Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama Expand Content Production Deal With Netflix

Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company has extended its original content output deal with Netflix.

Created in 2018 by the former President and First Lady, Higher Ground’s  Leave the World Behind with Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts proved a ratings winner for Netflix last year, and “Bodkin,” the Irish-based truce crime podcast-themed crime drama starring Will Forte, ranked among the streamer’s Top 10 content in its May 9 debut week.

Pending projects reportedly include a biopic on Frederick Douglass, directed by Regina King, and Fling, a romantic comedy starring Lupita Nyong’o.

Leave the World Behind (Netflix image)

“If there’s one thing that’s defined President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s creative ambitions since we started our partnership with Higher Ground, it is their pursuit of an exceptional story that brings the human experience to light,” Bela Bajaria, chief content officer at Netflix, said in a statement.

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“From the beginning, Netflix has championed our projects, helping them flourish and reach millions across the world,” Vinnie Malhotra, president of Higher Ground, said in a statement. “From gripping thrillers to heartfelt comedies and profound documentaries, we have so much that we look forward to sharing.”

Netflix: Barack and Michelle Obama-Produced Drama ‘Leave the World Behind’ Dominates Second Streaming Week

Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s production deal with Netflix continues to pay off with the dystopian drama Leave the World Behind, starring Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawk, Mahershala Ali, Myha’la, and Kevin Bacon, among others.

The story about a family at a weekend rental getaway outside New York City, interrupted by the home owner, his daughter and disturbing societal events, generated more than 44.9 million views for the week ended Dec. 17, up almost 8% from last week’s chart-topping 41.7 million views. The movie now has 106.2 million hours viewed since its release.

The week’s tally was nearly doubled the combined views of Netflix’s most-popular TV show “My Life With the Walter Boys” (12.8 million views), and foreign-language (Nigeria) movie Blood Vessel (4.4 million views), and TV program “Yu Yu Hakusho” (7.7 million views) — the latter the biggest debut for any Netflix Japanese series.

It was another strong week for family films on the English-language movie chart. The new animated film Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget debuted at No. 2 (11.9 million views), followed by Adam Sandler’s animated comedy Leo (9.4 million views), Family Switch (9.4 million views) and The Super Mario Bros. Movie at No. 5 (8.9 million views). 

On the English-language TV chart, the sixth and final season of “The Crown” climbed to No. 2 with 5.8 million views, following the release of the drama’s final six episodes. Season one of the raunchy action-comedy “Obliterated” finished at No. 3 (5.2 million views), while the reality competition series “Squid Game: The Challenge” added 3 million views. 

Season one of the Korean romantic comedy “My Demon” spent its fourth week on the chart at No. 2 (4.2 million views), while the French gritty crime drama “Blood Coast” took No. 3 with 3.8 million views, and season three of the Korean reality dating series “Single’s Inferno” opened with 3.6 million views. 

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Finally, on the foreign-language movie chart, the Indian musical comic adaptation The Archies finished at No. 4 (1.3 million views), while the new Mexican drama Familia debuted at No. 6 (1 million views). The dystopian survival thriller Nowhere returned to the chart at No. 8 (1 million views), and climbed to No. 2 on the Most Popular List with 83.7 million all-time views. 

Michelle Obama Powers Netflix’s Fall Preschool Content Slate

Netflix Sept. 7 announced enhancements to its fall preschool content slate, which includes a new series featuring former First Lady Michelle Obama, in addition to ongoing series “CoComelon,” “Gabby’s Dollhouse,” “Teletubbies,”Princess Power” and “Spirit Rangers.”

The streamer’s full preschool offerings, along with fun activities and crafts, are available in the latest issue of Netflix Jr. Magazine.

Mrs. Obama appears in “Waffles + Mochi’s Restaurant,” which premieres Oct. 17, along with world-renowned chefs, home cooks, kids and celebrities from all over the globe who all share the same passion for food and fun. The show features six 20-minute episodes. 

