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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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Upside Down Under

Oct 20 (for me, 19 for most of you), 2023

Greetings (for most of you) from a day ahead and down under in Sydney, where I’m on the XR Jury for the inaugural SXSW Sydney. I can’t report anything but good from Australia, but I am likely jet-lagged and in awe of the many beaches I can swim here, and the beauty of this city, so excuse me if my normal cynicism has washed away. This will also be a quicker update than usual due to my jury commitments and that time zone thing. 
I took part in an AMA session yesterday with a couple of Australian & New Zealand producers, an American festival curator, a US distributor, a filmmaker, and the wonderful Gemma Gracewood, Editor-in-Chief of Letterboxd, and the consensus was – it’s not a bad time to be a filmmaker in Australia or New Zealand, but the market realities we’re facing in the US and Europe are hitting hard here as well. That was also the take-away from my meetings with many producers and filmmakers from around the world who were visiting here – things are tough no matter where you are, but some places can at least count on some government subsidy to help. A few people were on fire – busy in the best of ways, but they tended to be the ones doing big series for Netflix and their like. Everyone else was putting on smiley faces, but shaking in their boots. 
But what is more important to report on here is the festival itself. Any other “major” film festival that isn’t paying attention to what’s happening with the expansion of SXSW into Sydney is making a major mistake. Penske Media and MRC took a majority stake in SXSW a couple of years ago (along with buying up nearly every film trade, Rolling Stone, and many other brands), and are now starting the expansion phase. But it’s not just crazy expansion for global domination sake – it’s looking pretty smart. While any new festival will have growing pains and they had some here, SXSW Sydney went from zero to full on major event in less than a year. That hasn’t been done since Tribeca launched in the US post Sept 11th, and my biases aside (I’ve worked at the latter), SX-Sydney is doing many smart things beyond just being a global brand extension.
The SXSY team (I am sure there’s some media guideline telling me to never use those initials, but…) has built a festival that seems to know its community, and is serving them well. People were here from all over, but it had a distinctly local vibe. They’re also not trying to become the next Cannes or Sundance. They’re focused on certain types of projects, especially regional voices, which here means APAC artists – film, music, gaming, VR/XR and more. The other festivals in Australia don’t need to be worried (and don’t seem to be right now) because the festival has its own voice and is additive to the film/media culture. 
There’s a not just a great central hub, but many spokes around town, and all of it within walking distance of things visitors will want to experience. But around that hub, they’ve done a bit better than SXSW Austin, in that there’s a great outdoor central space – Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbor, which concentrates a mix of music, sponsor activations, food and drink, but (crucially) is also a good area for impromptu meetings, or escaping to visit the tourist attractions, of which there are many. (It’s also reminiscent of the Rotonda at Locarno). You come here, and get a mix of festival, tourist, local and yeah, convention center, but it works. There’s no Sixth Street (that I’ve found, at least), but that might be a good thing. 
But if SXSW can continue to hone this formula – expand globally, while being true to the locale, they have a formidable flywheel starting to move forward. Only a handful of festivals have this opportunity, but none of them are doing it right now (sorry, Sundance London, etc. love ya, but not the same). Something about this endeavor feels like it’s on the right path for the future, even if they have some issues to work out post year-one- which means… a successful first year.  If they can start to build a bit more collaboration between events – sharing films, for example, fostering more global connections between alumni, and amplifying regional voices on an international stage, then we might have a sense of the festivals we need for the future. I’ll likely have more to report on this when I’m back Stateside, and have more time to gather my thoughts, but the major takeaway is – keep your eye on SXSW and their next moves, as there’s a lot of potential here. Now… off to Bondi Icebergs for my bucket-list swim, before we announce the XR Awards tonight.

