Aspiring actors dream of being on the big screen, just like their favorite movie stars. Or do they? More major actors are creating and starring in exclusive projects for various streaming services. So what is going on? Today, we explore five different reasons why big name actors are flocking towards streaming services for new movies:
Reaching a wider audience.
There are people who go to midnight premiers of movies. Others wait until the movie is on their favorite streaming service. Some people do both. Having movies appear exclusively in theaters and exclusively on streaming sites means more people who are likely to see a movie starring a major name.
Streaming is not going away anytime soon.
Mainstream television viewing and movie theater attendance have been declining. Meanwhile, streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are growing in popularity. Why? For one thing, consumers are finding that it’s simpler and more cost-efficient to pay a set price each month for unlimited streaming than it is to physically go to the movies. Netflix alone added over a million new subscribers in 2016, and it has been projected that over half of the American population will have more than one streaming service by 2018.
Add to that, the personalized control of streaming services allows media lovers to choose their content, and their timing in watching it. Want to binge-watch an entire series? Go ahead. More in an action-movie mood? Got that too. Streaming allows everyone to tailor their media consumption to their own tastes and timeline.
The money’s streaming in…
Netflix makes $504 million per month off of regular subscribers. That means they have plenty of income to pay actors. For his role on “House of Cards,”Kevin Spacey makes $500,000 for every episode, just $25,000 less than Mark Harmon makes for his role on NCIS. And that’s just for their popular television series. “War Machine”starring Brad Pitt had a $60 million budget, and while no one has disclosed Pitt’s salary for his role, we are certain he was well compensated.
Film success on streaming services are not strictly determined by views.
Traditionally, a movie’s success depended on the amount of people who came to see it opening weekend. With a streaming service, a film’s reputation depends on both viewership and user-assigned ratings. This means that original films released on streaming services have two different chances to impress, and feedback can be generated even faster with the option to instantly review a film at the conclusion.
There are more opportunities to grow creatively.
When major studios decide not fund new and daring ideas for movies, streaming services may take more of a risk. For example, former NYFA Guest Speaker Kevin James starred in Netflix’s “True Memoirs of an International Assassin,” an action-packed comedy with a very different tone than his sitcoms “King of Queens” and “Kevin Can Wait.” Thanks to the creative freedom allowed by streaming services, the actor was able to demonstrate a wider range of acting skills that never would have been seen otherwise.
It’s hard to imagine that almost 20 years ago, you could find a red envelope nestled in the depths of your mailbox. There’s a chance you’d rip open the small package to see which DVD was hiding in its Netflix sleeve.
In 1997, Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings founded Netflix in Scotts Valley, California. Netflix — now with more than 80 million DVD and online streaming subscribers — is continuing to change today’s market.
The New York Film Academy’s filmmaking school has ranked as the top filmmaking school for the last eight years. It has also been listed in the Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers in “Independent Magazine.”
Well-rounded industry experts teach students in the filmmaking school artistic and professional skills. Our students will face practical challenges, opportunities, and realities when they are creating films in the documentary filmmaking program.
Where is Netflix in today’s market?
As of March 2017, Netflix has created original films and television series in genres including drama; comedy; animation; animated and live action movies for children and families; foreign language; in partnership; continuations; docu-series and documentaries; reality; talk shows; specials and stand-up comedies. The company even has acquisitions in exclusive international television distribution.
Michael Lev-Ram of “Fortune” wrote in June 2016 that Netflix ranked No. 379 on the Fortune 500 list. The company, which has focused on streaming media the last few years, isn’t required to disclose viewership numbers and the Netflix originals don’t show up in Nielsen ratings. The Fortune 500 ranking and the audience’s reaction to a show doesn’t really concern Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix.
“Great storytelling is what makes something really global,” Sarandos said during the interview with “Fortune.” At the end of the day, it’s about how many subscribers sign up for streaming services, not rankings or ratings.
In April 2016, Netflix announced that the company had seen an increase of 35 percent in subscribers after it had passed its 81-million-subscriber mark. Forty-two percent of Netflix’s current customers are outside of the U.S. but Sarandos still considers Netflix a small company.
