Netflix has been going through an interesting transition for the past couple of years. The streaming service’s initial appeal was its powerful catalogue of familiar TV shows and movies, but since 2012, it has shifted gears, producing more original content to reduce licensing costs. It now spends about a billion dollars on original content each year, which is a huge opportunity for filmmakers.
That opportunity does come with a disadvantage, however. In an effort to replace its mammoth catalogue with original content, Netflix is pumping out IPs at an assembly line rate. Their goal is to give subscribers practically infinite choices. A film into which an indie director poured their blood, sweat, and tears will merely be added to a massive, uniform list, where it may not get the attention or recognition it deserves.
Films that I’ve had the pleasure of watching at past festivals will miraculously appear on Netflix with hardly any PR or promotion. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but if the filmmaker is not a highly reputable director or the film does not have a star-studded cast, its premiere on Netflix will only be a pebble thrown into a lake.
The ideal situation for any indie film is to be purchased by a distributor, featured in a well-tuned marketing campaign, and strategically released to different markets and platforms. This way, the film gets the right amount of attention, and audiences get to know the film over a period of time as it is released. The process is comparable to the music industry, in which a promising musician signs to a record label, and at the point of album release, the label uses the weight of its marketing machine to get it in front of potential customers.
Netflix is like a more modern record label. It is modern in the sense that it invests in already marketable products and artists with established fan bases or the ability to promote themselves. “Modern” record labels then act as distribution platforms, getting music to stores, streaming platforms, etc. There is still a marketing push, but the risk is lowered because the artist is already profitable. I think filmmakers should conform to this approach, becoming the bankable artist.
To answer the question about whether being featured on Netflix is good, I think it is, but the filmmaker should take on the responsibility of marketing, approaching the platform like a bankable artist in order to achieve better results. It’s an uphill battle to even get a film on Netflix, but if you’re able to fundraise money to contribute towards your own marketing initiatives, it will help your film stand out from the rest.
Netflix should act as a serving platform, distributing films to the public, but because it prioritizes creating an extensive library over cultivating individual talent, filmmakers must play a larger role in getting their works recognized.