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Netflix's new movie strategy: More about the audience and less about the auteurs

Netflix's new movie strategy: More about the audience and less about the auteurs

Back in 2019, for example, if a filmmaker signed a deal with Netflix, it meant they would be well paid and would have complete creative freedom. Release the play? Not much. However, the salary and capacity — and access to the streaming service's massive subscriber base — have helped make up for the lack of hype that comes when a traditional studio opens a film in multiple theaters around the world.

But those days are a thing of the past.

Dan Lin arrived as Netflix's new film director on April 1, and he's already making changes. He laid off about 15 people in the creative film executive group, including a vice president and two directors. (Netflix's entire movie division is about 150 people.) It has reorganized its movie division by genre rather than budget level, and noted that Netflix is ​​no longer home to expensive action movies starring major movie stars, like “The Gray Man “Just.” With Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans or “Red Notice” with Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnson.

Instead, Mr. Lin's mission is to improve the quality of movies and produce a wide range of films – at different budget levels – that meet the diverse interests of Netflix's 260 million subscribers. It will also change the formulas for how talent is paid, meaning no mega deals up front.

In other words, Netflix's era of austerity is well underway. The company declined to comment for this article.

Now that Netflix has emerged as the dominant streaming platform, it no longer has to pay big bucks to attract filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón, and Bradley Cooper. It also helps that some major studios are once again allowing their films to be released on Netflix shortly after they appear in theaters, providing more content to attract subscribers. The latest list of the ten most watched English-language films on the service included six films produced outside Netflix.

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Scott Stuber, Mr. Lin's predecessor as Netflix's head of movies, took over in 2017, when the company didn't have a strong track record as a venue for original films. To achieve success, Mr. Stauber, who was previously a vice president of production at Universal Pictures, spent lavishly on talent, promising filmmakers almost complete creative freedom and huge budgets. It worked – to some extent. Directors got to make their own passion projects, and their films received Oscar nominations (although wins were few).

In 2021, the streaming company reached peak production, announcing that it would release a new movie every week.

Mr. Stober, a friendly friend of talent, sought to persuade Netflix to embrace the idea of ​​wide theatrical releases. It was a major coup when he picked up the box office sequel, Knives Out, in a $465 million deal, which some thought might signal a change in direction. It never happened.

Under Mr. Lin, who ran production at Warner Bros. and produced hits such as “Aladdin” for Disney and the “It” and “Lego” film series, the goal was to make Netflix movies better, cheaper and less repetitive. Mr. Lin, who declined to comment for this article, also wants his team to become more aggressive producers, that is, developing their own material rather than waiting for projects from producers and agents to come to them, according to two people familiar with his thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications. . He believes this approach should help them say more about the quality of films.

Netflix had been reconsidering its pay structure before Mr. Lin arrived. Since the company began sharing performance metrics last year, there have been discussions about basing pay for filmmakers and actors on a film's performance, similar to how traditional studios reward them when films perform well at the box office.

However, a more economical approach to budgets, coupled with Netflix's continued aversion to releasing films theatrically, has made some producers and agents in Hollywood feel that the streaming service is no longer the best option when trying to find a distributor for their films.

Many notable filmmakers who have made films for Netflix have moved on to their next projects. After producing The Irishman for Netflix, Mr. Scorsese moved to AppleTV+ for Killers of the Flower Moon. Maggie Gyllenhaal is making 'The Bride' at Warner Bros. After directing her first film “The Lost Daughter” for 2021 for streaming. Scott Cooper, who directed Netflix's The Pale Blue Eye in 2022, takes his highly anticipated Bruce Springsteen biopic, starring Jeremy Allen White, into the 20th century. (New films by Netflix loyalists Guillermo del Toro and Noah Baumbach are being produced for the service.)

Netflix recently declined to bid on the rights to a short story involving Millie Bobby Brown, star of Netflix's Stranger Things and Enola Holmes films, two people familiar with the matter said. It is also no longer moving forward The film is written by Kathryn Bigelow Based on David Koepp's apocalyptic novel Aurora; The director left the project a few months ago.

Edward Berger — who directed All Quiet on the Western Front, which won four Oscars for Netflix — has complained that the service is demanding budget cuts on a film he is trying to put together with Colin Farrell, according to three people familiar with the matter. of the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive situation.

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A spokesman for Mr. Berger declined to comment.

Shortly after Mr. Stauber left the company, Bela Bajaria, Netflix's chief content officer, gathered film crew members into a conference room and told them that the quality of their films needed improvement, according to three people familiar with the meeting. who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal communications. She also noted that if they were not comfortable moving in a different direction, they might want to consider leaving the company.

One thing that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon is Netflix's strategy regarding theatrical release, which is a bone of contention with some filmmakers and stars — not to mention theater owners.

“The data from the pandemic is clear that films released for streaming only do not have the awareness and popularity of a film first released theatrically,” said John Fithian, former president and CEO of the National Association of Movie Theater and Theater Owners. Founding partner of Fithian Group, which advises clients on ways to enhance the cinema experience. “Almost all of the most-watched movies on streaming services are movies that were first released theatrically.”

However, many in the creative community are rooting for Mr. Lin. As the business consolidates, they're desperate for Netflix to continue buying movies. The hope is that with the renewed focus, Netflix may greenlight films that studios might otherwise reject, and provide a home for more mid-budget romantic comedies and character studies in the changing Hollywood landscape.

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