And to complete the trifecta, Amazon is gambling on Soderbergh, as well. On Friday, the retail giant’s Hollywood division will release “The Report,” a political thriller about Senate whistleblower Daniel Jones that Soderbergh produced. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
As the streaming wars intensify — Disney’s steaming service debuted Tuesday and AppleTV Plus launched Nov. 1 — companies are fighting to lock up consumers’ entertainment dollars. But another scramble is underway to land creative talent. The skirmish is so fierce, and the talent so scarce, it sometimes means that rabid streaming competitors are messily in business with the same creators. It’s a trend contrary to long-standing Hollywood tradition.
“What we’re seeing unfold in front of us is a shift from exclusivity to ubiquity,” said Tom Nunan, a veteran producer who counts films such as “Crash” among his credits. “Companies are willing to let creators work everywhere, which is a major and consequential change.”
At stake, Nunan and others say, is not just a rearrangement of where creators produce their work but what consumers watch — and even the quality of the entertainment itself, with new voices and fresh discoveries potentially squelched in the process.
“I worry about a sameness with all this,” Nunan said. “If everyone’s chasing the same few names, where are the original voices, where’s the space for green shoots to grow?”
Streamers — and consumers — would be better served if the companies spent more of their dollars carving out niches for new talent, Nunan said.
“I think that’s why people are distraught; it’s not just that there’s too much TV but that so much of it comes from the same people,” he said.
Hollywood studios historically have sought to steer clear of other companies’ talent. This was out of a sense of both rivalry and good business. To rely on people who are simultaneously working for the competition can mean sharing time and loyalties in a way that makes executives uncomfortable.
High-end creators, meanwhile, often have preferred to find a home base and stick with it. In modern times, that has taken the form of what’s known as the first-look deal — essentially an arrangement in which creators pledge primary allegiance to a particular studio in exchange for potential financial support and the greater likelihood a project will get made there.
Sometimes this was formal, but just as often it was built on relationships: Clint Eastwood began making movies with Warner Bros. in the 1970s and has since collaborated on more than three dozen films with the studio. (Warner Bros. will debut his latest film, “Richard Jewell,” in December; its HBO Max streaming service arrives in May.)
A new generation of creators can still seek a home base. But that doesn’t stop them from working elsewhere.
That's true even for some of the most famous single-team players.
In a much-touted deal, Netflix paid prolific TV producer Ryan Murphy up to $300 million last year to bring his efforts to the streaming service. The deal has resulted in a number of shows, including the high-school-set satire “The Politician,” which debuted this fall.
But Murphy remains heavily in business with Netflix rival Disney.
His series include the period nightclub drama “Pose,” the emergency services procedural “9-1-1,” the upcoming Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton limited-series “Impeachment” and the powerhouse genre franchise “American Horror Story” — all flourishing on various Disney-owned platforms (Disney bought 21st Century Fox in 2018).
“The Politician” debuted on Netflix just four weeks after the season finale of “Pose” on Disney-owned FX.
At the Television Critics Association meeting last year, Murphy made it clear he doesn’t expect the Netflix deal to change how he uses his time. “Every show that I have established that is running on Fox or FX, my intent is to move forward with them and to be involved with them,” he said.
A similar dynamic is at play for Shonda Rhimes, the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder” creator. Netflix paid her some $100 million to move her work there — but she still has several prime-time shows on Disney’s ABC.
Overlap culture is born of desperation on the part of companies — new players but also traditional firms — who feverishly want to ensure they have brand names to market to consumers barraged by entertainment choices.
That remains the case, even if the companies have to set aside fears of competition and split allegiances to land them.
“The first rule of many of these players is ‘don’t follow the competition,’” said an agent who represents high-end creators, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize business relationships. “The second rule is ‘don’t get left behind on big names.’ And right now the second rule is winning.”
While creators in the past did work at studios they didn’t have a deal with, the practice wasn’t rampant, and it often happened only with the blessing of, or legal wrangling from, a home studio. Today’s omnivorousness is casual, with top-tier creators working simultaneously for direct competitors without anyone giving it a second thought.
The consequences can be significant. For starters, it can make for tricky media promotion.
J.J. Abrams, the well-known creator behind Disney’s “Star Wars” films, stood on the stage of Warner’s HBO Max unveiling last month and touted to reporters and Wall Street analysts a large deal he recently signed with the company.
“John Stankey blew us away with the ambition of what AT&T could do,” Abrams said, referring to the chief executive of WarnerMedia’s parent company. “I can’t say enough good things about Ann Sarnoff, Toby Emmerich, Bob Greenblatt, Peter Roth and Casey Bloys,” Abrams added, ticking off the names of Warner’s senior Hollywood executive corps.
No one watching the presentation would have guessed that last spring Abrams was on another stage 300 miles north, at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., making a similar pronouncement alongside the singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be here today. To get a chance to collaborate with Sara ... and with Apple, is an actual thrill,” he said.
Abrams has a music-themed romantic series with Bareilles, “Little Voice," in the hopper at Apple TV Plus.
Meanwhile, Jon Favreau — a Disney stalwart with “The Lion King,” “The Mandalorian” and a host of Marvel movies under his belt — also has projects with Disney rivals, including “The Chef Show” at Netflix and a natural history series at Apple TV Plus.
The situation is playing out in other ways throughout the media-entertainment world. Many creators are sent on publicity tours around the country or world to promote a new work. But two publicists The Post spoke to said it’s becoming increasingly hard to keep interview subjects focused on the show they’ve been sent to promote — they simply have too many going at a given moment for them (or journalists) to stay on track.
Some creative advocates hope this new era of work-everywhere will mean greater artistic freedom, a kind of democratization of content creation akin to what Major League Baseball players gained with the advent of free agency in the 1970s.
“This is great news for creative people. And the trend is only going to become more prevalent,” said John Sloss, a veteran manager and sales agent who runs the entertainment company Cinetic Media. “Large companies will realize creators have all the power and there’s not much they can do about it.”
Some predict that, with streamers possessing so much eagerness and so much money, filmmakers will have the upper hand for a long time.
But the idea that creators are exploiting the desperation of flush newbies is too simple a narrative, some experts say. Many of the streamers have their own reasons for signing up creators without regard for who else the creators might work for.
“The little secret is that streamers don’t really want long-term relationships, either, because they’re not really thinking long-term,” said Jonathan Kuntz, a lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles’s School of Theater, Film and Television and an expert on the business history of Hollywood. “They want to throw on a few seasons of a show and get the maximum amount of buzz so they can attract people to their service. That’s a very different goal than the traditional studios had.”
“This isn’t about a relationship,” he added. “It’s about building up subscribers for the next quarter.”
Whether the new system will work to creators’ advantage remains an open question. After all, just because filmmakers can fly the coop for yet another streaming company doesn’t guarantee a good experience for them.
Kuntz compares the current trend to Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford helping create United Artists in the early days of Hollywood — with a key distinction. Those figures controlled their own distribution. Today’s creators don’t.
That scenario was on display earlier this month with Martin Scorsese. The Oscar-winning director has made many movies for Paramount Pictures but decided to take advantage of the streaming world’s new possibilities when he sold his epic crime drama “The Irishman" to Netflix.
The company funded his project to the tune of some $150 million — a number Paramount steadfastly refused to meet.
But the move away from a traditional home meant forgoing typical theatrical exposure. Netflix has refused to agree to theater owners' requirement of a sizable exclusive window, ensuring the film will largely stay off the big screen.
“It’s good to be able to go somewhere new,” the agent who represents high-end creators said of Scorsese’s move. “But the real question is what happens when you get there?”