Netflix v. Cinema

It is mere days away from DIFF 2017. I’m finalizing the little details of films and guests, completing various excel sheets and google docs (it is amazing how a film festival may have functioned before google docs), and trying to figure out my two-week wardrobe (packing for Dallas in spring is one of the greatest challenges of travel I believe).

The experience of showing a film in a theater with an audience has been on my mind. I’m looking forward to being with a community of film lovers and meeting filmmakers and artists; being in a room with people who are ready to discover something new or different, to experience an escape, to share a moment of fear, excitement or thrill.

That’s why this IndieWire editorial by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas co-founder and CEO Tim League refuting Netflix CEO Reed Hasting’s recent remarks about cinema hit home for me this week. I’m posting Tim League’s full editorial below.

It’s a great reminder about why you go to the movie theater, why you see a film at a festival and why the cinema is an experience that my colleagues and I work so hard to create for both the audience and the filmmaker. Netflix is an impressive side of the film industry, but as League says, it is not cinema.

Tim League Refutes Netflix’s Reed Hastings On Movie Theater Innovation

The founder of the Alamo Drafthouse has some issues with Netflix’s Hastings saying that the movie business hasn’t innovated in the last 30 years.

Netflix. It seems like every other interview I give asks me about the “threat” of Netflix. I’ll be blunt. Netflix doesn’t concern me, and I think it is obvious after last week that the cinema industry is of no concern to Netflix either.

We are in very different businesses.

Let me define those businesses.

Netflix is in the business of growing a global customer base by being the best value proposition subscription content platform.

And they are doing a great job. Their portal is stable, intuitive, cheap and delivers plenty of great, new content every month. They also provide a fantastic financial opportunity for both emerging and veteran storytellers. I stand in awe of the audience they have built and the wealth they have amassed in such a short time.

But here’s my business: Cinema. Cinemas are in the business of offering an incredible, immersive experience that you simply cannot duplicate at home. Our job is to put on a show and provide a great value proposition for getting out of the house, turning off your phone and enjoying great stories in the best possible environment. At our best, cinemas should also be local community centers with a real, tangible relationship to their surrounding neighborhood.

Last week, Reed Hastings once again dumped on my industry. He summarized the innovation of cinema in the past 30 years by saying, “Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it.” While our industry has not shown the vision and truly game-changing innovation of Netflix, Hastings’ antagonistic approach to cinema inadvertently exposes an underlying disrespect to the creators and auteurs that drive this entire machine.

Our best and most talented, passionate filmmakers vehemently do not want their films to be viewed first and foremost on a phone, on the train to work, while checking email, while chopping vegetables for the evening meal, on mute with subtitles while rocking a baby to sleep, or while dozing off before bed. The reality is, most Netflix content is being “consumed” in a less-than-ideal environment.

Great filmmakers create content to share their fully realized creations in a cinema with full, rich sound; bright, crisp picture and a respectful audience whose full attention is on the screen. And because of that, when courting filmmakers young and old to create content for their platform, I wish Netflix would consider the relationship with cinemas built by Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and Epix.

They all believe in cinemas as meaningful partners. They also respect those filmmakers who want meaningful theatrical engagements for their films. They believe in the promotional partnership that successful theatrical engagements can give to word of mouth, awards consideration, brand loyalty and ultimately maximized financial returns.

Amazon, for example, will be at CinemaCon next week building and strengthening their relationship with cinemas instead of tearing it down the week before.

I got into this business because I love movies. I hold the cinematic experience to be sacred, wonderful and these days even therapeutic.  I love the shared communal experience and the charged conversations I have after watching a movie in a cinema. I want to forge relationships with companies who truly love movies, too.

I do not believe that cinemas are owed or grandfathered into an exclusive window before movies are offered ostensibly for free on platforms such as Netflix. I contend that cinemas have earned, and must continue to earn, an exclusive window by providing the experience that directors desire as well as providing a significant financial benefit to producers and financiers.

To close, I’ll offer my flippant counter, as I was asked specifically to respond to Hastings’ remarks of last week. Until a meaningful relationship is forged with cinemas, Netflix is not making “movies.” They are instead funding exclusive-access commodities that help grow their subscriber base.

In “Lost in America,” Albert Brooks told his wife, after she lost their entire savings at the roulette wheel in Vegas, that she no longer had the right to use the term nest egg.

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Don’t use the word ‘nest egg’. You may not use that word. It’s off limits to you! Only those in this house who understand nest egg may use it! And don’t use any part of it, either. Don’t use ‘nest.’ Don’t use ‘egg.’ You’re out in the forest you can point, ‘The bird lives in a round stick.’ And you have ‘things’ over easy with toast!”

