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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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The Future's So Bright

Feb 29, 2024

Oh boy, there I go again, posting a few Cassandra-esque newsletters, and everyone thinks I’m being too pessimistic. But as I’ve said here sometime before – I’m a true pessimist, meaning I’m usually happy because I’m always shocked that anything works out for the better when so much could go wrong. But this weekend I have to teach a film school class full of young, probably optimistic folks who don’t need anyone raining on their parade, so let me be really clear about what I actually think about the state of the film business and its future in case any of them accidentally spy on my musings – the future of the film business has never looked brighter… so long as you are not someone who hears “the future’s so bright” and automatically sings to themselves they “gotta wear shades” and/or aren’t listening to those people. Which means also… don’t listen to me, of course. But what I mean is, if you are starting out and/or wanting to just build something cool, and are not old (at heart, I truly don’t mean this to be ageist) and just trying to preserve the old way of doing things, things are not just awesome, they’re getting better. 
Why? Because we’re pretty much at the apex of everyone realizing that nothing is working in this industry, and that we need new ideas. Sure, Zaslav and a few others think they can milk this system until the next sucker bails them out, but I gotta think they are in on the scam, right? And if you’re a producer who has been to the Academy awards a few times, you’ve probably figured out how to work the system just long enough to get you to your retirement gig at NYU, UCLA, or (as I’ll be doing per last week’s news) renting canoes to the one percent. But all the rest of us are watching the burning embers of what used to be a film industry, warming our hands by the fire, and waiting for someone else to come along who is industrious enough to chop the wood needed to start a new fire, and that tends to be someone young (or young at heart) And/Or someone so outside of our circles that they wonder why the f-k we’re standing around kicking embers and blowing so hard on twigs we hope will re-ignite the fire, when we could just abandon the mess we’ve made, move further away from the dead-zone and just start using all of this (climate friendly) new-fangled fuel sitting around waiting to be put to use?!! 
You’re trying to figure out how to get a Pay-One deal over here (or some other version of rebuilding the past), but over there I can see a bunch of stuff like:  AI tools that enable more creative options than we’ve ever had, and which for all of the scary parts, promise pretty awesome new creative paths for those who embrace the technologies; cheaper and more accessible tools to better handle any aspect of the art/business; millions of audiences who are bored by what’s on Netflix and feeling not just underserved, but unseen and unheard, and who also have the means to make their own new Netflix for pennies on the dollar and who can speak to one another without needing your permission; an entire history of film (and most of art and culture) available at their fingertips to explore for free whenever they want to see it, and often for free (yes, that’s actually a good thing); and no reason to follow the old rules on how to do any of this stuff, and no encumbrances to force them to do so anyway (leaving aside student loan debt, which is our way to keep them in our system, but that’s another post…). And I’m forgetting half of the good things on the horizon, so it only gets better.
Most of the good ideas I’ve heard lately have basically started from assuming the film biz as we know it is dead. Not that these folks are completely naïve or just swooping in with some newfangled tech idea from Silicon Valley (which are usually so far off from good ideas that they fail within a year), but they don’t even assume that Netflix will be here in ten years (unless it’s being sold for parts like Vice today), much less worry about what they’re buying today. They’re building for the future. Similarly, most of the great, creative film ideas I’m hearing aren’t focused on what’s hot right now (horror and… what else? Oh yeah, copying Celine Song, which isn’t that bad of an idea…), but are instead focused on making what no one seems to expect. Sure, the former know there’s an existing business they must work with/around, and the latter aren’t throwing away thousands of years of good story-telling knowledge either, but they are focused on what’s next, not what’s now. 
As a quick aside, I don’t often have that luxury outside of writing this newsletter, to be honest, as my brand clients have CMO’s who will move somewhere else in 18 months or sooner, and need what’s now, but I hear from these folks via this newsletter and my other musings every day, and it’s what keeps me writing. But smart folks I know aren’t focused on now. Whether they are film students starting out, or filmmakers exploring new tech or new story ideas, or established industry folks fed up and dreaming up something new, or brand clients wanting to not just copy the latest trend but set the new one (hint, hint, clients, this is where to be looking), they’re focused on what’s just over the horizon, not what’s staring them in the face today.
If you can be in that same mindset, focused on what’s next, things are looking so bright…
(editor’s note: I lost my sunglasses at Sundance, and need new ones, and that might be the reason I riffed on that song for this post – it’s branded content, looking for a sponsor.)

