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Industry Debates Theatrical Distribution vs. Netflix Amid Academy Rule Change Speculation

Reports that Steven Spielberg will be proposing a rule change at the next Academy meeting that will make it more difficult for Netflix films to compete at the Oscars has sparked debate online among the film community, with several arguing in favor of Netflix or pointing out that the situation is more complicated than theatrical release versus streaming.

Sean Baker, “Tangerine” and “The Florida Project” director, suggested that Netflix add a “theatrical tier” to its pricing plans.

“This would help keep theater owners and audience members who appreciate the theatrical experience satisfied,” he wrote on Twitter. “Just an idea with no details ironed out. But we need to find solutions like this in which everybody bends a bit in order to keep the film community…alive and kicking.”

The Safdie brothers, who directed festival favorite “Good Time,” wrote that “the harsh reality is that on average 80% [of] every movie’s life audience experiences it on video…doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to protect the awe inspiring, human-assuring, peace-inducing, collective experience of theatrical film watching.”

Film and TV director Richard Shepard wrote that “good movies r good movies-Wherever they play. And in a world where we have more Jurassic Parks then Shirkers Netflix fills a gap. Love the big screen, but love the story/heart of movie more.”

The Blacklist founder Franklin Leonard added that what matters isn’t what would happen to Netflix, but to “every other film and filmmaker who will struggle to get access to the resources necessary to make a film but not get those allowing for a four week exclusive theatrical release.”

“First Reformed” writer-director Paul Schrader emphasized that “distribution models evolve” and pointed out that “Netflix allows many financially marginal films to have a platform and that’s a good thing.” The director did, however, add that some films are too esoteric to benefit from being added to Netflix’s “larder,” using “First Reformed” as an example. He finished with a new suggestion: “For club cinemas (Alamo Draft House, Metrograph, Burns Center, Film Forum) to form an alliance with a two tiered streaming system (first tier: Criterion/Mubi, second tier: Netflix/Amazon).Distribution models are in flux. It’s not as simple as theatrical versus streaming.”

“Dream Girl” associate producer Prasanna Ranganathan posted a thread explaining that Netflix has gone the distance in terms of giving distribution to projects from people of color and other marginalized groups. “If the Academy’s commitment to diversity and inclusion as articulated in its A2020 strategy is as robust as it seems, excluding Netflix and its diverse artists, storytellers & filmmakers from awards consideration makes no sense.”

“Jinn” director Nijla Mumin wrote that “no one is lining up to give you a full theatrical release. Smaller films are often put into smaller theaters, where many people don’t see them.” In her thread, she questioned whether a film’s inability to find wide theatrical distribution should mean it is “erased from the entire awards conversation.”

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