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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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The Impossible is What's Possible: Infrastructure & The Future of Film.

July 28, 2021

It’s the infrastructure, stupid. That’s the motto of every conversation I’ve had about film in the past year. In that, if we want to live on that shining city on the hill someday, we need to focus on infrastructure first. I’m obviously speaking here of film, but in the rest of the world, it’s the same – we need to repair our highways, our bridges, our trains, our systems, and then go beyond repair and imagine what we need for the world of the future – things like better EV charging networks, for just one example. And thus, it is the same with film. If we want to save indie and arthouse films, we need to put in place some better infrastructure to make it all work. 
The good news is – some people are already thinking about this, and we’re poised for some really cool shit to happen soon. But only, again like the regular world, if people fund it. The problem is, infrastructure is not sexy, so it’s hard to raise money for this stuff. Donors and investors like to invest in films so they can meet a star, have their kid get a role, or show up for a red carpet and party. But once that party is over, we need to get those films to a wider audience, and that’s getting increasingly hard. As has been discussed here before – in a world increasingly dominated by the streamers, they’re looking for established talent and original content, and most other films are being left behind. If we want to help bring all of the rest of the good films to audiences, we need systems that allow that to happen in a way that can break through the glut of content being streamed at us, and systems that help audiences find the good stuff in the middle of this flood. You can’t build the world we need without thinking of the boring pipe type stuff.
But like I said, a few people are thinking about that and doing something about it. I was recently on a panel about this topic at the Cannes Film Fest where we spoke about new distribution models and a new technology called Artinii. Artinii has built a blockchain-based delivery technology that essentially replaces a DCP with a much cheaper, easier to use, and safer tech for film delivery. That’s not sexy, but what it enables is a whole new/better paradigm for film distribution and exhibition. Using Artinii, anyone can set up and host a film screening – or an entire film festival – at any location. This could be at a cinema, or it could be at a bar, outdoor space, or anywhere else you might want to show a film. Sure, you could do this before, but Artinii makes it super simple, and on the backend, it ensures no one is pirating the film, or showing it more times than they’ve licensed it for, and they make sure it can be shown from any computer without worrying about buffering or other tech snafus. Using their Artinii Pro system, anyone can set up their film fest for online/offline and hybrid events, or become a distributor with their white labelled system, or deliver a film to a fest or cinema for about $20 bucks, which is much less than it costs to make and send a DCP, and safer than uploading an H264 file, as many festivals currently request (crazy). 
Meanwhile, Christie Marchese – a friend who founded PictureMotion has now founded Kinema, which has some similarities to Artinii, but is a little different. It is more focused on building community leaders who host film screenings, and build a community around film watching in alternative venues. As they say on their website, they are curating the films, building the tools to make it easy to gather audiences and host screenings, and then the event hosts – and the audience – are in control of making a cool screening event. It’s a bit like building the infrastructure for thousands if not millions of film screening clubs. And both Kinema and Artinii are helping to monetize a film’s nontheatrical rights – something that has a lot of potential for growth (and profit), as these rights are barely exploited by most distributors and none of the streamers. 
Those are just two of the infrastructure players who are helping to build the future, but there are many more. As covid hit the industry, platforms like Shift72 helped film fests make the transition to online screenings. Gruvi has built a pretty cool movie marketing engine that can help filmmakers and distributors (or anyone, really) build an audience. Both Usheru and Assemble are making it easier to build websites that promote films to audiences, and connect them to tickets, PVOD and all of your social media. Some of the infrastructure plays have been quite simple, but profound, such as when Iyabo Boyd built her Brown Girls Doc Mafia (BGDM) member directory. It was one small, but significant, step towards building a more diverse media future, by making an easy to search database of women and non-binary people of color working in documentary. Other infrastructure plays are much bigger – like Epic Games building the Unreal Engine so that we can get great virtual production, and eventually the tools we need for the metaverse. These are just a small sliver of the multiple cool projects out there that are focused on infrastructure that can power a better future, and it’s not meant to be a survey of the cream of the crop, but rather just a few that come to mind.
But we need more of them, and we probably need to combine some of these (I love me some mergers) to truly build the systems we need. Last week, IndieWire published an article on the future of film fests (more on this below), and many of the ideas put forth were really about building better infrastructure and collaborating to do that. This would be true if you look at the future of any other aspect of this business. We need to collaborate on building the tools we need for a better future. We need to dream beyond the present, beyond what’s “good enough,” and not settle for anything less than those things that might look impossible right now. As I said a long time ago, paraphrasing a Slavoj Zizek speech - we need to look at all these impossible scenarios and realize they are the only places available for real change. Most of what is “possible” is a false utopia. Most of what is “impossible” is very possible and we can find examples buried all around. What is utopian is not to believe that we can have a different society, but rather to believe that the current paradigm can continue. 
Real change will come as more people work together to imagine the impossible as possible, and do the hard work of building the infrastructure that can make these into a new reality. I feel like that’s the work ahead of us, and it’s what I’m excited about as we head into the latter half of this year. 

Stuff I'm Reading


The Future of Film Festivals: As mentioned above, IndieWire is turning 25 this year, and as part of that celebration, they're running a series of articles on the future of the business. The first of these is by Eric Kohn, and it focuses on the future of film fests. I was interviewed for this article, along with several other folks with more knowledge than me- like Keri Putnam of Sundance and Lela Meadow-Conner and Barbara Twist of the Film Fest Alliance. There's a lot of good thinking on changes that could make the sector stronger, and hopefully help everyone they serve - filmmakers, audience, industry - along the way. It's a very well reasoned and thoughtful piece as well, and I can't wait to see what else they look at next.

