In today’s rapidly changing entertainment industry where content is king, there are more channels than ever through which a film can get made and be seen by an audience. But some of these channels come with tradeoffs, like streaming giant Netflix, which still does not give its original films a traditional theatrical release window. That might be a dealbreaker for some, but The Irishman producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff didn't have second thoughts about taking the film to Netflix, as she explained:
We did not pause. We, Marty and [Robert De Niro] were determined to get [The Irishman] made. That was the only studio ready to step up and give us what we needed. What's great about Marty is he is so open to new ideas and technology. Obviously, you know his first choice is always a wide theatrical release. When we entered the conversation, [Netflix's Scott] Stuber had been trying desperately to get theatrical, negotiating all of that. We were promised that we would have something.
While you might think that an evangelist of the theatrical experience like Martin Scorsese would have agonized over the decision to take his crime opus to Netflix, thus largely forgoing a theatrical release, that wasn’t the case. The team behind the well-reviewed The Irishman, including producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro, did not hesitate when the opportunity to take the film to Netflix arose.
That’s because, as Emma Tillinger Koskoff told The Hollywood Reporter at a producer roundtable, they were all determined to get The Irishman made. Martin Scorsese had been circling, talking about, developing and trying to get his adaptation of I Heard You Paint Houses made for over a decade. So when the opportunity to make it happen finally came around, they weren’t about to think twice because it would land on Netflix.
As Martin Scorsese has previously stated, they had run out of room to make The Irishman through the traditional system, so it was really no choice at all. According to Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Netflix stepped up and gave The Irishman what it needed to get made, including a massive budget and the kind of creative freedom filmmakers dream of, so they didn’t pause before signing with the streamer to distribute the film.
In this situation, given the circumstances, Martin Scorsese was open to doing things differently than he had before, despite how much he prefers his films to have a wide theatrical release. The legendary director was willing to take a chance on Netflix with this particular movie. Netflix’s Scott Stuber bolstered their confidence in that decision by working diligently to get The Irishman some kind of theatrical release.
All things being equal, I imagine there would have been much more of a deliberation if Martin Scorsese could have had a version of The Irishman made through traditional channels. But if you’re trying to get somewhere and you have to hitchhike, you can’t be picky about what kind of car picks you up.
Ultimately The Irishman didn’t get as wide a release as Martin Scorsese surely would have liked, but it did get to play in theaters on the big screen. The demand for those tickets has been exceedingly high and Netflix is potentially passing on millions of dollars (and angering theater owners) by forgoing a wider release and adhering to its streaming-centric focus.
It will definitely be interesting to see what the calculation is for other filmmakers and producers when Netflix opens up its checkbook and offers incredible creative freedom.