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Holodeck Fever Dreams

October 5, 2023

I got the booster this week, and it sent me for another loop – fever and fever dreams for an entire day and a half. My brain was coming in and out of consciousness, but my recurrent dream was of possible futures. I think that because I've been hearing a lot of negativity around AI and creativity - it invaded my dreams through the holodeck (and adjacent technologies), but in a good way.
I was on the holodeck, bringing up all my favorite scenes from my favorite films. Someone else was bringing up the history of every documentary ever made on the US civil rights movement, and teaching a group of kids, who were making video essays with clips, in turn. Someone else was reusing all this material to make a new film, and via blockchain type technologies, they would pay back the rights-holders based on their subsequent usage. Someone else was finding clips of every time a certain trumpet player contributed to a film score, and making a new score out of that. Someone else was just using a scene from Singin’ in The Rain as their video ringtone. Another person was blocking every ad they saw on the street with glasses that replaced the images with scenes from their favorite films. Some neo-Nazi was trying to remix a Dr. MLK, Jr. speech, but the tech wouldn’t allow it, because we’d finally programmed AI against hate speech. 
Next, I was using 3D imaging technology and VR to inhabit the Tokyo street-scene of IKIRU, and I’m following Watanabe and Mephistopheles through the streets, virtually, and sharing that experience with others. Someone else was turning that into a VR game (or XR on the streets themselves). Next, I was watching and recombining scenes shot in thousands of films around NYC into a new narrative about the city’s past. Then we added Parker Posey in as a character to all of the ones she wasn’t in already, and made it into a coherent narrative feature with help from AI.  Someone else filled a virtual stage with our images for another NYC themed piece, and someone else built 3D Models of many of the rooms, so they could be brought into other holodeck type experiences, or used as virtual sets. Another person just added those to XR contact lenses so you could see these scenes in front of the original buildings as you walked around town, and concur the characters (and if you wanted, an interactive narrative) at the same time.

Artists and/or their estates were getting paid, when needed. Some films weren’t available (lost to our future visual histories by neglect or fear, or because they were never converted), others could only be used for certain types of uses. Academics were teaching entire virtual classes without paying anyone, unless the students then made a film which became a financial success. And the payments were based on how successful the subsequent works became. Someone else was watching every outtake from Gary Hustwit’s full interviews with Jony Ive, the designer, the ones that didn’t make the final cut of his film OBJECTIFIED (which he’s actually allowing on his Substack already). While he isn’t giving approval rights for re-use now, other artists will in the future (it will be up to them and the subject). Another artist was using a virtual AI version of their entire cast for their movie, blocking their scenes, lighting them and then bringing in a few (but not all) of the cast as “real” actors for the final shoot, while others were paid just for their likenesses. Some were added to new AI robots, and a Grandmother with Alzheimers was comforted by Tom Hanks every day.

Don't worry, however, as people were still going to movies on the big screen, especially to arthouse theaters for specialty cinema and repertory. It's just some of them were doing this in virtiual rooms as well as regular ones. And for those who just wanted to keep things simple, we finally had the universal film jukebox in the sky, all for one price and viewable in a lean back format (or delivered to your local cineplex), for those not interested in being more participatory.
You get the point. All of this is infinitely do-able, and more. If we can dream it up, it will happen. Unless we stop it in its tracks, worrying about the way copyright used to work in an analog, non-participatory, manner. If I didn’t still have a fever, I’m sure I could think up even better uses. The above scenarios are only the tip of the iceberg of things we can already imagine doing. In fact, I spoke with a filmmaker in Austin this week, who is already working on a bunch of these ideas and more for a new project launching next year.

I’m not remotely scared of AI, VR, XR, Web3 type technologies, and whatever comes next, and what they will do for creativity. I’m pretty sure it’s going to unleash a torrent of new creative practices. And we should have access to our entire visual history online, available at a moment’s notice and request, and recombined into new things as a collaboration between artist and machine. Sure, there need to be rules and schemes for making sure people get paid when it’s used for commercial reasons, and can set parameters about how things can be used, but those are all infinitely solvable problems. 
But we’re stuck here in olden times, worrying about simple things, like how we get our films distributed to audiences in a streaming world that doesn’t want to show them. I didn’t like the fever, but I sure enjoyed the fever dreams of our future more than our present. But because of that actual fever, this was as far as I could think about the future - I'm sure others will give me even better ideas.

Stuff I'm Reading

Rough Seas Ahead For Celebrity Production Companies: Surprise surprise, celebrity-backed production companies aren’t doing as well as we might’ve thought. Entertainment Strategy Guy examines celebrity production companies like Lebron James’ SpringHill Company and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and finds that they have a pretty low success rate in creating hit shows.

He also compares the value of these celebrity production companies vs. traditional players like Entertainment One (also in decline – Lionsgate acquired EOne from Hasbro for way less than Hasbro had paid for back in 2019), and finds that “celebrities don’t add value across their shows.” In fact, private equity investors are “paying roughly $1.8 million for the average Entertainment One title. For SpringHill, [they’re] paying nearly $45 million per film/TV show they have been involved with. For Hello Sunshine it’s about $43 million.”

