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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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Getting (a little) Smarter

June 13, 2024

A quick lament, but then a turn to a few super smart things – that are also really good news for the industry – that I learned about this week, all of which coalesce into a sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re getting smarter during this downturn.
First, the lament. I took a break this week from Tribeca Festival happenings to meet with a couple of industry folks visiting town – not for the festival but coincidentally here while it took place. In each instance, we bemoaned the state of the field, and every time, the conversation came down to some variation of – why don’t they teach this stuff in film school, and why isn’t anyone teaching filmmakers all the things the industry is talking about when we meet for coffee or drinks? 
The point being that filmmakers are learning the craft and turning out many great films – maybe too many, since we have over ten thousand of them being submitted to most film festivals each year – but they don’t know much about distribution, or the business side of things, or the current state of the market. And the reasons are mainly because there are few central places where you can learn about all this stuff. So, you get filmmakers who still think they can show up at Tribeca and sell their films for millions more than they spent to make it, and that some distributor will handle all of the marketing with aplomb, and that their lawyer will know how to redline the contract in their favor, and that after all of that, audiences will show up and they’ll make even more profit. I could go on, but you likely get the point and let’s get to the good news, post haste.
But in some great news, I went to a little party hosted by Christie Marchese of Kinema, and she showed me a news item that had just hit Indiewire moments earlier – that she and Emily Best of Seed & Spark (and their teams and friends) had just launched The Distribution Playbook online, for filmmakers (or anyone… take a look brand film friends), for free! As Best told writer Brian Welk, the question she most often gets from filmmakers is “What the fuck is happening in distribution, and what are we supposed to do about it?” This guide is the answer.
The problem has always been – all the answers to that question have been floating around the web, and in a few books, in millions of different places. We’ve needed a central resource, and one that gets updated regularly, as the business changes constantly. Luckily, the duo have promised to update the info in the Playbook quarterly, and while it’s not truly “open-source,” they do link to other expert articles, and take smart contributions from others, to keep it fresh and informative. They were nice enough to link to some things I’ve written, but I’m just happy that instead of continuing to write Film101 articles about distribution in my newsletter, I can just send people over to the Playbook, and focus my attention on other 101 topics – until they make a Playbook for every aspect of the business (that’s a hint to them about what I hope they do next). Kudos to them and their entire teams for putting this together, and let’s hope more folks are plotting out new ways to help filmmakers, and the entire industry get smarter right now (they are… I know… and will link to some of these endeavors in future articles). 
While the Playbook is an educational initiative, the other super smart thing that happened this week came courtesy of a panel I spoke on at Tribeca X – yes, I get to plug my own stuff in this newsletter, please forgive me – with Damien Bradfield, the chief creative officer and co-founder of WeTransfer. WeTransfer actually has some cool, free online tools for all artists already – check out their Stuff They Don’t Tell You series on WePresent, for example – and they are offering a new tool for artists, including filmmakers, to sell their work to fans with no extra fees (just the Stripe processing fee with no mark-up). 
But on our panel, Damian presented a few smart rules for any brand making films (or any brand funded entertainment), and I think these rules are simple but good ones for the industry in general. They are, as posted by WeTransfer on LinkedIn:
 Lead with the story 
 Lead with heart 
 Lead with originality 
 Trust the artists you collaborate with 
 And please, please don’t be boring
Seems simple enough, right? Good, smart, simple rules that lead to success.
The third smart as f*k thing that happened this week was that Sony purchased Alamo Drafthouse – and their affiliated events, like Fantastic Fest!!! As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Sony is going to keep the current ceo in place, and let Alamo be Alamo – at least for now. This news is so big, in so many ways that it’s hard to cover it all here. I am sure more than one of my readers will be distressed by seeing the first Studio to test the waters with vertical integration in exhibition since the end of the Consent Decrees (read the article if you don’t know what that means). Consolidation can be scary. But it’s been a well-known fact that Alamo was struggling and for sale – and was overpriced. Sony has the deep pockets to make this move, and I think the “synergies” here are going to lead to some interesting things.  
Just read behind the lines of this quote from Ravi Ahuja, president and COO of SPE (Alamo’s new boss) who said they “believe strongly in engaging entertainment fans outside the home in fun and distinctive ways as seen most recently with our Wheel of Fortune LIVE! traveling tour, and the opening of Wonderverse in Chicago,” Ahuja said in a statement. “Alamo Drafthouse’s differentiated moviegoing experience, admired brand and devoted community fit well with this vision. Our Crunchyroll business also aligns well with their audience’s interests. We look forward to building upon the innovations that have made Alamo Drafthouse successful and will, of course, continue to welcome content from all studios and distributors.” That would be Sony taking advantage of several of the cultural trends I mentioned last week, especially in embracing participatory culture. While Sony is a colossally big company with deep pockets, others in the film world (and, ahem, brands) would be smart to think about how they could copy this move in a smaller way. 
Three smart things that are also good news in one week. In this marketplace, I’ll take that as great news, and a hint that out of all of the chaos happening in the film business, some smart folks are making smart moves that will land us in a better place sometime soon. 

