EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Bruno, the well-regarded head of marketing for The Weinstein Company, has been offered a lucrative position to take a leadership post in marketing at Netflix. It comes at a time when the subscription service’s commitment to original programming is growing to the point where it is determined to build a program to generate 10-12 feature-caliber films per year. I’m told Bruno is likely to take the job after serving a total of seven years at TWC, with a stop at HBO in between two TWC stints. He has been head of marketing for the past three years, and his contract is up at year’s end.
The discussions going on this moment between Bruno, Harvey Weinstein, David Glasser and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos are amicable, in no small part because the two companies have so much business together. Beyond its library titles like the Quentin Tarantino catalog being available on Netflix, TWC is in production on Netflix’s first feature film release, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend for September release. TWC is also partnered with Netflix on what the pay service hopes will be a signature event-sized series, Marco Polo.
If Bruno decides to take the new job and move to LA, he will stay on to guide the campaigns of the TWC films that are in the Oscar mix, a list that includes the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Imitation Game, the Bill Murray-topped St. Vincent and the upcoming Tim Burton-directed Big Eyes. Bruno will orchestrate those campaigns, and there doesn’t seem to be a rush because Netflix really won’t start its feature push until next fall with Crouching Tiger. The first feature with Adam Sandler isn’t expected until the following year.
Netflix is the talk of town lately. At a time when many picture makers are pulling back, the subscription service is aggressively making inroads with producers and agents and has signaled that it is serious about mounting a full feature assault. Right now, there are a couple of feature execs, Sarah Bowen and Pauline Fischer, but further staffing is expected. The company’s biggest move so far was to agree with Sandler to make four movies he’ll star in and produce, a move that was made because his films perform so well on Netflix. There will be more splashy stuff coming because Netflix is asking the community that it be looked at as another studio that will include first-look deals with producers and other creative forces.
The 10-12 theatrical-quality films per year will focus on the science fiction, romantic comedy and Western genres, while avoiding horror. The budgets will fall between $20 million and $50 million, the latter number reserved for star-driven films. Netflix isn’t looking to make four-quadrant films, because internal metrics indicate that its audience prefers niche-appeal content. It looks like the company is targeting that tweener niche that the studios have abdicated in favor of microbudget or tentpole fare. That abandonment is what sent creative talent to TV and has resulted in this basic and pay cable TV renaissance — and has helped Netflix take an important step with series the Kevin Spacey-Robin Wright starrer House Of Cards.
The Netflix strategy won’t be easy; the major theater chains already have turned up their noses on the Crouching Tiger sequel — except IMAX, which was part of the deal — and the Sandler film quartet. But Netflix’s justification is an easy one to make: Why spent another $250 million on an output deal with a studio for films that have played theatrically when it can invest similar amounts in original movies it will own and that will give its service singular product to keep subscribers paying that $8 per month. In 50 countries, those fees add up, and Netflix is planning its next expansion focus to be Japan, New Zealand and Australia, I’m told. Recognizing this, the feature films will incorporate global appeal.
I’m not sure how the Netflix feature foray will fare in programming that audiences are accustomed to watching on giant movie screens. But give Sarandos credit for continuing to be disruptive. It sounds like Bruno will be a big part of that. No comment from any of the principals.
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