HBO Streaming Aspiring Directorial Pilots

Taking an earlier page from Amazon Studios, HBO has begun streaming directorial shorts from aspiring directors on its SVOD platform HBO Now and TVOD service HBO Go.

HBO Access Directing Fellowship selects three-to-four fellows to participate in a biennial program designed to foster diverse directing talent. The program includes a series of master classes, which lead into the production of pilots.

Delivered by industry professionals both internal and external to HBO, the classes cover a variety of subjects including creative topics such as story and character, as well as the technical aspects of production and post.

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Upon completion of the course, the fellows are given a budget and crew to direct a short presentation allowing them full immersion in a true industry production.

HBO said it would continue to support the directors by screening the films for the entertainment community and offering shadowing opportunities on HBO series.

Pilots include:

HALFWAY | Run Time: 16:21
Written & Created by Katherine Craft
Directed by Carey Williams

Recently released from prison, Krystal must navigate the new rules and strong personalities of her local Christian halfway house if she has any hope of regaining custody of her estranged daughter.

 

 

UNIMUNDO 45 | Run Time: 13:38
Written & Created by Claudia Forestieri
Directed by Thembi Banks

When her parents threaten to self-deport, a jaded Latina news producer sheds her cynicism and becomes an activist — on live TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STERLING | Run Time: 20:12
Written & Created by Bryce Ahart & Stephanie McFarlane
Directed by Ryan Zaragoza

A small West Texas town struggles to pick up the pieces after a devastating mass shooting at their local high school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director bios:

Carey Williams — Recently hailed by Filmmaker Magazine as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film, Williams is currently in pre-production on his first feature, R#J, with Timur Bekmambetov, a participant in the NBC Emerging Directors Program and has set up the feature version of his award-winning short film, “Emergency.”

Thembi Banks — Born in Harlem New York, Banks is an award-winning writer/director who received her MFA from USC’s Film & TV Production program. Banks was a 2017 directing fellow at Film Independent’s Project Involve, she was also a 2018 HBO Access Directing Fellow, a 2019 Ryan Murphy Half Initiative Directing Fellow and a participant in Powder Keg’s inaugural female directing program, created by Paul Feig.

She will be making her feature film directorial debut with Young. Wild. Free written by Juel Taylor in 2020 and is currently writing a feature for Universal Studios with Malcolm D. Lee attached to produce and direct. Her most recent television directing credit is on Issa Rae’s show “Insecure.”

Ryan Zaragoza — Zaragoza is a writer/director originally from El Paso, Texas. He’s an alumni of Ryan Murphy’s HALF Initiative, WBTV Director’s Program, and HBO Access, where he directed Sterling, which premiered at SXSW. Zaragoza is currently directing an episode of “All American” season 2, and is slated to direct an episode of “Animal Kingdom” in early 2020.

Writer bios:

Claudia Forestieri is a bilingual, biracial TV writer of Dominican-Italian descent who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami. Her storytelling career began in the world of news where she served as a reporter and producer for Telemundo stations in Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

She broke into TV writing in 2017 and has since staffed on Freeform’s “Good Trouble” and Netflix’s “Selena: The Series.”

Katherine Craft is a playwright, screenwriter, and Texas native. She’s the creator of “Kappa Crypto,” a Snap Original series, currently streaming on Snapchat. She’s also the founder of Conspire Theatre, a prison theater program that worked with women during and post-incarceration. Her short films have played in the Tribeca Film Festival, PBS Online Film Festival, and the LA Asian Pacific American Film Festival, among others.

Bryce Ahart and Stephanie McFarlane are both alums of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where they each graduated Cum Laude from the Dramatic Writing Department. After completing the 2017–2018 HBO Access Writer’s Fellowship, they went on to staff on The CW’s “Legacies.” Most recently, their pilot, “Sterling,” premiered at SXSW and is currently continuing the festival circuit.

Amazon Ups Q3 Online Store Sales 21%

Amazon Oct. 24 announced third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) online store revenue of $35 billion, which was 21% higher than $29 billion in revenue in the previous-year period.

Online stores include product sales and digital media content available in both a physical (DVD and Blu-ray Disc) and digital format, such as books, music, videos, games and software sold on a transactional basis.

Subscription services revenue, which includes annual and monthly fees associated with Prime memberships, as well as audiobook, digital movies, e-book, digital music and other non-AWS subscription services, increased 34% to $4.95 billion compared to $3.69 billion last year.

Other Q3 highlights featured a new line up of Echo personal speakers; 20 new Fire TV products, including the first Fire TV Edition soundbar; the all-new Fire TV Cube, the fastest and most powerful Fire TV ever; the first OLED Fire TV Edition smart TV; and the first Fire TV Edition smart TV with far-field Alexa voice control.

