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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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Sweater Vest Slashers

June 22, 2022

When a man in a bad branded sweater vest shows up to break some things and make changes, look out. The WGA folks can tell you all about that, as can thousands of memes, but more importantly, so can everyone who mattered at Turner Classic Movies (TCM) who were just laid off yesterday. Finding chunks of meat scattered within all the blood on the streets can be gruesome but telling, and this story has a lot of twists and sickening turns and coupling it with a lot of other recent developments/stories doesn’t add up to any prettier of a story. It’s almost a serial killer story that some asshole at Discovery would commission. Or Netflix. Or all of them. Welcome to the serial killers of our history’s edition of Sub-Genre news. Leave now if you are squeamish when it comes to blood and mayhem. 
Not that long ago, Zaslav made a point of getting photographed with the Spielbergs of the world proclaiming his love for classic cinema and TCM in particular, and I mistakenly emailed many friends inside and out of that brand saying that was a good sign. I fell for the sociopath’s scam. It was a set-up, getting him some street cred before the late-night throat-cuttings to come.  Lo and behold dear readers… I am not yet cynical enough; believe it or not. 
You can’t cut the single most important curator of classic cinema – Charlie Tabash – or the best curator of festivals in the world – Genevieve McGillicuddy, who ran the TCM Film Fest, TCM Cruise and other beloved gatherings (and full disclosure – we went to grad school together, and worked together at the Atlanta Film Fest and are friends), and so many other great people – and keep a classic film channel going. Unless you want to make it the Top Gear reality show of classics or something. Zas has gutted HBO, stolen it’s sleezy sister’s name for a channel moniker in Max, and is now doing the same to OUR cinematic history by eviscerating TCM. Which is his legal right to do – even if it’s morally wrong, and… the dumbest f-n decision ever made with a brand since New Coke. No one pays, directly, for TCM (unless they attend an event), but it’s among the few actual brands in our space – TCM, Criterion, A24, Miramax (Harvey aside, but it’s true), CNN, Disney, HBO… who else? Oh wait; he’s already killed three of those brands, what’s next?
But more importantly for society, TCM was a rare win-win for capitalism and society. We get to see restored and re-released classic cinema – that tells us our jointly told stories about ourselves – with some profit in the middle. It’s a longer story than I can recount here, but we all got lucky that Ted Turner started a channel that digitized, preserved, presented and celebrated the visual record of a part of our lives. 
That could disappear. That’s not hyperbole. And our culture will be the worse for it, and all because of the decisions of a suit sweater vest trying to impress Wall Street, while still hanging with the Hollywood royalty that he’s slowly destroying. What’s happening here is a travesty, that like most serial killings, won’t be recognized until a lot more killings have been done. Our visual history, which for all intents and purposes, is all our history now, is slowly being locked up by corporations – none of whom might exist later or are safeguarding that history, and even with the best intentions (like a serial killer’s mind probably works as well), are actually killing what they think they love. But by copyright, licensing regimes, limited access, neglect, profit motive or lack of profit incentives, or similar reasons instead of some Son of Sam reasoning. 
Which brings me to two other news items from this week – or one new item, and one just new to me, but still relatively new. It just so happened that whilst I was learning about the layoffs, I was also watching A History of the World According to Getty Images, a great short film by Richard Misek, that has been playing the festival circuit for over a year, but which just crossed into my feed yesterday. The film explores the travesty of how our visual history gets locked up in archives, such as Getty Images, accessible only at a high cost, even when that work has fallen into the public domain. Through a quirk of various international laws, the film’s copyright might have expired, but the copy owned by an archive can still be rented/sold, and while some of these works exist on YouTube or in the Internet Archive for free, many others do not. As the film’s website explains, “This is already a big problem; as the visual public domain is eroded ever further, it will become an ever-greater problem in the future.”
The film crossed my screen at about the same time I was reading this NYT piece by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, on how much of our digital culture is being lost – to corporate neglect, to copyright claims, to censorship, and even to simple mistakes, errors, degradation of formats (use a floppy disc anymore?), and so on. But the biggest losses are coming from corporations and governments, and as she writes: “The fact that crucial decisions about whether to keep or destroy data are kept in the hands of actors with profit motives, autocratic aspirations or other self-serving ends has a huge implication not only for individuals but also for the cultural at large.” (It was a bit ironic that the NYT licensed a Getty Image photo to accompany her story).
Netflix decides to cancel a show, and it just disappears. Zaslav makes cuts at TCM, and a movie doesn’t get restored and programmed, or seen by the public again. British government officials make political decisions on WhatsApp, and those decisions disappear automatically from history. Amazon removes a rogue publisher from the store, and that copy of 1984 that you thought you purchased disappears because it was just a license. Some of these moves are nefarious, others are just corporate decisions, but all of them have deep implications for our culture, especially as more of it becomes digital only, and also builds our future culture as we recombine it all (or not) through our own uses, or via artificial intelligence combining it all (or not) into something new. As Thylstrup writes: “The mainstream narrative that we are living through an era of exponential, near-infinite knowledge accumulation no longer fits a society in which we lose our collective record of ourselves day in and day out.”
What’s the solution? Once again, nothing too easy. We need policy change and legislation, and regulation, and a crack-down on mega-mergers that lead to these kinds of cuts. We also need market solutions – some fashion brand would be smart to make Zas an offer for TCM and expand the brand, for example. And there’s a way to digitize and make our culture accessible for both free and a fee, and make a profit. But most of all, we just need to pay more attention to this stuff, and call out the malfeasance when we see it, instead of chatting with the enemy and saying we feel “heartened” that things won’t just get worse. You need to remember, sociopaths and serial killers are notoriously charming folks. The problem is, they come for you in a sweater vest now… they were easier to suss out when they were in an unmarked white van.