Stuff I'm Reading



European Film Market Startups Open Call For Proposals: European Film Market (EFM) of the Berlinale will present 10 international Startup entrepreneurs intersecting media and technology, with a focus on tools for producers at their 24th edition during the Berlin International Film Fest. EFM invites you to submit your proposal by Jan 3, 2024 for an opportunity to take part in this exciting media / technology showcase. For more details, head to their startups page and guidelines/application form. This is a great opportunity for anyone building something innovative for the field. (GSH/BN)

Creative Ridicule to Promote Chicago Intl. Film Fest: Advertising company Ogilvy Chicago wrote scathing reviews of its own ads promoting the ongoing 59th Chicago International Film Fest (CIFF). Gabe Usadel, executive design director at Ogilvy says that film criticism “has fantastic tension in it” and worked perfectly in Chicago “which has a rich history of film criticism”. “It felt right to tap into that history and just how instrumental film critics are in shaping the medium and the industry…. When you can take that and do it with a little comedic lens, there's a  lot of fun with that.” And this ‘backward’ advertising strategy kinda makes sense: “The way in which the advertising engages the community also enhances that connection [to theater and to community] and further illuminates CIFF brand (Tim Nud, AdAge).” More details at Nud’s article.  (GSH)

AI Film and Games Come To Life at San Francisco’s HOLL-AI-WOOD: The 2nd annual HOLL-AI-WOOD AI Film and AI Games Festival took place in San Francisco last week, previewing the future of what’s expected to be an eleven trillion dollar industry by 2032. Check out the promo video for the fest here, and head to Dean Takahashi’s article for VentureBeat for the details. In the meantime, here are a couple projects that really caught my eye: (1) “Exit Valley” is the first AI TV Show, powered by a living simulation of San Francisco called Sim Francisco where viewers can also turn into creators; (2) “Looking Glass” is a horror video game where the NPCs (non playable characters) can take actions for and against players in the real world. These NPCs are able to “find the address of the player; autonomously find an image of the player; autonomously generate an image of the player in the compromising position and threaten the player it will be released if the player is unable to kill the next mission boss.” They can also order coffee (WTF!). (GSH)

Reimagining Film Festivals Panel Online Now: Last week, I joined some great panelists for the Usheru hosted Screenovators: Reimagining Film Festivals panel. The organizers have put the video online for free. Check it out here. (BN)

Branded Content

2023 London International Awards for Branded Entertainment Winners & Finalists Announced: Check out this link to view all medalists and finalists. Note: you can enter the site and watch the films (or in some cases the trailers). The biggest prize — the Grand LIA — went to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls - Awareness’ “Missing Matoaka” which presents an alternative audiotrack for Disney’s “Pocahontas” from an indigenous perspective. Check out their behind-the-scenes video here. (GSH)

Re-drawing The Comic Book Industry: Novelist and TV writer Brad Meltzer is shaking up the comic book industry with Ghost Machine, a media company that places serious value on creator ownership. While the founding writers and artists of Ghost Machine will be exclusive to the company and jointly own, operate and profit from it, the creator hasn’t always come first in comic book history (for instance, Superman creators sold their rights to the character for $130).  “The industry tells you that the goal you should have is to work for the Big Two [Marvel and DC] (Jason Fabok, co founder).” “I personally want to create new worlds and new characters that will outlive me and inspire the creators of today as well as the creators of tomorrow.” Ghost Media announces Thursday (Oct 19) at day 1 of New York Comic Con. George Gene Gustines for The New York Times has the news. (GSH)

From Helping Small Businesses to Killer Robots (in just 2 years): Ukrainian developers have confirmed that they have drones that are carrying out autonomous strikes on Russian forces without a human operator. Powered by AI, the Saker Scout drones can carry bombs, find, identify, and attack 64 different types of Russian ‘military objects,’ and can operate in areas where other drones can’t due to anti-drone radio jamming blocks. The Saker Company was founded in 2021 to develop AI for small business, but as Russia invaded, the company changed gears and began to assist the Ukrainian military. You can check out the drones’ POV at this (safe to watch) YouTube video. While many campaign to make ‘killer robots’ illegal, “the pace of technology far outstrips the pace of diplomacy (Paul Scharre, Director of Studies at the think tank Centre for a New American Security).” Ukraine’s Minister for Digital Transformation and lead on the Army of Drones initiative, stated that weapons like these are “logical and inevitable.” Stop Killer Robots Coalition stresses that “machines don’t see us as people, just another piece of code to be processed and sorted.” David Hambling for Forbes has the news. (GSH)

Barnes & Noble Finds Success By Breaking the Formula: A great piece on how the new CEO at Barnes & Noble is shaking things up and finding success in an Amazon world by focusing on the books, and letting stores have their own voice and character instead of forcing them into a cookie cutter world. Maureen O'Connor for the NYT has the story. (BN and h/t to Dempsey Rice for sending this my way).
GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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