The Future of Film may not be at Museums, as SFMOMA Cuts its Film Program: KQED reported last week that San Francisco's SFMOMA has decided to eliminate its film department, along with several other programs. I didn't hear about it until this week when my friend Jonathan Marlow posted to FB the Canyon Cinema's open letter from their board decrying the move. They trace the history of film at the museum and its importance to the idea of Modern Art, and close their letter saying: "However, if SFMOMA elects to move forward with these announced changes, we demand the removal of the words “Modern Art” from the name of the museum. If this museum is going to strip film and the projected moving image—the quintessential modern art form—from its exhibition program, to continue using the term “modern” to define the museum is unethical, and false branding. Therefore we will no longer refer to it as a museum of modern art, and invite the community to help us rename the museum, to more accurately express what it is becoming. As an opening suggestion, we offer SFMOCO: The San Francisco Museum of the Commodified Object." I agree with that sentiment, but my fear is that the film programs of most museums are going to get cut over time, as too few are seen as money-makers or developers of donors - outside of LA and MoMA in NYC, they just don't attract the attention and donors that museums crave.

Universal Spend $400M on new Exorcist Trilogy: Not much to say about this one, but it was one of the bigger news items this week. The NYT take on it is probably the best of the bunch. If nothing else, this shows that it's not just Netflix who will pay a ton for nostalgic content, and the lucky talent in these wars are getting paid some good money.
Branded Content
Filmmaker Magazine talks to REI's Paolo Mottola - Filmmaker Magazine's Scott Macaulay interviewed REI's Paolo Mottola about the new REI Co-Op Studios and their recent collaboration with Angela Tucker on the short episodic series The Trees Remember. It's a great interview that dives into why the brand would start a studio, and what kinds of films they'll be supporting. I helped them build and launch this studio, so I am biased here, but I think the article can help filmmakers figure out if they might want to work with REI, and can help brands figure out how to launch a content business.

How Yeti Films works: My friend Scott Ballew joined the BrandStorytelling/Credo Nonfiction podcast recently to discuss how Yeti Films works. I know a bit about this, as I helped them set up the program, but Scott and his colleagues have kept it going and turned it into one of the more successful brand film programs out there. And what's great is - he admits that often they didn't and don't know what they're doing. But they stay true to the brand and try to tell great stories, and over time and with tweaks, it's gotten better and stronger. Check it out, listen and learn.

Uffizi Gallery Sues PornHub for Free Promotions: Last week, I mentioned that Pornhub, of all places, was making some great branded content in support of museums, but showcasing the more risqué art in their collections. Well, Florence's Uffizi Gallery didn't take kindly to all of this free promotion and is suing them, according to Vulture. Surprising, as the Uffizi was doing some of the best online promotions out there this past year, and they should know that this campaign was only bringing them harmless and much needed attention.

How Brands Are Grappling With TikTok’s Comment Section: Brands are increasingly marketing on TikTok in the form of short, catchy videos to reach young audiences. And the TikTok comment section is apparently a gold mine, according to this AdWeek article. The co-founder of a brand called Sani explained that customers in the comment section helped their brand “think about absolutely everything, from [their] product design to how [they] market and everything in between.” But while some brands like Sani have found success with TikTok’s comment section, many brands “are wrestling with whether to invite consumers to freely engage or to curb the conversation entirely.” There are a few reasons a brand might limit communication in the comments section,  including not having enough employees to hold a productive conversation with TikTokers, but experts say that brands that disable the comment section on social media sites like TikTok “is a lost opportunity to connect with both existing and potential customers in valuable ways.” (GSH)

How Vice, Vox and Buzzfeed are Cashing In on the Streaming Boom: A great piece from The Information on  how these platforms are using the streaming wars to develop a revenue stream from producing original content. Most of what they say here is very relevant for brands moving into this space. The Information has a hefty paywall, but I'm guessing many brand related readers have a key. 

Venezuelans are "mining" virtual gold on RuneScape - Old School RuneScape, a multiplayer video game where players can use magic and battle giant rats, is helping Venezuelan players survive amidst the economic crisis. How? Through gold farming. RuneScape gold can be farmed and sold to other players for USD or cryptocurrency. One Venezuelan says he was making just $4 a month before he started gold farming on RuneScape. After a short period of time he made $1,000 USD in a short period of time, some of which helped him leave the country. You can read more about him and other Venezuelan gold farmers here, or listen to an NPR piece on the subject here. (GSH)

How news publishers are using the Olympics and AR to flex their emerging tech storytelling: Publishers are using Augmented Reality (AR) to cover the newly-introduced games (climbing, skateboarding, and surfing) at the 2020 Olympics. The Washington Post, for instance, features a number of informative AR experiences where viewers who want to learn can scan QR codes and watch Olympians scale a wall, perform skating tricks, or ride a wave. Emerging AR tech is relatively new for publishers, but they’re starting to invest in it and it’s shaping the ways stories are told. Brands, too, are increasingly turning to AR and VR experiences to share their stories. Digiday’s Sara Guaglione has the story. (GSH)

Democratic bill would suspend Section 230 protections when social networks boost anti-vax conspiracies: TechCrunch looks at a new bill that would target the anti-vaxxers. Social media platforms rely on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “to protect them from legal liability for the vast amount of user-created content they host.” But Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ben Ray Luján recently introduced The Health Misinformation Act which “would create a new carveout in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to hold platforms liable for algorithmically promoted health misinformation and conspiracies.” If this bill were to pass, social media platforms would be held accountable for amplifying misinformation on health-related topics posted by social media users. The Act would only kick into effect during a national health emergency, such as during the COVID-19 Pandemic. While some view the Act as an important step in regulating social media companies and in ensuring that social media users are protected from potentially dangerous misinformation during national health crises, others are concerned about what it means for free speech on the internet. (GSH)

(Note that (GSH) indicates articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman)
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