The selection of Netflix documentaries and docu-series has increased rapidly over the last few years. As of April, there are more than 50 documentaries available on Netflix—ranging from true crimes stories like H.H. Holmes to crises in the healthcare system. Netflix documentaries and docu-series are redefining the definition—they are not boring and they boast some pretty big names.
One new documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On,” is available for streaming on April 21. The documentary series follows people and their lives, which are affected, by social media, pornography and virtual relationships. Sex and technology in today’s age highlight the fact that both are equally important in how most live and interact.
“Five Came Back,” based on Mark Harris’ book, is Netflix’s newest documentary, which focuses on five men who put aside their careers, families, and their safety to join the fight against Imperial Japan. Meryl Streep narrates the documentary and Steven Spielberg is the executive producer.
Documentary Filmmaking at NYFA
Our documentary filmmaking program at NYFA focuses on subjects such as sound; cinematography and lightning; producing and directing the documentary; editing; new media/self-distribution; writing/non-fiction storytelling; producing; documentary craft; documentary traditions and aesthetics; production; post-production; and graphics, special effects, and color correction.
Netflix has demonstrated that it aims to have great storytelling. The company is focusing on documentaries that will be more interesting for the audience. In order to do that though, Netflix has had to bring in larger names to help hold interest. One thing is for sure, Netflix will continue to dominate the media streaming industry, but its list of documentaries will surpass its other content without a doubt.
For many Americans, Labor Day weekend is a time to celebrate the achievements of workers in our country … by doing the opposite of work. That includes cookouts, maybe even a small party, and plenty of relaxing. After all, the last time most of us had a three day weekend was more than a month ago during Fourth of July.
What better way to kick back and relax than with one or more great Netflix movies? Gone are the days when you had to drag yourself to the nearest Blockbuster or rental store. Now you have plenty of great flicks to choose from, right from the comfort of your own couch.
We found some perfect Labor Day weekend flicks to help you relax and enjoy the fruits of your labors. With these Netflix films, work will be the last thing on your mind. Enjoy your break, and happy Labor Day!
1. “The Big Short” (2015)
If you’re in the mood for a comedy-drama starring several high-profile actors, look no further. This film is a book-to-screen adaptation of Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” and features Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and Steve Carell. How’s that for a star-studded cast? “The Big Short” is about four men who predict the housing collapse of the mid-2000s and then attempt to make big banks pay for their greed.
2. “Django Unchained” (2012)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, this movie is perfect if you want something with a great story and plenty of violence. “Django Unchained” tells the story of a freed slave looking to rescue his wife from a cruel plantation owner in Mississippi. This film has won several awards, including an Academy Award and Golden Globe, and is currently Tarantino’s highest-grossing theatrical release.
3. “Back to the Future” (1985)
A film that needs no introduction! The first “Back to the Future” film is a great choice if you want to watch something with plenty of humor and adventure. And if you can’t get enough of Marty Mcfly and the eccentric Doc, both “Back to the Future Part II” and “Back to the Future Part III” are also on Netflix as of this writing.
4. “The Lovely Bones” (2009)
This supernatural drama was directed by Peter Jackson of “The Lord of the Rings” fame, and is an adaptation of the award-winning, best-selling novel of the same name. “The Lovely Bones” tells the story of a teenage girl named Susie who was murdered and now watches over her parents, Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail Salmon (Rachel Weisz).
5. “Love Actually” (2003)
While some count the days until Halloween and or Thanksgiving, many more can’t wait until that most wonderful time of the year. If you’re one of those jolly souls who seek out the Christmas spirit year round, we suggest watching “Love Actually.” This romantic comedy tells the story of eight unique couples as they deal with all sorts of problems just before Christmas. Notable actors include Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson, Laura Linney, and Alan Rickman.
6. “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)
“The Fast and the Furious” took the world by storm when it first released in 2001. This high-octane film never pretends to be anything more than an action-packed thrill, which is why it spawned a franchise that now has six successful sequels. The movie features the late Paul Walker as an undercover cop trying to stop semi-truck hijackers, outlaws led by a dangerous street racer named Dominic Toretto (Diesel).
