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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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Maxed Out

April 13, 2022

Once again, I am cheaply taking the opportunity for an obvious headline tie-in to get your attention. Just like last week. But riddle me this…
Your brand is all that you have. In film, there’s really been only a handful of brands – I would argue only Disney, Miramax and lately, A24 have ever truly built a brand. You can add Criterion if you must (we know them; my cousin in Raleigh, probably not). If you extend this to TV, you could only include HBO and maybe TCM. In film fests, you have Sundance and maybe Cannes. No one knows the other brands (sorry SX and Tri..what). People in the industry will always argue that MGM is a brand or CBS, but the average consumer has no f-n idea which film or show is an Amazon show vs a CBS show, vs a Magnolia film vs a Sub-Genre presents film. Sorry, that’s the truth. 
Add your one or two names, but none of them started as Disney and became Dis. Or Miramax and became…Max. Sure, my mom has heard of Discovery and HBO, but I’ll never explain to her in any rational fashion how that peanut butter and chocolate mix to make a new brand. I guess we’ll soon see ads reminiscent of candy bars – Max’s got nuts, Discovery+ don’t. Which would be an appropriate tagline, given the Cinemax history (which was more bust oriented, I guess). And, yes, they are also keeping a separate Discovery+ tier… because they think that’s got more traction. So does Spam. And presumably Spam+. 
Meanwhile, coming from a world where I work with brands who are super zealous about maintaining their brands… this whole fiasco tells us more about suits than it does about branding in the near term, but long-term, it’s clear that no one is intent on building a brand anymore. Netflix, Max, Hulu et al are all just trying to attract as many eyeballs as possible, and no one is building a distinct brand anymore (except A24 and maybe Neon, who only you and I pay attention to, but hey, that’s something…). 
The entire history of content can probably be summated as a fight between building a better brand versus being everything, and being everything always loses. Think about it – even at the extreme ends of this, Walmart and Target remain distinctive brands by offering very different curations of everything for the masses. 
There’s enough to unpack here for 20 posts – branding is that important. But, for brevity’s sake, while the bigger film industry is clearly going all in on the destroying brands business, the rest of us should be focused on the opposite – building more distinct brands. That means having taste, being bold, having a unifying vision, and sticking to what you believe in and what you know your audience values. This is true whether you’re a film festival, a distributor, or just a lonely filmmaker or producer (Stanley Nelson is his own brand, so is Kelly Reichardt, so is Tyler Perry, so is Christine Vachon, so is…). Enough of that for today – go build your brand. To the Max.

Stuff I'm Reading


Making Sense of a Changing Market: 2021 saw the peak of the documentary boom with Sundance docs like “Fire of Love” and “Flee” selling for millions of dollars. Today, it’s just not the same. CNN Films is no longer commissioning documentary features or series, big mergers are leading to brutal layoffs, and certain streaming giants (HBO MAX and Discovery+) aren’t putting out original documentaries, at least for the time being. Today, the market favors commercial docs with true crime and reality-centric docs leading the pack. But at what cost? We lose raw, original storytelling that gives viewers an unexpected snapshot of lives and worlds that they’d likely never hear or see in the headlines. Though It’s not all doom and gloom. Bryn Mooser, CEO of XTR, (a production company that Sub-Genre’s had the pleasure of working, full disclosure) with says “It’s up to us [filmmakers, prod-cos, other creatives…etc] to make sure that we’re nimble and paying attention in this moment… The opportunity hasn’t changed. The market might’ve changed, but it will come back.” Check out Brian Welk’s piece for IndieWire for the full scoop. (GSH)

Nothing-new-monia, Even Worse than Nostalgiavirus: “Hollywood is suffering from… Nothing-new-monia,” writes Johnny Oleksinski in his article for the New York Post. And it’s kind of true…. Warner Bros is sealing the deal on a 7-season Harry Potter series despite “Fantastic Beasts” being a total disaster, Disney is planning a live-action Moana movie, Daisy Ridley is coming back for another Star Wars even though we thought that ended in 2019, an 80 year-old Harrison Ford will be coming back as Indiana Jones in a couple months, and Marvel is pumping out movies that get poor reviews and underperform at the box office. Oleksinski’s piece comes off as complainy… because it absolutely is just that. But he’s right in that Hollywood has to say goodbye to their exes, because the truth is that we’re getting bored of the movies. (GSH) (BN note: the Post is wildly conservative, but it's worth noting that all folks from all parts of the spectrum are getting bored with this).

Branded Content
R.J. Cutler-Directed Documentary First At Bat: Film production company Imagine Entertainment just entered a serious content deal with Major League Baseball which will result in multiple scripted and unscripted projects. The partnership kicks off with a documentary film directed by R.J. Culter (“The September Issue,” “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry”) that dives into the many narratives that take place on and off the field surrounding the MLB world series. TBD on the release date. Matt Donnelly for “Variety” has the news.  (GSH)

Netflix Turns To Fashion to Rope In Viewers: Netflix has teamed up with apparel brand Lacoste to create clothing inspired by eight shows popular with Young Adult adventure and romance fans including “Bridgerton,” “The Witcher,” “Sex Education,” and “Stranger Things.” Each product will include the unmistakable Lacoste alligator, specially tailored to fit the world that Netflix created (i.e. for Bridgerton-inspired pieces, the alligator might be wearing an oversized wig). The takeaway: This is Netflix’s first multi-title fashion partnership and a prime example of how it’s trying to diversify its revenue and increase exposure to its content. Lucia Moses for Business Insider has the news. (GSH)

Meta Making AR That’s Actually Useful: Meet “SAM”, Meta’s new Segment Anything Model. Meta’s SAM project “aims to set a new bar for computer-vision-based ‘object segmentation’—the ability for computers to understand the difference between individual objects in an image or video.” It doesn’t sound impressive, but advancements in object segmentation will be the key to making Augmented Reality technology genuinely useful rather than gimmicky. Check out Ben Lang’s piece for “RoadToVR” to learn more about why SAM is important. (GSH)

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