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Emotional Impact
& Other Lessons from Elevate

July 14, 2022

This week, I’ve been attending the Elevate conference, put on by the amazing team at BrandStorytelling. It’s been 2.5 years since their last conference, and everyone was in great spirits and ready to reconnect, learn, meet new folks and enjoy the hell out of the Sundance Resort (tough life, sometimes). I’m still here now, fly fishing, so this will be a shorter/simpler post. I had a few key takeaways from the conference, which I think are relevant for both brands making films and for filmmakers (and maybe others) too.
What Does Every Viral Video Have in Common? First, Jake Ceja, a YouTube and social media creator whose work I’ve stumbled across before (check out this video) brought up his philosophy for what works in video. He actually told us he learned it from another creator (whose name I didn’t catch), who he was speaking with when he first started launching YouTube Shorts and wasn’t getting any traction, and this person asked him if he knew what all viral videos have in common? Was it being super short? Being funny? Coming from a good looking creator? Nope. The answer is – they all have an emotional impact. Sounds simple, but think about it for a second – those pet videos that make you laugh, or the ones that make you cry, or make you angry, those are the ones that work. And if you strive for that kind of impact – and importantly, this can be in more meaningful ways, too – it will help any kind of video or film you are making. Too often, I see films or videos, of any length, that just aren’t connecting with audiences, and most of the time, this is their single biggest failing.
One size does not fit all. I led two workshops on distribution and attended many other great sessions and a consistent theme was that no single strategy works for every type of film. There were brands who found better success on their owned & operated channels. Others who partnered with Netflix, who commissioned their work and kept it branded (Headspace being an example). Others who had a solid film fest strategy and others who stumbled into awards (but had a great film). Some who kept their IP, others who signed it away.  Again, a simple lesson, but one worth keeping in mind anytime someone tells you something must be done a certain way.
Giving Creators their freedom is the only sure key to success. The best films were the ones where the brand gave their creative team as much trust and tried to make sure they could create the best work, and the work that was most genuine not just to the brand’s voice, but also to the creator’s voice and what the audience wanted (or could be surprised to find out it wanted). Again, simple, but people forget this all the time, especially in the brand film world. 
Do what scares you the most. The first day that I arrived here, I had some extra time and took three chairlifts up the mountain to Bearclaw Cabin, a little cabin restaurant with 360-degree views of the Wasatch Mountains. The chairlift itself was making me a little too aware of my fear of heights, and then I heard the craziest zinging noise across the way and heard screams of panic and laughter… it was people zip-lining down the mountain at what turns out to be about 65mph and with 2100 feet of vertical drop. No. F-n. Way. I thought. I could never do that. 
But the next day, my friend Rick Parkhill (who runs BrandStorytelling) bumped into me and said I had to do it, and he’d never known anyone who regretted it. Just then, his colleague told me someone had dropped out of their reservation and they could fit me into a slot. I was on the hook. I went with a team of 10 conference attendees, some who I know and love and some I was just meeting, and most of us had the jitters, but those went away after the first baby run to learn how to use the brakes. I barely used them again except to stop at the end. I loved it, it was exhilarating, and I dare-say life-changing. I could not be happier that I did it, or that I got to do it with my friend Rick who convinced me to create a new life moment. 
Of course, this was also a general theme of the conference – taking risks. Doing what scares you, but that might just turn out to be the best decision. Or you might fail – in the case of the zip line, someone has died here, but more often people just chicken out at the last minute. But hey, they tried. That’s usually the worst case. More often, you learn something about yourself and have a better story to tell. Challenge yourself with what makes you scared, and you will often be rewarded.
Community Matters. Like I said, it’s been a long time since this community came together, and the Parkhill family and related staff did some kind of magic to stay alive and keep the community going in the interim. Aside from that zipline, nothing much felt better than getting back together with old friends, clients who I hadn’t even met outside of Zoom, and meeting new friends. Having their support and being able to share lessons learned and learn more together with them was important. This was also true when I reconnected with folks at Tribeca, the first real film fest I’d been able to attend in a long time. And it was true of the better brand studio teams here, and the best projects that were shared. The ones that had strong teams, that relied on people they trusted were clear – and they shined. 
Relax and Enjoy Life. This one is much easier when you are privileged to be able to do it. But when I went fly fishing with a guide, I was making a lot of amateur mistakes (I’ve done it many times but remain a novice). I couldn’t relax and go with the flow and just enjoy the beautiful nature I was in, with a river full of hungry trout, and a sky full of hungry birds. He told me I was being" too New York City," and needed to take a deep breath and chill, and just enjoy being in this amazing place. And as I started doing that, I relaxed, and things got better. Another simple lesson, but one we can forget. It was a conference with real learning and work, but a lot of down time to enjoy life, and we all need to do it more. 
I’m sure I’ll have more data-filled analytics to share and insights from this conference once I get down from the altitude and have more time to reflect. But these are my quick takeaways from a great week at Elevate. Now, off to the Owl Bar for one last round with friends. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Hollywood is developing its most ambitious NFT project yet during crypto winter: A creative studio called Orange Comet has ambitions to create NFTs that tell cinematic stories. Their overarching goal: Acquire intellectual property (IP) as an NFT, develop that IP within the NFT community, and ultimately turn that project into a film or TV show. “If done correctly, Orange Comet could become a viable force in Hollywood as a go-to studio for building IP in the NFT space,” writes KC Ifeanyi for FastCompany. The big takeaway here: We’re looking at a future where there’s a lot of convergence in how/where storytelling takes place. In this future, the relationship between creator and community will change, likely bringing the parties closer together. Check out Ifeanyi’s piece to learn about Orange Comet’s various film-related projects and how NFTs were/ may be impacted by the recent crash in cryptocurrency.  (GSH) There are a lot of projects in this space in addition to Orange Comet's, but this article gives a good sense of the space, and we'll see a lot more of this, soon. (BN)