“Spirit Rangers” premieres Oct. 10 and is inspired by stories from Native American tribes and the majestic landscapes of national parks of America. Spirit Rangers explore the adventure and beauty of nature through the eyes of Kodi, Summer and Eddy Skycedar, Chumash/Cowlitz siblings who take on new perspectives as a grizzly bear cub, red-tailed hawk and spunky turtle. The show features 10, 22-minute episodes. 

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“Spirit Rangers”

“Gabby’s Dollhouse” returns for Season six on Nov. 1. Gabby and her kitty friends go on a rainbow puzzle hunt and attend DJ Catips “Super Think Camp,” solving riddles to earn super capes, a dress-up adventure leads Gabby excavate a glow-in-the-dark gem mine in the wild west, and even a pop-up supply of paper cups turns into a crafty-riffic day. The show includes six 22-minute episodes.

“Gabby’s Dollhouse”

“Teletubbies” premieres Nov. 14, featuring a 21st century refresh of the beloved preschool series, now narrated by Emmy-nominee Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). Each 12-minute episode includes new, original “Tummy Tales” songs.

“StoryBots: Answer Time” returns Nov. 21 answering tough questions and delivering laughs. From “how lasers work” to “why people get dizzy,” the StoryBots break down the most complex ideas into bite-size explanations that expand kids’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them. Series features art, animation, music and celebrity guests including Danny DeVito, Chrissy Tiegen and Anne Hathaway, among others.

“StoryBots: Answer Time”

Netflix’s new animated preschool series “Princess Power” is based on the New York Times best-selling book series, “Princesses Wear Pants” by Savannah Guthrie (co-anchor of “Today”) and Allison Oppenheim. The show, which premieres in 2023 with 14, 11-minute episodes, is a celebration of girl power and self-expression that follows princesses of four major fruit kingdoms: Kira Kiwi, Beatrice “Bea” Blueberry, Rita Raspberry and Penelope “Penny” Pineapple. The princesses embrace their differences and become stronger together to help their fellow fruitizens and make their world a better place. 

“Princess Power”

Finally, new show “CoComelon Lane” explores the lives of JJ and his best friends (Cody, Cece, Nina, Bella and Nico) as they experience life’s big moments for little kids. From the excitement of going to a friend’s house for dinner for the first time or learning how to take care of a family pet, to the scares that come from that first trip to a doctor’s office, JJ invites viewers (speaking directly to audiences) to join their favorite CoComelon characters as they experience — and celebrate — life’s special milestones of growing up. Season includes eight 20-minute episodes. 

Will Forte to Star in Netflix Drama Series From Obamas’ Higher Ground

Will Forte will star in the drama series “Bodkin” (working title) from Netflix, Barack and Michelle Obamas’ Higher Ground, and independent studio wiip for the streaming service.

The series will start production in Ireland next week.

In addition to Forte, Siobhan Cullen, Robyn Cara, David Wilmot and Chris Walley are set to star in the seven-episode, darkly comedic thriller.

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The series follows a crew of podcasters who set out to investigate the mysterious disappearance of three strangers in an idyllic, coastal Irish town. But once they start pulling at threads, they discover a story much bigger and weirder than they could have ever imagined. As they try to discern fact from fiction — about the case, about their colleagues, and, most painfully, about themselves — the series challenges viewers’ perception of truth and exposes the stories they tell to justify beliefs or validate fears.

Netflix Licenses Rights to Sony’s Kevin Hart Feature ‘Fatherhood’

Netflix has licensed the worldwide (except for China) rights to Fatherhood from Sony Pictures for a June 18 release on the service.

The film stars Kevin Hart (Jumanji: The Next LevelThe Upside), Alfre Woodard (Juanita, Clemency), Lil Rel Howery (Bad TripGet Out), DeWanda Wise (Someone Great, Jurassic World: Dominion), Anthony Carrigan (“Barry,” “Gotham”), Melody Hurd (Them) and Paul Reiser (“Mad About You,” “The Kominsky Method”).

Based on the book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matthew Logelin, the drama features Hart taking on the toughest job in the world — fatherhood.