7. “Forrest Gump” (1994)
“Forrest Gump” is one of those films you can always count on to put a smile on your face. We all know the heart-warming story of Forrest Gump and his quest to win the heart of his childhood friend, Jenny. This iconic comedy-drama stars Tom Hanks and is the winner of numerous awards, including six Academy Awards.
8. “Atonement” (2007)
Starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, this romantic drama tells the story of how a teenage girl derails the lives of several people with a single lie. After falsely accusing her older sister’s lover of a crime, the film shows the consequences of her actions over the course of several decades.
9. “The Princess Bride” (1987)
This cult classic is the perfect film if you want a great mix of comedy, romance, and even a little bit of action. “The Princess Bride” is a romantic fantasy adventure comedy where a farmhand named Westley (Cary Elwes) sets out to rescue the lovely Princess Buttercup from a terrible man named Prince Humperdinck. The story is presented as a book being told by a man to his ill grandson, and is adapted from the book of the same name by William Goldman.
10. “The Exorcist” (1973)
Prefer something more appropriate for upcoming Halloween? If so, you can’t go wrong with one of the most infamous supernatural horror films of all time. “The Exorcist” tells the tale of a mother whose young girl has been possessed by a demonic entity. With the help of two priests, she hopes to win back her daughter — even if it means putting them all in danger.
How will you celebrate Labor Day? Watch any of these films? Let us know in the comments below!
What lies beyond the confines of our own atmosphere is mind-boggling in the truest sense of the word, so it’s little wonder that space—and the stuff in it—makes for compelling subject matter when it comes to documentaries.
That said, it’s a double-edged sword for students at documentary filmmaking school looking to focus on the cosmos. For one thing, space documentaries have to rely on inventive ways to represent the subject matter visually since there’s usually no direct footage or images of deep space objects or abstract concepts.
Secondly, it’s tricky to balance the writing—you don’t want to lose 99.98% of the viewers who don’t know the intricacies of Minowski spacetime, but at the same time you don’t want to patronize them with details most 8th graders know.
What follows is a roundup of titles that serve as near-perfect examples of space documentaries which manage to tick all the right boxes. Set your warp drives to maximum as we chart:
The Best Space Documentaries Currently Streaming
1. Life in Our Universe
A six-part series lead by the hugely engaging (and award-winning) Dr. Laird Close, Life in Our Universe charts the progress of scientists and uncovers how our civilization is conducting the hunt for others. The question of whether or not life exists amongst the stars has always been an exciting one, and this series does the magnificence of the question justice.
By far the most comprehensive documentary about the Apollo lunar landings ever produced, this British-made documentary managed to do something never done before: bringing all of the key players of the moon landings together to reminisce on their experiences (even those who had previously been interview shy.)
Even those who think they know it all will be surprised at the amount of detail covered—if you loved Andrew Chaikin’s book A Man on the Moon or the HBO series it spawned (entitled From the Earth to the Moon), you’ll love this.
Streaming on:4oD (may not be available in all regions)
3. NASA: The Space Shuttle
Just as interesting as space itself are the marvels of technology that got us there, and this YouTube documentary is both a fascinating look back at the Space Shuttle fleet as well as a celebration of its time in service (even more poignant given that the last Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.) But we can sell this documentary about rocket ships with just one line: it’s narrated by William Shatner.
In the span of just 90 minutes, this National Geographic documentary covers a lot of ground—namely, from the sands of our own planet to the borders of the known Universe. While the special effects are somewhat rudimentary by current standards, it’s nevertheless one of the best space documentaries on YouTube.
No list of the best space documentaries available for streaming would be complete without a hat-tip to Cosmos. These days Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s reputation as a compelling astrophysicist speaks for itself, and although the show has been aimed at a broad audience—meaning the science is a little entry-level at times—it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Extremely impressive special effects, excellent animations, and every bit as good as you’ve no doubt heard.
