Hollywood’s indie film pool prepares for the Amazon movie business plunge

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon doubles down on entertainment with ‘indie’ movie bet.

When Amazon Inc announced on Monday its move into the movie business, the Internet retailer sent a ripple through Hollywood’s pool of independent film.(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is making a high-stakes foray into the challenging realm of independent movies, the latest step in its attempt to move beyond simply distributing digital entertainment content to creating it.Yesterday, Amazon (whose chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post) announced a new plan to finance lower-budget movies, release them in theaters and then get the films streaming online within a couple of months, rather than making cineplex-averse viewers wait a year to get a look at them.

Amazon said on Monday it was aiming to produce close to 12 movies a year for theatrical release which would then be available on its Prime video service within two months, significantly faster than the roughly one-year wait it normally faces to stream Hollywood releases. Amazon Studios is fresh off the success of series “Transparent” at the Golden Globes, winning best comedy, and its deal with Woody Allen to produce a new streaming series — accomplishments that have drawn comparisons to online giant Netflix. But from its waters also spring many acclaimed films, best picture Oscar nominees like “Selma” and “Whiplash” and quite a few commercial successes. While modest compared with Hollywood blockbusters, the move will add to already hefty spending at Amazon, potentially unnerving investors concerned about the company’s lack of profitability.

Even massive studios that have been doing it for decades have to rely largely on what we’d call a portfolio strategy: a small number of hits sustain a relatively large number of break-evens and poorly-performing movies.” And Barton explains that there’s another potential complication, this one concerning Amazon’s proposal to combine theatrical releases with rushed SVOD availability. “Cinema chain owners are notoriously sensitive about people screwing around with release windows or releasing stuff too close to when they’re available in cinemas themselves,” he says. “Otherwise they just won’t show your film. But unlike Netflix, which is producing movies that will be released simultaneously online and in theaters, Amazon’s move into feature films will follow the traditions of Hollywood’s delayed release into homes. Most of Hollywood’s big studios largely abandoned the dramatic film business to concentrate on action adventure blockbusters and sequels, where there is less risk among a built-in fan base and more likely financial reward. Such films have proved challenging even for major Hollywood studios such as Paramount and Warner Brothers, which have bowed out of the business in recent years, said Jeff Bock, Box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It’s a tough, tough racket to play consistently,” he said, pointing to the difficulty of getting good content and the competition for quality productions at festivals like Sundance.

It may not have been Sony Pictures Entertainment’s plan to release “The Interview” online, but after hackers threatened theaters that planned to show the movie, Google picked it up, and viewers reached for their credit cards in large numbers, even after the movie eventually hit the big screen. It doesn’t matter if you’re Sony Pictures or Amazon, they’ll just say no.” “My feeling would be that they’re going to be getting more and more successful as they go along.

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. News of a new, deep-pocketed buyer in the independent sphere would always be welcome, but Amazon’s decision to hire a big name in the independent film world to head up Amazon Original Movies drew special praise. “It’s exciting, especially because it’s led by Ted Hope, who has a pretty sterling track record in terms of filmmaking and projects that he’s been involved with,” said Ned Benson, who made his directorial debut with “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” released last year.

But if Amazon wants to step up and finance a bunch of thoughtful, small-budget movies, and to continue with the kind of consistent indie sensibility to the company’s film projects that has characterized its best television projects, I’m all for it. Amazon Studios, which launched in 2010, said it will begin production of films later in the year with budgets of $5 million to $25 million per project. Hope was the producer behind films like “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “American Splendor.” The latter won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. One or two months after theatrical release, the films will be exclusively provided to Amazon Prime Instant Video customers. “We look forward to expanding our production efforts into feature films,” said Roy Price, vice president of Amazon Studios. “Not only will we bring Prime Instant Video customers exciting, unique and exclusive films soon after a movie’s theatrical run, but we hope this program will also benefit filmmakers, who too often struggle to mount fresh and daring stories that deserve an audience.” Amazon viewers will see the films much sooner than the typical cycle of releases to DVDs, cable on-demand and then streaming service providers, Price said. Dee Rees: “Pariah,” Rees’s first feature, already attracted attention from HBO, which tapped her to direct its upcoming biopic of Bessie Smith, starring Queen Latifah.

Only Netflix knows how many people have watched it, but I think it certainly doesn’t seem to me that people are talking about it as much as some of the other ones. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is known for his hunger to tackle new markets but the company has had a mixed track record, as with the recent Amazon Fire phone, whose price tag it has slashed after weak sales. There are others as well but we haven’t heard of them so there’s probably a reason for that.” And what of that early enthusiasm for pure number crunching? Even its biggest competitor in the digital original content race, Netflix Inc., threw a rose its way. “In terms of changing movie distribution, we are really allied in our view that consumers are tired of waiting so long,” Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings told Reuters. “It may turn out that their entry is quite helpful to help both of us grow in that area.” (Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine and Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Paul Tait)”

Its movie-production gamble ups the ante for Netflix, which said in September it would jointly produce a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and in October signed a deal for comedian Adam Sandler to star in and produce four films to be shown exclusively on the service. Destin Daniel Cretton: “Short Term 12,” Cretton’s movie about Grace (Brie Larson), a troubled young woman in her early 20s who works at a residential facility for children who can’t live with their own families, was one of the best movies I saw in 2013.

Barton suggests it may have gone too far. “Have we really seen an evolution in how programmes are commissioned by a greater emphasis on analytics?” he ponders. “It strikes me as rubbish. Sony Pictures’ recent success in releasing its comedy “The Interview” through video-on-demand services after threats from hackers was also seen as a blow to big-screen businesses. “That verbiage probably scares theater owners,” Bock said, referring to Amazons’ plan to narrow the window between theatrical releases and streaming availability, adding that the theater chains could take some solace in Amazon’s decision not to go for simultaneous release or just putting films straight out on video. You have A&R people for major record companies, commissioning editors for major broadcaster – these are pretty tough jobs, and the ones who are good at it are worth their weight in gold. National Association of Theater Owners Vice President Patrick Corcoran declined to comment on Amazon’s move but said the time between theatrical and home video release would play into theaters’ decision on whether to take a particular film. That’s based on a lot of experience, really deep knowledge about what works with your particular audience, and I don’t think we’re close to reducing that to an algorithmic or analytics process yet.” We welcome reader discussion and request that you please comment using an authentic name.

I particularly like “Sound of My Voice,” in which Marling plays a cult leader who manages to intuit the hurt in a skeptic who has set out to expose her, and “The East,” about an attempt by a corporate sabotage firm to infiltrate an anarchist collective. The company spent an estimated $2 billion on content in 2014 with about $200 million of that used to develop original shows, according to Wedbush Securities analysts. Issa Rae: Rae’s attempts to transition from her Web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” to television haven’t quite worked out so far.

In part because I wonder what might happen if she had to tell a story in the tighter constraints of film, I’d like to see Amazon give her a shot. 5. Andrew Haigh: Okay, he’s pretty busy on HBO’s sitcom about modern gay life, “Looking.” But Haigh has a wonderfully distinct visual sensibility, and the fog that filters through San Francisco only adds to his gauzy, warm, slightly washed-out worlds. And with the romantic comedy in rather dire trouble at the mainstream box office, he just might offer Amazon a chance to reinvigorate the genre for a new generation — and for audiences who might have been excluded from it in the past.

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