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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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Sundance Dreams

Jan 12, 2024

I’m off next week to Park City for Sundance – and Slamdance, and the BrandStorytelling Conference – and I’m speaking at a couple of events linked below, but mostly I’ll be gasping for air in the high altitude and grasping at straws when I try to answer the inevitable repeated questions about what one thinks about the state of the business. Or the state of the film programming this year. Or whether buyers will open their wallets and lay down some cash for films, finally? And if they do, whether any of those films will find an audience? Or, do I know about Company X that is going out of business, or just did layoffs? Or do I know the RSVP email for obscure party Z? Or do I know the directions from Impact House 1 to Impact House 2 on Main Street (yes, there are two)? 
The answer is – No. I have no idea. I have no answers to any questions (ok, go down about one block from Impact House 1 to get to Impact House 2). 
Those of us who go to Sundance go to get a read on the state of the industry – both artistically and business-wise, but I think it’s safe to say that the only thing we’ll learn is which films were worth seeing, and which ones we wish we’d seen. I am betting on one thing, and one thing only – I won’t be having a conversation about how good things are until Sundance of 2026 at earliest, and that conversation might not even take place in the state of Utah. Yes, that’s two bets in one for those in the know. 
But I do have three dreams/hopes for things I want to see come out of Sundance. I’m not asking for much, just three things:
First – I wish nothing but the best of events to my good friend Eugene Hernandez, who is now the head of the film festival. He was hired and on-site last year, but this will be the first film fest where he can put his artistic vision/stamp on the fest. Given how well he’s been handling it in the lead-up – his FB postings lately have been filled with nostalgia on the history of the festival (it’s their 40th Anniversary), and it’s so clear how perfect Eugene is for this job. He’s already doing a lot behind the scenes and more that will be on the main stage and in full public view soon (most of which I know nothing about, btw), but my hope is that he does everything possible to ignore every single industry person who wants him to do X, Y or Z, and that he can just put all of that energy into listening to the filmmakers, the (regular) audience members, and the volunteers on what they think will make Sundance even better next year. As such, he can also ignore my advice, too.
Second – I hope that three groups will come together multiple times at Sundance – a) film investors/funders/foundations, b) brands who are funding films, and (c) all of the distribution folks who are not major studios or streamers because y’all got some collaborating to do soon. Netflix, Apple, Discovery and the studios do not care about or have any interest in what we’re all doing. They might buy a few films to maybe win an award and walk the red carpet, but for the most part, none of the major distributors give a flying F about any of the films they don’t already own at Sundance, Slamdance or BrandStorytelling. But those of us funding and programming those films do, and we need new distribution and marketing methods to get them to those audiences who want to see them. I’ve been going on and on about this forever, but it’s high time the brands interested in film start working more closely with the financiers and distributors who are making good ones and who are attempting to bring them to audiences. I am speaking on a panel about this, and at least one closed-door session about it, and am introducing some of these folks behind the scenes. But there’s also a part of me that’s tired of pissin’ in the wind, here. Come-on folks – get outside your circles and get to know one another, because we all need each other to build a better future!
Third – I hope to be surprised. By a film and/or by an idea. I’m not going in with high expectations. But every now and then, you settle in for a film at Sundance and it just grabs you, and you come out of the theater and want to tell everyone about it. I’ve left screenings at both fests in Park City and had to call home to tell my wife about a movie she wouldn’t even be able to see for months. That hasn’t happened for a few years, but I’m hoping it does this year. And then, every now and then you take a meeting, and someone has such a great idea that you wish you’d thought of it, and you want to be part of whatever it is they’re building. It’s an idea out of nowhere, but just right for just now. I’m hoping to hear that idea from someone this year, because we need at least one good idea for this business and try as I might – I haven’t come up with that idea on my own. Someone else has, and I hope they find me and surprise me at Sundance. 
What I’m Doing at Sundance 2024
For any of you attending, here are three events I’m involved with at the fest, and links to ticketing.

