With The Irishman, Netflix Exec Says Streamer Was Looking For 'A Masterpiece'

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Ray Romano in 'The Irishman'

The Irishman may have marked a turning point for Netflix. Though the film has become the subject of more than one intense debate, it’s also unquestionably one of the most prestigious films the streaming platform-cum-studio has produced. According to one of The Irishman’s producers, the film was as much a strategic move for Netflix as it was a gamble. The company’s executives pursued The Irishman precisely because they were looking for a masterpiece.

Gaston Pavlovich has worked closely with Martin Scorsese since his production company, Fabrica de Cine, financed his 2016 film Silence. After the director decided to make The Irishman, he reached out to the producer to enlist his help once more. But it wasn’t easy to find other financial help, in Hollywood or elsewhere. He told Forbes that everyone he spoke to saw The Irishman as a risk that they weren’t willing to take:

It didn't seem to them that a film, and let me be respectful about this, about a bunch of old men, an epoch film, would work anymore. These dramas were not in the eyes of the audience anymore. Everybody was looking for something different.

The Irishman tells the true story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hit man with close ties to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and the Teamsters. And it follows him through several decades of his life, and into old age. Gaston Pavlovich credits Netflix with understanding that The Irishman was a gamble, and still choosing to invest in it. He says they were fully supportive throughout the process, even after he informed Netflix executives that the film could be more than three hours long:

Again, Scott Stuber embraced it and Netflix embraced it. They said, 'That's what we're looking for. We're looking for a masterpiece.' If you would take this out to the movie theaters there has to be a different structure of financing going on that doesn't exist anymore to make it really work in that format for the present-day audiences of the world. Fortunately you have a Marty Scorsese, a creative director, and you have Netflix who's willing to take that business model and still give us, the world audience, the opportunity to see that kind of craft, that kind of film. I hope it never dies.

Critics seem to think that Netflix got what it was looking for with The Irishman. Netflix viewers seem to be a bit more mixed on whether or not the film is a masterpiece. But if nothing else, distributing The Irishman has once again made Netflix one of the most talked about entities in the film industry. As we careen toward Oscar season, it’s clear The Irishman will continue to be a topic of conversation.

Katherine Webb