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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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Get updates and read Brian's blog about film and new media.
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The Coming DSM Wars

The DSM wars are coming! WTF is that? Digital Single Market. The European Union is proposing new rules to create a single, unified market for the selling of goods, and that includes film. For consumers, this is a no-brainer – I should be able to buy a film in Paris and watch it in Berlin, no matter what service I’m using. For platforms, it’s much easier as well – Netflix could license titles for all of Europe instead of doing individual deals for every territory. As a film industry person, I’ve also been hampered by the current territorial system when I’ve been sent screeners – as a judge for a film fest – but couldn’t watch them because the DRM (digital rights management aka bullshit tech) wouldn’t allow me to view the content based on the country I was in at the time. From a business perspective, anything that makes it easier for consumers and new businesses to operate easily should win, but…it’s not so simple.

As Variety and others have reported, and most in the industry know, the film business is built in myriad ways on territorial licenses. A producer might raise money to make a film by pre-selling rights in certain territories. Sales agents make money, and this flows back to filmmakers (in some dream scenario) by selling licenses in different territories. Many films wouldn’t make back their budget, not to mention any meaningful profit without this system. There’s also a cultural argument to be made – this would mean only big players (Netflix) could afford to license titles for all of Europe, and that would decrease competition and likely decrease the diversity of content offered. The fight is shaping up now, and promises to be interesting. Of course, the whole idea could collapse with the entire EU the way things are going lately in geo-politics, but this is an important thing to watch for American indies as well – at least those lucky enough to make foreign sales.

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More on Blockchain and Film/Arts

My last post on Blockchain and the future of content led to many interesting exchanges – people emailed, people scheduled meetings, and many of them were way ahead of me in terms of thinking about how blockchain, the technology underlying Bitcoin, might be used to change various cultural industries, especially music and film. While there are still some problems with this theory, I’m increasingly convinced that blockchain could completely revolutionize the business models here, just as it might in finance and other industries. There are a lot of vested industry players that will fight this tooth and nail, but I think it’s worth exploration. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve learned about, and what I think is needed.

Perhaps the most interesting take on this has come from the musicians Imogen Heap and Zoe Keating. No surprise there – I feature Zoe in almost all of my lectures, and Imogen has been very tech savvy. Imogen Heap proposes a new service she calls Mycelia, which would be a blockchain based digital eco-system for the connection of artists and fans, eliminating many of the middle men. She explains it on her site (note, it seems to work best on Safari, not Chrome), but the best summary of this comes from George King, who has been writing a series of posts about blockchain and the future of music and the arts on Forbes. I recommend reading all of these articles. Among other things, her system would use the blockchain to tie-in payment info, artist info (who played the bass on that song, how do I find their other music?) and track derivative works. It would eliminate many middle-men and allow for much greater transparency in how the money flows – something Zoe proposes as well. Using blockchain as a way to track derivative works is precisely what is most interesting to me – in theory an artist could embed how much you must pay for using a sample or a film clip in the actual source file, and you could complete this transaction without any lawyers, agents or even an email, as it would all be handled on the blockchain. As a leader in the transparency movement, I am all for the idea of using this for greater transparency- in theory, an artists could see every way their work was used and accessed and payments could go directly to them (and sub-artists in the contract as well, such as your actors). But Imogen’s idea is even bigger – I think of it as a Library of Alexandria, mixed with Wikipedia, Kickstarter, Amazon, Creative Commons and the ledger of blockchain. Mycelia would feature all music, and all aspects of that music in a giant interactive database that allows for artists to set transaction rates, give you more data about their project and anyone involved in it, and trace its evolution, so to speak.

The idea of blockchain revolutionizing music and arts has gotten enough traction that Billboard has written a must-read article on how bitcoin/blockchain can change the music industry. A few businesses have launched specifically around this idea as well. ProMusicDB is proposing a system for better tracking of credits on music, and Ujo (no active site yet), is building an open source technology for tracking rights-holders and payments to artists. Because it is open source, it could also be used for film or any other art form. The Billboard article explains it a bit more. I also suspect many more businesses will launch as a result of Richard Branson’s blockchain summit, which Zoe attended, and I’ve had meetings with at least three other companies that are building businesses in this area (but who want to remain confidential for now). If you really want to get wonky, read The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto. While the book is ostensibly about why capitalism has worked in the West but not so well elsewhere (it comes down to how we build property systems, but read it), it has become the new blueprint/Bible for those thinking about how property changes in the future, perhaps under Blockchain, and its extremely relevant to the future of intellectual property (I found the book by way of Zoe Keating’s writings).