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Fire TV announced more than 37 million active users worldwide and continues to be the No. 1 selling family of streaming media players in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and India.

The e-commerce behemoth introduced the all-new eero mesh WiFi system, which offers simple, reliable WiFi for streaming, gaming, and working from home — all for $99. The mesh WiFi system replaces your existing router and extends WiFi coverage seamlessly throughout your home, according to Amazon. In addition, eero is expanding to Europe — customers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom will be able to try the eero and eero Pro in early November.

Prime Video won 15 Emmy awards, with “Fleabag” receiving four, including Outstanding Comedy Series, as well as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Prime Video premiered four new Amazon Original series: “The Boys,” “Carnival Row,” “Undone” and “Modern Love.” In addition, Prime Video will see the return of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski, on Nov. 1; “The Man in the High Castle,” from author Philip K. Dick, on Nov. 15; “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” recent winner of eight Emmy awards, on Dec. 6; and the relaunch of series “The Expanse,” with an all-new season four, on Dec. 13.

Prime Video launched its third season of “NFL Thursday Night Football” with new features, such as Next Gen Stats on X-Ray, which gives fans access to deeper analytics and allows football fans all over the globe to customize their Thursday Night Football streaming experience.

Prime Video continues to create local Original Series around the world, including “All or Nothing: Brazil National Football Team” and “Soltos em Floripa” in Brazil; “El Juego de las Llaves” and “Derbez Family Vacation” in Mexico; “LOL: Last One Laughing” in Australia; “Truth Seekers” in the United Kingdom; “Inside Borussia Dortmund” in Germany; “El Corazón de Sergio Ramos” in Spain; “The Family Man” in India; and season three of “The Bachelor” in Japan.

Amazon Studios Partners with Howard University to Promote Racial Diversity in Hollywood

Amazon Studios and Howard University Oct. 10 announced a partnership designed to diversify the entertainment industry by creating a pipeline for African-American students and other marginalized groups to train and study alongside Hollywood executives.

The Howard Entertainment program is an immersive two semester class located in Los Angeles that offers Washington, D.C.-based Howard University students the opportunity to take academic courses during the spring semester and participate in a fellowship imbedded in the entertainment industry during the summer semester.

The coursework will be applied toward the student’s graduation requirements and the fellowship provides hands-on experience and an opportunity to make networking connections.

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The experience will offer students an interdisciplinary curriculum curated with Amazon’s industry partners. The program will begin in January 2020.

“Collaborating with Amazon Studios will enable us to marry academia and industry efforts to build a robust workforce of diverse entertainment industry leaders,” Howard president A. I. Frederick said in a statement.

Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said the program underscores the studio’s commitment to create “new pathways into the industry” for talented students of all backgrounds.

“As we strive to delight our Prime Video customers, we’re ensuring there are diverse perspectives and experiences around the table to help us make the best decisions in all aspects of the business,” Salke said.

To qualify, students must be enrolled at Howard University, must be an upperclassman or graduate student and will have to complete an application and interview to be considered for the program.

Students will be taught by Howard faculty who will be supported by Amazon Studios employees and other industry professionals invited by Amazon.

“This program is all about … increasing and preparing the next generation of African American, Latinx and Native American storytellers, casts, crew, and executives working on these projects,” added Latasha Gillespie, Amazon Studio’s global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Students who wish to apply for admission into the program can contact HowardEntertainment@howard.edu.

‘Fleabag’ Star, Creator Inks Amazon Studios Production Deal

Fresh off its surprise six Emmy wins, episodic series “Fleabag” creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has signed a production deal with Amazon Studios.

Waller-Bridge’s breakout hit won Outstanding Comedy Series, with the actress also picking up Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series as well.

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“As evident in her great success at the Emmy Awards this week, [Waller-Bridge] is clever, brilliant, generous and a virtuoso on multiple fronts, including writing, acting and producing,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

Waller-Bridge is no newcomer to industry accolades. She was the writer and showrunner of the first season of BBC America’s award-winning (BAFTA, Peabody) series “Killing Eve,” starring Sandra Oh.

The show also earned Waller-Bridge — a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts — Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for writing. Oh won a Golden Globe for her performance in the series.

Notably, Waller-Bridge appeared as a droid in Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story.

She has also joined the writing team for the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die, starring Daniel Craig and directed by Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”).

 

DEG Announces Board for 2019-20

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group on Aug. 9 announced its incoming board of directors at the start of its 23rd year as one of the home entertainment industry’s leading trade associations.

DEG’s voting member companies elected the new board to serve for the 2019-20 fiscal year (Aug. 1 – July 31). New board members include Pedro Gutierrez of Microsoft Corp., Cheryl Goodman of Sony Electronics and Erol Kalafat of Amazon Studios.

