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Sean Baker, Paul Schrader Offer Solutions to the Netflix vs. Theatrical Debate

The battle between Netflix and movie theaters has been amplified following "Roma" and the Academy Awards.

Sean Baker arrives at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles90th Academy Awards - Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

Sean Baker

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As the battle between Netflix and movie theaters continues to grow, filmmakers such as Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) and Paul Schrader (“First Reformed”) have taken to social media to offer possible solutions to the escalating debate. Netflix has been at the center of increased controversy following the Academy Awards, where its drama “Roma” took home three prizes and came close to winning Best Picture. As reported by IndieWire, Steven Spielberg is leading a push inside the Academy to enact a rule change that would force Netflix to adhere to a theatrical release window or risk being ineligble for Oscars.

Baker responded to the renewed focus on the Netflix vs. movie theaters debate by wondering if it would be possible for Netflix to offer a “theatrical tier” component to their pricing plans. “The Florida Project” director said Netflix might be encouraged to adhere to more traditional theatrical windows if getting its subscribers to the theaters was built into its pricing plans.

“Wouldn’t it be great if Netflix offered a ‘theatrical tier’ to their pricing plans?” Baker wrote on Twitter. “For a nominal fee, Netflix members could see Netflix films in theaters for free. I know I’d spend an extra 2 dollars a month to see films like ‘Roma’ or ‘Buster Scruggs’ on the big screen. This would help keep theater owners and audience members who appreciate the theatrical experience satisfied.”

Baker concluded that whatever happens between Netflix and movie theaters, the main goal should be finding a solution “in which everybody bends a bit in order to keep the film community (which includes theater owners, film festivals and competitive distributors) alive and kicking.”

Schrader, meanwhile, took to Facebook to brainstorm a middle-of-the-road solution to the Netflix vs. theater debate. The director began by writing, “I have no animus against Netflix. Ted Sarandos is as smart about film as any studio exec I’ve ever met. Distribution models evolve…Netflix allows many financially marginal films to have a platform and that’s a good thing.”

The problem with Netflix for Schrader is when it comes to visibility. Schrader said the streaming giant could have picked up the rights to “First Reformed” but passed. A24 “saw a commercial path for this austere aesthetic film” and allowed it to survive by “rolling it out through festivals and screenings from 2017 to 2018.”

“As a result ‘First Reformed’ found a life,” Schrader writes. “Not a big money maker but profitable for A24 and a jewel in their crown. Would ‘First Reformed’ have found this public acceptance if Netflix [had] scooped it up and dumped it into its larder? Perhaps ‘Bird Box’ and ‘Kissing Booth’ can fight their way through the vast sea of Netflix product to find popular acceptance, but ‘First Reformed’? Unlikely.”

Here’s where Schrader’s solution comes in: “My proposal is club cinemas (Alamo Draft House, Metrograph, Burns Center, Film Forum) to form an alliance with a two tiered streaming system (first tier: Criterion/Mubi, second tier: Netflix/Amazon). Distribution models are in flux. It’s not as simple as theatrical versus streaming.”

Read Schrader’s entire thoughts in the post below.

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