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Netflix: Stop Discriminating Against Writers!

April 5, 2009

Overall, I love Netflix, and I have been a loyal customer of theirs almost since the very beginning when they first opened their doors for business. It is unbelievable what an incredible value they deliver to their customers for such an affordably low monthly fee. Netflix may be my #2 favorite company of all time, right underneath Apple.

(On a side note, I also wish that I hadn’t sold all of my Netflix stock a few years ago to fund my one-person show. Not that I wasn’t thrilled with the results of my one-person show, but because I could have sold far worse stocks for companies that I really didn’t believe in as much as Netflix.)

In any case, these are the things I love about Netflix:

My favorite thing about Netflix is that I no longer have to go through the awful song-and-dance routine that used to eat up 1 to 2 hours of any particular evening: walking into Blockbuster with a list of movies that I really wanted to see, only to be disappointed that (a) Blockbuster doesn’t carry any notable selection of independent movies nor focus on anything other than new releases, and (b) once I made a compromise to myself and decided to see a horrible mainstream Hollywood movie instead, Blockbuster would be out of stock of the movie I decided to see. So about 90% of the time when leaving Blockbuster, I would go home with something that I really didn’t want to see to begin with. Wow, just thinking about that makes me cringe with pain for Blockbuster’s business model: the brick-and-mortar part of their company disappoints people 90% of the time when they walk out the door! Jesus. Talk about customer dissatisfaction.

My 2nd favorite thing about Netflix is the lack of late fees or due dates. Not only would it be difficult to get movies back to Blockbuster on time (thus accruing lots of late fees), but on 2 separate occasions when I actually DID manage to get my movies back to Blockbuster on time, Blockbuster charged my credit card 30 days later for a “lost movie”! Not sure what happened to those movies on 2 separate occasions (did employees steal the films?), but I was able to get the charges reversed after pleading my cases to an irritated manager who insisted that the movies were nowhere to be found. Sorry, but I simply have no reason to NOT return “Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls”.

My 3rd favorite thing about Netflix (and this is really an extension of #1 above) is the vast selection that is almost bordering on obsessive. Besides some serious missing gaps in Netflix’s movie collection (e.g. My Dinner With Andre, Blood Simple, Safe, The War Room, Hitler’s Hit Parade, A Brief History of Time, the Lolita remake, How To Get Ahead in Advertising, and dozens more), for the most part, Netflix does an outstanding job of maintaining a vast selection of independent, low-budget, and foreign films on hand. This is just wonderful. Finally I don’t have to drive 10 miles roundtrip to the nearest “specialty video store” to try to scan their cramped shelves for one copy of that obscure film that only I have heard of. Because I can almost guarantee that Netflix HAS heard of it… and that they carry it.

My 4th favorite thing about Netflix is the lack of CENSORSHIP of their movies. Most of the people I speak with don’t realize that Blockbuster actually censors their films for anything that they deem to be “inappropriate content”, which is typically scenes with nudity. Blockbuster works with the editors at each of the studios to ensure that they get “Blockbuster-friendly” versions of the films that they carry. And if a studio refuses to make the editing changes that Blockbuster wants them to make, Blockbuster will not carry that movie on their shelves. One of my friends, Michael Sutz, was shocked to discover that a documentary he rented from Blockbuster Video was missing 15 minutes of supposed “adult material”. He didn’t realize this until months later, when he saw the REAL documentary which he rented from somewhere else.

Here are Michael’s comments on this issue:

The film was actually a mockumentary called “Man Bites Dog” and the scene that Blockbuster cut was a rape/murder of a young couple. It’s an incredibly important scene because the film crew (that’s following the subject of the doc — a serial killer) actually takes part in the crime. It was only when my cousin Mark and I rented the film from a local video dealer in Tempe, AZ that we realized what Blockbuster had done. This is one of my favorite films.

My #5 favorite thing about Netflix is their aggressive foray into video-on-demand… and at an extremely reasonable price too! No extra charge!! ๐Ÿ™‚ I absolutely love watching movies on my Mac in either Safari or Firefox, and even better, I love streaming movies to my Roku Digital Video Player.

HOWEVER, there is “ONE BIG THING” that ANNOYS ME TO NO END about Netflix. And if you read the comments below, you’ll find out that this issue goes way beyond mere annoyance and into human exploitation.

