disney, or anyone else with big layoffs) the other bad news this week seems to be that multiple other fests are failing. Or at least “taking a pause until next year.” I’m sure I’m missing a few, but in the past week, we’ve heard that the Full Frame Documentary Film Fest, Maryland Film Festival, and Knoxville are either taking a pause for a year to find a new business model, or are closing. And when I posted about this on Facebook, I heard that others are teetering and considering some version of the same – although to be clear, that’s not a research project. That post sparked a tiny little discussion on the pros and cons of the current festival and indie film landscape, but my main worry remains the same – these are not isolated incidents and might be a bad sign for our future. Sure, as some people pointed out on my post – there are valid arguments as to whether or not some fests need to exist anymore. But Full Frame, for example, is a gem, and has been well run and loved for years. No matter what the current leadership (who I like) says, it’s also a case where if Duke University wanted to keep it open, it would stay open. 
But a combination of factors – this economy, a few years of a pandemic, the rise of streaming, the demise of the desire for communal viewing, the lack of vision for new models… I could go on for days – is leading to a bad situation for film fests, which have been a bit of a bedrock of the entire film system.
Or were they?
That’s where we get to the delusional part. Bear with me, because this goes back to the good, the bad and the turkey and gravy. Over my 4 days off, between naps, I read The Self Delusion: The New Neuroscience of How We Invent—and Reinvent—Our Identities” by Gregory Berns. I highly recommend the book for many reasons, but a brief summary here as to why it’s relevant to this discussion. Berns writes about how we tell stories, and how we build stories about ourselves and our lives. In short, our memories are more like film strips than we might think – but not in that they capture everything, but in that they leave as much black between the frames. We select what we remember, and build a narrative around it, much like we see 24 frames a second as being continuous images instead of continuous blank space. And our brains fill in the gaps. We also create a narrative around what we forget. And we add to that narrative based on what we read (especially), watch, and consume. At the end of the day, who we are is a construction, a narrative, that we build based on a lot of misinformation, imagination and storytelling. Indeed, that last part, storytelling, is how we make sense of the world. But if that’s the case, are we who we think we are? Are we who we tell others we are? What is real? And what is a collective delusion? And what parts of you are just part of that delusion? How much or our reality is “just a shared delusion?”
All of it. We create our own narratives, and if you think about it for long, a lot of what you think is true about the world and yourself is just a self-delusion. The good news, and the point of his book, is that if most of what we tell ourselves is true is just a story… we can also make a new story. About ourselves and our world. In fact, I mainly recommend this book for those of us in need of making a new narrative for our lives, which is just about anyone laid off recently or considering a career change – which seems like everyone I know. 
But getting back to our film world, that’s the “story” of film as well. It’s a collective delusion about a business built on making the greatest delusions in history. We’ve built a narrative around indie and arthouse film, and how that might lead to Hollywood and riches, or at least artistic success. And a lot of it starts with Sundance (note here, I am not blaming The Kid, but all of us). The myths we tell ourselves about how this business works, and the dreams of what can become of your film, and of so much more pretty much start with Sundance. Especially for American film folks. Cannes, Toronto, Locarno – even San Francisco-  and others might be older or more prestigious, but the stories many of us tell today come from the Sundance myth. And every year, a few more people get into the fest, and what a story to join, so we go along for the ride, again. 
It's such a good story that many others have copied it. The entire US festival system is kind of built around it, and around perpetuating it. Again, some other fests were here first, and many started not to copy Sundance, but to genuinely bring the best films to their audiences who couldn’t see them any other way. But over time, the story became a collective delusion. About how there was some kind of ecosystem for films, and how it all fit together into some kind of narrative that added up to a hero’s journey for you, your film, your audience, your career, for how films roll out to the public, and for how they present to the Academy, and on and on.
But all of this was a collective delusion. Like all such delusions, they are built on some realities. Business was done. Careers were made. Films were discovered. But a lot of storytelling was done that was a bit of a confabulation bullshit. But as Warren Buffet has said – when the tide goes out, you see who is swimming naked. And I started parroting that quote around the last time the tide went out – after the recession of 2008, when I left another delusion based in a triangle below Canal street to make a new narrative. I was so delusional that I had to let two other stories of my future die before finding the right one and the right story, but that’s another post. The point is – we’re at another shifting of the tides, and we’re seeing which stories are real and which are delusions. And guess what? All of them are delusions.
But again, that’s also the plus side. If they’re delusions, we can also create the new narrative that we want to see. This isn’t just about indie film, either. The streaming model in general. How impact films work. How brand films work (for my current world). How festivals work. How discovery works. How anything that touches motion pictures and stories work is open for a new narrative. Because most of the old stories are delusions. Whether they were good or bad. What we need to do now is create the new story.
And guess what? Gregory Bern gives some clues for how to do that, too. But for those answers, you’ll need to read his book and hear that story from him directly. For this newsletter, my story remains somewhat the same – trying to imagine the new story. Let’s write it, together in 2023… because no one seems to be ready to do much before then!