HBO Max Cuts Localized Productions - Bad sign for Streaming? Big news in the past week, as DiscoBros , owners of HBO Max forced them to cut localized productions in in the Nordics, Central Europe, Holland and Turkey - but leaving Spain and France in place for now. They've decided all they need is the US, it seems. Manori Ravindran of Variety reports: "WBD has “figured out that, actually, the only axis they need to pay attention to, given the importance of these businesses and their core markets, is — No. 1 — the U.S., then the U.K., Germany and France,” says Claire Enders, founder of leading London-based media consultancy Enders Analysis." That's big news, considering the trend has been to utilize local productions to increase subscribers, while also satisfying international audiences. And it was something that helped keep some geographical/artistic diversity in the pipeline. (BN)
Branded Content
TikTok targets small businesses with new ‘Follow Me’ educational program: TikTok isn’t like other social media platforms where the central aim is to follow your friends, make connections…etc. It’s a place where conveying your personal or brand identity and story is increasingly important. And lately, we’re seeing TikTok try to help “the little guy.” First they tried to help brands find smaller creators (as opposed to the well known money-making influencers that everyone likes to use). Now they’re reaching small businesses with an initiative called “Follow Me.” Launched this week, the free program “will offer guides to using TikTok’s range of business and creative tools, advertising and promotional features, as well as coaching from other small business owners,” writes Sarah Perez for TechCrunch. Perez’s takeaway: The launch “signals TikTok’s ambitions to become the next big social ads giant for a younger generation that has abandoned Meta’s Facebook”. As a result, Meta will likely “try to turn its photo-and-video sharing app Instagram into a TikTok clone.” (GSH)

Netflix Partners with Microsoft for Ads - This news was everywhere, but here's the NYT article.  Lots of theories on this one, but mine is - and my fave, because others have said this, too - is it's step one of a MicroFlix acquisition/merger in the not too distant future. (BN)

This week in Artificial Intelligence: A (very) brief summary of three AI projects that caught my eye (GSH):
  1. Meta open sources early-stage AI translation tool that works across 200 languages: The social media conglomerate has created a “universal speech translator” that can translate in over 40,000 directions between 200 languages. Next, they’ll be including “low-resource languages” in the model (languages that your “average” tools like google translate don’t support). James Vincent for The Verge has the news
  2. FIFA Will Use AI to Track Players’ Bodies During World Cup: Players, referees, coaches, and fans can no longer fight about that offside call in our next World Cup, to take place in Qatar in November. Here’s how it works: “12 cameras installed underneath the roof of the stadium [will] track the ball across the field, as well as 29 data points of each individual player, including all relevant limbs and extremities. The cameras will detect the positioning of the ball and the players at a rate of 50 times per second, calculating their exact position on the field…. The new system will provide an automated offside alert to video match officials inside the video operation room on whether or not a player was in an offside position.” Passant Rabie for Gizmodo has the news
  3. Amazon shows off Alexa feature that mimics the voices of your dead relatives: Yes, you read that right. At a recent conference, Amazon played a video of Alexa reading a bedtime story to a girl in the voice of her dead grandmother. The Alexa AI head scientist explained that adding human attributes to AI systems is important “in these times of the ongoing pandemic, when so many of us have lost someone we love.” Sweet or creepy? Check out the demo here. James Vincent for The Verge has the news. (GSH)
Spotify acquires music trivia game Heardle: There’s been a lot of Spotify buzz lately. Last month they acquired Sonantic, an AI voice platform. We’re not really sure what they’re going to do with that (maybe replace singers with robots? Kidding… kind of). This month, the music streaming platform acquired its first video game called Heardle, a music trivia game which currently has millions of players. Why the turn to gaming? “We are always looking for innovative and playful ways to enhance music discovery and help artists reach new fans,” said Jeremy Erlich, global head of music at Spotify. How long until Spotify has a full-on gaming library (like the one Netflix is working on)? It’s clear that Spotify will be going through a major transformation in the next few years. Hopefully these changes will also benefit the artists that keep their platform booming (though I kind of doubt it). Ariel Shapiro for The Verge has the news. (GSH)

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