View this email in your browser
Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

In This Issue

Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media


Past Newsletters


Keep Up With Brian:


and the 3 C's for Film Fest Success

June 20, 2024
I visited two film festivals this past week, and spoke on panels at both of them. One took place in NYC and – to be fair – was a complete success for the film we premiered there. The other was DC/DOX in Washington, DC and while I was only there briefly, it reminded me of how the most successful festivals do three things right – I’ll call them the 3 C’s of film festival success – Curation, Cuisine and Community - and how that last one, community,  is particularly important. 
On the last day of the festival, DC/DOX hosted a great brunch (cuisine) for all of the attending filmmakers and industry, and everyone I met said the same things – they’d just gotten back from some big film festival in the US or elsewhere in the world, and they really felt like DC/DOX was doing many things right, and better than those larger fests. They had great venues – several Smithsonian theaters, for example; they had world-class journalists leading the Q&A’s; they are building a great local audience (in only their second year); and they asked filmmakers how they could make their screenings special – who to invite, what not to forget, what would make it a success. 
They also seem to have a clarity of vision of what they want to be – a great festival in an important city in the US, and to become an important stop on the festival circuit – but they aren’t trying to be everything, and they aren’t trying to be “the next Sundance” or something like that. They aren’t trying to be a market, or to cater to the business. Filmmakers can take advantage of the nature of the city – it’s a center of politics and journalism, which was clear in the programming and conversations – but they don’t make it exclusively about those things, either. 
Everyone also noted that the festival had great curation. They showed just 100 films – 53 features and 47 shorts – and everything was great. I was mainly hanging out with filmmakers, and they were all busy talking about the films they had to run off to see, and how great the curation was – which is a sure sign of success, when filmmakers think you’ve curated a strong program. You go to some festivals, and they don’t seem to have any clarity of vision in their programming. DC/DOX has a mission statement that’s easy to find on their website – “DC/DOX is dedicated to promoting documentary film as a leading art form, championing new voices and innovations in non-fiction storytelling, and using film as a catalyst to engage the most compelling issues of our day.” You sense that mission in their curation, and in everything they do. Many other great festivals do this as well – True/False comes to mind in the doc world, and fests like Montclair and Cleveland in the broader regional fest landscape, as great examples – but many other fests feel like a hodge-podge and a bit overstuffed. 
They also commented on the great hospitality – which I am stating as cuisine here, just to make this a 3 C’s post. Co-founders Sky Sitney and Jamie Shor know that if you give filmmakers a lot of free food and drink, and ample opportunity to network and connect, they’ll keep coming back. The festival is just two years old, and is still growing its sponsorship, so I am sure they weren’t ferrying everyone around in limos, or offering first-class flights to everyone, but it did seem that everyone was taken care of, was having a good time, and there were no strict door lines and VIP sections to worry about. DC is also a foodie town – maybe every town is these days – but everyone was also taking advantage of side trips not just to the museums and sights, but to the great culinary scene in town.
But most importantly, you could feel the sense of community at DC/DOX. It seemed like every filmmaker was in town with their films (I’ve not asked what percent attended). A significant number of industry folks attended, and not all of them were brought in to speak on a panel. The doc world has done a better job overall of fostering a sense of community – filmmakers, industry, academics and fans come together routinely at select festivals, or gather in online forums such as the D-Word. There are very few equivalent gatherings in the non-doc film world (the BrandStorytelling events and community are similar in the brand film world). You get this to some extent at major fests like Sundance, Cannes, and Berlin but those are markets and more transactional in focus. Here, it was as much about gathering and sharing war stories, catching up with old friends, learning about new films and new ideas, and just re-connecting with the larger doc community (albeit with a US focus, and less international than somewhere like CPH:DOX). And to some extent, you could see some of that happening with the local community as well, and I suspect this will improve over time. There are many great regional film fests that have fostered this sense of community locally, but there are very few of them that have become must-attend stops for the rest of the filmmaking and industry community. 
Several people noted that at a time when many major film fests are struggling (just this week, the news dropped that most of the board left Hot Docs, which is struggling mightily, as are many other major fests), what the community needs are more fests like DC/DOX. As our world becomes ever more fragmented and online, a lot of us seem to be craving the same thing – coming together as a community to share in our love of the art-form, while also commiserating about its ups and downs. But also, being able to do this in a place where the films are taken seriously, and you don’t have to be in market/business mode all of the time. 
It was also a welcome refresher of a fest in the middle of the doom & gloom of the documentary space in general. While we did discuss the negative side of things (a slow market) on the state of the industry panel I attended, the mood was more optimistic, overall. Luckily, this seems true of the state of film fests more broadly – as we mention below, Eventive has just come out with a report on the state of film fests, and they found that things are looking up for most fests right now – at least in terms of attendance and ticket sales. While their report wasn’t looking at how these fests foster community, one of their key findings was that festivals who had strong membership programs, and one could infer that those are also ones who are building a better sense of community, are doing better with ticketing revenue. I’m sure there will be more great reports on what’s working for festivals at the upcoming Ind/Ex conference in Chicago – which is itself a community gathering of those running fests and arthouses around the US, who I am sure are attending as much for that sense of community as they are for the panel topics.
I think there’s a lot of room for building out this sense of community on a larger scale. If someone built a membership program that allowed me to attend multiple film fests and arthouses, and regularly meet up with others who do the same, I would pay to join that club, and I bet many others would as well. There are numerous ways to build that kind of community online today, and there are subsets of it in existence. But, I’d love to see something that somehow combined the best parts of D-Word, Letterboxd, MoviePass, along with my favorite local festivals and arthouses. That’s been part of an older post, and maybe it's a topic for a new one soon, but it’s also what’s constantly on my mind after attending DC/DOX and enjoying my time hanging out with the community for a weekend. We need to follow their lead and focus a lot more on community building as we think about how to fix the problems in this sector. 

