March 4, 2019

'Taxi Driver' Screenwriter Paul Schrader Weighs in on the Netflix Debate

Things get a little more complicated.

Fresh off the awards circuit run for his deeply profound and aesthetically-driven First Reformed, director/screenwriter Paul Schrader, perhaps best known for his work on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, has recently returned to Facebook to drop numerous truth-bombs and elegant proclamations.

In the ongoing debate between Steven Spielberg and Netflix (i.e. theatrical vs streaming and the future of film distribution), Schrader has released an honest and contemplative response to the dispute. In it, he unveils some pretty personal behind-the-scenes information about the rights to his own work, and how First Reformed, itself an Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay, may not have received such attention were it not for being picked up by A24 rather than Netflix. 

Schrader's take on the Netflix debate can be read in full below:

Do you agree with Schrader? Do you "stand on the side" of Spielberg or Netflix? Schrader's response is the most thought-out we've seen and perhaps advocates for a merger between the two. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.      

Your Comment

7 Comments

I've literally never been in a theatre that didn't have industrial powered AC. Not ventilated? Where is he watching his films?! Sad to hear him shit on theatres like that. It's most definitely a theatre experience - by design. Movies are much better and enjoyable to watch with 200 other people. All laughing at the same joke, jumping at the same scare, or crying at the same scene. Don't kid yourself: watching a film on your TV is a lesser version of the movie, both for sound/visuals, and a group experience. Netflix is great for the last resting place for films (after a wide release), and perfect for TV series. It's a lot like the difference between being court side at an NBA game, and watching it stream on your phone.

March 4, 2019 at 12:53PM

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Josh Wolf
111

An interesting perspective. My argument as a black independent filmmaker that has a movie I shot and edited on Amazon, is that there is a lot less opportunity for me at the big studio level. I personally like having an option like Netflix that is more accepting of diverse storytelling. I agree the theatre is the best place to experience a film but as an artist all I care about is getting my work out.

March 4, 2019 at 1:57PM, Edited March 4, 2:14PM

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Ron Saunders Jr
Producer / Filmmaker
146

Josh...you totally missed the opening sentence .... it's about HOW cinema started ... not the current day, and the fact that it was started and was driven by exhibition economics. On another note... Netflix as well as Amazon Prime and Hulu et al ... have amazing content and it's just not possible to have all of it on the big screen...not enough of them, not to mention the time and money to go see all of the good stuff.. streaming is simply not "killing" cinema.. the numbers don't support that hypothesis ... and seriously who watches sports on their phone.... i'm guessing you are a millennial

March 4, 2019 at 4:27PM

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We need Theatrical Release and we need Netflix also.

Why some film makers hate Netflix ?

1. Netflix does not disclose its numbers like - How many people have watched the respective Documentary or a Film on Netflix ? At least with studio system we know how much a movie collected at the box-office ensuring the film makers get a backend if at all there is any. With Netflix it’s just a void.

2. Netflix pays pennies on the dollar for some good films and pays a huge amount for some crappy films. The genuine Film Maker is at loss always. Netflix does not disclose their viewing numbers and hence cheat film-makers. Netflix does little on the publicity/promotion of a film, hence most films disappear without a trace never to be found.

3. In the movie business or any product business...we need to milk it to the maximum so that everyone in the chain makes a good profit. If you put any movie on Netflix...its cost is $0 for the audience as they are already on a monthly subscription. It should be the last one in the Chain...first being Theatrical --> Video on Demand --> Streaming (Netflix/YouTube). Proper window system should be followed in order to give opportunity for each venue to generate revenue.

4. Netflix is not playing a fair game, it’s just pumping $$ to make content (Good TV Series but mostly crappy Original Movies) by raising its long-term debt and not thinking about the overall health of the movie industry. If it continues, it will be another case of "MoviePass" where MoviePass tried to disrupt the system and got burnt because it lowered the movie ticket cost to 33 cents/ticket.

5. Netflix is required for films which do not need a theatrical release just like how we used to have Straight to DVD / TV movies. Netflix can tell varied stories which would not see the light of the day. They can be eligible for Emmy's and not the Oscars (They can have a separate Category in Oscars which says, “Best TV/Streaming” Movie).

6. Netflix and other Streaming sites will be solely responsible for destruction of Theatrical Business in USA.... while rest of the world enjoys movies in big movie Theatres where they follow proper release window while folks in US have to watch on iphones/laptops/TVs. A Netflix or Amazon can never do the same for example in a country like India where Theatrical Release is the most important part of a movie release.

The Theatrical exhibition business also has to evolve and use technology to the fullest in order to avoid the onslaught of Streaming services. The movie theatres have to come up with new innovative ideas in order to get the audience to the theatres.

The A-List Actors also have to demand a theatrical release window before their movies are available for streaming. Initially the actors might be paid big amounts by Netflix or others, but eventually in the future they will be just salaried employees if this continues.

