The first trailer for Chris Hemsworth’s new Netflix movie, Spiderhead, is here, and it looks like a trip. I’m not sure I’d be 100% on board except that Bad Times at the El Royale is one of my favorite contemporary films, and that has Hemsworth working in creep mode, and Spiderhead looks like Hemsworth back in creep mode, so I’m at least willing to see where it goes. Miles Teller stars as an inmate at a fancy prison conducting obviously unethical drug trials on the inmates, Hemsworth is there to oversee the experiments. In a fun summer twist, Spiderhead is directed by Joseph Kosinski, director of Top Gun: Maverick.
But I’m not really here to talk about Spiderhead, I’m here to let you know that the Netflix drama is unceasing and ongoing. Most recently, it’s another round of layoffs, with 150 people out of a job. The ongoing reshuffling of their animation arm resulted in almost 70 people being let go from that division alone. In total, this round of layoffs represents almost 2% of Netflix’s workforce, and comes after a previous round of job cuts, those predominately in marketing and editorial. It’s not unusual when a business is struggling for jobs to be cut, but it infuriates me when it happens because the executives are looking to cut spending but 1) don’t ever consider reducing their own salaries—co-CEO Ted Sarandos made $20 million last year in salary alone—or, you know, REDUCING THEIR PROJECT SPENDING.
Stranger Things cost $30 million per episode for season four. They spent $159 million on The Irishman. Ryan Reynolds’ vehicles Red Notice and 6 Underground cost a reported $200 million and $150 million, respectively. This summer’s The Gray Man has an estimated $200 million budget. Amidst all their layoffs and the crackdown on password sharing that’s supposedly coming, Netflix is making no moves to reduce their project budgets (yet). And I get that they’re between a rock and a hard place. Making movies is expensive, period, and they don’t have box office revenue to split with top-tier talent, so they have to pay out eye-bleeding numbers to actors and directors to secure their participation. That Knives Out deal, for instance, is so enormous because they basically have to cover what would have been back-end participation for Daniel Craig and Rian Johnson on the sequels.
I don’t see that aspect of their business changing. There’s no back end with streaming, which means up front deals are bigger. But maybe, before firing any more people, they could consider reducing their overhead on projects. Just make less stuff (like other movie studios). Releasing a new movie every day isn’t really working, anyway, it just makes the concept of “Netflix movies” seem disposable and un-special. “Less is more” is a concept for a reason. A huge part of HBO’s cultural cachet is scarcity—they don’t have an overwhelming number of originals airing at a time, and what they do have is carefully cultivated and curated (or it was pre-AT&T days, Richard Plepler is now lending his famous tastemaking touch to Apple TV+). The “less is more” strategy is also working for Disney. Sure, they spend big on what they make, but they’re just not making as much stuff. They’ve carefully planned to release one new show on Disney+ at a time, tuning their whole audience into that one thing for weeks on end.
Netflix, however, continues spraying their firehose of forgettable content in our faces on full blast. They’ll lay off hundreds, but they won’t consider telling a filmmaker to make do with a reasonable budget for a historical drama, or just consider making less stuff, period. I get that they need to fill their own library now that they’re losing stalwarts like Friends and The Office to rival streaming services, but there’s no evidence the current spend-spend-spend strategy is working. In fact, the recent evidence supports the exact opposite. So maybe it’s time to try something else. Maybe the answer isn’t “let’s punish our employees for our wild decade-long spending spree”, maybe the answer is “let’s refine our slate”. Who knows, maybe focusing on fewer projects will also result in more memorable fare. Maybe we won’t forget every Netflix movie as soon as it comes out. Maybe the hit shows will linger in the cultural conversation longer than a couple weeks. Netflix has done a lot to revolutionize how we watch film and television but making more stuff than any one person could ever watch doesn’t seem to be working. And how many jobs could be saved if they just made one less action-comedy a year?
Attached - Miles Teller out for dinner in France the other night.