Has Netflix Become The New Home For Independent and Prestige Filmmakers?

The Evolution of Netflix

What do you think of when you heard the word 'Netflix?' Do you think of the streaming platform filled with all your favorite TV shows and films you've already seen? Do you think of a company that takes away your favorite stuff right before you were just about to watch it? Do you think of the never-ending list of shows and movies that have been recommended to you by the app and your friends? Do you think of Netflix and Chill?

All of these are perfectly valid.

Netflix is the trailblazer in the world of streaming online content. If it's not the first, it's certainly the first to revolutionize it. Isn't that how it initially started? To bring you all your favorite shows, classic and contemporary movies, and original content. Right? Well, how has it evolved? I'll tell you.

Do you want to know what I think of? I assume you do, if you've chosen to read this article.

I think of a new home for fresh, new independent voices. And the prestige filmmakers we've come to know and love.

Charlie Kaufman's Latest Head-Scratcher. Now on Netflix.

This is Charlie Kaufman. I don't wanna know where he gets his ideas from.

Can You Believe Charlie Kaufman Couldn't Find a Home for his Weird Psychological Drama? I kind of can...

What I think of is the future of independent film. And the home for all prestige filmmaker rejects. This may sound harsh to you. But it's the new reality of the film industry. Shown above is the poster for the new Charlie Kaufman film 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' which just dropped on Friday, September 4th. Why did this come straight to Netflix? Isn't Charlie Kaufman an Oscar-winning filmmaker? Yes, yes he is. I'll tell you why. This movie is weird as all hell. Now, I'm all for weird. I am fully in support of filmmakers willing to take risks. To stand out. To be unique. To use their creative voice and artistic vision to make something different for once. He definitely did what he set out to do. Provoke meaningful, thoughtful reflection. Inspire discussion. The film has garnered positive reviews from critics, but has proved to be quite divisive among casual audiences and cinephiles alike. As for me, I fall somewhere in the middle. I admire the audacity, the ambition. Did it always land? Maybe not. But that's not the point. At least to me.

Where am I going with this? Excellent question, I'm glad you asked.

So, What's the Real Reason for it being on Netflix?

So, Charlie Kaufman had to drop his latest film straight to Netflix. Obviously, COVID may have had something to do with this decision. But, was it the only reason? Signs point to no, especially if you've seen the film. You would know exactly why. This film would not perform well in theaters. Yes, Charlie Kaufman die-hards would be at the theater the moment it opened. I would have been there myself. The film would likely have bombed at the box office, despite the probably low budget of the film. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of commercial appeal. Casual audiences would simply not seek a film like this out at the cinema. The average movie-goer does not like to go to the theater to be confused, to have their brain hurt. And I get it, believe me. So, Netflix was likely the best place to drop this bad boy. Let's face it, the vast majority of Charlie Kaufman's filmography does not belong in theaters. But, what does these days? The blockbuster. I know.

What fascinates me the most about this, is that Charlie Kaufman is not the only "prestige" filmmaker out there who has had to turn to Netflix to buy his or her baby. Which brings me to my next point.

This is Alfonso Cuaron. He looks happy, but deep down, he's internally crying over losing Best Picture to Green Book. Poor Guy.

The Rise of Netflix as an Oscar Contender

Netflix has had its eyes on the golden statue for several years now. They've only had their first real push in 2018, as far as I can tell. You might remember when Roma dropped on Netflix a couple years back. Yes, the black and white film nobody watched because it was too boring. There might be some truth to this, yes. But, that's an Oscar film if I've ever seen one. Alfonso Cuaron's deeply personal reflection on his family life growing up in Mexico dazzled the Academy, critics, and cinephiles by and large. The film went on to win Best Cinematography (the academy loves black and white, or chromecast in this case), Best Director, and Best International Feature at the Oscars the following year. But, it failed to come home with the biggest prize of all: Best Picture. This was Netflix's biggest push towards that goal prior to this most recent ceremony. Interestingly enough, a foreign language feature did, in fact, bring home the bacon at the 2020 Oscars. If you didn't catch it, that film was Bong Joon Ho's masterpiece Parasite, a South Korean film which swept the academy off its feet and took the show (and the golden statues) by storm. One could even argue, Roma paved the way for this to happen. By being one of the first foreign language feature films to be considered for the most coveted award at the Oscars.

Did Netflix Give Up After The Devastating Roma Loss? Absolutely Not.

Netflix had steam coming from their nostrils. They were low-key salty over the heartbreaking loss of Roma to Green Book. Was Roma the odds on favorite to win? You bet your ass it was. Was Green Book the crowd-pleaser of 2018 to bring down the best of em? Did the film deserve it? Eh, yeah, sure, whatever. No one was madder than Spike Lee that night, outwardly. But, just ask Netflix. You know they were.

Enter, 2019.

Netflix acquired and produced a couple prestige dramas from legendary filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach. You may have heard of The Irishman and Marriage Story, yeah? Yeah, you have. You wanna know what's wild though? The Irishman went an astounding 0/10 in its Oscar run. Large oof. Marriage Story fared a little better, nabbing one of its six nominations. Still, ouch. Poor Netflix.