The issue can be resolved if we prioritize Film and Film-makers and the overall health of the Film Industry… the rest of the folks like Distribution or Streaming comes later.

We need good content, good stories, good directors who can tell those stories, good actors who can present those stories and then a sustainable business model. Disruption is good when it adds value in the long run, not when it destroys the very purpose.

March 4, 2019 at 5:26PM

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Kalyan Palla
Producer/Director/Screenwriter
110

Hi Mr. Palla, just a 2 cents.

2. ''Netflix pays pennies on the dollar for some good films and pays a huge amount for some crappy films.'', really? Is it that they quantify the payment by the level of attraction of a film or its budget/quality (like say they would pay a lot of money to a film that is 'blockbuster-like' quality but may be bad to some, but they won't pay much to an innovating small indie film - simply because not many will watch it (art film, not popular film; thus low appeal)? I think this is what is going on, it's all down to pennies now (because of oversaturation - too many films/too little money/too little time - they become extremely Selective and ask for the cream of crop or nothing else); if they think your film is not 'marketable/low budget art film' you will not be paid much (I could be wrong and very clueless on subject) - no matter if your film is a chef d'oeuvre - if, it still does not 'sell'. That is the prob I believe today, too many indie films, too many art films, too many Blockbuster films, Too many films...not enough cash/time/resources to distribute..hence, only the best of the best of the best get anything, the rest, crumbs. Millions of films do not end up on theater screen - they end up on Netflix..mostly ignored...thus, we cannot put all films in theaters, simply too many (again, too lil cash/too lil time). And, there are like not much more than 500 or so films that end up in theaters...that is Small Fraction of the total films made each yes (upwards douzen thousands (like at Sundance festival/Cannes/some 5000+ subsmissions and they reduce that down to like 100 films or less..what about these other 4900s films...long forgotten), all of them 'gone' never shown...but Netflix gives them a voice/a public; finally a place to show very low budget films, to all). With that said, if Netflix pays pitance for your film, we are forced to find alternative because that does not pay/equal the work put in the film/budget (like an indie film made for 250,000$ and they pay you a 2000$ reward to be on their platform, that's it). Does Netflix also pay 'by views' number of views/say your film has 1 million views worldwide online Netflix x 50c a view = 500,000$

3. True, I agree and it is to be fair to all; but I think netflix/streaming services 'have had enough of being the 3rd tier/2nd class citizen' and that 'cinema's should be first'..they don'T want anymore; they want to take The Throne off of cinema. They are tired of being relinquished as 'straight-to-DVD' cr*p, well here 'straight-to-streaming', in the old days 'Straight-to-VHS'...this was very bad and spelled 'your film is bad/low quality/'not worth it in theaters'); it was almost like 'being dejected' on these 'low home video' 'late' platforms. Always late, later...and Netflix tired of that. NEtflix wants In Right Away, same time as film comes out in theaters, that is fairer to them; not 'Cinema Theaters Always First' unfair to them (that, I believe, is how they may see some of that); and to say ''but cinema theater screenings should always come first (because better quality/Big Screen/sound/experience) because they Need It /they Need The Cash....'to survive/exist' hence Must Be First....', they Must Make the Most Money, First....
On that I would say Netflix is seeing differently, I think, and other streaming services too. So, it's not just about co-existence now (Streaming and Theaters), it's about claiming the First position, I would not be surprised if we soon see this:

1. Netflix -> 2.Theater -> 3.DVD/Blu-Ray
or
1. Netflix -> 2. DVD/Blu-Ray -> 3. Theater

Yes brace yourself it could be a possibility, that theater ends up Down the line.
Because $$$/time, and I think Netflix is trying to 'Take the Audience' 'online' 'away' from theaters...adn into their computers/TVs 'online'...and such, in evolution of things.

4. It'S true it seems they are not playing fair...but 'in love & war' what is, this is capitalistic business (being director/producer yourself, you know that), business live (by the sword) and die (by same sword). Theaters Most Offer More/Value for the same...tickets too expensive, beverage/junk too expensive...movie goesr tired of paying for films...now streaming subscription lot more affordable, hence theaters coming empty. Theaters must offer more to compete, right now 'per dollar' they may offer less, no matter how grand/big/sound/image the epxerience, many people don'T care - they watch a film on their iPad or tiny cell phone (awful...but Convenience (and at cheap price) is the word of the day, because there is Surabundance of films...people choose what they want - best bang for cheapest buck; theaters not offering that anymore. Some people are now creating 'Home Theaters' at home with a 3meter tall screen + projector...right in their homes making 'mini theater' and more than suffice/replicates big theaters).

6.''6. Netflix and other Streaming sites will be solely responsible for destruction of Theatrical Business in USA.... while rest of the world enjoys movies in big movie Theatres where they follow proper release window while folks in US have to watch on iphones/laptops/TVs. A Netflix or Amazon can never do the same for example in a country like India where Theatrical Release is the most important part of a movie release.''

