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Netflix and Big Theater Chains Haggle Over Release of Scorsese’s ‘Irishman’

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LOS ANGELES — When Martin Scorsese signed with Netflix to make “The Irishman,” the star-studded epic scheduled to have its premiere on the opening night of the New York Film Festival next month, he put himself in the crossfire of the so-called streaming wars.

The film, which may represent Mr. Scorsese’s grandest statement yet on the intersection of organized crime and American politics, is expected to be a strong contender in the 2020 Oscar race. He took his $159 million movie, with Robert De Niro in the lead role, to Netflix after his home studio of recent years, Paramount Pictures, balked at the budget.

The full extent of the theatrical rollout remains up in the air. Where, exactly, moviegoers will be able to see “The Irishman” won’t be clear until the discussions between Netflix and select major theater chains end. They have been dragging on for months. The negotiations are just the latest chapter in the conflict between the film industry’s old guard and the tech-driven upstarts.

“The Irishman,” a throwback to the 1990s Scorsese hits “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” was announced more than a decade ago at Paramount, the studio where he made “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Silence.”

Mr. Scorsese struck the deal with Netflix in 2017, and filming started soon afterward. The film, which makes use of “de-aging” special effects to keep the actors looking the right ages in a saga that spans decades, is in the final stages of postproduction as the director works to get it done in time for its Sept. 27 festival premiere.

Adam Aron, the AMC chief executive, said in a statement, “Talks are underway with Netflix about our showing ‘The Irishman’ and other Netflix films, but the outcome of those conversations is not yet clear.”

AMC and Cineplex are negotiating with Netflix separately, the people familiar with the talks said. A crucial sticking point has been the major chains’ insistence that the films they book must play in their theaters for close to three months while not being made for available for streaming at the same time, which does not sit well with Netflix. Talks broke down in July, only to pick up again two weeks ago, the people said.

Netflix, Mr. Scorsese and Cineplex declined to comment for this article.

Because of the impasse over the three-month theatrical window, Netflix has yet to give any of its films the kind of blockbuster theatrical releases that companies like AMC can provide. The streaming giant’s reluctance to concern itself with weekend box-office numbers reflects its laser focus on its main mission: delivering streaming video on demand to its 151 million subscribers worldwide.

Having built itself into an entertainment powerhouse by keeping its subscribers interested and coming back for more, the company does not want to be distracted by the demands of the old-style movie business, even as it makes deals with legendary filmmakers like Mr. Scorsese.

“Netflix is in the subscriber happiness business,” said Richard Greenfield, a tech and media analyst. “They need to attract more members and make current members happier. ‘The Irishman’ is really important.”

Many Netflix movies, like the Adam Sandler vehicle “Murder Mystery,” which Netflix said had 78 million household views in its first four weeks, seem made for living-room viewing. But Netflix has also come out with more ambitious offerings, like “Roma,” the meditative black-and-white film from the director Alfonso Cuarón. “Roma” won praise from critics on its way to three Oscars this year, for best director, best cinematography and best foreign language film.

Oscar eligibility is not much of a factor in how Netflix handles the rollout. To qualify for the Academy Awards, a film must have a 7-day run in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County, according to rules recently confirmed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors; it can even be shown on another platform at the same time. Still, there is an Academy contingent that may look askance at Netflix if it does not play by the old rules for a cinematic feature like “The Irishman.”

Despite its craving for Oscar gold, Netflix does not want to be distracted from its core business — especially now that it will be challenged by the Walt Disney Company, which plans to unveil its Disney Plus streaming service Nov. 12, and Apple, which is starting its equivalent, Apple TV Plus, on an unspecified date this fall. Following those giants into the increasingly crowded digital-video marketplace will be WarnerMedia and Comcast, among others.

In an effort to stay ahead of its current and future rivals, Netflix spent $12 billion on original content in 2018. While the company has paid large sums to star television producers like Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes and the “Game of Thrones” duo David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, it has not stinted on its movie division, which made 55 films last year, not counting documentaries and animated movies, and has brought aboard A-list directors like Noah Baumbach, Ron Howard, Dee Rees, Steven Soderbergh and Guillermo del Toro.

Even as it works to add subscribers, Netflix cannot afford to alienate top filmmakers. Mr. Stuber is mindful that the way to keep the talent happy is to get their work on the big screen. He recently bolstered the Netflix film arm by hiring two distribution executives from 21st Century Fox, Spencer Klein and Pablo Rico.

