Movies

Netflix Film Chief Scott Stuber on David Fincher’s ‘The Killers,’ Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’ and Dave Chappelle’s Next Stand-Up Specials

In Netflix’s upcoming assassin thriller “The Killers,” director David Fincher does what David Fincher does best — which is to say the filmmaker delves deep into the mind of the deeply disturbed.

The film, starring Michael Fassbender as a cold-blooded hitman who suddenly develops a conscience, is the kind of tense, edge-of-your-seat character study that harkens back to some of the director’s previous masterworks like “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac” and “Mindhunter.”

“It’s a really provocative and interesting movie,” hints Scott Stuber, the head of global films at Netflix. “It is about the methodology of that world, which David details better than anyone. He’s so good in the detail of method… of watching something unfold. It’s a really fun, big movie in the hands of one of the best filmmakers.”

“The Killers” is one of several movies soon to be streaming on Netflix that have Stuber excited about the future of film. In a wide-ranging conversation for Variety’s FYC Fest, Stuber spoke to Variety’s editor-in-chief Claudia Eller about numerous projects in development, including “Blonde,” a biographical drama that features Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. Stuber expects it will land on Netflix next fall.

He also touched upon controversies that have bedeviled Netflix, such as the backlash that greeted Dave Chappelle’s most recent special “The Closer,” which contained jokes that critics said were transphobic. In addition, Stuber told Eller that Netflix is working to become more transparent with data it releases on how its films performs.

To that end, Netflix has started to release weekly Top 10 reports for the streamer’s original and licensed content. The charts track the total minutes viewed for Netflix’s most-watched English and non-English-language movies and TV shows. Previously, Netflix reported the number of households who watched at least two minutes of a program. It’s still an imperfect method, detractors point out, because it lacks context and favors projects with longer runtimes. But Stuber says the process of divulging viewership metrics is still evolving as the company attempts to figure out a way to streamline the data.

“We’re looking at engagement because inevitably in a subscription model, that’s so much of what your success metrics is,” Stuber says. “How many of your customers around the world are loving this and spending time with it?” Since Netflix doesn’t report box office earnings or comply with Nielsen ratings, it’s beneficial for directors, writers and producers who create context for Netflix to know if people are actually watching.”

Stuber says Top 10 charts will help answer: “How does that artist celebrate that success and rightfully get paid more the next time he or she goes into that same place?” It’s a practice that Netflix will continue to refine in the new year.

On the blockbuster front, Stuber teased “The Gray Man,” a $200 million-budgeted action epic from “Avengers: Endgame” directors Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling.

“It’s a big globe-trotting, fun espionage movie. [We] hope to be our Bond or Bourne kind of movie,” Stuber says. “Ryan and Chris, their dynamic is great. Their chemistry is great. Ana de Armas is great in the film. They’ve just got a really terrific cast. That’ll be one of our big summer movies next year.”

Other projects on deck include Bradley Cooper’s next directorial effort “Maestro,” a biographical drama about legendary composer Leonard Bernstein (currently enjoying a big screen moment with the remake of his musical “West Side Story”).

“About 18 months ago, [Bradley] called and said, ‘Can we have breakfast?’ We sat down for about two and a half hours and talked about it,” Stuber recalls. “Then I read it, and we met again and we went through all the notes. You could see how much he was into it.”

In addition to directing the film, Cooper is starring as Bernstein alongside Carey Mulligan as his wife, the actress Felicia Montealegre.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the makeup. We’ve done a lot of work on the voice,” Stuber says. “I’m excited to see someone so deeply focused on creating a story that means so much to him. And Carey Mulligan is an incredible actress. “We’ve seen her do such great work. ‘Promising Young Woman’ was, I thought, one of the best last year.”

Stuber says Netflix will also continue to work with Chappelle, who has at least two more specials lined up at Netflix. He maintained that Netflix stands behind creative freedom and called Chappelle “a provocateur.”

“It was an unfortunate situation,” Stuber says. “There’s always going to be aspects of entertainment that some people have a problem with or offends them. When it affects your employees, it’s very hard. It feels bad.”

While he says art, especially stand-up comedy, can be controversial, Stuber attests it’s important to have nuanced conversations rather than shutting down the discussion entirely.

“I think if you look, unfortunately, at us politically in this country right now, we’re yelling at each other about our differences instead of talking to each other,” Stuber says. “And I think that’s an imperative when it comes to controversy of any kind, that we communicate with each other. And I think that’s something they were learning as a company and continue to evolve with.”

In the case of “The Closer,” Stuber acknowledges “there was a community that felt hurt by it and damaged by it.”

“Everything in life is about evolution. I don’t think that there was a hate crime or anything in that. It’s about learning,” he says. “I think for Dave as an artist, he’s looking to provoke and make people think about things. And sometimes that is not what you or I like, or anyone likes, but it’s about conversation. You have to go, ‘OK, this guy’s going to a place,’ and to your point earlier, ‘I don’t have to watch it.’ But I do think he is a provocateur and a sharp, thoughtful standup who really looks at culture and has some interesting ways to take it down and make light of it.”

One thing Netflix will not be doing in the near-term is buying the new documentary about Chappelle that was overseen by “American Factory” directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar. The movie, which documents a series of cornfield concerts that the comic staged in Ohio during the darkest days of COVID, has been touring the country for a series of Chappelle-staged screenings.

“Dave’s made this choice, I think, to take it around and roadshow it and do these different shows and different theatrical things and different big stadium stuff, and he’s in the midst of that, which seems to be what he’s going after,” Stuber says. “And if he did want to have the conversation about it, we would have the conversation. So it’s really about when and if he decides what he wants to do with it in the next iteration. And if he wants to have the conversation about what it means to sell it and distribute it, we will have that conversation with him.”

Watch the full conversation above.

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