This week, corporate juggernaut Amazon.com announced it would be producing feature films for theatrical release, a huge if not all-that surprising move for the company and its ambitious leader, Jeff Bezos. With Ted Hope as its creative chief, Amazon Original Movies plans to release up to a dozen features a year, making it a perfect case study for any producing student. In many ways, it’s a match made in heaven—Ted Hope is a wildly successful indie producer who also delivered a guest lecture at the New York Film Academy, and Amazon has a very popular streaming service that can distribute the films to homes after their big-screen runs. While movies traditionally took several months to transition to home video, and more recently, up to a year to streaming services, Amazon can have its movies prepped and ready to stream on Prime Instant Video a month or two after their initial release.
Pitches & Pilots
While their announcement that they’ll be producing their own movies is huge, Amazon Studios itself is nothing new. It actually launched in 2010 as an online platform to develop and crowdsource original content. Amazon made a loud call for aspiring writers, directors, animators, editors, storyboard artists and other artists to come together and make movies. Writers could submit spec scripts, treatments and pitches, and by doing so, automatically option their work to Amazon for free. Amazon instantly made these works public and anyone else was allowed to tweak or completely rewrite these works. If the end result was strong enough, Amazon would package and sell the project with a set commission for the original creator as well as anyone who worked on the successful draft.
This system was both innovative and controversial. Many writers claimed the company was taking advantage of artists who had no power and not many options. In many ways they were right, but it also offered opportunities to artists who felt they had nowhere left to turn. Amazon also held contests with large financial prizes as incentive for filmmakers to willingly give up the rights to their work. While Amazon Studios had a buzzy beginning, receiving and crowdsourcing thousands of spec scripts, it never really shook Hollywood in the way many insiders expected.
In retrospect, Amazon Studios may have just been a first step in a long-term plan Bezos had in his head all along. Amazon eventually started focusing its crowdsourcing on television pilots, and in 2012 began production on a slew of original pilots it planned to stream on its still-nascent Prime Streaming. While most of these pilots were from established writers, directors and actors as opposed to the undiscovered talent its Studios originally sought to promote, it was still a big step both for the company and Hollywood. Amazon’s Prime streaming service had finally come-of-age and established it as a firm and equal competitor of Netflix. Its initial pilot season was successful and Amazon has continued to release original content in televised form, winning critical praise and Golden Globes.
From Small Screens to Big
With its foray into TV a definitive win, it’s only logical for Amazon to try its hand at feature films. By self-producing content, it not only makes the question and price of streaming rights a nonissue, but allows the company to get the content into homes as quick as possible, a genuine advantage in an socioeconomic climate where many Americans would rather watch new films at home than at the movies. While Amazon could theoretically release the film day-and-date with theaters, giving consumers the option to stream a new release immediately, it has opted for a 4-8 week delay.
This may seem counterproductive to their interests, but is a shrewd move and could end up reaping big rewards. Netflix, Amazon’s biggest streaming competitor, has also announced its plan to produce its own movies to distribute, also following its success in self-producing television content. However, unlike Amazon, Netflix plans to release its movies, including four Adam Sandler features and a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the same day as their theatrical releases. After all, Netflix has the most to gain from streaming a brand new movie.
But theater owners disagree, and are still a powerful force to reckon with in Hollywood. They have been fighting instant on-demand tooth-and-nail as it obviously hurts box office and their own profit margin. Many have threatened Netflix that they would not screen their productions in protest. While this could cost the theater chains money, they have many other movies they can show, and it will hurt Netflix’s potential income on its produced content. Since Amazon is giving theaters a month or two head start to play their films for an audience unwilling to wait for it on demand, theaters will more likely show their films on more screens, making bigger profits for both parties.
The Reign of the Movie Studios
Amazon’s deal with the theater chains could give it a big edge on Netflix and position the company to become a powerful studio in Hollywood. But it will take a lot of luck and smart business for it to stand with the giants of Hollywood—the major studios. Almost all of the films to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood came from five major studios and a few smaller ones. Today, the majority of content to hit the big screens still only come from the Big Six, three of which were part of the original Big Five—Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and Paramount. Universal and Columbia have grown from that era as well, with only Disney being the relative newcomer in the pack.