AMC and other large chains worry that if they grant Netflix a shorter theatrical window, they will have to do the same for other studios. In his statement, Mr. Aron added that he would be “delighted” to show Netflix movies, but he had a caveat: “We can only do so, however, on terms that respect AMC’s important and close relationships with our longstanding studio partners, including Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, Sony, Paramount, Lionsgate and so many other filmmakers who are the lifeblood of our substantial business.”

Some Hollywood executives have said the theater chains must adapt if the cinematic experience is going to compete with the convenience of streaming. “Both the studios and the exhibitors have to look at every aspect of how we do business together and figure out different paradigms to move it forward,” said Chris Aronson, the former chief distribution executive at Twentieth Century Fox.

More than 95 percent of movies stop earning their keep in theaters at the 42-day mark, well short of the three-month window demanded by major chains, according to Mr. Aronson. That suggests the need for change, he said.

“The movie theaters feel that if they blink at all, it will all blow up,” said Jeff Blake, the former chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution for Sony Pictures.

Netflix’s unwillingness to promise wide releases has come with a cost. The company lost out on the rights to “Crazy Rich Asians,” the 2018 romantic comedy that grossed nearly $240 million at worldwide box offices. The director, Jon M. Chu, and the author of the novel it was based on, Kevin Kwan, decided to go with Warner Bros., saying they wanted the movie to play in as many theaters as possible.

Netflix’s stance has also put it at odds with the theatrical chain Regal, which said in a statement to The Times: “Currently, we are not in any discussion with Netflix on ‘The Irishman’ nor on any other movie. Of course, if Netflix will decide to respect the industry business model and release the movie with a proper theatrical window, we will be more than happy to discuss the booking of the movie in Regal theaters.”

Mr. Scorsese directed another film for Netflix, “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese,” a playful documentary released simultaneously in select theaters and on the streaming service in June, but he plans to make his next film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, at Paramount.

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For Hilary Mantel, There’s No Time Like the Past

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Around that time, Mantel’s health began to deteriorate. A doctor dismissed her symptoms as a bid for attention and referred her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist gave her tranquilizers and an antipsychotic drug and told her to stop writing.

Years later, when Mantel and McEwen were living in Botswana, she researched her symptoms and diagnosed herself with endometriosis. Doctors confirmed her suspicions, and when she was 27, she had surgery to remove her uterus and ovaries. The pain didn’t abate, and Mantel suffered from complications that still afflict her: her weight increased, her legs swelled, she felt exhausted and alien to herself.

Her illness made a normal day job impossible: “It narrowed my options in life, and it narrowed them to writing,” she said.

Mantel finished her first book, a novel about the French Revolution titled “A Place of Greater Safety,” in 1979, and sent it to publishers and agents, but no one wanted a 700-plus page historical novel by an unknown writer. She wrote a second book, a brisk, darkly comic contemporary novel, “Every Day Is Mother’s Day,” which became a critical success when it was published in 1985.

Over the next two decades, she published seven other novels and developed a cult following. Though her books vary in their subject matter, style and tone, they are bound by recurring themes: her fascination with transformation and the unseen realm, with myths and archetypes.

When she was writing her novel “Beyond Black,” about a medium who channels the voices of the dead, Mantel realized she was creating a road map for the Cromwell trilogy. “I was thinking, this isn’t just about a medium,” she said, “it’s about how to induce the necessary frame of mind to let the past enact itself.”

◇ ◇ ◇

When she began writing “Wolf Hall” in 2005, Mantel was still relatively obscure. She was also entering a saturated marketplace for Tudor historical fiction, territory that had already been mined by novelists like Philippa Gregory, Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir.



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The World Isn’t Ready for a Major Coronavirus Outbreak

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Good morning. (Want this in your inbox each morning? Sign up here.)

The World Health Organization said yesterday that coronavirus cases outside China were accelerating. Around 80,000 people in nearly 40 countries have been infected, and at least 2,600 have died.

Draconian measures in China have slowed the spread there, the W.H.O. noted, but the outbreak could prove hard to contain elsewhere. Most health experts are worried about Iran, Italy and South Korea. Japanese officials said today that the country, which has more than 800 confirmed cases, was at a “crossroads” in fighting the outbreak.

If other countries followed China’s “bold approach,” as the W.H.O. put it, widespread quarantines and other restrictions would hit the global economy hard. This fear was partially responsible for yesterday’s tumultuous markets, as investors hedged their portfolios, businesses revised their forecasts, and officials prepared for the worst.

