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⚡️ The year in review

⚡️ The year in review
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Five takeaways from 2019

2019 was a transitional year. Old became new as we hit peak nostalgia. Friends became enemies as we began to see Big Tech in a darker light. The youngest person ever was Time’s Person of the Year, and the embodiment of the Old Master is a baby.

This year we saw our internet-connected globe a little more clearly, and analyzed it with a more skeptical eye. We took things like phone addiction and climate change more seriously. After a decade of disruption and confusion, we began to find our purpose again.

To round out 2019, here are five main takeaways from the year, followed by five major predictions for 2020 and beyond.

1. A new player has entered the game
One cause for hope has been the arrival of Gen Z. In 2019, Gen Z graduated from the nihilism of Soundcloud rap to more meaningful social commentary like “Ok Boomer” and #1 albums about depression and anxiety.

The central symbol of Gen Z’s new-formed identity is an emoji eye roll towards the fake goodness of Boomers and the Insta-narcissism of millennials. Gen Zers are simultaneously more focused on money and the environment than any generation before. They aren’t sold on the idea that an expensive education guarantees a good life. Gen Z trusts less, verifies more.

Up until 2019, no one was quite sure how to characterize Gen Z. Now that we know more about them, we can’t wait to see how they’ll express themselves in ’20.

2. Phones are the bad guy, duh
Our most engaged with email of the year covered a comprehensive study proving that phone addiction is very real. Meanwhile, backlash against the toxicity of social media has risen to an all-time high. In 2019, more people sought out digital detoxes and phone-free travel, embracing mindfulness as they left their “leashes” behind.

3. The rise of virtual people 
While some put down our phones, humanity also delved deeper into the virtual world. 2019 saw the ascent of the virtual influencer and virtual clothes for real influencers. Holograms went on tour and fictional characters set up Instagram accounts. Actors became young again and deepfakes made us question our most trusted figureheads…although Gen Z thinks “trusted figureheads” is an oxymoron.

4. Sustainability is not a trend
2019 was the year that sustainability transformed from stylish perk to permanent fixture of everyday life. The fight against Fast Fashion caused many retailers to go out of business, while others have plans to overhaul their production lines. Brands like Everlane and H&M launched transparency initiatives identifying the producing factory and material source for every item they sell. Major musicians stopped touring to reduce their carbon footprints. Fast food chains served fake meat burgers. The world’s craziest truck was unveiled in a disastrous presentation…before 250k were sold solely because it’s electric.

A lot of people are skeptical about the fuss over climate change, but with phenomena like these, it’s not just a “cause” anymore—it’s an economy all its own.

5. The streaming wars began
Two new competitors in the streaming wars launched (Disney+ & Apple+). Two more are coming early next year (HBO Max & Peacock) along with a lot of smaller projects like Quibi and Discovery/BBC. The demand for content has never been higher, and most small-and-mid-sized movies are relegated to the small screen. The content consumer saw more options in 2019 than ever, and at more affordable prices. But for Hollywood, it was a shaky year. The entertainment landscape was irrevocably altered, and many of the old entertainment elite struggled to adapt.

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Five predictions for 2020

The teens were a decade of sequels and nostalgia. To escape widespread anger and polarization, we were driven to the past, to simpler times when a trip to the mall was all we needed to be happy.

But the age of remembering is coming to a close, and all signs point to the 2020s as the decade we start living in the present. Not a sequel to the past, but something new where everything we’ve learned online is used to make not just a better world, but a more exciting one.

1. Independent curators will dictate culture 
Due to content overload, consumers will seek out relatable curators. The marketplace is responding by naturally selecting ones like email newsletters (e.g. yours truly), YouTube pundits, and Instagram meme accounts. These players are all part of Gen Z’s “push notification news cycle,” which will replace the 24-hour news cycle in the next decade. Where musicians like Kanye “curate” sounds to create modern music, so will journalists, podcasters, and comedians curate the stream of information to become the voices of the ’20s.

2. Labor rights will become the new sustainability 
With student debt and rent at an all-time high, human capital is struggling to make the economy function. As a result, unions are making major inroads in urban fields like art, media, and hospitality. Fashion labels are responding to sweatshop criticism with more transparency. Movements like #PayUpHollywood are publicly embarrassing high-profile employers with social media campaigns. Look for Gen Z’s practical view of money and education to lead to a resurgence of the blue-collar-mindset that’s been absent in American pop culture for decades, even if it’s for white-collar jobs.