Stuff I'm Reading

Correction to Last Week's News: Last week's newsletter was partially about the value to be found in underserved niches, and I pointed out that it could be seen in the rise of great films and shows like Reservation Dogs. Or, that's what I meant to type, and somehow put down Reservoir Dogs instead. Multiple readers emailed and texted me to correct the mistake, but Mailchimp doesn't let you fix a news posting once it is sent... so I am posting one today, and saying sorry to my friend Sterlin Harjo, and everyone else involved in the show. (BN)

Theatrical Won't Go Quietly - the Return of (some) Windows: Studios and distributors have been dancing around the proper length of windows (time between theatrical and streaming) for a long time, especially post covid. But as Mark Olsen writes in the LAT, they're starting to realize that a theatrical release and window can help build word of mouth (how did they forget that?). As Ted Hope says in the piece: "“There’s something about streaming to me that feels very transactional and temporary and thus disposable,” said Hope. “What is the last streaming movie of a new release that I watched that I was really satisfied with?” Perhaps... but I've seen plenty of masterpieces on the home screen and been just fine. I think it's case by case, and some films demand the big screen, and others don't. Which is kinda how this seems to be playing out. Read the article for more, and note Ted's great quote on his tenure at Amazon Studios: "It’s true, sometimes I think that when I said yes to the job offer from Amazon, what I was saying yes to was a front-row seat at the demise of everything I love,” Hope said. “But I defend myself. It could have gone in a different way, but it didn’t.” (BN)
Branded Content

John Deere and NVFC partner to bring film on volunteer firefighters to theaters and firehouses across America: We are happy here at Sub-Genre to announce that client's John Deere and the National Volunteer Fire Council are partnering to bring the film ODD HOURS, NO PAY, COOL HAT to theaters, fire departments and other community screenings across America. The film was inspired by an original story by Peter Yoakum (an EP), and takes audiences behind the lines of America’s volunteer fire service community. The film is directed by Gary Matoso and Cameron Zohoori, and is a project by Hold Fast Features, and produced by Vignette (with super AP Louise Colette Matoso). Sub-Genre is leading the distribution of the film, and we launched the trailer exclusively on just yesterday.

You can check out the film's website for all the details on the release. The great thing about this project is that with Deere's support, we're able to offer it free to volunteer fire departments across the country (we have nearly 400 already planned), and they can use it to recruit volunteers and solicit donations. We did our world premiere at John Deere's HQ in Moline, IL (an Eero Saarinen building), which was one of my fave experiences, and are showing it at the NVFC Training Summit tonight. We'll be doing a special screening at the BrandStorytelling Elevate conference at the Sundance Resort - for local volunteer firefighters, in the Redford Cinema, no less. We open in NYC on July 7th (at the DCTV Firehouse Theater, appropriately enough), LA (Laemmle), and multiple other cities soon. It will be available for sale/rent on digital platforms like Amazon and iTunes on July 27th.  Congrats to the filmmakers, and we're super happy to bring this film to the world. More news on it will be announced soon. (BN)

The Technology = Progress Myth Book I want to Read: I've added Power and Progress to my must-read list based on this Guardian Review. As the review states- we live in a world - once again - where those in power via new tech are telling us all will be well if we just trust them, but the reality is that it's a give and take, and we need a lot more push-back to realize the future we deserve. Or to quote: "But a study of the past 1,000 years of human development, Acemoglu and Johnson argue, shows that “the broad-based prosperity of the past was not the result of any automatic, guaranteed gains of technological progress… Most people around the globe today are better off than our ancestors because citizens and workers in earlier industrial societies organised, challenged elite-dominated choices about technology and work conditions, and forced ways of sharing the gains from technical improvements more equitably.” 

What to do? Again, quoting the article and the book: "There are three things... First, the technology-equals-progress narrative has to be challenged and exposed for what it is: a convenient myth propagated by a huge industry and its acolytes in government, the media and (occasionally) academia. The second is the need to cultivate and foster countervailing powers – which critically should include civil society organisations, activists and contemporary versions of trade unions. And finally, there is a need for progressive, technically informed policy proposals, and the fostering of thinktanks and other institutions that can supply a steady flow of ideas about how digital technology can be repurposed for human flourishing rather than exclusively for private profit." More on this read soon. (BN)

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