Indie films are considered independent because they are not produced by these major studios (though the studios’ power is so broad they may end up distributing independent productions.) These studios are nearly as old as Hollywood itself, forming a powerful dynasty that has been nearly impossible to shake. Some production companies have come close, taking a sizable portion of the market, though they still are dwarfed by the Big Six. These include Lions Gate, MGM (a former Big Fiver), CBS, and Dreamworks, which was created by the some of the most powerful men in Hollywood, like Steven Spielberg. But even with history, popularity, insider knowhow and a lot of money on their sides, they haven’t challenged the major studios in a revolutionary way.
So the question is, if Amazon Studios keeps to its plan and starts producing films, can it reach the level of Lions Gate or Dreamworks? An even bolder question is: Can it join the Big Six?
Is Amazon the Next Major Studio?
As long as Amazon keeps up with its plan, it’s more than likely to become at least a minor contender in Hollywood. Its foray into television has proven that it has both the creative and financial prowess to handle original content. Cracking the Big Six is a very big deal. Only Disney has been able to do so in almost a century of Hollywood business and politics, building its empire on an ambitious founder and a lovable cartoon mouse.
Amazon doesn’t have Mickey, but it does have Jeff Bezos, who has shown at every chance that he is as ambitious as Walt Disney. Bezos and his company also have billions of dollars, from a wide-ranging empire. Netflix might be the bigger streamer, but it doesn’t come close to Amazon in income. Practically no corporation does. When Bezos sets his mind to something, he usually becomes an unstoppable force with unlimited resources driven toward that goal. Under his guidance, Amazon has practically invented modern online shopping and revolutionized reading and the literary industry with ebooks and the Kindle. If there’s a company that can transform Hollywood permanently, it’s Amazon.
Then again, there’s the Fire Phone. Sometimes Amazon doesn’t get it right. But while the Big Six have been dominant for decades upon decades, the medium has more-or-less been the same the entire time. We’re living in a new millennium, in a new world. 20th Century Fox and its brethren may have been the rulers of the 20th century, but the 21st century may end up belonging to forward thinkers like Bezos, and innovative mega juggernauts like Amazon.
Think your options for streaming original and compelling documentaries begins and ends with Netflix?
Online streaming is a rapidly evolving medium, and for documentary filmmakers looking to get their work seen by the world, it’s only getting better. Contrary to common belief, not being able to break through the near impenetrable gatekeepers of Netflix doesn’t mean the end of your career.
If you’re part of a documentary filmmaking program, rejoice: there are plenty of great examples of people producing highly polished documentaries intended primarily for an online audience, and getting it out there via other platforms.
Here are five of the best.
Diggin’ in The Carts
Who: New Zealand filmmakers Nick Dwyer and Tu Neill
What: A six-part documentary series produced for RBMA, serving as a great example of Red Bull’s commitment to putting out Netflix-rivalling online content.
Diggin’ in the Carts is a well produced series chronicling the contributions that Japanese video games have given to the world of music… and there are many, hence having to break it into six parts. Alongside excellent interviews with such industry giants as Nobuo Uematsu, the big selling point of the series is its accessibility; you don’t need to have defeated Ruby Weapon in FFVII prior to watching, and similarly there still plenty here for weeaboos who think they’ve heard it all already.
Guide to Travel: North Korea
Who: Shane Smith, Emmy Award-winning journalist and Vice founder
What: A three-part journey into one of the most elusive, intriguing and frankly terrifying countries on the planet. Vice’s Guide to Travel series into some of the weirdest cultures on the planet has produced a lot of excellent online content, but Smith’s odyssey into the heart of North Korea is the one which stands out as a tension-driven documentary which, by rights, should never have made it out of the country.
What: YouTube often gets overlooked as a poor man’s Netflix when it comes to video distribution, but Humans Need Not Apply—which went instantly viral with over a million views in a couple of days—demonstrates how it’s often the perfect medium for getting a documentary out there.
The premise behind the 15 minute short is a simple one: in the very near future, automation will entirely replace the need for human workers and with dire consequences. Think it’s an outlandish prediction better suited to science fiction? Think again—Grey’s incredibly well thought-out case is both disconcerting and very hard to argue against.