3. Real-Time Marketing will dominate the creative industries
Our second-most engaged with topic of 2019 was the Peloton ad and Ryan Reynold’s clever response for Aviation Gin. Also in the top 10 was Popeye’s massive success with the chicken sandwich, largely born from a clever tweet. In response, the old, stodgy, slow-moving corporate approval process (the one that cost Disney billions in Baby Yoda merch opportunities to indie meme-to-merch-makers) will relent to quicker, more creative solutions, opening the door to more resonant ad campaigns that might actually convince Gen Z to buy things.

Get ready for every creative brief in 2020 to come with the line “can we do something like Aviation?”

4. The battle for IP will move to the physical world
In 2019, streaming wars competitors learned that building dedicated fandoms around popular IP is key to victory. Nurturing those fandoms means satisfying fans’ cravings for branded IRL experiences, the model that made Comic-Con the cultural tentpole it is today. For consumers, experiential campaigns bring us together and cut through the stream of digital content. For brands, they excite fandoms, convert sales, and create viral waves of social media sharing. In 2020, as movie theaters become mainly amusement parks for superhero blockbusters, the experiential trend will continue to dominate festival and con culture and expand to new heights.

5. We’ll finally get off social media
In 2019, we took large strides in understanding our relationship with phones and social media, which are increasingly compared to cigarettes in their addictive potential. Elite institutions are taking heed by offering phone-free digital detox options that force us off of our phones. Instagram is hiding likes and Facebook’s user numbers are plummeting, particularly among Gen Z. Brands and celebrities are using programs that allow them to text fans instead of tweeting at them. While many haven’t caught up yet, they will in 2020 because their health depends on it.

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Stranger Things is peak nostalgia marketing

The Future. Millennials are defined by nostalgia. Stranger Things delivers heaping scoops of it, and not just on the show itself. Nostalgia marketing has been around for a few years, but it’s hard to believe it could ever get bigger than this.

Going HAM on nostalgia
Netflix is ramping up nostalgia marketing to never-before-seen levels to promote Stranger Things Season 3. Including:

  • A fair on Santa Monica Pier that will offer an “imagined glimpse” into 1985 Hawkins, Indiana.
  • A 1985-inspired Nike shoe release called “Hawkins.”
  • Eggo waffles social takeover featuring ads from 1985.
  • A Coca Cola throwback teaser for 1985’s “New Coke.”
  • A special-edition upside-down Polaroid camera.
  • sizzle featuring several brand partners—including Burger King and the Gap—that you might find in a 1980s mall.

Netflix partnered with 75 different brands to promote the season, many of them “heyday” brands from Millennials’ childhoods.

Old imagery, new tactics
While nostalgic brand imagery is old, engagement marketing is brand new.  Brand stunts and integrated campaigns were rare in the 1980s, and of course the internet didn’t exist at all.

Back then, a simple TV ad was more than enough to make or break a brand.

Maybe that’s the reason we gravitate towards nostalgia in the first place. It reminds us of a more straightforward time before new media, when media was comfortable being new.

After our “age of nostalgia” ends, will we be nostalgic for…nostalgia marketing?

Learning From Black Panther

So, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Black Panther hit theaters this past weekend. The Ryan Coogler directed film has been making financial as well as sociocultural waves, and for good reason. The internet has been full of reports about Black Panther breaking box office records and serving as a beacon of diversity. While its heroes are beloved by not just African American consumers but those of all races, one of the most powerful point of views came from the villain: Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The film is set in Wakanda, the richest and most technologically advanced nation on Earth. They’re thousands of years ahead with their technology, yet they hide in plain sight to the rest of the world, posing as a third world country. They prosper as the world around them descends into genocide, war and meritocracy. Yet, even though they could eradicate all of these problems with their technology, they stick their head in the sand and do nothing. They only take care of themselves with their resources. Leads us to wonder how different this is from modern abuses of power.