I, for one, would welcome the dialogue to forge a meaningful partnership for theatrical exhibition and promotion of select Netflix productions, but until we have that, I consider the term “movie” to be their “nest egg.”

But even as I pen this probably unjustifiably snarky retort, I will acknowledge some underlying truth to Reed Hastings’ words. We do, as an industry, need to invest in innovation. Cinema’s primary threat today is not Netflix; it is ourselves. We must continue to maintain high exhibition standards, invest in new sound and picture technology, improve the digital experience for our guests, develop innovative ways to delight our guests and ensure that we live up to our one job – make going to the cinema an amazing experience.

If we do that, we should be able to look back on another thirty years of limited innovation to our core product and say, “Job well done, we didn’t screw up what has always been and remains great about the cinema: the show itself.”

What do you think of his comments? Let me know in the comments!

That’s a wrap: Sundance Film Festival 2017

The Sundance Film Festival officially wrapped yesterday (though for many industry folks traveling, they left after Tuesday or Wednesday of last week). This year’s festival will be memorable for many reasons, but not all good ones. This Sundance included a blizzard (great for skiers, awful for pedestrians and traffic), a cyber attack on the box office, power outage at a venue, a march on Main Street and Netflix/Amazon flexing its purchasing power en force. The festival has been growing for years. Beyond the film program, the “extras” of the festival continue to grow. The ski town bursts at the seams during the first five days. As one film critic writes (and others have commented on in the past), maybe the festival should go on a diet.

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When attending a house party at Sundance, please take off your boots.

What interests me most, however, is how many films Netflix picked up at the festival this year. They came into Sundance with major purchasing power. I don’t remember when a distributor has had that much cash to throw at films. In the past, a distributor like Fox Searchlight may have picked up one or even two films above $8 million. But then, beyond purchasing an additional film with a smaller price tag, that would be it. As of writing this post, Netflix has purchased eleven films and Amazon has purchased five out of Sundance (list below). Two years ago, Sundance films were not easily selling to Netflix or Amazon. How quickly that environment has changed.

This situation is interesting for various reasons. From a film festival perspective, it means that many of the now-Netflix films will not be programmed on the circuit later. Based on my experience and talking with fellow festival programmers, festivals are not part of the strategy for a distributor like Netflix*. It is much easier for their company to throw it up on their streaming platform and build word of mouth that way. Everything is done in-house and costs to distribute are low (no need to make several DCPs for theaters). These films could stream for six or eight weeks and then be pulled down. Audiences may not be able to find them easily later. It will be at the discretion of the streaming platform. Festivals may miss out on programming quality films, which may hurt their bottom line – ranging from ticket sales, press impressions and thus sponsorships (that are dependent on the “success” from the previous two elements).

(*In the past Amazon Studios has partnered with traditional distributors for theatrical releases of films in addition to streaming, whereas Netflix has not typically done this.)

It seems this trend will only continue, which makes me wonder what will happen to the industry that attends Sundance. Will less industry attend if they think they can not competitively purchase or showcase a film? The expenses to attend Sundance are very expense, especially for a non-profit festival. If films are being picked up by a distributor that cuts out festival runs…then you could see how that budget line could quickly be cut.

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Main Street is quiet on the opening night of Sundance 2017.

The smaller distributors that don’t have this kind of cash for a buying offer are going to have to get creative. These streaming companies are driving up prices. While I don’t think distributors will stop looking for films all together at Sundance, I wonder: will this open an opportunity for another festival(s) to court distributors and create another market festival? SXSW doesn’t have an industry office to handhold the agents and buyers, so many industry folks are frustrated when attending it. Tribeca doesn’t court most Angelenos and mostly serves their native-New York industry. Does this allow for another regional festival to step up to the next level?

The festival and distributor’s world is a delicate ecosystem for films (as several people discussed last week at Art House Convergence), so this trend will definitely have an effect. The question is how. What do you think?

As of 1/29, here is a list of Netflix and Amazon’s purchases at Sundance (gathered from as many different press releases as I could find):

NETFLIX
To the Bone (worldwide rights, $8 million)
Joshua: Teenager Vs Superpower (worldwide rights, “low seven-figure range”)
The Incredible Jessica James (worldwide rights, $2.5 million)
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press (worldwide rights, $2 million)
Casting JonBenet (worldwide rights)
Chasing Coral
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
Icarus (worldwide rights, $5 million)
Fun Mom Dinner (streaming rights, partner with Momentum Pictures, $5M)
Berlin Syndrome (streaming rights)
Mudbound (US and other select rights, $12.5 million) *largest acquisition at Sundance 2017

AMAZON STUDIOS
City of Ghosts (worldwide, more than $2 million)
Crown Heights (worldwide, $2 million)
The Big Sick ($12 million)
Long Strange Trip ($6 million)
Landline (US rights, $3 million)

 

Sunday Mornings

It feels like winter in Southern California. That is, this is the most wintery-winter I’ve ever experienced in LA. Plenty of rain and cool nights. It made me realize I’ve only ever lived in California during this several-years-long drought. I’m enjoying the rainy weather, mostly because I’m staying inside binging on hours of film submissions (and hot ginger tea).

