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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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Back in the Saddle…Corona be Damned

July 7, 2021

We’re back! This past weekend was the Fourth of July in the USA, and this week the Cannes Film Fest fired up in person events. Multiple filmmakers I know are in the middle of production or about to start, and I have brand clients with at least seven projects either in or about to begin shooting. This reopening has been in the works for a while, but this past week it seemed like everyone woke up and said hello to the world again.
Not that all is rosy. Much of the world is still going vaccine-deprived, or having flare-ups or complete catastrophes, or entering re-lock-downs and plenty of people were hit hard by this virus and remain in a suboptimal state. And in the US, we’re still battling covidiots who don’t want the vaccine, or can’t lead their way out of it by coming up with sensible mandates, or want to deny it ever happened. Don’t get me started on all of those issues – I think last week’s missive was enough on that subject. 
But it’s been great this week to read my friend’s updates on social media, and in talking to them in person (distanced, outdoors still for me) as they recount their Fourth of July weekends, what they did, who they saw again, and what they want to do next. I’ve even enjoyed the humble-brags of my friends making the trip to Cannes, which are normally nauseating posts, but somehow this year, I cheer them on. Not that I would stand in line, sweating in the July heat of Southern France jacketed in a tuxedo, knowing that in spite of spit tests and vaccine-ID’s, you can still attend Cannes with Covid (can’t anyone come up with a solid plan??), and that many of the films will be available via my couch within weeks if not months, but hey – if that’s what floats your yacht, more power to you and your expense account. Ok… that was my jealousy getting the better of me, perhaps.
I felt it too. For me, it wasn’t going inside the cinema – I’m not going indoors for 2 hours for anything yet, but I attended my first live performance since February of 2020 this past weekend, and it was something I’ll remember forever. My wife and I went to see the ABT (American Ballet Theatre) perform their first official NYC dance performance since 2020, outside at the new Little Island Amph (creative naming there, Diller). It was brilliant – the venue, the show, the atmosphere, the audience. But it wasn’t until the second Pas de deux that it hit me – I was actually sitting in an (outdoor) audience, watching a live performance again, and I wept. Big tears, could barely breathe. Couldn’t look at anyone, only the two dancers. When I could finally speak to my wife about it after the show, who had experienced the same thing but earlier, she pointed out that I was so self-absorbed in my revelry that I missed the gasps and sobs from the audience, who all felt the same joy. Finally, together again, enjoying a group experience of the arts. 
I needed it. I’ve missed it. I’ll be going back, doing more. Taking advantage of what seems to be a lull, at least in the places I go and like to attend – again, knowing how lucky I am. I don’t begrudge anyone else who is braver than me, and is going into the movie theaters. And many cinema owners and programmers have told me they are seeing record numbers for some shows.  I get it. I won’t be at Cannes (except on a virtual panel, see below), and will attend fewer festivals and events overall, but made plans today for Sundance and the BrandStorytelling conference. But I’m more excited about all of the things I can do safely again, outdoors. Seeing people, seeing performances, especially.
I’m even more excited for all of those who are figuring out ways to make great films and shows again. And I’m excited to hear from any of you who are back out there, making or experiencing great art. If it’s in or near NYC, especially. Drop me a line, I’m eager to explore, and easy to find.
Ed. Note: maybe I’ll be back in more cynical form by next week. Have fun out there, but mask up when you should, and be safe.


Book Discount For Readers: The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking
: Dan Mirvish is a filmmaker, poet, co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival, and an author, and one of his best books has been his guide to independent filmmaking, which has just been updated & re-issued by Focal Press/Routledge. It just went for sale yesterday, July 6th, and while I haven't had time to read the new version, I know the old one was full of great advice on everything you need to know from writing to directing, to distributing your indie film, and everything in-between, so I am sure the new one is even better. He's given a discount code for Sub-Genre readers (ok, anyone who has the code), so go to the website and enter ESBAC for a 20% discount. 

More on the book from their site: "In this fully updated second edition, award-winning film director and Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish gives you soup-to-nuts, cradle-to-grave advice on every aspect of the filmmaking lifestyle and craft. He drops advice on playing the Hollywood game, and shows you how to finance, cast, shoot and show your indie feature, documentary, episodic series, short film, student film, web video or big-budget blockbuster. Once labeled a "cheerful subversive" by The New York Times, Mirvish shares lessons he's learned personally from film luminaries Robert Altman, Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Steven Soderbergh, Rian Johnson, Whit Stillman, Harold Ramis, Lynn Shelton, John Carpenter, Ava DuVernay, the Russo Brothers, Bong Joon-ho, Sean Baker and more." 

Check out his book trailer here, and buy the book with the code here.

