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All You Have to Do is Try, Dragonfly

September 21, 2023

All you have to do is try. Try something different and cool, and guess what – often, people will follow your lead down that unknown path, because it feels right. I was reminded of this when I read about the TIFF sale of Sing Sing to A24 in Deadline. Sing Sing is about a prison theater group that uses the staging of a play to temporarily escape their confines, and it is directed by Greg Kwedar and stars Colman Domingo. Apparently, “the filmmakers wanted to ensure that everyone involved in the film felt like an equal, and shared in the upside of the film’s success. The filmmakers deployed a community-based model, where every member of the film was treated equally and became a profit participant.”
I don’t know why this wasn’t a bigger part of their marketing earlier – I didn’t read about this until the sale, and I read a lot of press and reviews for the film – but Sing Sing was made in a new way (reminiscent of an old way, InDiGent), and it’s pretty cool. As Deadline reports
Each member of the cast and crew received a pro rata portion of the film’s equity pool, based on the amount of days worked and the period of creative services provided. Each member of the cast and crew, from Domingo to the PAs, were paid the same daily and weekly rate. Every single qualified member of the production meaningfully participates in the financial success. And because of that arrangement, “this radical transparency birthed a radical trust,” says Kwedar. “We realized that we rise and fall together, we all shared the same goals, and there was no hierarchy. It was a culture where the best ideas could come forward from anyone on the team and be heard.
Even with this progressive model, the film was financed by very traditional financiers, and sold pretty conventionally, and reportedly for a good seven figure amount (I don’t see any actual $ quoted anywhere, and haven’t heard the amount via the grapevine). Bottom line – you can make films in an equitable way, you just have to try. I’ve been on many Zooms lately where some version of this exact model was proposed as part of a solution for the future of film, and someone would always say – the agents won’t let it happen, or something similar. But apparently, new models are possible if you just give them a shot. You can escape your cages if you just try.
I was also reminded of this when I attended the Camden International Film Festival in Maine this past weekend, which is where I read about that sale. I’ve been coming to CIFF for many years, but this was a return for me, after not having attended in person since 2019. In 2020, as Covid shut down the land, and festivals were switching to new models, the CIFF leadership called me up and said they wanted to embrace the new virtual screening models coming along, but wanted to make it more equitable for filmmakers – something I had written about as not being well-planned (up to that point) by other fests. 
CIFF could see the issues, but they wanted to try to do something right, and they did just that. They launched the new Filmmaker Solidarity Fund that year. Originally, the fund paid filmmakers 50% of all revenues the fest received from ticket sales to their films. Granted, they knew this would be a token, but in a fest landscape that rarely pays filmmakers anything – or which paid disparate fees depending on how much a distributor demanded or how bad they wanted the film, etc.  – it was a start. Today, the fund pays a flat fee to every film which plays the festival. Again, it was possible, all they had to do was try. 
Third example. The topic du jour on the streets and in the lines for cinemas, and during the receptions, was the crisis (or series of crises) in documentary distribution. Nothing is selling, save for a few, and only the most commercial films. There were a few signs of life out of TIFF and Telluride, but not a lot. There were a series of formal, informal and ad hoc conversations about strategies to solve the crisis (even when many of these were altered because of a Hurricane hitting in the middle of the fest).
In one of them, a group of us were seated inside a screened-in patio, debating what might be done. We were interrupted repeatedly by a gigantic dragonfly that was trapped inside the screens. There was a small, open door leading to the outside, but all that the dragonfly could see was this big gigantic window with a beautiful view of the Sunny day and the harbor outside, which seemed like the correct escape route, but it was screened in – an illusion of a solution, when the correct one was just around the corner. I was not the only one present who saw this as some sort of metaphor for our predicament. The dragonfly kept trying; it tried every possible route – to the ceiling, to the other window. At some point all of us lost interest, but the dragonfly kept trying, and made its way to the door, and back to nature. 
Dragonflies are also supposedly a sign that the water around you is healthy and clean; that the ecosystem is in balance. So, just maybe, I thought – everything is fine. We’re just temporarily stuck behind a screen, looking at the big picture but missing that we have a tiny obstacle in our path, and all we need to do is look around and find that little door back to the norm. Everyone around us is annoyed by our buzzing around, looking for a solution – they just want us to give up and accept our fate. But if we keep looking for the escape hatch, we’ll find it soon enough.
FILMNORTH FORUM: I'll be speaking this weekend at the fabulous FilmNorth Forum in St. Paul Minnesota.This year’s FilmNorth Forum focuses on Envisioning a New Independent Film Ecosystem, anchored by our Keynote Conversation with independent film icons and innovators Ted Hope and Effie Brown. There's a great line-up of speakers and panels, including some virtual ones. Get the entire line-up and register here. And if you happen to live near MSP, look me up. 

