Spielberg v Netflix: Dawn of Oscars

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Story by Alex Britti ’19

There’s nothing like the excitement that comes from the lights dimming in a movie theater. After 20 minutes of trailers, some enjoyable and others atrocious, the theater grows quiet in anticipation waiting for the feature they paid 13 dollars to start playing on the big screen. Regardless of what movie you’re seeing and whether it’s any good or not, there’s an experience that comes from seeing movies in the theater. But ever since the rise of the streaming service giants, more and more people have been opting to watch movies from the comfort of their own home.

When Netflix launched its streaming service in 2007 it was originally intended to beat out its competitors in the DVD rental game. Netflix managed to knock Blockbuster completely out of the competition, essentially killing the DVD rental market.

Jumping forward 12 years later Netflix has now taken the movie industry by storm. Roma, a film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, took home two Oscars for the streaming giant at the 2019 award ceremony. Caurón, who had previously won Oscars for his 2014 film Gravity, is one of the many high profile directors to be working with Netflix in making original movies. Other directors such as Zack Synder and Martin Scorsese have also signed on with Netflix to produce high budget movies, with Scorsese’s Oscar hopeful, The Irishman, releasing later this year.

While some are rejoicing that high-quality original movies stretching across multiple genres are being released to an affordable and convenient streaming service, many people have raised concerns that it may kill the theater-going experience.

The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences is very concerned about the loss of the theatre-going experience. One of the Academy’s chief members, Steven Spielberg, raised his concerns that Netflix and Hulu could destroy the movie-going experience.

Spielberg is partly justified in these claims. After all, he did invent the blockbuster with his 1975 film Jaws so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about the movie-going experience and doesn’t want to see it die out anytime soon.

While one can point to movies like Avengers: Endgame making 1.2 billion dollars in its opening weekend and say that people going to theaters won’t die anytime soon it be just as easily refuted by a study showing 46% of Americans didn’t see a single movie in theaters in the month of February (Statista.com). While that may be attributed to a lack of quality movies being released that month it still shows a huge difference between almost everyone and their aunt going to see a movie (for movies like Avengers: Endgame) and almost nobody going to see a movie (for the month of February.

n order to help save the theater-going experience, Spielberg proposed a new rule to the Academy: a movie could only be considered for Oscar recognition if it had an exclusive theater run of four weeks. If the Academy was to accept this they wouldn’t be the first to try to outlaw streaming services from their awards ceremonies. The Cannes film festival, one of Europe’s most prestigious film festivals held every year in France, banned Netflix in 2018 from submitting any films. Funnily enough, the Cannes festival also banned selfies on the red carpet.

It appears that many people in the academy and the film industry are kind of okay with this. If the Oscars only allowed films that had a four-week theater run not much would change besides Netflix being forced to show their films for four weeks before releasing it to the masses on their service. However, this proposed rule could bring death to many hopeful indie films looking for a nomination.

Independent films have always struggled to find their footing when it comes to award ceremonies. These films are made usually for small budgets and the filmmakers behind them don’t have as many connections as behemoth directors like Spielberg or Scorsese. So when award season comes around and they’re looking for their films to gain some recognition, they only get steamrolled over by the massive studios pumping out films for the Oscars.

Adding a rule requiring any film submitted to be in theaters for four weeks can end up hurting many independent films as few are even able to get theatrical releases for a little over two weeks.

I don’t think Netflix is something that the film industry should fear. While streaming services may be accounting for lower theater attendance, it also acts as a way to empower filmmakers. Streaming services breathe new life into independent films allowing them to be widely accessible. Most filmmakers start from humble beginnings with their first film being independently produced and in most cases, not a huge success. If the Academy forgets it’s beginning and shoots itself in the foot shunning multiple independent films to try to stop streaming services from making high-quality original films, it won’t help anybody. Instead, that action might bring about the death of the theater-going experience, because they forgot to look out for little films making the biggest difference.