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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 Future =
Pink Mushroom Clouds, and Angels

July 27, 2022

It’s the last week of July, 2023 and in NYC – and apparently the rest of the world – we are at hotter than hell temps. Thanks us… humanity… for all that we’ve wrought. I could not be more ready for my digital detox month of August (more on that below). But before I go… a few last thoughts for the Summer. 
I hoped to avoid joining the parade of voices commenting on Barbenheimer, but I can’t resist. For my entire career, the central question I ask about film is always – how do you distribute this film in such a way that it enters the cultural conversation? Well, Barbie certainly did that, in every way, and Oppenheimer has followed it serendipitously to its own success. I took a ferry to downtown Manhattan this weekend for a walk and can definitely say that I’ve never seen anything like it – everywhere we turned, we saw pink toenails, full ensembles, groups in technicolor pink and white pre-gaming for the show, babies dressed in pink, and one or two Barbenheimer outfits that were oh so clever. Hell, I even wore a fedora for the day. Your goal as a filmmaker, a studio/distributor or a brand should be the same – to find a way to become part of the cultural conversation…even if you can’t do it as “bigly” as Barbie.
There are thousands of lessons from the Barbie marketing plan (and I must grudgingly admit a little bit of respect for Zaslav’s multiplatform push on this one) – for all of us in film – Hollywood, Indies, Arthouse and my brand colleagues. Here are my big takeaways:
1. For brands – everyone is saying – you, too, can be Barbie. But take note – the brand here gave the filmmakers (seemingly/near) complete creative control. They were picky up front (going through a few directors), but then let Greta make the film she wanted to make, and that included pushing the envelope and going off-brand-script a bit. My brand film colleague Scott Donaton sums this up well in a LinkedIn Post here
Second, they weren’t primarily concerned with selling a product. Sure, that will happen. But this was as much about the activations and long-term brand building around the film and Barbie as it was the film itself or selling a toy. And they didn’t forget about the marketing. Most brands I know make a film and then think they are done. That is step one, and for brands, the film just gives you an excuse for everything else you can do – it’s a chance to fire on all cylinders, activate all your possible partnerships and do something big. When you try to copy Barbie, keep those things in mind.
2. For all other filmmakers – while most of us can’t match the marketing power of a major motion picture, we can all follow the lead of putting as much emphasis into the marketing, and into smart marketing partnerships, as we do the film itself. Yes, it starts with a good film – and good directors for both projects – but it’s also about spending as much time, energy and creativity on the marketing side as you do on the production side. Too often in arthouse/indie films, we think getting into Sundance and doing the same old/same old campaign will somehow fill the seats. We don’t spend nearly as much on marketing as we should – because we’re all pinching pennies all the way, but that’s where we fail the most. We make great films; we don’t market them very well (unless your name is A24). 
Second, this (once again) validates the eventizing model- if you want to break through the noise, turn your release into an event, For the little films, that might mean something as simple as having a special guest at every screening. For those with bigger budgets, well, you could do worse than copying any aspect of this film’s campaign and adapting it to your project. You don’t have the same budget, but you can get just as creative. 
There’s a lot more to be said here, but… Here comes August…
Next up: I am not alone in pointing this out, but if you are any kind of independent filmmaker trying to figure out a new model for our broken industry, and you aren’t paying attention to Angel Studios, you are making a big mistake. What they’ve done with Sound of Freedom is just the tip of the story. The film has made over $120MM in just 16 or so weeks, and is now expanding internationally, and it’s not by luck (or QAnon crazies) alone.
Most people are focusing their stories on the crazy right wing/QAnon-adjacent aspects of the film, or just the fact that it appeals to and gets support from right-wing figures. But while that is an important part of the story, it misses the bigger picture. Angel has built a kind of Kickstarter/Patreon fan-fueled machine for this one. Backers are not just donating and spreading the word, but also participating in the success of the film. They have built an army of fans who are ensuring their success. They didn’t just raise money via an equity crowdfunding model, they’re also using a pay-it-forward ticketing model – where people can donate to buy tickets for others, so they can see the film for free. 
And while it may not be the niche you want to be a part of (mine neither), they did it by leaning (hard-right) into a niche that was underserved, but begging for good films. And they are doing it again, and again. Just check out this page for their past and upcoming projects (and a super smart crowdfunding video explainer at the top). They aren’t doing this as a single film model, but are building a larger platform, where they’re gathering an audience that is completely overlooked by Hollywood, and letting them build the alternate universe they want to see.
There are many other “verticals” that are similar to this one – right, left and center. When I hear many voices in our larger indie film community – and especially diverse, underserved filmmakers (who also have a big underserved audience) – saying we need to blow things up and create our own system, I think we could do worse than applying the Angel Studios model to what we do. There are many other “non-mainstream” audiences out there, and they’re also begging for good films, and more attention. Angel didn’t just pander to them; they activated them in a participatory way. And because of that, they’re finding success that in its own way is equal to that of Barbenheimer. 
A quick note to close the newsletter - this week marks the time for me to temporarily pause this newsletter for the month of August. For those (many) of you who are new to the newsletter this year, I take an annual digital detox break for the month of August. Each year, I unplug from all social media, all postings, and all newsletter writing and online reading for the entire month of August (until after Labor Day). 
I’ve been doing this since 2010, and it’s always a necessary refresh for my brain. I highly recommend you consider doing the same – seriously; you won’t miss any news if you look at a print newspaper a few times, and you’ll escape the daily catch-up, be informed, be snarky, be thoughtfully posting grind. If you’re like me, you’ll find it even harder to come back each and every year, because being away from digital media gives your brain so much more space for the things you should be doing instead, whether that’s being creative or just emptying your mind of all thought. 
For those of you who are just readers, not clients, I’ll see you again post Labor Day, and I bet you won’t even have missed me. For clients, and potential clients, I’m still working through August 15th, and am easy to find on email, but then I completely disconnect for a vacation from August 16-Labor Day. Why am I telling all of you this here? Because too many people reach out via the newsletter, and this is a way to let the world know how to find or not find me in the interim. Until Labor Day... be well, take a digital detox, see some movies on the big screen, and keep dreaming up ways to change the future.

