With Apple’s new Apple TV+ streaming service expected to launch this fall, we’ve been hearing for years now about the huge array of original television shows that the company is working on, which will run the gamut from whimsical comedies and hard-hitting dramas to world-building sci-fi epics and serious documentaries.
What we’ve heard much less about, however, is where Apple’s ambitions lie in terms of the kinds of feature films the company will be producing. Recent reports have made it clear that Apple has high ambitions to produce Oscar-winning content, but much of its focus so far has seemingly been on television, rather than more traditional movies.
According to The New York Post, however, Apple is definitely just as serious about feature films as it has already shown itself to be with its series content, even if we’ve heard little about any actual projects underway. The company has reportedly set aside a war chest of several hundred million dollars to finance six “small-budget” movies per year, looking to spend between $5 million and $30 million per project.
Hollywood sources report that Apple has also already been quietly approaching “elevated” directors and related film talent in recent months in an attempt to bankroll projects with Oscar-winning potential. Sources say that Apple is being driven largely by Netflix’s success with Roma at this year’s Academy Awards, where it took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film — a move that created quite a stir within the Academy’s Board of Governors, opening discussions about whether streaming movies should even be eligible for consideration.
Apple Really Wants to Win Oscars
When the dust settled, however, the Academy ruled that movies from streaming services would still be eligible, provided that they’re shown in a theatre for at least seven days for their first release, in the same way as any other feature film.
Ultimately, though, Netflix’s big win, along with nominations and wins by Amazon last year, has provided both streaming services with a level of legitimacy in Hollywood that Apple wants to get in on. With the A-list talent the company showed off at its March event, Apple has has already proven itself to be extremely serious about television content, and it’s undoubtedly trying to bring the same strength to bear within the feature film arena.
According to one agency source, Apple is already “taking meetings and hiring” under its new “original feature films unit” that’s headed by Matt Dentler, who was previously with the iTunes Movies division. The source describes Apple’s new film ambitions as being “Focus Features-esque award contenders” which the Post indicates refers to films in the same class as critically acclaimed movies like BlacKkKlansman, Boy Erased, and Dallas Buyers Club.
Notably, however, this new push by Apple is unrelated to the deal that it signed last fall with A24, the studio behind the 2017 Oscar-winner Moonlight. The multi-year agreement with A24 will see the hot indie studio, which is also known for films like Room, The Witch, and Ex Machina, also producing a slate of films for Apple, the first of which will reportedly be directed by Sofia Coppola and star Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. While A24’s reputation should definitely also lead to some serious Oscar contenders for Apple, it’s also worth noting that the multi-year deal is not exclusive, and A24 will still be producing content with its other partners, including Amazon.
Apple is ‘Behind the Eight-Ball’
Several Hollywood sources that spoke to the Post, however, suggested that Apple’s approach seems to be more haphazard than well-thought-out. There are reports of internal strife within Apple, combined with rumours that some of the executives are too star-struck and not focused enough on actually nailing down content deals.
They are literally anxious and clueless about what they really want to do. Half the culture hates them making content, and the other half wants to meet stars.
This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Apple is “playing from behind the eight ball” in an arms race for content, as one analyst puts it. Apple may face an uphill struggle to get its streaming service off the ground and retain subscribers, since it’s relying entirely on its ability to produce original content, while competing against services like Netflix and Disney+ that have a huge amount of content already in their coffers. Apple is reportedly still debating whether to acquire a content library to supplement its original shows, but there seems to be some internal disagreement as to whether it actually needs to do this, or whether it should.
Analyst Dan Ives, with Wedbush Securities, believes that Apple will ultimately “stop the hand-wringing” and simply buy a library from Sony, Lionsgate, MGM, or A24, and with $250 billion of “dry powder” and $60 billion a year in cash flow, there’s no doubt that Apple has the money to do this if it really wants to.
At this point, however, we haven’t even seen any pricing announcements for Apple’s new streaming television service, but one thing is clear, if it plans to compete with Netflix and Disney+ purely on the merits of its original content, that original content is not only going to have to be absolutely fantastic — which we’re fairly optimistic that it will be — but Apple is also going to have to crank enough of it out to keep customers from running out of shows to watch and then wondering what they’re actually paying a monthly subscription fee for.