Netflix spends record $30 million on its Oscars campaign for Roma, double what the movie cost to make

Nick Allen
Nominees for the Foreign Language Film category attend a pre Oscar reception in Beverly Hills  - REUTERS

Netflix, the internet streaming service, is facing a backlash after a record spend of up to $30 million on an Oscars award campaign for its film Roma.

The staggering amount, twice what the film itself cost to make, could mean a movie intended to be mainly watched on TV capturing the Best Picture gong for the first time.

It was a prospect that rattled some leading Hollywood film-makers, including Steven Spielberg, who predicted it could signal a bleak future for cinemas.

Netflix's splurge topped campaigns run in the past by Harvey Weinstein and may be the most expensive ever, outspending the $25 million Columbia Pictures, a traditional Hollywood studio, used to promote The Social Network in 2011.

Los Angeles, home to many of the more than 7,000 members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who vote for the Oscars, has been plastered with billboards and posters urging them to back for Roma.

The film is nominated for an Oscar for both best foreign language film and best picture Credit: Carlos Somonte/Netflix

There has been an endless stream of promotional parties, including a cocktail soiree hosted by Angelina Jolie, and a screening at the Chateau Marmont hotel hosted by Charlize Theron.

Film industry figures have been sent a $175 coffee table book about the film, and chocolates with a note from its star Yalitza Aparicio, who is nominated for best actress. A fortune has been spent on television adverts.

Roma, which streamed worldwide from Dec 14, qualified for the Oscars after a limited cinema release.

However, Spielberg believes films made primarily for television by streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and others, should not be eligible for the Oscars if given a "token" cinema release.

Speaking at the Cinema Audio Society in the run-up to the awards, he said: "I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I’m a firm believer that movie theatres need to be around forever."

Fears are growing in Hollywood that film-makers with potentially award-winning projects will in future be drawn to streaming services that can offer a treasure chest for an Oscars campaign, leaving a dearth of quality in cinemas.

And despite the critical acclaim for Roma, a Spanish film about a domestic worker directed by Alfonso Cuarón, some Oscar voters are not keen to reward it.

One voter, a film director, called it "the most expensive home movie ever made". The voter added: "As far as the Netflix thing, what is our job as Academy members? We are trying to promote great films for audiences to see [in cinemas]."

Another said Roma was being regarded by some in the industry as a "fox in sheep's clothing".

Following Roma's win for best picture at the Baftas two weeks ago Vue, the British cinema chain, threatened a boycott.

In an open letter Vue chairman Tim Richards wrote: "We believe that Bafta has not lived up to its usual high standards this year in choosing to endorse and promote a 'made for TV' film that audiences were unable to see on a big screen.

"Netflix made at best a token effort to screen Roma, screening it to less than 1% of the U.K. market solely because it wanted an award. How could Bafta let this happen?"

In the US cinema giants AMC and Regal refused to include Roma in their pre-Oscar Best Picture showcases, when they screen all eight nominees back to back.

Roma and The Favourite are the most nominated films at this year's Oscars with 10 each.

Netflix's campaign has depicted Roma, which cost $15 million to make, as an underdog story, including the aspect that Yalitza Aparicio had never acted before getting the role.

However, rival executives at traditional Hollywood studios have been sniping at the scale of Netflix's campaign, describing it as "insane".

For Netflix there may be lessons to be learned from 2011. Despite the millions spent to sway voters The Social Network lost out on Best Picture to The King's Speech.