When Scott Stuber took himself out of contention to replace the late Brad Grey as Paramount chairman, and instead accepted an offer from Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos to run Netflix’s feature film division, many felt he’d taken the more exciting job. Why? While Jim Gianopulos has to dig Paramount out of a deep hole, Stuber has a blank slate and the financial backing to make Netflix as aggressive a film studio as it is on the television front—try 40-50 films per year. French film purists might wish it away, but Netflix has already been the talk of Cannes. It made the first big pre-buy deal for the stop-motion animation pic Bubbles on Michael Jackson’s chimp companion, and debuts its first two Cannes premieres this weekend. That started with last night’s Okja (where they cheered the logo and gave the film and director Bong Joon-Ho a long standing ovation) and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories on Sunday. Sure, there has been controversy about it not releasing its films in France, but Netflix and Amazon make a strong case that perhaps it is France that needs to change its ridiculously outdated chronology law that prevents films from going SVOD for three years, if they play first in French theaters.
Netflix has already built some movie momentum, but that is just the warm-up for what is to come. The momentum started with Beasts Of No Nation and the eight-film deal for Adam Sandler comedies, and upcoming is War Machine with Brad Pitt, the Will Smith franchise play Bright, and the mob-movie reunion of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro in The Irishman.
Its ability to pay generously has helped Netflix overcome the challenges of making filmmakers and stars comfortable generating movies for a subscription audience. Sure, that audience is vast, spanning 190 countries, but those artists are accustomed to seeing their work in multiplexes, accompanied by P&A spends that make their work part of the pop-culture conversation. Netflix is more like a global private club, and the priority is keeping its members entertained enough to continue paying their monthly fees. Films like Okja and Meyerowitz will get qualifying theatrical runs, but they are not at all the priority here.
A former vice chairman of worldwide production at Universal Studios who oversaw The Fast And The Furious and The Bourne Identity among others before transitioning to producer of such films as Ted, Central Intelligence and Safe House — the Scarface remake Stuber left behind just got David Ayer in talks to direct Diego Luna at Universal — Stuber has the strong experience in building pictures, and the relationships with talent and their reps who need persuading to take some of their projects to Netflix, in addition to the traditional theatrical model movies they are making.
Stuber also has the experience to broaden Netflix into the next logical step in its feature growth curve: generating its own projects. That veers away from Netflix’s earlier film strategy, which consisted of outbidding theatrical distributors. The best example of this was Bright. For its first potential franchise play, Netflix made a $90 million-plus commitment, half of which covered salaries as well as back-end payday buyouts for Smith, director Ayer, Joel Edgerton and others.
Netflix has already put a few book properties in development, but homegrown films will become a focus for Stuber and his team if Netflix is to generate the volume of pictures needed to grow its slate. That means that here at Cannes and elsewhere, Netflix will be an aggressive acquirer of properties, once again putting traditional theatrical release distributors on their heels.