How Scott Stuber Plans to Make Netflix The ‘Best Film Studio in the World’

TheGrill 2021: “We were going to have to build a film studio and prove ourselves — I wasn’t inheriting a legacy studio,” Stuber tells TheWrap

Netflix’s film chief Scott Stuber has a goal: to make the streamer the “best film studio in the world.”

“I came here with the recognition that I was starting at the bottom, that we are in last place, meaning that in the film industry, we were going to have to build a film studio and prove ourselves — I wasn’t inheriting a legacy studio, I wasn’t taking over Paramount or Warner Bros.,” Stuber told TheWrap’s editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman during TheWrap’s TheGrill conference.

“We have no library, we have no IP, what are we going to do to define ourselves?” He continued. “This has always been a long term plan for me. How do we get to the place where everyone at some point in the next five years goes, ‘That’s the best film studio in the world?’ And that’s something we’re trying to do.”

Stuber joined Netflix in early 2017 when big Hollywood filmmakers were resisting having their movies shown on the small screen. But since then, Netflix has led the shift towards streaming and makes 80 films for the United States alone a year, and has even had limited release runs for some of its films in theaters, leading to multiple Oscar nominations and wins.

In fact, Stuber now says the company’s “negative” stance on the traditional theatrical distribution method has been widely misunderstood and “misreported,” and committed to releasing more of the streamer’s upcoming slate in theaters.

“I think it’s been misreported how negative this company has been about the theatrical and it never was that — what Reed [Hastings] figured out very quickly was the relationship with the audience and the relationship with the consumer, and I think what we’ve done as a company is recognize that the consumer is financing our movies,” Stuber said. “At the end of the day, they are the financier. So we have to find a model that they’re expecting to get that film as soon as it’s released… ‘Roma’ got three weeks, ‘The Irishman’ got five weeks, ‘Marriage Story’… so we’ve been much more dynamic than people think. We were just not completely fitting within the three-month window, which is a very difficult window.”

When asked about how many of their 80 domestic films a year he plans to release in theaters, Stuber said, “It’s not a number, it’s about what is worthy — what makes sense for us. All of them — ‘The Hand of God, ‘The Power of the Dog,’ ‘The Harder They Fall,’ Red Notice,’ is going in theaters. We’re working through it. We’ve had it for the last three years and we’re going to continue it. We’re having the same conversations as everyone.” 

In fact, Stuber emphasized the importance of keeping the theatrical experience alive, especially after almost 20 months of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down movie theaters. Netflix had for years fought the exhibition industry over day-and-date releases (when a film is put out simultaneously in theaters and on streaming), which have largely kept the streaming juggernaut’s films out of most theater chains. But, Stuber said, the company has collaborated with theater chains like Cinemark to bring Netflix films to the big screen.

Oscar contenders like “The Irishman” get short, two-week runs in a scattering of theaters in New York and Los Angeles as a way to make them eligible for Academy Awards (that rule has been obviously relaxed for this year’s awards, as most theaters remained closed during the pandemic). Stuber told Waxman that for “Red Notice” — an action movie starring Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnson — for example, they are looking at a release in 600-800 theaters, although details are still being worked out.

“We all love the communal experience … those are things you can’t replicate,” he said. “I think the human experience is always finding those moments. The theatrical experience is a great presentation of film — the sound, the design, everything that the filmmaker wants… the movie going experience is innate in culture. I think things are changing, but if something matters to a 14 to 15 year old, they are gonna run out and see it with their friends. And I think its incumbent on all of us to make movies like that.”  

Still, Stuber recognized that more and more competitors are emerging in our landscape, with Apple TV+, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon, Paramount+ and many more of the like constantly popping up. But he didn’t sound discouraged, so long as all these companies continue to put out great content for the ever-evolving consumer.

“You recognize ‘great’ is everything now,” he explained. “If you’re making eight or 80 films, you have to make them great…. There is a lot of choices for the consumer, technology has opened the opportunities, but ‘great’ is what’s working. The obligation is to make great things.”

Netflix’s upcoming films include Jake Gyllenhaal’s “The Guilty,” Rebecca Hall’s “Passing,” Dwayne Johnson’s “Red Notice,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Tick, Tick… Boom!” Halle Berry’s “Bruised,” Jeymes Samuel’s “The Harder They Fall” and Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio.

To watch the full conversation with Scott Stuber, click here.

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