By Joe Flint | Photographs by Rozette Rago for The Wall Street Journal 

On Scott Stuber's watch, Netflix has turned into the biggest movie machine in Hollywood.

When the entertainment-industry veteran became the streaming giant's film chief in 2017, Netflix had produced only a couple dozen original movies. Most were acquisitions and many of them projects abandoned by other studios. Since Mr. Stuber came aboard, Netflix has made about 60 movies annually and is on pace to match that output in 2021, even with the pandemic suspending many film productions for stretches over the past year.

Quantity isn't Mr. Stuber's only goal. For the past two years, Netflix has garnered more Oscar nominations than any other studio, though last year's haul of 24 nominations translated into just two wins. He is hoping for more this Sunday, when Netflix is up for 36 awards across 17 movies, including best-picture nominees "Mank" and "The Trial of the Chicago 7."

The 52-year-old executive rose to co-head of production for Universal Pictures and established his own production company before joining Netflix in 2017. "Honestly, I probably underestimated the job when someone said: 'Hey, come build a new film studio,' " he said.

Mr. Stuber recently spoke to The Wall Street Journal from the Pacific Palisades home he shares with his wife, actress Molly Sims, and their three children about why Oscars matter to Netflix and how the moviemaking landscape is changing. Here are edited excerpts:

WSJ: How important is being the most Oscar-nominated movie studio to Netflix as a business?

Mr. Stuber: It's very important because what you are saying to the artistic community is: We can actually make those things happen that you dream about. We all want to be recognized by our peers as the best in class. When I started, we'd never been nominated. It's a great accomplishment and it's hugely beneficial to the business for not only recruiting artists, but also making sure our customer knows that we try to achieve the best.

WSJ: Is it also bringing in more viewers and subscribers to the service?

Mr. Stuber: We've seen it consistently this year, as well as in the past with "Roma" and "Marriage Story" and other films that get that bump the way that we traditionally see at the box office. You see everyone recognizing that the community is saying: "These are the 10 best films and let's watch them."

WSJ: You've been the most-nominated studio for two years in a row. Are there still actors and directors reluctant to make a movie for a streamer?

Mr. Stuber: I think there are aspects of global distribution in the cinema that are still appealing. Chris Nolan [the director of "Inception, " "Dunkirk" and several Batman movies] and I have spoken quite a bit...and that's still something he wants deeply. If we can't provide that, it will still be an issue for him.

WSJ: We're seeing studios negotiate with theaters for shorter windows between a movie's theatrical release and its availability on video platforms as the country reopens. Will Netflix possibly offer longer theatrical windows for more of its movies or will that remain a very limited option? Typically you've offered a range of one to four weeks.

Mr. Stuber: I think we have a model that works and we've done well with the theaters that have played us. As these things change, we're all having these conversations to see where it all lands and what the landscape on the other side of all of this is.

WSJ: You have a slate of roughly 60 movies a year. How do you choose your movies and how do you try to strike a balance between prestige and popular?

Mr. Stuber: Everybody's got different tastes. So you have to recognize that with the [global streaming] distribution model that we have, we can touch a lot of different people around the world with what excites them and what they think is great.

We can make a big breadth of different films. The dream I always hoped was that we could find that filmmaker and he or she could make that $3 million film, and then we could build them in that $30 million film. And then from there, $100 million.

WSJ: How much does Netflix data factor into what films you decide to make?

Mr. Stuber: You can read the numbers around the world and see where audiences kind of lean in and lean out. But at the end of the day, it's a human job. You have to love it. You've got to see in that material something you believe is great. Is it a movie I believe is going to be great and are these people going to be able to achieve that? That's the job.

WSJ: Seeing movies in theaters was already on the wane before the pandemic. What are your thoughts on how the theatrical business will return?

Mr. Stuber: We're all ready to go back into the world and we all recognize the things we took for granted. I think people will be excited to go back and do it. And I think what we needed was an adjustment in the window that can give all kinds of stories a chance to be in that model. I'm an optimist and I believe the next decade of the movie business...will be a really exciting time for the new voices.

WSJ: Netflix doesn't have a big library of intellectual property to mine and recently made some big deals to acquire movies from Sony after their theatrical runs and a deal for two sequels for "Knives Out." I gather acquired content is still a very important part of Netflix's strategy?

Mr. Stuber: It's a unique and great opportunity to have access to their movies, with all the Spider-Man films and the Brad Pitt [action movie "Bullet Train"] they are making. And "Knives Out" was just a great chance to come into something that is a great franchise and has a great star in the middle of it with Daniel Craig.

WSJ: It's a very competitive marketplace right now with the emergence of Apple and HBO Max and Disney+ and others. How is that affecting your ability to get the content you want?

Mr. Stuber: Competition is good. It makes you sharper as an executive and it gives the artists a chance to find the right place in the market for their idea and get what they deserve for it. We're competing with everyone at the highest levels, which, frankly, when I got here we weren't.

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 23, 2021 10:14 ET (14:14 GMT)

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