Netflix’s move into the feature film world loomed large at the Produced By: New York conference Saturday as producers and actors struggled to determine if the streaming service represents an opportunity or a threat.
The company is upending old business models by releasing four Adam Sandler movies exclusively to subscribers without releasing them in theaters. It is also partnering with the Weinstein Company and Imax on a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that will debut simultaneously on Netflix and in theaters.
Most major theatrical releases adhere to a 90-day delay between when they hit multiplexes and their home entertainment debuts, but that window is eroding. Netflix isn’t the only player tinkering with tradition. Movies such as “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage” have opted to be released concurrently on demand and in theaters.
“I still think there’s a premium in comedy and in horror in having a kind of collective experience of a film,” said “Talented Mr. Ripley” producer William Horberg. “There’s a platform agnosticism as well.”
“I don’t think everything needs to be theatrical,” he added, noting that more producers are asking themselves today whether or not a project warrants theatrical distribution.
Sometimes going day-and-date on a particular project is an economic necessity, Jake Gyllenhaal noted during a talk at the conference. His twisty thriller “Enemy” might not have been made were it not for the additional revenue it received by premiering on iTunes and other platforms at the same time that it was screening in theaters.
“It’s specific based on the material and based on the release strategy,” he said.
However, Gyllenhaal stressed that higher profile films such as “Gone Girl” benefit from spacing out their theatrical release from their debut in homes.
“We live in a culture of convenience … patience is an amazing thing,” he said.
Horberg’s remarks came as he was moderating a panel with “Brokeback Mountain” producer and former Focus Features chief James Schamus. The indie film veteran argued that change is coming more slowly than it might appear.
“I don’t believe the windowing strategies are going to change any time soon in any major way,” he said.
Any time new technologies emerge or new ways of consuming entertainment grow more popular, people predict the end of movies, Schamus said. He noted that studios were initially hostile to the growth of videotapes and television was viewed as an existential threat to moviegoing. Today, they produce important revenue for films that make more money selling DVDs and television rights than they do filling theater seats.
“The best way to make sure cinema doesn’t matter is when you think about movies, the first thing you think of is do movies matter?” said Schamus.
Netflix, Google and other new media and technology players are shaking up the business in another way, he said. The data they collect on consumer behavior is increasingly prized by the people who write the checks that finance films.
“The river of money is flowing to the people with the algorithms … you’re not creating movies, you’re creating the occasion for increased surveillance and data points,” Schamus said.