So, again, Netflix tried and failed. But, here's the thing. Netflix has been laughed off by the academy for YEARS. Just being a streaming platform for recyclable/disposable Rom-Coms, pretty solid to decent TV shows, and whatever runt of the litter content they could scrounge up. Imagine coming back from that kind of reputation among a crowd renowned for its exclusivity and status. So, Netflix has mounted a seemingly insurmountable comeback in recent years. And that's nothing to yawn at. On the contrary, it's raising some eyebrows from my point of view.

Marriage Story might look happy, but it will destroy your soul. Tread lightly.

So, What Does The Future Hold for Netflix?

I'm sure you've heard the joke that Netflix has every movie, except the one you're looking for. While that may be true, they certainly have stepped up their game in terms of films they either produce or acquire from festivals. Yes, they have the entertaining crowd-pleasers that make the world go round. Yes, they have the cookie-cutter run-of-the-mill stuff that I can't stand, but certainly has an audience and a half. But, my point here is: they have gone from simply a quantity over quality streaming service to a viable home for independent filmmakers and prestige filmmakers who couldn't find a home or funding.

In addition to their 2018 and 2019 runs at Oscars, Netflix is giving it another serious go for 2020. Netflix dropped Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods in June, has acquired and is producing (has produced) two more films from renowned filmmakers David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. Coincidentally, the two had collaborated on a project you may have heard of: The Social Network (2010). Both huge name directors have their own projects set to release exclusively on the platform in the coming months, Mank (Fincher) and The Trial of the Chicago Seven (Sorkin). The latter doesn't really require any explanation of its plot, but the former is a biopic about the making of Citizen Kane, another film you may have heard of. Mank stars Gary Oldman and The Trial of the Chicago Seven stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Rylance. Now, this may not excite you as much as it does me, but it bears repeating that Netflix has its eyes on the prize. Considering the current state of the film industry, and with COVID interrupting the natural flow of things, Netflix may have a real shot at winning the biggest award of the year in film.

Now you might be thinking, what's the big deal with having your film premiere on Netflix? Isn't that a pretty regular thing? Sure it is.

But, it's unusual for filmmakers like David Fincher, Spike Lee or even Aaron Sorkin. Here's my point: David Fincher's last film was Gone Girl (2014). Yes, it's taken that long for him to direct his next feature. Don't remind me, I had been waiting those six long years for it. But, in the meantime, he did give us some pretty bangin' television to watch (Mindhunter, for example).

Anyway, David Fincher is usually somebody studios trust with money. He was given somewhere in the ballpark of $61 million for Gone Girl. That's a healthy chunk of cash to entrust a filmmaker with for a seemingly simple drama/mystery. But, that film went on to make $369+ million worldwide. That's a massive return on investment.

So, why don't studios trust him with that kinda cash now? Why can't he make whatever the hell he wants and have a proper theatrical release just like that?

Hollywood is a risk-averse industry. You know what's risky? Handing someone an undetermined amount of money to make a biopic about a guy who wrote a film most people haven't seen or care about. Totally fair, right? Let me pose that same question to you: would you go to a movie theater and pay $15-$20 or whatever it is for a black and white film that you might think is boring or have no interest in?


But, what about The Trial of the Chicago 7? Sounds interesting, right?

Sure, it does! But here's the catch. Aaron Sorkin may have won an Oscar for his Social Network Screenplay, sure. But, his directorial debut Molly's Game (2017), while good, barely made its money back. Some would view that as a failure. Especially in this industry. Again, risk-averse. That's a risk most film distribution companies do not want to take on. More people may be willing to go out and see The Trial of the Chicago 7. This is true. But, in the time of Corona? Most likely not.

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods is an interesting case. His sprawling adventure/post-Vietnam war epic was his most expensive picture yet. Most production companies were simply not willing to throw him the money needed to make the film, despite the fact that 2018's BlackKklansman was a roaring success. Not to mention, the release date of the film was bumped UP rather than the typical delay we've seen far too often this year. When Spike was unable to find a suitor for his passion project, Netflix stepped in and became the savior he needed.

Back to the original point: Netflix has become the new home for situations like this. And the aforementioned legendary filmmakers.

Take a Chance on Netflix, Like They Did for These Artists.

To close, I challenge you to keep an eye out for these films. At the very least, they will be intriguing watches. Maybe they were on your radar already, I don't know your life. But, at the very least, maybe you spent roughly two hours taking a risk on a film that's different from what you're used to. AND they're going to be on Netflix, so you have no real excuse. I know you either have your own subscription or leech off of your brother's uncle's friend.

If you're a parent, it will be a nice break from TOTS or Paw Patrol. Whatever your child fancies.

Anyway, Netflix has emerged as a new sanctuary for filmmakers who struggle to gain funding or distribution for their latest films that might be considered a theatrical pariah or a money sucking leper. And to that I say:

Good for them.

Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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