Stuff I'm Reading

The Gauntlet: Keeping Gatekeepers Human: Shane Black, Jim Herzfeld, and Akela Cooper are among a group of writers and creatives who collaborated on the development of a tech platform called the Gauntlet in an effort to keep humans assessing screenplays in the gate-keeper stage rather than AI. How it works: “screenwriters pay a $380 fee to run their script through a “gauntlet” of professional story analysts. Each script starts with at least seven readers to ensure that its journey doesn’t end because of one person’s opinion or taste. Scripts doing well ascend to the next level and garner more readers…. [and] will be searchable by a database offered to agencies, studios and production companies and promoted via a subscription service called “The Gauntlet Weekend Read.” (Tatiana Siegel, Variety).” Brian Austin, one of the creatives behind the Gauntlet explains, “we want some human expertise here picking projects versus a machine making the assessment that… is just probably pulling in certain box-office numbers and finding certain tags and keywords that are similar to something that performed. This provides a barrier to that trend.” The Gauntlet launches this Tuesday. Check out all the details at Siegel’s piece, here. (GSH)

New, Separate Branches for Short Films and Feature Animation: The Academy recently split the Short Films and Feature Animation branch into separate branches, a decision that was probably long overdue, and one that’s mostly been met with enthusiasm. An anonymous Academy member tells IndieWire, “this is the beginning of an opportunity to show how shorts are a force to be reckoned with both within the Academy and the world…. Also, feature talent such as Wes Anderson… Alfonso Cuarón, and Pedro Almodóvar are making shorts. It’s not just student and emerging filmmakers anymore.” Check out Bill Desowitz’ piece for IndieWire for why this was probably a much-needed move, and why some animation insiders are concerned. (GSH)

AI To Revolutionize Film Production Workflow?: Morph Studio partnered with Stability AI to create an AI filmmaking platform. The tool looks like a storyboard where users can enter text prompts to create and edit shots and combine them into a cohesive narrative. Morph co-founder Xu Huaizhe explains, “Filming, editing and post-production used to be separate steps in traditional filmmaking, but AI blurs the boundaries of these stages and turns them into one continuous process. If you aren’t happy with a shot, you can re-generate it on our canvas. AI has introduced a new workflow to film production.” My takeaway: Tools like this one in film, music, and every other artform are inevitably going to keep rolling out until one of them really catches and changes the way artists work… and it’s stupid to fight this kind of change, but like the Gauntlet founders referenced above, we do need to ensure that humans remain front and center of art creation and gatekeeping. Rita Liao for TechCrunch has the news. (GSH)

Branded Content

22 Montaigne Entertainment’s “Maisons” of Stories: In last week’s newsletter, we wrote up a piece about luxury goods company LVMH’s launch of 22 Montaigne Entertainment, a platform for branded film, TV and audio format productions for its portfolio of 75+ luxury brands. Jae Goodman, co-founder of Superconnector explains, “LVMH already spends a lot of money to attract and engage an audience to create culture and be married to culture… they’re already in a place of recognizing, as Nike did [with Waffle Iron Entertainment], that they have to… pull people into the brand. And so it wasn’t a tremendous leap for them to then suggest we could create really compelling prestige entertainment, and there’s a business ecosystem associated with that that might mean we don’t have to spend all the money to produce the content, or all the money to distribute the content.” Goodman continues, “the first thing we do when we come to entertainment entities is make sure they understand the point of view of the brand, how that brand connects with consumers, and look for alignment there before anybody starts talking about ideas, let alone deals.” Read on at Jeff Beer’s article for (GSH)


Watermarking Is Just A Band Aid: Watermarking AI-generated content sounds like a real solution to a lot of the problems we face with the imminent integration of AI in virtually every aspect of our society. But experts warn that popular methods for disclosing and detecting AI content (like watermarking) are far from perfect, and actually, aren’t even strong enough to prevent risks related to AI-generated misinformation and/or malicious actors (it’s a cat and mouse game). Digiday’s Marty Swant writes that “according to Mozilla, the best approach is a combination of adding technical solutions and more transparency while also improving media literacy and passing regulations.” Real, lasting solutions TBD. Check out the details in Swant’s article. (GSH)

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