The takeaway: Celebrity production companies aren’t looking too sustainable, but despite their poor performance records, they’ll likely be acquired by major streaming platforms (also enamored with big names), thus bailing out the private equity groups that thought they were goldmines. Give the full article a read here (lots of facts and figures to parse through)! (GSH) BN Add on: They're mainly being propped up now by branded work, which is also coming for the celeb association, but that might disappear soon as this word gets out. (BN)

Angel Studios Goes Against The Grain: Angel Studios, the production company behind a hit drama called “Sound of Freedom” is saying “no” to streaming giants and releasing the film exclusively on its own subscription service, Angel Guild. The release strategy involves a (relatively really long) 100-day window after its theatrical debut before becoming available for digital purchase on Angel Guild’s subscription platform. This means that “Sound of Freedom” won’t be accessible on platforms like Amazon, iTunes, Google Play…etc, nor will it benefit from the licensing fee that a major streaming service would offer. Instead, they’re betting on direct viewer relationships (monthly memberships and purchases directly from their site) rather than the model offered by traditional streaming platforms. It’s a bold move, but maybe they’re onto something. Tom Brueggemann for IndieWire has the news. (GSH) And the right thing to do if you know your audience, which they and many doc filmmakers do, especially since the TVOD market has been tanking for many films as audiences prefer their streaming services. (BN)

AHC/FFA Returns: Independent Film Exhibition Conference to Address a Fractured Industry: “With the continued consolidation of studios and distributors, the ongoing financial impact of the global pandemic, and a sustained lack of resources for audience development, [the independent film] eco-system is fragile and in need of a new direction,” said Film Festival Alliance (FFA) executive director Barbara Twist. “It is imperative that we come together to build a new system that is fair and equitable, for exhibitors, for filmmakers, and for audiences.” That’s why in mid 2024 the FFA and Art House Convergence (AHC) are bringing together industry stakeholders to hold workshops and networking opportunities that address industry challenges (i.e. studio consolidation, the impact of the pandemic on film, labor & accessibility, the need for an equitable system for exhibitors, filmmakers, and audiences …etc). Anne Thompson for IndieWire has the news. (GSH)

Panel Alert: Reimagining Film Festivals: Presented as part of Screenovators: Reimagining the Ecosystem: Where do film festivals stand in today's ever-evolving film landscape, and what magic do they bring to the screen? Hosted by Alex Stolz (Head of Film at usheru and CEO and Founder of Future of Film) plus special guests Brian Newman (Sub-Genre founder and former COO of Tribeca Film Festival), Marcin Pieńkowski (Director of New Horizons International Film Festival) and Sarah Mosses (Founder and CEO of Together Films) this webinar discussion explores the pivotal role that film festivals play in shaping the cinematic universe. Register now to attend virtually on October 12th. Hope to see you there! 

Unpacking AI and Streaming Data Language in New WGA Contract: As you’ve probably heard, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) struck a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television "Producers" (AMPTP), putting an end to their strike. So how does the contract address demands relating to artificial intelligence? In essence, the deal says studios cannot use AI to draft scripts and then get human writers to clean them up. But writers are allowed to experiment with AI for their own productivity. There’s a catch, though – “it requires [writers] to really trust the studios (Alex Winter, writer/director/actor).” “It’s hard to imagine that the studios will tell artists the truth when being asked to dismantle their AI initiatives, and attribution is all but impossible to prove with machine-learning outputs.” Another potential win for writers aiming at better pay is that streaming platforms will now have to share data on the total hours shows and movies streamed, information big streamers have up until now kept mostly hidden. However, some feel that keeping viewer data hidden benefits writers, and others felt the thresholds for data sharing were too high to be realistic. Check out Mike Masnick’s piece on TechDirt for the details. (GSH) Oh, and for a good breakdown on what the WGA didn't gain, read Scott Galloway's smart take, here. (BN)
New Show Alert
Check out Navajo Police: Class 57:

I don't often plug upcoming shows/films, but I'm making an exception here because this one comes from a filmmaking team (plus others) who I've worked with before and I love their work - Khalil Hudson and Alex Jablonski. I met them through the Sundance labs, and was able to work with them a bit on some projects with Patagonia and Yeti. They've teamed up with David Nordstrom and the folks at Concordia and HBO to make this new series, Navajo Police: Class 57 which launches on HBO on Oct 17th. I've watched the first two episodes in advance, and highly recommend the project. It's more than a show about police cadets, and it becomes a searing indictment of years of colonialism, neglect, and trauma - all while remaining an entertaining cop show (imagine if other ones were this nuanced). Here's the synopsis: Navajo Police: Class 57 is a three-part doc series following a group of recruits as they fight their way through the Navajo Police Training Academy and out into the field, where they must contend with rising crime and centuries of neglect to hold their community together. And here's a link to the trailer. Check it out and spread the word. I'm sure you'll learn a lot, and enjoy it. (BN)

Tell Congress To Restore Net Neutrality: Good news people of the internet! On Tuesday, Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to bring back the Title II classification of broadband service, which was eliminated in 2017. Since its repeal broadband providers have taken advantage of an internet without net neutrality protections. Take action: Urge your member of congress to let the FCC do its job to restore net neutrality, protect broadband subscribers, and close the digital divide here. Read the full announcement from FCC Chair Rosenworcel here. (GSH)

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