Stuff I'm Reading

Learn About Artinii: I'll be speaking on this panel at the Marché du Film - Festival de Cannes (virtually) this coming Sunday, July 11th, 2021, 14:30 - 15:30 GMT+2 (that's 8:30am ET) to discuss a new tech tool for film distribution, exhibition and festivals called Artinii. The panel is called "The New Normal In Distribution - Reach, Safety, Versatility & No Compromises", moderated by Wendy Mitchell, Journalist and Film Festival Consultant. On the stage will be the Artinii team of Vit Krajicek (founder and CEO) and Betty Růžičková (Key Account Manager), Ted Hope (Producer, Double Hope Films), Karol Martesko-Fenster (Partner/COO of ABRAMORAMA), Daniel Baur (CEO and Founder of K5 MEDIA GROUP & INVESTMENT GmbH) and myself (and yes, that's too many white guys), to discuss Artinii’s tools and how they can support various projects and opportunities in the industry and how they operate within the digital distribution landscape. I'll be addressing the potential for brands to use the technology for sponsored screenings in cool new venues, like bars, restaurants, retail stores and other "alternative" venues. The panel should be live day of show, and then reside at this YouTube link. 

The Sameness in Current Documentary Films: Filmmaker Alexandra Juhasz writes an article for POV magazine about her experience being a juror for the Peabody awards for several years, and how she increasingly sees a sameness of style creeping across most of the entries, and presumably a lot of the films we can access on Netflix, tv, etc. She argues that many use the same forms, and this paragraph summarizes her take:

"Anyone who has taken or taught a class in documentary must see where I am going. The 35 documentaries occupy only one of the six modes of documentary outlined by scholar Bill Nichols, which have become something of a trade standard. All 35 sit neatly in what he identifies as the “expository mode,” where “the voice” of the documentary uses words to inform the viewer what it knows and wants you to think about the subject at hand (and this lightly so, given that the score and editing contribute so strongly to the “voice” of all these documentaries). The other five familiar (and powerful) forms of documentary seem to have been taken off the table: poetic, performative, observational, reflexive, and participatory. If you are curious about these other modes, you can learn all about them in a college class, find them at film festivals (particularly those which support art documentary), at art or revival houses, on television channels that support art or political documentary, and in online collections of great cinema. Just not on good TV, apparently."

The doc community is already debating this online a fair bit, and the article is worth a read and some contemplation. My take - we need broader artistic diversity of forms, but commercial venues are gonna be commercial, that's their point. These have to be supported and exist outside of that ecosystem as much as possible, and maybe a few will break through to the commercial market.

HBO Max launches outside the US in 39 new territories” and “HBO Max to offer mobile plan for as little as $3 a month in Latin America, Caribbean: The Takeaway: HBO Max has upped the competition with other big streamers that have penetrated Latin American and Caribbean audiences (i.e. Disney+, Netflix) with a mobile-only plan, a handful of locally-produced originals, and a sweet discount. 

On June 29, HBO Max expanded its service outside the U.S/ U.S territories for the first time. Launching in 39 Latin American and Caribbean (LA/CA)  territories, HBO Max users in LA/CA will have the option to subscribe to a plan “designed for one individual to watch on a smartphone or tablet in standard-definition video quality; this plan can work out to costing as little as $3 a month in some countries” A major difference in the launch in LA/CA is that there won’t be an ad-supported plan. The company announced it will produce 100 originals filmed in Latin America over the next two years. Of note, there will be no Caribbean originals. The icing on the cake is that users who subscribe before July 1st will receive a 50% discounted rate for as long as they’re subscribed. The Verge and CNET both report.

Branded Content
Brands Must Wake Up to Their Responsibilities and Stop Lagging Behind on Climate ActionTakeaway: In order to gain consumer trust and investment, brands need to commit to carbon reduction throughout their entire supply chain and be transparent about it. Sustainable investing only works if companies are creating real systems change. Greenwashing. Politicians do it and so do brands, and people are tired of it. A recent survey finds that “Two-thirds of people in the U.K. are skeptical of brand communications around the environment and social purpose because they believe brands are not walking the walk on the issue.” And they’re not wrong –– brands love to call themselves green when in reality, they’re just carbon offsetting instead of investing in sustainable innovation. And while ESG investing is seen as the next big opportunity for economic growth, “the ESG boom can only come to fruition if the opportunity for innovation is embraced fully and authentically, and this can’t happen when businesses continue to operate in an unchanged value chain.”  A recent poll found “nine in ten people are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment.” When will brands catch up with their consumers? Etc Davies of Adweek reports.

GroupM Targets $75 Million Investment in Black-Owned Media: GroupM, a media investment company, is spending $75 million on Group Black, a media collective “aimed at supporting Black-owned media and creators by connecting them with agencies and brands”. Group Black is designed to “jumpstart emerging Black-owned media channels” –– they plan to funnel over $500 million in Black-owned media and GroupM’s participation is just the start. Travis Montaque, the co-founder of Group Black explains, “The idea is not just that advertisers need to spend more with Black-owned media, but that the industry also needs a stronger pipeline to fulfill the demand.” He describes his company as the vehicle to create a change in representation today.  Larissa Faw of Adweek has the story.

