Last year at the Golden Globe Awards as the Netflix series House of Cards received multiple drama series nominations, co-host Amy Poehler joked, “Enjoy it while it lasts Netflix because you’re not going to feel so smug in a couple of years when Snapchat is up here accepting best drama.” While we are still a long way off from that happening, big news is making its way through the industry that Amazon – that website which used to be primarily a place to buy cheap, used textbooks – is making strides to become a multimedia powerhouse. Specifically, Amazon Studios is setting its sights on distributing movies theatrically, something which will turn heads throughout the industry.
Amazon Studios was established in 2010, and for the most part the effort has been particularly showcased on streaming “television” shows made available to Amazon Prime subscribers. Recent shows include the John Goodman (The Gambler) political farce Alpha House, Mozart in the Jungle (which was created by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson muse Jason Schwartzman), and Transparent (the critically acclaimed dramedy starring Jeffrey Tambor that surprisingly won Golden Globe Awards for Comedy Series and Best Actor a few weeks ago). Amazon also announced recently that they will present a new series from Woody Allen and they continue to add top drawer talent to their roster with the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Ridley Scott to follow in the near future. However, it seems that Amazon has been fully committed to the showcasing films on the screen from the get go, even going so far as to accept user-submitted feature screenplays. Based on a report from 2012, Amazon received upwards of 10,000 scripts.
The initiative set forth by Amazon Studios VP Roy Rice is to create about 12 films per year to be released theatrically. Furthermore, these features won’t be made available right away on the Amazon Prime streaming service – the plan is start streaming features four to eight weeks following their theatrical run. This is a bit different from the initiative already in development at rival Netflix, which in recent years has dabbled with distribution on more niche driven films like the Oscar-nominated documentaries The Square (2013) and this past years’ Virunga - those films were made available for streaming more quickly. Netflix is also in the planning stages of a sequel to Ang Lee’s Oscar winning 2000 epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the controversial move of making that title available in theaters and for streaming day and date (Netflix is also planning a similar venture with a series of original Adam Sandler movies). The Netflix plan was derisively received by major theater chains (Regal, Cinemark, AMC), most of whom won’t show films that are available in other formats on the same date.
This makes the Amazon Studios decision a bit more noteworthy, and they are adding muscle to their team as well, with prolific indie producer Ted Hope (who has backed some of the most innovative American films of the past several decades, including Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 21 Grams) being brought on to head Amazon’s creative department. The goal for Amazon seems to be to focus on unique original stories from new filmmakers. “We look forward to expanding our production efforts into feature films. Our goal is to create close to 12 movies a year, with production starting later this year,” Roy Rice said. “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.”
All of this points to an ever-changing marketplace. In the past few weeks the industry was thrown for a loop with the unorthodox (and perhaps eventually profitable) run of Sony’s The Interview, and now Amazon appears committed to breaking into the movies in a possibly major (and groundbreaking) way. Production of the first Amazon title (which has not been disclosed yet) is set to take place some time this year. Who knows, perhaps Amazon can make it into the Oscar race shortly, paving the way for Snapchat down the line.