Here is what I hate about Netflix — and what you should hate about Netflix as well:

Netflix discriminates against screenwriters.

As somebody who is a future screenwriter (Herbert Barry Woodrose and I are almost done writing one of the funniest comedy movies ever created), and as somebody who is friends with no fewer than 10 professional screenwriters — people who are actually getting PAID FOR A LIVING to write movies — this issue simply does not go over well for me at all.

Netflix does NOT list the writers (nor any other crew members, for that matter!!) for any of the movies on their site! The only crew member Netflix lists is the DIRECTOR.

Netflix apparently believes that every single movie in Hollywood just WRITES ITSELF. Netflix thinks that screenplays just grow on trees — and that directors come along and pluck them off the trees to turn them into films.

I find this behavior extremely insulting & disrespectful to writers.

Netflix, STOP perpetuating the degrading myth that the DIRECTOR is the only crew member that is important to a movie. A director would be NOTHING without an excellent script behind him. (A director almost always invests SIGNIFICANTLY LESS TIME into a film than the screenwriter, too!)

For comparison’s sake, Blockbuster’s website lists the FULL CAST AND CREW INFORMATION for each movie.

Netflix, many of your customers actually know a little bit more about movies than the average moviewatcher… and they like to watch all the movies that are written by a certain screenwriter, or at least educate themselves as to who wrote a specific movie.

You could extend this argument even further to other crew members as well. For example, some professional cinematographers like watching movies that are all shot by the same cinematographer.

For Netflix to NOT list the other crew members on their site — or at the very least, the writer — is just completely disrespectful to writers and condescending to their customers by keeping them uneducated about the very art form that Netflix wants them to be enamored with.

And it’s really nothing more than sheer laziness on Netflix’s part, since they obviously already have all of the crew information in their gigantic databases. Netflix simply chooses to NOT SHOW IT to their customers.

On the contrary, Blockbuster lists FULL CAST AND CREW information — EVERYONE! — for every movie on their site. Blockbuster clearly respects the professionals who dedicate their lives to making movies a hell of a lot more than Netflix does.

And that pisses me off completely. Netflix should be ashamed of themselves for making this decision.

I have been writing to Netflix for over 3 years about this issue, and they have completely ignored my complaints about this matter.

See the comments below for further commentary on this very important issue.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2009 5:23 PM

    Wow!

    Scott, you have absolutely zeroed in on something important. This is a Corporate System that, as you say, is perpetuating an abuse against the creator, the worker, of the very product from which Netflix wants to profit.

    When I started to become disgruntled by Microsoft, for example, it was strictly in regard to dissatisfaction with the product; then, slowly, I started becoming aware of some bizarre stories in the news about them. And then, thankfully, I met you, someone who had already done a lot of the ‘homework’ on Microsoft. I hope that I have been able to further the analysis of Microsoft’s shady practices – and frankly, not shady, but in fact criminal in many cases, like their conviction by the EU as ‘software pirates’.

    So often when people with ‘radical’ ideas on liberty, justice, equality – and – let’s just call it, taking care of each other – speak up, we are shouted down by the very people we hope to help because the perception is we want to ‘take away’ from the middle classes and give to the poor.

    But Microsoft is an excellent example – if we could break up that level of elitism, that alone would provide for a mass of the needy. That’s just one example.

    Now, I’m not advocating the destruction of Netflix – but in pointing out an abusive practice, you have hit upon a major problem. I don’t believe it is an accident that Netflix is ignoring your demand for respectful mention of the very souls who created the entire business upon which they exist.

    If you recall, the recent writer’s strike was about *Internet profit participation*!

    Well, what is “Instant Watch”? What exactly is that?!? It is, plainly, Netflix paying a *very* small license fee for a bulk of catalog to movie studios. When the writers came in and asked for a pathetic 3% of participation in their own creations, the studio fought them and actually made the argument that, laughably, the writers should continue to get a whopping 0%. This is an outrageous abuse, highlighting exactly how capitalism, corporatism, has functioned for too long in the US.

    This is of course, after Netflix acted prematurely in giving away the Instant Watch option to customers because they were petrified of an upcoming announcement by Apple about the then-newly-remodeled AppleTV. So Netflix gave away a very substantial portion of their catalog to their existing user base, and when the studios had to give the paltry, I think it is 1% ultimately, to the writers, the studios just passed the cost on to Netflix.

