Control Your Transformation
Going to film school, I spend a lot of time chatting about the entertainment industry. And with Thanksgiving around the corner, no topic is hotter than the Oscar race. I’ve never met a film student who doesn’t love debating every movie’s chances of winning every award. Much of it has nothing to do with the quality of the work, but with the countless political considerations (when it was released, how long it’s been since the cast and crew won Oscars, other films in the genre, etc.). It’s horse race coverage, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
However, as this year’s Oscar race heats up, I’ve noticed some disturbing trends. Most notably, the movie industry seems to be terrified of any kind of disruption, and using its trophies as rewards for companies that don’t challenge the status quo. The biggest example of this is Netflix. While the television industry has completely embraced Netflix’s content production and distribution strategy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to want nothing to do with them. People are intimidated by Netflix’s decisions to release movies online on the same day that they come out in theaters. Or, more frequently, their refusal to release movies in theaters at all. Many people seem to believe that the best way to discourage Netflix’s creative disruption is to deprive them of validation in the form of awards. This always struck me as an unfortunate attempt to keep old gatekeepers in power, but I didn’t think about it too much.
But I recently came across some even crazier information about this year’s behind-the-scenes Oscar drama. Many Academy voters are taking issue with the way Netflix shares revenue with theaters. Most Hollywood studios simply give theater companies a percentage of the ticket sales that come in, meaning that both sides are invested in the film’s success. But Netflix has began a process known as “four walling,” where the company simply pays to book the entire theater and then keeps all of the ticket sales for itself. And some voters are so upset about this that they don’t want to give Netflix any awards. Can’t make this stuff up…
While I may not agree with it, I can at least understand the idea that filmmakers only want to honor movies released on the big screen. I’m a TV guy myself, but some people feel an almost religious connection to movie theaters, and I get that. But the idea of holding back awards because somebody is simply monetizing their big screen releases in a different way? That strikes me as shameful.
For years, I’ve watched the television industry be disrupted in a multitude of different ways. The rise of pay cable, the rise of streaming, cord cutting, binge watching, serialization, etc…and I would argue that each one of them has made the industry stronger. It may not have been easy, but television is hotter now than it’s ever been, and only getting bigger. You’d think the movie industry would take note.
As a young person hoping who make a mark on these industries I love so much, it can be quite deflating to see people sacrificing quality in order to prevent disruption. And I say this as someone who has defended the Oscars a lot. While I’ll never forgive them for choosing Moonlight over La La Land, I’ve supported a lot of their controversial decisions (including the new category for Best Popular Film). As the television industry thrives and the film industry deals with ambiguity, I hope the powers that be will begin to reward risk takers. And start sending some trophies to Netflix.