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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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Reflections from 2023

December 14, 2023

Two weeks left in this shit-year, and thinking back on 2023, I feel like I should be well positioned to give some state of the world. I counted up a few things, and I believe that during this past year I’ve attended 16 film festivals/conferences; participated in another 10 big group meetings or confabs; spoken on 6 podcasts; taken trips to 30 cities across 6 countries; zoomed into at least 40 meetings that were somehow about saving some aspect of the film business with at least four other people in the meeting, and can’t count the one on one conversations; worked on film projects with 15 different brand clients; produced one independent film; and somehow wrote 40 newsletters trying to make sense of the film world. Humble brag done, and acknowledgements of how privileged I was to be able to do this, and how the travel is less than the average traveling salesperson, and apologies to my spouse. But whew, that was a lot.
I would have thought all of this would give me some special insights, some findings worth summating beyond the usual post. And stay with me because I’m getting there. But my takeaway is that after all those meetings, conversations, and travels – not to mention reading many smart folks every day – I think the only takeaway is this – no one knows a goddamnedthing about any of this. Period. The end. 
Or to continue…no one has a clue where things are going, everyone is aware that the emperors wear no clothes, the smartest people are sure it will be three more years before we see the light in the tunnel, you’d better not do a passion project now, or maybe that’s the only thing that makes sense when nothing else works, somehow we should copy Taylor fucking Swift or Barbie (isn’t that the same?), and you’d better hold onto any job you have or severance you earned because fuck knows what’s next. And that’s not even touching on the bigger issues we have as a world coming to an end – did anyone think the end of the world would be something less than tribal, power-hungry, war-filled, billionaire-run and twenty times more dystopian than we’re seeing now? But lest I leave you with a bunch o’ reasons to drown yourself in drink… I will try to take this into the positive zone asap. Forgive the rant.
If you can acknowledge even one tenth of the above, you should be smiling ear to ear. Because there’s never a better opportunity to launch something that changes the world, than when the world least expects it, and less people even know they need it. That’s when the shit is so crazy that you can do those things that seem obvious in retrospect, but no one saw coming. But your idea better be bat-shit crazier than anything else out there. And here’s the rub  - genius ideas are mixed in with a lot of bad ones, so pressure test that idea with some folks before you spend any money on it.
But someone out there will have an idea (or three) that are so radical that I won’t even understand what they’re proposing, and they will take over the world. That time is… now. The last time we were stuck in a moment kinda like this one, I got the early pitch for IndieGogo and Kickstarter within the same week. The ideas that coalesced into crowdfunding weren’t really even named yet, but were floating around in the ether and next thing you knew, everyone was doing it (and then a million copycat sites jumped in with some minor variation of the idea). Just when you think that concept had petered out, Angel Studios came along recently and reincarnated it, and made the only exciting new business model of the current moment. 
There are a lot of little ideas floating around again now. They involve different mixes of community building, curation, getting back to the big screen, decentralization, AI, participatory culture, attention economics, creator economies, underserved niches, worker-led movements, eventizing, and brand building. Among a few other things I’m forgetting. I suspect some mix of smart folks are going to pull together some of these threads we’ve been twiddling with during all of 2023, and spin them into something new during 2024. So, maybe I do have some takeaways from 2023 after all – out of the turmoil and the grasping at straws, and huddling in corners and on zooms and over beers, we’ve hopefully been working through the angst, and have thrown enough ideas into the air that maybe, just maybe, someone can turn them into solutions in the New Year. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Alert: Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment Stops Revenue Payments to its Filmmakers, Yet Signs Up Unsuspecting New Ones: Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (CSSE) is accused of withholding promised revenue shares from filmmakers. Multiple documentary filmmakers report that the CSSE platform falsely indicates they’ve been paid and are concerned that potential bankruptcy proceedings could lead to film assets being seized for an extended period (if they file for bankruptcy, the films likely couldn’t be shown elsewhere during that time). Making matters worse, CSSE has continued to sign on new unsuspecting filmmakers, despite failing to pay its old ones. Give Camille Corazon’s piece for SteinwayGrand a read for more detail and troubling anecdotes from affected filmmakers. (GSH) I think this one will be getting more investigation and news soon, but spread the word to any filmmaker friends who are with or are considering working with this company. (BN)


