At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, The Verge conducted an interview with Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer at Netflix. With the recent expansion to 130 countries, Sarandos talked about the need for Netflix to look for global content – films and shows that can play well across cultures. He mentioned the series “Narcos” and “Marseille” as models of what the Netflix content acquisition team looks for.
That is a very encouraging message for content producers working outside the United States and the English-speaking world. “Narcos” was very much an international production – created and (primarily) written by an American, Chris Brancato; filmed in Colombia in Spanish; with two Brazilians, José Padilha and Wagner Moura, as the director and lead actor, respectively.
On the other hand, “Marseille” – to be released in March 2016 – is a French production in French.
Content produced in languages other than English has always been at a disadvantage. It’s been difficult to distribute such content internationally, which in turn limited financing of such projects, which in turn reduced their marketability. Now, if international producers are able to take advantage of Netflix’s global scale of distribution, their chances of competing with English-language productions should improve considerably.
When it comes to creating global shows, non-American filmmakers might actually have one advantage. I think they are better positioned to create content that plays well across cultures, because, in general, they are more aware of cultures other than their own. For someone living in a small country, it is very natural to take interest in other cultures – more so than for someone who lives in a country with the dominant popular culture.
Now, it is true that both “Narcos” and “Marseille” are examples of high-profile and large-budget productions. So, even though there is less of a language barrier, smaller international indie producers might feel that the doors are still closed for them. Of course, distributors need marketable titles, which normally means highly-recognizable talent. But Netflix also needs to fill its library with lower cost content. This content has to be of high-quality, of course, but it does not need to have expensive talent attached. It just needs to entertain, to tell good stories.
Also, the competition for Netflix is sure to grow. You would expect services like Amazon Video Prime, HBO Now and Hulu to expand internationally soon; and hopefully new platforms will emerge from countries other than the United States.
A great example of a partnership that Netflix looks to strike with indie filmmakers is the agreement it made with the Duplass Brothers Productions. Mark and Jay Duplass will produce for Netflix four feature films with budgets under $1M.
The Duplass brothers have become known for delivering entertaining content on small budgets. When they started, they followed the “available-materials school of filmmaking”, as they coined it. Their first feature, “Puffy Chair” was made for about $15,000. Despite that, the film went on to premiere at Sundance and was a hit on Netflix.
This is not to say that all indie filmmakers should be aiming to make films for Netflix. However, the international expansion of this and other similar digital platforms is bringing new opportunities to indie filmmakers, including to those who are far, far away from Hollywood.
For those, interested, here is the trailer for “Narcos” (it is an excellent series)
And here is the full Verge interview with Ted Sarandos
Here is a selection of films made or produced by the Duplass brothers
The Duplass brothers were also executive producers on the indie flick “6 Years” about which we wrote here.