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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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Allostasis - Or, Embracing Change

September 7, 2022

I’m back. Vacation is over – both my real vacation, and my vacation from social media and writing the newsletter.  And I’m ready to start seeing some major changes in the film industry and helping to plot a few of them. I feel like everyone has been talking about change – more on that below – but only a handful have been getting to the action part. But in my conversations with many folks more recently, I feel like the seeds for change have been planted during the past six-twelve months, and now many people are ready for the action part, and we’ll start to see a lot of that happen in the next six-twelve months. I hope that’s true because I’m ready for it. Are you?
Don’t be afraid of it, either. As Brad Stulberg wrote in the NYT this past week, change is good for us. In fact, it’s constant. The world is always changing around us, and we within it, but we resist it and fear it, when we should embrace it. In fact, while most people hope we can get over the painful part of change and get back to something close to normal, which is homeostasis, he argues we should embrace something different instead – allostasis. From Stulberg, “Allostasis is defined as “stability through change,” elegantly capturing the concept’s double meaning: The way to stay stable through the process of change is by changing, at least to some extent. If you want to hold your footing, you’ve got to keep moving.” As he puts it, it’s about partaking “in change by focusing on what we can control and trying to let go of what we can’t. When I catch myself resisting or shutting down in response to change, in my head I say some version of the following: This is what is happening right now. I’m doing the best that I can. What, if any, skillful actions can I take?”
The need for change was very much on my mind in August, as I started the month at one of my favorite film festivals, Locarno, which is very much focused on change. Their management is asking what actions they can take, and which ones they can facilitate, to effect change. Locarno is officially one of the top film fests in the world (yes, there’s a board that ranks them), but it isn’t sitting on its laurels. Which is rare. 
I’m about to head to the Toronto Film Festival – which I’ve been attending every year since 2000, and in that time a lot has changed with the film world. In fact, as hinted above, the only constant has been change. But TIFF hasn’t ever been the driver of that change – it’s been more like a steady ship on the rolling seas, bringing us the best in cinema, and maybe a place to gather and chat about the current state of the art and business of film. Sure, they’ve made some changes (moved locations, built a cinema complex, changed staff, etc.). But most of their changes have been focused on remaining in the top three film fests, globally. The big festivals – Cannes, Berlin, TIFF, Telluride, Venice (and to a lesser extent, Sundance) – are too big, and too focused on keeping the machine rolling to really be drivers of change. To be clear, those are also some of my favorite film fests, too, so I am not knocking them – it’s not really part of their job.
But as I’ve written before, Locarno is intent on not just remaining a big, important, artistically interesting festival. They also want to instigate major changes – to how festivals work, how they work, and to how the industry works. You can read more about those larger efforts here, but this year, the focus was firmly on the state of indie film, globally (with a bit of a US and European lens, but not ignoring the rest of the world, either), and as the trades reported quite widely – a lot was said about the need for change. 
Just two examples, in case you missed them. First, keynote speaker, and my good friend, Ted Hope (who also has a good newsletter) got things started with some provocations, saying “The indie film sector is f**** but it actually has a huge chance to build something and I actually think that is quite doable and the chance of building something better are quite high.” (emphasis mine) This statement, and his 150 million bullet points playing on slides behind him were the talk of the town, and were reported widely in Variety. Former IFC head, Arianna Bocco picked up on this theme in her talk as well. She reflected on her past at IFC and her current thinking and said, “What’s been clear, and what everyone is really addressing is that that [indie] model is broken and it doesn’t exist…The independent film world is in disarray,” “We are very ripe for – you can use a lot of different words – an overhaul, a revolution, a reset. There are many ways to frame it,” (emphasis mine again). 
That was the take-away of the rest of my trip to Locarno, and of my conversations with folks both before and after my vacation – a real sense of pragmatism is settling in – nothing is working, so we’d better build something new. That, and a sense of experimentation – let’s try almost anything because it can’t be worse than what we’ve got now. It’s not about getting back to normal – homeostasis – but about accepting that normal is gone, and we’ve got to be part of building something different. 
I, for one, am laser focused on that goal from here on out. I’ve been part of what feels like a million Zoom calls where people chat about the troubles of the industry, and I’m disinviting myself from all of those that don’t turn into action, and soon. I’m working with a handful of folks now who are launching new ideas, and I hope to report on more of those soon. But I also hope to hear more from those of you who are getting more active around change – what are you building, funding, advocating for, or instigating? I don’t have to be part of it, but I’d love to write about it here, so send me your news. I’m sure I’ll run into a few of you on the “Fall” festival circuit (air quotes because Summer does last til the end of September), and I hope to hear about more changes afoot.
A Few Important Sidenotes:
August was busier than usual in the bad and good news departments, and I’d be remiss not to add a couple of notes here.
First, I was stunned and heartbroken by the rapid loss of one of our leading voices for change, and for good – Jess Search (she had let people know about her health publicly a month earlier). She was a mentor and friend. A lot has been written about her passing, including this NYT obituary. But perhaps the best piece was this one from the Skoll Foundation, and I highly recommend watching the end of it (at 2:23), if you do nothing else today. Many others have shared it, but if you read this newsletter and don’t know of her work – learn more now. Jess was someone who lived in a state of allostasis, and who pushed the field – and me – to better places every day. 
Second, I didn’t know Nancy Buirski as well as I did Jess, but her passing this week was another loss for the field, but she also gave us so much inspiration – through her films, and through her founding of the Full Frame documentary film festival. 
Last, on the good news front, I had written back in June on the “sweater-vest slasher” David Zaslav’s gutting of TCM. Since that time, several luminaries (like Scorsese), had a chat with the vest-wearer, and he reinstated the most important folks. Among them, was Genevieve McGillicuddy, who ran the TCM Film Fest (and their cruise, and many other things). Genevieve and I studied film together at Emory, and then worked together at the Atlanta Film Festival, and it’s good news for anyone that loves classical cinema that she is back where she belongs. Or belongs for now… my real dream is that someone buys TCM away from Discovery, and lets it thrive, with Genevieve empowered with a budget to make the festival even better.  A side dream is that a smart brand becomes their major benefactor, and lets me collaborate with her again. Hint, hint, if any smart brands are reading.