I agree that they will/caused destruction of certain theaters...but I think the Netflix effect is starting to be more 'planetary' than just USA; they intend of export this all over. But, for now, like you said, it'S mostly in North America; only they go international, then all bets are off; the sweeping effect could be tremendous because Online/Streaming - 'has no country' - online is country agnostic...in the sense yes it'S 'USA Online'...but anyone in the world can watch a film From nearly anywhere so long as they can go to that website Whereever in the entire world. Thus, the 'Reach' of streaming is far bigger than any thing theaters could do (although they are very established in the world since the entire last 100 years (of cinema building) allowed them this very long head start). But, as we see, many theaters close all over the globe - albeit in certain places, like India and China, there is a big boom of Cinema Theater going (as if they 30 years late over North America, while here, we are 30 years later/done). It's why you see films/blockbusters ahving big success in India/China but sometimes much weaker in North America (for us here it's 'old news', but over 'it's much newer/recent').

Absoltuely, if film theaters can innovate, they will survive, if not, they won't; it's a capitalistic hard business, and why such a big worry/many jobs on the line/investors in theater distribution (theatrical distributors).

Just a 2 cents.

March 8, 2019 at 10:17PM

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Thanks Etienne for the wonderful insight. Best wishes to you on your film making journey.

We as film makers have basic responsibility to protect the long-term overall health of the film industry so that more worthy stories can be told in the future and future film makers (Producers/Directors/Actors/etc) still have the freedom and opportunity to deliver quality films.

Given below are the ways how Netflix is destroying the overall health of the film industry in the name of disruption. This exercise is just to have a dialogue and understand the situation, please go thru it and give your valuable input.

1. Netflix does not disclose its numbers like - How many people have watched the respective Documentary or a Film on Netflix? At least with studio system we know how much a movie collected at the box-office ensuring the film makers get a backend if at all there is any. With Netflix it’s just a void. How do you demand/decide on how much you have to demand/pay for a film when we don’t have the numbers? Netflix pays pennies on the dollar for some good films and pays a huge amount for some crappy films. The genuine Film Maker is at loss whereas with box-office numbers even if you don’t make any money on your current film at least you can demand more on your next film. Netflix does not pay by the views a movie generates on its platform.
Netflix does very little on the publicity/promotion of a film, hence most films disappear without a trace never to be found. Available on Netflix does not mean it will be watched by people in 190 countries. Available on Netflix means it’s not available anywhere else.

2. In the movie business or any product business...we need to milk it to the maximum so that everyone in the chain makes a good profit. If you put any movie on Netflix...its cost is $0 for the audience as they are already on a monthly subscription. It should be the last one in the Chain...first being Theatrical --> Video on Demand --> Streaming (Netflix/YouTube). Proper window system should be followed in order to give opportunity for each venue to generate revenue. On another note just letting it out there (though big corporations don’t care in this cut-throat world) that movie theaters help in growing the ancillary businesses like restaurants/shopping malls and other businesses to flourish and develop the overall ecosystem of the locality by making people leave their homes.

3. Netflix is just pumping $$ to make content (Good TV Series but mostly crappy Original Movies) by raising its long-term debt (typical silicon valley thought process) and not thinking about the overall health of the movie industry. If it continues, it will be another case of "MoviePass" where MoviePass tried to disrupt the system and got burnt where it allowed folks to watch any movie in theatres on Day-1 of its release for 33 cents/ticket. MoviePass destroyed the value/essence of film while it lasted for almost an year thus doing irreparable damage to the film industry. AMC learnt from the MoviePass fiasco and came up with a sustainable subscription model.
It would look like Netflix is paying the A-List Actors/Directors/Film Makers huge amounts right now but soon they will tighten it once they have destroyed the theatrical business. So, the A-list actors/film makers must be responsible in their association with Netflix and must demand a theatrical release window before their movies are available for streaming.

4. Netflix is required for films which do not need a theatrical release just like how we have Straight to DVD / TV movies. Netflix can tell varied stories which otherwise would not see the light of the day. Netflix is primarily a Television Network just like NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, HBO or others which airs its content while Netflix only streams its content, hence it should be treated the same way as far as awards are concerned. They can be eligible for Emmy's and not the Oscars (They can have a separate Category in Oscars if required which says, “Best TV/Streaming” Movie). In these changing times we need every kind of movie distribution model to co-exist so that the stories that need to be told have an audience.

March 20, 2019 at 5:27AM

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Kalyan Palla
Producer/Director/Screenwriter
110

Netflix and Amazon should open up their own theatres. They have the money/real estate. Subscribers get discounted tickets, food, drinks etc. They could hold special events like Q&A's with the filmmakers, 'Original' premieres; make it a spectacle again. Theatres don't need to be innovative to get audiences buying tickets, they need to be cheaper. And if the old guard is worried about streaming services joining the party then maybe they should focus on creating original films and championing independent talent instead of the glut of reboots, remixes and re-hashes. If you build it they will come.

March 5, 2019 at 8:07AM

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Adam Fletcher
Producer/Director
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