Tomorrow I’m making my annual pilgrimage to the mountains of Utah, where there is real winter with snow and below freezing temperatures. Not my strong suit, but I’ll survive. With the aid of hot beverages and several cozy layers.

And now a few long reads and highlights from the world-wide web:

  • I’m team Moonlight. The background behind the story and the film is almost as beautiful as the film itself.
  • For those of you who can’t get enough of LA LA Land, you’ll enjoy this location map. Mia’s commute would suuuuck.
  • I’ve had “That Is Not What I Meant At All Face” on more than one occasion. And a few of the others, like “I Need a Cheeseburger and Possibly Two Face”.
  • Still missing Davie Bowie. A fun read: Stage Oddity: The Story of David Bowie’s Secret Final Project.
  • I’ve never been to Coachella, but I find the mix of money, politics and music fascinating. Waking Up to Coachella’s Conservative Tinge
  • And discuss: How Netflix is Deepening Our Cultural Echo Chambers
  • E and I went down memory lane recently and played The Oregon Trail while listening to ’90s music. Talk about a wild stay-at-home date night!
  • Mark your calendars: May 21. Guess this means we’ll be getting Showtime…
  • Most people have a general understanding of how a film is edited, but have you ever thought about an editor’s role on an animated film?
  • After attending advertising classes in SMU’s Temerlin Advertising Institute, I was fortunate to start my film programming career with the launch of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival (now known as Dallas International Film Festival). The festival came together in due part to the work of legendary Dallasite and the festival’s co-founder, Liener Temerlin. Thinking of those early days with his frequent office visits and a particular opening night when he walked to the back of the theater to discuss with the staff how to get a long-winded Mickey Rooney off the stage. Thanks for your leadership and civic service, Mr. Temerlin. Rest in peace.

I hope your Sunday is filled with something warm and bright. Be kind. Treat yourself. May be a rough week ahead.

Sunday Mornings

Good morning and hello 2017!

At the last-minute (like 10 hours beforehand last minute) E and I invited a few friends over to ring in the new year. A furry of post-travel-cleaning plus a trip to a crowded grocery store followed, but we made it happen. We needed paper crowns too. I’m a sucker for crafting.

This morning we’re celebrating with carbs and coffee. A breakfast feast of biscuits, bacon and eggs. One of E’s Christmas gifts from me was a waffle maker, so we’re skipping the usual Southern style New Years dinner (cabbage, black-eyed peas) and instead cooking (oven) fried chicken and waffles. It pairs well with champagne and will bring a different kind of luck.

Holidays are great, but I’m spent. My first day of 2017 will be one of reflection and rest. And probably some Netflix, let’s be real.

And now, slices of the internet for your hung over enjoyment:

Cheers to the new year!
2017, we’re ready for you.

Gift Guide for the Movie Lover

Earlier this week I shared some of my favorite gift ideas for the foodie in your life. Today, I’m back with ideas for your favorite movie lover.

For this particular list, I’ve included a few “experience” gifts. I think those are often the most fun to give to someone because it creates memories and stories to share later. Here’s a few ideas to help you find the perfect gift:

A membership or gift certificate to a local arthouse cinema. You may have heard a particular theater name dropped by your movie fan before, but in case you need a little help finding that arthouse theater check out the lists here or here. This is a great stocking stuffer!

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Castro Theatre, San Francisco

A next level gift to effect is buying a pass to a film festival they’ve always wanted to attend (or the flight that will help them get there). Sundance may be too hard to organize this late in the year (typically finding a place in Park City is difficult by mid-December), but there are several great regional festivals in the spring, summer or fall that are options too. Granted this particular gift may include a discussion before you buy a flight or pass for someone, but I promise this get-a-way trip will be an experience they won’t soon forget!

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SIFF Cinema Uptown, Seattle

A membership to a local film society. There’s not a full organized list online, so your best bet is to google the person’s city plus “film society” or “film festival”. That should help you find the non-profit in that area that has a mission to promote film and art. (If you need help finding a good one, email me.) This is a gift that’s both fun and feel-good. Many of these non-profit orgs do specials around the holidays for just such gifts!