Without revealing too much, Killmonger saw that outside of their ivory tower, people were in need. There was death, systemic violence, governments waging war on minorities with drugs and a corrupt judicial system. He wanted to use Wakandan resources to fight this oppression, yet tradition stopped him from doing so. He’s a little violent in his ambition, but spot on in his thinking. We simply must be compassionate with our resources. The film has indeed inspired philanthropy but it also begs the question: how can we best leverage our resources for local and global good?

In Black Panther, it is a mineral called Vibranium that makes Wakanda so rich. In real life that mineral is freedom, healthcare and education. What are we doing with our “Vibranium?” Girls Who Code is doing a phenomenal job of imparting knowledge to help empower women, and Y Combinator is fighting for equal pay for those same women. Unfortunately, there are still underserved urban and rural communities starving for technology. The partners at Harlem Capital are doing a great job attacking the issue in urban areas. While guys like Jared Smith in Louisiana are stepping up answering the rural demand for technological instruction. The truth is, we all must play our part.

Years ago Tupac Shakur wrote a poem titled “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.”   The poem depicts a rose growing from a crack in the concrete, a metaphor for beauty arising from unconventional places. Not only beauty but brilliance lies in these same cracks. We have been given so much, so no matter your industry, think about using your innovation and resource to help others. To quote another classic from the Marvel universe, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

The Future Of TV

Digital media is evolving so constantly it’s hard to keep up. Just recently Hollywood dodged a writer’s strike giving way to more support for the hardworking writers who create compelling stories for the TV & Film industry. It’s a big win for creativity, and while one might think that the future of TV is bright, it is one that will be crowded, netting out some big winners and even bigger losers.

This week, traditional broadcasters like Fox, CBS & ABC take to the annual New York Upfronts where they will pitch advertisers on why they should be awarded billions of their advertising dollars. The problem, cord-cutting is accelerating as broadcast viewing has been down year over year and is rifled with troubled media stocks. Cable providers are bemoaning the cooling ad-market and are overall suffering from a decline in Pay TV subscribers (1.4M in subscribers last year combined), while digital advertising has already surpassed television advertising in the United States.

Fewer people are watching “Live TV”, and it’s affecting everything, even sports, which was once thought of as untouchable. Now, staples like ESPN are issuing layoffs amidst declining viewership and competitive new platforms challenging the traditional model.

While the old guard is marred with issues as they adapt to the new landscape, the internet is disrupting how we view content on every other screen. This shift and opportunity is giving way to major tech companies with large amounts of distribution, like Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube, Apple and Spotify. All these companies are creating original content with large amounts of money to spend, huge celebrity castings, challenging new ad & subscription models and massive user bases.

Meanwhile, shops like Hulu, AT&T, Dish & Sony are convinced they can lure people back to live TV packages by offering a slimmer selection of channels at lower cost to your traditional cable package termed as “skinny bundles”. We’re also seeing a lot of investments, acquisitions, mergers, & integrations as the incumbents strive to stay alive.

None of this should be surprising though, what’s truer than ever is that there will always be content, viewers will always watch, and businesses will forever try to figure out a way to capitalize on that. Companies who can grab user attention and adapt to technological shifts are poised to make money. In the future of TV, businesses who can adapt to all the platforms are the victors, but consumers carry all the leverage and are the ultimate winners. They are unbundling and watching various amounts of content wherever they want on whatever platform they choose.

Being the winners you are, we’re curious to know your current favorite TV shows. It could be Master of None, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale,whatever. Let us know and we’ll include the top ones in our newsletter next week.

Subscription Economy

Oh boy, are things about to change. As the world becomes more automated and technologies and services mature into “on demand”, the way we pay for things will transform. These days, you can subscribe to everything from movies (Netflix) to various products (Amazon), food (Blue Apron) and even underwear (MeUndies). All are part of a massively growing “Subscription Economy”. In this burgeoning market, customers will eventually subscribe to anything and everything…and we think that’s a good thing.

Subscriptions are no foreign concept to the western world. Anyone with a cell phone plan or pay-TV service is a “subscriber,” but the concept is permeating through other industries as well. Music was one of the first to be disrupted by subscriptions (Spotify, Apple Music), we see it in the cloud service industry (AWS), and recently rideshare via services like Uber. Subscription box serviceshave been growing like crazy and even established companies like Apple have a subscription plan.