Brands, Filmmakers and Platforms for Impact. I’ll be producing/sponsoring and moderating this panel at the Waterbear Impact House  on Sat, January 20th at 10:30 am MT. The event is free with registration at the link. We’ve got a great line-up, and here’s the description we put together: 
Many brands are now interested in financing films for social impact, but these are often disconnected from the broader impact field. Brands bring financial power, but they can also bring marketing reach and the ability to broaden a film’s impact by getting out of the ‘echo chamber’. How can we build more and smarter collaborations between brands, filmmakers, impactfunders and platforms? What are the pro’s and con’s for filmmakers to consider? And how do we ensure the right stories are being told and avoiding greenwashing? Join us for an insightful panel moderated by Brian Newman (me!) and hear from Seb Egerton-Read, Content Lead at Ellen MacArthur Foundation on their recent collaboration with WaterBear and from WhatsApp and Modern Arts, who recently collaborated on We Are Ayenda.
Note: You can also register for many other great panels and receptions for free at this link (And feel free to share the word with anyone else attending). 
An Antidote to Despair: How Independent Film is Driving Climate ActionOn Friday, January 19th, I’ll be part of this official Sundance Panel Presented By The Redford Center. You can register for tickets here, and it’s at The Box at the Ray at 11:30 am MT. From the Sundance Catalogue:  The independent film ecosystem is critical to climate action and systemic change. With environmental tipping points looming, it is our collective responsibility to activate the imagination of storytellers and the influence of film and media to strengthen our environmental values and challenge narratives of despair. Inspired by our co-founder Robert Redford's unwavering dedication to independent artists and environmental activism, The Redford Center welcomes you to a session rooted in action and vision for the future we aspire to build together. Panelists to be announced soon. PLEASE NOTE: You must create an account for The Sundance Film Festival online here and download the Official 2024 Festival App to gain entrance to this event. Seating is on a first come first serve basis and there is limited capacity.
BrandStorytelling Conference: Of course, one of the other main reasons I’ll be at Sundance is the annual BrandStorytelling Conference. This is one of the main events for anyone working in this crazy, fun space of brands financing and producing films. It’s a key event on my schedule each year, and while we don’t have any client’s presenting films there, Sub-Genre is always very active behind the scenes in many meetings and events. Lots of great stuff on the agenda in the link, and I hope to see some of you there.

Stuff I'm Reading

Building the Coolest SVOD?: Everyone and their mother has proposed to me some version of a new, gigantic Netflix for indie and arthouse films. Hell, I've even had my own business plan for this at one point. Roy Price, who founded Amazon Video and Studios, has his own vision for this, and he calls it "The coolest film brand in the world," and goes on to lay out the entire rationale and the economic model in his post here (h/t Ted Hope for sharing this with me). I don't think it will work, but I am 100% sure no other idea that isn't at least as big as this one will ever work - and his price tag is just over a Billion dollars (!!). Definitely worth a read, both for the economics of the business, which he lays out very well, and for dreaming about possible futures. (BN)

What Role Will Large Language Models Play in Script Writing in 2024?: While the WGA agreement with the AMPTP in Oct 2023 was groundbreaking in that (among other things) it offered restrictions on the use of generative AI to produce literary or source material, preventing writers from losing compensation or credits as a result of the technology being used, it’s not completely off limits for writers and studios to use generative AI in the script development process. According to Audrey Schomer for “Variety,” in 2024, writers and studios will explore the capabilities of large language models (LLMs) in ideation, brainstorming, and world-building phases rather than fully automating script development. While it does seem to make sense to play with LLMs in script dev. in this day and age, these models do have stylistic and linguistic limitations that represent serious concerns: “Language models have been known to plagiarize and reproduce biases from their training data [thus threatening writers’ work]. Further, uneven non-English-language representation in model training might disadvantage lower-resource languages in ways that could “lopside” benefits in favor of English-language scripts (Schomer).” Note that one of Schomer’s central points in her piece is that copyright law (or the lack thereof) is a gray area and ongoing lawsuits underscore the need for further clarification… “So don't expect any AI-written movies anytime soon.” (GSH)

