Amazon to produce, acquire original movies

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon Is Going to Produce Original Movies for the Theater That Quickly Get to Prime.

LOS ANGELES — Amazon Studios announced ambitious plans Monday for producing original movies, aiming for a dozen “prestige” films per year that will screen in theaters, followed by a launch on Prime Instant Video 30-60 days later — a steeply shortened window that will present a challenge in finding exhibition partners beyond small, independent cinemas.Amazon.com Inc is getting into the movie business, building on some early successes in TV productions, the latest sign of the Internet retailer’s eagerness to build itself into a major Hollywood player.

Amazon.com is following a Golden Globe win for its original television show “Transparent” by saying Monday it would begin to produce and acquire original movies for theatrical release as well as distribute them sooner on its Prime video service. Amazon has been quietly trying to get original movies off the ground since late 2010, when it launched studios.amazon.com, a place where anyone could submit scripts for films and television. The movies will be released first in movie theaters and then weeks later for streaming customers, following Hollywood’s traditional business of delaying releases into the home.

Others worried about the fallout from sexual-abuse allegations levied by Allen’s daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1993 that boiled to the surface again last year. The move follows the double Golden Globes win for Transparent, Amazon Studios’ transgender comedy series and the news that Woody Allen is to produce an original series for the retailer’s digital service. The move aims to capitalize on the company’s recent success in producing television shows, help filmmakers who might otherwise struggle to produce their work, and possibly shake up the timing of how movies are distributed to theaters and other outlets.

Amazon Studios is fresh off the success of series “Transparent” at the Golden Globes and its deal with Woody Allen to produce a new streaming series — accomplishments that have drawn comparisons to online giant Netflix. Their swift appearance on-demand will further challenge the traditional four month gap between a film appearing at the cinema and its DVD or online release. Monday’s announcement is a significant strategy shift, from dabbling in script development to a commitment to getting cameras rolling, as evidenced by the hiring of independent film veteran Ted Hope (below) as Head of Production, Amazon Original Movies. While that’s modest compared with Hollywood blockbusters, it will add further to spending at Amazon, potentially unnerving investors concerned about the company’s lack of profitability and skimpy disclosure of its spending. Hope said: “Audiences already recognize that Amazon has raised the bar with productions in the episodic realm, tackling bold material in unique ways and collaborating with top talent, both established and emerging.

Amazon did not announce any forthcoming titles — nor did it disclose how it might go about putting its movies into theaters, which could be its most daunting obstacle. The 79-year-old filmmaker has been cranking out theatrical releases at the rate of about one a year since he directed “Take the Money and Run” in 1969. That’s because exhibition chains large and small have vigorously resisted shortening the window between theatrical release and home video, and Hollywood has largely abided. Both online firms have become stronger rivals to Hollywood studios and television networks, with their growth in subscribers and ability to fund dozens of new projects.

Along the way he has turned out an Oscar-winning Best Picture – “Annie Hall” in 1977 – and been nominated for various Oscars 24 times, winning four, most recently in 2012. If a film is to show up on Amazon Prime 30 days after it hits theaters, the only theaters willing to cooperate will be small, independent cinemas — roughly the same rabble that agreed to show The Interview on Christmas Day despite Sony’s VOD release the night before. Hope was a co-founder of the production and sales company Good Machine, which produced “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” among other movies.

Big-name actors have been flocking to television for some time, but now they are being joined by noted directors – the types of auteurs who might have felt limited by TV’s structure and smaller screen just a few years ago. I am incredibly thrilled to be part of this.” Roy Price, vice president of Amazon Studios, said: “We look forward to expanding our production efforts into feature films. More likely is that Amazon films will get a short run in a handful of theaters for the purpose of marketing, including the ability to call them “new release” movies in its Prime queue. More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. There are a few reasons for Hollywood’s changing view of television, foremost among them the growth of premium channels and streaming services that offer commercial-free, uncensored formats.

While Hope is known for making independent movies rather than big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, Amazon Studios has succeeded in the world of television in part by aligning itself with directors like Allen and Steven Soderbergh of “Ocean’s Eleven” fame. The company spent an estimated US$2 billion on content in 2014 with about US$200 million of that used to develop original shows, according to Wedbush Securities analysts. They will also package series in a variety of sizes, from two-episode miniseries to open-ended projects of 13 episodes a year, but generally none require the long-term commitment of a 23-episodes-a-year broadcast series. The subscriber wars are just getting started — with the rise of standalone premium services, it’ll now cost something like $125 to get all the “must-see” and awards-worthy TV that’s out there nowadays — and Amazon knows it’s going to need more than Transparent and Woody Allen for customers to pony up $99 per year for Prime.

As for Hollywood, another entrant into the film space can only be good news; especially for the low- to mid-budget “prestige” films that it intends to make. Showtime President David Nevins discussed the return of “Twin Peaks” with television critics last week and made it clear that Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost had full control of the project. Too, the advent of high-definition television and the flourishing of larger screens has increased the emphasis on visuals, which makes TV a more rewarding undertaking for directors.

But none of this is going to be easy, especially when it comes time to get those films into theaters with enough marketing behind them to attract an audience. Amazon is riding high on its Golden Globe wins for Transparent, but the studio threw several pots of spaghetti to get there: it took 47 pilots over more than four years to make a show that anyone outside the bubble had heard of. Soderbergh’s Cinemax series “The Knick,” which just concluded its first season, was filmed with the sort of expressive camerawork that marks the director’s feature films. And last spring’s HBO series “True Detective” featured a six-minute action sequence filmed in a single tracking shot by director Cary Fukunaga that had cinephiles buzzing for weeks afterward. Clearly Amazon is in this for the long haul, content for Amazon Studios will be a loss-leader for now, with the eventual payoff being more subscribers to Prime — which then feeds into its goods and services business, since customers will have already paid for free deliveries.

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