With the overwhelming success of Netflix and other streaming platforms, some filmmakers and producers find themselves concerned about the future of movie theaters; the recent Oscar awards ceremony opened the debate again when Rome – 99%, a Netflix production that had a limited theatrical release, managed to be nominated for Best Foreign Film and Best Film, and some were betting that it had already won the top prize of the night, but finally this one went to Green Book: Una Friendship without Borders – 78%.
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According to reports, the legendary filmmaker of Jewish origin Steven Spielberg would have been one of the main detractors that the streaming platform had gone so far, and it is said that he also promoted a campaign for the Academy to choose to Green Book: A Friendship Without Borders as the winner.
This news caught the attention of several directors who decided to come out in defense of the films produced by Netflix and other streaming companies, because in the end, although some refuse to accept it, the world is changing and this type of way of consuming feature films is here to stay.
Paul Schrader, recognized for being a writer for Taxi Driver – 98% and Wild Bull – 98%, as well as director of First Reformed – 95% and of several productions, delved in a Facebook post on the problem of distribution that goes beyond a simple dispute between cinema vs. streaming:
THE NETFLIX DEBATE. I have no ill will towards Netflix. Ted Sarandos he’s as smart about movies as any studio executive I’ve ever met. Distribution models evolve. The idea of squeezing more than 200 people into a dark, unventilated room to see a shaky picture was created by the economics of the exhibition, not by any notion of the “movie experience.” Netflix allows many financially marginal feature films to have a platform and that’s a good thing. But here’s my question: it has to do with First Reformed. First Reformed was sold at a bargain price to A24 at the Toronto Film Festival. Netflix, which could have taken her out of our hands as easily as it would squash a fly on her ass, passed. Just like Amazon did. Just like Sony Classics and Focus did. But A24 saw a commercial path for this stark-looking film. As a result, Fisrt Reformed found a life. A24 moved her through festivals and screenings from 2017 to 2018. And she survived. It was not a money factory but it was profitable for A24 and a jewel in its crown. Would I have found First Reformed this public approval if Netflix had taken it — say, twice what A24 paid — and dumped it in their pantry? Maybe Bird Box: Blind – 66% and The Kissing Stand – 45% can fight their way through Netflix’s vast sea of products to find popular approval, but First Reformed? Unlikely. Banished to the cinematic esoteric. A different path? My proposal: That the film clubs —Alamo Draft House, Metrograph, Burns Center, Film Forum— form an alliance with a two-tier streaming system — first tier: Criterion / Mubi, second tier: Netlifx / Amazon—. Distribution models are in constant flux. It doesn’t come down to something as simple as cinemas vs. streaming.
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Ben Affleck, who won the Oscar for Best Picture for his film Argo – 96%, had something to say on the subject during the premiere of Triple Frontier, a film produced by Netflix in which he participates as an actor. Affleck said Netflix is helping define the future of film and distribution (via Deadline):
Making a movie for Netflix is no different than making a movie anywhere else, we just try to do our job.
And he added that the industry is in a time of change, but that does not mean that the end of cinema as we know it is approaching, since in the past the same was feared with the emergence of color television:
Cinema survived and I think it will continue to do so. People are working to try to define how they are going to do it.
Sean Baker, director of The Florida Project – 96% wrote on Twitter an idea for Netflix productions to be enjoyed by those who love the cinema experience:
Wouldn’t it be great if Netflix offered a “movie row” in their pricing plans? For every nominal payment, Netflix members could watch Netflix movies in theaters for free. I know I would spend an extra $ 2 a month to see movies like Rome or [La Balada de] Buster Scruggs on the big screen.
This would help keep theater owners and members of the public who appreciate the movie experience satisfied. It is just an idea without polished details. But we need to find solutions like this where everyone does their part to keep the film community – which includes competitive theater owners, festivals and distributors – alive and well.
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Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie, responsible for the renowned Good Time: Living on the Edge – 90%, exposed a truth:
The harsh reality is that, on average, audiences experience 80% of the life of each film on video. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do all we can to protect the amazingly inspiring, humane and relaxing collective experience of watching a movie at the theater.
The harsh reality is that on average 80% every movie’s life audience experiences it on video… doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to protect the awe inspiring, human-assuring, peace-inducing, collective experience of theatrical film watching.
— SAFDIE (@JOSH_BENNY) March 2, 2019
Richard Shepard, film and television director who will be remembered for Oxygen – 77% and Hannah’s Diary, applauded Netflix for Roma and sent a message to Spielberg:
Rome was the best movie of the year. I adore Steven Spielberg, he was / is a real hero to me, but good movies are good movies regardless of where they are screened. And in a world where we have more Jurassic Parks than Shirkers: The Lost Movie, Netflix fills a gap. I love the big screen, but I love the story and the heart of a movie even more.
ROMA was the best movie of year. I love Steven Spielberg he was/is a true hero of mine-but good movies r good movies-Wherever they play. And in a world where we have more JURASSIC PARKS then SHIRKERS Netflix fills a gap. Love the big screen, but love the story/heart of movie more https://t.co/YbhzbInRPp
— Richard Shepard (@SaltyShep) March 2, 2019
The debate may continue for some time; For two years now, some positions regarding streaming and the “cinematographic experience” have intensified, but as happened with the sale of CDs that did not end with musical concerts, nor did electronic books end with the sale of physical books, Streaming platforms will have (and already have) a major but unavoidable impact on the way we watch movies, unless the movie studios agree to work together.
Also read: According to the critics, Green Book is the worst Oscar winner since High Impact
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Paul Schrader, Ben Affleck and more directors respond to Spielberg’s debate against Netflix