Amazon Studios is a new member company represented on the
DEG board for the first time.

The DEG also has added two additional companies to its membership: Row8, a transactional digital movie service that allows viewers to stop a movie they don’t like and choose a new one at no additional charge, and Snap Inc., parent company of social networking app Snapchat.

The Officers of the DEG board were elected to a two-year term in 2018 and will continue to serve through July 2020. Officers include Chair Matt Strauss of Comcast Cable; Vice Chair Sofia Chang of WarnerMedia Distribution (HBO); CFO Bob Buchi of Paramount Home Entertainment; Secretary Jim Wuthrich of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment & Games, and Chair Emeritus Mike Dunn, formerly of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

“At a time when our industry is rapidly changing, the board of directors strives to produce deliverables that meet the needs of the industry at this dynamic time, such as DEG’s D2C Alliance, formed at the start of the year,” said Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of the DEG.

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Amazon Remains Mum on Show Ratings

Drawing attention to programming through ratings and viewership data is as old as Nielsen.

With the over-the-top video market about to get crowded by Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+ and NBC Universal, some services such as Netflix have taken to releasing viewership data for select series and movies when the numbers are self-promoting.

The SVOD pioneer recently disclosed that more than 40 million households had streamed the third season of “Stranger Things,” one of its flagship original series.

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Don’t expect Amazon Prime Video to follow the strategy.

“We know what the numbers are and we’ll single out shows that are overperforming, but we’ve yet to embrace a strategy as a company where we put out actual numbers,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, told the media over the weekend at the studio’s Television Critics Association presentation.

The strategy underscores Amazon’s reluctance updating Prime membership numbers (last revealed at 100 million globally) or disclosing Prime Video viewership data.

What the studio isn’t afraid of is canceling shows, which Netflix and Hulu do as well.

Amazon is not renewing new seasons of “The Romanoffs,” “Patriot,” “Forever” and “Too Old To Die.”

New releases include “The Boys,” pending “Carnival Row,” a fifth season of “The Expanse” and upcoming “The Banker’s Wife.”

Meanwhile, hardboiled L.A. cop drama “Bosch,” Amazon’s longest-running original series renewed last year for a sixth season, remains a mystery regarding actual viewers.

Woody Allen Sues Amazon Studios for $68 Million

Director Woody Allen has filed a $68 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against Amazon Studios, alleging the company backed out of distributing his current movie, A Rainy Day in New York– part of a four-picture production and distribution deal.

Original movie and TV series directed by Allen for Amazon include Wonder Wheel (2017), starring Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple and Jim Belushi, and comedy series, “Crisis in Six Scenes,” which aired on Sept. 30, 2016.

The suit, filed Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court of New York, alleges Amazon last summer refused to distribute the movie after allegations resurfaced about Allen sexually molesting his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow in 1992.

Allen, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, claims his relationship with Amazon Studios began to unravel after former studio boss Roy Price departed following his own inappropriate workplace behavior complaints, according to the suit.

“Amazon has tried to excuse its action by referencing a 25-year-old baseless allegation against Mr. Allen, but that allegation was already well-known to Amazon (and the public) before Amazon entered into four separate deals with Mr. Allen – and in any event, it does not provide a basis for Amazon to terminate the contract,” read the suit.

Amazon, according to the complaint, cited Allen’s “own controversial comments” about the pedophilia charges, the increasing “refusal of top talent to work with him or be associated with him in any way” for terminating the agreement.

An Amazon representative wasn’t immediately available for comment.

 

 

 

Amazon Studios Greenlights Shirley Chisholm Biopic Starring Viola Davis

Amazon Studios Nov. 29 announced it has acquired rights to The Fighting Shirley Chisholm, with Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis set to star in the title role as well co-produce.

Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1969 – a seat she held until 1983. Chisholm survived racial harassment and assassination attempts in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in the 1972 presidential election. Chisholm died in 2005 at age 81.

After recently inking a first look exclusive production deal with Davis and Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions, The Fighting Shirley Chisholm further expands on Amazon Studios and JuVee Productions commitment to telling inclusive and impactful stories from established and new filmmakers of all backgrounds.

Co-producers include Stephanie Allain (Hustle & FlowDear White People) and Mel Jones under Homegrown Pictures, with Davis and Julius Tennon under their JuVee Productions banner.

Maggie Betts (Novitiate) will direct the screenplay written by Emmy-nominated writer Adam Countee (“Silicon Valley”, “Community”, “Mindy Project”).

Davis can currently be seen theatrically starring in Widows from director Steve McQueen and stars in Amazon Studio’s Troupe Zero, alongside Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan.

