After making a deal with Netflix about a year ago, in April the Obamas announced a “slate” of seven pictures they will produce for the streaming service through their production company Higher Ground Productions.

Ms. Clinton and her daughter Chelsea are forming a production company for film and television projects, according to Bloomberg. They are seeking financing from studios, Bloomberg says.  Ms. Clinton previously agreed to work with Steven Spielberg on a tv series on women’s suffrage activists.

Interestingly, both sets of would-be producers are claiming pursuit of high-minded themes for their productions. Mr. Obama says that the Obamas’ offerings “won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect and inspire us all.” The Clintons want to do stories by and about women.

The Obamas’ deal is much easier than any studio deal it is said the Clintons might make.

The movie business has profoundly changed since the appearance of streaming behemoths like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others on the horizon. For example, Netflix has 148 million paying subscribers and says it spent $ 8 billion on purchasing and licensing content in 2018, more than all the studios combined.

So the Obamas won’t have to do what producers have done since the beginning of movies: raise money. Netflix has all the money they need.

If the Clintons go the studio route, they will have to get production financing from their studio and from the venues where their projects will be otherwise distributed. This is back-breaking work and not for amateurs.

Netflix has extensive data on what its audiences want in the 190 countries in which it operates. Studios cannot monitor their audiences to the same degree. To make things more complicated, both have to project what would work two years hence, the parturition period of a movie.

Several factors, common to the announced creative aspirations of both sets of tyro producers, make the outlook glum. Here are three:

1. Scripts based on a theme have languished in script development hell; have never been produced; or flopped. For example, slates of “black films” have been proposed on the theory that there is a large, untapped “black audience” that yearns for “black” films. There isn’t and they don’t. And “black” films do very little business abroad.

All audiences that fit in the demographic that watches movies want great stories, great casts and great production values.  That’s it.

There have also been attempts to get a deal for films about women on the assumption that women are yearning to see pictures about women. If a picture is about women but is no good, it will flop.

Similarly, the Obamas’ vaunted ambition to do pictures that “won’t just entertain…but will educate…and inspire” avoids a plain fact: preaching is for church. Even though money is not a problem for the Obamas under their deal, dull pictures will bring public denunciations and end their use of  a medium for purposes for which it was not designed.

2. The selection and development of material is a minefield. During their respective honeymoon periods at Netflix and a studio, these willful couples will probably get their way, but not for long. Once one of their selections begins to gobble as turkeys do, the next time won’t be so easy.

They will have to deal with writers and directors and that will require a lot of finesse by these newby producers. A screenwriter is not a stenographer and beating up on a director is like dissing a field marshal. Feature films, and to a lesser degree streaming pictures, are a director’s medium; some of them are cooperative and some are not. This is not a familiar landscape for either a former president or a former secretary of state.

Most people do not know how to read a script. A script is an outline for a visual presentation. A studio and a director know how to read a script. The Obamas and the Clintons do not. That is not a criticism. It’s a fact.

I’ve avoided commenting on the Obamas’ proposed pictures. One seems destined to evoke snores. That would be a screen version of Michael Lewis’ book about the federal bureaucracy. I cannot visualize Netflix viewers saying, “let’s watch the bureaucracy picture tonight.”

But what do I know?

3. The picture you think you are making is not the one that appears. Once a script is finally approved by Netflix or a studio, no assurance can be given that the final product will do any more than resemble what the Obamas and the Clintons think they made.

Marketing, trailers, editing and other factors often transform a picture and make it almost unrecognizable to producers. And the days of final cut producer approvals are over.


Making movies is a tough world. I do not really understand why the Obamas and the Clintons are going there. I would enjoy seeing them compete to get a project!