Tag Archives: Judd Apatow

The Rise of Netflix

orange is the new black

Ahead of this week’s Netflix Original special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, Owen Hughes guides us through why exactly Netflix is becoming such a dominant force.

In 1997, I don’t think I even had a computer at home. I, like most people back then, rented films that I wanted to watch from Blockbuster or another local video store. Nostalgia alert: At about 11 years old, my mates and I would ride our bikes the 15 minutes down the road to the big Tesco superstore and rent VHS tapes of (usually) WWF main events from the Blockbuster outside. Old Wrestlemania’s, Royal Rumble’s, Summerslam’s etc, that sort of thing. If we could sneak in a Predator or a Terminator amongst the collection, we would. But they were rarities.

In 1997, a company in the US called Netflix probably quite cannily recognised that not everyone had a Blockbuster within a quarter-of-an-hour bike ride from their home, so instead decided to set up a Blockbuster-by-post type affair. Taking advantage of the new Digital Versatile Disc, much lighter and smaller than a VHS tape, you could rent a movie from them and the shiny new DVD would land the other side of your letterbox within days. Similar to LOVEFilM here in the UK.

Much earlier than pretty much any of its competitors, it expanded to launch a streaming service two years later in 1999. I don’t know about whatever internet connection you had back then, but we had a 56k modem in 1999. It would not have taken too kindly to streaming a 90 minute movie.

After years of operating under this model, expanding its streaming service into other regions around the world (including the UK) they basically took a step back and realised that rather than keep paying a license to other studios for their productions, they actually owned the means and the platform to create their own content. Financially, it was pretty savvy. Now that they had a reputation, people would soon start joining Netflix for their shows, and not other people’s. Their brand was to become renowned.

Looking at it purely from an advertising or marketing perspective; Netflix knew exactly who was watching what content, when they were watching it and where. To paraphrase Nick Bailey, the chief executive and executive creative director of Isobar UK, who gave a talk at the University I’m studying at last week, Netflix knew which dramas that their audience viewed most. Thus, taking a model already in place from an older British show – chiefly the story and setting – they created House of Cards, just over 3 years ago, in February 2013 because apparently their audience liked political dramas and Kevin Spacey.

What was immediately different about House of Cards from Network shows, was that Netflix made all of the episodes available in one go, advert free. Can you imagine just how mind-blowing that must’ve been, particularly for Americans, who don’t have the BBC the way that we do? Just a brand new show that you haven’t got to sit through 15 minutes worth of adverts to enjoy? This wasn’t a box-set released 12 months after airing. It was there, all of it, for you to watch as much of whenever you liked. Current subscribers didn’t even need to pay extra to watch this original content. All you needed was an account and an internet connection.

One of the other innovations that has let Netflix flourish so spectacularly is how they have embraced technological advances. Even moving from tapes to DVDs because they were cheaper to post was pretty innovative. Amazon are arguably their main competitor for streaming content on a subscription basis, particularly over here in the UK, yet they lagged behind quite tremendously when it came to streaming on mobile devices, tablets, TVs, computer consoles etc. Amazon previously used their streaming service to drive sales of their Kindle devices, making it exclusive content. Whereas Netflix were at the forefront of this revolution, setting the market-standard that audiences have come to expect from any provider they now use.

Whether reviving shows from the cold, dark, lonely pit of TV hell, such as Arrested Development, The Killing or Trailer Park Boys, or creating brand new stuff like Sense8, Narcos or Master of None, or even collaborating with other studios for shows such as Lilyhammer, or Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, they just seem to be unstoppable at the moment. Free from the same level of restrictions from sponsors, prime-time slots or watersheds, they have been able to create whatever shows they think their audience want.

The Netflix of today are a far cry from the “bargain bin” label they were tarnished with when they first arrived this side of the Atlantic. Hundreds of films, hardly any of which you would want to spend 90 minutes of your life on, was not that alluring. Securing deals to distribute shows in the UK like Breaking Bad is where they mainly earned their crust.

