Judd Apatow And More Hollywood Directors Up In Arms Over New Netflix Feature

Jesse Pinkman with a gun in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

In the modern age, we have seen many different forms of clashes between filmmakers and technology - particularly in the realm of presentation. It started, of course, as theaters started using digital projectors instead of actual film, and during the height of the 3D boom there were arguments about brightness. Streaming, of course, has opened up a different can of worms altogether, with the developing arena making moves that occasionally rub the director community the wrong way.

The most recent example of this has been unfolding this week, and it involves a new "player control" with which Netflix is currently experimenting. The tech is simple, giving audiences the option for variable playback speeds - including one-and-a-half times faster than normal.

After being discovered by Android Police, multiple notable members of the movie industry took to social media to express their extreme displeasure at the idea of their works being manipulated in this fashion. With over 3,000 Retweets on Twitter, writer/director/producer Judd Apatow got the most attention with his reaction to the news of the developing Netflix feature, suggesting that he would personally get every filmmaker and get them to stop the concept from being implemented:

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Presumably the thinking behind the implementation of this feature on Netflix is that it will allow users to watch more content faster - but that comes at a major sacrifice in regard to filmmaker intent. If a director wanted a scene to play one-and-a-half times faster, then they would have constructed it that way during the editing process. If you're watching something at a higher speed, you're not taking in everything that the content is offering you, and that's just a waste.

Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird also did not mince words in his reaction to the new tech. As part of his criticism, he notes that Netflix is giving a lot of money to filmmakers to produce content right now, and it's a pretty bad thing to stab them in the back by potentially manipulating the presentation in such a way.

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Peter Ramsey, co-director of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, replied directly to Judd Apatow's post on Twitter, and made a very good point: if a Netflix member doesn't have time to properly watch something, then they should go do something else and wait until they do have enough time:

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And it's not only directors. Aaron Paul, who not only is the lead actor in Netflix's most recent blockbuster hit - El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie - but also a key part the Bojack Horseman voice cast, also expressed a fair amount of vitriol towards the idea of variable playback speeds:

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In an official blog post written in response to the criticism, Netflix Vice President Keela Robison explained the streaming service's side of the matter, noting that it's a feature that has been requested by users, and that it's something that home video devices have been able to do since the rise of DVD:

This is a mobile only test and gives people the ability to vary the speed at which they watch on phones or tablets - choosing from normal to slower (0.5X or 0.75X) or faster (1.25X and 1.5X). It’s a feature that has long been available on DVD players - and has been frequently requested by our members. For example, people looking to rewatch their favorite scene or wanting to go slower because it’s a foreign language title.

As for creators who don't appreciate their works being manipulated, the Netflix VP says that it is only being looked at for mobile devices, and that there are specific efforts being made in regards to audio clarity:

We’ve been sensitive to creator concerns and haven’t included bigger screens, in particular TVs, in this test. We’ve also automatically corrected the pitch in the audio at faster and slower speeds. In addition, members must choose to vary the speed each time they watch something new - versus Netflix maintaining their settings based on their last choice.

The statement concludes that there are currently no plans to roll out this feature in a new Netflix app update, and that its existence will depend on the feedback that they receive from their experimentation. It will be interesting to see if that feedback is exclusively from users, or if they are taking external commentary into account as well.

How do you feel about this potential feature from Netflix? Do you think you would use or, or are you as offended as the filmmakers above? Answer our poll below, and hit the comments section with all of your thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the matter.

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Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.