This Story of Gay Farmers Kicks Off a Docuseries About Diverse Heroes in Agriculture: Corteva Agriscience (a major American chemical and seed company) partnered with agency Ogilvy to launch “The Heart of the Farm” a documentary series “that will explore the lives of the growers who feed the world…. The first installment of the series is “Growing With Pride,” which spotlights… a fourth-generation farmer [whose greatest challenge] was coming out in an industry that sees little in the way of LGBTQ+ representation.” The project is a testament to brands’ ability to harness their power and influence to share untold stories which might engender a more tolerant society. You can find “Growing With Pride” in the article. Sara Century has the story in Adweek.

The Internet Is Rotting: says Jonathan Zittrain writing in The Atlantic. The Takeaway: As Google puts it, “The web is like an ever-growing library with billions of books and no central filing system.” And as Jorge Luis Borges pointed out, “a library without an index becomes paradoxically less informative as it grows.” Today, our “Library” suffers massive amounts of information loss. Moving forward, technical infrastructure is needed to preserve this knowledge base. How is knowledge recorded? First it was engraved in stone, later it was written on papyrus, and after many years it was stored on the web. And what happens when this knowledge base starts to decay? There’s a term for this: “Link rot,” and it’s endemic to the web. Studies show that even knowledge (stored in the form of links) that was meant to endure indefinitely (i.e. the judicial opinions of the Supreme Court) has been disappearing with incredible pace.   We once celebrated the absence of control in the web as a centerpiece of “grassroots democracy and freedom…. But more recently, these features [which make the web “free”] have been understood to facilitate vectors for individual harassment and societal destabilization.” So what’s the solution? Technical infrastructure. And “for those times when censorship is deemed the right course, meticulous records should be kept of what has been changed. Those records should be available to the public.” 
New Uses for Virtual Reality (3 articles): Three articles this week on new uses for VR. The Quick Takeaway: Virtual Reality (VR) technology and its application have only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now and in the near future, virtually every corner of the public and private sector will have to decide when, how, and to what extent these tools are implemented. 

One piece (Hongkongers turn to virtual reality to speed up UK property purchases as Covid-19 pandemic rules out in-person viewings) reports that after the UK loosened its immigration policies for Hongkongers, hundreds of Hong Kong immigrants have turned to VR tools to search for property in London due to their inability to tour in-person. Agencies have begun to offer 3D apartment tours to seal the deal. Another piece (Documents Show Police Virtual Reality Training for 'Mentally Ill Subjects') reports that police forces have begun to implement VR in training. Companies like Axon and VirTra “created immersive science-based training simulations designed to teach a variety of cognitive and psycho-motor skills ranging from de-escalation to judgmental use of force to situational awareness.” I would argue that this is a dystopian development, and the money could be better spent on things like race-based trainings or other interventions. Lastly, this piece (Using Virtual Reality To Help Address Inequities In Healthcare) reports on the uses of VR in addressing inequality in healthcare: A team at Eastern Michigan University School of Nursing was awarded a grant to develop a VR program to address health inequalities affecting Asian Americans. “In the virtual reality program, [White and non-Asian] nurses are able to simulate interactions with [Asian American] patients and learn more about the barriers they may face.”  A much better use in my opinion.

56% of Americans oppose the right to sue social media companies for what users post:Takeaway: The right to sue social media companies for what users post is a contentious issue, one that’s being debated by lawmakers. However, and perhaps surprisingly, the data finds that this isn’t necessarily a partisan issue. Recent survey findings show the following: “56% of U.S. adults say people should not be able to sue social media companies for content that other users post on these companies’ platforms…. At the same time, 41% say people should be able to do this.”... and : “There are only modest partisan differences in Americans’ views of the issue…. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who identify as moderate or liberal are most likely to oppose the idea of people being able to sue (65%), while 57% of conservative Republicans say the same. Some 55% of conservative or moderate Democrats and Democratic leaners also say this, while liberal Democrats are more evenly split.”  *See article for more findings. 

New Norway law mandates social media influencers disclose photo editing: In a move against body-shaming and for body positivity, Norway’s parliament voted 72-15 on legislation that declares that photos where “a body's shape, size or skin has been changed by retouching or other manipulation" must be labelled as having been edited. Additionally, celebrities and influencers “must label altered images if they are paid or benefit in some way from the post.” These new rules are awaiting the approval of the King of Norway before they’re enacted. The Hill had the story.

The world’s social media giants admit they can’t protect women online: On July 1, social media giants Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube made joint commitments to reduce the harassment of women on social media. The announcement “is a collective admission from the world’s leading social giants that their [past] efforts haven’t been enough to protect women online." Back in 2017, these companies made similar commitments. But research shows that they didn’t do enough: “Harassment remains far worse for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups, according to researchers. More than a third of women surveyed by The Economist last year reported personally experiencing abuse online. Black women were 84% more likely than white women to be targeted for harassment, according to an Amnesty International review of tweets received by 778 journalists and politicians.”  The World Wide Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab presented the social media giants with 11 prototyped anti-harassment features to help them do better. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be implemented.   Qz has the story.
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