    It is in Netflix’ corporate interests to perpetuate this myth about the writer. It is an abuse of the poorly represented creator of the product. It keeps costs down so that Netflix can continue operating on a mid-to-high level as a stock, which is what Publicly Traded Companies all end up doing; being a stock first, a business after.

    Well… not all of them. A very small minority of companies are managed differently. Netflix, apparently, is not.

    I also want to point out something, again, that has bothered me for a long time – the Netflix model has rapidly changed from being a movie-delivery business only. That is almost a side-function. Netflix, unfortunately, now has a far higher function, and profitablity, in information gathering. Users like us who write notes, and reviews – even the constant ‘star rating’ system – is all about marketing. I would argue, and I doubt any serious marketers would disagree, that the ability to model your tastes and favorites through their algorithms that monitor your tastes, through rankings, is a much bigger issue.

    Marketing companies have to pay quite a bit of money to get people to actually sit down and submit to having their tastes analyzed. It’s possibly, hiddenly, the biggest business in the US. Certainly the most important one, when you look at the amount of capital moving around in advertising.

    Netflix gets that wealth of information and resource absolutely free. We do it because it feels like it makes our lives easier, and maybe it does – when you open a Netflix page, it is already designed around you, the consumer. But what we have handed over for free to Netflix is something that Marketers the world over struggle on a daily basis to achieve. Marketing has a hard time being profitable in some years because of that very issue – it is hard to compensate people properly for the time and intrusiveness of market research. Netflix accomplishes this for free.

    I would argue that Netflix, like all marketing and data base firms, is more in the business of delivering audiences to corporations, including themselves, and the movie-delivery business is more of an excuse now.

    Thank you so much for this analysis of Netflix’ abusive practice toward the writer. I will be monitoring them slightly differently now, an important difference.

  2. April 5, 2009 6:06 PM

    I’m not a NetFlix-er, but I certainly appreciate that such an institution exists. It really is a shame that screenwriters don’t get their due on the site–except, of course, in the case of “Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls (incidentally, it wasn’t so much an issue of returning the film as renting it in the first place!)–but NetFlix isn’t paid to care. I support your effort to recognize artists, though. Keep up the good fight!

    Oh, and the reason you couldn’t find “My Dinner with Andre” is because the DVD was out of print for several years. Fear not, though: Criterion announced last week that they’ll be releasing a special-edition disc with special features and restored picture in late June!

  3. April 7, 2009 6:32 AM

    Wow, Herbert, thank you so much for your insightful posting. Here I was, thinking I was writing a simple emotional rant about a topic that personally offended me… but I didn’t realize that I had tapped into something so much bigger and so much more important.

    You very rightly bring up (and it is widely known) that writers — the very backbone of Hollywood — are treated the worst of all in Hollywood. Yet NOBODY ELSE would have their jobs if it wasn’t for the writers — no studio execs, no agents, no managers, no directors, no actors, no costume designers, no editors, nobody. Even “reality shows” are scripted by teams of writers.

    So not only is it a crying shame that Netflix discriminates against writers, but it is indicative of everything that is wrong with corporations and capitalism… the power to abuse the very workers from whom they seek to make all of their profit from. This should absolutely not be tolerated under any circumstances.

    Thank you for pointing out the vast importance of this piece that I wrote.

  4. April 7, 2009 6:35 AM

    Ian, thank you so much for reading, and thank you for your feedback on my piece! Haha — love your Ace Ventura 2 comment.

    I also didn’t realize that “My Dinner With Andre” was out of print… this is great news that The Cirterion Collection is coming to the rescue this June! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. April 7, 2009 6:37 AM

    p.s. For those of you who don’t know, Ian Simmons is one of the most important artists of our time, and his work has been nationally recognized & awarded. You can see his work on his blog at http://suitkillerblog.blogspot.com/

  6. March 14, 2010 4:24 AM

    Scott,
    The whole deal with not crediting writers, photographers, designers and other members of the crew (besides the director of course) takes places everywhere.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of Bollywood. That’s India’s multi-million dollar industry. Such stuff happens in Bollywood too. And to think that Bollywood’s popularity is second only to Cricket (the sport).

    I am a journalist who covers Bollywood, and i am often the only one knowing the names of important people who work behind the screen. Quite sad.

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