What: Alongside YouTube, Vimeo is also rising to become a good port of call for documentary filmmakers. Watchtower of Morocco is a masterclass in photography, visual editing, and sound design. Dynamic and eclectic without ever becoming too overbearing, this walk through some of Morocco’s most recognizable locations will renew your faith in digital filmmaking (and probably have you booking a flight out there to boot).
What: Another gem from the Vice documentary archives, the content provider known for delving into the shady side of life and having a good look around goes deeper and darker than ever before.
The Sewers of Bogota is harrowing to watch given that it covers the story of humans driven to live amongst (and in) streams of liquid feces and rotting carcasses through fear of being exterminated through death squads up above, who frequently pour vast amounts of lit petrol into the sewer system to try and kill Columbia’s undesirables.
It’s a brave example of documentary filmmaking conducted in a very difficult—and at one point, potentially lethal—environment, covering subject matter reminiscent of the Holocaust than anything that should be happening in the 21st century.
Netflix is seen as the golden goose of film distribution these days, and many hold the opinion that if your movie isn’t on Netflix, it’s barely released at all.
This, of course, isn’t strictly true: for one, Netflix isn’t the be all and end all of streaming (iTunes, Hulu, Amazon and even YouTube are equally viable alternatives). Secondly, it’s still entirely possible to eschew video streaming on the major platforms and get your movie to your audience on your terms, but filmmakers choosing this road have a tough uphill battle ahead of them.
While recognizing that getting an independent movie on Netflix isn’t the only goal you should focus on when emerging from your producing MFA with film in hand, it can be a massive factor in your project’s success.
Here’s how to get your independent movie on Netflix, and some pitfalls you should be mindful of in the process.
It’s All About the Database
It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear you can’t just email someone at Netflix and ask them to pop your work on the homepage. Getting your independent movie on Netflix starts with one key step, and unfortunately it’s a step you have very little control of: get on the Netflix database.
The Netflix database can be considered a long list of movies they’re considering for inclusion. How do you get on the Netflix database?
You don’t. They decide.
Unless you have some serious contacts in and around the Netflix arena, your odds are against you but some third party distributors have inroads. Getting one of these distributors on board, however, presents its own challenges and, somewhat ironically, video streaming itself is killing your chance of getting on Netflix—with DVD sales through the floor, distributors are reluctant to take on independent movies in this market since the returns from Netflix are so low.
Now, that’s the depressing news out of the way. There is an indie distribution company (owned by IndieGoGo) that can help get your independent movie on Netflix and all of the other major streaming services: Distribber.
Distribber does charge a fee of up to $1,600, but you keep all rights to your movie as well as 100% of the revenue it goes on to make.
Next Step: Raise an Army
Assuming you’ve made it onto the Netflix database (congratulations), you’ll need to prove there’s demand for your independent movie. In order to demonstrate this, people will have to request the movie in their Netflix queue (known as the ‘queue demand’).
It’ll behoove you to do a big marketing push and ask literally everyone you know to do this; not only will it improve your chances of getting your independent movie on Netflix, but it’ll also increase the amount you’ll get for it if and when they make you an offer.
How Does the Money Work, Anyway?
Unlike most of the other platforms, Netflix doesn’t pay you per view since it isn’t contingent on ad revenue. Instead, it pays you a one-off fee for a license (usually lasting one or two years) to stream your movie to an unlimited audience.
How much will this be? This is anyone’s guess, since it depends hugely on the demand (see above), but it’s usually less that you’d hoped for. Expect a four figure deal, and praise the stars if you get five figures.
Increase Your Chances
While the queue demand appears to be the biggest factor for success in Netflix’s nebulous decision process, there is some evidence to suggest other considerations are made. A legitimate IMDB listing, a great score on Rotten Tomatoes, and wide press coverage may help get your independent movie on Netflix, and should be on your to-do list regardless.
The Bigger Picture
A wise approach to film distribution is to remove any and every barrier to entry between your movie and a potential viewer as possible, and you need a very good reason not to do this.
Don’t focus solely on one streaming service—hit them all.