Wherever you side on the streaming vs. theatrical debate, one obvious benefit to both sides is that streaming allows for a more diverse range of voices to take their shot at filmmaking – voices that otherwise wouldn’t get that chance through the increasingly tentpole-centric and conservative studio system. That includes some name talent you’ve likely heard of.
In a new article for The New York Times, nearly two dozen respected industry professionals have discussed their work on streaming projects and more traditional theatrical releases and how streaming is really impacting the industry. Many of them, including major players who’ve helmed multiple tentpoles, don’t seem to be optimistic about the traditional theatrical experience in the future.
Joe Russo, who co-helmed “Avengers: Endgame,” says that even he and his brother are having difficulty in this market to get momentum going behind their new dark character-driven mid-budget drama “Cherry” and how it gets harder by the month to get films like this made.
Sony Pictures Chairman Tom Rothman says the major studios are now all focused on basically making films that will get people out of the house:
“The word we use here is ‘theatricality.’ What movie is going to get people to go out to a theater to see it? There now has to be something about it that gives it that theatrical urgency, and it’s true whether it’s a small-budget horror film, a gigantic event film or a mid-budget original drama. In a world where everything is on demand, I think that’s what makes movies special: Exactly because it’s harder is why it’s a more significant leisure choice. Guess what? You can’t see [Tarantino’s] “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” on your phone right now. If you want to see Leo and Brad together on the screen… you gotta get a babysitter.”
Ava DuVernay, creator and director of the new Netflix series “When They See Us,” has previously spoken about the lack of opportunity for female filmmakers to direct big-budget drama films. In the piece she discusses the differences between two of her previous directing efforts – “Selma” and the documentary “13th”.
“Selma” had a holiday release in cinemas and a large Oscar campaign buoyed by great reviews, but under-performed both at the box-office and at awards time. “13th” launched directly on Netflix and received much acclaim and reportedly strong numbers. Of the two launches DuVernay says “13th” was better because the potential outreach of a streaming platform is more important than the ego-centric perception of a theatrical release being ‘more important’:
“There is a privilege embedded in [a theatrical release] because I’ve had it, I’ve seen it and I know what it is. It’s a lot of ego. I’m told by the system that this is what matters, but then people aren’t seeing your movies. Take the number of people who saw ‘Selma,’ a Christmas release with an Oscar campaign about Dr. Martin Luther King. Well, more than a quadruple amount of people saw ’13th’ [on Netflix]. If I’m telling these stories to reach a mass audience, then really, nothing else matters.”
Jason Blum, who has cornered the market in turning tiny-budget genre releases into good box-office performers, spoke about one of his most acclaimed films – Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” – and how it didn’t work in the way it should:
“‘Whiplash’ was a disaster theatrically! A disaster! What I wanted for that movie was for students and kids to see it, and they eventually saw it on TV, but they didn’t come to the movie theater to see ‘Whiplash.’ The people who paid to see ‘Whiplash’ were like me: too old. All things being equal, would I much prefer the experience of seeing ‘Whiplash’ in a movie theater? Absolutely. But I would also prefer the experience of driving through Los Angeles with no traffic. And that’s not realistic, either. I do think the kind of movie that gets that window is going to narrow even further. Not only are mid-budget movies going to go, but I think most dramas are not going to have a traditional theatrical window.”
Barry Jenkins, the director of Oscar winner “Moonlight,” calls the change ‘bittersweet’ and says it’s awesome anyone can go on a laptop now and find Claire Denis films with ease, there’s a trade-off for that convenience. Actress Jessica Chastain can see certain advantages right off the bat:
“I’ve seen a lot of female filmmakers get opportunities at Netflix and Amazon that they haven’t gotten through the studio system. So I’m very, very happy about the new shape our industry is taking. It’s going to bring to the top some very interesting creative talent who would not have had the opportunity to work in the system of old. Look at ‘Russian Doll.’ People love this show, and Leslye [Headland, who helped create it] is being recognized. In the past, in the studio system, they would say, ‘Oh, the only female filmmaker we know is Kathryn Bigelow.'”
Actress and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks also applauds the streamers for filling the holes major studios have abandoned:
“For someone like me who grew up on romantic comedies, watching them come back on streamers has been really gratifying. People actually like this stuff that the studios stopped giving them, and the streamers picked up the slack. So that’s one example of how streamers can make these sorts of midrange movies that the big corporate studios are not as interested in putting out theatrically.”
The full piece, with a ton more quotes from various others including the likes of J.J. Abrams and Octavia Spencer, is up at The New York Times.