Stuff I'm Reading


Check Out 100 Doc Films at DC/DOX 2024, and check out a cool panel (with Sub-Genre's Brian Newman): The DC/DOX 2024 Film Festival kicks off next Thursday, June 13-16, featuring 100 films from 17 countries, including 12 World Premieres. All film screenings include Q&As with filmmakers and/or moderated post-screening discussions. DC/DOX also explores  the latest opportunities and challenges, valuable resources and best practices through a series of panels, workshops, and masterclasses including the REALITY CHECK PANEL: STATE OF THE INDUSTRY with Addie Morfoot (Variety Documentary Film Reporter), Josh Braun (Co-President, Submarine Entertainment), Carrie Lozano (President and CEO, ITVS), Dawn Porter (director), and Sub-Genre’s Brian Newman. Get your passes and tickets on sale now! (GSH)

Accessibility Impact Report Results Out Now: Film World Desperately Needs To Improve Accessibility: On June 11th, FWD-Doc (a community of 1,000+ disabled creators and allies working in media), Film Event Accessibility Working Group, and Film Festival Alliance released The Accessibility Scorecard Impact Report which unveils 1.5 years of data on film event accessibility from 353 attendees of 75 festivals worldwide. Unfortunately, 73% of disabled respondents experienced inaccessibility in their film festival experience and 93% of festivals received scores below the median on the Accessibility Scorecard. Only 5 out of 75 fests/events scored above the median — those were Superfest Disability Film Fest, BlackStar, International Queer Women of Color Film Fest, Access: Horror Film Fest, and New Orleans Film Fest. The impact report highlights that prioritizing closed captions for films and panels/Q&A’s, low-sensory spaces, ASL interpreters, and easy-to-find info on websites about accessibility will increase accessibility. For free info on how to make your spaces/ film events more accessible, head to this link. (GSH)

The Brown Dog premiere at Tribeca: I mentioned this last week, but the actual premiere is happening this week. So, once again: We're so happy here at Sub-Genre to be working with WeTransfer's WePresent and some great artists to release The Brown Dog this year. The film premiered last night at the American Black Film Festival in Miami, near simultaneous with its premiere here at the Tribeca Festival on June 14, 15 and 16, and then at Raindance in London. Tickets are still available for Tribeca

The Brown Dog is a short-animated film starring Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) and Steve Buscemi, who also serves as executive producer. The film is directed by Nadia Hallgren & Jamie-James MedinaThe Brown Dog represents the last featured performance (narration) of Michael K. Williams, who tragically passed away in 2021. It is also Nadia’s narrative directing debut. The film also features an original score by Tyshawn Sorey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. 

Synopsis: On the coldest night of the year, a night watchman clocks into his lonely security booth in the empty parking lot of an upscale apartment complex. Voiced by Michael K. Williams, the character — identified only as “NOBODY” — spends his nights composing endless security logs to stay awake. "What will these bizarrely acute observations amount to?," NOBODY asks, as abandons his post and goes in search of a mysterious brown dog. (BN)  

Branded Content

Starbucks Announces It’s Their Turn To Make Films: Starbucks is partnering with Sugar23, a media company founded by Oscar-winning producer Michael Sugar, to launch its own production company, Starbucks Studios. Their slate of branded films and series will “shine a light on the stories and people who inspire us, from young, emerging artists to innovators, changemakers and others who are making a positive impact on the world” according to Christy Cain, Starbucks’ VP of brand and partnerships marketing. Check out the full launch announcement and learn more at Sarah Bregel’s article for FastCompany. Takeaway: Starbucks isn’t the first brand to branch out into filmmaking. The chain joins… our clients REI Co-Op Studios, for example, and brands like Saint Laurent Productions, AB InBev, Mailchimp, and LVMH who have created their own production companies, but this is becoming a big trend. (GSH)

Is It Time For Artificial Intelligence To Go Nuclear?: It takes an incredible amount of power to supply the data centers that drive Artificial Intelligence, an industry expected to exceed $1.8 trillion by 2030. Forbes writer Alan Ohnsman points out that AI applications are extremely energy-consuming, with ChatGPT queries needing nearly 10 times as much electricity as Google searches. With the U.S. grid at/near peak capacity and still heavily reliant on fossil-fuel plants, nuclear energy startups like NuScale aim to capitalize on AI’s energy intensity. Nuclear power systems create no carbon emissions and are seen as necessary to reach a net-zero energy system, though the storage of radioactive materials has always been a challenge. Learn more about AI’s energy demands and how it might be powered in the future at Ohnsman’s Forbes piece. (GSH)

Recommended Reading and Viewing: “How Music Got Free”: Paramount+ subscribers can now watch a two-part docu-series called “How Music Got Free” about the early stages of music piracy to where we are now — a content explosion run by predatory record labels and music streamers that guarantee artists little to no returns for their hard work. Watch the trailer here and be sure to check out Jim Farber’s piece for The Guardian, From stealing to Spotify: the story behind how music got free, for a history of piracy and how the music industry found itself in such a precarious place.(GSH)

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