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Sub-Genre is a strategic consulting company focusing on business development projects in the entertainment and cultural industries. Sub-Genre is also the film production and distribution company of Brian Newman, who serves as executive producer and/or producer on several films.

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Brian serves as Executive Producer, Producer and Advisor on several films. See the films he has produced and consulted on.
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Ten Predictions for 2015

It’s the year to year transition favorite pastime of nearly everyone, so here’s my list of predictions for 2015. You can look at last year’s list here, and while I didn’t get everything right, by my count I was correct on 6/10 so that’s not too bad. Up for 2015:

1. Branded Content will spread into Fiction Feature Films: Last year I predicted a flood of branded content, and I was right. I also participated in this myself, helping Patagonia with DamNation. But most of these efforts have been around short form narrative and documentary content. I think this year will see many more brand attempts at feature fiction films. It’s been done before, so this won’t be new, but I think we’ll see some new distribution models tried out as well.

2. More VC money for quality content: VC’s and investors generally have stayed far away from content. It scares them and they’ve been ripped off by it too many times. But in the past year, we’ve seen a lot more investor activity around content, and while most of this has been around what I’d loosely call “new journalism endeavors,” I think this year will see more activity around creative videos, documentary endeavors and even fiction narratives. There’s a lot of money out there looking for a home, and I bet some of it lands in content soon.

3. Facebook will launch original content: I’ve been saying this for years now, and some people seem to finally agree with me – Facebook is a network, and eventually all networks need content. While they did pull out of the Newsfronts, ending a lot of speculation, I think it was just about timing. My hope is that they’ve looked at all the competition out there, and how much of it is just more crap, that they decided they need to come out in a big way and do something different. I have some thoughts on what this might be, but that’s for another post. For now, my bet is a big push in late 2015.

4. Someone will launch an (attempted) Netflix killer: And it won’t be any of the existing players in the current video space. If you’re a film fan, Netflix pretty much sucks now. Tons of great films have been dropped, many great films don’t even get licensed by them at all anymore, and there’s a serious need in the space for a good Netflix competitor for films. There are many people attempting to do their own SVOD plays now, and many others doing well with sell through and rental, but I don’t think any of them can really compete. But lots of people with deep pockets see the need, and someone will move into this space this year. My bet: someone buys an existing platform that isn’t doing so hot and throws a few hundred million into ramping it up quickly.

5. We’ll see the first real global ultra-VOD release: I would’ve expected this last year, or the year prior, but this industry is slooooow. But this year, someone will buy global rights to a film, figure out how to market it to its audience globally and will launch it digitally around the world day/date and prior to any theatrical release. They’ll probably have to skip places like France, where this is pretty much illegal (really) and many countries won’t make a dent in revenues, but it will work well enough that others start to try it. But for this to work, prediction 6 has to come true.

6. We’ll figure out film marketing in the digital age: We’ve pretty much figured out how digital changes film production and distribution. Go figure, just 10 years ago, people debated this shit on festival panels regularly, but it all came to pass. What we haven’t figured out yet is how it changes marketing, and how to do it right. Yeah, we’ve got social blabbering covered, and plenty of people ruin my web video experience with pre-roll crap ads, but we all know – none of it is working. But we’re starting to see some good examples out there, and someone will put a few of them together and figure out how to make this all work to build enough buzz for a film that it can enter the cultural conversation the same way it used to in the (probably mythic) past. If they do, then we can stop relying on four-walling the Quad just to get a NYT review, and that shit can’t end soon enough for me.

7. Chris Dodd will be ousted from the MPAA: I have nothing against the guy personally, but I can’t imagine you can fuck up as bad as he did this year on the Sony debacle and keep your job. As I said on Facebook earlier this month: Jack Valenti would have never let this unravel so poorly. As soon as the Sony case started spiraling into Korea land (and this may not even be true, but the perception was all that mattered here) he should have been acting like the ex-government official he is and jumped on the phone with government and heimat-security officials to avoid giving in to this threat while remaining safe; he should have coordinated with NATO (theater owners, not the other Nato) to avoid this disaster in advance; he should have been doing diplomacy between the studios to avoid having one of them screw it up for all of them. Just a top of my head list for any qualified person in his position. The exact threat might be “new” but the problem was obvious for months if not longer. To my mind, the top Sony execs got blindsided but are getting too much blame, when it should land right at Dodd’s feet.