To my mind, all of these ideas are great, but we need to combine them to make it work for film and other arts. Perhaps this could be built as part of Ujo, since it’s an open-source project. Artists and organizations supporting them should be getting behind these ideas, as they have great potential to help build a better business model for artists and to bring more (real) transparency to the financials. Here’s just a few of the things I’d like to see in this space. If done properly, it should include (at minimum, and here for film, but you can see how it works for other fields):

  • Deep rights agreement tracking systems: track all artists/people involved in a film and any payment agreements, license agreements, etc with them, as well as other agreements such as locations, music licensing, clip licensing, releases, etc;
  • Allow for micro-transactions with them – set how each of the people involved get paid;
  • Expanded linking to items/artists involved in a project – allow you to connect to these artists involved in any project in other ways – see a dress in the film, know the designer and also see her info and not just buy the dress but also commission a design for your film, etc (and trace the history of this engagement);
  • Micro and advance Licensing terms  – license a clip with a compulsory license, pre-paid – down to the clip level; You could agree in advance to pay an amount based on the future views of your subsequent film. Payments can go back to the source film and any sublicensees/artists, etc. What I pay back varies based not just on total views, but what type of views, whether they were at a nonprofit, theater or other venue, or person at home, etc.; This is essentially the same as the derivative works proposals from Imogen Heap and Zoe Keating, but for film, and would allow a whole new business to be built upon sampling, mash-ups, remixes and bring greater ease to clip licensing. A work-around for fair-use would need to be developed, but that should be technologically possible;
  • Expanded, artist-centric payment schemes & term setting – facilitate payments directly to the artist, but not just for this film – I can pay for the film, or for the song in the film, or can subscribe to the artist’s future work, make donations, or whatever else the artist has set up, and the artist not only sets the terms but can see how the money flows along the way. For example, the artist could set what iTunes must pay them as a percentage of any sale, and know how many transactions there were, or even turn them down if they don’t agree to her terms;
  • Permission levels, so that I can share work privately and authenticate who watched it, for how long, etc, as well as share contractual information, fee payments etc based on various permission levels; This should include permission based data sharing as well – perhaps I want to share how many downloads I had publicly, or from what regions, all of this could be shared via this system;
  • Authentication of originals vs copies, etc. Consumers don’t care about originals vs copies, but it would be a way to combat piracy, as well as to assign value to the original work; One could theoretically build a system as well that allows for only authenticated devices to play content, meaning that I could share a rough cut and if it’s pirated, I would know where it leaked (this has major DRM implications, I know);
  • Usage tracking and types of usage (not just for payments, but to see impact, subsequent uses, what types of eyeballs watched my film, etc);
  • Ancillary content – version tracking, ancillary materials access (poster, etc), unlocking of bonus content, etc.

Some of this is blockchain related, some is just stuff that we need that can be done technologically now with or without blockchain, but the ideas represented by blockchain could help build a smart eco-system for film. These are just some preliminary thoughts, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that blockchain has relevance for the film business in myriad ways and is worthy of further exploration. Care about this at all? Send me your thoughts.

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Funding Individual Artists – some ideas

While it’s a great time to be an artist in so many ways, it remains difficult to raise money for making art, much less for sustaining a career as an artist. In fact, funds for support of artists have been drying up over the years. In film and new media, where I work, there are just a handful of places to turn if you aren’t making very commercial work or social issue documentaries – Creative Capital and Jerome being the most prominent. There are others like LEF in New England, and Sundance, which also offers support through labs and services, but not nearly enough support is out there for interesting artistic work. I’ve worked in artists support organizations for most of my career, so I think about this often, and lately I’ve been dreaming up a few things I’d love to see. Here’s my wish list for new types of grants for artists (particularly media artists) that I’d love to see, in no particular order:

