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Ted Sarandos on Netflix’s Strategy for Original Movies, Adam Sandler’s ‘Ridiculous 6’

Just how much is Netflix going to shake up the movie business? Before the release of Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” on Oct. 16, the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos outlined his vision.

How many movies will Netflix release a year?
There’s no particular target. We’ve got a half dozen movies right now in various states of production.

Does box office matter?
No.

Why release your films in theaters at all?
Consumer choice. I’m not trying to prevent people from seeing a movie in a theater if they want to go out on a Friday night. But that’s not up to me. That’s up to theater owners.

Adam Sandler’s “The Ridiculous 6” will premiere only on Netflix this December.
That was the desire of Adam when we sat down to do this. Adam believes his audience is mostly at home and he’s probably right. But it’s a challenge, because Adam’s films do incredibly well internationally in theaters. They do very well in the U.S. as well. It’s not like Adam is no longer making theatrical movies. He just wanted this movie to go day-and-date with Netflix, and the theater owners didn’t respond to booking it.

Did you reach out to theater owners about it?
They reached out to us first in the print and said they aren’t booking the movie. They made it very clear. I wasn’t going to go to war with them to book the movie. I think they’ll regret it. “Ridiculous 6” is every bit as funny as every Adam Sandler movie ever produced and probably the best-looking film he’s made in a decade.

Why is it so good looking?
The production value of the movie is very high. I think people are going to be very impressed.

There’s typically a 90-day window between a film’s theatrical release and home-platform debut. Do you think that will change?
I think so. When a consumer is telling you what you want and you don’t listen, you’re going to be out of business. I think consumers are saying they would like the option of watching movies at home.

How long before the windows change?
You have to have really great movies and a willingness to stick to it and say, “Book the movies or don’t book the movies, but this is the release date on Netflix.” And eventually, people will come along and say, “Wow, sometimes the better movie is on Netflix.” But you have to have a real diverse slate of films.

Do you think Amazon Studios’ decision to produce original content will also make a difference?
I don’t know that much about what they are doing. It sounds to me like it’s a traditional indie distribution model.

What was your reaction to seeing “Beasts of No Nation” before you acquired the film for $12 million?
I was blown away. The style of the film — Cary’s direction — was innovative. It took a topic where the camera would turn away and dealt with it straight on. You had these incredible performances from the young actors, particularly Abraham Attah [who plays the star Agu].

What appealed to you about the story?
I think there’s been a lot of talk about child soldiers and the experience of child soldiers. I’ve never seen any film from the perspective of the child soldier. It very much put me in the mind of the chaos of “Apocalypse Now.” The performances blew me away.

How did you convince the producers to sell the movie to Netflix?
It was two-fold. First, it was the ability to bring an audience to the film from around the world. Second, I think it’s a better economic model for the producers — particularly for films that are marketing-challenged. The way people would typically rise to the challenge is to spend more on marketing. All of that money gets recouped by the distributor and never flows through to the producers. In this case, what happens is a rare financial win for the producer.

Cary wanted the movie to play in theaters. Do you think the next generation of directors will even care if their movie is debuting on the bigscreen?
I think a lot of times, the film is conceived to be seen on a bigscreen with an audience and maybe that’s the case with Cary on this film. But for the most part, even those guys — even Cary — sees most of his movies at home. When you talk to any director about the movies that inspire them, they saw them on VHS tapes as young men. I think when people say they want their movies to be in a theater, what they mean is they want their movies to matter, they want their movies to be in the culture. One thing that Netflix movies will do differently than direct-to-video movies is they will be in the culture. These movies will matter.

Is it important to you if people watch “Beasts of No Nation” on Netflix on the day it premieres?
No. I think people will be discovering this movie for years, like every great film and TV series on Netflix.

Do you ever watch movies in a theater?
Very frequently. I love it.

What was the last movie you saw in a theater?
“Jurassic World” at the iPic Theaters in Westwood.

Netflix is launching an Oscars campaign for “Beasts.” Do you think voters might reject the film because it’s from Netflix?
I don’t know, to be honest with you. We’ve had two Oscar campaigns for best documentary feature — for “The Square” and “Virunga.” I think the same way the Television Academy wanted to keep up with audiences, the Motion Picture Academy does, too.

Two years ago, you probably wouldn’t have been able to acquire a movie starring Brad Pitt (“The War Machine”) or Adam Sandler. What changed?
People are seeing it’s a credible distribution option. People are saying, “My favorite TV show is on Netflix.”

At the same time, Netflix still depends on studios for content.
Yeah, none of these things are in conflict with one another. I believe what we are doing is incredibly pro-movie. Today, for the most part, television is displacing movies in the culture. I think that’s because there is so much access to the shows people are talking about, and television is better distributed. What we want to do is make great movies. It’s going to grow the movie revenue model. I don’t know if theater owners will command the same percentage of the business that they always have, but it’s going to be a bigger business.

And you’re not going to sell as much popcorn.
That’s not our business. We only sell one thing: Netflix subscriptions.

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