Standing on the red carpet at TIFF 2018, with the stars walking by, it was hard to ignore the pomp and circumstance taking place at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. The only thing was, this was not for the next major release set to hit cinemas near you, this was The Outlaw King premiering on Netflix this November.
This concept is what rests on my mind as I interview the stars as they walk by. While the actors and power on display were unmistakable, can this move the prestige needle for the fledgling studio? The answer from everyone I asked in or on the production side for the film was a resounding "YES." From the actors to the producers, they all viewed the Outlaw King as a major movie. It did not matter what platform it would premiere on, the importance of the film was ever present.
Set in Scotland, and directed by David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water, Perfect Sense) The Outlaw King follows the King of Scotland, legendary warrior Robert the Bruce as he is forced into exile and eventually leads a band to reclaim the throne. It is an epic in the style of Braveheart, and it is a film you could easily see hitting in the summer movie season. With a significant ad campaign, it is not hard to imagine this making wave on screens worldwide, giving a new segment of people a view at a seldom touched on the historical period in Scotland. Yet, it will not be on the big screen, it will be viewable on your set-top box, your smart TV, your game console, and even your phone. It is a new way of watching an epic like this, and one that could shake the industry of filmmaking.
While Netflix started its life off as a DVD rental service, the move to streaming and its subsequent content creation efforts have set it apart as a significant player in the filmic world. This year's TIFF was a testament to this level of importance. Where in the past the concept you would be sanding on at a red-carpet premiere for a streaming flick would be laughable, in 2018 it was commonplace. Netflix is no longer the underdog; it is the 900lb gorilla waiting for its time to strike.
Jumping back to the red carpet, as the stars walk by, and I ask about the why people joined the project, and it is all about the script, the subject matter and the director. Never in the process does the fact it is a Netflix project come as a negative to the process. People enjoy the work, and Netflix gives creators the freedom to make what they feel will touch audiences. It is often an impossible task to get a film greenlit, especially if the audience is uncertain, but thanks to the Netflix business model, it gives more freedom for expression and risk.
It is a level of privilege that makes Netflix such an exciting prospect. Where it used to be up to studios like Miramax that allowed indie and creative types the ability to get their work seeing, now Netflix is stepping into that role, giving films a chance to reach a massive audience, all without the expectations for a direct box office return. Countless people will watch the movie as they sit down at jump into the film.
It is films like The Outlaw King that will project Netflix into this role, and it is a barrier to entry that makes it so compelling. While many may steer clear of a historical epic if critical reviews are less then favourable when it is only a click away even bad movies can get the airplay they crave. Netflix is now set up to showcase the original content. Logging into the platform and you are inundated by the "Only On Netflix" banner plastered on countless titles. From the Cloverfield Paradox to House of Cards, Netflix has quickly become a home for original content over the slew of movies that used to riddle the platform.
Netflix has sparked a paradigm shift, and TIFF 2018 has brought that to the forefront. But it still has a perception problem, especially with films that are looking to hit that prestige level. Amazon has avoided this by premiering its films such as Manchester by the Sea in theatres it manages to capture the award buzz that to this point has eluded Netflix, at least for its movies. As the industry evolves though, this too will be a thing of the past. It is already cleaning up awards shows like the Emmys with its programming, and it is only a matter of time before the Oscars will have to look at other platforms as worthy.
TIFF is a showcase of the best and brightest in the world of film, It gives people and studios a chance to premiere many people will be watching in the coming months. But in 2018 it has also played as a catalyst for an opportunity in the world of Cinema. As people move to the small screen and streaming services for distribution, major landmark movies may not be in the multiplex, or arthouses across the globe, it may now be on your small screen, as you unwind after work. There has always been a place for VOD or straight to video releases, but in the era of Netflix, this is no longer a signal of bad quality, and merely a new way to get ideas to the populace.
The Outlaw King has managed to be far more than an important historical story, or even a major cinematic release; it marks a new way you can expect blockbusters to hit audiences. As TIFF 2018 fades into memory, the impact of this year and the place of this film in history can't be overstated. No matter how audiences respond to The Outlaw King, it is an influential film, and for more reasons then the cast or crew mean, it is a move by Netflix to shake up the film industry, and it is a bet they may just win.