Tonight Netflix/Participant Media’s Roma won two key awards best director for Alfonso Cuarón and best foreign film, further solidifying its momentum this awards season. The film has been the ultimate rule-breaker: A streaming title that could ultimately break through and win key Oscars, maybe even best picture.
The success of Roma in the awards corridor has struck fear among many traditional independent theatrical distributors. They’re scared that filmmakers will soon forsake a theatrical release, which when it comes to specialty awards titles, is a boom or bust business at the box office.
But Netflix has found a way to launch niche titles in awards season, alleviating any negative attention that comes with low ticket sales. Under the Netflix model, a film can qualify for the Oscars with a limited theatrical run followed by the widest distribution ever on its streaming service.
We asked Cuarón tonight backstage about indie distributors’ concerns as Roma gains steam (check out our video above and the Gravity Oscar winner’s passionate response). From what we know Participant Media funded Roma for $15M, and then Netflix acquired the title for a double-digit sum as other theatrical distributors passed on the film (some of the same companies who are worried about Netflix). Those who passed couldn’t work the numbers theatrically as Roma was a black-and-white Spanish-language film, a risky commercial proposition.
Said Cuarón: “My question to you is: How many theaters do you think a Mexican film in black and white, in Spanish that is a drama without stars — how big of release do you think it will be in a theatrical release? I’m having a bigger theatrical release than that, but way, way bigger, and it’s still playing. This movie opened more than a month ago and it’s still playing, that is rare for a foreign film.”
He continued, “Why don’t you take the list of foreign films this year and compare the theatrical release and how long they’ve been playing? See how many are playing in 70MM. See the territories they are playing. I just hope the discussion between Netflix and platforms in general and theatrical should be over. I think those guys–platforms and theatricals–should come together and realize whatever they’re doing to the discussion is hurting cinema.”
Cuarón’s take is that streaming coupled with a limited theatrical model can “elevate cinema, and more importantly can create a diversity in cinema. Something we have to be very conscious is that the theatrical experience has become very gentrified with one very specific kind of product.”
“You have all these filmmakers doing films for for different platforms, because these platforms aren’t afraid of doing these films” said Cuarón who referred to Martin Scorsese’s Netflix film The Irishman which is coming out next year.
Cuarón reportedly called on Netflix to provide a theatrical release for Roma, specifically in Dolby Atmos. Roma hit theaters during the five-day Thanksgiving stretch at Landmark LA, W57 in NYC and the IFC Center.
Netflix doesn’t report viewership for their series, and they didn’t report box office grosses for Roma. Some sources believed the film at three locations over the five-day Thanksgiving stretch made between $125K-$200K, but that figure is hard to assess since the pic was four-walled (meaning Netflix rented each cinema, and had access to a collection of tickets which they could then re-distribute to awards voters as needed). Word was auditoriums were largely filled to their capacity during late afternoon and evening times.
Major exhibition chains adhere to a theatrical window, and therefore do not play Netflix titles. Given the road block, Netflix played Roma at Landmark Theatres, Alamo Drafthouse and other independent theaters who do not have stiff policies when it comes to booking.
In its second weekend, Roma expanded to awards voter enclaves in Connecticut and New Jersey. After Roma became available to stream on Netflix on Dec. 14, we hear that the service offered the title to exhibitors at an attractive rental rate so that non-Netflix subscribers could watch Roma on the big screen. While Netflix reported that the Sandra Bullock movie Bird Box was seen by over 45M-plus subscribers in its first week, the streaming company has yet to report viewership on Roma.
Netflix also provided a pre-theatrical release for other awards contenders this season prior to their streaming dates on the service including the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Bird Box.