Stuff I'm Reading


“My Love Affair With Marriage” Tour Dates & Tickets: Looking forward to Signe Baumane’s new award-winning animated feature, “My Love Affair With Marriage,” which tackles the issues of love, gender norms, domestic violence, fantasies and toxic relationships to propel a woman's journey toward independence and liberation. Catch the film on tour beginning October 6 in NYC and traveling through other major cities. Head to this link to grab your tickets! (GSH) I've been a fan of Signe's animation since we met when I ran the Atlanta Film Fest in 2000 - and her work is amazing. Love this film, and I highly recommend it. (BN) 

Call For Responses on Sales Agents From Filmmakers: If you’ve had extraordinary, insightful, or challenging experiences while working, applying to, or seeking reciprocity from sales agents and film festivals, Distribution Advocates invites you to share your story with them (anonymously, if you’d like) in an upcoming podcast. Simply follow this link. Submission deadline is September 27! (GSH) 

Will The Writer/Actor Strike Give Way To A Larger Movement Across Hollywood?: The Hollywood Dual Strike is more than just about the writers and actors. Shirley Lee for The Atlantic writes about the unique position faced by essential workers in entertainment that are un-represented by unions like The Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. So, what happens to the animation writers, music supervisors, most documentary filmmakers…etc that don’t have a dedicated union exclusively representing their interests? Well, many are taking the opportunity to create a larger movement across Hollywood. Lee quotes Sub-Genre’s Brian Newman who says “People are saying, ‘We should be getting more active; we should be thinking of how this impacts our industry.’” And they are: This month, Marvel’s in-house visual-effects artists voted unanimously this month to unionize and reality-TV stars are pushing for unscripted talent to form a collective bargaining unit. Takeaway: Easier said than done, but “maybe the strikes can be about more than just getting major studios to meet workers’ demands—it can be about “creating a new kind of Hollywood that is creator-driven (Daniel Thron, a VFX artist)” and getting the “invisible,” yet essential Hollywood workers the representation they deserve. Read on here (note: there’s a paywall). (GSH)

Enjoy European Films in Minecraft®: MyMetaStories is the first film festival to be held inside the Minecraft® video game. In this virtual environment, festival-goers will enter a Minecraft city with a movie theater where they can watch 20 European films (7 feature films and 13 short films). They can also participate in the MyMetaStories quest game: A film producer is desperately searching for his missing main actor. It’s your job to help them spot the hidden references to famous scenes from European movies to locate them. Attendees can also play iconic mini-games and learn about different professions in the cinema industry through quests. Enjoy this in-game festival experience from October 13-16 and head to their website for the details and enjoy the trailer here. Note that Brian Newman did a panel about this experience at SXSW this March. (GSH) 

Branded Content
BrandStorytelling Submissions: It's that time of year again - get off your butts and submit your films to the BrandStorytelling Awards for 2024, presented during the event alongside the Sundance Film Festival. From my friends there: "BrandStorytelling 2024 will showcase the best in brand-funded content, featuring entries in categories such as feature, short, episodic, and podcasts. We hope to highlight the best projects in the last year, which are representative of high-quality production and storytelling that is resulting from brands partnering with talented artists, directors, writers, and producers. Brands are excelling in their focus on entertaining, informing, and inspiring audiences with compelling stories." If you released a brand film project this past year, I highly recommend submitting it - personally, I don't recommend brand awards until after you've established the film as a film, but this is great for honoring completed campaigns, and quite a selection committee and honor to win. Info here. (BN)

It’s Your Turn To Be in Netflix’s “Love is Blind” Game: As the actor and writers’ strike drags on, streaming giants are relying on their most popular reality show hits. For Netflix, that's “Love is Blind.” Surprise surprise, the “Love is Blind” video game, debuts this week (Friday, Sep 22). Coming out of Boss Fight Entertainment (the Netflix-owned gaming arm), players of “Netflix Stories: Love is Blind,” “will sit in a pod and chat with someone [they] cannot see until [they] choose to marry them based on sparkling conversation alone. Then, [they] see them for the first time in a big reveal ceremony, and then… essentially go on a pre-marriage honeymoon, then meet their family, live together and get married (or more commonly, break up) a month later (Paul Tassi, Senior Contributor for Forbes).” Check out Tassi’s article for more info, but here’s his takeaway: “I think Netflix needs to do a better job of telling people it has a gaming section because most do not even know it exists.” Maybe they’re keeping it relatively under wraps until they perfect it/ actually figure out what they’re doing? (GSH)

Can A.I. Hold Law Enforcement Accountable and Aid Public Defenders?: Inspired to build tech that centered around the needs of communities historically marginalized by law enforcement, two students out of U. Chicago – Devshi Mehrotra and Leslie Jones-Dove – founded Justice Text. Justice Text uses AI to “automatically transcribe body cam footage, interrogation videos and more for public defenders, enabling attorneys to take time-stamped notes, create video clips and share evidence with their colleagues (Kyle Wiggers, TechCrunch contributor).” This is an important step in the right direction – it’ll hopefully help relieve local public defenders overwhelmed by massive amounts of body cam footage, hours of jail calls, and other forms of recorded evidence, and help hold law enforcement accountable. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need refining. Wiggers points out that “transcription tech doesn’t tend to perform equally well across different accents and languages [and] the summaries that JusticeText provides could be off-base as well; nuance isn’t exactly AI’s strong suit.” JusticeText now has a relationship with 100+ public defender agencies, nonprofits, and private practice criminal defense firms across the U.S. Read on for more info. (GSH)

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