Profit warnings from companies are piling up, as the outbreak’s impact on supply chains and consumer spending takes its toll.

United Airlines abandoned its earnings guidance for 2020, saying “the range of possible scenarios is too wide” to provide a sensible forecast. With some understatement, it said demand for flights to China was down “approximately 100 percent.”

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Expectations for a Fed rate cut (or two) are rising, although central bank officials are reluctant to factor epidemiology into their forecasts for the U.S. economy. For their part, Goldman Sachs economists cut their estimate of first-quarter G.D.P. growth to just above 1 percent, saying the risks are “clearly skewed to the downside.”

Falling markets and weaker growth could be a threat to President Trump’s re-election chances, a source of consternation inside the White House. The president tweeted yesterday that the virus was under control in the U.S., and the drop in stocks meant the market was “starting to look very good to me!” The White House’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, added that investors should “seriously consider buying these dips.”

A Manhattan jury convicted Harvey Weinstein yesterday of two counts of two felony sex crimes but acquitted him of charges of being a sexual predator. No matter: It was a big moment in holding powerful men accountable in a court of law.

On CNBC yesterday, Warren Buffett told Andrew he would “have no trouble voting for Mike Bloomberg,” though he cautioned that support from a fellow billionaire might not help Mr. Bloomberg win the Democratic presidential nomination.

On buying Bloomberg’s company if the eponymous founder became president, Mr. Buffett — whose Berkshire Hathaway is sitting on $128 billion in cash and loves cash-rich companies with fat profit margins — didn’t mince words:

CNBC’s Becky Quick: If Michael Bloomberg becomes the Democratic candidate, would you consider buying his company?

Mr. Buffett: No. (Laughs.) I can give you a categorical answer to that.

Ms. Quick: Because of the price, because of …?

Mr. Buffett: There’d be somebody who’d pay more.

We threw out some names of potential Bloomberg buyers, including Mr. Buffett, in the newsletter last week … but that was before Mr. Bloomberg’s debate debut.

Fun fact: Mr. Buffett has finally traded in his flip phone for an iPhone, a sign of brand allegiance (in addition, of course, to his company’s $74 billion stake in Apple).

Deals

• HP plans to counter Xerox’s hostile takeover bid with a plan to buy back $15 billion worth of stock. (WSJ)

• Revolut, the popular British fintech start-up, has raised $500 million at a $5.5 billion valuation. (Quartz)

• SoftBank’s second Vision Fund has reportedly invested $100 million in Behavox, a compliance software start-up. (Bloomberg)

Politics and policy

• President Trump received a huge welcome in India. But that won’t get him any closer to a trade deal with New Delhi. (NYT)





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As Trump Visits India, a Trade Deal Remains Elusive

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WASHINGTON — President Trump’s visit to India includes a state dinner, tens of thousands of cheering onlookers and even a marching band on camels — but a long-awaited trade deal between the United States and India is notably absent.

For the second time since September, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India visited the United States, the two countries have failed to reach even a limited “mini-deal” that would increase trade for focused groups of goods, like dairy products, medical devices and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Negotiators from both countries have been working since 2018 on a deal that would lower Indian barriers to some American products, and restore India’s access to a program that allows goods to enter the United States tariff-free.

But the breakdown in negotiations illustrates the steep challenge in reaching a trade deal between two countries headed by populist leaders who harbor suspicions of multilateral arrangements. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi want to protect jobs in their own countries by fending off foreign competitors — shared attributes that make it even more difficult to strike a comprehensive agreement that would roll back trade barriers more broadly.

“Both sides are attuned to their own political imperatives and not where the other side might have an area of accommodation,” said Nisha Biswal, president of the U.S. India Business Council, who served as assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asia during the Obama administration. “It is hard, then, to find where the common ground is where a deal could be struck.”

In appearances alongside Mr. Modi on Tuesday, Mr. Trump touted an agreement by India to purchase more than $3 billion of American military equipment, as well as other purchasing agreements related to commercial airlines and natural gas.

He said the two sides had made “tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement” and that he remained optimistic they could reach a deal.

But urgency toward a deal appears to have faded, with both leaders appearing content for trade barriers to continue. Mr. Trump has said he is focused on a larger agreement that could be reached at the end of this year, if the two sides can find common ground.

That may not be easy. During his visit, the president reiterated his previous complaints about India’s high tariffs on American products, including Harley Davidson motorcycles and other goods.

