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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Semi-frequent musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media

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TAG as Branded Content

I went to see TAG this weekend, courtesy of my MoviePass membership, and while I think the movie is better/funnier than the critical reviews, what interests me most about it is the relationship the film has with the Wall Street Journal, and how it’s in some senses a big piece of branded content.
As most people know, the film is based on a true story, as reported in the A-Hed section of the WSJ in 2013. The original writer recently wrote up his experience writing the article and how it became a film – and why it’s called an A-Hed – and its worth reading. He is also not a woman who could be played by Annabelle Wallis, either, but that’s an understandable change (they also made one of the characters black, so yay for diversity and gender changes to sell films).
Anyway, while I can’t find any articles online explaining the exact deal between the producers/studio and the WSJ, I am 100% convinced the film has a marketing agreement in place and that we should think about it as a big piece of branded content – even if the WSJ didn’t pay for it.
The WSJ is mentioned umpteen million times in the movie, including in many awkward ways that had to be stipulated by a contract. And at the end of the film, they show the original article – but they change it from being an A-hed piece to a front page, top-of-the-fold main headline story. Which it wasn’t. A-Hed pieces are on the front page, but they’re always tiny and on the bottom, below the fold. So this was faked too.
The WSJ also ran their story about the making of the film very close to the release of the film, which could just make sense from a timing perspective as the film is being released, except if you know anything about the timing of stories, you have to suspect this was also part of the deal.  Joe Morgenstern was at least transparent about this relationship and being biased in his review, but the rest of the business deal is not too clear/transparent.
I’m not saying anyone is doing anything wrong here at all – it’s a true story adaptation, and mentioning the WSJ is fair game. But I’m willing to bet that the number of mentions, and having some story come out from the author were part of the contract.
As newspapers seek more of these deals, we can expect more of these stories, and it seems to me we should have just a little more transparency about the relationship between the parties and how things get reported, since the main stakeholder here is ostensibly an objective news outlet above doing things for marketing reasons alone.
Regardless, it was a great tie-in for the Journal, even if it was awkward at times. Below is a photo of the A-Hed section for those who never read the WSJ in print.

