Directors Claim Small Victory in Bid to Save Classic Movie Service FilmStruck

Filmstruck - H - 2018

"Round up your buddies," Steven Spielberg told Edgar Wright, when a campaign was launched to save FilmStruck. Now, a free-standing streaming service featuring The Criterion Collection is set to be launched.

They rode in like John Sturges’ Magnificent Seven — or Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai — choose your classic film reference. A loosely organized group of filmmakers and actors, some scattered on sets, some engaged in the promotional march for their new films, one displaced by fire, has banded together to try and save a tiny, besieged streaming service.

WarnerMedia plans to shut down FilmStruck, an art house and classic film subscription-streaming service launched in 2016. Though beloved in the Hollywood creative community for the way it makes hard-to-track-down cinematic masterpieces accessible to a broad audience, FilmStruck was dismissed as "subscale" by the company’s new corporate parent, AT&T, which plans to launch a large streaming service in late 2019.

The news of its closure inspired filmmakers to lobby the company, and Friday, The Criterion Collection revealed a plan to launch a free-standing streaming service in the spring featuring its vast collection of classics, the source of much of FilmStruck’s vaunted library. Additionally, the library will be part of the larger WarnerMedia’s platform due next year 2019.

When Turner and Warner Bros. Digital Networks revealed the plan to shutter FilmStruck on Oct. 26, many filmmakers took to Twitter to express their dismay and sign a “Keep FilmStruck Alive” petition, currently at more than 55,000 signatures. Edgar Wright did, too, but he also emailed Steven Spielberg, for whom he had co-written the Adventures of Tintin screenplay.

"I heard Steven and Martin Scorsese were talking to Warner about it, and I asked what I could do,” Wright told The Hollywood Reporter, speaking by phone from the Los Angeles set of a documentary he’s shooting about the pop-rock band Sparks. “[Spielberg] said, 'Well, if you want to, round up your buddies.'"

Wright quickly launched the auteur equivalent of a disaster call chain, enlisting Guillermo del Toro and Rian Johnson to track down their friends, and starting on the draft of a letter to Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich, which was ultimately signed by 21 people including Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand, Christopher Nolan and Alfonso Cuaron. They sent the letter to Emmerich Monday night. 

Emmerich does not have responsibility for FilmStruck, which is under the Turner division at WarnerMedia. While Wright speculated that the email might have ended up in Emmerich’s spam folder, the executive saw the letter and addressed it internally, a source close to the matter says. 

As the clock ticked down, the filmmakers were trying to force the issue. "I reached out to five or seven filmmakers and actors at dinners, phone calls or emails," del Toro said, speaking from the Vancouver set of the horror film Antlers, which he’s producing. "The letter took a while so we kept at it at social occasions." The directors passed along edits on the letter to Emmerich, not unlike sharing notes on a script. Del Toro said he worked on the letter while being honored at the LACMA Art + Film Gala earlier this month, and while evacuating his home in Thousand Oaks due to the wildfires.

Wright contacted Karyn Kusama, who was in the midst of finishing a script and promoting her film Destroyer, which opens in a month. "How are we going to see these movies?" Kusama said. "It’s an incredibly important part of film history and understanding the language of cinema. To not have access to these movies, to imagine that they’ll disappear into this black hole. It was a no brainer to say, 'Oh, yeah, as filmmakers let’s try and do something.'" Wright also direct-messaged Barry Jenkins on Twitter, and Sunday night, Jenkins discussed the letter with Paul Thomas Anderson when they met up for a Q&A about Jenkins’ latest, If Beale Street Could Talk. "I’m just so glad that we all were able to come together,” Jenkins said. “I don’t know if it will do anything, but we have to at least try."

After the filmmakers shared their letter with Deadline, it was subsequently followed by yet another missive, signed by more than 30 other directors and producers. The outpouring had at least one very happy audience at WarnerMedia, within Turner, where a group of staffers were quietly cheering on their unexpected Hollywood cavalry, "We were pleasantly surprised by it," said a Turner source. "It’s a sign, hey, you did something good. People who are important artists cared about it pretty passionately. For a phone company based in Dallas, why are you making Barry Jenkins and Martin Scorsese mad if you don’t have to? So don’t."

Minutes after The Criterion Classic movie channel was unveiled Friday, del Toro told THR that the compromise is a "perfect not-missing-a-beat solution."