In a recent interview with ITV News Spielberg has challenged that movies made for SVOD services such as Netflix are more akin to the made-for-TV fare than anything seen at the local cinema. He believes that, due to the nature of their format, they should never be considered for Academy Awards and should only reach accolades such as the Emmys.
So, is he right? Should the fact that a Netflix original can be viewed from a phone disqualify it and everyone involved from getting an Oscar?
Maybe Spielberg is right
One caveat of being nominated is that you must have a theatrical run of at least one week straight, and that has to include LA. Netflix has gotten around such stipulation by doing exactly that – releasing a movie of theirs for exactly 7 days to (at least) a theatre in LA. That’s how Mudbound was able to be considered at all for this past award season. Spielberg feels that this tactic is gaming the system. The bare minimum is the bar that the theatrical run is setting, where the Oscars are awarded to those few films overachieve beyond the efforts of their peers.
Spielberg is also a traditionalist in terms of film festivals and finding distribution from there. One one hand it might seem like he’s saying that films that can’t find partners at Sundance or Cannes shouldn’t be considered for an Academy Award, on the other, it’s obvious that a movie has to at least make a splash there to even be on The Academy’s radar. It’s not a perfect system, and not every nominated film goes through the festival circuit, but it remains a tried and true rule-of-thumb part of the process for many projects.
There’s a certain sense of making the grade that Spielberg seems to be demanding of the nominations. There is a difference between paintings being sold from a garage, and those being displayed at the MOMA. Once there, past works can be looked at and appreciated for what they are, but what they will never skip the line, so to speak.
Maybe Spielberg is wrong
Going with the aforementioned example, why consider one artist over another based on the stage they display on? Isn’t the fact that great artwork can be found anywhere the beauty of visual expression in the first place? Should a movie not be considered a movie because of the screen size it displays on?
Spielberg has long been ahead of the curve, developing the world first summer blockbuster with “Jaws” and being one of the first to use extensive CGI with “Jurassic Park.” He may have finally fallen behind on current trends. His argument is based on format and display alone.
“Lady Bird” and “Bladerunner 2049” obviously have very different production budgets, but very few would see the former and think it wasn’t meant as a major film. Therefore it’s not a budget concern. If Spielberg is worried about the film festival market dying out, he has to consider that Netflix doesn’t always produce their movies in-house. “Mudbound” was offered distribution from A24 and Annapurna first after a successful Sundance run. Should it never have had nominations because of who decided to distribute? How would that be fair to all the people who worked on bringing that vision to fruition?
Movies that are deserving of merits should be eligible for those merits. If a major studio release movie can be shot on an iPhone and play in cinemas across the country for eligibility, why can’t they be watched on one as well? Times are changing, and much like the music industry of the early oughts (and now for that matter) Hollywood is going to have to adapt and understand the consumption trends of the day. Audiences are already lukewarm on watching the award ceremony as it marches towards the 100th anniversary. Without a shift to highlighting the things people are watching, perhaps that little golden man won’t see his centennial.