Netflix has another hit on its hands with Wednesday, but when it comes to movies the streaming service is certainly in an interesting place. Its Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion, has performed well during its extremely limited theatrical run to the point that it might return to theaters once it hits Netflix. Images of For Your Consideration packages for the Rian Johnson project are already leaking out, and given its success there will be considerable buzz for the elusive Oscar the streamer has spent millions upon millions to secure.
Beyond that, though, lay a veritable wasteland of downright bad original titles on Netflix. And behind the scenes, the company is trimming its budget and toying with an ad-supported option to boost growth and the all-important revenue. For every big push for Roma or The Power of the Dog there are dozens upon dozens of titles you’ve never heard of that barely crack a 6.0 on your cursory IMDB search to see if they’re worth watching. And it’s not just people holding a Roku remote at home who have noticed. Ben Affleck knows the movie business from all angles, which is why the actor/director calling Netflix out is certainly notable news.
Earlier this summer Affleck started Artists Equity, a studio he formed alongside Matt Damon. The goal is to make about three projects a year, maybe five in the future. And in talking about his hopes for the studio, he juxtaposed what a behemoth like Netflix does to survive. And not exactly in a good way.
As Deadline reported, Affleck appeared on a panel at the New York Times’ DealBook Summit this week to talk about the movie industry and what he hopes to accomplish with Artists Equity. The goal, he said, is to make movies that “people remember 20 years later.” And that doesn’t always mean aiming for the biggest audience.
“There’s bigger audience for action movies than there is for small dramas – I get that,” Affleck said. “Certain genres play more broadly and you can’t not be mindful of that. But let’s do a good one, let’s surprise the audience, let’s make them care about it.”
The goal of Artists Equity, Affleck said, was not to focus on volume but quality of movies. Which is something he noted the biggest money-movers in Hollywood have focused on in recent years. He used Netflix as an example, calling the volume approach the streamer has had lately an “assembly line process” that more often than not doesn’t create very good films.
“If you ask Reed Hastings … I’m sure there’s some risk in that, and I’m sure they had a great strategy, but I would have said, ‘How are we going to make 50 great movies?! How is that possible? There’s no committee big enough. There aren’t enough — you just can’t do it. It’s a thing that requires attention and dedication and work and resists the assembly line process. Scott Stuber is a really talented, smart guy who I really like… but it’s an impossible job,” Affleck said, referring to the giant streamer’s founder and co-CEO and to its head of original films.
It’s interesting to see Affleck be so blatantly critical of Netflix and the quality of the projects they make (especially given his experience with them on Triple Frontier), but it offers a glimpse into what many see as a problem of the modern movie landscape itself. When the goal is volume over quality, regardless of what size screen the product is intended for, the whole industry suffers. It’s clear that Netflix is capable of making good movies — as Glass Onion can certainly prove — but Affleck made it clear this week that the current model in place doesn’t mean they make a lot of good movies. Which means a lot of stuff to scroll past to get to the things people actually want to watch.