8. Life Itself will win the Oscar: Oscar predictions are tricky business, and while I’m not going out on a limb with this one (I am picking a favorite), it’s a chance to be unequivocal in my support. While I’ve always been a fan of Steve James and Kartemquin, I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. It’s not even my favorite documentary of the year, which is Particle Fever, but I was completely swept into the story, and think they’ve not only made a great film here, they’ve made the one film that might overcome the old Hollywood prejudices against Ebert (see the film) and actually win. It should. There are many great contenders, but this film was one of the few that made me think hard about my life, and think harder about how film encourages empathy (a subtext of the beginning of the film)., which we could all use a bit more of today. I hope this prediction is spot on.

9. This will be an important year for Net Neutrality: We had a lot of attacks on net neutrality in 2014. While those were pushed back, many of the lobbyists are now pressing the same issues we killed at the federal level down at the State and municipal level. With a presidential election coming up, the Republicans and Democrats will both be pressing their versions, and given that the Republicans are better at (Evilly) crafting the issue under new terminology that resonates with voters even when mind-numbingly wrong, we can expect them to gain some ground (They’ve been generally anti-net-neutrality). Meanwhile, all of the filmmaker support organizations are asleep at the wheel, so our voices won’t likely be heard on this issue, and literally nothing else could be nearly as important to the future of how our films get seen. Let’s hope we can at least follow the leaders in the tech space and help keep net neutrality alive a bit longer.

10. The Interview Experience will Boost Calls for Sharing the Numbers: I’m biased here as many know I am working on a film numbers project now, but among the many things that came out of The Interview disaster was that it became glaringly obvious to many more people that we know almost nothing about what’s being made on VOD. Mainstream press started to comment on this, the public started wondering why the heck we don’t know more about what’s being made on which platforms. I suspect we’ll see even more industry, press and public calls for bringing more transparency to the numbers, and it’s about time.

Those are the ten things I see in store for 2015. I suspect a lot of other things (privacy, hacking, world politics, etc) will see many more important developments, but that’s what I see for film. What I’d like to see happen probably won’t: To my mind, there hasn’t been a single invention that has changed culture the way Kickstarter did since the time of their founding. Literally nothing. I’d like to see someone launch something equally game-changing in 2015. It wouldn’t be anything to do with the crowd, but rather something that takes advantage of the net and the zeitgeist in a similarly game-changing fashion. I hope someone launches whatever this is in 2015, but I won’t be holding my breath, and I have no idea what it could be – or I wouldn’t be working in film!

Blockchain and the transformation of the ownership of digital culture

blockchain Now that’s a title I’ve been waiting to use for awhile! I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how Blockchain might transform industries beyond finance, like film, for example. If you don’t know what the f I’m talking about, you’re not alone. While many tech people know Blockchain as the fundamental technology behind Bitcoin, few of the rest of us know much about it, and I’m not calling myself an expert, but many people believe it is as transformative as anything to have come around in quite a long time – so one has to ask, will it transform multiple sectors, and if so, will film be one of them. I think….maybe, and Monegraph points towards that future.

Quickly and grossly simplified, Blockchain is the technology that allows Bitcoin to work – it’s a way to ensure that when I pay you with Bitcoin, I am using a real Bitcoin, that I haven’t also sold the same Bitcoin to someone else. It’s like a virtual ledger that can show the history/ownership of any file (not just Bitcoins, it could be a media file for example) and allows for a decentralized mechanism to trace ownership. If you want to really understand it read this or this, but importantly, the technology allows one to authenticate the a certain file is a unique, true “original” file. It also allows for many other complex interactions, including interfacing with devices. This solves many a problem when you’re trying to trade money and buy/sell things, and it might also solve the question of authenticity in a digital world. That’s where Walter Benjamin comes in (again) to the conversation.

As any (poor-out-of-work) liberal arts major knows, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction summed up what happens when mechanical means make it easy to copy pretty much anything. The aura of an artwork is lost – what’s the value of an original when anyone can access a copy? Well, you can read that again to find out what happens (politics) but we’ve been wrestling with the nature of ownership in a digital world for a very long time, and Benjamin is a good reference point for the conversation.

Monegraph is a novel attempt to restore the aura of originality to digital artworks. It uses blockchain technology to authenticate an original work of art. You can watch this presentation on Monegraph, or watch the founder speaking about Monegraph for more details, but essentially you submit your work to Monegraph using your Twitter handle, the NameCoin client (you’ll spend a few pennies to get some NameCoins) and then you can create a Monegraph for your digital file. This is kinda like an interactive digital stamp that says: this here is the original artwork as created by the artist on this date. Yes, people can still make copies (legally or illegally), but only those created through a blockchain type transaction are “authentic.” The copies coexist, but if you want to buy and “original” work, you can do so through Monegraph.

