NETMARE ON UNDERWHELM STREET

From yesterday’s Ankler:

In two weeks, Netflix will premiere Bright.

Starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton – real movie stars – directed by David Ayer – a real movie director – the film is said to have cost somewhere in the time zone of $120 million – real money.

So why does Bright not feel like a real film?

More specifically, subjective though this question may be, why does Bright feel give off the same sense that so many Netflix Movies of the Week do – of looking like a movie that people in a movie go see, rather than a movie that real life people see.

Having not seen it, this isn’t to suggest there’s anything wrong with Bright; for all I know it may be Citizen Kane. Certainly just about every studio has made a movie or three far more preposterous than the package described above, based on worse material.

And yet, it doesn’t feel like a major Will Smith sci-fi action epic is about to be released.

And more important, what does Netflix really think they are getting out of all this?

Netflix themselves of course offers no help answering these questions (an omission which may well come back to bite them, as we’ll attend to in due course).   There are no tracking numbers for Bright; no ticket pre-sales, so we’ve got to grab tea leaves where we can.  So let’s go hunting.  And with another big budget action-adventure movie, Jumanji  coming out days apart, we can make a bit of a fumble of a stab and comparing some cultural footprints here.

• Twitter:  The film’s official account has as of this writing 3,125 followers.

In contrast, the official account for Jumanji, opening a few days before Bright, has just over 7,000 followers. Twice as many but neither is a significant real world number.  Both are better than the account for Father Figures which has under 400 followers.  (None of these movies, incidentally has as many followers as the Ankler’s account, so take that Hollywood!)

Let’s just write the Twitter numbers off then and say building a Twitter following has not been much of a priority for anyone this month, to which I completely relate.

However, Netflix’s own Twitter account gave a hint at the level of enthusiasm awaiting Bright when they posted this poll:

• Facebook.   134,672 people “like” the Bright page on Facebook. Just fine, except Will Smith himself has 75 million likes on the site.

Collateral Beauty in contrast, which was not a $100 million sci-fi action adventure, to say the least, has about double the number of likes Bright has.

The Jumanji page again, has double the likes of Bright, 301,000.  However, big caveat here, Sony has been relying heavily on the social media followings of its stars, rather than building following for Jumanji itself. More about that below.

The page for Father Figures, has about a third of Bright’s likes with 30,000, which tells you another story, about another studio…

• YouTube: The official version of the most recent trailer has just over a million views, which is 700,000 less than Netflix’s Jim Carrey/Andy Kauffman documentary has.

A million views is not nothing, but far less than you typically see for a major film.  To grab a random example, the trailer for Sony’s Flatliners remake had over seven-million views

• Search. I’ll let a chart tell the story.  Here’s Google queries for Jumanji vs. Bright(refined with Will Smith – the most common refinement to prevent confusion with “the film Burning Bright).

• Social followings: Will Smith is not active on Instagram or Twitter.  His last reference to his upcoming release on his 75 million-followed Facebook page was the post of a video from the soundtrack two weeks ago. (Dwayne Johnson, of course, instagrams about Jumanji by the hour).

 

So there’s a bunch of data points; each one of which could be individually brushed away. But what they have in common is that not one of them points to anything but the faintest flicker of excitement about a new $120 million Will Smith sci-fi action film.

But! They will protest: two weeks is a lifetime in Netflix time, especially when we have a home screen on which 100 million people across the world spend most of their conscious life, which will soon start featuring the Bright trailer for entire days before the release.

Fair enough. Some of those people will see the trailer and say, hey a new Will Smith thing fighting aliens that I never heard of.  Let’s watch that!  Thanks Netflix!

And I’m sure they will quietly assure us that their secret numbers that they can’t show us prove it did just that.

But at some point having no cultural footprint has an impact.  The above logic makes sense mostly if the world is just an intramural Netflix battle to keep its existing customers happy, after they’ve driven the rest of media out of business and viewers have no place else to go.

But how does making $120 million movies that have no larger footprint in society add up to driving everyone else out of media?

