‘I finally understand the machine that is Netflix’: how Security became an under-the-radar hit

I have to admit that Netflix terrified me. As a viewer, of course, I was hooked. As a film-maker, I was pretending to be cool about that fact that I had not been asked to join the party. I’d only directed films for cinemas, never anything for a streaming platform. I am aware of the endless debates. Is Netflix a force for good? Are you in favour of the motion or against? Vote yes or no.

The thing is, there is no “yes” in movies. You might find a Y in your wet-weather gear pocket on day three when you’re already a full day behind schedule. Or an E under your pillow when you wake up the morning after the wrap party with a hangover, and the flu that’s been waiting to kick in. And there’s the S that sits prominently over the bad reviews on opening weekend. (Somehow, you only see the bad reviews.) The outcome never meets the expectation, possibly because the expectation is rooted in the blind faith necessary to keep hauling yourself out of bed every morning at 5am. There is no “yes” in movies. Your life is a series of disappointments.

I’ve had a weird career. I’ve made some very misguided choices. I’ve turned down some seriously successful movies. I’ve been pigeonholed. I’ve been “uncategorisable”. I’ve had box office successes. And I’ve had, well … disappointments.

In the summer of 2018, a studio movie in which I had invested a year of my life collapsed. Despair is a wonderful motivator. Suddenly, I crave my roots. Europe. Somewhere I wouldn’t have to keep saying “just kidding”. I call producer Marco Cohen, a longtime friend, in Milan. He sends me the American novel Security by Stephen Amidon. Marco has already had success with transporting an Amidon novel to an Italian setting: Human Capital. My co-writer, Tinker Lindsay, and I love it. We adapt it. I name all the characters in the story after real citizens of Fivizzano, the town where they once made me an honorary citizen. I ask them all to be extras, even small parts. Stefano, the local architect, sends in a stunning audition for a two-line part as a policeman. The architect can act. Who knew?

I make a film in the year of Covid, for heaven’s sake! We wrap four days before the first lockdown. I remote edit from Los Angeles. I finish my post-production in Rome in the autumn of 2020. I deliver the film four days before Italy’s second lockdown. It’s a sad time. Social distancing is not a good look for Italians. It’s not who they are. I come back to Los Angeles. Cinemas close. I raise the idea of streaming the film with Sky Cinema Italy. After all, I made this film in Italian, with Italian actors, for Italian audiences, with no eye on the rest of the world.

Then comes the news that Netflix have bought it for the rest of the world outside of Italy. I wait. There’s no publicity anywhere to be seen. They tell me Netflix know exactly what they’re doing. But dark thoughts kick in. Hello disappointment, my old friend. It opens as a Sky Original in Italy. Very good numbers. The best numbers for any thriller in an 18 months when Italy has been watching a lot of TV.

Still nothing from Netflix. I’m beyond depressed.

Then … Suddenly, this little film pops up at No 3 in the world on Netflix’s movie list. The irony. No one can put a finger on why. It never happens. It’s not an action movie. But it’s a hit. Now I have a “common touch”. I’m a “Hollywood director” who knows how to push the commercial button. But that’s wrong. The “common touch” (as they call it) is because I’m from Blackpool. Nothing to do with Hollywood. I just went back to my roots.

But now I finally understand the machine that is Netflix. Yes, they give people what they want. But it seems they also give people what they did not know they wanted. I’m in shock. It’s a “yes”.

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