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Netflix has made sweeping changes to the theatrical-distribution model that catered to the film industry for decades. Because the streaming service has access to a substantial, built-in audience, Paramount can sell them a Cloverfield sequel AND make it available almost instantaneously, as The Cloverfield Paradox did for viewers on Super Bowl Sunday. Similarly, the benefits of the Netflix model are creating new advantages for filmmakers, as Mute director Duncan Jones recently revealed to CinemaBlend that he no longer has the stress of opening-weekend expectations, because he's not going theatrical. On the eve of the release of Mute, Duncan Jones explains:
The weird thing about doing the Netflix film, obviously is it's not really about opening nights or opening weekend numbers. It's really about, 'Have I made a film that good word of mouth is going to help?' That's kind of where I'm at right now. And it's a very different feeling because that opening weekend sort of stress is not really... it doesn't really exist in the same way for this.
I was asking Jones what he used to do on opening weekend to keep himself busy when he had a new movie reaching theaters. In talking about his process, Duncan Jones also realized that dropping a film right on Netflix means that the marketing needs of a theatrical release don't factor in, so a movie's secrets can be protected until the movie is viewed. He elaborates:
I think there is something kind of cool about there being movies now that you may not know about. That someone will tell you about and you'd be, 'I never heard of that. I didn't know about that movie.' Because we're so used to being absolutely beaten over the head with marketing in the weeks running up to a theatrical opening. That's kind of how the studios do it now, because they need the opening weekends to be massive and they're making movies for four quadrants. And that's kind of what they do now. With Netflix, and this different approach of actually curating movies for more specific audiences, it's kind of this whole new approach to it now.
Mute has plenty of secrets to reveal, once the audience is able to see it. In the movie, set in a sci-fi future, a mute bartender (Alexander Skarsgard) gets involved with two seedy criminals (Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux) when his girlfriend goes missing. It's a movie Duncan Jones has been trying to make for 16 years, and he tells us that without the freedom of the Netflix model, he'd never be able to deliver Mute in the version that he prefers. Jones says:
Fundamentally the script itself would be... there would be a lot of changes. There would be a lot of pressure to change what Mute is in order to make it more obviously accessible. Accessibility I think, is the sand paper of movie making. It will take the edges off of just about anything.
Duncan Jones' Mute will be on Netflix on Friday, February 23. To get a sense of the world, watch this trailer: