How Netflix snatched Ricky Gervais' 'Special Correspondents' from Hollywood

The writer, director and star of the new film "Special Correspondents" says Netflix's hands-off approach to production will mean "the return of the auteur."

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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"Special Correspondents" was originally to be released by one of the big Hollywood film studios, but that changed, says director Ricky Gervais, when Netflix made "an offer I couldn't refuse."

The deal wasn't just about the money, it was also about creative freedom. The British comic claims Netflix's hands-off approach to production will mean "the return of the auteur."

"Special Correspondents" stars Gervais and Australian actor Eric Bana as journalists who pretend to be reporting from a foreign war zone while really being holed up in New York. When they're reported missing, the hapless pair must head to the war for real. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Gervais both wrote and directed the film, a remake of 2009 French comedy "Envoyés Très Spéciaux". He discussed the movie on stage at an event held by Netflix in Paris which highlighted new original TV shows and movies produced by the streaming service. The famed Office co-creator is among the European stars recruited by Netflix as it expands its catalogue of original content made outside the US, including shows made in German, French and Spanish.

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Gervais said that an important part of his deal was that he got full creative control of the film. "I've always had final edit, I've always done my own thing," he said, "but usually to get that luxury I'd go to fringe channels -- BBC Two not BBC One, Channel 4 not ITV One, HBO not NBC. But Netflix is the best of both worlds: You're left alone and the sky's the limit with how many people can watch it. It's global, it's immediate, it's great. As an artist you want as many people to see your work as possible, but without compromise."

He believes that freedom allows creators to have their own voice. "I think Netflix will be the return of the auteur because you make the movie you wanted," he said.

By opting for Netflix over a conventional movie studio, "Special Correspondents" will skip movie theatres. "A lot of comedies now are gross-out, lowest common denominator because they want everyone to go to the cinema on the first day," said Gervais. "It's very homogenised, it's very safe, people know what they're getting and they don't take chances any more. They're made by committee and they're focus grouped to death so it's the same as the film you saw last month that you liked.

"I think it's a disservice to the public to try and second-guess them and try to please them. If you try to please everyone you please no-one. But if you're your own worst critic then they'll be grateful that you did it your way."

Eric Bana, Gervais' co-star, is also a former stand-up comic -- something that came as a surprise to Gervais, who had seen Bana's intense turns in films like "Munich" and "Hulk".

"I thought he was this brooding thespian!" said Gervais. "I'd seen him in 'Munich' and as Bruce Banner, 'Ooh, I hate being the Hulk, ooh I'm serious' -- then I found out he started out in comedy and he's an idiot! He's a putz just like me!"

"Special Correspondents" hits Netflix worldwide on 29 April.