In something of an about-face, Amblin Partners, Steven Spielberg's long-running film production company, will produce several films per year for Netflix. The deal reflects Netflix's rising star and arguably acceptance by the legendary director of a new order to the cinematic world where home viewing is a first-class citizen.
The deal was announced in a press release with few details except glowing quotes from Amblin and Netflix executives. All that is certain is that Amblin will produce "multiple new feature films per year" for Netflix.
"From the minute Ted [Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer] and I started discussing a partnership, it was abundantly clear that we had an amazing opportunity to tell new stories together and reach audiences in new ways," said Spielberg in the release.
Those new ways didn't sound so amazing to Spielberg a couple years ago when he was reportedly pushing to exclude Netflix films from the Academy Awards.
"Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg told ITV in March of 2019. “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination."
Ultimately no real push was made, though. Whether Spielberg was misrepresented, changed his mind or just read the room, he has since tempered his position. He has said rather that he simply wants to cherish and protect "the theatrical experience" — understandable from one of the pioneers of the modern blockbuster.
Naturally it's a huge get for Netflix, which will get a steady stream of Amblin features, though there's no guarantee of a Spielberg picture. Meanwhile Amblin will continue its longtime partnership with Universal, which fills the more traditional moviemaking and distribution side of things. The company has already broken bread with streaming companies, with shows and films made for and distributed by Netflix and others, but this is most significant partnership so far.
Perhaps it was COVID that suggested to Spielberg and Amblin that streaming platforms are, far from going away, simply the future of the industry in many ways. In a world where the "theatrical experience" is a potential superspreader event and people are perfectly happy to watch (and pay for) a "premiere" at home, it may be better to roll with the punches and hope that things bounce back.