Just last week, Live Nation created the “Festival Passport” that allows avid fest-goers access to up to 90 festivals for $799 annually. They did the math and figured giving people a wide array of choices would overall be better for their bottom line. A win for the experience generation.

Other companies are tapping the market as well. Zuora for example, created a subscription management platform for businesses. They process about $35 billion dollars worth of transactions for more than 800 customers around the world, including Ford, Dell, DocuSign and The Wall Street Journal. They are huge proponents of the subscription economy and through their leadership, they’ve found that subscription businesses are growing at nine times the rate of the S&P 500. Also, according to the Economist, “80% of companies are seeing a change in how their customers want to access and pay for goods and services and 50% of these same companies are changing their pricing models as a result.”

The subscription economy is driven by the customers themselves. Subscriptions are about relationships, and relationships propel businesses. In fact we’ve graduated from a product centric economy to a relationship one where customers want more than just great products. Customers prefer access, over owning things. Subscription economy companies live and die by their ability to focus on the customer. There’s a whole “experience” behind a subscription, and like Tien Tzuo, Zuora CEO mentions, “People just want an outcome. People want a service. People want to know the vendor, the brand, the person on the other end that’s providing that service in a trusted relationship.”

Like anything, the subscription economy will be met with some challenges, but it provides flexibility, scalability, lower upfront costs, predictable budgeting, the ability to launch new features & bundles, and ultimately a more valuable experience for the customer. Done right, people won’t need to worry about owning anything in the future and they get the freedom to try, by, upgrade, downgrade, pause or do whatever they need to be satisfied.

AR 4 Life

For the past year, augmented reality and virtual reality have dominated technology headlines. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear are some of the most prominently covered virtual reality hardware out there. Virtual reality can be an exciting experience and it inspires new forms of immersive creative content, but it is mainly a singular experience and has limitations. Augmented reality has much more practical usage in the world and can have a profound impact on many industries.

To experience augmented reality, many are turning to smart glasses. Smart glasses can be connected to any smartphone, can be voice controlled, and have the ability to project a 105” screen, giving the consumer the best seat in the house at all times to experience this new medium.

Osterhout Design Group, ODG for short, has been an important leader in the technology headwear space for the past three decades. For context, the founder created the first night vision glasses utilized by the US military. The ODG team is extremely experienced at constructing smart glasses comfortable for everyday usage. ODG’s glasses are specifically designed to both limit eye fatigue and movement on the head which disrupts augmented reality projections, helping pave the way to how smart glasses will be received by the general population.

Several weeks ago at CES, ODG unveiled their first consumer smart glasses, the R-8 and R-9. In demoing the units, the smart glasses fit comfortably and are not significantly heavier than a pair of standard sunglasses. This technology can enhance efficiencies within many different industries. For instance, warehouse workers can wear smart glasses and be guided to the exact item that needs to be removed from shelves. The same can be applied for consumers entering a grocery store or even a traveler attempting to find a flight gate at an airport.

ODG is going to be a force in the smartglasses vertical, however, the space is not without competition. Magic Leap has been in the news for being a very monolithic yet controversial AR company having received over $1 billion in investments without even releasing a product. Pokemon Go recently had it’s heyday, introducing AR to the masses with their app being downloaded over 100 million times, and further still, Snapchat may be the real winner, as they have a very large audience and have already introduced augmented reality to their platform a la their Lenses features, interactive filters and their new Spectacles.

Augmented reality smart glasses are the next big disruptive platform in computing devices and have the potential to displace tablets and smartphones over the next several years. Screens will disappear and humanity will get one step closer to singularity. There will be opportunity for all, with the potential to change how humans interact, blurring the lines of reality.

Star Warz

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

There was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and it was lit. It’s no surprise that already over the weekend, the latest in franchise is smashing records with its $155M domestic box office haul while making it rain $290M worldwide. If you haven’t seen it yet, the world is familiar, yet departs from the traditional series to provide something very fresh, unique, and profoundly more raw and darker than any of its predecessors.

No matter your intricate thoughts on the theology, plot, CGI, score, specific acting and characters, this movie is important, timely, and the perfect follow up to The Force Awakens. It is simply a bold new take on the Star Wars universe.

Behind the success of the film are proven creative forces and powerful businesses. We mean you Gareth EdwardsKathleen KennedyLucasfilm and yea Disney, way to go.

Remember when George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and Star Wars for $4 Billion Dollars to Disney, just a couple years ago? What a steal, between toys and merchandise alone, Disney more than made their money back before The Force Awakens even came out.

Whether you like it or not, as one of the biggest pieces of IP in the world, Star Wars is the epitome of the cinematic adventure, the gold standard of consistent box office success and a platform enabling diversity and innovation in other arts, technologies and businesses.

Disney just proved they can change things up and still bring home the bacon.

And that is really the key, it’s the idea of creating a compelling story, that’s not the same, but lives in the same world. A lot of studios are starting to do this, just even in the trailers leading up to Rogue One, we saw Logan which needed a double take to realize it was another X-Men movie. Will we ever see a Goonies style Marvel movie or other big franchises taking these different approaches? Maybe a different lens is what these studios need to get through the sequel fatigue everyone is feeling.

The idea of other unique Star Wars stories has us intrigued. Upcoming is a potential comedy in a Han Solo origin story helmed by Lord + Miller, starring that one dude and Childish Gambino coming 2018, with even more side stories rumored.

Whatever they have cooking next, we’ll keep watchin’ because The Force is with us and we are one with The Force. Star Wars will likely advance its world dominance and continue to inspire people everywhere in hope of a better future, not just in fantasy, but in the real world too.

State Of The Music Industry

But the music biz is in control…

As we wrap up the end of 2016 and all the “best of lists”  are being showcased and reviewed with the hit songs and albums that dominated the year, we’re starting to think about the state of the music industry.

Just last week the Grammys revealed their list of nominees. We saw some familiar faces and some newcomers. One of those is Chance The Rapper who is up for seven awards, and he, unlike his other nominated brethren, has no record label to call home.

With the democratization of the internet, we’ve seen artists of all kinds become more empowered than ever to take control of their work, and Chance’s success this year as well as the success of other nominees from “Drake” to “Beyonce” represents a new vitality for the industry. This outlook is a stark contrast from the past rocky decade, where the inception of Napster created a catalyst that opened Pandora’s box and led to to the cannibalization of music revenues. CD’s became obsolete as did purchasing digital albums and singles. Now the music industry seems to have a handle on the business.

Apple Music just hit 20M paying subscribers after only 18 months of existence and Spotify has double that. Tidal is somewhere in the mix and alternative platforms like Soundcloud and Musical.ly are helping the music ecosystem. More confounding is the return of the vinyl record. Nostalgia and the experience of holding something tangible is becoming more valuable in an age where everything is “hands free” even though all this music is at our fingertips.

People should play close attention to the music industry, it often signifies where consumer behavior is heading. Live music, musical experiences and subscription platforms have brought the industry bottom line slowly back up. Their struggles and successes have been prophetic to what film, fashion and other industries will face quite soon. Streaming platforms are the new record labels, and the current issues with windowing and exclusives prove that content is king, and film + TV distribution platforms, even social networks like Snapchat, Facebook and the newly defunct Vine, are all facing similar conundrums.

Talent is still everything, the song is still everything, and as the music industry continues to figure itself out, the winners are the artists, platforms and businesses that have an authentic voice, provide a unique experience, and make their music most accessible to their fans. Chance gets people to the polls. Spotify is meeting fans wherever they are, and Apple is creating IP around all of its marquee artists. Music isn’t going away, it’s like oxygen, and those that succeed won’t just make people groove, but get them to take action, keeping fans coming back for more.

The Black Mirror Future

And it’s much closer than you think…

Black Mirror is considered to be the Twilight Zone of our modern age. Originally aired in Britain on Channel 4 in 2011, the show is an anthology series created by Charlie Brooker that has reached an uncanny level of critical acclaim. Every episode looks at a future that is literally no more than 6 months to 5 years away depending on the story. Netflix quickly bought the rights for subsequent seasons for north of $40 million dollars and there seems to be no better pairing.

