Steven Spielberg hasn’t always been Netflix’s biggest fan. As reported by IndieWire back in 2019, the legendary director and producer used the opportunity of accepting a Cinema Audio Society award to take shots at the streamer. The previous year, during the lead up to his own film Ready Player One, Spielberg said he didn’t think Netflix original films should be eligible for Oscar nominations. But now — less than a year after signing a deal with the streamer, what a coincidence — the West Side Story director is apparently seeing the brighter side of Netflix original programming, though ironically he’s seeing it on what’s decidedly the darker side of that programming. Spielberg is a big fan of one specific element of the South Korean survival drama Squid Game — the casting.
It was once again an award nomination which found Steven Spielberg calling out Netflix, though this time for much different reasons. According to Deadline, Spielberg was one of a number of directors nominated for PGA Awards’ Zanuck Award speaking on a panel over the weekend when he thanked Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos for Squid Game. “Squid Game comes along and changes the math entirely for all of us,” Spielberg said. It was during a discussion about how important movie stars are in the success of films, and it’s in that arena that Spielberg believes Netflix’s hit show has changed things. “A long time ago it was domestic stars that brought the audience into movies. Today, it’s interesting, unknown people can star entire miniseries, can be in movies.”
As Steven Spielberg notes, while stars of Squid Game like Lee Jung-jae and Park Hae-soo are much better known in South Korea and other countries, that had nothing to do with why most audiences in North America and Europe were streaming the series like mad along with everyone else. Spielberg said this has drastically changed what studios want when it comes to new projects. You don’t need a cast full of household names to get a green light from a studio, as long as you have good material to work with.
Todd Black, producer of Amazon’s Being the Ricardos chimed in, agreeing with Steven Spielberg, though at the same time pointing out the importance of Spielberg called an “anchor,” i.e. a minimum of celebrity. “Now, you can go to the streaming service or the studio and say, ‘Okay, well, I’ll get [a celebrity] to play for three days in this role but I’m going to go with a total unknown,’” Black said of the changing times. “Nine times out of 10 if the script is good enough and the budget is small enough, you can pull that off.”
Steven Spielberg has plenty of reasons to celebrate the idea of using relatively unknown screen actors in the big and small screen productions. In spite of being absent of any household names, his remake of the musical West Side Story is nominated for seven Oscars; including Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose), Best Director, and Best Picture. The acclaim has helped to elevate the individual actors, with cast members like DeBose and Rachel Zegler landing roles in upcoming high profile projects.
Squid Game released on Netflix last September and within its first month became the biggest original series to ever air on the streamer. In total, subscribers spent a staggering 1.65 billion hours streaming the series about people in South Korea who — all desperate for one reason or another — submit themselves to a deadly contest in hopes of a massive payoff. Season 2 is currently in development, though there’s no release date yet.