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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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AI...Oh My!

Feb 22, 2024

It’s only taken about three and a half months between the releases of ChatGPT and the first videos from Sora, yet still somehow, people are wondering whether or not Generative AI will make a movie we’d pay to see, with approved AI versions of our favorite actors, who were hired and put into the film by AI agents, and directed by an AI approved by an Auteur director's AI agent (and then watched, tweaked and re-approved by said director), to act out a script written along the lines of the last 100+ years of greatest scripts ever written (and with the best performance metrics with the target audiences), while the AI also negotiated the film’s placement in the queues of just the people who would want to see it, all while writing the reviews for us, deciding whether we want to see it for us, scheduling it into our family’s collective viewing calendars, posting our reviews on Letterboxd for us, determining who will see those reviews and also see the film, while rewarding me (or my AI agent, really) for recommending it so successfully, and while building the better sequel based on the collective intelligence gathered from the first film’s release.
That paragraph alone barely scratches the surface of what Generative AI will do before this time next year, but if you count the jobs destroyed in the process of that movie getting watched and the sequel being made, it’s not hard to guess somewhere North of 80% of all jobs lost, and to hope that we get so lucky and aren’t truly left with just 1% of us who can greenlight, program and watch those films. Sure, Siri can’t even auto-correct my typing on my phone properly, but yes, the robots are going to take us over soon.
Arguing with folks about which jobs are safe in the movie industry (leaving alone any other industry for the time being) reminds me of those quaint arguments back in the late Nineties about whether digital would ever replace film for most movies. We’ll have the same amount of meaningless panels about AI at this year’s film festivals (and yes, we should have them anyways), with no more a vision of the scope of the game being changed than we had back then. 
Tell me a job you think will be safe. Screenwriters, you say? Ok, what wins - an AI fed by the entire history of films (and how they performed at the box office and streaming, and how they were reviewed and how often they were watched in the past twenty years), but which can also hallucinate in ways we’ve never imagined, or some Angeleno microdosing to their best, creative self? Festival programmer, you say. Have you worked at a film festival and noticed how much management would like to cut those costs even further than the paltry sums they pay all but the top 1% of them? And do you think an AI can’t just look at what the best AI programmers at Cannes and Sundance programmed, throw in some films from their industry sponsors (Netflix, et al), hallucinate a curve-ball or two based on their local audience (based on a quick scan of all past festival programs… ok, our disorganization and poor record keeping might just save this job…) and also get the word out better than our underpaid staff publicists? 
Surely, you think in desperation, there’s one job that will outlast the cock-a-roaches to the ends of the world… agents, right?! Uhm, we’ll all have our own AI powered agents soon, known by some as digital assistants, which will book our entire vacations for us, negotiate any deal we need made, and do it all for free (thanks to advertising and getting our data). You don’t think the best paid actors will have even better versions? Ok, I admit I’m positively giddy hallucinating about the end of dealing with agents, but let’s just admit their art of negotiation is just a little bit overrated, no? Same goes for the lawyers, by the way.
Ok, yes, I’ll concede that a few jobs will be left standing (yes, @reesamteesa will likely have one of them), and maybe I’m off by some percentage – perhaps we’ll save 25% of all jobs, not just 20% when all is said and done, and it might take a year longer than 2024. For the record, I think it will take even longer than that, because everything does, and just because the arthouse part of this industry isn’t important enough for the tech titans to turn their attention to very quickly, and there’s always some ten thousand people willing to mortgage their homes and sleep on friend’s couches in hopes their films will be among the 1% selected for Sundance, and those  films all “employ” some people. And documentarians will keep making their films even if the “distribution/impact campaign” is just a donor paying for them to show it to the two thousand people who want to see it. But you get my point… big changes are coming.
So, what do we do about it? Well, we can’t stop it. We can regulate it a bit, and put on some guardrails, if we wake up and act soon. We can be among the few who embrace the change and go along for the ride, because those using AI and shaping it will be the few left who understand it enough to figure out where to be standing when the wave breaks. We can do as Daniel Miessler suggests and lean into the changes knowing that the collapse of an old system can lead to a better one (but yes, we can spare ourselves from some of his techno-utopianism while we’re at it), because despairing the changes won’t make them happen any less quickly. I think we’ll have to do all of the above, and add a bit more smart thinking if we want to not just survive but thrive in the coming transition. 
But to be honest, I’m also standing on the sidelines alongside almost everyone else with my mouth agape, because just watching this stuff happen so quickly is a bit head-spinning. FWIW, I spoke to a friend who is working right in the middle of this at one of the biggest companies in the world, and they were no less surprised with the pace of change. This friend has been there at the start of every big new thing in Silicon Valley, and they admitted this one is moving faster than anything had in the past. But they remained enthusiastic and were on the optimistic side when thinking about the possible future(s). That’s where I’ll try to be as well, and I am pretty sure very few robots are coming to write a newsletter about any of this stuff anytime soon, but if they do, I’ve always got that back-up plan ready - to go rent canoes to the 1% alongside some beach somewhere, because that might be the better job anyways, and one of the only ones left as well. 

