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“This Crisis Has Exposed So Many Inequalities”: Brian Newman on the Need for New Systems

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

During COVID—but pre-George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests—my thoughts keep coming back to how this crisis has exposed so many inequalities. But in the film world, it has really shown how precarious every aspect of this business has been for everyone, especially those that aren’t part of the 10 percent—meaning, anyone not part of the lucky few who get picked up at Sundance, or have moved completely to commissioned/originals work or who work at those companies. Nearly every aspect of the business has been exposed as a house of cards, Netflix pun intended. Most important, filmmakers were collectively so underpaid and devalued that 70 to 90 percent had no financial cushion and lost all income. And it was hitting diverse voices the hardest, precisely those least supported pre-COVID. 

What has been inspiring has been how people slowly started to come together. Filmmakers, festivals, sales agents, distributors, exhibitors and others have started to share resources, help one another figure out PPP loans, develop new business models or devise a tour. Every day, I get an email or call from someone with an inspiring idea that relies on some new form of collaboration.

During these more recent times, in the middle of the important Black Lives Matter protests, my thoughts turn again to the importance of diverse storytellers and hope the field figures out a way to make sure they can tell their stories. That will also likely only happen through intense collaboration to build new systems. We can’t go back to the old one because it didn’t work. We urgently need to come together to build new models, across the entirety of the industry, and to make sure these stories can be made and seen.

Brian Newman, founder of Sub-Genre, consults on content development, financing, distribution and marketing to help connect brands with filmmakers and audiences, and is the producer of The Outside Story (Tribeca, 2020).

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