Netflix insiders describe how movie boss Scott Stuber made Hollywood stop worrying and love the streaming giant (NFLX)


Scott Stuber Ted Sarandos Rich Fury Getty

  • In just over two years, Scott Stuber, Netflix’s vice president of film, has overseen the biggest steps the streaming company has taken to become a major player in the movie business. 
  • From the success of “Roma” last year at the Oscars to its hopefuls this year — “The Irishman,” “The Two Popes,” and “Marriage Story” — the company could have a big Academy Awards.
  • That’s thanks to Stuber’s deep ties in the industry, which have helped bring in big stars and curb the anxieties of movie-theater owners.
  • Business Insider spoke with Netflix insiders, analysts, and producers to profile one of the streamer’s most important executives.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

With award season in full bloom, many movie studios are hoping for a big night when the 92nd Academy Awards are presented on February 9. But it’s Netflix that has the most serious contenders for its biggest prize, best picture.

It would mark the first time that a streaming company won the top award in Hollywood, and if it happens, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, its content chief, will certainly be thanked in the acceptance speech. But there’s a third exec who should receive credit: Scott Stuber.

In just over two years, the head of the company’s original-films division has bridged the gap between the movie establishment and the streaming giant like no one has before.

He’s overseen some of the most high-profile titles the streamer has produced, from its three-time Oscar winner “Roma” last year (including best director for Alfonso Cuarón) to numerous Oscar hopefuls this year with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” and Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes.”

And thanks to Stuber’s deep ties in Hollywood, he’s helped Netflix make inroads with movie-theater owners at a time when Netflix is testing the conventions of how movies are released to the public.

Business Insider spoke with Netflix insiders, analysts, and Hollywood producers to profile one of the streamer’s most important executives.

Stuber learned both the business and the creative sides of filmmaking early on

Stuber, 50, got into the business in the early 1990s on the ground floor as a publicity assistant at Universal. There was nothing glamorous about the entry-level position, though at times, he caught a glimpse of Lew Wasserman, the longtime executive at the studio and Hollywood titan.

Stuber likes to tell the story of his one encounter with Wasserman when he was an assistant. Nine months into the job — while completing his daily chore of going to the executive’s office at 8 a.m. to drop off a photocopy of all the coverage Universal titles had in the trades — he found himself face-to-face with Wasserman.

“‘Hey, son … what do you want to be when you grow up?'” Wasserman asked Stuber, Stuber recalled in November during his keynote conversation with Ron Howard at the Produced By: New York conference.

Stuber had a simple reply for the legend: “You.”

“‘Keep showing up on time and maybe you will,'” Wasserman told Stuber before going on with his day.

Stuber got into film production shortly after when he became a creative assistant to producer Lauren Shuler Donner and her husband, director Richard Donner. In 2004, Stuber began his climb up the executive side when he was named copresident of production at Universal and then shifted to full-time producing in 2008. He was responsible for titles like “The Break-Up,” the “Ted” movies, and the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-Kevin Hart hit “Central Intelligence.” 

Seth MacFarlane Scott Stuber Kevin Winter Getty

Around town, Stuber quickly became known for his subtle style and huge Rolodex of stars. Plus, he had the look of a Hollywood mover and shaker thanks to his towering over-6-foot build (he was a pitcher for the University of Arizona) and chiseled looks (Stuber married model Molly Sims in 2011).

But what really helped Stuber’s rise was a unique gift of relating to both sides of the business: the creatives and the executives.

“Empathy is everything in life,” Stuber said at Produced By: New York. “Having the ability to know what it’s like to be in a trailer at 2 in the morning with bad coffee and something went wrong … sitting in my home in Burbank and yelling at you is not the way you run a studio. Having been on the other side, I go, ‘OK … we have to figure it out.'”

Stuber’s deep Hollywood ties have made the industry more willing to let Netflix into its ranks

Around the time Netflix was beginning to get into the movie business with the release of its first original feature-length film, “Beasts of No Nation” in 2015, Stuber had a breakfast with Sarandos, which was set up through a mutual friend. Stuber said there was one part of the conversation that stood out to him.

“A lot of times, people want to get into film and come into it in a mechanical way or do it in a business-model way,” Stuber said at Produced By: New York. “But [Sarandos] said, ‘One thing I would like to have done right now is ‘Wolf of Wall Street.'”

Stuber thought that was an interesting choice, as at the time, it was known as a project that was a challenge for director Scorsese to find financing for. In a town where executives want sure things, Sarandos seemed to be a risk-taker.  

“And I felt, that guy knows films,” Stuber said. “The fact that he would lean into Marty and Leo and want to try to make that, it just struck me.”

So in 2017, when Sarandos and Netflix came calling with an offer to run the streamer’s original-movie division, Stuber was up for the challenge. 

Movies fill an important role in Netflix’s slate. The company has said that people routinely turn to its films in between binge-watching series. Netflix previously said about one-third of its total viewing was films, a ratio that tended to remain constant despite catalog differences between regions.

the irishman

So as Hollywood studios began to launch their own competing streaming services, and take their films off Netflix, the company has had to beef up its originals to satisfy subscribers and gain new ones. Stuber is looking to green-light 60 original films a year with budgets ranging from $20 million to $200 million. Those include independent films, documentaries, comedies, non-English-language titles, and blockbusters. All these divisions are headed by different people with Stuber overseeing it all, like a studio chairman at one of the traditional studios.

“One of the things I realized when I got [to Netflix] is there was a bunch of confusion in the marketplace because people didn’t know how to access us,” Stuber said at Produced By: New York. “So we’ve tried to spend a lot of time overcommunicating so that you can find the right person.”

Stuber leaves the day-to-day operations to his executives, but many producers have realized that when big moves need to be made, Stuber is there to get it done.

“The Two Popes” producer Dan Lin, who has known Stuber since 2002, when Lin was a creative executive at Warner Bros., recalled how quickly Stuber got behind the movie, which was already in development at Netflix when Stuber joined the company.

“Often new leaders will only champion projects that they bought themselves, that wasn’t the case at all here,” Lin told Business Insider. “Scott inherited this project but immediately identified it as a movie that Netflix should be making. He was clear about the targets we needed to hit to get the movie green-lit, and then helped us cast our two actors, playing a crucial role with Anthony Hopkins, since they had worked together in the past.”

The Two Popes Netflix

And the acclaimed director Baumbach — who is now a Netflix veteran, having made both “The Meyerowitz Stories” and “Marriage Story” — said he’s seen the industry become more willing to let Netflix into its ranks because of Stuber.

“Scott has found, and continues to find, a balance between the traditional Hollywood model and Netflix’s innovations,” Baumbach told Business Insider. “He also does what he says he’s going to do. I’ve never been let down by Scott.”

But Stuber has never had a problem satisfying the creatives. And with the huge checks Netflix writes for movies, and its reputation for creative freedom, the addition of Stuber is a bonus as the steamer continues to ramp up its originals catalog with upcoming titles like “Red Notice,” starring Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds; Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close; and the Ryan Murphy-produced “The Boys in the Band.”

The more impressive trick Stuber has pulled off in his short time at Netflix, however, has been building relationships with movie-theater chains.

The theatrical run by “Roma” last year was a big step forward in smoothing out the rocky relationship Netflix has had with the exhibition scene. Stuber spent a lot of 2017 making the rounds to the major theater chains and trying to build some kind of relationship, according to a source within Netflix. That led to independently owned theaters like Landmark and Alamo Drafthouse showing more Netflix titles.

But there’s still work to be done with the big chains.

The rift has been kept open by the fact that Netflix will not respect the exclusive 72-day theatrical window. This has caused the three biggest chains in the country — AMC, Regal, and Cinemark — to refuse to play Netflix movies.

Still, Stuber has made headway.