Catching Up With Will Packer: The Hollywood Reporter catches up with super-producer (and former High School classmate and fellow football team member of mine, weird, right?!) Will Packer. They discuss the possibilities of another Girls Trip, the many careers and films he has launched, and how he broke into the business - oh yeah, and some of that Oscars/Slap stuff. I think Will is one of the smartest folks in the business, so it's always good to hear his thoughts, even when in a THR puff-piece. (BN)

Branded Content
Spotify X Delta = Passport Docuseries: Spotify and Delta partnered to create an in-flight docu-series that encourages artists from twin cities locations to collaborate on new music. Episode 1 of “The Passport Sessions”, available to watch on a Delta flight this coming Monday, features songwriter Andy Clay and Venezuelan-born American songwriter Maye taking off from Florida and landing in Colombia to collaborate with artists Juan Duque (urbano) and Aria Vega. “The Passport Sessions give a rare glimpse into the songwriting process, showing firsthand how music and travel can inspire new connections and, ultimately, new art (Enrique Marquez Paris, publishing relations manager at Spotify).” Read all about it in Variety. (GSH)

The Conservation Alliance and Flickr Launch Teaser for the Mobilizing for Monuments Campaign: TCA and Flickr just launched a teaser for their new Mobilizing For Monuments campaign. Sub-Genre is going to be working on this one, and we can't wait to tell you more, but for now, check out the video at the link and the campaign site above. (BN)

2023-24: The Renaissance of Brand & TV Experiences: A recent study from Experian found that 63% of Gen Z and 59% of millennials would rather spend money on “life experiences” like travel and concerts than save for retirement. A Mastercard Travel Industry Trends Report found that overall spending on experiences has jumped by 65% in the U.S. between 2019 and 2023 (T.L. Stanley, “Adweek”). The major streaming giants are catching on, are showing up in more culturally relevant spaces, and are creating immersive experiences that merge imaginary worlds into our real one. As Alexis Soloski for The New York Times points out in her article, “Squid Game: The Trials” (where participants are promised a series of challenges similar to those seen on-screen in Netflix’s “Squid Game”), “Welcome to the Continental: The Hotel Bar Experience (Peacock’s John Wick),” “Friends,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Bridgerton” experiences all popped up in 2023 and represent a shift in how and where entertainment is consumed: “We are bringing a theme park to people… This is how fans are engaging (Marian Lee, Netflix’s chief marketing officer).” (GSH)


ChatGPT To Be Volkswagen’s Next Generation In-Car Assistant: Volkswagen announced on Monday that they’re integrating ChatGPT into the back end of its IDA voice assistant which drivers currently use to control navigation, air conditioning, and to answer general knowledge questions. The addition of ChatGPT into the voice assistant will supposedly provide drivers with “enriching conversations” and much more, all hands free. GhatGPT-powered Volkswagen models will include a handful of their EVs, Tiguan, Passat, and Golf vehicles (though no U.S. models will have this new feature yet). Takeaway: Like it or not, it looks like ChatGPT will be a major fixture in the next generation of smart cars (and humans). More details at Kirsten Korosec’s piece for “Techcrunch.” (GSH)

New Robot Drop!: The Mobile ALOHA was trained to “autonomously complete complex mobile manipulation tasks such as sautéing and serving a piece of shrimp, opening a two-door wall cabinet to store heavy cooking pots, calling and entering an elevator, and lightly rinsing a used pan using a kitchen faucet (Stanford Robotics Center study: Learning Bimanual Mobile Manipulation with Low-Cost Whole-Body Teleoperation).” Read the team’s abstract and watch videos with Aloha’s successes and bloopers here.

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