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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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October 6, 2021

Over the weekend, IATSE voted by an overwhelming margin -  nearly 90% of members voted, and 98.6% of them voted yes, to authorize a strike against the AMPTP. For those of you who don’t keep up with the minutiae of industry jargon, that means that the Union(s) representing the majority of the workers who make movies and shows happen – the cinematographers, the electricians, the make-up artists and so on, are authorizing a strike if the organization representing the major film and tv production companies – really, the studios, streamers, and broadcasters – don’t come back to the table and negotiate things like better pay for productions intended for streaming, better working hours and breaks between long days, and so on. 
It can all be a bit confusing, but this IndieWire article explains most of the issues and what might happen next. But trust me, most independent producers, many stars, and now even a fair bit of Congress supports the workers. Indie producers in particular know that they can’t make a film without a team, and the “below the line” workers are crucial to getting anything done. These workers also work damn hard – long hours, often low pay, (on bad sets, or most?) little respect, few breaks, and often with unsafe conditions all around, even before Covid. Everyone I know in the film industry has or has heard horror stories, and not just the ones that lead to deaths and get reported.  I remember living in Georgia (again), when a crew member went home so tired that they accidentally put their hand through their own car window getting into the car, damaging themselves for life – all because they were working too long, with too little sleep, and not enough break-time between shoots. If you want more horror stories, just take a look at the IATSE Stories Instagram, which is tough stuff to read. If you want to see a film about this, watch Haskell Wexler's Who Needs Sleep?, and if you want to support the workers and their possible strike – they’d prefer to negotiate and be able to work – IATSE has this petition page you can sign.
Of course, a few film organizations, including film festivals, posted their support of the workers, and this has quickly led to a backlash in the film community, with festival workers saying – hey pot, meet kettle. Because if you’ve ever worked at a film festival, you know there’s a lot of similarity in how most festivals treat their volunteers, season support staff, and even the majority of their staff below the leadership level. Two anonymous accounts spung up recently - @OffTheFestCircuit and @FestStafferStories, both of which are posting relatively anonymous stories from the trenches of the fest world. These stories aren’t nearly as horrific as the IATSE ones, but that’s no excuse for the bad behavior documented. I’ve worked film festivals in every position from lowest/newest volunteer, to seasonal staff, to executive director, to board chair, and I’ve seen the ugly and some of the reasons behind it. 
Reading through the posts, nothing surprised me, but few of the solutions posted thus far seemed realistic, either. For just one example, many people are saying to push funders and sponsors about this, but most of them are too far removed from knowing the day to day, most (rightly) don’t want to get involved in controversies they don’t know much about, and jeopardizing funds won’t help raise wages and respect. That said, something has to be done. I was definitely guilty as a leader of a small festival or overworking staff. I was also working 90 hour weeks year-round, averaging barely an hourly minimum wage to keep it all going, and fell into the trap of thinking that just because I had worked hard, everyone should – which is dead wrong, and now I know it.
It wasn’t until around the time I was leaving the festival world that I came to embrace my new philosophy – if you can’t afford to pay your staff a living wage, and pay your filmmakers for screening their films, then you don’t deserve to have a film festival. On top of this, you have to treat volunteers like the real people they are and give them meaningful perks. I know many festival leaders who are moving in this direction, especially post-covid. But I know many more that are happy to overpay leadership, make sure the rich folks in town and on the board remain happy (to keep donating), and are clueless that there’s even a problem. Unfortunately, the worst of these festivals tend to be the biggest, and/or are for-profit endeavors, which makes it even worse. 
But alas, this festival problem is for the most part a nonprofit problem. And by this morning, my social feed was leading me to this story about a woman from Seattle who is calling out the abuses of the entire nonprofit system, and she’s making a movie about it! You can help fund her film about “nonprofit harm and healing” on her GoFundMe page, here.Maybe a film can help change things? I am doubtful, but it’s a start. And we need more noise about this from all corners if we’re ever gonna see real change. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Don't Let Amazon Eat the Film Industry: I reported a few weeks ago that Pat Aufderheide, a well-respected professor at American University, had written and Op-Ed about the Amazon/MGM merger, but now she's written a longer, well-reasoned piece for the NYT where she argues against the merger, and elaborates on why it would be bad for indies. Personally, I remain skeptical that this particular merger is bad, even if Amazon's other tactics might be - one could even argue they're paying a sucker's price for it - but it's a good argument, and worth a read. (BN)

