Okay y’all, bear with me in this rambling opinion. When thinking about streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, we think of cutting edge creativity, new voices getting a chance to share their content, and the familiar opening theme to The Office fooling you into believing you are not alone in your bedroom. What we don’t think about is a changing landscape for filmmaking as a whole.
Recently, acclaimed director and pillar of the film community, Steven Spielberg, had some choice words about Netflix, the undisputed king of streaming services. He said to ITV News, “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie…You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.” Hold up old man. This is mainly his argument for preserving the “theater experience”, which I do understand, but taking aim at Netflix just seems a bit… elitist. Just because a movie is released on a streaming platform doesn’t mean it’s worse than what’s getting a theatrical release. In fact, sometimes it’s the opposite.
The best example that comes to mind is Alfonso Cuaron’s magnum opus film Roma. Yes it was created by Netflix, but it was also masterfully directed, acted, and shot. Does the fact that it was streamed mean that it’s not worthy of being recognized by The Academy? Fuck you Steven Spielberg for basically saying so.
And while we’re at it, let’s examine this Oscar nonsense. In order to even qualify for an Oscar, a movie has to have a basic theatrical release. Roma did screen in theaters because The Academy says it has to. People saw it in those theaters and on Netflix alike. The fact that Steven Spielberg feels so threatened by this is just insane. The fact that it was a “Netflix movie” is the reason it didn’t win best picture. Unlike a “wide release,” where a new film opens in more than 1,500 theaters on the same weekend, a “platform release” of a film means it will be opening in about 20-50 theaters to start. This is LITERALLY to qualify for awards, and then the movie will have a nationwide release much later. The F?
However, the notion that these streaming services are hurting ticket sales is somewhat true. Less people are going to the theaters. Less people want to spend $25 on a popcorn, drink, and ticket. While that is slightly sad, it is not because someone is streaming Parks and Rec in their dorm room. The studios take such a high percentage (45%) of ticket sales that the individual theaters HAVE to charge an arm and a leg for concessions because that’s basically the only way they can make their money. The system is fundamentally flawed, and if this is the system the big wig movie execs are hoping to keep, then enjoy no one giving a fuck about The Oscars.
In this instance, Spielberg is Metallica to Netflix’s Napster. What he represents is the thirst for box office sales parading around as worry for the future of movie viewing. Seriously, how crusty do you have to be? Many distributors are looking ahead to streaming services, as the necessary step to avoid ovoid obsolescence. Directors like Spielberg should take the cue. If Certified Staunch white man Christopher Nolan can apologize for an ‘undiplomatic’ view of the service, why can’t big Stevie? A more open way of viewing this issue comes from the director of Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Fremaux. He said (in regards to the movie Okja being met with boos from the festival audience as soon as the Netflix logo appeared on screen) that Netflix and Amazon do represent “something important,” and that “we will eventually come up with a good agreement. Because in order for a film to become part of history, it must go through theaters, box office, the critics, the passion of cinephiles, awards campaigns, books, directories, filmographies. All this is part of a tradition on which the history of film is based.” The fact that he includes streaming services in this conversation at all is a step in the right direction.
Streaming gives a platform to so many different artists from so many different mediums. Now, local Tennessee bands can make a record and seamlessly have listeners in the UK, Finland, Germany, and Hong Kong. The same goes for filmmakers that can upload their short films to Vimeo and literally overnight be qualified for Sundance. The movie executives that are trying so desperately hard to hold on to the status quo are the same as the music executives back in the day (late 90s early 00s lol). They did the exact same thing. They were unwilling to change with the times, had no room for innovation or collaboration, and because of this file sharing completely annihilated album sales. It was streaming music that broke the system and forced an entire overhaul of the way we listen to and buy music. Even with YouTube being a thing, no one in their right mind would want to pay to listen a single song ever agin.
The bottom line with this whole debacle is that streaming is not inherently bad or good, it’s just what’s happening RIGHT NOW. Netflix is operating at a deficit at all times. The cost of making a movie hasn’t changed, but streaming services are just hoping that at some point it will even out. However, it is a very sad thing that theaters are emptying out. Many indie movie theaters all around the country are closing. But it’s not as black and white as this simple cause and effect. Netflix is killing theaters the same way that Spotify is making album sales obsolete. It’s not the specifics of which company, but the internet based movement in general that is taking a toll on the theaters. The solution to this problem can only be evolution. By remaining staunchly as things have always been and expecting nothing to change the theater industry is signing their own death warrant. There is always a solution, a next step, and a happy medium to be found.
The value of art decreases as we become less and less willing to spend money, even though the cost of making art remains the same. The problem is not studio vs. streaming. It’s the old ways vs. the new ways. Video killed the radio star. The internet killed the movie star all the same. Streaming movies and TV is progressing far faster than the movie industry can keep up with. We either have to accept it and grow from it or be left behind entirely. People are going to have to start taking less money for their content, or art will die, and I’m pretty sure we all know what’s going to happen there.