Though the Academy's Oscar Awards broadcast went off without a hitch - albeit a small one with everyone mistakenly thinking certain categories weren't going to be broadcast at all, and a host controversy with Kevin Hart, and a- well alright, definitely not without a hitch this year, but it's done with so we can move on... or so we all thought.
I'm talking about Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, which is streaming on Netflix. Last year, the Cannes Film Festival made waves when it barred submissions from Netflix that had bypassed a full theatrical release in lieu of premiering on the streaming giant after only 3 weeks in theaters. Then that all changed when Roma took home 3 Oscars along with a nomination for Best Picture just a couple of weeks ago. Pressure has now been building against Cannes in this rift with the onset of Martin Scorsese's Netflix-backed film The Irishman due to debut this year. Although Netflix has already committed to a theatrical release, it stands at a stalemate with theater distribution giants like AMC and Regal that hold a strict 90-day run before releasing to streaming services.
There have been many people in the industry that are voicing their opinions against allowing Netflix and other streaming films to be eligible for festivals and awards. In an article by The Hollywood Reporter, it states that Eric Lagesse, the co-president of France's association of independent theatrical distributors, "worries that Netflix's model of bypassing theaters will undermine the independent industry, especially as the streaming giant, so far, has focused most of its money on backing established directors, neglecting young or first-time filmmakers." Though I can sympathize with his point of view, I don't necessarily agree with the statement on a worldly basis. Perhaps I'm a bit bias considering theatrical release here in the US already undermines independent theatrical releases on its own, to which Netflix and other streaming platforms have overcome this obstacle in their own way to show both big-budget films as well as ULB films of independents alike in one place. I digress. Even Cannes director Thierry Fremaux had reportedly offered a compromise with Netflix whereas he will consider The Irishman and other Netflix titles a chance to compete in the Cannes Festival under the caveat that if they win the Palme d'Or, Netflix must release their titles for theatrical release in France. (The Hollywood Reporter - http://bit.ly/2C2dnJX)
Steven Spielberg has also been very outspoken about streaming films and their eligibility for awards. As a member representing the Directors branch of the Academy, he will be following suit with Fremaux's decision last year to bar streaming content by approaching the Academy to change the rules against future nominations. Regardless, there are others that do not hold the same opinion like Ava DuVernay who took to Twitter to express her concern against others that aren't Spielberg that may not have their voices heard. It's reported that DuVernay has supported the Netflix model as a legitimate platform for us independent filmmakers - hey, kind of like what I was saying earlier. (Collider - http://bit.ly/2SCU0wr)
Although many big-named influencers are speaking out against streaming content, this does not seem to be stifling any of the larger studios from continuing their venture into the streaming world. Disney, TimeWarner, Universal, and others are already ramping up to break into the streaming game in an attempt to follow the Netflix pioneer. Cable is slowly phasing out as streaming content is proving a pivot in the market, and the larger studios know this. It's easily speculated that these giants will be offering exclusive, original content, some of which may indeed bypass theatrical release on lower-scaled budgets. Large theatrical releases cost a lot of money, and if audiences are pulling towards streaming content in the comfort of their own homes rather than the allure of the red carpet release or popcorn-littered theater, then that is where the market of the future lies. Does that mean that theaters will phase out completely? I seriously doubt it'll go that far, but only time will tell which will lead in sales for film distribution. Thus the Streaming Wars is not just about releasing new streaming platforms by big studios, but also that of viewership in competition against theater distributors.
There's a lot of movement at the moment for film and filmmakers in terms of the dreaded "D" word (Distribution, in case you had your mind in the gutter). The biggest fear as an independent filmmaker is that other indies will begin to downplay the theatrical release and consequently the broader appeal to larger audiences; eventually settling on stories that aren't entertaining and that won't necessarily get their careers off the ground. We've personally seen the festival crawlers that are still seeing other short film competitors as their competition, relying on the old hope that they will get discovered and become a huge Director or Producer... that's not how it works, sorry. Even we at Hyde Hooligans still talk about how Netflix remains secondary in the distribution model to theatrical release for exactly the same reasons these distributors are arguing. Understanding what's going on in the industry and acknowledging the distributors' views is what will help us all (independents and otherwise) to move forward with the ever-changing flux of entertainment.
Written by: J Hooligan
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