Stuff We're Reading


Festivals Look Healthy Post Pandemic & How To Keep Them Growing: Eventive, the leading international platform for ticketing and streaming released its 2024 White Paper, WHAT’S NEXT FOR FILM FESTIVALS: Patterns of Recovery and Growth, which draws upon data collected from 1500 orgs that issued nearly 9 million tickets to audiences around the world between 2018-2023. Key findings: (1) Many festivals have seen attendance levels return to (and even exceed) pre-pandemic levels; (2) Memberships are key to sustainability — in 2023, most organizers with membership programs saw $46k more revenue than most organizations without, and bounced back post-pandemic faster than those w/out membership programs; (3) Passes drive almost a 50% increase in revenue and when it comes to piercing options for passes, there’s a sweet spot; (4) Hybrid (virtual and in-person) fest model options have real benefits. Takeaway: This is very encouraging data and bodes well for indie film demand and the future distribution marketplace. Download the white paper for free here. (GSH)

The NYWIFT FinanceHER Institute: Next week, NYWIFT is hosting a great event in NYC about raising funds for your film projects, including how things get the "green light," new funding models and more. I'll be speaking on that latter panel, alongside some other great speakers. Check out the schedule and register here - and if you are a NYWIFT member, or become a member, you get a discount. (BN)

Branded Content

Netflix House: New Home For Netflix Live Experiences: Is “Netflix House” Disneyland’s new competition? Probably not, but the streaming giant did announce plans to launch two massive venues next year in Philadelphia and Dallas where “you can enjoy regularly updated immersive experiences, indulge in retail therapy, and get a taste — literally — of your favorite Netflix series and films through unique food and drink offerings…. The venues will bring our beloved stories to life in new, ever-changing and unexpected ways (Netflix CMO, Marian Lee).” Netflix House builds on the success of previous live experiences the streamer has staged for “Bridgerton,” “Money Heist,” “Stranger Things,” and “Squid Game.” Todd Spangler for Variety explains that the streaming giants’ goal “is for [these live experiences] to serve as marketing vehicles that invite fan engagement, as a way to support the core subscription-streaming biz” rather than these retail destinations becoming a sizable new business segment. (GSH)

