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Curation for the Win

Brian Newman, Founder, Sub-Genre

The following is an excerpt from the Sub-Genre Media Newsletter. For more musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items, subscribe here.

I’ve written a few times about the need for more/better curation when it comes to film, and how this is a perfect and underexplored area for brands (and nonprofits, and yes, film fests could do it better year-round). But the last time I wrote about it in depth was in 2019, and that’s a lifetime ago, so here we go again! The notion of curation being important is nothing new of course, and if anything, it’s an overused term these days, but surprisingly few brands are actually embracing it in their toolkits. Mailchimp has been embracing the concept, and they’re doing a pretty darn good job of it as well – one which others should follow, copy and improve upon because I remain convinced that this has more potential for success than making new movies (although the two combined are a power move, hint hint).

Mailchimp Presents is currently promoting the Collection for the Curious series on their site. It’s a great, curated selection of five films – Finding Vivian Maier; The Black Power Mixtape; Cave of Forgotten Dreams; Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo; and Brimstone & Glory – which are all available free on their site now. Full disclosure – Mailchimp has been a client and I use them to power this newsletter, but I haven’t been involved with this series and love it independently of my work with them, and haven’t spoken with them about how they’ve set this up (yet). But I love everything about it. They’ve been doing this for a while now, and the Presents series includes previous film packages, podcasts, series and collaborations with festivals like SXSW, where they brought shorts impacted by the covid-shutdown to their audiences.

It helps that Mailchimp can do this with some authority – I do know that their Presents team includes people with actual experience programming film festivals, studying film at the graduate level, and they have some consultants with programming and distribution experience – but the general idea could be duplicated in ways specific to the ethos of other brands pretty easily. And it’s something that people need – we all have too much stuff to sort through, to find the best stuff to watch. And while every film on this curated list had a pretty successful run, all of them can use more attention. It’s a win-win-win for the brand, for filmmakers and for audiences.

I’ve never understood this phenomenon of making vs. programming/curating. Ok, I do. Everyone wants to be a director. Making movies is sexy. Curating or programming them… not so much. Except, to those in the know (every distributor wants to be a programmer, every programmer wants to do acquisitions, every director loves to guest curate, etc.). But the world does not need more films – we get tens of thousands every year, and that’s not counting what we actually watch, which is series. What we need is more trusted voices helping us narrow down the options to the best stuff to watch, and the things we might have missed. And weirdly enough, a lot of people trust the brands they trust to bring them good ideas. Like film and TV recommendations. Even better – for free!

I could quibble with some of the extra things I think Mailchimp should add to their curation, and I have a ton of recommendations for what brands should do here as best practices. Among them – things like touring the films, (re-)opening them in theaters, doing more earned media, curating channels on streaming platforms, hosting live stream screenings and Q&A’s, tying them to select fest sponsorships, or launching their own festivals (see Docker’s Classically Independent Film Fest from 1999 for example), and… oh, I could go on for days, but you get the point. But, step one is just doing it. Which Mailchimp is doing quite well, and others should follow their lead.


About Brian Newman

Brian Newman, founder of Sub-Genre, consults on content strategy, distribution and marketing for some of the top brands in the world. Current and former clients include: The Climate Pledge(Amazon), GoDaddy , IBM, New York Times, Oatly, Patagonia, Purina, REI, Stripe, Sundance, Unilever, and Yeti Coolers. Brian has served as CEO of the Tribeca Film Institute, and writes a popular weekly newsletter on film.


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