Stuff I'm Reading

How we got hired to create an AI-generated feature film screenplay: Writer/producer/storyteller Stephen Follows and particle physicist Dr. Eliel Camargo Molina recently inked an incredibly intricate screenwriting deal with a Hollywood film producer at the Writers Guild of America. Neither Stephen or Eliel will be listed as co-writers as the screenplay is entirely AI-written. In fact, it’ll have no creative input from any specific human. You can follow their journey by tuning into their podcast series called Authored By AI which is soon to be released. And hit the link to Stephen’s article to get his AI’s written ‘thoughts’ on art, creativity, and the abstract.  Stephen will be presenting about all of this at the Future of Film Summit. You can register for that session here, and see my note below for the link to that conference and Sub-Genre discount code. (GSH)

The Bobs in One Chart: Brilliant. Click for video (h/t ReDef, and BN):

Branded Content

My Interview about Brands and Film on the Future of Film Podcast: I was recently interviewed by Alex Stolz for the Future of Film Podcast. While I'm not sure I'd agree with him that I am the "brand whisperer," it is indeed a catchy title for the episode. I spoke with Alex about why brands are doing this, what works best, and how filmmakers can try to break into this space. You can listen to it on FoF's Soundcloud here, or also on Apple or Spotify. And while you're listening, you can check out the full program and register for his Future of Film Summit here, which looks great this year (remember to use the code SUBGENRE for a discount). (BN)

It’s time for brands to reassess how they define ‘safety’ and ‘suitability’: Consumers don’t want brands to play it safe, according to Accenture data reports. “62% of global consumers want companies to take a stand on issues they’re passionate about, and 64% see brands that actively communicate their purpose as more attractive.” So, instead of shying away from hot-button/ cultural issues for fear of tarnishing their reputation, brands should use their voice on a suitable platform – research suggests that it’s safer for brands to take a stand on a given issue on a platform deemed trustworthy (so maybe not Twitter at the moment). Check out Ara Kurnit’s piece for The Drum for the facts/figures. (GSH)

2023 trend watch: a pivotal year in commerce, streaming and authenticity for marketers: Jonathan Yantz, managing partner at M&C Saatchi Performance shares a few predictions for where commerce, streaming, social media, and marketing will look like in 2023. The Drum hosts his full opinion piece, but in the meantime, here’s my summary: (1) Live commerce will blow up in the U.S. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, already sold almost $120Billion worth of goods via live broadcasts last year. The technology is already in place for live commerce to take off here, so there’s really no reason we won’t see a boom in the next year; (2) Social media platforms will encourage its users to return to authenticity. We’ve seen the beginnings of this movement with BeReal and with its copycats, TikTok Now and Instagram Dual; (3) Older millennials and Gen X will likely be some of the biggest spenders in 2023 especially if a recession hits, so we’ll likely see media/marketing target these generations; (4)  Linear TV is on its last leg. Sports are mainly watched on streaming platforms and ads that run on broadcasting channels are beginning to advocate for viewers’ transition away from linear to streaming. (GSH)


The Biggest Opportunity In Generative AI Is Language, Not Images: Text-to-image AI has blown up in 2022, but what’s next on the generative AI horizon is language, not images. Why? Rob Toews for Forbes explains it’s because AI-generated text can be of incredible value. In sales, it’ll answer questions about products. In law, it’ll draft contracts and summarize lengthy documents. In healthcare, it’ll help clinicians generate medical notes and summarize electronic health records. In academia, it’ll help write grants. News reporting and journalism will become more automated…. The list goes on. Generative AI will also transform entertainment as we know it. Take Amazon’s Alexa for instance. Its new feature uses AI to create animated children’s stories. Every story will have its own distinctive plot, unique background music, sound effects, and animation (Lauren Forristal, Techcrunch). How long until we’re watching an AI-directed TV show on Netflix? Forbes’ Rob Toews leaves his reader with a few thinkers: (1) “the vast majority of content that humans produce… is unoriginal….Today’s AI is powerful enough to… convincingly replicate them with new output when prompted.” (2) “One of the most important considerations in productizing and operationalizing AI language models will be how and when to have a human in the loop.” (3) “Massive disruption, vast value creation, painful job dislocation and many new multi-billion-dollar AI-first companies are around the corner.” (GSH) See the Film News above for an AI story on screenwriting, too. 

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