View this email in your browser
Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

In This Issue

Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media


Past Newsletters


Keep Up With Brian:


If a Tree Falls...
Marketing, Buzz and the Film World

September 15, 2021

Earlier this week, The Information (expensive paywall) took a look at Apple's streaming approach, in an article titled "Apple, A Streaming Punchline No More" saying they're finally settling into a groove. But a couple of crazy things were mentioned, one of which is super-relevant in light of my article last week where I pointed out that Apple doesn't seem to know how to build buzz for even its best titles. The article mentions that Apple hates Facebook so much that they won't spend a dime on FB or Insta ads at all - and ban their producers from doing it either. 
As a marketing friend mentioned to me once - FB and Insta are so good that marketers don't even call them advertising anymore, but customer acquisition. It just works. You can do other things, but that's the starting place. (I've posted a photo of that part of the article at the start of this newsletter for those who can't afford the access fee). Look, I hate the Book all day long, but if you don't spend money there to acquire viewers for your shows/movies, you are stuck in clown school. And free posts aren't seen by anyone, as I thought everyone knows?!

No wonder there’s no buzz. And while they may not be boycotting other social media, you definitely don’t see a ton of buzz building for them on other sites, either. You would think that the masters of Silicon Valley, the definers of cool advertising, the juggernaut that must keep building its customer base would be ahead of the game when it comes to digital marketing. But… you’d be wrong. They’re stuck trying to figure it out, just like everyone making “content” above the age of 30 and not native to social media.
I’ve written about this before, but I continue to be shocked at how bad all of us (me included) are at transitioning to the digital world, especially when it comes to marketing. It’s not like this shift is new! I’m picking on Apple here, but the reality is… I can pick out almost any distributor/platform/service related to film/shows, and they seem to think that the best use of their money continues to be TV ads, print, or the trades. This is especially true when you look at specialty film – anything below the blockbuster level, and budgets, of Marvel or F9. And my hunch is that they only spend properly on digital as an afterthought – I’m sure it’s in their “experimental” marketing budget for each project.
Last week, I also mentioned the lack of buzz coming out of the Fall film fests – and hinted that I think fests aren’t even the best way to launch the film to the general public (they do seem to work for awards). Part of the reason for that, however, is because they’re even worse at the marketing part than the distributors or streamers. Outside of marketing to the industry to buy badges, they don’t even seem to have a budget to ongoing marketing to build buzz. And in a digital world – much less a covid one where most attendees of fests like Toronto are virtual right now – they need to spend more on digital marketing than they do on things like red carpets, or other “in person” branding. In fact, I’d argue it’s becoming one of the minimum necessities of the job – want to run a film fest? Make sure you spend more on marketing than any other single line item in your budget. 
But it’s not fair to pick on festivals alone – as I mentioned, film theaters and distributors are also guilty. There’s a distinct defeatist vibe among these folks – we spend what we spend, where we spend it, because that’s all that works. I recently spoke with a filmmaker of one film this past year that was playing at multiple “virtual” cinema screens run by reputable arthouse exhibitors. But the distributor didn’t spend a dime – literally, not a cent – on marketing those screenings. Neither did the theaters, unless you count their email newsletters. They asked the distributor how people would know about the screenings, and their response was – we don’t make enough from those screenings to bother spending any money for "even" digital marketing of them. Tree falls in woods…
Even worse – look at all of the start-ups launching “paradigm changing” businesses in support of film. Because of this newsletter, I get emails from a lot of start-ups who are building new systems that they hope will revolutionize the industry. New tech platforms, new audience aggregators, new ticketing systems, new curatorial projects, new community screening tools…the list goes on. A few of them are investing in PR, but most seem to think that if they build it, users will come. None are spending any real money on marketing. They will all fail. And look, I get it – I ran a start-up in this space, which failed for several reasons, but one of them was lack of a marketing budget. There’s this mind-set, pushed by VC’s and tech press mainly, that good platforms today should just go viral. But as we’ve learned about TikTok – successful platforms today spend money to make the virality happen. 
I should also acknowledge here that I’m just as guilty here. I write my newsletter, I do my consulting work. But I barely promote it on social or spend much on marketing (I do all of this for/with my clients, but I’m terrible at it for my own endeavors). It’s hard work. It actually takes some skill and original thinking. And you need to build it into your budgets. But it’s the one area that might actually increase the share of the pie coming to our industry, and all of us need to get better at it soon, as it might already be too late. 
This is one reason I like working with brands on films – they understand marketing. As I say in my brand film classes – we’ve figured out how to do digital in film when it comes to production and distribution, but we have a lot to learn when it comes to marketing. Brands have already done that work. Maybe we should partner with them a bit more,  because we definitely need the help.

