Director Steven Soderbergh becomes the latest high-profile talent to bring his work to a Netflix exclusive with this week’s High Flying Bird. The story is set during an NBA lockout, when no games are being played or money being made by anyone. That situation is an opportunity for agent Ray (André Holland), who comes up with a plan to return some of the control over the game to the talent instead of the owners and executives who manage it.
To that end he enlists Erik (Melvin Gregg) and Sam (Zazie Beetz), hoping the former’s skills will be enough to break through the media clutter and ignite a movement that’s more authentic to the game being played in gyms and parks around the country. That campaign brings him into conflict with powerful officials in the NBA, including an owner played by Kyle MacLachlan.
An outline of a basketball player that’s reminiscent of the Air Jordan logo is shown, with one half of the background the outside of a basketball while the other half is pitch black. Within that silhouette is the copy “Play the game on top of the game, hinting at a story that involves getting to the core of what the game is about. In the corner the movie is credited as coming “From the director of Ocean’s 11 and a writer of Moonlight,” the latter part being a bit clunky in its wording while it tries to latch on to some of that film’s cache.
The one trailer for the movie shows what the situation is that Ray is trying to work with and around. He realizes that the player lockout means no one is getting paid, especially the talent that provides the attraction for the fans. The opportunity, then, is to use the stoppage to make sure they get paid instead of the rich owners that see players as interchangeable and expendable. Erik is reluctant, afraid being part of the plan will result in him getting blackballed by the league but Ray convinces him and others that it will work and that things will be better for everyone in the long run.
There’s a strong theme of “get paid what you’re worth” in the trailer, with the message being that black players in particular are being exploited by white owners in a game that’s watered down from what’s really being played. That’s an interesting idea, especially considering we just watched a Super Bowl where the NFL wanted to honor Black History Month at the same time it continues to collude to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the game.
Online and Social
Nothing here, which is standard for Netflix releases.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Some pre-roll spots were run on YouTube but that’s all I’m aware of.
Media and Publicity
Netflix jumped on distribution rights to the movie before any official marketing or publicity had begun. It was later scheduled for a sneak peak at the Slamdance Film Festival along with a special award for Soderbergh.
In early January it was announced the movie would screen at the The Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of its Film Comment festival.
While at Slamdance, Soderbergh talked about how the film got started as well as his experience shooting it with an iPhone and his return to the festival. Shortly after that he spoke about how he got involved with Netflix, including how he thought the streaming distribution model was preferable simply because more people could access it than if it received a theatrical platform release.
Writer Tarell Alvin McCraney was interviewed about how he got involved with the project and what story he aimed to tell.
As I said before, it’s an interesting story and one that comes at a particular time, one where we are talking more and more about how many corporate systems are rigged against the line workers in favor of corporate owners, especially when it comes to racial and gender inequalities. That’s the message the comes through in the trailer, while Soderbergh and others also mention it, along with more technical aspects of production, in the publicity cycle.
More than anything, this is just the latest high-profile release by Netflix of a movie that 10 years ago would have still had a good chance of becoming a decent theatrical success. That topic is touched on in the media interviews as well and it’s clear that with successive films week after week Netflix isn’t kidding around with this, instead hoping to attract not only direct subscribers but also media attention that raises its profile among other filmmakers and audiences.