Netflix Enters Its Dan Lin Era

It’s a familiar arc in movies: The person who doesn’t want the job is the best candidate for it. And so it was with Dan Lin, the producer and founder of Rideback, who this week starts his tenure as Netflix’s film head.

Lin was not looking for a new job, but then came an incoming call in early February from Netflix’s chief content officer, Bela Bajaria. According to two people familiar with the meeting that followed, Lin was blunt in his assessment of Netflix’s output: The movies were not great and the financials didn’t add up. Bajaria appreciated the honesty and, shortly after, she asked Lin if he would be open to leaving Rideback, the company the producer had spent the better part of two decades building.

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Lin had been down this path before, being courted for a top studio post at a division in desperate need of a strong hand. In 2022, he was in negotiations to lead DC’s film and TV efforts at Warner Bros., the company where he got his start on projects like The Departed. But he walked away, in part, because it was unclear how Rideback would be incorporated into his prospective new role.

But Bajaria was able to convince Lin that the upside to him taking the Netflix job could be huge, according to sources. At Netflix, Lin would run a division that makes far more titles than any traditional studio, and he will command a budget far superior to anything available in contemporary Hollywood. “He is in charge of film for the biggest film supplier in the world” says one producer. Then there’s the pay. Though salary details were not available, as the source notes, “The money would be hard to replicate, even for a successful producer,” even if the job ends up only lasting a few years.

The prospects were enough for Lin to take the job — retaining a stake in Rideback but otherwise leaving things to partner Jonathan Eirich and Rideback COO Michael LoFaso as the new co-CEOs.

There is a definite upside for Netflix, too — getting a well-liked, even-keeled film head with slate-building experience. The streaming wars have been waged. Netflix, the victor and the great disrupter of Hollywood, now needs stability. It has already been well reported that Netflix has wanted to get into the “fewer, bigger, better” business for some time, and Lin, who has a reputation for coming in on budget, may be the executive to finally get them there.

At Rideback, Lin found himself in the unique position (at least by 2024 Hollywood standards) of sitting atop a production company that works across studio lots and manages multiple successful franchises. Rideback has made hits out of the seemingly unadaptable (Lego bricks, steampunk Sherlock Holmes) and has taken already valuable IP and made it even more valuable (It, Aladdin). Yes, there have been some stumbles, like last summer’s Haunted Mansion and Jo Koy comedy Easter Sunday, but these are outnumbered by the successes.

As for what Lin is walking into, Netflix’s structure has long been a source of Hollywood puzzlement. There are the complaints about pitching one project to multiple groups in the same division and bottlenecks with executives spread too thin. Over the past year, the company’s film arm entered a state of greater uncertainty due to executive departures and reorgs.

Netflix has been preparing for this new leadership era for months, with a Scott Stuber exit rumored for over a year. For the better half of the past year, insiders have complained that Netflix has greenlit few original films — even considering the work stoppages caused by last year’s writers and actors strikes. Up until very recently, Guillermo del Toro’s starry Frankenstein was one of the few films shooting. Still, Netflix has remained active in acquiring finished films for hefty price tags, including Glen Powell action comedy Hit Man out of TIFF and Sundance thriller It’s What’s Inside.

Internally, Lin’s appointment was met with positivity and the hope that the executive will offer direction and a kick-start to productions.

Then there’s the Netflix slate. Stuber joined in 2017 with the mandate to build up the streamer’s originals library and jump-start its tentpole ambitions. The division, thanks to Stuber, was able to court top filmmaking talent. It also touted the release of “a new movie every week” during a period of rapid growth when Netflix had to prove its staying power to both subscribers and investors. But gone are the days when Netflix would fork over seemingly unlimited budgets, paying large fees to filmmakers to make up for backends. Lin “can make movies for the right price,” as one top talent rep put it.

Tentpole franchises, seen as a way to reduce subscriber churn, have remained nominal at Netflix, where Extraction is the most notable film series. Per the company, Extraction 2 has become the 10th most popular original movie of all time for the streamer, and the third installment was announced last summer. Outside of this, there are two Enola Holmes films and an Old Guard sequel that is expected this year. Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon, which is planned as a multifilm series, debuted in mid-December to nearly half the viewership that Julia Roberts starrer Leave the World Behind premiered to weeks earlier. Snyder’s sequel, The Scargiver, arrives April 19.

After officially taking the Netflix job, Lin is said to have spent time pouring over reams of viewership data: minutes watched, audience habits, likes and dislikes. The Harvard MBA apparently will now have the ability to use hard data to shape the biggest film slate in Hollywood.

According to insiders, the Lin-era Netflix film slate will be made up of a majority of midsized offerings, with the streamer having found its biggest hits with comedies, rom-coms and family films. Scattered in there will be a handful of big movies and requisite awards contenders. Though the slate may be smaller than those working with Netflix are accustomed, the industry, which has been hearing about Netflix belt tightening for the better part of the past year, won’t pin smaller paydays on Lin.

The executive, who has been described by those who have worked with him as “low key” and “humble,” will write Netflix’s film operation’s newest chapter — but don’t expect fanfare. Said one agency head, “He’s not enthralled by the trappings of a studio job.” After all, he didn’t need it to begin with.

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