EXCLUSIVE: David Kosse took on the newly-created role of VP of International Film at Netflix in April. The former Universal, Film4 and STX executive’s mandate is to oversee all of international film production and acquisitions with a focus on making and acquiring non-English language movies for the streaming site. Today, he’s got an impressive initial slate that includes a new project from Amélie helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet; as well as book adaptations, Munich and The Last; and Peter Thorwath’s Transatlantic 473 (see more detail below).
We chatted recently about Netflix’s overseas ambitions and Kosse’s strategy to broaden and diversify international content with global scale.
DEADLINE: Can you lay out for us the local-language strategy?
DAVID KOSSE: The important part of my coming here is that Netflix realized and recognized that the global membership has an appetite for a hugely diverse range of content than we’ve seen or believed in the past. One statistic is 50% of our membership base has, over the past year, watched something in a language other than English or their own country’s language.
Now, we’ve had a lot of success on the series side in terms of things we produce and shows we’ve acquired. So basically, we see a massive opportunity around the world with this member base being willing to and being interested in this hugely diverse range of stories.
The opportunity we see is that with this reach of members out there, we think it’s going to give filmmakers around the world a huge amount more flexibility in terms of stories they tell and new diverse stories to tell in different languages and different kinds of stories than may have been able to have been financed through the traditional models of distribution. It creates a level of scale and reach and allows us to embrace and take chances on stories that others didn’t.
It’s a unique opportunity because it makes good business sense, it’s good for our members and we can find stories and tell them in a way that is kind of language agnostic to a degree, but not completely, and on a global level. What we see is that the member base increasingly wants to see themselves reflected on the screen. With such a diverse membership, it really is a diverse audience.
The reason I’m excited to be here is to seek out these partnerships with filmmakers and create movies in a way that I don’t think has ever been done before.
DEADLINE: Can you elaborate on what you mean by a way that hasn’t been done before?
KOSSE: Because we can find the audience on a global level based on viewing habits that we know about in the way Netflix productions work, I think we can find a bigger global audience faster than the traditional foreign language films that are for the most part independently financed and distributed.
In most cases that requires a broadcaster in the home market and distribution in the local market so that it feels like a sellable proposition, and the sales agent feels they can make up gap with equity players and cornerstone financing.
That creates a type of film and a budget constraint that is market based. Our model isn’t based on that. It might be perceived as taking risks, but what we can do is identify stories on our platform that would play at a certain level and would allow a filmmaker to have the right money to spend for the story as opposed to being backed into budgets based on audience and expectation.
It’s a different model that might come up with a bigger number and allow a filmmaker to make a more complete version of the movie. It might be stories that filmmakers might not be able to get told in the best possible way. If we do it right, they will be able to do it in the best way.
DEADLINE: Can you discuss budgets at all?
KOSSE: I have an overall envelope, it’s very robust, but I don’t have unlimited funds. We are getting this initiate off the ground in terms of we’ll jump in deeply to go and make this work. And it’s up to me and my group to define it.
DEADLINE: Where are you sourcing projects?
KOSSE: The team is all based out of London and the markets we’re focused on for the bigger productions are the larger European markets and the languages that are spoken by a great deal of people. The primary focus from a production standpoint is Spain, Italy, France, Germany and to some degree the Nordics. But we also are active and exploring opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. As well as to some degree Latin America.
DEADLINE: Is it only to some degree in Latin America because if you’re in Spain you cover those markets to an extent?
KOSSE: Obviously the Spanish language travels into Latin America, but what we’re actually seeing a lot more of is that it’s around having a base of enough members who speak that language as their first choice on the service. But the idea is for the Spanish films to travel to non-Spanish speakers and the same goes for France, Italy, etc. And that’s what we see already.
DEADLINE: What about Asia?
KOSSE: Separate from my group, Netflix has a team in APAC working on productions there. And then we have a significant ongoing effort in India that does report into me.
DEADLINE: Are you acquiring local production companies?
KOSSE: No, we follow something called a partner managed model. So, I have a team here that crosses creative, physical production, production finance, post, visual effects, business and legal affairs. We do all of that but the producers are taking the final responsibility for delivering the budget. So, we’re not managing these productions as a studio would. We’re doing the major hires and overseeing the major casting elements but we’re co-captain with the production services company.
DEADLINE: On your initial slate you have Bigbug from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. France and Netflix have been uncomfortable bedfellows given the 36-month window from theatrical to streaming. Was it difficult to convince him to come to the service?
KOSSE: Jeunet is excited about the level of reach that he can get through the membership base and is more focused on getting the opportunity to make the movie he really wants to make in the way he really wants to make it, and the opportunity to have that seen globally. He believes in what Netflix can provide on a global level. So the answer is it wasn’t that difficult.
DEADLINE: Are there any plans for theatrical elements with your slate? What about festivals?
KOSSE: There are no plans for theatrical elements for these movies. We’re not changing our festival strategy, what you’ve seen is indicative of what we’ll continue to do.
DEADLINE: What kinds of talent are you looking to work with?
KOSSE: The whole reason for this initiative is to broaden and diversify stories being told so that they reflect the member base. Part of our strategy is to work with the top filmmakers of the market. But by no means is that the core of the strategy or is it exclusive to them. We have engaged with and reached out to many first and second time filmmakers in the whole process, so the filmmaker’s level of experience has not been the major criteria. It’s generally a diverse array to broaden the storytelling.
Here is the slate of projects announced today:
Bigbug: A French language film from BAFTA winner and Oscar nominee Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Written with Guillaume Laurant and produced by Eskwad’s Richard Grandpierre and Frédéric Doniguian, the story sees a group of bickering suburbanites who find themselves stuck together when an android uprising causes their well intentioned household robots to lock them in for their own safety.
Transatlantic 473 [Blood Red Sky]: In German and English, the film from director Peter Thorwarth (Not My Day, The Last Cop), is set on an international night flight from Berlin to New York. When the plane is hijacked, all is not as it seems. The hijackers find themselves faced with a desperate mother, who is also a supernatural being with powers and reflexes beyond their imaginations, trying to protect her son. Thorwarth wrote the script with Stefan Holtz; producers are Rat Pack Filmproduktion’s Christian Becker.
Munich: An adaptation of Robert Harris’ bestseller, the film is in German and English. Ben Power is adapting the screenplay with Turbine Studio’s Andrew Eaton producing. Set in September 1938 as Hitler is preparing to invade Czechoslovakia and claim the Sudetenland, while European diplomats scramble to stop him. Over four crucial days leading up to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous appeasement of the dictator, Munich follows Hugh Legat and Paul Von Hartmann, former friends and opposing diplomats, as they swap secret documents and betray their nations in hopes of preventing another world war.
The Last: An adaptation of Hanna Jameson’s book which will be told in French, German, English and Japanese. The novel is part murder mystery and part post-apocalyptic thriller. Amid the fallout of global nuclear war, survivors at a remote Swiss hotel discover the murdered body of a young girl.
The Incredible Story Of Rose Island (L’Incredibile Storia Dell’Isola Delle Rose): The Italian language picture is from director Sydney Sibilia who co-wrote with Francesca Manieri. Matteo Rovere produces the true story of Giorgio Rosa and the Independent State which he founded in 1968 outside Italian territorial waters, off the Rimini coast, embodying the dreams and aspirations of a generation. Cast includes Elio Germano, Matilda De Angelis, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Luca Zingaretti, François Cluzet, Tom Wlaschiha, Leonardo Lidi, Alberto Astorri, Violetta Zironi, Fabrizio Rongione and Andrea Pennacchi.