Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has recently riled the industry with talk of day-and-date releasing films on the streaming service and accusations that theater owners will "kill movies" if they continue to resist multi-platform distribution.
Yesterday, Ted Sarandos backtracked saying that he wasn't calling for day and date on Netflix, but was just "calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants."
Whatever it is that he is calling for, it's clear that day-and-date continues to be a hot-button issue for the industry.
Of course, we know what the consumer wants: to have as many options as possible and to see movies when and where they want to as soon as they become available. But does that make financial sense for distributors and theater owners?
John Fithian, president/CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners told Deadline that, in fact, Netflix was imperiling the future of movies. But where do independent distributors fit into the equation? Surely, they want their films to be seen by the greatest number of people, but they need to make sure that revenue is generated.
We asked independent film distributors for their response to Sarandos' keynote and his suggestion that theater owners are killing film by quashing day-and-date releases on Netflix and their thoughts on the future of movie theaters and how we watch movies. Below are their unedited responses:
Mark Urman, Paladin:
God save us from keynote addresses. Full of absolutes that become obsolete before you know it. Nothing and no one can kill the movies, certainly not the theater owners, many of whom have already adapted quite successfully to the changing tides. True, the large commercial chains have yet to, and treat digital like it's the Antichrist, but they have their reasons.
Ultimately, the audience decides what it wants to see -- when, where, and how. Theaters must cater to audiences, as do digital distributors. For that matter, filmmakers must as well. So, it's all up to them, or should I say us?
So much change, so much confusion, but a few good movies are all we need to make things right. And, does it really matter how people see them as long as revenue is generated?
Sorry, but I have no BIG IDEA; just a lot of small ones, every day, most of them about movies and how to get them out into the world.
Emily Russo, Zeitgeist Films:
That's not a surprising perspective to have from Ted. From my point of view, if that's his position then Netflix will also have to change their model for how they acquire product and in general be a more reliable partner.
Because the theatrical model, for all its risks, is still where we generate potentially, the greatest rewards for our titles. Lots of sea changes going in in our industry, we're also trying to figure out the next 25 years (to follow the 25 we've successfully navigated).
Dylan Marchetti, Variance:
I understand why Mr. Sarandos wants every film to be on Netflix day and date. I want every (good) film to be a Variance release. But he knows that any resistance here isn’t to day-and-date releasing, it's to "day-and-date and also free for Netflix subscribers." Windows are important, and they are a science, and Sarandos knows that too… if they weren't, we'd see House of Cards running on NBC at the same time it showed up on Netflix. After all, everyone with a TV gets NBC, so aren't access to all those eyeballs what's best for the show? Not necessarily -- because this isn't checkers, it's chess.
But since gauntlets are being thrown down, how about this one: If Netflix is serious about day and date movies on their platform, why don't they do what they did with television and put their money where their mouths are, go for original content?
If I were them, I'd give a million or so dollars to fifteen of the most exciting filmmakers out there (Manohla Dargis smartly suggested something similar to this last year). No strings attached and no interference...make your dream project and it'll debut on Netflix, with an appropriate marketing push.
Give it to new school folks like Terence Nance, Eliza Hittman, Mike Ott, Ava DuVernay, Panos Cosmatos, Alex Ross Perry, Dee Rees. Give it to old pros like Lynn Ramsay, Sayles, Araki, Anders, Jarmusch, Linklater. And don't forget foreign filmmakers like Sono, Lanthimos, To, Breillat, Cristian Mungiu… it's a global culture now, subtitles aren’t scary. Don't get me started on the possibilities for docs.
Right there, for less than the price of half a season of House of Cards, they'll have instantly developed the most interesting slate a distributor could hope for, and the films are theirs to do with as they please. That's something I could do a roadshow or traveling festival with, going out the same day it was on Netflix (or even after), and people would show up for it in droves. It'd bring more film fans to Netflix, and would provide proof to the bigger distributors as to whether or not the Netflix-centric model works.
Speaking for Variance, I'm open to any model that is beneficial to filmmakers -- both in terms of visibility and finance-- and there's certainly a model (for the right film) where Netflix at the same time as theaters is a workable, positive thing... but there’s going to have to be some creativity in the design of it. When I talk to musicians about how putting everything on Spotify has worked out for them, almost without exception most of them are not happy campers... so I can see why people are leery about the "all the movies you can eat for $9" model. It's up to Netflix to prove that it's viable.
Richard Lorber, Kino Lorber, Inc.:
(Ted Sarandos) certainly has earned the authority to make credible comments that may shake up our industry...but it's a distortion to apply his comments across the entire exhibition spectrum...those of us in the so called "specialty" film world live in a largely different universe than the studios ...our relationship with exhibition venues and theater owners is more collaborative, even collegial, and occasionally, happily, mutually opportunistic...for the most part "our" theater owners are a different breed than the studios' guys and have a very different set of gauntlets--no less challenging but maybe not as polarizing...as a board member of a leading non profit theater, i see the changes from a certain kind of exhibitor's perspective too...there's no doubt that it's not a pretty picture for exhibitors in my realm.
But we are encouraged by many
creative initiatives and strategies that the small, smart and nimble art house
guerrillas are pursuing, beyond lazy boy seats and a bar. Whether you see day
and date as half empty or half full -- as cannibalization or cross-promotion -- It's
going to take a lot more than protectionism against ancillary overlap to keep
folks going to the movies. I'm rooting for our team, with distributors and
exhibitors on the same side, to keep our mission alive--our company's tagline
is "experience cinema."