When word broke that filmmaker David Ayer was attached to direct Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in a supernatural cop flick called Bright, based on a spec script by Max Landis, most assumed the project would end up at a major studio. This thing had “blockbuster” written all over it, and given Ayer’s relationship with Warner Bros. having just helmed their DC supervillain pic Suicide Squad (also with Smith), WB seemed like the perfect fit. But in a move that took everyone by surprise, the project landed at Netflix for a whopping $90 million all-in, potentially serving as a sign of things to come.
It used to be a project with this kind of clout and buzz would spark at bidding war at the major studios, but the streaming service Netflix has solidified itself as a major player that can run with the “big dogs” so to speak, and nabbing Bright was a huge coup. Not just in the business of making mid-budget comedies with Adam Sandler, Netflix wants to—and can—make blockbusters. But for a filmmaker like Ayer, a proponent of shooting on film, what makes Netflix an attractive home with no guarantee of a theatrical release? Speaking with Deadline, the Bright director and co-writer said it all came down to creative freedom:
“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 bulls eye, some cultural zeitgeist. Otherwise it’s a gamble for studios; it’s easier for them to justify $200M budgets for tent poles than $40M to $90M for the movies I like to make.”
Indeed, Netflix has much more room to push boundaries without concern for box office receipts or alienating part of an audience with an R-rating, so Ayer can make the movie he wants to make at a sizeable budget without having to compromise with a major studio. Moreover, Ayer sees Netflix as a sign of the future, and by making Bright with the streaming service, he has the opportunity to be in on the ground floor:
“Netflix is this disruptive company that is at the forefront of how the business is evolving. Sitting in the cockpit as director and looking over the horizon, you see changes happening daily. That includes Screening Room. Netflix is deeply biting into cable viewership and it’s clearly the future of the entertainment industry, which is on-demand and portable devices. To bring a flagship project into that world and have the opportunity to be the tip of the spear, I felt like we were given a hunting license to be truly creative, and to do what I love.
The Fury filmmaker reiterated that these mid-range films are his bread and butter and seeing as how major studios aren’t making them anymore, he sees places like Netflix as a way to bring that type of filmmaking back. That’s not to say he’s done with studio filmmaking altogether—Warner Bros. is reportedly keen on bringing Ayer back for Suicide Squad 2 but the filmmaker wanted to do something different (see: Bright) first—but when he’s not in the mood to helm an awards film or a massive tentpole, Ayer sees Netflix and the like as places where he can get other kinds of films done without a tremendous amount of compromise.
Although I love the theatrical experience, it’s hard to argue with much of what Ayer says here. I suppose if studios aren’t going to be making these kinds of movies anymore, it’s nice to know they have a home and won’t suffer from being noted to death. And with a project as intriguing as Bright, success on Netflix with or without a theatrical component seems assured.