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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 New Rules

May 12, 2021
(the artwork in the photo above is from John Baldessari)

Seems to me that as we round some kind of corner in the covid maze, we’ve figured out some new rules. I think we all know them, but I haven’t seen them listed in one place yet, so here’s a go. 
  1. Streaming has won. The war for attention, most importantly. The war for talent. For paying attention to DEI. For eyeballs. For Wall Street. For setting the rules by which we all must live by. Any measurement. I’m not saying people won’t still go to theaters, but we are in the streaming world completely now.
  2. Global, Localized Content is all that Matters to Streamers. That and MCU sized spectacles. As this article shows, as streamers look for new subscribers, they need content from the local community, and that content travels just fine. 
  3. For Indies/Arthouse/Specialized cinema, they only want two things – auteurs and/or DEI behind and in front of the camera. If your story isn’t diverse, or isn’t created by a diverse creator, or isn’t somehow touching on something that will appeal to a DEI audience, it’s not of interest to them. I want to be clear – I think this is the best development in Cinema, and am not bemoaning this fact. It’s about time. But anyone who hasn’t woken up to this and is pitching another white boy coming of age film, good luck with that. 
  4. Acquisitions are dead. Yes, there will be exceptions. They will mainly be found at Cannes, Sundance, Toronto or Telluride. Of course, the occasional super low budget, or major cast, or Funny/Scary/Smarty/Arty genres will have some surprises. But for the most part, the streaming world is about originals, pre-buys and commissions, and the “do it on spec” world is dead. 
  5. And that’s when they even think about films, because as we all know, the action is in series. Heck, talk to any film festival programmer for more than ten minutes, and the conversation will probably veer towards their favorite shows more than the movies. 
  6. Festival Buzz… was just coming from the free champagne. Who am I kidding, beer. I am loving the experience of watching 20 films from my couch at home, instead of traveling to some film fest. But there used to be a sense that festivals contributed some kind of buzz that helped lift a film and let it rise above the noise to enter the cultural consciousness. That isn’t happening in the virtual or even hybrid festival world (again, outside of Sundance, etc.), and I suspect it never was. You just thought it did because you were jet-lagged, drinking free booze and subsisting off canapes, so it felt like some kind of buzz. 
  7. Outdoor is here to stay. I used to be on the board of Rooftop Films, and we were among the few who figured out that outdoor movies were the future. Everyone has caught up, and this space is only gonna keep growing, even as people venture back indoors. Because it’s more fun, less risky, and it can bring in new programmers and audiences.
  8. Docs Rock… if they’re rock docs. Or murder mysteries. Or about some Chef or cuisine. Or are super flashy, loud, American (redundant) and of broad appeal. But investigative journalism? Thoughtful social impact film? Artful doc about an artist? Cinema-verite slice of life? Not so much. Sadly, because some amazing work is being done in all of the other spaces not being bought by the Streamers, but how does it get seen? We have a problem here that few are acknowledging, and I fear most artful and/or social issue docs will become good for college entrance essays – or to get teaching jobs – but not much else.
  9. Everyone has figured out that the easiest path to the Oscars is via the Short categories. Unfortunately, that means every publisher and platform is putting more money into those campaigns than it cost to make all of the films, combined, so it’s an arms race now, and closed to truly indies.
  10. Brands are the new investors. And they should be investors, not sponsors or donors or sole funders. And smart ones are getting in at the development stage, because you have to sell early – per 4 above. Only a few have caught on to this, but it’s a growing area, and the right way to go. Of course, they’re also marketers, and can help get eyeballs to these projects so they rise above the fray, which gets us to the most important/hard rule. 
  11. It’s nearly impossible to break through the noise. Almost no one has figured out how to do it (Neon, A24, and… who else below the Studio/SVOD level?). I know this much – buzz only seems to exist anymore in the social media sphere, but only those two distributors and Netflix have gotten that memo, and everyone else acts like it’s only useful for snide remarks and vitriol. Hopefully someone else figures out how to use social media to break through the noise before social media is the only media left for us to consume. 
Of course, as I hinted with the Baldessari rules above, the rules are made to be broken. And just last week, I noted that one should zig when everyone zags. I may be missing some rules in the above list, and almost included “no jerks” based on the Rudin exposé, but then I started laughing cereal through my nose, because the film world has hundreds if not thousands more that are being tolerated, and I’ve worked with at least ten of them. So to me, these seem to be real rules that we have to live within to some extent right now. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Mentorship Program Launches: Exciting news: Applications for the Video Consortium’s inaugural 2021 mentorship program, sponsored by Sony, are open!  Open to emerging documentary filmmakers, video journalists, and college students based in the United States.⁠ This competitive pilot program was built by a small team of VC members with the intention to create what they wish they’d had coming up through the industry. Taking place virtually, from June through December 2021, 16 mentees will be matched with personal mentors for one-on-one guidance, weekly explorations of their production, and group workshops and resources to help develop their work in a collaborative and deeply supportive manner. ⁠Apply here, and spread the word! ⁠Applications close May 30, 2021.