 

 

Amazon Studios Inks Production Deal with Blumhouse Television

Amazon Studios Nov. 14 announced an exclusive production deal with Jason Blum’s indie studio Blumhouse Television for a series of eight thriller/darkly-themed feature-length programs that will be released on Amazon Prime Video.

This marks Amazon Studios’ first global direct-to-service deal for feature length programs. The deal would allow the studio to broaden and reach new audiences seeking cutting-edge, elevated genre movies and fresh content. Amazon recently closed exclusive first-look deals with Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films, director Reed Morano, and Oscar winner Jordan Peele.

“Jason Blum has built an empire based on fear, shock and all things spinetingling,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “He has redefined the horror genre for fans who are hungry for high concept scares. Whether it’s found footage, a socially conscious terror comedy or a pure sinister adrenaline ride, he reinvented and infused the genre with cultural relevancy.”

Indeed, Blumhouse Television, which bowed in 2017, has earned critical acclaim and numerous honors for its dark, edgy fare including Emmy awards for its productions of HBO’s “The Normal Heart” and “The Jinx,” and documentary “How to Dance in Ohio.”

Other Blumhouse projects include a limited series for Showtime based on journalist Gabriel Sherman’s reporting on former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, starring Russell Crowe, and “Sharp Objects,” the limited series from Marti Noxon and Gillian Flynn for HBO based on Flynn’s best-selling novel of the same name, starring Amy Adams and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (“Pretty Little Lies”).

The studio also produces “The Purge,” on USA Network; “Sacred Lies,” for Facebook Watch, and the holiday themed anthology event series “Into the Dark” for Hulu.

Blumhouse Productions, which is widely-recognized for its pioneering model of producing high-quality micro-budget films including The PurgeGet Out and Whiplash.

Meanwhile, Amazon Studios continues to produce and distribute theatrical movies. Up next is Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, the official Polish entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which opens exclusively in theaters Dec. 21.

Currently in theaters are Luca Guadagnino’s  Suspiria, starring Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson, and Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.

Walmart Working with Former Studio Chief Nancy Tellem in New Joint Venture

Walmart desperately wants to bridge the entertainment and e-commerce divide with Amazon.

The world’s largest retailer Oct. 11 announced a strategic entertainment joint venture with Eko, a developer of interactive video technology. The pact includes plans to develop original, interactive content that Walmart claims will help it connect with customers in “new and more meaningful ways,” with the goal of driving deeper and more frequent engagement.

The content, which could range from cooking shows to interactive toy catalogues, will go beyond the basic personalization available today, allowing viewers to participate in and shape stories as they are being told, according to Walmart.

The joint venture – dubbed W*E Interactive Ventures – expands Walmart’s entertainment ecosystem. The retailer already has a longstanding physical and digital video presence, through stores, websites, the digital platform Vudu.com and the recently launched eBook platform, Walmart eBooks, with Rakuten Kobo.

“Our partnership with Eko will help us accelerate efforts to deepen relationships with customers and connect with new audiences in innovative ways and is one part of an overall entertainment ecosystem we’re building,” Scott McCall, SVP of entertainment, toys and seasonal, Walmart U.S., said in a statement.

Since 2010, Eko has pioneered the future of entertainment, alongside partners like Sony Pictures Entertainment and MGM Studios. Eko has received prior funding from Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, Warner Music Group, Samsung, Walmart, and others, and has more than 15 patents for its technology. In connection with the joint venture, Walmart has agreed to participate in Eko’s next funding round.

“The future of video entertainment is interactive, and this joint venture is a huge step towards bringing this future to life,” said Yoni Bloch, CEO of Eko. “In 2018, all forms of media are personalized except for live action video.

The partnership will be led by Bloch, with input from several industry experts. Tribeca Productions co-founder Jane Rosenthal will serve as strategic advisor. Rosenthal, producer of films such as Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, About a Boy (film and series), Wag the Dog and the upcoming Scorsese film The Irishman, helps create a bridge for both established and emerging artists looking for an outlet for their work.

Nancy Tellem, chief media officer and executive chairwoman of Eko, will serve on the board of the joint venture. Prior to joining Eko, Tellem spent more than 25 years in television including time as president of CBS Network Television Group.

Tellem most-recently spearheaded Microsoft’s short-lived attempt at creating original TV shows and movies at shuttered Xbox Entertainment Studios.

“During my career in broadcast television, I’ve seen how traditional media has been transformed by technology and have long believed that technology would be the key to creating more engaging entertainment experiences,” said Tellem. “Audiences are hungry for immersive entertainment, and storytellers are embracing this new technology in creating a new type of story narrative that deeply engages the viewer. Now is the time for Eko and interactive content to take center stage.”