The internet is fast becoming the home of art and culture. In recent years there have been many questions on how artists should work in the digital age. One area of art that is seeing a significant shift is the film industry. Netflix is slowing increasing its market share and influence in the film industry. The streaming site already has a strong reputation for producing quality TV drama and is turning its attention and considerable finances to the film industry. In this article we look at how filmmakers are reacting to the rise of Netflix, and why filmmakers want to make films with the streaming service.
The biggest difference from the traditional cinema releases is that Netflix films are released theatrically and on the streaming service simultaneously. The most recent example is the South Korean film Okja which was nominated for numerous awards including at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Not everybody was happy with Pedro Almodóvar, director of the Cannes Jury, arguing against letting a film not released theatrically into the competition. There has been further pushback from director Christopher Nolan who called Netflix’s release strategy “pointless” in an interview with IndieWire.
Nolan’s main beef with Netflix is that it is devaluing, and potentially destroying, the cinematic experience. This year, Nolan released his tenth film Dunkirk into theatres with a large marketing drive to convince audiences to see the film in IMAX. His view is that Netflix should support the theatrical experience by releasing the films in cinemas 90 days before putting them on the streaming service. This is the approach that Amazon has adopted with its original films. Nolan does have a valid point. With cinema prices going up along with the price of popcorn (and if you’re lucky craft beer) customers are more likely to stay at home and watch a film than go to the cinema. For a Netflix subscriber going to the cinema to see a film already on the streaming service is the equivalent to paying for the film twice.
Director David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad) disagrees with Christopher Nolan and argues that Netflix allows filmmakers to have much more creative freedom. His upcoming film Bright starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton is a $90 million R-rated special effects driven action film. Variety reported that Ayer praised the service at Comic Con stating “they let you be a filmmaker.” Ayer’s last film Suicide Squad had heavy reshoots after the studio ordered the film to have a lighter tone.
Getting people into cinemas is getting harder for films that are not blockbusters. Even tent pole films are devising new ways to reach their audiences. Jurassic World was the highest grossing film of 2015 taking in over $1 billion at the box office. Much of the marketing for the film relied on audience nostalgia, yet the film also used new marketing techniques that have become popular in recent years for big films.
One example was creating two viral marketing websites for the Jurassic World theme park and a fictional company in the film. Production companies use viral websites to build up early interest. Another branch of marketing was through official licensed games such as the Jurassic World slot game on Slingo. Big films can afford to push their brand beyond the normal marketing avenues and reach out to audiences, like digital online gamers, who might not usually be interested in the genre. Netflix takes much of the marketing pressure off of the filmmakers as the film comes under the Netflix umbrella.
How far Netflix can affect the film industry will be decided on the films that it makes. The fact that Brad Pitt (War Machine) and Will Smith are making Netflix originals shows that the film industry should take Netflix seriously. If the industry’s biggest filmmakers are also attracted to the creative freedom offered by the service then film will have truly found a new home.