South O’ the Highway

Steven Spielberg and Hollywood Elites Revive Classic Film Service

Directors, writers and actors banded together to preserve the Criterion Collection.

Steven Spielberg started a Hollywood uprising. When WarnerMedia, now under parent company AT&T, announced on October 26 that it would take down FilmStruck, a streaming service that offers classic and hard to find films in the Criterion Collection, at the end of November, the East Hampton resident rolled up his sleeves and took action.

Learning that FilmStruck was deemed too niche a service, Spielberg, with the help of Martin Scorsese, appealed directly to Warner Bros. Picture Group chair Toby Emmerich and WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey on behalf of the platform. Ant-Man director Edgar Wright heard of Spielberg’s mission and asked if there was anything he could do to help the cause. Wright told The Hollywood Reporter that Spielberg advised him to “round up [his] buddies” and contact Emmerich.

With the aid of fellow directors, Guillermo del Toro and Rian Johnson, that’s exactly what Wright did. On November 14, Deadline posted the letter addressed to Emmerich, explaining the historical significance of the service’s vast library of “classic studio movies, independent cinema [and] international treasures.” The trio rallied their troops, gathering 21 signatures from Hollywood giants, including Christopher McQuarrie, Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand, Emma Thomas, Bill Hader, Sean Baker and many others. Del Toro told Hollywood Reporter that the letter took substantial time to draft, so the filmmakers had to keep working on it even in extreme circumstances—in his case, he wrote it while being honored at the LACMA Art + Film Gala and while evacuating his home in Thousand Oaks to escape the California wildfires.

Spielberg’s movement accelerated quickly as Deadline shared a second letter with 33 new signatures an hour after the first one, with such names as Alien director John Ridley. It was sent to the offices of Turner and Warner Bros. Digital Networks, and, once again, spoke of the cultural importance of keeping these films accessible. They wrote, “FilmStruck was a machine that generated empathy by curating not only classic Hollywood films, but by streaming and highlighting world cinema, cinema by female, traditionally disenfranchised, and LGBT filmmakers and storytellers. FilmStruck added a depth, breadth and richness to the viewing experience that had not previously been attempted, and may—fearfully—disappear permanently with FilmStruck’s demise.”

There truly is strength in numbers, as on November 15, WarnerMedia announced that the Criterion Collection would be preserved in the form of the new Criterion Channel, an independent service set to debut in Spring 2019. The collection of films will also be available through WarnerMedia’s consumer platform, launching next year. The owners of the Criterion Collection will be put in charge of the new service and have promised that they’ll continue to honor the film-lover friendly format of FilmStruck after it shuts down on November 29. Thanks to the efforts of Spielberg, del Toro, Wright and many others, this beloved collection of film history classics will be preserved.

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