In fact, the most fun you could have had with Netflix back in 2012 was flicking through their endless catalogue of crap looking for the one gem hidden within – but by the point that you found it, you’d be too tired and bored to even bother watching it, as Kate explained a few years back.

Compare that to now… ok, the selection is certainly not always overwhelmingly positive! But comparably they have upped their game on all fronts from what they used to be. Producing their own documentaries, stand-up shows, on top of their Netflix Original TV shows; and now creating movies – award-winning movies, no less, in the case of Beasts of No Nation – it’s no wonder that studios like NBC are getting extremely defensive, trying to exert pressure on them.

It’s not that NBC are entirely wrong. Netflix does not hand out viewing figures, subscription numbers or other statistics (such as how long people spend trawling through their site before giving up entirely) willy-nilly. You can’t even find the overall star-rating for a film on Netflix that isn’t in some way tailored to match your expectations based on whatever algorithm they use; and that’s no surprise. They are under no obligation to share this with anybody. After all, this data mining is exactly why Netflix are getting things so right. This is their audience who they are creating content for. You can understand why they would be apprehensive about publicly sharing this information with the competition.

But the fact that traditional television networks are frightened by the competition that streaming provides just shows how big and influential Netflix are becoming.

They may make blunders occasionally, like Adam Sandler’s unfathomable four-picture deal – critically speaking, I mean, I’d consider it a blunder. The Ridiculous 6 was dire and quite deservingly panned by critics, yet it still became an instant hit and the most watched film across all regions somehow straight after release.

The only way that Netflix could lose grace with their fans would be to, say, I don’t know…? Allow them to see the catalogue of movies and shows available on much larger regions such as Canada and the US, and then to step up their attempts to block people from other regions gaining access to said content. That would just be foolish, right? Regardless of the quality of the product they’re putting out in the UK, for example, no matter how much better it is now than it was four years ago, it would be crazy to start telling people to pay the same amount of money for their subscription when clearly other countries have it better? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but when you’ve already spent the afternoon barbecuing at your neighbour’s garden picnic and come back home to your regular brown, patchy, dried-out lawn…

It remains to be seen how the long-term future of Netflix will pan out. However, already this year, the engrossing true-crime story, Making a Murderer, has become a huge phenomenon after its Christmas holiday release induced binge-watching hysteria around the world. Judd Apatow’s series, LOVE, has been an immediate success amongst fans and critics alike. With a new series of Daredevil imminent, plus more movies like the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel starring Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh, as well as the fourth season of their most watched drama (formerly comedy), the multiple award-winning series Orange Is The New Black – not to mention the dozens of other original content on its way in 2016 – it certainly seems as though there’s a lot to look forward to for the customers who stick around once their DNS-changing service of choice is finally shut down.

Owen will be talking about his favourite Netflix Originals with Steve Norman, Phil Sharman and Chris Haigh on the podcast due out later this week.

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Trainwreck

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

Trainwreck-Amy-Schumer-and-Bill-HaderYou’re acting like an ass. You know what I do to asses? I lick ’em!

Amy Schumer seems to have come out of nowhere in the last couple of years. Hitting the world hard, in the balls, and with her comedy sketch show Inside Amy Schumer she has quickly become one of the go-to comedians for that amazing comedy sub-genre of really wrong and offensive stuff. I love her!

Stand-up comedian Schumer has made her mark on an area of comedy generally filled with shows like Saturday Night Live and has done the almost impossible and broken out more-or-less on her own and has quickly become world famous and world renowned. So logically, her only next step has to be a romantic comedy, right? *Sigh*

Okay, that’s a little unfair. There’s always one or two rom-coms a year that I can stand and they are usually the ones that have something against the norm about them. So a woman who got famous doing sketches where she tries to hide in a closet from a home invading serial killer while having a nervous tick that causes her to fart uncontrollably when she’s scared sounds like the perfect definition of “something against the norm” so I went in to Trainwreck hopeful.

