Netflix is evil.
I’m so sorry, Netflix. I don’t know why I said that. Please don’t be mad at me. I just need another hit, man. Come on, I know you’ve got something to tide me over, some new drug, um, show to binge.
Snap out of it, junkie! You were right the first time – Netflix is evil. It is a company which aggressively and ruthlessly poaches executives from film and TV studios, slaps Hulu around for ever daring to stand up to it and is run by a CEO who seriously recently said he views sleep as being the company’s biggest competition. That is some Monty-Burns-wants-to-block-out-the-sun level corporation vs. basic necessities of life shit.
Is this Netflix’s ideal customer?
In truth, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ comment was made in jest (I think). He was more downplaying the level of competition presented by services like Amazon Prime and Hulu than suggesting a future where people might have their sleep removed (ala Lorne on Angel) in order to stay up all night streaming Netflix without any consequences. That doesn’t make him or his company evil; it just makes them fiercely competitive and the most significant market disruptor in the history of the film and TV.
Case in point: David Mackenzie, Chris Pine and Ben Foster came out of nowhere to unleash one of the better-performing independent films of the year, Hell or High Water, and raked in loads of awards nominations, including one from the Academy for Best Picture. Now, the trio are reuniting for a historical biopic about Robert the Bruce, a Scottish king previously seen in Braveheart as the man who betrayed William Wallace to the British. This new project, currently titled Outlaw King, will star Pine as Bruce and, according to Variety, “in this version Bruce will take center stage and include not only his fight against the British, but also the Catholic Church over the idea of a free country.”
But this movie won’t be coming to theaters near you. Instead, it’s going straight to Netflix. The Hell or High Water people found their next project, and it was outside traditional distribution because the middle long ago fell out of the industry and Netflix (and Amazon and anywhere streaming) is simply the place to be these days. Netflix has literally billions in capital to spend, financed through staggering long-term debt, with $1.1 billion more on the way from non-US lenders). They hire smart people to make smart movies and shows, and almost always then back the hell away to let them do their thing. And they don’t have to trick anyone through fancy Hollywood accounting. There are no points on a Netflix movie. You simply get your salary and the privilege of working on something with no little to no corporate interference. Then you just hope like hell that people actually find your movie buried somewhere under ads for crappy Adam Sandler movies.
Outlaw King isn’t the first time Netflix has scooped up creative collaborators immediately after (or shortly before) a more traditional, mainstream success. They gave $90m to fund Suicide Squad director/star duo David Ayer and Will Smith’s next project, the fantasy film Bright:
Plus, this is the year “Netflix tried to swallow Sundance” whole, and it has since unleashed its various Sundance acquisitions and other Originals with all of the elegance of someone dropping new items on a garage sale table. It caused IndieWire to lament:
I don’t know if Netflix has the power to kill the movies, but the last few months have made one thing incredibly clear: Netflix certainly has the power to kill their movies, and it’s doing that with extreme prejudice. It’s not a distributor; it’s a graveyard with unlimited viewing hours. Netflix doesn’t release movies, it inters them […] The streaming service is a volatile sea of content that likes to measure itself in terms of dimension rather than depth; pull up the homepage, and the first thing you’ll see is text boasting about the sheer number of new shows that have been added to the site in the past week. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet that stretches further than the eye can see, and most people are likely to lose their appetite before they discover the good stuff.
That’s because to Netflix it simply does not matter if any of us actually watch any of these new movies or TV shows. All that matters is the company maintains and builds up its brand identity so that existing members never cancel their subscription (since there’s always that one thing you’ve been meaning to watch) and people all around the world continue to buy new subscriptions. So, they’ll drop $90m on the next Will Smith movie or $100m on the next Martin Scorsese movie, and if some of us watch, that’s fantastic. If not, eh, who cares. Just so long as it contributes toward the company’s march toward ensuring just about everyone in the world has a Netflix subscription or borrows a friend or family member’s account.
As an old man yelling at a cloud, I admit to a sense of sadness that the next Smith blockbuster, Scorsese gangster movie and collaboration from the Hell or High Water people won’t play in any theaters (outside of the standard handful of locations to qualify for awards). However, I also love that so many of the Sundance movies which were buzzed about earlier this year are already on Netflix for us to find and enjoy (I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore) or not enjoy (Win It All, Girlfriend’s Day, The Discovery). Even if Netflix has done jack squat to promote those movies it’s still on us cinephiles to find them and make others aware they are on there. So, really, this is just how things are now. As a Scorsese character once said: