Netflix's Scott Stuber Talks Being "Starstruck" by the Obamas and Taking a Risk on 'Roma'

Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for THR
Netflix head of original films Scott Stuber (left) and The Hollywood Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway

Stuber spoke with The Hollywood Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway on Thursday at the ninth annual Power Business Managers breakfast, which also featured Prianka Chopra Jonas presenting the Business Manager Icon award to Lou Taylor.

Netflix film chief Scott Stuber doubts Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino would have much luck in today's studio system if they were newcomers pitching Do the Right Thing and Reservoir Dogs. But they'd have a shot at his company.

Stuber joined The Hollywood Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway on Thursday in a keynote Q&A at THR's annual Power Business Managers event that covered how the exec got his start, the challenges of the modern entertainment business and how Netflix is driving industry-wide change.

Stuber recalled working as a production assistant on a Pepsi commercial when he was just getting started in Hollywood and willing to take any job he could get. Today, he has full greenlight authority at one of the hottest companies in town. He notes both Alfonso Cuaron's Roma (a black-and-white foreign language film) and Paul Greengrass' 22 July (a movie about terrorism starring unknown Scandinavian actors) "sounded a little crazy," but the risks he took by giving them a shot paid off.

While movies are competing with Fortnite and Instagram, Stuber said it's still "a hit-driven business." Instead of monitoring box office numbers, though, he's concerned about the number of users streaming their content. "If a film costs $60 million, I know 30 million accounts have to watch it," the exec told Galloway, adding that Netflix has removed bias from marketing because the company doesn't know the age, race or gender of any individual account — just what else a person has watched.  

When asked whether he agrees with Martin Scorsese's recent assessment that superhero movies aren't art, Stuber did not concur with The Irishman director. "The mistake of Hollywood forever was thinking those were comic books," he said of the underlying IP. "Those were novels, great American literature." Marvel's Kevin Feige appreciates that, said Stuber. "At the core, it's wish fulfillment," he said, specifically noting that Christopher Nolan's Batman sagas were especially relevant to people who had ever felt oppressed. "The villains were metaphors for modern-day humanity."

Stuber also said he gets a little "starstruck" around former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who joined the ranks of Netflix producers last year. "Their voices in this world are so important," he said. "I hope they continue to define culture."

The talk capped off a gathering celebrating Hollywood's Power Business Managers. Martha Henderson of City National Bank, the presenting sponsor of the event, led a lineup of speakers that also included THR's editorial director Matthew Belloni and publisher Lynne Segall.

This year's Business Manager Icon honoree was Lou Taylor, whose clients include movie and music stars including Britney Spears, Steven Tyler, Reba McEntire, Florida Georgia Line, Mary J. Blige, Jason Derulo and Sean Combs, as well as Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who presented Taylor with the award.

"One thing you'll never hear from Lou Taylor is the word 'no,'" Chopra Jonas said. "She gets it done." The actress praised Taylor's ability to make smart decisions on behalf of her clients "while making us feel it was our idea all along." Chopra Jonas also noted that Taylor was one of the first people who joined her team when she started working in Hollywood and she immediately knew she had a strong advocate in her corner. 

"It's no surprise to all of us who know her," said Chopra Jonas of Taylor's Icon award. "But I am so pleased she's being honored for the work she's doing." 

Taylor explained the importance of "divergent thinking" and how that ability is strong in children but people tend to lose it as they grow up. When it comes to working with clients, she said it's vital to look beyond the debits and credits.

Taylor concluded by saying her company TriStar “was a dream that became a business" and encouraging those in the room to "take the mountain and live the dream." 

THR's ninth annual breakfast was held at Cut in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and sponsored by CNB and ISAIA.