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Elizabeth Olsen: Netflix Isn’t Killing Cinema, It’s Helping Indie Films Find Their Audience
Written by Kate Erbland

This month at the movies includes a pair of Elizabeth Olsen-starring films, thanks to two features exploring decidedly different release strategies. Of course there’s this week’s big budget blockbuster, “Avengers: Infinity War,” which features the actress reprising her role as the powerful mutant Scarlet Witch, but last week also saw the release of Mark Raso’s “Kodachrome,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The film, a low-key drama starring Olsen, Ed Harris, and Jason Sudeikis, was picked up by Netflix out of the festival.

Despite Olsen’s role in the billion-dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe, she’s stayed true to her indie roots over the years, continuing to worker on smaller films like “Wind River” and “Ingrid Goes West,” both of which debuted at Sundance last year. As the indie film distribution model continues to evolve and change, Olsen has become a staunch proponent of embracing different ways of getting her work out there. And, yes, that includes Netflix.

“I think theatrical releases should always happen for most projects,” she told IndieWire in a recent interview. “For some reason, I feel like ‘Kodachrome,’ it made sense to me for it to be on Netflix. It’s the perfect place for it. I think it will get seen more because of it being on Netflix.”

By Olsen’s estimation, “Kodachrome” is the kind of “nostalgic and lovely” indie offering that can benefit from a release by the streaming outlet, simply because that’s where more people can see it. Olsen’s first two breakout films, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Silent House,” both debuted at Sundance in 2011 and went on to distribution deals with indie outfits that netted modest returns. Even last year’s “Ingrid Goes West,” which earned director Matt Spicer an Independent Spirit Award, made just $3 million at the box office.

The actress knows what it’s like to have a great film that only a few people can see. Netflix can change that.

“It’s not really gonna be a service to the film if we just put it in a movie theater and it goes away in a couple weeks,” she said. “I think being able to have a platform like Netflix for independent films, for television, for comedy, I just think that they are creating a larger audience for projects. I think that’s very cool.”

It’s not the only streaming service that has won Olsen’s heart. The actress is also hard at work on “Sorry for Your Loss,” Facebook Watch’s first episodic series (it’s also Olsen’s first recurring role on a series). The show, which Olsen is executive producing, was first developed at Showtime, before heading to Facebook Watch in February of this year. Created and written by “Z: The Beginning of Everything” writer Kit Steinkellner, with “Switched at Birth” creator Lizzy Weiss set as show runner, Olsen hopes the series can become the fledgling streaming outlet’s first signature series.

That was something that was totally different,” Olsen said of being picked up by Facebook Watch. “We’re their first primetime show, so that’s scary, but then we had to remember that there’s a first at Amazon. I mean, when Amazon started doing original content that sounded crazy, ‘Well, that’s where I buy my toilet paper, why would I also watch an amazing television show on it?’ There’s something that’s scary about being part of a new streaming service that’s still trying to just get recognized.”

Olsen is confident that the show’s story and tone will fill a gap in the primetime world, streaming or not.

“It’s a project that I think is something we need in the world,” she said. “It’s a gap, it’s a hole, that really hasn’t been told in this kind of a tone. It’s about a young widow, and it’s about grief, and it’s about loss, and it’s about something that we all have to go through as humans no matter what. It’s guaranteed to us that we have to deal with losing people we love. We deal with it with love and respect and humor.”

It doesn’t hurt that the series boasts a talented cast of both big stars both in front of and behind the camera, including fellow cast members Janet McTeer, Kelly Marie Tran, and Jovan Adepo. Filmmaker James Ponsoldt will also executive produce, and is set to direct multiple episodes of the series. Olsen said they have almost completed the first half of their ten-episode order, and she’s reveling in the chance to wear two hats on a production that still feels lo-fi and experimental, like an indie film.

“I love how much it consumes my brain. I love that it’s a full time job,” Olsen said of producing. “I’m in almost every scene of the show, so I have to know my lines, know my prep, do your actor-y stuff, and then go home and you have to make sure you’re reading the newest script pages for five episodes down the line and giving your notes, and then you’re getting edit for the episode you shot last week from the director’s cut. It’s just been an incredible juggling act, and it’s a true labor of love, so I’m really, really loving it.”