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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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Distribution Now -
It's On You

April 27, 2022

I got a call this past week from a brand client who is in post on a new feature doc, being made with a very respected producer/director team, and they wanted to know what the odds were that they would sell the film for a profit. [insert maniacal laughter here] That was not a fun conversation, but it was filled with nervous laughter as I gave them example after example of films that not only had not sold for a profit, but hadn’t even gotten any offers above the cost of the cinematographer’s fee. 
Then I went for a walk with a producer I like who makes respected arthouse narrative films, and we debated whether there would be any distributors of note still standing six months from now. We shared rumors we’d heard of the near-death of well-known and established distributors – pretty much everyone whose name is not A24 - and whether those rumors were true or not, we conceded that none of the remaining ones could offer anything for a film that approached the budget one needed to break-even for a good fiction film, either. Not that this was new, but the rumors of closings were definitely better sourced and involving some serious players.
Meanwhile, I spoke with several service-deal bookers whose phones won’t stop ringing, and who have never been busier. They can’t get off the Zooms because everyone wants/needs to hire them because of the death-spiral of the distribution industry – someone needs to get these films into theaters, and they are willing and able to do it, for a price. But too often, people haven’t planned for this.
I find this mind-boggling in this market. Leave aside the international broadcast/quality doc market and those auteur films premiering at Cannes, Berlin, etc. – for those films, there is a slim market and some path to reaching your audience (and often, they have enough subsidies not to really care). And for a moment, I’ll just concede that if you’ve somehow raised equity for an American fiction project, you likely are stuck needing to test the marketplace for a return on investment. 
But for everyone else, the only realistic option in today’s marketplace is to budget for your distribution, so you have the ability to bring your film to an audience, control the way its released, and have some chance of having both an impact (however you want to define that), and a possible return on investment. Whether you are a smaller indie, a brand funded film, or a social-impact documentary (and especially if you are the latter two types of films), you need to budget for the release of your film. 
Too few buyers are even looking at these kinds of films. Netflix and the major streamers don’t want them, at all. Sales agents can’t get any traction for them. Most of the existing domestic distributors either don’t want these films, or they can’t put up enough money for you to seriously consider their offer. International buyers have even less interest. And increasingly, the major aggregators (Giant, etc.) are getting pickier and don’t want these titles, unless they know you have some kind of distribution plan to raise awareness in the marketplace. Which means either taking that low-dollar offer from a smaller distributor, or doing a decent service deal (again).
Few people want to acknowledge this fact, but it is the truth.
What we need right now, are more funds specifically set-up to help with this kind of distribution. They can be foundation or private-donor funded vehicles to support P&A and impact campaigns for social issue/cause-related films. Or they could be brand funded P&A funds for quality projects that fit the brand’s mission. Or they could be super-savvy P&A investors who either invest directly in certain films with an identifiable, niche audience and the right budgets to ensure a chance of return on investment – or those funds could invest in certain distributors and service deal bookers who take out a slate. Or it can just be a smart producer who always raises an extra 30-50% of their production budget to dedicate to the film’s distribution. Any one of these scenarios are better options than rolling the dice, making the film, and hoping you sell it at some festival to a buyer who will somehow do a decent job releasing the film and giving you any ROI.
Later today, I’ll be joining a private panel session about distribution for brand films and I am sure people will be asking how they get their films distributed to a broader public. My advice to that group is going to be a version of the above – you can only ensure you get distributed at all, much less break-through and find an audience and have an impact – if you take control of your destiny and budget for your distribution and marketing, and start planning for how you’ll do that before you even finish the movie. 
The market might change. Some people hope it will be in a few months, others think it might take three years. But right now, we need to face the market we have, and that’s the only rational way to approach distribution for the foreseeable future.

Stuff I'm Reading


Will Physical Media Survive The Streaming Era?: Early last week Netflix announced it was ending its DVD-by-mail business. Nearly 20 years ago, the DVD industry was worth over $16 billion. In 2022, the market was around $1.5 billion. But Richard Lorber, CEO of NYC-based film distribution company Kino Lorber, notes that DVD sales remain a healthy piece of his business: Interestingly enough, “a surprising number of [our customers] are from younger generations, who want to hold onto something real that they love and cherish. And the appetite for premium formats remains healthy. In 2022, industry sales of premium 4K UHD Blu-ray titles experienced 20 percent growth, and we’ve exceeded that growth in our own 4K business.” In the streaming era, consumers have lost something valuable: Pride in ownership. Streamers erase shows and movies overnight, so really, the only way to guarantee you can watch that niche show or film you like is if you own it. Lorber concludes, “make sure that when you find something beautiful, that touches you, that is perfect, own it.” You can find his piece on IndieWire. (GSH)
Branded Content
Innovation in Brand Storytelling Panel at SeriesFest: I'll be at SeriesFest in Denver soon - May 8th - to moderate a panel about brands in storytelling, especially when it comes to series/episodic. Here's the description from the fest: Ever-evolving technology hasn’t just impacted storytelling in tv and film, but it has made a dramatic effect on marketing and the ways in which brands engage with consumers. Join us for a conversation with global brand leaders to discuss their strategies for innovative storytelling and best practices for appealing to new audiences whilst highlighting their organizations. In Attendance: Tara Goutermout (Director of Brand Strategy, WeTransfer) Isaac Droke (Senior Manager, Social Media, Brooks Running). PLUS - we have a couple of other brands confirmed but to be announced. Check out the full description and get tickets here. (BN)


