X4Y Filmmakers

How Unbranded Content Helps Bring Young Filmmakers to Mass Market

New York Film Academy Hosts Michael Sugar. Powerful, unbranded stories help creators stand out from the crowd and give them more options when looking for a buyer or financier.


Host Tova Laiter welcomed Michael Sugar onto her interview series for New York Film Academy last night.

The hour-long conversation was live-streamed to NYFA’s students and alumni, with such topics as the effectiveness of producing unbranded social-first content to build a career, what types of content brands are looking for today, and how storytelling is a great tool for directors who wish to transition from commercials or music videos to feature films or TV.

New York Film Academy is a film and acting school based in Los Angeles, Miami, and, of course, New York with students and alumni around the world. It was a pleasure to team up with them for the interview and introduce X4Y to their network.

Check out some highlights from the interview below or watch the full interview here.

Tova Laiter: What can you tell us about X4Y?

Michael Sugar: X4Y is a tech platform which is designed to link creators and brands to pay for their creative. I have been in service of commercial directors for many, many years, and one of the things that a commercial director needs to do to be discovered, to get paid, is make a commercial that then goes on the shelf. I remember thinking how inefficient this is; people are spending money making very creative commercials without the benefit of a creative agency. Coming up with their own ideas and spending their own money. They get hired to do commercials, and their work which got them there, is gone. So I’ve been thinking about how to bring those creators to a mass market.

I thought, well, 15 years ago, a person with a car and a phone didn’t know they had a job until Uber said you did, and people who needed a cab didn’t know they could just press a button.

There are 30 million companies that are advertising right now and they don’t know that there are hundreds of thousands of phenomenal creators, hopefully all of them in this room right now, who are making really cool shit – if I can say that word. [These creators need] to get an audience who will pay for it. You can do a TikTok, but that’s specific. You can be a live streamer, but that’s not going to lead to movies and TV. All respect to that [but] it’s a different model. We have a couple hundred thousand short films made a year. None of them, maybe half a dozen, ever get their money back. [Yet] all of this money, time and crews are being dispatched.

X4Y.com is [a community of] folks that are creators who are making commercials that are brand agnostic, preferably. Don’t make a commercial for Gatorade because Gatorade doesn’t probably want to buy your commercial. Make a commercial for health and wellness and any of the thousands of health and wellness companies that would love to have a piece of commercial content to put up on Instagram or Snap or Twitter. Let them pay you for it… they don’t know that people are creating such incredible content. Now people are making these commercials – we’re selling them – and also the brands are now coming to us to put out opportunities to this creative community. So what we’re looking to do is bring [more] creators in… to come sign up, and we’ll give you information [on brand opportunities]. We will educate you on how to monetize this new medium because it is a new medium.

We’ve been trying to solve for branded content for 20 years. BMW films, everyone talks about it. We did that at Anonymous. It was 20 years ago. Why is the best version of branded content 20 years old? And we’ve been chasing it for 20 years. Because in my mind, the whitespace and the solution is unbranded content. Make emotional content, funny content, make something that some brand will want. I don’t care if it’s Joe’s Candle Shop. They need something that sells their candles, and they will pay to have really meaningful creative that connects [with their audience] and it doesn’t have to have the candle in it.

15 years ago, a person with a car and a phone didn’t know they had a job until Uber said you did, and people who needed a cab didn’t know they could just press a button.

Michael: On the other side of this we have brands, big and small. The biggest in the world down to Joe’s Candle Shop.

MS: Actually, Joe’s Candle Shop is fictional I think. We have small, medium, large businesses that are engaging with us. We’re in the early stages now, but at scale we hope to have hundreds of thousands of commercials and brands transacting all the time. We’ll also use that as an incubator. We’ll discover talent that way. We will help folks. We’ve already done this – we’re matching people with representatives. We’re matching people with brands. We’re matching ideas and helping them figure out how to develop it into long-form IP. So what we’re really trying to do is build, on one side, the best creative community on the planet, and on the other side, the biggest grouping of brands that are hungry for this content. That’s what we’re doing. I think we’re the only marketplace that’s doing that. There’s a number of companies that are democratizing access to brands, but I believe that creators want to create and they don’t need permission. So this is designed to take away the need for permission to create, and to monetize it, hopefully. Not everyone will monetize, but not every short film does.

We also feel like short films can monetize, right? If a brand finds a phenomenal short film, they can buy it. So think about all the short films that are sitting in people’s hard drives that have lost money that we can now bring life to. We’ve been doing this all day long, everyday.

There’s a number of companies that are democratizing access to brands, but I believe that creators want to create and they don’t need permission.

TL: You do so many things, why did you want to start a new business like X4Y?

MS: I do so many things because I’m not satisfied yet with what the opportunities are for me and I’m not satisfied yet with the opportunities for people like me. X4Y was a response to my looking at the world of Hollywood as it is today. Seeing this massive, wide open space between creative people and their mortgage payments, or their discovery, and being an entrepreneur and wanting to link those two things made perfect sense. But they’re mutually accretive businesses, right? Because I’m creating an incubator for talent which may lead to me discovering talent and that serves my management business. I’m creating relationships with brands which serve my production business and my podcast business. I’m finding talent I can also move into our movies or TV or share with other producers. So it’s very connected for me, but I’m not done. There’s not much more I can do as a manager to be a manager, right? I can sign more clients. There’s not much more I can do as a producer. I can make more movies. But I came into this with a bigger goal, which was to make a real impact. That’s what drives me on a daily basis and that’s what drove me to X4Y.

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