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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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Hard Work

October 13, 2022

I was on the phone with a pretty well-known filmmaker yesterday talking about the best way to get their new film in front of audiences. They weren’t naïve about it at all – they’ve been around the film distribution blocks a few times, but the theme we kept coming back to was the fact that making films, and then finding audiences, is a lot of hard work. And they bemoaned the fact that lots of people are willing to give advice or consult on strategy, but too few of them want to do the heavy lifting and grunt work of getting the work done. The actual work, that is. Not that I was volunteering for that job, mind you.
That’s what people don’t tell you when you start in this business – it’s a lot of never-ending hard work. Some people make it look easy, and some are born wealthy or lucky, and that helps. But I’ve never met anyone truly successful in any aspect of this business who isn’t constantly working their asses off, just trying to make it work, which takes more work. That’s true of almost any sector – start-ups, small businesses, take your pick – even rich hedge-funders are working nonstop. (Granted, all of this work is also not rocket-science, or solving any of the problems in the news lately, or many other bigger issues - I'm talking about different problems here, of course, and need to acknowledge that).
But when it comes to film – you have to do the work. You might want to just make your film, but you’ve also got to raise the money, get into the festivals, work the rooms, find the audience, make sure someone is distributing it correctly. And this last part - distribution - is actually the hardest part. Always has been, but after a boom in buying that has leveled off, it's back to hard work time, and filmmakers aren't usually prepared to need to keep doing the work. They're usually burnt out by this point - when can we stop?

No one else will do it for you, or at least not as hard as you’ll do the work. This is true even if you hope to get a sales agent and then a distributor, and get lucky and one eventually buys your film. Even if you aren't doing the DIY thing, trust me, you're still doing the work. Because no one knows your film better than you. No one cares about it as much as you, and no one will make sure every little thing gets done that will make it a success. But lately, for more filmmakers than anyone wants to admit, that distributor doesn't show up, or maybe you get a broadcaster or streamer but no one to handle all your other rights (theatrical, educational, festivals, etc.) and guess what - that's work for you.

And if it’s work you can’t do – because you can’t learn it, or are too busy doing something else – you need a team member who will do that work. As I told the filmmaker yesterday – they don’t need to hire a consultant to help them strategize, they just need to hire the person who will do the actual work. Strategy’s good; implementation and follow-through are better. You need the strategy to do good work – too many people skip that step altogether, and then the work sucks – but just like a factory, you need more workers and less middle management. 
As I’ve been going around the festival circuit and having gazillions of conversations about what we need to do to fix the various crises in the film industry, I keep coming back to the same thoughts. We need more of the people doing the work, and less talk about what we need. As I mentioned in another newsletter, now is the time for action. For doing the work. Lots of strategizing has been going on. I’ve read numerous business plans, and planned a few on the back of some envelopes over drinks with many friends. But now we’re hitting the time to roll-up the sleeves and get to work on building all the new things we need. We’re doing that now at Sub-Genre with many clients (many projects will be announced soon), and I’m doing it on the side with a few folks in the arthouse film space that are moving more quickly into the hard work phase. 
Of course, that will have to wait til I return from one more trip. I’m off today for SXSW Sydney, and some of the hard work will have to go on the back burner until I get back stateside. That’s why this week’s newsletter is delayed, and why next week’s will be as well. But don’t worry – when I’m not judging XR projects, or swimming the Bondi Iceberg’s pool, I’ll be doing some of the hard work, and will do more when I return. Trust me, it’s work, even if sometimes it looks like fun. 

Stuff I'm Reading


WGA Report: “The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon, And Netflix Will Take Over Media.”: During the thick of the strike, The Writers Guild of America wrote up a report called “The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon, And Netflix Will Take Over Media.” Their main talking points are as follows: (1) Deregulation and mergers laid the groundwork for “Disney, Amazon, and Netflix [to position] themselves [as] the new gatekeepers of media, growing through acquisitions and using their increased power to disadvantage competitors, raise prices for consumers, and to push down wages for creative workers.”; (2) Disney reduced film output, closed competing studios, and controlled the labor market, forcing creators to relinquish future licensing revenue. Amazon engaged in anticompetitive behavior and underpaid writers, and Netflix, once an innovative competitor, cut spending on creative content, raised consumer prices, and severely underpaid writers; (3) In order to protect the future of media, antitrust agencies and lawmakers must block further consolidation, proactively investigate anti-competitive issues and outcomes, and increase regulation and oversight in streaming. Find the Full Report here (links to PDF, 5-10 min read) and the Executive Summary here (PDF, 1-2 min read). Thank you James Schamus for sending the report our way, as well as for pointing out what we missed in our analysis of the WGA agreement last week (that it was precedent setting, especially in setting guardrails for AI). (GSH and BN)