Distribution Bulletin #50: How To Avoid Disaster (Part 1): Peter Broderick put out a newsletter on Dec 13 where he shares important insights into how filmmakers can protect themselves and their film in today’s day and age. In the wake of disasters like the ongoing Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment crisis, the collapse of Passion River Films in 2022 (hundreds of filmmakers were hurt by this) and the failure of TUGG in 2020, Broderick stresses the importance of thoroughly researching potential distributors before putting a film out in the world (many filmmakers don’t do their research and regret it later). First off, Broderick writes, find out if the distributor has a solid track record distributing films like yours. If they do, look into films they’ve distributed in the past 1.5 years. Personally reach out to the directors/producers of some of these films and learn about their experience. Essential questions to ask before signing a contract w/ a distributor: (1) Did the distributor do what they said they would do? (2) Have they reported and paid on time? (3) Do the numbers seem accurate? (4) Has it ever been necessary to chase them for reports or revenues? (5) Have the revenues been consistent with the company’s projects? (6) Has the company been diligent in marketing your film? (7) Are they easy to reach and responsive? (8) Are they collaborative? Takeaway: Information is power. Your due diligence can “make the difference between great distribution… and disastrous distribution with a failed distributor who keeps your revenues… and ultimately abandons your film.” Stay tuned for Part 2. (GSH)

DC/DOX Reflecting On 2023
: To close out 2023, DC/DOX reached out to industry leaders — filmmakers, impact producers, and distributors — to gather their insights on the most significant challenges and opportunities the doc community faced this past year. Here’s what our own Brian Newman had to say: “The greatest challenge… is the fact that the streamers have stopped buying almost any completed documentary films. Quality… “truth to power” [films]... which are playing film festivals to sizable audiences are not being acquired. This trickles down to where most other distributors can’t take a risk to buy them either, and the market has stalled. This, of course, is also an opportunity to rethink how we bring films to audiences outside of the usual system.” Brian’s favorite doc moment in 2023 was sitting in the Camden Opera House when Hurricane Lee hit  just as the Points North Pitch began. Even though all power was lost, the audience gave a rousing ovation to the pitch participants, just to show their love. A supporter came through with an alternate venue later that day. Another DC/DOX reflection I thought was great was filmmaker Debra McCluthcy’s, who wrote that “there’s an opportunity to harness the energy of the writers/actors strikes and build a much needed labor movement within our own documentary community.” Check out this link for all DC/DOX reflections. (GSH)

My Chat on the Thousand Roads Podcast - a great new podcast to check out: I recently joined Tom Casciato for a chat about the state of the doc world, what we can learn from the past, the need for advocacy and a whole lot more. This is part of a great new podcast he launched called The Thousand Roads podcast, and he's also interviewed many great folks, including: Julie Cohen & Betsy West, Dawn Porter, Yoruba Richen & Brad Lichtenstein, Jennifer Tiexiera & Camilla Hall, Robert Greene, Natalie Bullock Brown, Byron Hurt, David Siev, Tia Lessin & Carl Deal, Carrie Lozano, Caty Borum, and June Cross. (BN)

Netflix Takes First Steps In Sharing Viewing Data: On December 12, Netflix put out a report revealing viewership data for 99% of its entire catalog (that’s over 18k titles available around the world), covering January-June of 2023. Hollywood guilds have long objected to the lack of access to streaming data, so this is an important first step for them. Note, however, that Netflix reported only on the number of hours content was viewed. Presenting the information this way doesn’t give us the full picture as it favors content with a longer runtime (generally, favoring drama series and disadvantaging films). Reporting data in hours viewed also doesn’t tell us anything about how many accounts watched or finished a title. Check out Dade Hayes’ piece for Deadline for comments from Netflix and more. And be sure to download the report (with info on all 18k titles) off of Nertflix’s website, linked here. (GSH)

Branded Content

Lego X Fortnite Build New Branded Experience: Earlier this week, Epic Games and Lego released “Lego Fortnite,” one of Epic’s most ambitious brand partnerships to-date. The game features worlds 20x larger than “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” allowing users to construct virtual Lego structures with 10,000 digitally recreated Lego bricks. “Anything that you see in the game, or in the trailers, is stuff that you can recreate in the real world with Lego bricks (Eric Williams, creative director).” Takeaways: (1) The partnership allows Lego greater access into the vast gamer community of Fortnite and other Epic titles; (2) I’m guessing that in the near future, players will be ordering builds to their physical doorstep that they’ve created virtually in Fortnite. (2) Alexander Lee for Digiday has the news. You can check out the Lego Fortnite Gameplay trailer here. (GSH)


AI Counternarrative: There’s Power In Telling A Different Story : Check out Sigal Samuel’s Vox piece challenging the notion of AI development as an arms race, featuring insights from AI researcher Katja Grace and her take on why the myth of the inevitability of technological progress needs to be put to rest. Lead researcher at AI Impacts, an AI safety project at the nonprofit Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Grace writes that “a better analogy for AI than an arms race might be a crowd standing on thin ice, with abundant riches on the far shore. They could all reach them if they step carefully, but one person thinks: ‘If I sprint then the ice may break and we’d all fall in, but I bet I can sprint more carefully than Bob, and he might go for it.’” More details and revealing survey results in-article. (GSH)

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