Within a week of Netflix announcing a long awaited offline viewing mode, Black Mirror gave us a future where Netflix is our only viewing mode. This meta video dives into just how weirdly possible even an awesome company like Netflix could adversely dominate our attention.

Black Mirror has represented a recent trend in TV and film showing the ramifications of the growing control that technology has over our lives. We’ll remain spoiler free, because you really should watch the amazing show, but it tackles topics and issues like human and robotic consciousness, politics, terrorism, relationships, crime, social currency and economic classes. There is never a happy ending, and those that are, really aren’t because there is always a catch.

Just this past week we’ve seen China come out with a credit score for your life, where every single thing that you do will give you a “rating”. That rating is important because if you have a bad one, you won’t be able to do basic things like travel or get a loan effectively. Let’s not forget McDonald’s creating self serving kiosks bound to replace existing jobs. It seems to be the nail in the coffin for the on-going minimum wage battle, and other fast-food restaurants are following suit.

France is jailing citizens looking at terrorist propaganda online, autonomous driving cars are now trucks threatening even more jobs. There is something new every week. How will the loss of all these jobs impact our society? How will the democratization of content creation and distribution affect what we have access to, when others are abusing it?

No matter what is happening in the world, as we pour into technology to make our lives easier, it’s our responsibility to make sure that as a society we move more towards harmony as opposed to away from it. Marinate on it, recognize it, and be the ones to make it happen, so that our future looks more like The Jetsons as a opposed to a Black Mirror episode, even though we can’t wait for the next season.

Why People Aren’t Going To The Movies

Just kidding we love movies…

But listen to this for a second, In in the early 1890’s, moving pictures were discovered and the movie was born. It was a fascinating moment in history. Nothing had ever been invented like this and storytelling had evolved from spoken word to moving recorded images. People were enamored by this new experience, and in less than 10 years of this new medium, film studios were born.

Audiences had to go to the movie theatre, because it was the only way to watch movies. It was a novel experience and demand was high. In fact people would go almost every week. Going to the movie theatre was a true American pastime, and by the 1950’s, the movie industry became the 3rd largest retail business in America. Fast forward to the 1970’s and Steven Spielberg’s JAWS created the “blockbuster” and turned movies into stadium like extravaganzas and set ablaze the golden years of commercial American filmmaking and distribution.

Fast forward again to present day 2016, the worst year on record for anything.Film studios are literally crying and have no idea what to do because well, economics. Movie attendance has gone down year after year, while ticket prices have gone up at the same pace. We could spout endless metrics to prove our case, but you can go here, and then here, and even here, to really get the lowdown.

Hollywood studios have played a blame game and they have no one else to blame but themselves. They’ve equated the issue of declining box office numbers to disruptive companies like Netflix and Amazon, high ticket prices, and “millennials” + “gen z” being distracted by mobile tech and other fun toys. While some of this may hold true, breaking it down, there is a direct correlation between the quality of films being released, and their effectiveness in the box office. People are SMART, they want good movies and great experiences.

Hollywood as an industry can’t rely on sequels anymore. In fact, more than half of them didn’t even work this year. From Alice in Wonderland to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s become more about the money, and not the heart and story. Unfortunately, global expansion doesn’t up the quality of the films either, but further dilutes them, see World of Warcraft as an example. That’s why companies like Netflix are dominating. They don’t create things in a vacuum. They have data on their customer to an almost unnerving degree, then they give full creative control to the people who author the compelling stories, birthing shows like Stranger Things, The Get Down, Narcos and House of Cards among many others. Shows they know people want to watch.

In any case, studios need to pay attention to three things. The proliferation of technology, making things easily accessible, and most importantly, GREAT STORIES. They should listen to audiences through new platforms like Scriptd, maybe even get audiences to the movie theatres for free through new apps like FreeBird Rides.

You may read this and say DUH. It’s pretty obvious, but no one has yet course corrected. We’re not saying all movies are bad, there are bunch coming out we feel are fresh, like Silence directed by Martin Scorsese or even Passengersstarring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It’s award season, as we say in Hollywood. Still, great movies are few and far between. If you’re in the the film industry, hold yourself to a high standard, tell great stories and find your audience where they are, take care of them and provide a unique and fresh experience. They’ll love you for it and spend money, time and attention to enjoy what you’ve created.