Netflix is out at the Sundance Film Festival this week looking for new movies to buy up, but its first deal is actually for four movies that don't exist yet. According to Deadline, Netflix has agreed to finance four movies produced by the Duplass Brothers, two darlings of the indie world who are now going more mainstream with projects like their HBO show Togetherness. Each of the four films will reportedly get a short theatrical release before heading onto Netflix, where they'll presumably remain as exclusives. That's an atypical deal for Netflix given that it isn't a fan of release windows, but one would imagine that it hasn't agreed to very long ones.
"The reason we do things like the Adam Sandler deal is so we can do things like this."
Mark and Jay Duplass got their start with low-budget, low-production-quality comedies, but the duo has more recently been working with known actors and making bigger films. Even so, their work still maintains those early indie sensibilities — be it quirk or quiet relationship drama — meaning that Netflix isn't picking up a series of mainstream pictures here. Instead, Netflix is financing some small films that are likely to find a respectable audience because of the force behind them. Netflix's ability to easily present these movies to the right viewers also makes this a much more valuable deal.
Interestingly enough, Netflix actually bought the Duplass Brothers' first feature film, The Puffy Chair, back in 2006. That was during Netflix's first — and forgotten — period of acquiring original movies for DVD distribution. "This is just the latest step in our very long relationship with the Duplass Brothers," Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, tells Deadline. "We’ve been working with them almost since the very beginning, when we were red-envelope delivery."
When Netflix first started buying up movies in the mid-2000s, it was focused primarily on smaller films like those the Duplass' made. That hasn't been the case over the past two years — it now wants to go big, with big names like Kevin Spacey and David Fincher — but Sarandos says that this isn't its entire plan. "Independent film has always been a big part of Netflix," he tells Deadline, "and the reason we do things like the Adam Sandler deal is so we can do things like this as well." That's good news for indie fans. While it remains to be seen how committed Netflix is to acquiring small films, it's nice to hear that it hasn't forgotten them.