Streaming vs Cinema; Scorcese & Spielberg’s questionable crusade against Netflix.

Scorcesse & Spielberg have been friends and inspirations to each other for many years.

In 2018, only three years ago, Spielberg went on record saying that films released to Netflix “deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar”; suggesting that films released to streaming should be considered less reputable compared to big-screen releases. Three years later, in 2021, and despite having had one of his most successful films produced by the platform, and is set to release his latest directly to the service, Scorcesse has now stated that film is being “devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, supposedly reducing film to no more than “content”, due to the very same streaming service.

The conflict I, and a lot of other film fans and critics have with these men coming out with such statements would have to be the seemingly ‘two-faced, take with one hand, give with the other, when it suits you vs when it doesn’t’ approach. In 2019, Scorcesse released The Irishman directly to Netflix, earning him numerous awards nominations from the main awarding bodies in film, and Spielberg’s production company, Amblin, has recently signed a “multi-film” deal with the streaming service; talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

Where does this streaming prejudice derive from for these legendary filmmakers?

It’s fair to say that Scorcesse and Spielberg are two of the most highly respected filmmakers to ever work in Hollywood. They are both responsible for creating some of the most iconic, memorable and beautiful films in cinema history; notice how I use the word “cinema”. I think that a lot of their prejudice and reluctance to embrace the age of streaming services comes from a place of trying to preserve the traditional movie- making, and movie-going experience; filmmaking designed to be seen on the big, silver screen, as opposed to your iPhone, or iPad on a crowded train. Whilst I cannot imagine watching a film by one of these filmmakers on my iPhone, the fact is, we are living in a world where that is how a lot of people may be viewing films, for a number of reasons; perhaps people are watching these films on their morning train- commute to work, or whilst in the gym on the treadmill. The way people have access and choose to consume this “content”, as Scorcesse puts it, is varied and broad.

Once upon a time, and it might be really hard for some of the younger readers of this to imagine, iPhone’s didn’t exist. The name “Netflix” would’ve been considered a jumble of words, and the only way to consume new releases would be in a cinema; this is a time where these prolific filmmakers came from, and therefore, their idea of how people should be consuming their work is always going to be heavily set in that tradition.

Should they be more flexible and adapt to the changes that have been made over the decades since they first started working as filmmakers?

The short answer is, in my opinion, is “yes… but.” Whilst I do think that filmmakers such as these do need to get off their high horses and accept that things have changed, I do believe there is a big caveat to my answer. As I said, I am not someone who would think about watching the latest Scorcesse or Spielberg film on my iPhone, whilst on a busy commuter train, however I am not someone who rejects the idea of streaming services either; I am currently watching Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, Rushmore, on Amazon Prime Video as I write this.

The point that has to be made is this, as a filmmaker, wouldn’t you rather people consume your work in whatever they choose to, as opposed to not at all? Obviously there are ways that are more efficient and beneficial than others, but if it means that audiences will be able to enjoy your work and be exposed to the stories you are telling, then stop worrying too much about it. Go to the cinema if you can, or want, but don’t get hung up on the fact that some people might only be able to consume your work at home, or on the move.

We are living in 2021, a year where so many technical advances have been made. Let’s not forget, if we didn’t have the capabilities we have today in terms of VFX and CGI, Scorcesse would never have been able to pull off what he did with The Irishman; the film relied on the ability to ‘de-age’ his older cast members, specifically DeNiro, Puccino & Pesci. It’s also worth mentioning that the only reason Scorcesse managed to get The Irishman made, after years of trying to get the film green-lit by other major studios, and be granted the funds to make it, it was Netflix that offered the lifeline he was looking for; without Netflix, there would be no three and a half hour film, and there would be no Oscar nominations, no critically acclaimed performances from three of the greatest living actors still alive and working today, and no opportunity for audience’s to enjoy the film in any capacity. Scorcesse owes Netflix A LOT of credit when it comes to getting some of his newest work produced and distributed; his latest film Killers of the Flower Moon, starring DiCaprio and DeNiro is set to be released directly to the streaming service in the same way Irishman was, so it’s fair to say the filmmaker isn’t afraid to use them when it suits him, but mock and degrade them when it comes to trying to hold on to his integrity and reputation as an old school, traditional filmmaker.

Admitting defeat, or realising there wasn’t a war in the first place?

Let’s talk about Spielberg and his multiple film deal with Netflix, despite his previous comments, openly slating the “digital content provider”, suggesting that films published in this way shouldn’t be Oscar eligible; oh how the mighty have fallen… but, should it be considered a fall? Or is Spielberg the only one who actually might see it this way?

First of all, the suggestion that films released to streaming services shouldn’t be elegible for awards might indicate that Spielberg’s main motive for releasing films is purely to win awards; is that what filmmaking is all about? Whilst winning awards is obviously a clear sign of a talented and well-made film, it shouldn’t be the motivation for a filmmaker to fire up the Pannavisions and print off the final draft of their latest screenplay. The Oscars, and other notable awarding bodies have taken a lot of stick recently, and rightly so, given that the stick is about the inequality towards racial minority groups and women. The voting members of these bodies have been widely criticised for failing to represent the broad and diverse filmmakers and their work; therefore, how much should we be relying on these awarding bodies to actually dictate what is and what isn’t an award worthy film?

Before you shout at me in the comments section, I am not suggesting that Spielberg is some egotistical, awards-obsessed meglamaniac, but what I am suggesting is he maybe needs to consider what his comment about elegibility for awards actually means. Some of the most wonderful films in the past five years have been released directly to streaming services, skipping the traditional cinema-release. Netflix original Films like Marriage Story, Pieces of a Woman, When they see us, Beasts of no Nation, The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected), and of course, the numerous films that have been given early releases due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. To say that these films shouldn’t be “eligible” sounds terribly elitist and arrogant, and also suggests the content is un-worthy. This makes no sense to me. Take any of those films and simply project them on the big screen, do they suddenly become eligible? The only difference, in that case, is the size of the image, the actual content remains the same.

As I’ve mentioned, Spielberg’s production company, Amblin, has supposedly fallen on the sword of its own making and signed a “multi-film” deal with Netflix. So, what does that actually mean? Will we be getting exclusive Netflix based Spielberg films?

After looking in to it, it would seem that Spielberg will be releasing the less relevant and personally produced work to Netflix, whilst reserving the bigger works, directed by the man himself to the cinema. It would seem that he filmmaker still seems to have this prejudice abut the platform and the way he views its reputation in the industry. He considers that the work he directs himself is far too important for the streaming services, but the work of others that his company choose to produce are perfectly suited to streaming services; sounds incredibly elitist and pretentious to me.

Ultimately, I think both of these filmmakers are waging a war against a so called enemy that has no intention of fighting for land or trying to steal away the traditional movie-going/making experience; they are simply serving as an alternative way to consume films and television, as well as excellent documentaries and shorts. The sooner both of them realise that they should be thanking the services for funding, producing and distributin their work, the better. People will continue to go to the cinema, because cinema is the best way to watch a film, in terms of the overall experience; but as I’ve said, if it means more people will watch your work and therefore be influenced and effected by your work, then why fight it? Embrace it and continue making brilliant work for people to enjoy in the way they wish.



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