Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Netflix’s ‘Rim of the World’ Shows Where Sci-Fi Is Headed

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Netflix’s ‘Rim of the World’ Shows Where Sci-Fi Is Headed

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Does this movie look familiar? It ought to.

Aaron Epstein/Netflix

If the movie Rim of the World, premiering on Netflix today, looks a little familiar to you, that’s on purpose. It’s the story of four kids, thrown together at summer camp in the middle of an alien invasion, faced with the task of carrying the one object that can defeat the aliens across war-torn Los Angeles. It’s a fun ride through childhood friendship forged amid killer aliens and saving the world. Sound like a 1980s-style adventure, like what Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment used to make? Well, good.

Maybe you’ll see echoes of Stand By Me in its story of four kids on a road trip, or the vibe of Goonies and Explorers in the movie’s diverse tweens in science-fictional, action-adventurous peril. Sharper-eyed nerds will spot locations such as Courthouse Square on the Universal backlot—the clocktower in Back to the Future—and the Sepulveda Dam used in Escape from New York and the closing credits of Buckaroo Banzai. These kinds of movies used to be a reliable product. “There were a couple of them every summer, and they were great, and I loved them. They were emotionally important to me,” says Zack Stentz, who wrote Rim of the World. “And Hollywood stopped making them.”

Now, though, digital streaming services like Netflix are engaged in an ongoing upending of Hollywood’s business model. Small screens can do what big screens won’t.

Stentz had the idea for Rim of the World years ago—that he could modernize the kids-on-an-adventure trope of the 1980s by using summer camp as a tool to separate kids from parents and cell phones. Cue the aliens, and you’re rolling. “I told my agents about it in early 2016, and they said, ‘Don’t. The studios aren’t buying anything like that.'” But Stentz, a veteran of the desperately underrated TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and co-writer of Thor and X-Men: First Class, couldn’t shake the idea. He started writing it anyway.

Two-thirds of the way to a finished draft, the show Stranger Things hit. “Suddenly everyone remembered how much they loved those ’80s movies that Stranger Things was Frankenstein-monstered out of the pieces of,” Stentz says. He finished his script and took it to a pal at the director McG’s production company, and they wanted to set something up at Netflix. That was early 2017. A year later, the deal was closed. “The crazy thing about Netflix is, when the deals are closed, there aren’t ten more drafts with everyone giving notes,” Stentz says. “They’re like, ‘OK, go make it.'”

And they did. “We didn’t have the resources of a $150 million movie, but we had a 40-day shoot, which is not terrible, and an incredibly meticulous director of photography, so when you see it, it doesn’t look like TV,” Stentz says. He’s right; the budget was in fact just a tenth of that, but the effects gleam and sets look great. And a few long takes from the POV of the kids as they dodge explosions and aliens bring, as Stentz says, “real cinematic razzle dazzle.”

All of which should make you ask: Wait, why’d they make this? Like, Rim of the World is the kind of perfectly fun mid-list movie that, as Stentz says, used to get made all the time. But now they don’t. Why is Netflix reheating what seem like cultural leftovers?

Today, big studios—facing declining movie attendance overall—depend on massive franchises, cinematic universes like the Marvel movies to deliver billion-dollar grosses at thousands of theaters worldwide. “This squeezed out a huge number of genres and formats and styles, even those that were massive hits in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond,” says Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst, in an email. “This change in theatrical supply is separate from audience demand and interest in this content. Audiences still love rom-coms (which have been largely dropped by the major studios) and kid-focused adventure/thrillers.”

Adam Rogers writes about science, technology, and miscellaneous geekery for WIRED.

So Netflix is, in a sense, hitting ’em where they ain’t. It has to if it wants to sustain subscriber growth. (Netflix has a reported 139 million subscribers around the world already.) The company has the money to spend—a reported $8 billion for content—but can’t really compete with the Avengers and Mission Impossibles of the world, especially as the big studios draw those kind of movies back to create catalogs for their own digital streaming services, like the soon-to-launch Disney+. (A Netflix spokesperson declined to make any of its executives available for comment.)