Completely phobic to the idea of commitment, Amy lives a life of serial one night stands and bed hopping. Jumping from one guy to the next, she is far happier concentrating on her career as a glamour journalist and spending time with her family. That is, until her editor (a bizarre and frankly, “nails on a chalk board” irritating, turn from Tilda Swinton) hands her a nightmare assignment; go and interview sports doctor Aaron Conners and put a piece together on his day-to-day life. With less than no interest in sports or the people that play them, Amy sets off on her most mundane job yet and prays for it to be over quickly. But here’s where it all goes wrong for Amy, who must now confront her fear of commitment as she falls for the goofy doctor and doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Trying and failing to make Aaron just another one night stand, Amy must deal with the inexplicable feeling of being happy around somebody and wanting to spend time with them, all while her natural instincts to push them away are fighting to get out and put her back on the path of the straight and single; but the good doctor is far too perfect to just let go of. Amy needs to dig deep and find the will to keep the doctor around all while her propensity for self-sabotage is rearing its ugly head.

Would you like to know Trainwreck‘s biggest problem? It’s a romantic comedy. I know how that sounds, complaining about the genre of a film make no sense whatsoever; until you see it. Amy Schumer’s comedic writing is second to none. She has a beautifully tasteless style that is equal parts vulgar, crass and outright hilarious (see previously mentioned “Horror Movie” sketch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZoUoYF7UZM) that just doesn’t seem to translate well to a film about two people getting all mushy over each other. The movie is essentially Inside Amy Schumer with a Patrick Dempsey movie spliced in over the top of it and when the romantic nonsense shows through, the film just doesn’t seem to feel right. It’s two very different styles and two very different tones that just don’t meld together well. Because of it, each funny scene feels less like a scene from a movie and more like one of a collection of sketches that someone forgot to break up with adverts or stand-up clips.

That said, when the focus is on Schumer and her writing, the comedy is some of the best I’ve seen this year. Filled with hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments, Trainwreck has everything you would expect from a film written by the woman who recently offended every Star Wars fan by posing half naked with their fictional heroes. With dick and fart jokes a-plenty, Schumer has taken more than a hint from those Jay and Silent Bob that Kevin Smith has been trying to imitate for all these years as she turns the filth up a few notches past what your average rom-com audience is expecting.

Those that have seen more than a couple of Director Judd Apatow’s movies will know, that they tend to be a little over long, stretching their laughs far further than they should and sometimes feeling less funny than they actually are because of it. Trainwreck is no different. Clocking in at a little over two hours and in points having worse pacing than the last Harry Potter movie, Apatow could have easily trimmed thirty minutes off of the running time and it would have been a much, much better experience. Jokes would have felt like they were coming thick and fast and the poor story would have run along quick enough for no one to notice how crappy it was.

Trainwreck suffers a little from poor direction and pace but its funny moments are first class and keep the film’s overall feeling a good one, just. A couple of jokes recycled from Schumer’s TV show aside, I was in stitches every time her brand of comedy was present on the screen. While I’m not sure that While I’m positive that Romantic Comedy isn’t really Amy Schumer’s ideal setting, it’s great to see her and her writing on the big screen and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her stuff in a genre better suited to her style and talents.

Failed Critics: Episode 11 – The Five-Year Engagement

Do you, dear listener, take this slightly shambolic weekly film podcast to be your lawfully-wedded background noise for your journey to work? Forsaking allother podcasts, as long as your generic MP3 player shall live?

You may now listen to FAILED CRITICS!

This week we review the new Jason Segel/Emily Blunt romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement (including a remarkably in-depth debate on the conventions of the rom-com genre), as well as discussing our favourite documentaries in Triple Bill.

This week’s episode was recording over two nights due to crying babies and lost keys that weren’t lost. We welcomed back a fired-up Gerry to the pod, and Owen managed to get very drunk between the two recording sessions. It’s a corker!

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