Out of all the film studios out there, it’s hard to narrow down a “best.” Warner Bros. certainly has a place. Universal, naturally. Even Lionsgate isn’t so far off, and it hasn’t been around near so long. A recent interview with Netflix film head Scott Stuber, meanwhile, suggests they should all watch out: Netflix aims to be the best film studio there is.
That’s Stuber’s goal, according to the interview he gave to TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman.
Stuber knew going in the project would be a tall order. There was very little to work with; no real IP the company could call its own, and no catalog of titles to build on. So what could it actually do to start making itself known as a studio?
It did about all that it could do: start making movies. And did it ever; Netflix now makes about 80 movies a year for the United States alone, and has been increasingly moving to bring its content to theaters in something of a turnaround from expectations. Normally we see theatrical releases going to streaming, not streaming releases going theatrical.
The results already have been impressive. Netflix has had decent showings at Academy Awards time; the latest round saw Netflix land seven Oscars in one night, which doubled its total score so far. This is on top of the record-breaking Emmy streak it brought in recently.
Despite these wins, Stuber is under no illusions about the sheer breadth of competition arrayed against his studio/streaming platform. Established greats are increasingly looking to streaming as a way to preserve earnings in the face of hesitant theatergoers staying out of theaters, not to mention occasional government closures. A string of upstarts are also getting in the picture as streaming video desperately needs original content and often turns to movies to do the job. Stuber’s answer is to focus on “greatness”. With so much product coming out, mediocrity will go largely unnoticed, Stuber asserts, and being “great”—no matter how much content is released—is the only way to attract notice.
Stuber has a point here, of course, but it only goes so far. “Great” content is only “great” by its sheer distinctiveness. If a studio’s strategy is to make every movie it releases “great,” it will likely fail. Quality is a relative measure; getting any two people to agree on a “great” movie will be a challenge in and of itself. Even if a studio were capable of reliably producing “great” movies, that same quality will eventually spoil. When “great” movies become routine, “great” becomes the new “mediocre” by necessity. Greatness cannot be table stakes.
Still, by aspiring to greatness with every movie, that does build goodwill on the part of viewers. I personally have a fondness for horror released by IFC; they’ve done a lot of exciting pieces in the past, and I know I’m more likely than not to see a good one whenever they release a new title. They’re not all great. IFC has dropped the ball a time or two. But establishing that reputation for quality work is worth doing. As much as my ears perk up to hear about a new IFC release, Netflix is likely seeking to do that with its own releases. Shooting for greatness may sound like a facile response to a serious problem, but it might be the best option Netflix has right now.