Cannes Lions Addresses The Creator Economy Head On With LIONS Creators: This year is a new chapter for the Cannes Lions festival. Taking place in just a couple weeks, the fest is launching a new dedicated experience called LIONS Creators which will bring creators, brands, agencies, and platforms together through: (1) Closed-door sessions featuring roundtable discussions between high-profile leaders from major brands and star creators. Conversations will explore the trends, challenges, and opportunities in the creator economy. (2) A Dedicated Creator Content Program which covers topics such as the future of entertainment, building successful creator partnerships, new monetization models, the evolving relationship between creators and their audiences, and more. Ian Shepherd for Forbes writes “for brands, agencies and platforms looking to navigate the creator marketing revolution, this is an unmissable opportunity to learn from the world's top experts…. For creators themselves, Lions Creators offers the chance to get solidly on the radar of major brands, land potential partnerships… and influence this rapidly evolving ecosystem.” Of note: A 2023 Goldman Sachs report estimates the creator economy is currently worth $250 billion, with projections to hit $480 billion by 2027. (GSH)



Mike Wazowski Appears Where He Shouldn’t
: Last week, AI startup Luma unveiled its new video-generating tool called Dream Machine, which Luma describes as a “highly scalable and efficient transformer model trained directly on videos.” It gained attention when a trailer it produced included a slightly blurred rendition of Mike Wazowski from Pixar's Monsters, Inc (see 57 seconds). The incident sparked questions, specifically whether Dream Machine was instructed to emulate Pixar's animation style or trained on copyrighted material from Disney. Disney has yet to comment. Takeaway: The lack of transparency surrounding how AI models like Dream Machine are trained is a growing concern. Other text-to-video models facing similar scrutiny are Open AI’s Sora, Google's VideoPoet, and Veo. Charles Pulliam-Moore for TheVerge has the news. (GSH)

AI: It’s Not All Doom And Gloom: It’s easy to buy into the narrative that the introduction of AI during childhood development (at home, in the classroom..etc) will dumb us and our children down, resulting in a WALL-E-ified civilization or worse. But Dan Fitzpatrick is optimistic and provides his reader with a glimpse of an alternate future society in which access to AI tools empower children and help them develop essential entrepreneurial skills that will serve them throughout their lives. You can give his Forbes piece a read here: AI Will Change Your Child’s Life—But Not In The Way You Think. (GSH)

Get Your AI Vocab Straight Now: Webb Wright for The Drum put together The Essential AI Glossary to help guide us as we learn to speak the language of AI. Here’re three to get you started: (1) Foom: “Used to describe a hypothetical scenario in which AI suddenly and irrevocably enters the realm of superintelligence and escapes human control.” (2) Decision Tree: “An imagistic illustration of the process of arriving at a decision wherein each “branch” represents a particular course of action.” Decision trees start at a root node and have internal nodes, leaf nodes, and terminal nodes. (3) The King Midas Problem: “Alluding to the Greek myth of King Midas [who unintentionally turned his daughter into gold]... this problem poses a crucial question to… Stuart Russel’s famous “alignment problem”: How can we be sure that an intelligent machine’s objective function is actually one which will serve the long-term best interests of human beings?” Other important vocab words on Wright’s list: Hallucinations, Model drift, P(doom), Red team, Human-in-the-loop, and Backpropagation. (GSH)

Despite Looming Ban, TikTok Pumps Out New AI Brand and Creator Tools: On June 17, TikTok unveiled new AI-powered tools for advertisers including a diverse slate of hyper-realistic digital avatars designed for the translation of branded messages into different languages spoken across the globe. These new features are part of Symphony, a suite of generative AI offerings brands can use to help streamline content production processes for creators and marketers. Symphony users can customize their avatars however they’d like and even create avatars that look like themselves. Read on at Kendra Barnett’s piece for The Drum. (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
Like This Newsletter? Subscribe & Past Issues
Copyright © 2024 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.