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Earlier this year, Hart and his HartBeat Productions inked an exclusive partnership with Netflix for feature films as well as a first-look production deal. (Fatherhood was independently licensed and not part of this overall deal.)

Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, will present the film, alongside Netflix and Sony.

Netflix Acquires 9/11 Biopic ‘Worth’

Netflix has acquired the 9/11 biopic Worth for release in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and select other countries.

Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, will present the film alongside Netflix in September 2021, for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Directed by Sara Colangelo (The Kindergarten Teacher), the film stars Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Spotlight, Birdman), Academy Award nominee Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games), Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, Lost Girls), Tate Donovan, Talia Balsam and Laura Benanti.

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Based on Kenneth Feinberg’s memoir What Is Life Worth, the film follows Kenneth Feinberg (Keaton), an accomplished lawyer appointed Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, tasked by Congress to allocate financial compensation to the victims of the tragedy — to calculate incalculable loss in the face of cynicism, bureaucracy and the politics of division.

Netflix Bows Michelle Obama ‘Becoming’ Trailer

Netflix April 27 launched a video clip for former First Lady Michelle Obama documentary “Becoming,” which bows on the service May 6.

The doc offers an up-close look at Mrs. Obama’s life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour in 2018 promoting her autobiography that highlights the power of community to bridge political divides and the spirit of connection that comes when people openly and honestly share their stories.

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Directed by Nadia Hallgren, the doc is part of Michelle and former President Barack Obama’s Higher Grounds Productions deal with Netflix.

“It’s hard these days to feel grounded or hopeful, but I hope that like me, you’ll find joy and a bit of respite in what Nadia has made,” Michelle Obama said in a statement. “Because she’s a rare talent, someone whose intelligence and compassion for others comes through in every frame she shoots. Most importantly, she understands the meaning of community, the power of community, and her work is magically able to depict it.”

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Netflix’s ‘Crip Camp’ Doc Required Re-creating the Sound of Summer Camp in the ‘70s

Viewers often neglect to appreciate how important sound is to a production. At its most effective, a soundtrack can be as important to the experience of a film as the picture.

For the Netflix/Higher Ground documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, it was crucial to match home movie footage from a summer camp in the 1970s, and sound supervisor Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach was tasked with creating a soundtrack that evoked the times.

Crip Camp, which began streaming on Netflix March 25, chronicles the history of a ramshackle summer camp down the road from Woodstock that galvanized a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement. Executive producers include President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan, and Oscar nominee Howard Gertler.

The film is co-directed and produced by Emmy Award winner Nicole Newnham and film mixer and former camper Jim LeBrecht.

Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach (left) and co-director/former camper Jim LeBrecht.

“During the spotting session, the sound team, along with sound designer Bijan Sharifi, and I spent a lot of time talking with Jim about what certain moments would have sounded like and how he’d like us to approach it. Jim played a huge role in the conceptual work, mixing and enhancement of audio,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “Our philosophy for the sound design on Crip Camp was to enhance the audience’s experience as much as possible, without it ever sounding artificial. We absolutely kept everything as true as possible. Things like bird sounds that we added needed to be confirmed as authentic to a particular region, or certain insects that might be prevalent in upstate New York during the summer. We also had to distress the Foley and SFX to make sure it sounded consistent with the camera footage from the appropriate decade.”

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The key was to restore, augment and amplify the sound without making it noticeable.

“Pretty much every archival scene in the film, of which there are many, has some degree of additional sound design in it,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “It was our job to help the viewer feel close to those scenes, so a lot of work was put into adding a closeness or intimacy to the sounds of the film, while making sure that all of our work was invisible. You never want an audience to notice sound design in a documentary.”

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One of the biggest challenges, he said, was re-creating the sound of a manual wheelchair rolling on a wood-slat deck in the 1970s. The sound design department took a manual wheelchair and drove around until they found a public boardwalk made of wood.

“It also had to be abandoned for us to get a clean recording on it,” he said. “And then further distressing it to sound like an old recording — that took a little time.”

Finding a balance between the original sound recording and necessary amplification was a challenge, especially with footage recorded in the 1970s by teenagers.

“The footage of Jim at Camp Jened was all recorded with a 15-year-old’s handheld microphone,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “There was a lot of handling noise, background noise, wind noise, and kids screaming into the mic for fun. That footage was the most challenging but also the most rewarding to clean up. We wanted to retain as much of the innocent nature as we could, but we also needed the audio to be intelligible. So we gave a lot of attention to that scene, to find the perfect balance between the two.”

Still, the team didn’t want to lose the character of the footage in forming the soundtrack.

“Imperfections are what make us human, and documentaries tend to have lots of imperfections in their production audio,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “My team at IMRSV Sound understands the importance of retaining the raw character and humanistic feel that is captured in production. So for Crip Camp, it was the imperfections in the production audio that added so much character to the film. Keeping a lot of that in was very important. Often times we would minimize it or clean it up, but we’d prefer to keep in some of the film’s quirks, and in doing so, be true to the spirit of the film and its filmmakers.”

Despite Record Noms, Netflix Wins Just Two Oscars

Entering the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 9 in Los Angeles, Netflix had a record 24 nominations — more than any Hollywood studio.

In what has become a recurring theme during this year’s industry awards, the SVOD pioneer left the Oscars relatively empty handed. Laura Dern again walked off with a Best Supporting Actress statue for Marriage Story, while American Factory, about a Chinese businessman re-opening a manufacturing facility in Ohio, won for best documentary. The film was produced by former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s production company.

Netflix won best documentary in 2018 with anti-doping cycling-themed Icarus.

But The Irishman, Netflix’s big-budget mobster movie from director Martin Scorsese and starring Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, failed to win an award despite 10 nominations. Netflix spent a reported $70 million promoting Irishman for the awards season.

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With a major push into original features, Netflix, like Amazon Prime Video, has taken on Hollywood, spending lavishly on productions and securing A-list talent. It has also — unlike Amazon — rebuffed industry norms when it comes to theatrical distribution.

CCO Ted Sarandos has made it a signature ploy releasing original movies in theaters concurrent with global streaming access. The strategy has angered exhibitors and traditionalists — with the former largely shunning Netflix movies.

In 2019, Netflix original movie Roma won an Oscar for best director (Alfonso Cuarón), best foreign film and best cinematography but lost for best picture. The streamer’s first original movie, Beasts of No Nation, was critically hailed, but ignored by the Academy.

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Despite the slights, Sarandos dismisses possible industry blowback toward the streamer’s feature films as speculation.

“A pushback? Nobody can say that with a straight face,” he told the New York Times. “We got 24 nominations, the most of any studio. Our films have been honored across the board.”

Indeed they have. But with South Korea’s Parasite making history as the first foreign-language film to win best picture, Universal Pictures was sure to give the film a traditional theatrical window — generating about $35 million in North America. It has grossed $167.6 million worldwide, becoming South Korea’s biggest box office hit.

Trump Says Congress Should Investigate Obama’s ‘Ridiculous Netflix Deal’

President Donald Trump Sept. 16 — in an early morning tweet — lashed out at a federal appeals court’s decision to re-open allegations he improperly receives money through his businesses from foreign and domestic leaders in order to curry political favor from him.

His opponents claim doing so would be in violation of the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York Sept. 13 re-opened the ethics complaint, brought about by various plaintiffs, including watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

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The original complaint was dismissed by a lower court in 2017.

Regardless, Trump used the occasion to criticize former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s book publishing deal and separate original content agreement with Netflix.

The book and streaming video deals occurred after the Obamas were out of the White House and private citizens.

In April, Higher Ground Productions, the Obamas’ production company in partnership with Netflix, announced an initial slate of upcoming projects, encompassing fiction and nonfiction productions; scripted, unscripted and documentary series; and full-length features and documentaries.

Michelle’s memoir Becoming, remains a national bestseller with more than 7.5 million copies sold.