Stuff I'm Reading


Sub-Genre Client News: “Canary” Documentary Release Mid-September: Indie Film and Distribution Company Oscilloscope Laboratories has landed “Canary” a documentary about a client scientist who’s been referred to as “the closest living thing to Indiana Jones.” Give Rebecca Rubin’s piece for “Variety” a read to learn more about this incredible documentary and be sure to check out the trailer here. Sub-Genre had the pleasure of working with REI Co-op Studios on this film - which was produced by our friends at Boardwalk Pictures, and directed by Danny O’Malley and Alex Rivest. Grab your tickets for screenings in NYC, LA, Columbus, and other major cities across the U.S. now! 

About: Witness the extraordinary life of Dr. Lonnie Thompson, an explorer who went where no scientist had gone before and transformed our idea of what is possible. Daring to seek Earth’s history contained in glaciers atop the tallest mountains in the world, Lonnie found himself on the frontlines of climate change—his life’s work evolving into a salvage mission to recover these priceless historical records before they disappear forever. (GSH)

Locarno Meets Podcast Launches: Speaking of Locarno (above), there's also some fresh Locarno news out just today, as they launched their new podcast - Locarno Meets. The podcast is a smart mix of conversations with auteurs and established experts in the field, alongside rising talents and people charting new territories. It's hosted by Alexander Miller, who comes to the show knowledgeable on the subjects, and with a great hosting style - which I know because I sat down for a chat with him for the podcast when I was there (that episode will launch later this Fall). Go to the link for more info, or you can find it on Spotify, Apple and YouTube. (BN)

Now They’ve Come For The Film Festivals (Ticketmaster): The Toronto International Film Fest (TIFF), taking place Sep 7-17, is using Ticketmaster to book seats. Over a week before the festival’s start, high-profile films started selling at exorbitant rates. Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” is being resold on ticket reselling sites for $388 and Taika Waititi’s “Next Goal Wins” is at $416.50 (and has probably gone up since this article was published a few days ago).  Even lower-profile films are selling for over $50, making the TIFF barrier to entry ridiculously high. Needless to say, film fans and festival goers are not happy: “Now they’ve come for the film festivals…. Literally all Ticketmaster has to do is make resale only possible through their platform and not allow people to sell for more than they paid (film editor Amy Duddleston).” TIFF has yet to comment. Head to Pat Saperstein’s piece for “Variety” for more the details. (GSH)

