article film

The Lessons Cinema Can Learn From Netflix: Let’s Scale!

by Ian Morton

With every invention comes a new way to look and interact with the world. The match for instance changed the way we perceived fire, the plane morphed our outlook on travel and the less said about social media the better! While some may not take to change as easy as others, it’s a practice humans have been using for years, to both better themselves and ultimately learn from past mistakes.

As the rise of online streaming begins to affect the margins of every media related industry on the planet, we here at All Things Movies have decided to take a deeper look at the world of film and see what lessons we can learn from tele-box behemoths such as Netflix and Amazon.

To kick off this little mini-series of articles, we are going to delve into what the industry can learn from acclaimed Netflix Original TV series such as Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hillhouse and more recently, The Umbrella Academy. While it seems wrong to compare TV with film, it’s the approach to the material that can prove more informative than comparing the actual content with one another.

While not exactly a new concept, streaming services have shifted the TV market by taking the increasingly over-bloated, 24 episode season format and cutting it into shorter, more bite-sized chunks.

Not only did this lead to a new style, setup and playground for production companies to work with, it also created a new platform for writers and directors to tell stories in different ways. No longer would a movie scribe be tied to a 2 hour script, and similarly, a TV dramatist shackled to an exhaustively extensive timeline.

So what can the film industry learn from this shift in focus? The importance of scale! Franchises are the go-to model at present but they certainly don’t all lend themselves to the longer format. In order for a franchise to work, it needs to meet a certain criteria – a three dimensional world, an abundance of content and characters you want to follow. If those 3 aren’t met, then surely a different approach should be considered right?

Think about how much better things could have turned out for the unfortunate beginnings of the DC Extended Universe or the ill-fated ‘Dark Universe’ if Warner Bros. or Universal resisted the urge to copy the House of Mouse (Disney) and take an entirely different approach.

A simple duology, unencumbered by the need to link to circa 143 other films would have stripped down the flabby plot of Batman vs Superman and given the film room the breathe. Similarly, the sheer weight of characters alone in the Dark Universe should have been enough to steer the company away from the promise of an interlocking 10 year extravaganza.

The same can also be said of the reverse. Last year, Ready Player One hit the big screen and while not a total failure, suffered immensely by pacing through the plot and ultimately stuffing way too much into an already stretched 2 hour and 20 minute run time. With the right approach, RPO could have been a fine trilogy, delving deeper into the character arcs, villainous corporations and the pop culture that fans of the books frequently rant about. It was a film that could easily have been scaled up and made better for it.

Thankfully however, not all is lost. A good example of cinema scaling things back can be seen with IT. Rather than flesh the book out and merge the back catalogue of Stephen King into a wide spanning ‘King-verse’, a focused approach over 2 films allows for a succinct adaptation. The benefit is that the story (and filmmakers) have a chance to find its structure without being forced to open up opportunities in the wider world – a breath of fresh air compared to the endless eluding to future projects franchises such as the Marvel Universe are guilty of.

Regardless of these lessons however, the issue of scaling is not new nor will it be solved overnight. While there are plenty of successes, there are ultimately more failures when establishing the right way to adapt a story to the big screen. With Netflix and other streaming services leading the way and changing the way we view content, I wonder whether it’s time for film to start writing notes from its younger brother rather than continuously trying to beat it to the ground.

Want some more from the team? Check out more of the latest articles/reviews:

Top 10 films of 2018 – The Big Dudes Perspective
Cinema or Netflix: The Friday Night Conundrum
Ian Crow’s Film Masterclass – The Dark Knight (2008) #4


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