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Cannes: Netflix’s Ted Sarandos on Upending the Movie Business

On Friday afternoon at the Cannes Film Festival, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos offered his vision for breaking into the film industry.

Sarandos spoke about how Netflix is making an aggressive push in the feature film business, with as many as five or six projects on the horizon, including “Ridiculous 8,” starring Adam Sandler; Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” (acquired for $12 million earlier this year); and the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

He said the budgets for many of these films are large — in the mid-$10 million to $50 million range. Some of Netflix’s productions, such as the Sandler movie, won’t be released in theaters, Sarandos explained.

But others will receive a theatrical release, although he didn’t go into specifics.

“Nothing we are saying or doing is meant to be anti-theater or anti-cinema,” said Sarandos. “I think it competes beautifully on its own.”

He added that the movie industry would benefit from a model where films were released in theaters and on home-viewing platforms on the same day, an idea that theater owners vehemently oppose. “I think movies will be more profitable if consumers had more choice,” Sarandos said, adding that although cinemas might lose a little, “in total the movie business will be bigger.”

Addressing an industry audience at the Cannes Film Market’s NEXT program — its new future of cinema forum — Sarandos said that his favorite film of last year was “Whiplash,” which he watched on his TV at home. But he noted that many directors grow up with the dream of playing their films on the bigscreen. “It’s really on us to make movies that are so great, theater owners will also book them even though they are on Netflix.”

Netflix acquires films at festivals (it landed the relationship drama “6 Years” at SXSW) and also works with agencies on finding new talent and scripts. “We try to guide with a light touch,” he said of working with directors and producers. “We’re not looking to impose our view.” If the director and Netflix disagree about an element of a story, the director wins, Sarandos said.

Netflix upended the TV world with its original series like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Sarnados said that when Netflix launched in 1997, 90% of the content viewed on the service was movies. Now it’s only 33%, with TV series making up two-thirds of what people watch on Netflix.

But Netflix famously doesn’t release its ratings. “The ratings system on television is very bad for television,” he said, adding that HBO “should have never” released ratings for its programming.

A tense moment took place during the Q&A, when a member in the audience told Sarandos that in five years, Netflix would destroy the movie ecosystem in Europe. As Sarandos tried to deflate these concerns, he found an ally in Harvey Weinstein, who was sitting in the front row. “They’re visionaries,” Weinstein got up and told the audience. “They also love movies.”

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