REI Co-Op Studios at the Tribeca Film Fest: Sub-Genre client REI Co-Op Studios will be premiering one of their new shorts - The Right To Joy - at the Tribeca Film Festival this June. We didn't actually do work on this project, but we are big fans of our clients and the team behind this great story. Check out the full description and get ticket info at the Tribeca Fest website. The short synopsis: After surviving a near fatal cougar attack while cycling, Izzy Sederbaum overcame anxiety and anti-trans hate by rediscovering the joy of biking and promoting diversity and inclusion in the sport. Yeah, that's right... cougar attack. Need I say more. Catch it at Tribeca or on REI soon. (BN)

John Deere and NVFC's ODD HOURS, NO PAY, COOL HAT: This past weekend, I went to John Deere's (amazing) HQ in Moline, IL for the premiere screening of the new film ODD HOURS, NO PAY, COOL HAT - supported by John Deere and the National Volunteer Firefighter Council (NVFC). The title is a reference to the subject - it's a saying that volunteer firefighters often put on signs to recruit new volunteers, and the film is being used to recruit volunteer firefighters (and donations). The film was made by Hold Fast and Vignette, and Sub-Genre will be releasing it this Summer. We're doing hundreds of community screenings - mainly with fire departments - and will soon be announcing a theatrical release in NYC at the DCTV Firehouse Theater (appropriately), LA and WA state with Laemmle, Jacob Burns Film Center and many more, before it becomes available everywhere on the usual digital platforms. Check out our newly launched website, and follow us on FB or Insta for more info. (BN)

Games: The Frontier Playground: Gaming is booming. The global gaming market was $152 billion in 2019. By 2021, it was $214 billion and is expected to generate over $300 billion in 2026. What’s driving the industry’s growth? What does the next generation of gaming look like? You can check out Gigi Levy-Weiss’ piece for NFX for his essay. For now, here’re my takeaways: (1) It used to be that you’d buy a game. You’d purchase 1 experience and move on to the next one when you were done. Today, games are infinitely evolving platforms that can be tailored at any time to meet consumer demands and prevent boredom. Given that games generate tons of data and behavioral user feedback, developers can optimize experiences incredibly effectively; (2) Generative AI will change everything. Soon, it’ll be relatively cheap to generate items, scenes, and storylines for players in real time; (3) AI will allow for more and more personalized storytelling. Your in-game actions, the graphics of the game, who you stumble across, the items you pick up…etc will feel real and un-scripted every time you play which is pretty revolutionary; (4) AI will become a human-like companion. “Imagine an AI companion that will become upset with you, or console you, or become braver the more you play together. It will change with you over time.” (5) Esports is blowing up. Combine the masses’ love for Esports with cutting-edge AI tech, and you have a gaming ecosystem that’s thriving. There’s a lot to unpack in his essay so take a look! (GSH)

Keep Your Ears Peeled For AI Grimes: Canadian pop artist Grimes says AI artists can use her voice without penalty. “I’ll split 50% royalties on any successful AI generated song that uses my voice. Same deal as I would with any artist i collab with,” she tweeted last weekend.  “I think it’s cool to be fused [with] a machine and I like the idea of open sourcing all art and killing copyright,” Grimes added. As a musician/artist myself, I’m not sure what to think yet, though it’s certain that her stance will both accelerate major developments in AI x music and vamp up the legal, ethical and copyright firestorms to come. Will Shanklin for Engadget has the story. (GSH)

Teens and social media, New Findings: Emily Vogels and Risa Gelles-Watnick share key findings from a recent Pew Research Center study on teenagers and their social media use. Here’s the (very) short of it: (1) TikTok use is more common among Black teens and among teen girls; (2) About 77% of teens say they use YouTube daily, while 58% say the same about TikTok; (3) Girls are more likely than boys to say they spend too much time on social media (41% vs. 31%); (4) Teens are more likely to report positive than negative experiences in their social media use; (5) Many teens think criminal charges or permanent bans would help a lot when it comes to online abuse; (6) Six-in-ten teens say they think they have little or no control over the personal information that social media companies collect about them; (7) Only around one-in-five teens think their parents are highly worried about their use of social media, whereas almost half of parents are highly worried that their child could be exposed to explicit content on social media. As always, check out the article for the details, numbers and visuals. (GSH)

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