Stuff I'm Reading

More on the Apple approach to Content: The Information article about Apple and streaming mentioned above also points out how obsessive they are about their brand. I chuckled a bit when they pointed out that Apple is also so paranoid about its brand that a bad character, who was a coder, on Mythic Quest had to use a generic computer, when everyone else uses a Mac. HA! More on that in the excerpt photo on the right:

AMC is Doing Some Marketing on TV Finally - There once was a time when movie theaters could rely on studios to promote their films and send flocks of moviegoers to theaters. Then came the pandemic. And then came a vaccine. But box office sales have still been relatively low. So theaters have turned to advertising on TV and social media: AMC just dropped $25 million on a campaign featuring Nicole Kidman which will air on socials this week and on TV later this weekend. The takeaway: AMC and other theaters are scrambling “to remind today’s audiences of the magic that can only be found in a movie theatre and at AMC” (Adam Aron, AMC CEO in CNBC, which has the story). (GSH)

Black Film Archive Wants to Fill Your Streaming Gaps: Maya Cade, recently announced the launch of a Black Film Archive, an archive of around 250 Black films (directed, produced, and starred by Black people) made from 1915-1979. “Black-film history is often reduced to a small batch of titles released in the past 30 years. Cade aims to change that”, explains Vulture’s Robert Daniels. It’s a preservation of Black history featuring war films, romances, blaxploitation titles and more. Cade explains that “In a [streaming] world where people are given things when they ask for them, the consideration of Black desire in this specific marketplace has not been at the forefront of people’s minds.” The takeaway: Cade is picking up where big streaming has failed (read “failed” as “ignored” or “erased”) and is starting to fill the gap. You can visit the Black Film Archive here. (GSH)

How Hollywood Sold Out To China: The Atlantic takes a look at how Hollywood has approached China - and vice versa - and how a slope got slippery fast. I think the article can be summed up by this quote: "What critics might call censorship, Hollywood studios might label a market-entry strategy." Further, the writer (Shirley Li) points out that with so much of what Hollywood does being on slippery ground - SVOD changes, the pandemic, consolidation, etc. - it's almost impossible to survive under the current model without China. 

Meet the (relatively) New Head of the Int. Doc Association - Rick Pérez recently took over at the IDA, and he sat down for an interview with the group's magazine, Documentary, to speak about his career, how he thinks about the field, and what needs to be addressed - at least partially via his leadership. Rick has been a filmmaker, and a funder/gate-keeper, and he knows the field well. I look forward to seeing what he does at IDA, and this interview is a good intro to him, and what he's thinking about.

SubStack is Stealing Away Comic Writers from Publishers - giving them a lot of money, and it seems a lot of control over IP. This could get interesting. The Hollywood Reporter has the story.

The Brits are Trying to kill Channel 4 via Privatization, and the shit is getting real. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but Deadline has a new, decent report on the cynical privatization moves the British government is taking as they get their revenge on Channel 4 - this is not good.
Branded Content

Why a Fashion House Made a Drama Series That Looks Nothing Like Branded Entertainment: Luxury fashion house Balmain and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 have partnered to create original entertainment that appeals to young audiences, starting with a drama series called “Fracture.” And apparently, it doesn’t feel like branded content...but more just like a show. Bailman’s Chief Marketing Officer, Txampiu Diz, explains “The key to our strategy’s success will be the factor of authenticity… that we have all the elements to connect with our audience through stories that relate to their lives and experiences.” Brands should take note. Adweek’s Brittaney Kiefer has the news. (GSH)

Apple can no longer force developers to use in-app purchasing, judge rules in Epic Games case: You’ve probably already heard of the Apple vs. Epic Games trials. The App Store took a hit on Friday when Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that “Apple’s anti-steering provisions hid critical information from consumers and illegally stifle consumer choice.” What does that mean? Apple can no longer prevent external developers from providing links that steer customers away from Apple in-app purchasing. In turn, Epic Games must pay Apple damages for violating Apple’s contract. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney thinks the ruling is too soft and will likely be appealing: [Friday’s] ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers… Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers,” to which Rogers said that “success is not illegal” and Apple doesn’t have a monopoly.  CNBC reports. (GSH)

Venice Film Fest's VR Component Shows the Future, and it's Social: It's been fun to watch/read as IndieWire's Eric Kohn has become more interested in, and more of an expert in, virtual reality. His coverage has been among the best things in IndieWire lately, and he's one of the best journalists covering this beat. His latest piece on the Venice VR section - and their related tours of more open projects (not even submitted) is another great example, and it proves also that Venice hired the two best curators in the field for this aspect of the fest. Check it out, and learn why the future of VR is participatory, social, and in the words of co-curator Liz Rosenthal, "mind blowing." Indiewire.

Prison Company Patents VR to Give Inmates Brief Taste of Freedom: Amidst a raging pandemic and a climate crisis, this piece of news from Vice is by far the most dystopian: “Prison contracting giant Global Tel Link Corporation (GTL)... has obtained a patent for a system that essentially gives incarcerated people a taste of freedom through virtual reality (VR). Inmates will be allowed “for a brief time, [to] imagine himself outside or away from the controlled environment" and can partake in virtual visitations with friends or relatives (and maybe even meet them on a sunny beach?). But this will all come with a cost. What people not acquainted with the prison system often forget is that prison costs a ton of money for both inmates and their relatives. In fact, GTL was sued for charging the families of incarcerated individuals much more to receive phone calls from prison than their basic monthly phone service. Vice’s Joseph Cox points out that the VR patent “signals the continued ways that contractors such as GTL try to monetize their literally captive audience of inmates as well their relatives or friends. My takeaway: How long until VR be used not as a tool to create a sense of freedom for U.S prisoners, but as a mechanism to inflict pain or punishment on them? (GSH)

(Note that (GSH) indicates articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman)

Like This Newsletter? Subscribe & Past Issues
Copyright © 2021 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.