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The money in the room could have bankrolled the California secession. It was a warm June night earlier this year, and a few dozen of Hollywood’s deepest pockets filled Ted Sarandos’s tented garden at his Hancock Park house to talk legacy building, specifically the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ ambitious museum being constructed in the middle of Hollywood, scheduled to open in 2019.

A film geek’s dream and would-be tourist destination, the state-of-the-art, Renzo Piano–designed institution will honor an industry built on celluloid and ambition—and it’s not coming cheap. The Academy still needed more than $100 million to complete the project at the time of Sarandos’s fund-raiser. Netflix’s chief content officer and an eager Academy member, Sarandos not only hosted the pitch dinner but also brought in a couple of whales to dine alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Laura Dern, and Jane Fonda. As music played in the background, and filet mignon was served, Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger made an impassioned speech for the museum’s importance. Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul worth $3.2 billion, was so moved that he plunked down $50 million, the project’s largest donation to date. It was an in-the-room sell worthy of the museum it was going to fund—and none of it would have happened without Netflix.

Lately, it feels as if very little in Hollywood happens without Netflix. With $6 billion to spend on content annually (and up to $8 billion in 2018), the company, under Sarandos’s creative leadership, has become Hollywood’s go-to financier, handing over gobs of dough to talent as varied as Adam Sandler and Paul Greengrass. (Netflix co-founder and C.E.O. Reed Hastings hired Sarandos in 2000 to execute his strategy of acquiring and making binge-worthy properties.) Filmmaker Ava DuVernay described working at Netflix as landing on a “soft pillow,” and none other than Martin Scorsese eagerly linked arms with the streaming service to finally shoot his $125 million, 10-years-in-the-making gangster movie that will re-unite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The company has plans to release no fewer than 80 movies in 2018, up from about 50 this year. (Testament to Netflix’s reach, and in the interest of disclosure, I met with the company this summer before joining the staff of Vanity Fair.)

At first glance, Sarandos may seem an odd booster for the Academy’s museum. He’s the top creative executive at a company that has used its clout and spending power to systematically upend the old Hollywood order. But his future may be inextricably linked to the Academy, and the Oscars it doles out annually. For all its power, Netflix still has not gained meaningful entry into Hollywood’s most prestigious club. Many in the Academy, perhaps even some at that tented dinner, seem to be working to maintain the status quo. Earlier this year Sarandos lobbied to be made a member of the Academy’s board of governors. He was passed over in the first round. Despite spending millions on aggressive awards campaigns in recent years for such critical darlings as >Beasts of No Nation and DuVernay’s documentary >13th, Netflix has a lone statuette, for last year’s best-documentary-short winner, The White Helmets. And in its most aggressive move yet, the Academy is currently debating what even counts as a movie in the streaming age. The results could provide the group with a poison pill to ensure that Netflix never does see major Oscar gold.

Why the resistance? Sarandos is a sweet guy. Smart, affable, a big supporter of movies. Plenty of folks in town acknowledge that the streaming business his company pioneered is their future. But Netflix’s sole agenda is to release its mass of content—both film and television—directly to the consumer, ignoring the sacred engine of the movie business: the movie theater. It is committed to this so-called day-and-date strategy with a near-religious fervor. So while Sarandos may be instrumental in helping to erect Los Angeles’s first monument to the film industry, he’s seen by many in the Academy as Public Enemy Number One when it comes to dismantling the very palaces that started the business.

“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films,” director Christopher Nolan told IndieWire last summer while promoting his 2017 Oscar hopeful, the World War II drama >Dunkirk. “They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation. So they’re not even getting in the game, and I think they’re missing a huge opportunity.”

The one thing that could conceivably persuade Sarandos and company to rethink their theatrical approach is the Oscars. Should Netflix crack a major category, best picture or director, or any of the performance races—and it is working hard to do so, hiring a stable of consultants and spending mightily on campaigning—it could mean game over for the traditionalists holding the line on the precious theatrical release. It’s a war for the heart and soul of the business that’s pitted a deep-pocketed digital upstart against studios and theaters, whose alliance dates back to the days of silent pictures and vertical integration. Filmmakers and talent are left in the middle.

“The Academy was founded on film exhibited in theaters,” one Academy member recently told me, bemoaning the day-and-date strategy. “[It] is the same thing as saying television is a movie.”

But then again.

“Netflix isn’t destroying the business. Anyone who is going to let you make your movie the way you want to make it is good for movies,” another member said. “Who wouldn’t want to go to an old-fashioned studio, land on 4,000 screens, attend the big premiere, be part of the huge marketing campaign? But those days are gone. Yet we still want to make movies. Thank God for Netflix.”


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Source : https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/11/netflix-the-oscars-the-battle-for-the-future-of-film

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