Stuff I'm Reading

Disney’s Magical Math and Memory Holes: Over the course of the writers strike Disney has taken down dozens of original shows and movies from its streaming platforms (Disney+ and Hulu). Last May the entertainment giant told regulators that it will incur 1.5 billion in losses as part of its content purge, a move that’s raising eyebrows, and for good reason. Julia Rock for The Lever explains that “the bigger hit that Disney claims, the larger the potential tax writeoff for the company.” Disney is claiming two contradictory things: “Both that the assets were least producing so little value that it’s cheaper to destroy them than to keep them, and that the assets were worth $1.5 billion (Rock).” Logically speaking, why would any business shed content that generates 1.5 billion in value? Disney isn’t alone in its content purge. Warner Bros, HBO Max, and Paramout + are all deleting content from their platforms, adding insult to injury for striking workers. Where things stand: “Disney and other streamers are committed to cutting costs, finding tax breaks, and returning money to shareholders — not ensuring creators’ work remains available to the public in perpetuity.” The IRS is unlikely to ask questions. (GSH)

Gen Z Viewing Habits Not So Different from Generations Before Them?: Today, there are more options than ever before for video audiences, but Gen Z viewers, who’ve abandoned traditional TV and now even big streaming services like Netflix are tuned in to three primary platforms: YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. But Tim Peterson for Digiday points out that “what’s funny about these viewers not really watching traditional TV… is the way they watch platforms like YouTube, Twitch and even TikTok is often pretty similar to how previous generations watched traditional TV: something to play in the background while doing other tasks.” Check out the in-article video of VidCon, an annual Comic-Con-like event for the digital video industry for more about this phenomenon. (GSH)

Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat On Demand: This Sub-Genre client film about volunteer firefighters is now available for sale/rent on all major digital platforms. Brought to you by John Deere and the National Volunteer Firefighter Council (NVFC), and produced by Hold Fast Productions and Vignette, this sharp and important documentary on the importance of volunteer firefighters has been having quite a run. Biased here, of course, but we've opened theatrically in NYC and LA, as well as a handful of other cities, premiered at Deere's HQ and the NVFC Conference, but more importantly, we're in the middle of setting up nearly 600 free screenings at fire departments across the country, who are using the film to recruit volunteers and solicit donations. And now, you can watch it on demand - just click here to buy/rent the film (DVD/BluRay coming soon, as well as broader streaming). (BN)


Brown Girls Doc Mafia is a nonprofit organization advocating for women & non-binary documentary film professionals of color. The theme of our summer’s fundraiser was inspired by a sensation that we haven’t been able to shake this year: the world was moving on from the belief that our industry could be an inclusive, nourishing place where filmmakers of color could thrive.

As a newly-minted nonprofit, critical funding will support our bold goals for 2024 and beyond to address our community’s creative, professional, and holistic needs.  This is why we are extending our fundraiser one week, hoping to raise $75,000 by August 1. We need your help like never before. 

The only way we’ll close this gap is if YOU, our allies and industry peers, can step forward and take a stand for our community and the movement we represent. If 100 of you contribute $100 today, we will have raised $10,000 to keep our programs running and ensure BGDM can be there for future generations. 

You can donate here! Thank you in advance for investing in BGDM.

From BN: I'm a big fan of this organization, and a supporter, and encourage you to become one as well. They're doing so much great work, so check them out. 

Branded Content

13 Brands Doing Branded Film and TV Right: Lucia Moses for Business Insider writes about 13 brands that are making some of the biggest moves to creative quality filmed content. Here’re a few that stand out: (1) John Deere is releasing two documentaries this year and Sub-Genre has been running the distribution campaign for one of these – Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat – about volunteer firefighters across the country (check it out on digital platforms now!); (2) Lego is on a roll, having launched four theatrical films with Warner Brothers with a fifth on the way with Universal Studios; (3) REI is promoting the outdoors and its corporate green and DEI commitments with its content arm, REI Co-op Studios, which Sub-Genre helped formulate and launch a couple years ago; (4) Last march fashion house Saint Laurent launched a film production company and is working with auteur directors like Pedro Almodóvar. The films feature zero branding, though the fashion house’s artistic director designs the costumes. Shameless plug: Sub-Genre is currently working with or has worked with 5 out of the 13 brands mentioned in the article. Takeaway: Though branded entertainment isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s certainly becoming more and more popular as “Brands want an audience [and] studios are looking for financing, quality IP, so their interests are aligned (Brian Newman for Business Insider).” Some say that soon, the big streamers will be regularly seeking out film and TV from brand-driven studios as they would with any other Hollywood production company. (GSH, and note, use Readerized if you need to get around the paywall)


Insurance Giant Sued Over AI System PXDX: Cigna, the healthcare and insurance giant was hit by a lawsuit for allegedly systematically rejecting claims in a matter of seconds thanks to an algorithmic system (PXDX) put in place to automate the process. In just two months, Cigna denied over 300,000 claims, spending an average of 1.2 seconds on each one. While doctors still had to sign off on the denials, the system didn’t require them to open patient medical records for review. The complaint alleges that PXDX is an “improper scheme designed to systematically, wrongfully, and automatically deny its insureds medical payments owed to them under Cigna’s insurance policies.” The lawsuit brings to light serious questions about how AI could impact patients as more healthcare orgs adopt new tools (note: this April, Google’s cloud division unveiled new AI tools for healthcare claims processing, currently in use by Blue Shield of California and others). Richard Nieva for Forbes shares the news. (GSH)

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