Stuff I'm Reading


Tubi, An Ode To Really Really Bad Films: Tubi, the streaming platform which debuted in 2014 and has been doing relatively well post-pandemic, is perhaps best known for its selection of Z-movies — films characterized by outrageously low budget aesthetics, short run times, terrible acting, and horrendous special effects. “But boy are they fun to watch — so deliriously bad they’re good (Niela Orr, New York Times). It also so happens that the brazen flaws that make you “wonder if the filmmakers are advancing some kind of “theater of the absurd” high-art narrative deconstruction”) are also incredible fodder for social media promo, which is a big reason for why Tubi’s been so successful in the TikTok age. Orr writes, “It’s a complicated feeling whenever you see a corporation thriving based on the thrifty ingenuity of Black creators. (Think of 1970s Blaxploitation films, or the role of Black users in popularizing platforms like… TikTok, or the whole history of the music business.) Is this a kind of populist creativity finding a way into the world or just a business exploiting an underserved audience to pump out cheap “content”?” She concludes that “despite its trashy peculiarities, Tubi is a refreshing antidote to the homogenization of streaming platforms and the formulaic awards bait that marks the decline of “prestige” TV.” You can find the full New York Times piece here. (GSH)

ChatGPT for Documentary Filmmakers Workshop: The D-Word is sponsoring an intensive, 3-hour, online ChatGPT workshop given by AI expert Philip Shane on February 24th from 12-3pm EST. He'll focus specifically on how the latest iteration of ChatGPT can be utilized at every phase of the film production process to save you time and money, and expand your creative possibilities. Participants will collaboratively develop a documentary project from inception to completion, and explore how ChatGPT aids in everything from idea generation and research to storyboarding and data analysis, as well as its role in marketing and distribution. The ChatGPT for Documentary Filmmakers Workshop will be recorded for those who can't make the session live or wish to review it afterwards. For more information and to register: CLICK HERE. For those interested in what Philip has to say about AI more broadly, check out this discussion recorded last year with Basil Shadid on Utilizing AI for Documentary Production, which is free to view on The D-Word's YouTube Channel. [Note: This opportunity was brought to our attention by documentary filmmaker and workshop co-host Doug Block.] (GSH)

Women In (and not in) Film: Crunching The Numbers: A new study on the impact of gender equality policies on the international film industry finds that while there are small numerical improvements in women and gender minorities working in British, German, and Canadian films sector, the ranks of key creative positions and that of the “network elite” are still dominated by men. “At the current rate of progress, gender equity, where women occupy 50 percent of key creative positions, will only be achieved in the year 2215 in Canada (i.e. in nearly 200 years), in 2085 in the U.K. (in more than 60 years), and 2041 in Germany (in more than 15 years),” the report found. The takeaway: We need “policies that reach into industry practice and create accountability (Policy analyst Professor Doris Ruth Eikhof for the U. of Glasgow ).” Scott Roxborough for THR shares the news. This is obviously not just a problem for England, Germany, and Canada. A study released the morning of February 21st  by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that “the percentage of women, women of color and women 45+ in films in 2023 has plummeted to lows not seen in almost a decade.” The study’s authors write, “Despite posturing, the legacy studios have dealt little or reversed course on inclusion in popular films.” Head to Tom Tapp’s article for Deadline for the numbers and a clear summary of the findings. (GSH)
Branded Content

22 Montaigne Entertainment: An Evolution In The Relationship Between Fashion Brands and Entertainment: Luxury goods company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) just launched 22 Montaigne Entertainment, a platform for branded film, TV and audio format productions (presumably podcasts), for its portfolio of 75+ luxury brands (these include Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Guerlain, Tiffany, Bulgari, Séphora, and many more). LVMH North America Chairman/CEO Anish Melwani explains, “at LVMH, we view each Maison [brand] as a house of stories, a distinct creator of culture…. Our brands are the ones that have the DNA and the heritage and the stories to tell.”  Melwani and Co-founders Jae Goodman and John Kaplan of Superconnector Studios will work together to match brands with creators, producers, and distributors to put out films, TV, and other storytelling mediums. Melwani recognizes that “we’re not great documentary storytellers,” which is why it’s critical they create “a place for great storytellers interested in… authenticity.” Mike Fleming Jr. for Deadline has the news. (GSH)

Reesa Tessa: If you've been buried under a rock, or like me, have been thinking about Sora all day, every day  for the last week, you might have missed the whole @ReesaMTeesa Who TF Did I Marry phenomenon. I did, until two readers (Yvonne Welbon and Sara Archambault) alerted it to me within five minutes of one another. Needless to say, I haven't had the hours to listen to all of the TikTok's yet - and that's part of the beauty of it, as she purposely made it so you can just shove your phone in your pocket and listen to it in the ten minute stitched together episodes, like a podcast - or her PSA's and all of the other commentary that has popped up around it. Lots to explore and think about here, but I've been telling everyone that long-form was just around the corner for TikTok, and this here's the proof. More on this one soon. (BN)

The Lack Of Women Is Hurting the AI Field: Nesta conducted a 2019 analysis which found that “women are more likely than men to consider societal, ethical and political implications in their work on AI.” This is really not too surprising, though it is extremely concerning considering the fact that they make up just a tiny sliver of the AI workforce… and the gender gap is only widening (note that some of the most innovative — and also invisible — leaders of AI are women, including Elaine Rich and Cynthia Dwork.) For more info on key women in AI and Nesta study findings, head to the TechCrunch article. (GSH)

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