As this same technology can be used for any file, it could be used to authenticate films, books, music, pretty much any digital file. In theory, it could be used to sell artist “special editions” of films, but it could theoretically be used instead of technologies like Ultraviolet, de-centralizing the control of the files, but allowing for authentication of “real” copies. Doing research today online, I found a writer, Ken Tindell, who has even proposed that the blockchain could be tied to your digital device, allowing it to read whether you have proper ownership of the file. So a Studio could sell you a film and you could own it and not have to worry about that file disappearing should Amazon suddenly stop carrying that title (which has happened). As Tindell proposes: 

“The full features of Bitcoin transactions could be then used, enabling a movie to be rented, sold, re-sold, loaned, and so on. The issuer of the coloured coin for a movie would be the movie studio and they would control the terms of the market for their own movies (perhaps demanding a ‘droit de suite’ fee when it was transferred). Because the rules of the scheme would be open and transparent and the ownership rules (such as requiring the issuing studio to countersign transfers) embedded directly into the blockchain it would then be possible to define just what ‘ownership’ of a movie means.”

That’s pretty cool, and is probably just the tip of the Iceberg, because we’re at the beginning of this revolution. But as an indie producer, I could sell my film and control how you share it (giving various permissions or charging certain fees based on my proclivities) without using iTunes or Netflix or Amazon. Sure those services still help with discovery, but a blockchain powered VHX could be pretty cool. It could also be used to make a better system of copyright registration, so we don’t have to send VHS, beta tapes or film to the Library of Congress (though film is a great storage medium).

In theory, I could also tie the blockchain at the clip level of my film, enabling me to share the clip with another filmmaker for “free” up-front, but then demand payment based on how that subsequent film is bought and sold. This would revolutionize the clip licensing business, letting me pay based on how successful my film is instead of some theoretical price paid up front before I know if my film will even be seen. It could allow for remix in new ways as well, perhaps allowing effective monetization, while retaining some artistic control and de-centralizing the authority (go direct to the artist instead of some agency). This could work not just for films, but any digital artwork, meaning a(nother) transformation of the relationship between artists and audiences, as well as a transformation in the concept of ownership of culture.

Importantly, it’s also a move towards de-centralization of the ownership and trade in culture. As Taylor Davidson has written elsewhere, there’s a big trend online now towards decentralization as people start to realize the problems we’ve got with so much power being held by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and the NSA. Peer to peer transactions, like Bitcoin and Monegraph, among others, put more power back in the hands of people, and in this case give more power to artists connecting directly with audiences. As Taylor writes:

“But it’s possible to see how bitcoin, as a leading app for the blockchain, and a wide range of other peer-to-peer apps built on top of new mesh network technologies, could create unique, valuable, distributed alternatives to centralized approaches. Alternatives, not complete replacements, but viable alternatives could create knock-on effects at how the stacks do business. And the time for it could be now, as people are beginning to see the broader implications of the centralized Internet, and it’s feeding a burgeoning appetite for alternatives to the stacks. Bitcoin, multipeer connectivity, and mesh networking may seem far-fetched, but they could be signals that the next movement is already here.”

I’ve not given enough thought yet to figure out all of the potential uses and possible futures this affords, but that’s a panel/conversation I’d like to attend at some film festival (instead of another transmedia panel).

Got any ideas on how else this might be used?

Join/Stop the Internet Slowdown

  People keep trying to ruin the internet, so I keep hollerin’ back at them. September 10th is the next big battle, as thousands of tech companies, blogs, news sites, etc etc all join together to bring attention to the issue by doing a symbolic internet slowdown to convince people to send comments to the FCC – which they stop taking just a few days later. There was a lot of attention on this back earlier this Summer, but those (continuing) Summer days tend to slow the news cycle and there’s been a slow-down in commenting. So get your heads out of your nethers and get involved. Here’s how.

  It’s easy, just click that link, add some code to your website and install a fake slowdown swirl to your website, your Twitter/Facebook or other Avatars, sign the petition and learn why you should care. You should…quite literally, if we allow Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T to control what gets seen, and how fast, we’ll break the internet as we know it. Need proof? Turn on your TV and try, just try, to use the interface. Do you want them making decisions about how the internet works too? Didn’t think so. Get involved.