With their disdain for the olde timey theatrical experience, Netflix is missing a big difference between films and TV. Television with so many choices – even in the days of just three networks – is about discovery and building a relationship.  Film has always been about being part of an event.  Your VOD services are already filled with movies you’ve never heard, enough that we could spend the rest of our life watching movies we’ve never heard of. But chances are unless you saw it when it first came out, or were enticed to, you’re not likely to today.

Even if our behavior has made it clear to the machines, that what we’re really looking for is to see Russell Crowe and Emilia Clark in a sci-fi comedy with a baseball subplot that has a dog on the poster, if that suddenly appears before us out of the blue on our iPad, what are the chances that’s where we’re going to spend our next two hours of our busy lives.

Netflix has been a year in this Movie of the Week business, and they can shush us with their secret data all they want, but by this point if there was one that was having any impact at all, anyplace, on any level, we would’ve heard about it.

Okay, for all I know, 1922 is driving new sign ups in Ecuador like nobody’s ever seen and if I just stepped out of my bubble, I’d find that Shimmer Lake is the world’s biggest cultural phenomenon since Britney Spears.

But I doubt it.  And you know who else doubts it?  Oscar voters, who continue to see Netflix’s off-hand sneering at the theatrical experience as a threat to their way of life, and as a result, aren’t on the brink of awarding any of their half-baked movie-like productions with one of their trophies, or even a nomination certificate anytime soon.

It’s not hard to see that if A24 or Annapurna had handled Okja, we’d be talking about it in a category or two right now.

Netflix can also say: don’t make too big a deal about this year’s crop. It’s just us collecting our little big data, finding what works.  We’ve still got plenty of billions to still blow on this.

All well and good but, the effect of this year of data harvesting has been a very public demonstration in the service’s lack of a public platform.

The problem with that is that the ultimate meaning of the entries of Amazon, and maybe Facebook, Apple, and who knows, Snapchat, Orbitz, Blue Apron and god knows what other site into the entertainment production business, as they all try to find their Game of Thrones, is that the people who can make a Game of Thrones are going to get very pricey and hard to tie down.

Netflix can always throw a ton of money at a producer or director, or star.  But so can Apple and Amazon. Lots more money even.

And the thing about directors and producers and stars, when they spend a year or two on a project, yes, they want the money, but they also want to think that someone, somewhere has seen it.  So when no one mentions to them for months, “Hey I saw your new movie” when there’s no articles about the, just a handful of reviews by third-string bloggers.  And when the company that you made the movie for responds to your concerns with a smug, “I’m sorry, we can’t give that information out,” the great creatives of our time might not walk away dancing for joy about their time in the Netflix mills, no matter how big a check was put into their pocket.

You can have all the data you want but if you don’t have the right talented people to put it all together, you’ve got a spreadsheet.

So what Netflix will likely end up with is the opportunity to be the film company where everyone takes their movies that no one else wants to make.  If Brad Pitt wants to strut around doing a General McChrystal and everyone else tells him “That’s not a movie!” well then Netflix can make it. If someone’s got a passion project that everyone else tells them they’ll back for $30 million, “Netflix will see why we can’t make this for a penny less than $200.”

(On the other hand, a friend advises to never underestimate the self-delusion of a Hollywood professional when a check is waved in front of them. Suddenly, it’s going to be their film that is the one that breaks through.)

There is an ultimate end game to this. When Netflix growth finally plateaus, either before or after they’ve run all the studios out of the business and they have to find places to cut to keep up the margins, that big stack of $100 million projects that no one watches I think will be just waiting. We’ll see how many of us live to see the day come.

ALSO IN TODAY’S EDITION!

  • KUDOS CRASHER: THE UNKINDEST CUTS!
  • BRIAN SINGER LEAVES HIS DREAM PROJECT BECAUSE OF PROBLEMS ON THE SET AND NOTHING ELSE
  • DO YOU WANT TO MELT A SNOWMAN?

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