“The Irishman” was close to getting the widest release ever for a Netflix title, as the company had discussions with AMC and Cineplex to show the movie. But talks stalled over how short the exclusive window would be (the chains wanted 60 days; Netflix wanted 45). AMC and Cineplex also tried to get the higher end of the ticket-sales split, which is rare. 

“He very much wants to come to a deal with theater owners and has assembled a great team to do it, but he doesn’t have the final say,” one industry insider with knowledge of the talks Stuber has had with theaters owners told Business Insider. This person said Stuber’s boss Sarandos seemed to feel getting the movies quickly to Netflix subscribers was more important than agreeing to extended theatrical runs.

That puts Stuber in a tricky situation, since the filmmakers and stars he’s bringing to Netflix still want their movies to play in theaters. (And to get Oscar consideration, movies have to have played theatrically in at least New York and Los Angeles.)

With “The Irishman” unable to play at any of the big chains, Netflix went outside the box and showed it on Broadway, screening the movie in midtown New York’s historic Belasco Theatre.

“It was an ingenious idea,” “The Irishman” producer Jane Rosenthal told Business Insider of the movie playing at the Belasco. “Scott’s passion and commitment to ensure that Marty’s vision was going to be delivered the way Marty wanted, it was unwavering.”

Paris Theatre 2 Netflix.JPG

And Stuber was also a major force in Netflix taking over the lease for New York City’s Paris Theatre.

The 71-year-old movie house was the last single-screen theater in the city and closed in 2019 after its previous lease expired. Netflix brought it back to life and played “Marriage Story” there for months. Then in November, the company announced it was taking over the lease.

The conventional thinking was that Netflix would use the space to show its new original titles and sidestep working with theaters. But the plan is to use the space for retrospectives and special screenings, not as a first-run venue, according to a source within Netflix (the company is also in talks to take over the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles).

And then there’s Imax. The large-format-screen company has worked in the past with Netflix in doing special screenings and its CEO, Richard Gelfond, told Business Insider he wanted to work more with Netflix and other streaming services going forward.

“It’s not a Netflix issue; it’s a business issue,” Stuber said at Produced By: New York of the current theatrical window. Amazon Studios also recently changed its release model and will now have theatrical runs of only a few weeks before putting its movies on Prime Video. 

“If everyone would just be calm and talk through it over the next few years as an industry, we’ll be able to find the right answer for everyone,” Stuber said.

Movies are key to helping Netflix fend off new competition from Disney Plus and others

As 2020 starts up, along with Netflix working on scoring some Oscar gold, the company is gearing up to face the new streaming competition, like Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, and HBO Max.

That makes Stuber’s job all the more exciting, as he’s spoken in the past of his competitive side that goes back to his college-baseball days. And it seems his boss is also up for the challenge.

“We quickly evolved to the movies that everyone wished they made, and that’s what I’m shooting for,” Sarandos said at the UBS TMT Conference in December on what the future holds for Netflix. “These are films that you would have seen in the theater that any studio will be thrilled to have at the center of their slate, but they are premiering on Netflix and being produced the way that the filmmaker wanted to make it and could make it.”

Investors are eager to see if Netflix can keep pushing the envelope and make big titles (like Michael Bay’s “6 Underground”) alongside auteur-driven Oscar bait (Scorsese’s “The Irishman”).

“It remains to be seen if 2020 will be a breakout year for movies,” Tuna Amobi, an analyst at CFRA Research, told Business Insider, referring to Netflix movies. “It could be the biggest buzz year yet for the movie side of the business.”

But what’s already clear is that Stuber is the perfect fit for a company that wants its way to become the new normal in Hollywood and shed the remnants of its outsider status.

“Scott isn’t in the development business — he is in the filmmaking business, which is what every filmmaker wants,” Lin said on why he would work with Stuber again. “Scott’s goal is to make every project that he buys, which eliminates a lot of waste in our business and inspires filmmakers to bring their best work to him and Netflix.”

SEE ALSO: Netflix had a dismal night at the Golden Globes, but could still win big at the Oscars

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