Indeed Rising Voices Season 4 Applications Open: 
Indeed has partnered with Lena Waithe's Hillman Grad Productions and 271 Films to launch Rising Voices to help BIPOC filmmakers advance their careers in the film industry. The program awards 10 filmmakers up to a $100K production budget to make a short film, which will premiere at a major US film festival in June 2024. Their prompt this year is "The Future of Work". They're looking for original 10-minute scripts that address the topic but can have a wide variety of tones.  The application website is HERE. (BN)
Branded Content

Brands Need More Data Sharing From Streamers: Brands in the film entertainment space want to know if their investment in the space is paying off, but there’s a glaring problem in the space, outlined by our very own Brian Newman in this Business Insider article: “Brand people get pressure from their higher-ups to show a direct connection to a purchase, getting new customers…. That's the holy grail. The second would be, can you prove tons of people watched it? Netflix doesn't report numbers. Hulu doesn't give you that data, even when you're paying for the media. Most of the platforms aren't giving that data.” Without transparency from streamers, brands look at other measurements (some qualitative) like social conversation, critical reviews, earned media, and sentiment. What the industry needs is a standardized measurement of brand films, but no such thing exists yet, and it certainly doesn’t help if streamers can’t deliver brands the numbers they pay for and need. Head to Lucia Moses’ piece for more details. (Original Link here; Readerized no paywall here) (GSH)

REI New Films: As mentioned above, Sub-Genre client REI Co-Op Studios backed CANARY, which opens in theaters soon. But there's more.... REI also launched this great new short film - Saturday in The Park - this past week. I am biased, as I helped bring this to REI and was involved with many small aspects of it, but I think it's an incredible project. Check it out as EP and Narrator Steve Buscemi takes us on a trip to Prospect Park. The team is incredible too: Directed by Tara Kutz, Irene Kim Chin Vincent, and Kurt Vincent; Produced by Paola Piers-Torres; Executive Producers: Wren Arthur, Steve Buscemi, Paolo Mottola, Joe Crosby, Hanna Boyd. And last but not least, FRYBREAD FACE AND ME has its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this coming week. This one is dear to me, as I've known Producer Chad Burris for many years, and am a huge fan of director Billy Luther's work. EP Taika Waititi isn't half-bad either, right?! REI Co-Op Studios is on a roll! (BN)

Another Video Streamer Enters the Game: Open your browser and head to YouTube. If you see a “Playables” section alongside the content on the home feed, that means you’re a part of a YouTube experiment to introduce games on the platform. If you’re one of the chosen, you can enjoy a 3D ball-bouncing game called Stack Bounce. If you don’t see it, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy gaming on the streaming platform in the near future. YouTube isn’t the only streaming video platform to do it. Remember that Netflix is also pushing into gaming as well. TikTok, too, has games available for select audiences and has experimented with allowing games on their live stream feature. Umar Shakir for The Verge has the news. My takeaway: I can appreciate a multi-purpose platform (for video-watching, gaming…etc), but I have the feeling that sooner or later all the apps will become homogenous and lose all personality… until the next flashy thing comes along.  (GSH)

Another Study Finds No Link Between Social Media and Teen Depression & Anxiety: Despite the popular conception that social media use is linked to an onslaught on teen mental health, various studies show no link between social media use and teen anxiety and depression. Yet another study on the subject is out, looking specifically at children in Norway, where researchers concluded that “The frequency of posting, liking, and commenting is unrelated to future symptoms of depression and anxiety [in both sexes].” Head to Mike Masnick’s “TechDirt” article for (a lot) more detail — it’s a super interesting read. I’m also linking a few additional papers Masnick cites, each which conclude in some form or another that social media use isn’t linked to depression and anxiety: Royal Society of Open Science Study; Surgeon General on Social Media and Mental Health; Guilford Press Periodicals Study; The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Study. I remain very skeptical. (GSH)

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