Just as Netflix likes to tout certain numbers, it prefers to keep others close to the chest.
Take, for instance, the figure of 21 million. According to new information released Friday by Netflix Canada, that was how many subscribers worldwide watched Jusqu’au déclin (The Decline) in its first four weeks on the streaming service. Québécois director Patrice Laliberté’s chilly survivalist thriller, which began streaming March 27, is Netflix’s first original Canadian feature film, produced as part of the industry giant’s 2017 commitment to spending $500-million over five years in the country, which it says it has already exceeded. Yet there is more to that 21 million viewership number.
In Netflix’s letter to investors this past January, the company outlined its new way of tallying audience metrics. Previously, viewership was counted if a household made its way through 70 per cent of a single episode of a series or an entire film. But “given that we now have titles with widely varying lengths,” the streamer said, “we believe that [this method] makes less sense.” Now, accounts that “chose to watch a given title” is defined as viewership of “at least two minutes” – a methodology that Netflix says is “long enough to indicate the choice was intentional,” and similar to the “most popular” article ranking on The New York Times website and YouTube view counts. (This new two-minute metric is about 35 per cent higher on average than the prior measurement, meaning that The Decline would have been previously counted as being watched by about 15 million members.)
“I don’t know how exactly Netflix calculates the viewers, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a good methodology, and I’m confident about that number,” says Julie Groleau, producer of The Decline, in an interview with The Globe and Mail this week. “It is very exciting for the film.”
Netflix is eager to tout other stats with more clarity. For instance, 95 per cent of those 21 million whatevers of The Decline came from subscribers who live outside Canada (Spanish-, Portuguese- and German-speaking audiences were especially drawn to the title). And then there are these numbers: $5-million (which is how much Netflix paid to make The Decline) and 200 (the number of local crew members who were hired to work on the film).
All of this sits well with Groleau, who helped Laliberté walk into a meeting with Netflix in May, 2018, with only a handful of short-film credits to his name, and walk out with an unprecedented industry deal. The streamer has shot many series (Locke & Key, The Umbrella Academy) and films (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) in Canada with homegrown crews. But this is the first time that Netflix has funded an explicitly top-to-bottom Canadian production – shot here, taking place here and developed by a domestic creative team.
“It’s true, we didn’t have much experience, but we had a really good script, a tight thriller, that was interesting for Netflix,” says Groleau, whose Montreal company Couronne Nord is currently in post-production with Laliberté’s second feature, A Very Nice Day, which will be handled by a traditional Canadian distributor. “In Quebec, we don’t do a lot of genre films – maybe something like [the zombie film] Les affamés or Bon Cop Bad Cop – but usually you wouldn’t have the budget here to do an action or thriller film like this.”
In focusing on an insular community of Québécois doomsday preppers, The Decline is also well-timed for the COVID-19 era. If accidentally so.
“The survivalist angle, it wasn’t expected, of course,” says co-star Marie-Evelyne Lessard, who along with her castmates provided the film’s English-language, and Québécois-accented, dub. “We never thought this [pandemic] could have happened at the same time we were releasing the film. The date was set way before we knew what was going on.”
While Netflix has not yet announced plans for any future Canadian – or Québécois – features, Lessard and Groleau are hopeful that The Decline represents just the first of many partnerships between the streamer and the local film industry.
“I think that we proved how our technicians work well and fast, how our creative teams are really pros. Shooting in Quebec is worth it,” says Lessard. “I think they’ll come back, and that they’re confident working with Canadian productions for a long while.”
The rest of the country, then, will be watching – and waiting for Netflix to say just how many of us are doing so, if not for how long.
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