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Over the last few years, numerous streaming providers have been upping their game when it comes to acquiring and producing original content, including feature films. And no one has been more active or aggressive than the big daddy of them all, Netflix. The recent acquisition of Bright, starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, and directed by David Ayer, had a huge price tag. According to the director, however, while the money is nice, the platform provides a better option for this type of R-rated action movie than a traditional studio setting as it allows more artistic license.
A project like Bright, one with a big star in Will Smith and a big name director like David Ayer, is traditionally the type of film that finds a home at one of the major studios. Talking to Deadline, however, the Suicide Squad director said it’s not about budget and a wide theatrical release, but it boils down to creative freedom. He said:
I can’t even speak to any theatrical release plans for this; I don’t even know if that’s going to happen, and it wasn’t my priority. I was after the creative freedom, the ability to make really hard-R-rated movies with vision and voice and see them play in the on-demand world. You do that as a theatrical release, and you’d better hit a bull’s-eye, some cultural zeitgeist. Otherwise it’s a gamble for studios; it’s easier for them to justify $200M budgets for tentpoles than $40M to $90M for the movies I like to make.
While this allows a director like David Ayer the leeway to make his movie, his way—we’re seeing more and more filmmakers opt for this route for this very reason—this is a big coup for Netflix as well. The streaming giant inked a lucrative deal with Adam Sandler for a number of movies, and they even got into the prestige, end-of-the-year awards game in 2015 with Beasts of No Nation—they were also big spenders at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, snatching up a number of buzzed about titles—but those are all modestly budgeted films. Bright, however, marks their first real foray into potential blockbuster territory.
The deal that landed Bright at Netflix is reportedly worth $90 million, which includes a $45 million shooting budget and an equal amount invested in the talent involved. Directed by David Ayer, written by Max Landis, and starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, the story revolves around a human cop (Smith) who is forced to team up with, no kidding, an orc (Edgerton), in order to track down a powerful wand. It’s been described as a mix between End of Watch and Alien Nation. That sounds awesome.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Bright performs. To qualify Beasts of No Nation for awards consideration, Netflix released it into a limited number of theaters, but it ran into problems because a lot of venues won’t accept movies that don’t offer them an exclusive windows. Though it might be more difficult to deny a potentially lucrative Will Smith/David Ayer team up. Perhaps this will become a more regular occurrence for this kind of mid-range action film.