Netflix grabs international TV series, makes its own movies, and in general vies for volume to appeal to a range of tastes, quality levels, and commitment to time in front of a TV. Every long tail, in other words. “HBO self-develops and produces everything they make, obsessively, slowly, and deliberately,” Ball says. “Netflix needs a lot of output. This means hiring experienced talent, such as McG, and trusting them to get it done.”

All of which opened the door for Stentz to amble in. “It means you have to check your ego at the door a little bit, because your movie’s not going to be debuting in 4,000 theaters, 40 feet high,” he says. “But it’s wonderful at the same time, because it means a lot more people are going to see it.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a hit; the sheer amount of new shows and movies that drop on Netflix (not to mention Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.) can mean new stuff gets lost in the tsunami. Stentz took the somewhat unusual step of going on Twitter and saying that he’d talk to reporters about his movie; that’s usually the kind of thing studio communications people handle (or quash). But now, even the definition of “hit” has changed. Rim of the World doesn’t have to outgross Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It just has to be old-fashioned fun.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Netflix’s ‘Roma’ Rollout Teaches the Company Some Lessons

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Netflix’s ‘Roma’ Rollout Teaches the Company Some Lessons

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Alfonso Cuarón’s epic is the biggest theatrical release Netflix has undertaken—and the process has laid bare some weaknesses in the company’s offline strategy.

Netflix

There’s never been a movie quite like Netflix’s Roma, writer-director Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous, deeply immersive black-and-white drama about a young woman in 1970s Mexico. And there’s never been a movie released quite like Roma, which the streamer has put in nearly 600 theaters worldwide—the mightiest big-screen run for any Netflix film yet. The unspoken hope, of course, is that the greater awareness will help the company forge a path leading Roma’ straight to the Academy Awards. If the strategy works, Netflix could very well adapt it for some of its forthcoming prestige films, such as Martin Scorsese’s crime epic The Irishman, or the Steven Soderbergh-directed Panama Papers thriller The Laundromat.

Yet the company’s handling of Roma has also been marred by confusion, switcheroos, and a typical (and typically maddening) Silicon Valley opacity that basically comes down to, “Trust us, we know what we’re doing.” With the film finally on Netflix—and in (some) theaters—here are a few takeaways from its strange months-long trajectory.

Pick a Plan, and Stick With It

In the months leading up to Roma’s end-of-year release, the film garnered multiple festival awards, raising expectations for a movie that already had a must-see pedigree: Cuarón’s last feature was the smash space odyssey Gravity, and his filmography also includes the 21st-century essential Children of Men. Clearly, Roma had the potential to be one of 2018’s most culturally seismic films.

But even as the movie picked up critical traction and awareness, Netflix’s release plan remained unclear: In August, the streamer was reportedly mulling a brief, awards-qualifying theatrical run in a handful of theaters in December. Then it was a slightly more ambitious three-week release that would start in November, along with a separate 70mm release. Finally, the company announced its 600-venue effort, by which point the film had already been playing at a few smaller theaters in major hubs like Los Angeles and New York City. (That 70mm run, meanwhile, became just a few select engagements, partly because one chain, Alamo Drafthouse, reportedly pulled out after failing to come to terms with the company.)

Releasing an awards-season film like Roma requires plenty of flexibility, of course. And it’s heartening that the demand for Cuarón’s film—which greatly benefits from big-screen viewing—has led to even more showings. But at times, it seemed as though Netflix was inventing a new strategy every few weeks, much to the annoyance of moviegoers, who simply wanted to know when and where they could actually see this thing—or if they’d ever get a chance to see it in a theater at all. Such concerns aren’t unjustified: When Netflix released the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—another potential Oscar contender—the company dropped it in a handful of small theaters, and barely advertised its arrival.

Scruggs deserved better treatment. And so does Roma. If Netflix wants to be in the business of making upscale event movies, it needs to make them actual events, not the equivalent of a big-screen pop-up gathering. That means staking out a release date, sticking to it, and assuring cinephiles that they’ll get their chance to see it in a theater if they want.

