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Netflix knows what you want to watch, and the creators of ‘Godless’ love it

Executive producer Steven Soderbergh and writer/director Scott Frank talk about how the new western came together on Recode Media.

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Writer/director Scott Frank on the set of “Godless” Netflix

When Netflix decided it wanted to make a western — a genre it hadn’t yet reached into with its original series — it called in Steven Soderbergh and Scott Frank. Through the grapevine, the company knew that Frank had an unproduced script for a western film called “Godless” that he had written in the early 2000s.

“It was a long film, 180-something pages,” Soderbergh said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “We were talking and felt, it’s time to try and wrestle this thing to the ground. And I said, ‘Look, instead of having these conversations where people say, 'Can you cut 35 or 40 pages out of it?’ why don’t we blow it up and go and do it as a limited series?”

“We went into Netflix and they read the long feature film script,” he added. “We gave them a budget number and start date that we pulled ... out of a dark place. And they said, ‘Let’s go.’”

Frank, who previously co-wrote the “X-Men” spinoff “Logan,” said that as the writer/director of “Godless” (Soderbergh is the executive producer), he relished the chance to turn his epic movie script into a miniseries because it gave him more time with characters he’d had in mind for more than a decade.

“You are able to do the reversed adaption, where you’re able to go deeper with everybody,” he said. “It still has the same beginning, middle and end it always did as a feature script, but now I’m able to tell more stories about each character.”

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On the new podcast, Frank praised Netflix’s approach to measuring shows and marketing, saying it drives the company to make different and better types of content, including in currently underserved genres like westerns.

“It’s a whole new way of marketing,” Frank said. “A traditional studio is going for a date. They’re going for Friday, that weekend, everything, all the money is spent for that date; whereas Netflix, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.”

“I noticed this on ‘Mindhunter,’” he added, referring to another recent Netflix series. “Three weeks after it’d been out, I’m seeing lots and lots of ads. And same with Netflix pushing ‘Godless’: I see it at a football game, because now they know who’s watching.”

For filmmakers like Soderbergh and Frank, that move away from aiming at a specific date means that whether people discover “Godless” is up to Netflix’s algorithm ... and the quality of their show’s marketing imagery.

“I think 60 percent or 70 percent of the people that come to the website, they told me, don’t know what they’re going to watch until they get there,” Frank said. “That means the little thumbnail images they’re looking at are hugely important to what they’re going to watch.”

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