'House of Cards' producer predicts Silicon Valley will replace Hollywood

"If I owned a studio, I'd make movie theaters pay me," says Dana Brunetti, producer of "House of Cards" and "The Social Network."

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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The usual suspect: Kevin Spacey stars in Netflix-funded political backstab-'em-up "House of Cards." Netflix

DUBLIN -- The producer of "House of Cards" and "The Social Network" has blasted movie theaters and predicted that Silicon Valley will replace Hollywood "soup to nuts."

Speaking at the Web Summit technology conference here, Dana Brunetti claims that the current model puts too much power in the hands of cinema chains -- and reckons that following the lead of Netflix and Amazon, Facebook and Twitter could get in on the action too.

Brunetti is the president of Trigger Street Productions, a production company he co-founded with "House of Cards" star Kevin Spacey. He most recently co-produced the Tom Hanks-starring high-seas high drama "Captain Phillips." Next up are film adaptations of the smutty novel "50 Shades of Grey" and racing game "Gran Turismo." Not bad for someone who started out as Kevin Spacey's assistant -- "It was supposed to be a three-month gig," Brunetti recalled.

"House of Cards" and "The Social Network" producer Dana Brunetti at Web Summit 2014 in Dublin. Rich Trenholm/CNET

Now in its third season, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated "House of Cards" was wholly funded and broadcast by online film and TV streaming service Netflix. "Cards" was the first of a range of Netflix-funded shows, from "Orange is the New Black" to "Bojack Horseman." That's opened up a whole new world for film and television producers -- or "content creators" -- like Spacey and Brunetti.

"It's been huge because it's a new platform for content creators like myself to sell to," he said, "and it's spawned others like Amazon Studios."

But it's not just companies already associated with film and TV that could take over the world of moving pictures: Brunetti thinks Facebook and Twitter could ride the wave as well. "They have such a huge network -- far bigger than we could reach," he said. "The power lies with content creators now, but if you can't reach people there's no point."

With online and technology-based companies already threatening traditional distribution methods, the impact would be huge: "Once Silicon Valley can create content as well," said Brunetti, "they'll own it soup to nuts."

Traditional broadcasters are getting the message: for example, UK satellite broadcaster Sky has made its channels available without a TV subscription through Now TV, and now US broadcaster HBO is doing the same by making HBO Go available separately. Brunetti reckons that's not before time, referring to the phenomenon of cord-cutting: "to have 120 channels and pay a hundred and fifty bucks and only watch four of them...that's asinine."

"I wish I could change the model of distribution," he said. "I hardly ever go to the movies. You can't get a babysitter. You want a pee, can't pause it. You want to get a beer, can't pause it. It's an expensive night out. There's guys like me who aren't going to the theater, so distributors are leaving money on the table.

"But if I had the opportunity to buy the latest movie that's out that month and watch it on the comfort of my big screen TV, I would pay for that."

Brunetti believes the market is there, giving the example of the financial crisis-skewering real-time bank-'em-up "Margin Call." Starring that man Kevin Spacey again alongside a host of A-grade talent, "Margin Call" was released day-and-date -- it was on iTunes to watch at home at the same time as it was in movie theaters. "And it went well above expectations," asserted Brunetti, "simply because it was available to everybody."

Brunetti thinks that movie theaters are not only ruining things for audiences, but for studios too. "If I owned a studio," he says, "I would make the theaters pay me -- and give me a slice of the concessions."

Producer Dana Brunetti at the Primetime Emmy Awards in August. Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

His championing of new models of production and distribution doesn't extend to stars crowdfunding their latest projects, as Zach Braff did when making "Wish I Was Here." "I don't think it's right for established names to come in and ask for fans to fund their movies," Brunetti complained. "It takes away from the little guy."

Brunetti also produced " The Social Network," directed by David Fincher and telling the story of how Facebook was created. Brunetti was skeptical of the cinematic potential at first: having adapted author Ben Mezrich's previous book about Las Vegas card sharks into the movie "21", the producer asked what Mezrich was working on next. When Mezrich told him it would be about Mark Zuckerberg, Brunetti replied, "I think that'll be a great book, but I don't think it'll make a great movie." Mezrich shot back, "Wait 'till you hear the story, it's amazing and nobody knows about it." Mezrich then introduced Brunetti to Facebook's scorned co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and a few short years later the film was nominated for several Oscars.

Brunetti wasn't the only one with doubts about the film initially, however. "There was a lot of tension between us (and Facebook)," he recalls. "The word was that they didn't want us to make the movie."

Tension might have flared when Brunetti bumped into Zuckerberg's sister and Facebook employee Randi Zuckerberg on the red carpet at an awards ceremony -- except Brunetti claims she whispered "Don't tell anybody but I loved the movie."