Stuff I'm Reading


Diversity News: Sundance and Toronto will allocate 20% of their press passes to Underrepresented Journalists, says Brie Larson in Deadline; and Stephen Follows reports that only 36% of film buyers in the major film markets of Cannes, Berlin and the AFM were women, and only 32% were “high status” professionals (meaning CEO, managing director, etc.).  His article has the full break-down by profession, country and over time, and it’s not been getting much better.
Blockchain and Media Explained. Blockchain is the hot trend for the future of film and music,but most of the business proposals I’ve seen are complete crap. Why? Because they don’t solve a real problem any better than you can do without it. Benji Rogers of DotBlockChain Music spoke recently about this problem and how he sees the future of Blockchain working in music, and it’s spot on – and the best explanation I’ve seen yet of how it can work best for film. The video is about 20 minutes, but he shows the problems with most of the proposed solutions, and how the proper use of Blockchain can create a better system to distribute content and get people credited and paid for their work.  Check it out.  (h/t Redef.)
Chinese Theater Moguls don’t see online/mobile Video as a Threat – that’s the word from the South China Morning Post (by way of China Film Insider to me). While the situation in China is very different than the West, Chinese theater owners (refreshingly) see online watching of films as additive, and building the audience who might also want to go see films in groups. That’s surely the case here, you just have to convince people (still).
AMC launched a rival to MoviePass.  It’s twice as expensive, but you can go to  any format (including IMAX), book seats in advance (a big plus) and see up to three movies a week, including the same film again and again if you want. It’s mildly enticing, but only if/when MoviePass fails.
Kickstarter for Oliver Sacks film:  I rarely plug Kickstarter campaigns, but Dempsey Rice is one of my favorite doc filmmakers, and she’s making an animated doc film about Oliver Sacks: The Animated Mind of Oliver Sacks, and she’s raising funds now. I’ve consulted with Dempsey a little bit on this project and know it’s gonna be awesome, and not your standard bio-pic, but more meandering and intimate, like Oliver’s books and talks. And she’s got great rewards, like an Oliver Sacks animated swim cap, so you can’t go wrong supporting this one.
Why AT&T really bought Time Warner, and what it means for consumers and net neutrality: Net Neutrality may be dead, but Ben Thompson over at Statchery has a great break-down of what government and the FCC should do to really protect net neutrality, all informed by the real reasons AT&T bought Time Warner: which was to increase the revenue potential of AT&T especially on OTT and mobile, not to increase the revenue potential of Time Warner (which is what the government’s suit got wrong). My two cents: Bingo, he nails it. As people shift away from cable and towards mobile, this content makes AT&T more attractive and keeps them competitive against Verizon and T-Mobile.  The big problem for consumers here, potentially, also looks like a win – AT&T can start offering it’s own content for free (or not counting against data caps), which is called zero-rating. While this at first seems good, it also lets them lock in consumers to their brands, and makes it less competitive for others, meaning ultimately, less choice. It’s a somewhat complex issue, but read the article, because Ben’s proposed solutions are pretty simple and smart.
Branded Content
Grindr makes films. That’s right, Grindr, the gay dating app, is making branded content, and it’s pretty good. Digiday has an article on it, and the launch of their content section called Into,  and BrandStorytelling had a great session with them at their conference at Sundance this year, which is captured on their Youtube channel. I attended that panel this year, and think everyone wondered how the heck a dating app could make good content, but they’ve come up with some great editorial around lifestyle, travel, etc.
Branded Content that Isn’t: Unbanned: the Story of AJ1, the film about Nike’s Air Jordan’s and the NBA, wasn’t sponsored by Nike, but had a lot of cooperation from them, and AdWeek thinks that’s one possible future for branded entertainment.
The future of ads? Fox just launched more of their new ad formats at Cannes Lions, an as Variety reports,  they’re focusing on telling better stories that theoretically are seen as less of a disruption and more as content you might want to watch. Soon, Fox, NatGeo and others will launch Unbreakables: inspiring stories about people overcoming adversity, sponsored by brands.  TBWA will produce the ads, and EP the stories, and has come up with over 300 story ideas already, according to the article. Stories might be told in six seconds, or across multiple ads, and even into the social media feeds of each property.
My two cents: Say what you will about Fox generally, but their ad team is seriously thinking about how to make advertising better, and telling better stories is one step in the right direction. On the other hand, I expect we’ll see a lot of green-washing/pink-washing, etc. as brands try to make themselves look better. The whole “overcoming adversity” trope is also getting a bit tired in the brand space, but people seem to like those stories a lot. So this is a step in the right direction – better storytelling with the potential to reach a lot of eyeballs, and maybe, if done right, the owners of those eyeballs won’t flick the channel and actually might stick around to see the story.
Best advice for creatives: Recently, a filmmaker I trust recommended that I read Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. I don’t usually read marketing-type books, but this was a trusted, word-of-mouth recommendation and so I picked it up from the library…and couldn’t put it down.  Holiday’s book is about how to create timeless creative work that lasts, and then how to position it and market it to reach a broad audience, and build that audience over time, all while building your fan base for your career.
A lot of what he says overlaps with what I teach filmmakers in my lectures – the importance of word-of-mouth marketing and building and owning your fan base. But it starts with how to make great content- whether that’s film, a book or anything else really, and it’s very much about creativity not just marketing, and where they overlap.
I dog-eared many a page, and took lots of notes, and highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to make great, lasting creative work and get it seen by a broad audience. It’s relevant for filmmakers, authors and other artists, and even for brand-storytellers and marketers. You can read it in less than two days, and I guarantee you’ll get something from it. I make no referral fees here, so I am honestly just pushing this because it is great. Here’s his site, or buy it online (but I recommend your public library, as those figure heavily into one of the story-lines of the book).
Copyright © 2018 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

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