Global SVOD subscriptions to reach 1.6 billion: Digital TV Research predicts global SVOD subscriptions will increase by 491 million, reaching 1.64 billion by 2026. China and the U.S. account for nearly half of the global total number and U.S. subscriptions are accelerating. Disney+ is projected to have the most subscribers, overtaking Netflix in 2025, in large part due to their influence in Asia. Broadband TV’s Julian Clover has the news.   (GSH)
Branded Content
New content series ‘Gaming While Black’ aims to spotlight creators of color: While over 80% of Black American teens are gamers, only 2% of game developers are Black. A digital series called Gaming While Black—created by entertainment studio 3BlackDot and sponsored by Doritos— seeks to unpack the issue of representation in gaming (who’s creating, for whom, and how the discord plays out in-game) through conversations with popular Black gaming creators. The series is part of a greater initiative by Doritos to elevate Black voices. You can check out the series trailer here. Jeff Beer from Fast Company | The future of business has the story. (GSH)

AT&T and 100 Thieves are bringing their partnership into the metaverse with the AT&T Station: AT&T has just entered the metaverse through a partnership with the esports organization, 100 Thieves. They’ve created “a deeply immersive [experience], taking the form of a series of virtual rooms surrounded by water and a starfield invoking images of outer space. There are two levels, enabling users to set up camp around virtual hot tubs and campfires or grab a box of VR popcorn before entering a screening room featuring WarnerMedia properties such as “The Suicide Squad.”” “Visitors” can also purchase limited 100 Thieves apparel, displayed on virtual mannequins. Digiday’s Alexander Lee notes, “as the barrier between physical and digital life continues to fall away, increasing numbers of brand partnerships are likely to follow the blueprint of the AT&T Station.” (GSH)

CGI influencers: when the ‘people’ we follow on social media aren’t human: Brands are increasingly using CGI influencers to communicate with their audiences. Why CGI? “They can be altered to look, act, and speak however brands desire, and don’t have to physically travel to photo shoots – a particular draw during the pandemic.” But “as more brands align themselves with activism, working with supposedly “activist” CGI influencers could improve their optics without doing anything of substance to address structural inequalities.” Going deeper, “when brands engage with CGI influencers in ways distinctly tied to their alleged social justice credentials, it promotes the false notion that CGI influencers are activists. This deflects from the reality that [CGI influencers] are not agents of change but a byproduct of digital technology and consumer culture.” The short takeaway: The existence of CGI influencers “raises... complex and interesting questions about digital representation, power, and profit.” Read Beth Daley’s piece found on The Conversation for a close examination of brands and their use of CGI influencers. (GSH)

TikTok Announces New Advertising and Branded Content Partnership Options at TikTok World Event: “In 2021, [TikTok] saw a 500% increase in the number of companies running ad campaigns on TikTok in the US, despite its well-publicised tangles with President Trump and the threat of a ban there.” And recently, TikTok announced it has over 1 billion monthly active users, meaning brands and TikTok will continue to hit the gas. 
A series of recent TikTok updates will make it easier for Brands to interact with TikTok audiences and creators. See the following list for a few of these (and see full article for more information): 
  • An updated Creator Marketplace “enables brands to find influencers in their niche who are open to working on business promotions...Brands using Creator Marketplace will now also have the opportunity to oversee elements of the creative process, and monitor real-time campaign performance through the app.” 
  • ‘Open Application Campaigns’ “will enable brands to list their campaigns for interested creators to self-apply.”
  • ‘The TikTok Creative Exchange’ is “a self-serve portal that will match brands with vetted creative service providers to help them produce high-performing ads, suited to their brief and objectives.”
  • ‘Dynamic Scene’ “will use machine learning to break [a brand’s] videos into multiple scenes...Dynamic Scene will essentially create TikTok clips for you, based on your existing assets, which you can then test in the app, and promote the best performers.” (GSH)

How mental health became a social media minefield: In an illuminating article, Rebecca Jennings raises important questions about the ways we talk about learning differences and mental illness on the internet. She cautions that while having the language to describe one’s personal psychological experience is important, the internet (the way social media apps are designed and the way we behave on them) tends to (over)pathologize and ‘likes’ to promote and perpetuate the assignment of labels. Of course, the social media sites we frequent are designed to categorize (and pathologize), kind of like humans, though usually with the endgame of marketing to us. But really, “There is no strict frontier between what is pathological and what is not,” explains Joël Billieux, a professor of clinical psychology and psychopathology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. “It’s the way people live them [mental health conditions] and the meaning they give to them, which could result in psychological suffering or difficulties.” Jennings asks that we evaluate how the structure and function of the internet and social media shape our relationship with mental health and more broadly, our personal psychological experience.  (GSH)

(GSH) indicates news summaries written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)

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