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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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You Can't Get There From Here

April 25, 2024

I’m just back from a great week in LA at the IDA Getting Real conference, and while the conference is not about showcasing or pitching new films, I had a lot of meetings with filmmakers (planned and unplanned) who were pitching great projects. I also had meetings last week and this week where even more great projects were pitched. And I read through the list of new projects just announced for the Tribeca Festival (we have a client project there, see below), which has a lot of films without distribution in place in the line-up (as most good festivals do). I also met with several funders who are financing new films. You get the point – as ever there are a lot of great new movies being made, pitched, completed, and they’re all looking for a home. 
I believe that only one of these meetings was with a producer who had a project that had a clearly defined, sizable audience, and a means to reach them directly, and who was already planning for how to distribute their film in lieu of a major distribution deal. Everyone else was hoping for the big sale. One filmmaker even admitted – we have been dreaming of the big sale at our premiere, and we’ve heard that’s a dream that seldom happens, but we still hope we’re the one. The funders – some of whom I’ve seen at some of these “crisis in distribution” meetings I’ve been attending - were also hoping their projects were one of those lucky ones. 
This has always been the case in indie/arthouse film – there are always more films being made than could possibly be picked up for distribution, but everyone hoped they were the one. While there have been times where that was just as impossible as now – in fact, many would argue that we just went through a bubble where streamers were over-buying and we’re correcting back to the norm – I don’t know that there’s been a time where there are so many glaring red lights, so many shut doors, so many layoffs, so many thought-pieces saying – no, the system is broken, things aren’t working, etc., but so many people keep driving full steam ahead into the abyss crossing their fingers and just hoping they’ll make it to the other side. But it’s pretty evident – you can’t get there from here.
A friend of mine who programs panels at film fests told me that in her surveys and conversations, filmmakers keep asking for more panels on how to get funding, how to get into film festivals, and how to get distribution. Not so much for new models or systemic change. This might be the reason why at every “crisis in distribution” discussion I’ve been in, one topic keeps coming up – we need all film fests and film orgs to do a better job educating filmmakers about the crisis, and the changes in the field. We can’t keep perpetuating the dream – premiere here and all will be well. I write about this all the time, “we” in the industry talk about it all the time, but the word is not getting through to enough filmmakers. 
And the answer (unfortunately) if not to just tell filmmakers to not make more films. I’ve always argued that trying to stop the flood is pointless. Filmmakers are gonna make films no matter the odds against them succeeding. And who wants to tell someone not to make their art, their passion project, and who’s to say they won’t be one of the lucky ones? The answer does lie – for most but not all people (the trick is admitting to yourself which one you are) – in realizing the system doesn’t want your film, so you need to go direct to your audience. And that only works if you fully embrace that model and build your audience over time. But this is a lot of work, and filmmakers just want to make their film and not do that hard work, and few people are capable of doing that work, or even have the right film for that kind of work. So… we end up with just a handful of people ready to do the work, who have the right film and planned for the work, and only a handful of such success stories each year, because their success stories are so unique.
That’s why the bigger answers lie in the unsexy stuff of building new business models, making systemic change, advocating for new policies, etc., but mostly the answer lies in building replicable systems for aggregating audiences for specialized film. That’s also hard work, but it will bring greater dividends for all of us, and it’s time we turn our attention here instead of in doing the same old thing, again and again. 

Stuff I'm Reading


From Full Democracy to Flawed Democracy: Why The USA Needs True Public Service Media
: Evan Shapiro writes a really important piece called “How Media Failed America,” about the absence of a strong, independent public media and its implications for democracy, public health, and safety. Shapiro explains, “Americans’ trust in their News is lower than 80% of the largest democracies on earth… All available data directly correlates the failing health of our democracy to the weakness of our public media.” Major takeaways: (1) America’s public funding for public media is $3.16 per American citizen (the 5th lowest among 33 countries studied in “Funding Democracy: Public Media and Democratic Health”); (2) Politicians threaten funding for public media, placing major strain on non-profit public media outlets, resulting in “news deserts” across enormous swaths of the U.S; (3) What can we do about it: Listen to and watch NPR and PBS, push elected officials to budget more support for local PBS and NPR stations, and if you’re in a position of influence in Big Media and Tech, wield that power to advantage public media. (GSH) I've been speaking with Shapiro a bit about this stuff lately, and while I always admire his writing in this space, this piece is one of those - amen, brother, ones - he really nails why public media matters and why we need to support it. I have a suspicion this will become a larger topic in his writing and all of our thinking soon. (BN) One other graphic from his report:

