Netflix Original Films head Scott Stuber, a dogged producer who grew up in the studio system, has spent the bulk of his three years at the streamer barreling toward one goal — amass enough unseen features to give customers a new movie every week.
That came to pass on Tuesday, as Netflix announced a staggering 71 titles for 2021 — a smattering of genres and ample star power, boasting names like Dwayne Johnson, Zendaya, Amy Adams, Chris Hemsworth, Melissa McCarthy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Variety spoke with the executive about Netflix’s enviable position in a pandemic-plagued movie landscape, protecting the romantic comedy, and scooping up films from his competitors.
How did the film group get to a “new movies every week” quota?
One of the interesting things you recognize when you’ve got a global audience is, you’re trying to assimilate and make the films that they love. I see very diverse taste around the world. One of the things we’re most proud of as a company is recognizing the romantic comedy, people love those in different variances but particularly in the YA space. It’s great to see “To All The Boys” and “Kissing Booth” come to their culmination this year. We also saw some really great success last year in the action genre with “The Old Guard” and “Extraction.”
When the audience Is there in so many different formats — we talked a lot about it back in my Universal days when DVD sales and the overall business was more vibrant — you could do a slate like this. I think about the excitement of making “A Beautiful Mind” and “Fast and Furious” at the same time. Audience taste is diverse and everyone wants something good.
We’re seeing some of your competitors, like Warner Bros. and HBO Max, have a rough go at prioritizing streaming and announcing their slates. Netflix has been at this for a while, and I don’t think anyone is fussing now about your talent deals and back-end buyouts.
Yes, three-and-a-half years later, after people said, ‘You’re crazy for going there,’ I feel pretty good about the decision and what we’ve been able to accomplish.
Before the pandemic, Netflix was still eager to win over movie theater owners and figure out theatrical distribution. Is that still the case?
None of us can predict what will happen with this pandemic, and things are shifting under our feet consistently. We’re waiting to see what the other side of this will be. The good news is, people still love story telling but we’ll all have to keep evolving. I think great things will happen in the film business over the next decade.
Some of these new titles for 2021 are big acquisitions, like Sony Pictures Animation’s “Wish Dragon.” Will you continue to buy studio product as theaters remain closed?
I think there’s going to be more opportunities and conversations based on the film’s we’ve already acquired from other studios, not just the festival circuit. When those opportunities arise, like they did with “The Woman in the Window’ and talent like Joe Wright and Amy Adams who we want to be in business with, we definitely want to look as they come. We’ve also acquired some other movies this year like Halle Berry’s directorial debut which I’m really excited about. There are a few acquisitions percolating.
Will you be active at Sundance and the other festivals, given they are largely virtual this year?
We’ve had good luck in the doc space at Sundance, it’s always a really important documentary festival. We went in last year and got “The Social Dilemma,” so I think the team will be active there and looking. Truth be told, we had a really good Toronto this year, there was a lot of interesting things we got into there. We’re all used to the unfortunate reality of the pandemic but we’ve found a rhythm on how to do business. The trick is, though, people being able to make things for next year’s market.
Speaking of which, where is Netflix at with production, given the recent shutdowns in California?
I give our company and leadership a ton of credit. We didn’t hesitate in terms of leaning into the cost and the safety, all the things that were necessary to bring people back. I’m very proud of us standing up, crew and cast and everyone else. It’s also tricky because it’s not necessarily the set you’re shooting on, it’s the city or the county, as we’ve seen in Los Angeles. You have to adapt and keep safety first.
What excites you most on this slate?
I’m excited for “Red Notice,” the scope and star power of that. I think Jennifer Garner’s “Yes Day” is a really terrific family movie and we’re committed to doing more live action family films. We’re really moving it around and looking at opportunities. We also have some incredible dramas, like with Jane Campion. I think Zack Snyder getting back into the zombie world where he and I started together back with “Dawn of the Dead” and bring it full circle with “Army of the Dead.”
The Chernin “Fear Street” trilogy is going to be an interesting cadence. We have three movies that are completed, and we can get those out relatively quickly. You never have a chance like that. The challenge of sequels is, “Does anyone want to do it?” In the last 15 years, the most interesting bet was when New Line went after the “Lord of the Rings” stuff in succession, and had the ability to have those films so quickly. To be able to get these films out as quickly will be fun.