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Why Martin Scorsese Likes Netflix: ‘They Came Up With the Money and the Freedom’

Two Scorsese films are being released by Netflix this year: "The Irishman" and Bob Dylan documentary "Rolling Thunder Revue."

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese

Gregorio Borgia/AP/Shutterstock

Martin Scorsese is gearing up for a busy 2019 with two major film projects set for release. First up is the director’s summer music documentary “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese,” followed by his expensive gangster movie “The Irishman” sometime in the fall. Both movies are being released online and in select theaters by Netflix, which has put Scorsese right in the middle of escalating debates pitting Netflix against the theatrical experience.

Speaking to Vanity Fair at the April 29 gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of Film at Lincoln Center, Scorsese kept things blunt when asked what it is that lured him to join forces with Netflix. His decision came down to two things: “They came up with the money, and the freedom.”

“The Irishman” was originally set at Paramount Pictures before the ballooning budget put the studio in a tough position, especially after the financial loss that came with releasing Scorsese’s “Silence.” Netflix saved “The Irishman” and stood by the picture as expensive visual effects drove the budget way above the $100 million mark. Some estimates pit “The Irishman” budget at $140 million or above. Netflix has committed to theatrical releases for both “The Irishman” and Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary.

Scorsese was also asked by Vanity Fair about the tension between Netflix and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The organization voted earlier this month not to change any rules regarding Oscar eligibility and theatrical release windows. The subject has caused an apparent rift inside the Academy, with some wanting to mandate larger theatrical windows as a way to force Netflix to adhere to more traditional modes of exhibition. Netflix released “Roma” in theaters three weeks before it debuted online, but the film would not have been eligible had the Academy had, for instance, a rule dictating films must have an exclusive month-long window to be eligible for Oscars.

“You gotta give them a break, because it’s a new world,” Scorsese said of the Academy taking its time to figure out the Netflix issue. “They may do different things. One can’t ignore the big box-office films, but on the other hand, that’s not ‘The Graduate.’ It’s not ‘Schindler’s List.’ It’s not one of my pictures! They’re gonna work it out.”

“I want people to be patient with them, because they need to try different things, argue it out, because it makes you think, ‘What is a film? And how should a film be presented, especially in a new world?’” Scorsese continued. “I think the cards are stacked for the big budget, and that’s a problem.’

“Rolling Thunder Revue” will be available to stream on Netflix starting June 11. The streaming giant has not announced “The Irishman” release date, although fall 2019 is confirmed.

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