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David Cronenberg discusses streaming service woes amid movie financing

Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg has joined the likes of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock as one of the most important sci-fi and horror directors of the 20th century. His unique cinematic style and eye for dramatic, suspenseful buildup has earned him numerous accolades over the years. 

Most notably, Cronenberg was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival for his work on the 1996 psychological thriller Crash. The award is particularly prestigious because it isn’t annual and, instead, it is only occasionally presented at the request of the official jury, who, in this case, gave the award “for originality, for daring, and for audacity”.

His impressive back-catalogue mainly involves sci-fi horror films, such as Shivers (1975), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), and The Fly (1986), but Cronenberg has also made seminal contributions in other genres throughout his five decades in the business. 

Despite his prestigious position in the world of filmmaking, Cronenberg has detailed that it’s still very difficult to get by in the modern, stream-heavy film business. In an interview with Variety earlier this year prior to the Cannes Film Festival, Cronenberg was asked about an abandoned series that he had begun with Netflix. 

Watch David Cronenberg’s first short film ‘Transfer’

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“I tried and we got to two episodes, and then they decided not to do it. And I was disappointed because I was interested in streaming in cinematic terms,” he said. “I thought that would be a very interesting experience for me as a writer, as a creator, and then also as a director. And maybe I’ll have that experience one day, but at the moment, it’s still on movie making, not filmmaking. So the project that I was talking to Netflix about, it will be a feature film instead.”

Not wanting to give too many further details away about his upcoming film plans, Cronenberg identified the title as The Shrouds. The interviewer then asked why he thought Netflix passed on the idea. “It turns out that it’s not so easy to get a series with Netflix,” Cronenberg opined. “In fact, it seems that it might be easier to get an independent film made if it’s of a certain type. I’d say maybe a film that isn’t the conservative kind of movie as Netflix would like.”

From an angle of optimism, the interviewer explained it’s perhaps a good thing for the future of film if independent distributors or financiers are allowing more creative freedom and abstract ideas. 

In response, Cronenberg concurs with the interviewer but points out that as the streaming networks take hold, they will continue to oust the age of the cinema. “Well, I think they are because they have to offer you something that Netflix can’t offer you,” he said. “And that freedom is what they’re offering. In a way, that was true with the Hollywood studios. Mostly, they were very conservative mainstream. I think things haven’t changed as much as people thought they would. Netflix has certainly affected the movie industry and the exhibition industry with cinemas. I think cinemas are dying, frankly. I think there will be cinemas, but there won’t be so many of them, and they will be showing niche films because otherwise, they’ll just be showing Marvel superhero movies.”

Elsewhere in the interview, the conversation flowed into the topic of financing. The interviewer explained that they were puzzled because Cronenberg’s films often draw in A-list casts yet he still often has trouble financing them. 

In response, the Crash director said: “Oh, I mean, I talked about this long ago with Martin Scorsese, who is a friend; everybody thinks that Martin Scorsese could have anybody or any budget. It’s not true. It’s a fight. It’s a struggle, and it changes. Right now, if you’re doing a film with Netflix, then you don’t have to worry about money because Netflix has a lot of money. But if you’re doing an independent film and you don’t have Netflix, then it’s a struggle. It took three years to put together the financing for Crimes of the Future even if we had this cast. Money is hard to find. People are afraid of investing with the way the world goes. Well, now there’s a war…”

As we head deeper into financial uncertainty with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the global cost of living crisis, it seems the streaming giants will continue to dominate the film industry. Returning to Cronenberg’s earlier point about the lack of creative freedom within streaming platforms, will this spell disaster for alternative filmmaking in the future?

See the cast and crew for David Cronenberg’s latest film, Crimes of the Future, hit the red carpet at this year’s Cannes Festival below.