  1. More money to those supported – the more money vs. more people supported debate always rages on, but to my mind, that’s just because grant givers haven’t been able to truly keep up with inflation and use the more people argument as an excuse. Minimum grants should increase, and I’d love to see more funds giving greater than $50,000 USD per grant.
  2. General Operating Support for artists – Every nonprofit complains about wanting more general operating support and less funding tied to specific projects. This should be true for artist grants as well – fund artists for their career success and/or potential, not just their proposed project. Underwrite their living expenses for a year. Here’s a good place to start:
  3. Give the same amount you pay in salaries to the same number of artists. Have an ED/CEO making the big bucks? Give that same amount to one artist per year, to support whatever they want to do that year. Hell, add on what it would cost for insurance and benefits as well. Then pay as many artists as you have staff the same average yearly amount. This would bring some needed transparency to the process, and would actually be a great concept for fundraising.
  4. Commit to diversity, in all ways – racial/ethnic/sexual orientation/geographic/artistic practice, etc. Not that these are all equal, but you know what I mean. Sure, everyone says they do this, but not enough grants shake out this way. Don’t have enough applicants or nominees? That’s your fault, do better outreach. I could find 15 lesbian, African-American artists making cutting edge art or film in Georgia alone, but I’m not seeing that many of them on grant rolls, festival screening lists, in galleries or other artistic venues. I think this is an organizational failure – of improper scouting, not enough use of good nominators (not at the expense of open-calls), not enough outreach and an accrued liability where many people don’t feel they fit into established grant maker’s giving histories and thus don’t bother to apply (this last one is especially true for the lack of diversity on the film fest circuit).
  5. Increase support for established artists. Everyone loves emerging artists, and I’m not saying anyone should cut back support for them, but I know way too many “successful” artists over 40 who have won nearly every award and who can no longer get grants, but they still struggle to pay their bills and make their art.
  6. Portfolio Training – I’ve been on numerous grant panels, and you’d be shocked at the difference in the presentation skills of various artists. You can tell which ones went to schools that teach how to present their portfolio and those who didn’t, and it severely impacts how their work is received. Multiple grant organizations should conduct regional training workshops on how to apply for grants and how to present a portfolio. They should also agree on a common application form (this is in the works in many places), and every grant giver should be required to have a sample, successful application available on their website.
  7. Use the Crowd: I’ve seen numerous proposals for this, with this one being my favorite, but to my knowledge almost no one has embraced the crowd in their grant giving. You know, because their program staff are such experts (ahem) that they don’t need any help. There should be a fund available only to people who have completed a successful Kickstarter (or similar) campaign. There should be funds where the majority of applicants come from crowd-sourced nominations. There should be grants that come with a guaranteed minimum and a match for up to X amount of dollars raised from the crowd. And support for the campaign as well. There should be much more experimentation with participatory grant giving. Not to the detriment of other giving, but come on – Kickstarter is six years old now, and we’ve had no new funding mechanism invented since that time. That’s leadership for you…
  8. My personal bias here – there should be a fund to support media about art and artists. Almost no funding exists if you are making a documentary about art. We need more films showing great art and artists, and these works rarely get support. This should cover all disciplines and practices, and it should not just be film, but also new media.
  9. Travel grants – Fund artists to travel around the world. Not just to attend some conference, lab or retreat, but just to travel the world, live, think and perhaps make art as a result.
  10. Shake-up the decision-making process – Almost every grant program has a panel process. But panels don’t always pick the best art, they pick the art everyone can agree on (this is also true of festival juries). I’d love to see a different process, perhaps where each panelist can pick one artist they want to see supported whether or not anyone else agrees, and then the rest are decided by the committee. Let the panelists, especially the artists on the panel, take some risks and support some artists that not everyone can agree upon.
  11. More funds for exhibition, promotion, marketing and audience development. All of this work is falling to the artists themselves now, so let’s fund it separately from the funds given for production. Let’s have grants that go towards hiring a publicist, mounting an exhibit in Manhattan, touring a work or marketing a film.
  12. More funds promoting collaboration. Let’s recreate the Bell Labs without Bell. Let’s fund more artists to collaborate with scientists, with start-ups, with other artists in other disciplines.

That’s just twelve quick ideas. I could give twelve more, but let’s face it – what we really need are more funds for artists, no matter what the idea. Perhaps what we need most of all is a fund to promote the idea of giving more direct support for individual artists. Maybe we should fund a marketing campaign geared towards convincing more of these new dot-com millionaires to support artists.

note: I can’t seem to get the wordpress editor to number the last ones 10-11-12, so sorry for the weird numbering

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