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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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Clarity of Vision

March 7, 2024

One of the fun things I’ve been lucky enough to be part of over the years is joining boards and advisory boards of start-ups that are somehow related to the film space, and to have conversations with many people exploring and launching new businesses, and there’s been even more of those happening as of late. People have been dealing with the “crisis” in the film business long enough that they smell some opportunities, there’s a lot of new stuff happening with tech as well (AI being the big one, but also virtual production, XR advances, blockchain/Web3, interactivity, new ways to reach audiences, etc.), and just plain gaps in the market that can be addressed. Even some of the most old-fashioned folks in the business are suddenly open to trying new things. As I said last week, the future looks bright, and things are kinda exciting, if often behind closed doors at the moment. 
But I keep seeing one consistent issue – feature creep, or trying to do too much, all at once. It’s as if everyone is looking at the big picture and all of the problems, and have decided that the only way to solve for any one thing, is to solve for everything. And that’s not what we need, it’s not strategic, and I think most of those endeavors are doomed to fail. We need visionary ideas, but we also need clarity of vision, and laser-sharp focus on the best solutions. Not the kitchen sink. I’ll take five good ideas, but people are offering one hundred of them, all at the same time, and in the same pitch – few have taken the time to even hone these ideas into an actual business plan, which is also part of the problem. 
To be clear – I’m not arguing for not having a big idea, or a grand vision. In my experience, the money flows to the biggest ideas. Take the biggest idea of the moment – artificial intelligence. It’s probably going to transform every aspect of society, and there’s almost no sector that will remain untouched by it. But if you look at the mission statement of Anthropic, one of the top companies in the space, they are very focused on one vision – “ to ensure transformative AI helps people and society flourish.”  Sure, some of this is just corporate speak, and they’re doing thousands of things at once, but each of those things is informed by this core mission, and their clarity of vision. 
I think we, in the broader film sector, are facing a few problems which lead us to this lack of focus. One thing is just the breadth of the issues – there’s a lot of challenges. The second problem is our independence, and the ongoing siloed nature of most of our work, and our habits. While making a movie is a collaborative art, I’ve always found the film world to be less cooperative in every other aspect of the business. As someone told me once, in any other industry, if someone comes up with a transformative idea, people will embrace it and often work together to make the idea better. Sure, there’s competition, and someone wants to win. But in film, when there’s any new, potentially transformative idea, people will gather together to beat it to a bloody death before it can get out of its crib. It’s not even a sense of, “oh, good idea, I’m gonna one-up you and make it better,” but instead a quick, pile-on of hate and venom that often kills the idea in its infancy. And even when we do come together – there have been a lot of group think tanks lately – some good ideas get bandied about, but then everyone goes back off into their siloes. We probably need less half-day think-tanks, and more three-day retreats/lock-ins, where we put five smart people together and they can’t leave the room until they’ve built a new model. 
Another issue is that everyone is coming out of Covid, strikes, etc. and are facing budget constraints. It’s very hard to slow down and get strategic when you’re just trying to keep the doors open. This is true whether you’re a bigger business, a small production company, a nonprofit in this space, or just a solo filmmaker. I once ran a nonprofit where the board asked me to transform the place or shut it down. But they also stepped up and made sure I had enough cash in the bank to take my time, do an actual strategic plan, and then act on it, and I didn’t have to worry about payroll for a few months. I could slow down, and let the ideas flow, and then make a plan to implement them properly. While I haven’t read it yet, that seems to be part of the argument of Cal Newport’s new book, Slow Productivity, that we need to take the time to just ruminate, and we’ll get better ideas. But most of my film friends are busy being busy, and trying to copy the movies and do everything all at once. 
We need clarity of vision not just a bunch of answers. 
And that is a long way of saying that my focus for the next couple of weeks is going to be just that – slowing down, to gain clarity of vision. I’m headed briefly to SXSW for some client stuff and fun, but then I am heading out on vacation for a bit. That means there won’t be any newsletter for the next two weeks (March 14 and 21). Enjoy your time away from my missives, and maybe use the saved time to just stare into space, and hone your vision for the future of film (or your film, or your business) down from one hundred ideas to one very good one. That’s what I’ll be trying to do, when not swimming with the fishes. 

