Here’s a modest proposal: Maybe Netflix isn’t the enemy of independent film. What if its success could be exactly what is needed to guarantee a healthy future for moviemaking?
Suggesting this idea should come with a bomb shelter — and from someone who writes box office reports for a living, it might seem like nothing less than a betrayal to praise an entity that won’t even release its numbers. However, in my weekly appraisal of specialty film releases, it’s clear that those concerned with the future of the medium, and of independent film in particular, need to embrace the way that Netflix is changing the business, because it might just end up saving it.
Whether you believe Netflix bodes well or ill, here’s what we know:
- Netflix’s dominance of streaming platforms is game changing, and they’re working to rewrite the film and TV universe to match its model. For anyone who cares about film and its future, that’s scary and potentially threatening.
- Its apparent lack of interest in conventional notions of marketing is a legitimate concern; so is the threat they present to the existing models of feature film exhibition and distribution.
- All Adam Sandler jokes aside, Netflix has become a — if not the — leading force in shaping the future of narrative visual storytelling. And they have decided movies are part of its future.
This is where we are, and it’s possible that what follows may be a rationalization. However, there are positive, if less apparent, elements in Netflix’s ascension that require our attention. Netflix didn’t happen in a vacuum; while it’s doing much to shape our viewing experiences, it’s also a response to how our culture continues to evolve. So here’s five reasons why the streaming monolith might be a benign dictator.
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Netflix’s Moves Help Get Movies Made — At a Wider Scope
Today, most studio greenlight conversations are at their most reductive: “Can we sell this in China?” By contrast, Netflix is the studio that doesn’t care what plays in China, as it’s the only major territory in which it doesn’t have a presence. (For now.)
That allows Netflix to act as the center of the current boomtown that comes with the the explosive growth of international and VOD. (In the ’80s it was VHS; in the ’90s it was cable. As boomtowns go, this one is arguably less robust.)
For now, the Netflix model not only puts a deep-pocketed force in the mix, but it also casts a wider net; their massive and global audience means there’s interest in a significant variety of niche titles. Of course, Netflix is also at the forefront of the wave of alternate narrative forms, so there’s also a danger that money for film will decrease. For now, however, Netflix’s commitment to film can allow producers to argue for niche-audience titles that might struggle within the theatrical model.