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This story first appeared in the Nov. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On Feb. 1, Film and TV Studio Media Rights Capital will launch the David Fincher-helmed House of Cards on Netflix, with 13 of its first 26 episodes starring Kevin Spacey all debuting in one day. How, or even if, the digital service’s 25 million or so subscribers will consume the political drama — Netflix’s first original series, for which it spent roughly $100 million — remains an open question, but that hasn’t stopped a cast that includes Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara from signing on.
Now, MRC, the artist-friendly studio behind the smash film Ted, has lured other top filmmakers — such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ Rupert Wyatt (for a mystery series with Erica Beeney writing), RoboCop‘s Jose Padilha (an action-thriller with Contraband‘s Aaron Guzikowski writing) and Flight‘s Robert Zemeckis (a sci-fi drama) — to move into cable drama, too. In a THR interview, co-CEO Modi Wiczyk explains MRC’s strategy.
The Hollywood Reporter: You shopped House of Cards to a host of cable networks. Why Netflix?
Modi Wiczyk: We went to all of the usual places in cable, but we’ve always been interested in new technologies, too. The way we met [Ted director] Seth MacFarlane was when we did a digital campaign with him and Google back in 2006. So we had talked to Netflix a few times about buying secondary rights on our shows. We showed them the script for House of Cards to see if it was something where secondary rights might be of interest, and they basically said, “We love this, and we want to make it our first original.”
THR: How did you persuade big filmmakers and stars to work for a digital service?
Wiczyk: You’re not dealing with folks who are afraid of or cowed by new things. Kevin and David are unbelievably sophisticated about technology, and we’re all aware of the fact that the entire business is in flux. We had the broadest canvas possible artistically, and we had the chance to be sort of an anchor show for a network with 25 million or so subscribers. That was very attractive to everybody. Mad Men was that for AMC, FX had The Shield, Showtime had Weeds, The Sopranos did it for HBO. And Netflix was passionate enough to say, “You know what, make 26 episodes — that’s how much we love it.”
THR: I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find a cable network interested in ordering 26 episodes sight unseen. Am I right?
Wiczyk: We’ve had a history of going straight-to-series with multiple networks, but getting 26 was definitely the differentiator. Can you imagine having that certainty going in for an artist?
THR: How has working with Netflix differed from working with a network like HBO?
Wiczyk: Everyone’s got his or her strength. So far, Netflix has been really collaborative in the marketing, and David has this tremendous amount of creative input. All of the artists have had absolute freedom both from us and from Netflix. That’s pretty unique to have a show of this scale with this much commitment given that much creative room.
THR: Fincher is known for pursuing his vision despite costs. Are the reports you’ve gone over budget accurate?
Wiczyk: Nope. They’ve been diligent — and he’s a partner, which helps. These guys want to win, and they’ve been responsible. Since we started shooting, we have not had a single problem at all. Not one.
THR: What kind of notes are you giving on House of Cards?
Wiczyk: We’re not. That’s like giving batting lessons to Derek Jeter.
THR: What does a Netflix note look like?
Wiczyk: There aren’t really any notes.
THR: What are they weighing in on?
Wiczyk: They’re preparing themselves for the distribution and marketing of the show. The marketing is all collaborative. They’re fully staffed to do it, and they’re doing it along with David. He’s intimately involved.
THR: Netflix has been a savior of sorts as a syndication option for serialized dramas. It reportedly agreed to spend $1 million per episode for the second window on Mad Men, for example. But with Netflix having the first window here, how do you think about that secondary window? And is there a world in which Netflix has the first and second window on House of Cards?
Wiczyk: I don’t know. I mean, the secondary window is available. So we’ll see how the show does. We’re completely focused on making the first window work.
THR: You’re developing a police thriller with The X Files‘ Chris Carter. What’s the status?
Wiczyk: It’s still percolating. I can tell you we’ve made deals with Rupert Wyatt, with Bob Zemeckis and with Jose Padilha. They’re all show-specific deals. Our model is to fund development, support the filmmaker, help them put the package together and then go and try to find a home for it.
THR: What’s the status of Ted 2?
Wiczyk: Everyone wants to make it. All the guys are talking about putting it together.
THR: In 1999, you famously wrote a memo predicting that studios’ power would wane and filmmakers would benefit. How accurate were you?
Wiczyk: That memo was sort of like my high school graduation photo. You’re like, “What was I wearing?” People bring it up, and I get horrified. Look, we’ve obviously changed and learned … but the thing that’s been consistent for us is that it has always been artists and filmmakers first.