Stuff I'm Reading


IND/EX Conference Coming Up — Register Now!: Art House Convergence and Film Festival Alliance invite you to The Independent Film Exhibition Conference (IND/EX) – the only film industry event dedicated to advancing the reach, impact, and sustainability of film festivals and independent exhibitors. Hosted in Downtown Chicago June 25-28, 2024, the conference will provide a mix of educational programs, skill-based workshops, keynote speakers, a vendor exhibit, and crowd favorites like Art House Tales, Trailer Wars, and Meet the Distributors. Bringing together all aspects of the festival and independent exhibitor sector, IND/EX is a critical hub of network and relationship building, industry growth, market development, and cultural advancement. Learn more about the conference and reserve your pass here:  (GSH) We'll be there, and hope to see you there.

Tubi Gets A Makeover: Deemed the streaming service’s biggest UX change in recent history, Tubi redesigned its logo, refreshed its user interface, and most importantly created an unexpected and quirky (and dare I say “tacky”) sound cue that plays every time you open the app or stream a Tubi original. The sound, which evokes completely different feelings than Netflix’s resonant “tu-dum” or HBO’s grandiose static hum “reflects our mischievous brand voice,” explains Nicole Parlapiano (Tubi CMO), an identity the streamer has embraced after finding out that its core viewers view Tubi as “a low-stakes destination for almost accidentally discovering movies and TV shows across a wide range of genres (Josef Adalian, “Vulture”).” This sentiment is reflected in Tubi’s 2023 Superbowl ad which depicts users being thrown down Tubi-content rabbit holes by enormous rabbits. Takeaway: Tubi understands its audience and it shows. Of note: The streamer overperforms with younger, diverse audiences, and skews much younger and more female than any other free streamer in the industry (Parlapiano). Josef Adialian for “Vulture” has the news. (GSH)
Branded Content
The SpeakEasy At SXSW, Presented by BrandStorytelling: Check it out: BrandStorytelling descends upon Austin, Texas on March 11th and 12th as an official partner of SXSW. Bringing best-in-class programming and speakers from the leaders in non-interruptive advertising. Join other brand leaders, storytellers, strategists and technologists; to connect and learn about the evolving opportunities and effectiveness of brand-funded original content. This Official SXSW 2-day event takes place during the Film & TV Festival, on the Advertising and Brand Track, as well as the Creator Economy Track.Join us for fireside chats, panel discussions, and plenty of happy hours with opportunities to mix it up with other attendees. You can check out the full schedule and get more info here. And if you're attending, look me up, as I'll be there. (BN). 

Deinfluencing, The New Influencing?: In spite of brands spending an anticipated $7 billion on influencer marketing this year, “deinfluencers” — social media creators who discourage users from buying products and brands rather than promoting them — are on the rise (#deinflucing drew over 750m TikTok views) and have a real impact on consumer purchasing habits and brand reputation, a new Swayable survey finds. Check out Scott Fedonchik’s take on the findings in his article for The Drum. In the meantime, here’re some takeaways: (1) Trending influencer TikToks negatively impacted brand favorability and purchase intent among participants, though high levels of engagement (likes and follows) DIDN’T necessarily undermine a brand or product; (2) In the same vein, the three most effective deinflucing posts in the study had less than 2k likes; (3) The length of the deinfluencer post didn’t seem to impact viewers’ opinions; (4) Fedonichik writes that when addressing the problem of deinfluencing, brands should target very persuasive, high-reach content (though unfortunately he doesn’t expand on markers brands can use to identify or score levels of persuasiveness). (GSH)

Author's Equity - The New Publisher Sharing the "Lion's Share" of the Profits: There's a new publisher in town, made up of some apparent heavy-weights from the business who are changing the model, and I think what they're doing has some relevance to new ideas for film distribution as well. As covered in the NYT, Author's Equity will not pay big advances or MG's, but instead will pay out more of the actual profit to their authors - 60-70% it seems - in exchange. The idea is that they won't have to recoup that big advance, and they'll start sharing revenue earlier, so it might be worth the risk for an author. They acknowledge it works better for authors who have big followings, and/or want to do more work on their own PR/marketing/social, but they also hope to discover new talent. I've actually heard this idea a couple of times lately from people in the film distribution and exhibition business, and the problem for them is getting filmmakers to trust that they won't get ripped off with "Hollywood math." But I think it's an idea worth trying for the right filmmakers and new distribution partners, and hope to see a similar experiment in film soon. Read Elizabeth Harris's article in the NYT for the full story. (BN)

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