Netflix and The Irishman: The New Way of Post-Production

Devoid of theater releases during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have resorted to watching films on online movie streaming platforms.

Devoid of theater releases during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have resorted to watching films on online movie streaming platforms. The most prominent streaming platform is Netflix. It has steadily been gaining traction in the Academy Awards and by so, rebranding its reputation as a disrupter of traditional cinema among film critics. Despite only winning two awards this year, it is safe to say that they made big waves in the 2020 Oscars. This year, Netflix produced films that racked up 24 total nominations. Its campaign for the Academy Awards was led by The Irishman, Martin Scorsese's 25th feature film that serves as a prime example of the benefits and perils of technology in Hollywood.

Martin Scorsese himself admitted that he did not initially want Netflix to produce The Irishman. The film is adapted from Charles Brandt's book, I Heard You Paint Houses, of which the title is an euphemism for killing as 'painting' refers to spilling blood from gunshots. Based on a true story, it journeys through the life of hitman Frank Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro. A majority of the story takes place in Sheeran's younger days, so when De Niro and Scorsese pitched the film to major producers, they were denied because the CGI used to de-age De Niro, along with co-stars Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, would be too costly. Fortunately, Netflix jumped on board to finance the $160 million project.

As a result, Scorsese's team and Netflix used a complicated three camera arrangement they nicknamed "the three-headed monster." It allowed De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci to play characters spanning over a 50-year age range without using heavy makeup, prosthetics, or facial gear. Two of the cameras shot in infrared and tracked the characters to de-age them post-production. Without the respective improvements in technology, a movie like this likely could not have been produced as recently as five to ten years ago.

If technology is supposed to assist a filmmaker in telling a story authentically, it certainly plays its role in The Irishman. Technology empowered Scorsese to tell the story his way without compromising casting decisions or omitting significant scenes. Furthermore, through streaming services such as Netflix, Scorsese can share his film to a larger audience worldwide. With these platforms, we are still able to enjoy new releases and rewatch classics amid a global crisis.

However, in some aspects, technology has created a short attention span in people that dwindles the significance of filmmakers' stories. When Scorsese was negotiating a deal with Netflix, he insisted that The Irishman should be released in theaters. Traveling to a theater, paying for a ticket, sitting in a fixed seat, watching a projected movie in one sitting while immersed in a community of people is different than viewing a film on your laptop. It requires more engagement with the art form compared to streaming the film in bed, amidst many distractions. Not to condemn the Netflix experience, but it is wrong to believe it provides the same cinematic experience as a theater. Whereas viewers who pay to see a film in theaters are more hesitant to leave a movie early, viewers at home can stop viewing the second they are not entertained; they have no incentive. As a result, some modern filmmakers capitulate under the short attention span of the home audience, ultimately compromising their storytelling. While The Irishman was especially susceptible with its run time of more than three hours, it has not succumbed under the pressures of the modern audience as Scorsese seems to have too much respect for his artistic process. In short, streaming platforms like Netflix provide access to a myriad of quality films, but may also lead to compromised film-viewing experiences.

It's hard to definitively address whether technology is beneficial to cinema or not. In a subtle way, it has made certain things possible that were previously inconceivable, such as bringing renowned films to the home experience through streaming networks and turning screenwriters' visions into reality through digitized imagery and advanced CGI. However, it's hard to say whether having the majority of Scorsese's audience be Netflix subscribers gives his film the same amount of artistic appreciation it deserves; bringing films to the home experience also has its drawbacks. Nevertheless, it's valid to say that technology has changed how we view movies. If technology continues to advance, which we have no reason to believe it won't, it will not be long before we could see films in holograms, virtual reality software, or in dimensions we cannot even imagine. The story of technology in cinema is far from over.


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