“We’re being charged large amounts of tariffs, and you can’t do that,” Mr. Trump said. “I just said that’s unfair, and we’re working it out.”

He added that “the money you’re talking about is major, but the United States has to be treated fairly. And India understands that.”

Since trade talks began, both the United States and India have escalated tensions by ratcheting up tariffs and trade barriers, rather than lowering them.

In March 2018, Mr. Trump included India in the list of countries that would be hit by his steel and aluminum tariffs. India responded with retaliatory tariffs on American almonds, apples and other goods. Last May, the Trump administration stripped India of a special status that exempted billions of dollars of its exports into the United States from tariffs.

The two sides were close to reaching a modest agreement in early January that would remove barriers for American farmers and medical device makers and strengthen India’s intellectual property protections, among other issues. But new demands — like a U.S. request for India to buy more walnuts and turkeys — kept popping up, delaying an agreement.

India then surprised the Trump administration in February by pledging to raise import duties on more than 100 items, including medical devices, furniture, electronics, cheese and shelled walnuts — a move that became a major stumbling block to the pact’s conclusion.

Mr. Trump’s trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, responded by reopening previously settled issues. Then he canceled a planned trip to work out everything in person with Mr. Modi’s commerce minister, Piyush Goyal.

An Indian official briefed on the talks said that India would not be bullied into making an agreement with the United States, especially if those concessions might ultimately hurt Indian interests.

For both India and the United States, the trading relationship is an important one. India was the United States’ ninth-largest trading partner in goods in 2018, while the United States edged ahead of China to become India’s largest trading partner last year.

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the outcome showed the limitations of Mr. Trump’s truculent approach to trade, in which he tries to ratchet up pressure on trading partners to force them into making a bilateral deal.

With smaller countries that count the United States as a major market — South Korea, Japan, Canada and Mexico — Mr. Trump has signed a series of small or revised deals. But with bigger economies, Mr. Trump’s one-on-one approach “has really run into roadblocks,” Mr. Alden said.

With China, it resulted in a limited trade deal, but not one that addressed the biggest economic issues between the countries. Negotiations with the European Union have so far failed to progress. And with India, Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign may have backfired, he said.

Alyssa Ayres, also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said India had gradually been moving toward greater economic openness since experiencing a financial crisis in 1991. But in recent years, the Trump administration’s trade tactics may have pushed India in the opposite direction.

“Given that the Trump administration has brought tariffs back as a policy tool, we are setting the wrong example ourselves for these trade moves,” she said.

But Wendy Cutler, vice president of the Asia Society and a former trade negotiator, said the United States was hardly alone in its inability to get India to sign a trade deal.

India has yet to sign a deal with Europe despite years of talks and has fought efforts by the World Trade Organization to update its trade rules, Ms. Cutler said. Progress that the United States and India were making toward a deal “was overshadowed by new tariff and nontariff measures that India was erecting, seriously complicating the talks.”

The Trump administration’s biggest carrot is the restoration of India’s tariff-free status for industries under the Generalized System of Preferences. But that carrot, which waived $200 million a year in tariffs on Indian exports, hardly has the Indian side salivating.

Since Mr. Trump revoked that status, India’s exports of preferential goods like leather handbags, certain metal and plastic products and furniture have increased 5.5 percent, compared with a 1.9 percent increase in overall exports to the United States. That suggests Indian companies are facing little pain from the change in trade status.

“The U.S. needs the trade deal more than India does,” said Mukesh Aghi, the chief executive of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, a business group whose members include PepsiCo, Cisco, Mastercard, Boeing and Disney.

The battle over milk and vegetarian cows has been another example of how the two sides can’t seem to find a middle ground.

India produces more milk than anyone else in the world, yet it’s still not enough to meet demand. But India is worried that cheap imported milk from the United States will wipe out many of its 80 million small farmers, who typically tend just a few cows each.

“If our farmers go out of business, there is no one to feed us,” said Ashwani Mahajan, a leader of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, a business group affiliated with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Then there’s the matter of what those cows eat. In the United States, cattle are typically fed ground-up parts of other animals. That does not pass muster with Hindus, most of whom are vegetarian.

Some American farmers are willing to keep cows on a purely vegetarian diet for 90 days before their milk is sent to India, said Tom Vilsack, the chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the U.S. agriculture secretary under President Obama.

However, “the Indian government is not willing to accept that,” Mr. Vilsack said. “I don’t see any path forward.”

Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Vindu Goel from Mumbai, India.



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