I know this story will probably get like five comments, but the inside-baseball of how Oscar campaigns come together is always fascinating to me, just as it’s always interesting to see the struggle between “old-school, this-is-the-way-things-are-always-done theatrical releases” versus streaming/Netflix/Amazon. In recent years, films produced by Amazon and Netflix have won big Oscars, like Roma’s recent haul (Roma was from Netflix) and Casey Affleck winning Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea (an Amazon production). That bugs some of the old-schoolers, especially when Amazon and Netflix skirt the rules about theatrical releases. So… Steven Spielberg is one of those old-schoolers. He’s flexing his power in the industry so that films like Roma never win a bunch of Oscars ever again:
The champagne bottles at Netflix’s afterparty were still corked Feb. 24 when the streaming company offered Oscar viewers the first peek at next year’s awards season. A teaser for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming gangster drama The Irishman aired midway through the Academy Awards telecast, with a simple phrase appended: “In Theaters Next Fall.” That’s a slight tweak from the language Netflix used in its teaser for Roma, “In Select Theaters,” and the word choice indicates how the company that once eschewed theatrical windows plans to evolve for its biggest film yet.
Scorsese wants a wide theatrical release for his more than $125 million gangster movie, and two industry sources with knowledge of talks between Netflix and theater owners tell The Hollywood Reporter that the streaming company is working to get him one. To do so, Netflix will have to expand the three-week art house theatrical window it pioneered amid controversy this awards season and will have to allow theater owners to report box office numbers, which the streamer did not do for Roma.
“Netflix wants a big footprint for The Irishman,” says one industry source. “They’ve put themselves in a position by supporting these kinds of filmmakers where they have to come to grips with the theatrical business model and how it works.”
Netflix is facing pressure from other industry groups to conform to Hollywood norms to a greater degree than it did on its release of Alfonso Cuarón’s Spanish-language drama, which won three Oscars (for directing, foreign-language film and cinematography) but lost best picture to Universal Pictures’ Green Book, in part, at least according to interviews with several Academy members, because Oscar voters penalized the company for its business model.
A cohort of Academy members led by directors branch governor Steven Spielberg is pushing for a rule change at the organization that would require a movie to have an exclusive theatrical window of at least four weeks to be eligible for major Oscars. “I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience,” Spielberg said a week before the Oscars while accepting an award from the Cinema Audio Society, in an apparent plea to his peers to resist Netflix’s increasing power in Hollywood. “I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever.”
At the MPAA, which welcomed Netflix as a new member in January, other studios are advocating for the company to be transparent about its box office numbers. “Now that they’re in the MPAA, they should have to play by the same rules all of the rest of us do,” says one executive from a member studio. There are also constituencies at the producers and directors guilds pushing for those organizations to address Netflix’s role in the industry in their own groups’ rules — Roma won the DGA’s top award, and was nominated for the PGA’s, but lost to Green Book in a preview of the movie’s Oscar night fate.
There’s also some funny tea in that THR piece about how Netflix spent between $25 million to $40 million on Roma’s Oscar campaign and one unnamed industry source sniped: “What was all that marketing for? It wasn’t to drive people to a movie theater.” LOL. I mean, I can understand why old-guard Hollywood is worried about Netflix and Amazon. People go to see superhero movies in the theater, but if people can get their art-house theater content in the comfort of their own home, then the industry’s business model (as it exists today) will fail spectacularly. But I find that I agree with Spielberg & the Old Guard: if Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are going to play with the big boys, they will need to play by the same rules, which means a more substantial theatrical release for their Oscar-bait films, and releasing information about box office and streams.
Now, all that being said, the counterargument is that Hulu, Amazon & Netflix are doing a much better job of supporting people of color in front of and behind the camera. Steven Spielberg is on my sh-tlist because he was apparently one of the biggest champions for Green Book behind the scenes. In February, Green Book director Peter Farrelly told industry papers that he guaranteed the money and support for Green Book’s Oscar campaign by sending the film to Spielberg, who “watched it five times over two weeks…He flipped and said it was his favorite buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Can you even imagine watching that problematic white savior sh-t and thinking it’s a wonderful buddy comedy? Please. That’s what the old-guard is worried about too: that as they get older, Woke Movies will start to replace their white savior bullsh-t.
Photos courtesy of WENN, IMDB.