Taylor Swift “Eras Tour” Film Cuts Out The Middleman: As part of her Eras Tour, Taylor Swift is bringing her concert film – which brings a 3 hour show to the big screen – to theaters on October 13. It’s already earned $100 million in advance ticket sales and she’s pissed off a lot of people in the process. Why? Swift’s team sidestepped traditional Hollywood studios looking to land a distribution deal and instead partnered with AMC Theaters, leaving distributors and some studios unhappy about AMC's perceived territorial overreach. Movie theaters, by contrast, are bound to be happy. “Eras Tour” “would be the only film in October, the first since July, and the sixth of the year, to hit triple digits in its debut.” Some say that her approach is game-changing for film distribution: Swifts’ cutting out the middleman allows her to pocket approximately 57% of ticket sales with theaters keeping the remaining revenues and AMC taking a relatively modest distribution fee. Bypassing studios also allowed her team to release the film exactly when they wanted. Note that as a result, 4 movies changed their theater release date to avoid conflicting with her premiere. More details found on Rebecca Rubin and Brent Lang’s piece for “Variety.” (GSH)

MyMetaStories Film Festival Happening Now - Oct 29: MyMetaStories is the first festival held in the metaverse for European feature and short films, “offering audiences worldwide a unique two-fold digital experience: screenings on international digital streaming platforms as well as in the Minecraft® video game platform.” In this virtual environment, festival-goers enter a Minecraft city with a movie theater where they can watch 20 European films (7 feature films and 13 short films) and can participate in the MyMetaStories quest game: A film producer is desperately searching for his missing main actor. It’s your job to help locate them. Sign in to, or on Minecraft, to watch the films now! (GSH)

Branded Content

Brands: Stop Trying To Sound Like Gen-Z In Order To Reach Them(?) : It might have been cool/funny once, but Gen Z might be getting tired of brands using memes, slang, misspelled words, and abbreviations to connect with users over platforms like TikTok and X. Sopan Deb for The New York Times explains that we started seeing a shift in brand communication on social media in the mid 2010s, with fast food brands like Wendy’s pioneering the unconventional approach, but the effect is wearing thin. “I roll my eyes…. A lot of them are trying too hard. I think sometimes they’re trying to fit in and reach out to my generation. So it’s not very natural (Priya Saxena, age 25, digital marketer).” Deb also notes that Gen Z-ers consider corporate ethics and morals more than previous generations. The takeaway: As social media platforms continue to evolve, brands looking to connect with younger audiences should find a balance between staying current and maintaining authenticity.(GSH)


This week in A.I.: Two articles on AI that caught my attention this week: (1) Character.AI, a chatbot service that can generate text responses, is upping their game. For $9.99/month, instead of communicating to a single, all-encompassing AI companion, subscribers will have the option to interact with each other and some of the startup’s 18 million AI bots in chats at the same time. Chatbot personas will range from personals like Taylor Swift to Lucifer (the sky's the limit). Takeaway: AI chatbots are no longer just soulless work assistants and question answerers. Now they’re entertainment (oh no!?). Check out the full article here (paywalled) or the readerized version. Kenrick Cai for Forbes has the news. (2) And give this piece a read to learn how production studios and fans use generative AI to make voice actors say things they never said. The biggest problem, according to one voice actor, is that “There’s no legal protection for voice like there is for your face or for your fingerprint.” Forbes author Rashi Shrivastave reveals a precarious industry on the brink of change as employers adopt cutting-edge text-to speech tools and outlines some of the ways in which organizations hope to protect these creatives.  (GSH)

Off to SXSW Sydney: I'm off to Sydney Australia this weekend and next week for the inaugural SXSW Sydney. I'll be on the jury for the XR showcase, which is part of the Screen program with films, XR, and a conference. The line-up looks great, and having never been to Australia before, I can't wait to attend the conference and to explore the city. If you happen to be attending, hit me up, and if you know great places I should visit, drop me a line. The newsletter is delayed this week because of my packing for this trip, and it will undoubtedly be delayed next week due to time zones. (BN)

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