Steven Spielberg Wants To Dismantle Netflix Brick By Internet Brick: And Other Saturday Musings

Steven Spielberg v Netflix

This time last week, we were all getting in some last minute Oscars prep. Late in the game predictions were flying, and reliable sources were forecasting the Netflix-premiered Roma as the favorite for Best Picture.

Personally I was road-tripping to Texas for fun? (I refuse to understand people that drive, for hours, for fun) and I was finally finishing Roma for the first time. I watched the Best Picture favorite in the backseat of a VW Jetta driving through a blizzard in Monticello, Utah on my iPhone 6.

And then personally, the next day, I was rooting for it to win. I didn’t particularly love Roma, but I didn’t particularly love any of the Best Picture nominees, so the black and white, foreign language film, produced by outsider Netflix got my fandom for the day. It lost to another movie I felt blah about, who cares.

At least Eighth Grade got the WGA Award am I right?

Even though Roma was the leader in the clubhouse, there isn’t a lot of backlash that Green Book came out on top. I mean, there is justifiable racial backlash, but even that is quieter than in some #OscarsSoWhite years. This wasn’t Moonlight over La La Land or Hurt Locker over Avatar. The big box office movie that everyone saw this year was just lucky to be in the conversation and never a serious contender to win (sorry Madison). In fact no one has any notion of how much money Roma made in theaters.

And therein begins the problem.

I watched Roma on a 4.7 inch screen instead of a 47 foot screen because it was released on Netflix. And I could download it and take it with me too! Even though it was “released” (on a couple screens in LA) on November 21, the rest of us could watch it at home by December 14.

We still haven’t got to Spielberg’s Beef yet, and I have one more tangent to hit.

Netflix isn’t the first resident of the internet to be nominated for the big prizes at the Oscars. After Sundance 2016 Amazon Studios purchased distribution for Manchester by the Sea. It “released” (Again, LA and New York. People in the biz call this a Limited Release. As someone that grew up in Central PA going to one run-down theater with two screens, I call this an air quotes, “release”) on November 18. Roma wasn’t available to stream though until early February. This is because it adhered to the widely-respected 90 day theatrical release window.

Layman’s terms: So my dad rarely sees movies in the theaters because, as he tells me “ehhhhhh it’ll be on Netflix in a couple months”. Well he isn’t wrong. Movies, even bad ones but definitely longer for good ones, will get three months in theaters before they get any competition. Generally the DVD release comes first and then additional TV, and in 2019 read streaming, comes next.

This makes sense. You don’t want to step on your own box office totals’ toes by letting people Redbox it for $1.99 until you know all the people that were willing to shell out $12.50 + concessions have finished seeing it.

Thanks to Getty Images for this logo of Netflix

Netflix could care less about your business model. They let people watch Roma at home or on the go almost immediately, and never bothered expanding its theatrical release beyond theaters it owns. Insuring A.) they don’t have to divulge their precious numbers and B.) people in smaller markets never got the chance to see Roma on the big screen, even if they wanted to.

Ok. We are finally ready for Steven Spielberg Snobbery.

Spielberg is the kind of cinefile that believes movies were meant to be seen on the biggest screen with the best surround sound. That these auteurs poured their souls into every second of cinematography and sound. For you. Every moment must be savored and appreciated and that can only be accomplished in the hallowed halls of the theatre.

I like watch robot go boom. I have no idea what 4K or Atmos sound projection mean. I just watch movies.

Seriously, the guy who made Ready Player One this year is taking the artistic high road, but this isn’t me putting words in his mouth. Here’s a spokesperson for his company with the E.T. logo putting words in his mouth.

Amblin founded by Steven Spielberg

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation. He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.”

I like to have fun at this rich successful guy’s expense, but in other interviews he makes a valid point. Spielberg believes that the Oscars are for theatrically released movies and that the small screen fare have their own awards. The Emmys already have a category for Outstanding Television Movie, and it ain’t no made-for-tv joke category anymore. “Episodes” of Black Mirror and Sherlock have won in the past. High quality HBO movies like Michael B. Jordan’s Fahrenheit 451 and Al Pacino’s Paterno got nominations this year. I have the HBO Go app on my XBox, just like I have the Netflix app and I watched Paterno on the same size screen as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Just because Netflix put Roma in a couple theaters that they own in a couple cities for a couple weeks all of a sudden makes it a capital M Movie?

Well kinda. The Oscars have rules, and Roma obeyed them. All movies have to do is run at least seven consecutive days at a commercial theater in Los Angeles County and be shown at least three times a day, with at least one screening between the hours of 6 p.m and 10 p.m. All during the year they are up for the award in.

This is why a movie like Green Book ends up making more after its nomination than it did before. It had a limited “release” late in the year to meet those qualifications and then when the nomination list came out in February, it expanded. And now as an Oscar Winner it is expected to make even more. More people are watching this movie in 2019 than 2018.

It’s a small thing to bug me but it does. I am sick of the Oscar Strategy™. We kicked Weinstein out of Hollywood for being a creep, now we need to sponge out his legacy. He practically patented this release schedule and For Your Consideration BS. I am an optimist and I just want the Best Picture to go to the best picture.

Netflix movie Roma

And I never even mentioned how Netflix spent twice Roma’s budget in marketing and Oscar campaigns.

I want studios to take chances on Indie movies too. Harsher rules for release schedules could negatively affect small movies at the Oscars. Movies I loved last year like Eighth Grade, Tully, and American Animals never made it to my little hometown theater. Heck, I’m not even sure Bumblebee got its foot in the door during that busy December. I love when the Academy shines a light on a good movie that few people saw, but they need a better balance. When they expanded to up-to-10 nominees for Best Picture it was because that Weinstein model of movie had taken over, and the Oscars no longer represented the film going audience. Good popular movies like Star Wars, Rocky, and Beauty and the Beast used to get nominations. That’s why the Popular Film category was a categorically stupid idea. Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody were good and popular, so nominate them!

I want the Oscars to represent that year in film. Yes, I want Netflix to show their good movies on the big screen, not just in LA, but in more markets. I want a couple nice Indie movies and a couple quality blockbusters at the awards shows. I want To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before nominated for a freaking Primetime Emmy if you aren’t gonna put it in theaters. In the end, I want us all to get along.

But we won’t and the argument isn’t going away either. Oscar Nomination Lock Martin Scorsese is directing The Irishman for Netflix this year. So I’ll see you this time next year to see how Netflix has changed the world again.