South African Filmmakers Move Beyond Apartheid Stories: ICYMI, this NYT article on the growing South African film scene is a good look at how Netflix and other streamers are moving into localized productions to win in international markets. It's not enough anymore to just send over a crew to shoot locally, because audiences want stories made by creatives from their country, and with their sensibilities and styles. But these films also travel well - some of the series in this article are hitting the top ten in the US, UK and Europe as well. And in South Africa, the short to local filmmakers has brought a move away from the apartheid stories favored by the (white) international fest market and local Afrikaans audiences, and towards stories that the larger - and younger - population want to see. 
“The true revolution,” Mr. Qubeka said, “is that we as South Africans are being sought out for our perspective and our ideas.”
Branded Content
Own vs. Rent Hollister is taking the own vs. rent - or sponsor - approach when it comes to esports, according to this Digiday article. They're running a Fortnite tournament that they set up, where participants partner up to compete for a range of prizes. A smart move that is also the right way to go in other brand content endeavors, from films to festivals to events... don't sponsor, when you can own it.

The Economics of Product Placement: I'm not a big fan of product placement, as I feel like it disrupts my experience almost as much as an ad does, unless it's done right, which is rare. But people always ask me how it works, and since I don't specialize in that sector, I only know it anecdotally and from a few client's experiences. But The Hustle has a great piece on product placement, and it covers everything from how it often works, when companies pay and don't, and what value they get in return - and how it can be measured. Check it out.

A Close Look at (/Map of) the NFT Art Market: The NYT ran a great data visualization/mapping project on the NFT art market - turns out it's a small group driving it, but also a lot more transparency than the usual art market. 

The Shortage of Workers Fearmongering: The Intercept takes on the dominant narrative, which can best be summed up like this: "Employers’ anxiety about this can be measured by the fact that these stories have erupted when there currently is no shortage of workers. An actual shortage would result in wages rising at the bottom of the income distribution to such a degree that there was notable inflation. That’s not happening, at least not now. Instead, business owners seem to mean that they can’t find people who’ll work for what the owners want to pay them. This is a “shortage” in the same sense that there is a shortage of new Lamborghinis available for $1,000."

PMC Hits the NewFronts- Not sure where this one belongs, but seems news-worthy that Penske Media finally attended the NewFronts on behalf of its 24 brands - many, like SXSW, just acquired in the last year. They look to combine the power of each brand into a big ad solution soon. Adweek reports. I just posted this to show how many publications they own, via the image above, which doesn't even show their events business properties.

QAnon Resembles an Alternate Reality Game, but with no Winning: A great read in WaPo from Reed Berkowitz, a game designer, about the similarities and differences between QAnon and ARG games - but as a game that plays people. 
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