Report the Grosses

Netflix famously never reveals its streaming figures. And with the exception of Beasts of No Nation—the 2015 drama that Netflix hoped would be a major awards player—the company has never reported its theatrical grosses, either. That’s because Netflix’s release plan consists of “four-walling,” or renting each screen the movie plays on; while the studio (in this case, Netflix) keeps all the revenue from each screening, it more importantly means that the company doesn’t have to release box office results. Instead, Netflix occasionally leaks opening-weekend figures to reporters, who can’t independently verify their accuracy.

A few years ago, such murkiness would have played into Netflix’s effort to present itself as a scrappy, rules-flaunting industry outsider. But in a year in which it’s become clear that no one should take any tech company at its word, the practice feels like a shady bit of narrative-steering. And besides, what’s the point of pushing these movies into theaters—where they’re competing with traditional studio films—if the company is just going to keep the results a secret? It certainly doesn’t Netflix, whose potential bragging rights will always come affixed with an asterisk. It doesn’t help potential Netflix-partnering filmmakers, who are used to having some sort of economic-driven metric with which to judge a film’s performance—and who may not trust Netflix’s “Everyone’s gonna see it!” promise.

In an era when there are tens of thousands of hours of competing Stuff I Gotta Watch(™), simply throwing Roma at the top of an on-screen menu isn’t going to convince skeptics to bump it to the top of their queue.

And it doesn’t help Roma. The movie’s hardly an easy sell: It’s a sometimes quiet, sometimes harrowing 135-minute drama featuring zero movie stars and lots of subtitles. And in an era when there are tens of thousands of hours of competing Stuff I Gotta Watch(™), simply throwing Roma at the top of an on-screen menu isn’t going to convince skeptics to bump it to the top of their queue. A smaller film like Roma needs to build up a certain amount of cultural momentum before it has a chance of becoming a mini-phenom. Rave reviews certainly increase the odds of that happening; so do big awards. But smaller movies often benefit from the kind of “little film makes big” narratives that take weeks and months to build, and are backed by a series of small-scale box office victories. Like it or not, there are people who won’t finally click on Roma until it becomes so big, they feel they can’t miss it.

Chill

In the last few years, Netflix competitor Amazon Studios has figured out a workable, relatively sane release pattern for its original films: In 2016, its Manchester by the Sea played for several months in theaters, earning nearly $50 million in the U.S. before being made available for streaming—by which point it had already been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. It was a victory all around for the company, giving them a highly visible, critically beloved, award-winning hit that drew audiences to theaters, and likely made the studio seem much more enticing for big-name filmmakers it would want to woo in the future.

Netflix is, obviously, a very different company than Amazon: For starters, it has hundreds of original films in its catalog, whereas Amazon released fewer than a dozen this year. And while Amazon Prime is just one of the company’s many user-baiting services, Netflix stakes its business on its monthly streaming subscriptions: It doesn’t want to alienate users by promising at-home exclusives, and then making them wait months to get them.

Still, what if Netflix were to treat just a few of its movies each year with the same patience displayed by Amazon? If Roma had been released in theaters in September or October, and and then been allowed to expand over the awards season in the months to come, it would be enough time for the film to become a full-on must-see moviegoing event—one that could arrive on Netflix in all its glory in February, just in time for the Academy Awards. The decision would probably have irked some subscribers—but considering they would have another 72 million hours or so of Netflix content to distract themselves with while waiting for Roma, it’s doubtful too many users would have cut off Netflix completely.

Granted, there are countless industry-specific reasons why such an approach probably wouldn’t work—but that hasn’t stopped Netflix from trying in the past. Clearly, the company needs to rethink the road it took with Roma, one that eliminates all the consumer confusion and instead emphasizes the only thing that really matters when it comes to releasing a movie: The movie itself.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired How to Use Netflix’s Parental Controls

Hexbyte Tech News Wired How to Use Netflix’s Parental Controls

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

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Parental controls were not a big thing in my household growing up. Both of my parents had acted in iconic horror films—Jaws and The Last House on the Left—and as such, didn’t have much of an argument when I wanted to watch R-rated content. Now, as the parent of a 3-year-old, I’d like to shield my son a little more. The problem? Netflix seems insistent on showing him things I’d prefer my toddler not see.

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