The Streaming Headache: For new Sub-Genre newsletter readers or long-timers who want to learn more about the fragile/broken state of streaming, check out Karl Bode’s piece for TechDirt. For now, here’re some key points: (1) “Thanks to industry consolidation and saturated market growth, the streaming industry has started behaving much like the traditional cable giants they once disrupted”; (2) The “churn and return” rate is increasing: According to The New York Times, over 29 million U.S. consumers canceled 3+ streaming services in the last 2 years, with 1/3 of those resubscribing within 6 months; (3) Pressured by reduced revenues, we can expect streaming giants to engage in more pointless mergers, price hikes, crackdowns on password sharing, and increase the number of ads it runs, all at the cost of quality. And of course, they’ll make it much more difficult to cancel their service without a major headache.  (GSH)

The Hot Docs Saga Continues, via Variety: I've written here already about the problems engulfing Hot Docs, and Addie Morfoot at Variety has a recent update on what's transpired, along with some new developments (like not getting any governmental support in a recent budget). Not sounding good for one of my favorite festivals. Read more here. (BN)

A24 “Civil War” Ads: Lazy Marketing or Wink-Wink Moment?: “Civil War,” A24’s most expensive film to date, crushed at the box office (it made $25.7 million in tickets in North America). But they’ve been met with backlash over AI-generated images they used to promote the film on social media. These images show pictures of iconic Chicago buildings in impossible places, military personnel whose torsos float mid-air pointing guns at a giant swan, cars with three doors…etc. A top commenter on their IG post wrote “A24 using ai for advertising might be a sign, maybe it's the beginning of the end for a company that used to rely on indie aesthetics.” Note that none of the scenes depicted in the ad images appear in the movie. My takeaway: Either this was really lazy marketing or A24 is winking at us, hinting at the fact that that the next civil war starts with small absurdities like AI-generated film ads. Kelsey Vlamis for Business Insider has the news (paywalled). (GSH)

The Brown Dog Premiere

The Brown Dog from WePresent at Tribeca Fesitval: We're super happy to announce that our client WePresent (of WeTransfer) will be premiering a new short at the Tribeca Festival in June. The film is The Brown Dog, a short animated film starring Steve Buscemi and the late Michael K. Williams as the central character of the night watchman.His character, only referred to as “NOBODY” is confined to a security booth in an empty parking lot, where he is employed to “sit and look vaguely dangerous.” Instead, he desperately searches for joy and meaning in every small occurrence, in an attempt to ward off madness. The film is directed by Jamie James Medina and Nadia Hallgren, designed & animated by Fons Schiedon, edited by Spencer Savage Campbell at Final Cut Edit and it features an original score by Tyshawn Sorey - who is one of my favorite musicians and artists (BN). You can get full details on the film and the festival here. We've been helping with this one behind the scenes for a bit, and there's going to be a lot more news on this film, and other new projects and announcements from WeTransfer soon.  This one will also have many future fests and such, which we'll announce here soon. (BN) 
Branded Content
BrandStorytelling Survey: Our friends at BrandStorytelling are asking that anyone who works in this space to take 3 minutes and complete the BrandStorytelling Industry survey. Help us gauge what is in store for the remainder of 2024 for brand-funded, non-interruptive programming. AND, they will send you a $100 Discount Coupon for just completing the survey. Do you work at a brand, an agency, or do you currently make films for/with brands? Take the survey. (BN)

Apple Vision Pro Not A Smashing Success: Apple cut down on the shipment of its flashy new Vision Pro headset even before it launched outside of the U.S, apparently due to lack of demand for the $3,500 product. Apple expects to sell between 400,000-500,000 units in 2024 compared to the “market consensus” of 700,000-800,000. Umar Shakir for The Verge writes, “Apple is now adjusting its headset roadmap, possibly pushing the future of a lower-cost entry mixed reality headset beyond 2025 (if at all). Apple’s Vision Pro has largely wowed early adopters due to its technical prowess — but not enough to hold on to all of them past the return period.” Find the full article here. (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
Pool of The Week
This week, while visiting Los Angeles, I was able to spend an afternoon by the famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel pool, next to their Tropicana bar, and with a famously beautiful (simple, but perfect) mural on the bottom from David Hockney. I met my best friend from High School there, and she is also an avid swimmer-  we wanted to jump in and swim a mile, which you could probably do as the pool is not a lap pool, but is just long enough to do one of those 50 lap half miles or something, and with the mural, the sun, what’s wrong with that. But… I just had minor surgery and couldn’t get wet, so all I can do for this first pool report is note – it’s beautiful and probably gets overrun with the “beautiful people” for parties on weekends, but on a weeknight, you could have the pool to yourself. Word is -you can also show up and just swim without being a guest or having a special pass, and in my time there, no one was questioned – so buy a post-swim drink and take some laps on top of a Hockney. You can’t go wrong. 
What’s up with this post? Regular readers know that I’m an avid swimmer, and I’m testing out a new feature where I add this into my newsletter in addition to the usual news. This might become a bigger feature over time. Thanks for the suggestion - three unnamed friends who know who they are. LMK what you think. (BN)
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