The biggest sharks know where to find the most food. I remember back in February 2017—it was Oscar week, I think, because I was at one of those dumb parties that exist only so that East Coast brand sponsors and media people can feel glamorous—when the news broke that Ari Emanuel had finally hustled a buyer for The Irishman. Martin Scorsese, Ari’s client, was somewhat hilariously insisting on digitally de-aging several elderly actors in his gangster opus, a plan that Paramount and STX Entertainment, the project’s backers, correctly assumed would bloat the budget far beyond reason (and ultimately never look quite right). Studio heads don’t get fired for not making a movie. They do get fired for making a movie like The Irishman.
But Ari knew Netflix’s then-content chief Ted Sarandos was standing at a critical crossroads. Ted wanted a big, prestigious film to announce, and he actually kinda needed one. The Netflix streaming service was launched on reruns and old movies from legacy studios. Then in 2011, Emanuel helped sell Sarandos a pricey House of Cards original series, produced by his client Media Rights Capital. It worked, ushering in the Streaming TV Era that Netflix dominated.