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The Graduate (1967)

Blu-rays are always an option, but the trick is picking the right film. It’s all a matter of knowing taste, both yours a gift giver and theirs as a gift receiver. I think you can never go wrong with gifting a few classics like Casablanca,  Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, or the James Bond collection.

An alternative to the blu-ray: a gift card for streaming service through iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, HBOGo, SundanceNow (for the doc fans) or TCM/Criterion’s FilmStruck. Films are increasingly moving to these online services, so while it’s not the most fun gift to open it’s the reality of how most people are watching their movies.

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Napoleon Dynamite poster, Etsy

Film art and posters! The options here are endless. You could go with something classic like Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment. Or try something a little different, like a minimalist original design. Mondo is one of the more famous stores for this, but you can also find an assortment on Etsy: Ghostbusters, Funny FaceHarry Potter, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Napoleon Dynamite. Or even a “badly drawn” portrait of Orson Welles for that Citizen Kane fan!

Apple TV. We received this as a gift last year and it has been used far more than our blu-ray player ever since. The Amazon Fire is a decent alternative (though we rarely use the one I received for work). For someone that streams movies through Amazon over iTunes, it may be the one to get.

What have been your favorite movie gifts of the past?  What are you getting your movie lover this year? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell them!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Good luck with your holiday shopping!

Menus & Movie Queues

I love cooking, but often dread trying to think of what’s for dinner. Does that happen to you too? It sometimes takes me an hour to think through all my options and consider what my body craves. It tends to be something in the Southern or Mexican palate. And there’s typically a desire for carbs and/or red meat. Plus figuring out the matching vegetable side that I know should be more than the carb or protein. I also like to change it up – how boring to have the same 4 meals in rotation when there’s time to cook. Then it becomes going down the rabbit hole of food blogs. The choice to cook whatever I want is both a luxury and a curse. (I understand even a small complaint about this is beyond a first world problem.)

Here’s the thing: too many options causes decision paralysis for me. The struggle is real. I must feel out all the flavors before I even make it into the grocery store or we’re doomed.

The same is true for picking a movie.

As a fest programmer, there are days when I am watching 20 shorts or three to five documentary features in day (or a mix of both). At the end of the night, when most people come home from work to unwind by watching TV or a movie with little care, I am the opposite. When I’m in heavy screening mode, I am extremely particular in how I chose my “screen time”, as my husband can attest. This is precious, personal time we’re talking about. Two hours where I don’t necessarily have to have my brain “on” to critique or consider each piece of production value or whether the story has a loop-hole (or worse yet, if a story even exists). So even then, the options are endless. I hate that it takes so long to make a choice, but it seems I’m not the only one that is wasting away time on this act.

Let me set the scene for you:

After cooking a delightful meal with my husband, we discuss what the evening has in store as we settle into our living room.

“Do you want to watch something?” he asks, because while E works in film and has his own share of screen time during the day, it’s often watching the same thing over and over again (the task of an editor).

“Sure. Is it my night (to pick) or yours?” I reply.

“It’s yours. Think you can pick something in the next five minutes?” says E.

“…hmm… yes?” Though we both know this is probably not true.

There I am, scrolling through the Netflix app, the iTunes app, and scanning our perfectly organized collection of physical movies. I think. And ponder. And think.

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If we’re currently in the middle of a TV series, that often is the easiest choice. If we are not, the situation is more complicated. Something new? Something old? New to me? Or an old-tried-and-true?

Drama? Noir? Action? Documentary. No probably not – too much like work.

Comedy. After watching so many real-life stories of human right struggles, conflicts or the issues of the world, comedy often restores my film energy.

Ok, comedy. Romantic? Screwball? Classic? 80s?

“How’s it coming?” E says.

“…Debating between two” I lie.

The standards run though my head: Clueless? Mean Girls? The Apartment? Raising Arizona? Office Space? Animal House? The Blues Brothers? Some Like It Hot? Ghostbusters? Anchor Man? On the scale of “how many bad movies did I already watch today and do I need Paul Rudd in my life”? I know that any of these choices will likely make E roll his eyes (out of love of course), but it’s my night to pick after all. He can watch Gosford Park another night.

“Ok, I got it.” I perk up.

“Great! What are we watching?” E asks.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid… Or The Sting…. ” I reply, surprising myself a little by my sudden half-decision.

E smiles. I let him pick from there because either way I get what my gut wants: Redford and Newman in their prime.

Please tell me I’m not the only one that has choice paralysis when it comes to food and movies. What’s your go to genre to watch or meal to eat after a long day? Let me know in the comments!