I have been a Netflix subscriber since the first year it came into being. I, like millions of users look forward to getting that red envelope in the mail every couple of days. I watch a lot of movies and nothing I had access to before gave me the vast amount of films in such a convenient manner. Sure I had to wait a few days to get them, but I have since gotten used to it. It was still better than driving to the video store, finding out that everything was out of stock and then wandering around for an hour looking at Jason Priestley movies. When the streaming option came along I purchased a Roku player but never really found myself using it that often. It was a nice supplement, but the selection only had a fraction of the films and TV shows I wanted to see. The DVD library on the other hand remains amazing. Read about an obscure film and the chances are you can have it in your DVD player in a few days.
I try to keep tabs on what is happening in the world of film distribution so it is obvious to me that one day soon films will be predominantly digitally delivered. I am also very aware that the process of delivering postage-paid DVD packages is the most costly part of the Netflix operation. All these rumors about the US Post Office ceasing to exist aren’t making this business model seem all that prudent either. Then the bomb dropped. A price increase. Without rehashing the details, Netflix decided to separate the services and raise the overall price for having both. This was their attempt to address the realities facing them in marketplace. It took me less than the time it takes me to put a DVD in an envelop and drop it in a mailbox to not only cancel my streaming subscription but to lower the number of DVDs I can have at a time just to make sure Netflix was listening. I understood that things were going to have to change, but ripping the band aid off at this point in time seemed a little pre-mature. The price increase didn’t bother me as much as the way they went about it. I will gladly pay more for a better service, but they were making me pay more for a lesser service.
The thing is, I was already starting to harbor ill feeling towards my favorite movie dealer as the result of their apparent lack of interest in carrying our film, The Waterhole. I mean, the film does star Patrick J Adams after all. (This fact doesn’t really matter much, I just want to put his name in this blog post to get more web hits. Go ahead, judge me.) After discussing this with our distributor, they confided that in recent months Netflix had gone from ordering 100% of their releases to maybe one in five. This was confirmed later in a discussion I had with Adam Chapnick of Distribber while on the Film Courage radio show that indeed, Netflix was losing interest in indie films. Indiewire published an article this month with similar conclusions. Netflix was too busy trying to compete with other monthly film subscription services and they did not need indie films to accomplish that. They needed studio films and television shows.
Not only was Netflix screwing me as a customer, they were screwing me as a filmmaker, someone who was creating content for them to exploit for profit. So over the past few weeks I have been complaining vocally and perhaps obnoxiously in such a way I probably deserve my own heading under White People Problems. Many of my filmmaker peers have been surprised that I am so upset. Why would I even want my film on Netflix? They pay little to no money. They can make it hard to get on other platforms. And in the digital space there are so many options that offer so much more control.
My answer mirrors the reason why I loved Netflix as a customer. They had a great selection of films. I wanted my film to be a part of that selection and I wanted their millions of film lovers to have easy access to my film. It kills me that when someone asks me if they can get The Waterhole starring Patrick J Adams on Netflix I have to tell them no. Not to sound like a self-conscientious sissy, but it’s embarrassing. As far as the money is concerned, screw the money. I want word of mouth. I want fans. I want the Netflix audience. Who cares about a few dollars for a few downloads? In an earlier post I stated that I would let the Independent Film Channel show my film for free and I was dead serious – too bad they don’t show independent film anymore. Maybe I am shortsighted for thinking this, but let the money comes when it comes. (And make no mistake, I do truly do want to make money and I look forward to the day I can race yachts with Lucas McNelly)
Thus, this love/hate relationship with my primary film provider tentatively continues. By the time the next big Netflix evolution occurred in the form of Qwikster I had all but given up… waiting for the right time to explore new options. I was not alone of course, the stock was tanking, subscribers were dropping and other customers were furious. Maybe in the future they will be able to convince me these changes were needed to address their long-term goals and that we will all be better for it. Until then I am still disappointed, both as a filmmaker and a film lover.
Note: The day before I wrote this someone from Qwikster reached out to me via Twitter to ask why The Waterhole starring Patrick J Adams had been rejected. I told them I didn’t know and they replied that they would look into it. I have little hope, but I would still be thrilled if we could work something out. Until then, The Waterhole starring Patrick J Adams is available to rent from Blockbuster.com.