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.”

Amazon Studios Expands Movie Production Team

Amazon Studios has upped Julie Rapaport to co-head the studio’s movie production team, joining Ted Hope and Matt Newman and reporting to studio boss Jennifer Salke.

Rapaport replaces Jason Ropell, who exited Amazon Studios two months ago. Former senior manager, development, production and acquisitions at the studio, Rapaport reportedly been tasked with developing bigger budget movies that appeal to wider audiences.

The studio, which won a best actor (Casey Affleck) Oscar for Manchester by the Seain 2017, is attempting to expand beyond indie fare, including upcoming releases, Beautiful Boy with Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying and Mike White’s Brad’s Status, among others.

Movies in the pipeline include a feature about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and a Civil War-themed title starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, among others.

“Keeping in mind the diverse range of tastes of our Prime Video customers, we are focused on continually expanding our content offerings,” Salke said in a statement. “I want to stress that across series and movies, all divisions hold quality first and foremost as their bar. With Julie joining Ted and Matt, this clears the pathway to further expand our robust movies slate to include more widely engaging stories that audiences will connect with.”

 

 

 

 

Amazon Eyeing Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theatres

Amazon reportedly is among several companies looking to acquire Landmark Theatres, the indie exhibitor co-owned by “Shark Tank” veteran and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his business partner Todd Wagner.

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Amazon is interested in Landmark as the ecommerce behemoth ventures further into brick-and-mortar businesses. Any deal would be relatively small compared to Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Los Angeles-based Whole Foods last year.

Landmark operates 50 theaters with 250 screens in 27 markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Dallas.

The chain last year became one of the few high-profile exhibitors to ink a revenue-sharing agreement with ticket subscription service MoviePass.

With Amazon operating a proprietary studio, ownership of an exhibition venue would technically be in violation of the 70-year-old Paramount Pictures consent decrees, which prohibits studios from owning theaters.

The Justice Department antitrust division earlier this month announced it would revisit the rulings due to changes in the distribution of entertainment.

“The Paramount decrees have been on the books with no sunset provisions since 1949,” Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust unit, said in an Aug. 2 statement. “It is high time that these and other legacy judgments are examined to determine whether they still serve to protect competition.”

Delrahim is also responsible for the antitrust litigation filed against the ATT/Time Warner merger, in which a federal judge sided against the government’s claim the merger was anti-consumer. The decision is under appeal.

 

Amazon Studios Unscripted Content Boss Heather Schuster Departs

Heather Schuster, head of unscripted content at Amazon Studios, reportedly has left the company after less than 12 months on the job.

Media reports suggest the longtime TV executive’s exit followed an internal probe into her corporate behavior.

It’s the first executive departure since Jennifer Salke became head of Amazon Studios.

Schuster, recently cited in Media Play News’ annual “Women in Home Entertainment” issue, worked with President Donald Trump (then a real estate businessman) during five seasons of “The Apprentice.”

During that period, Schuster worked with “Apprentice” executive producer Mark Burnett and his producing partner Conrad Riggs.

Notably, Schuster replaced Riggs last October at Amazon Studios after the latter, along with Joe Lewis, left the studio following the exit of former head Roy Price, who was forced out following allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

 

Cast and Producers Discuss Amazon’s ‘Man in the High Castle’ at Comic-Con Ahead of Oct. 5 Third-Season Debut

Streaming viewers, used to the immediate gratification of binging, will have been waiting nearly two years to see the third season of Amazon’s original series “The Man in the High Castle” when it debuts on Prime Video this fall.

“The anticipation is great,” said producer Isa Dick Hackett, who is also the daughter of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the book.

Hackett, producer Daniel Percival and cast members spoke at Comic-Con about the epic science-fiction drama.

The third season, which debuts Oct. 5, will feature more about the resistance, some reunions and more romance, Hackett said.

“We wanted to offer some sort of hope because it’s an awfully bleak world,” she said.

Set in 1962, “The Man in the High Castle” explores an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II. The Nazis rule over the Eastern part of the United States and the Japanese the West, with a neutral zone in the middle. The theme of fascism is particularly resonant in light of current events, producers noted.

“We’re on a slippery slope to fascism,” said Percival.

“It’s not even a slow roll. It’s like a jog,” added Hackett. “My father really feared fascism.”

Rufus Sewell plays Nazi leader John Smith, who is rising in the Reich despite some family secrets. Smith’s vicious actions and Nazi membership don’t make him an archetypal villain, Sewell said. He is a human reacting to circumstances as did many Germans who supported the Nazis in World War II.

“The reason he made the decisions he made was to protect his family,” Sewell said. “People are on to the genetic problem in his family. It’s not patriotism that makes him climb. It’s survival.”

“I hope that people are able to connect with these characters,” said Alexa Davalos, who plays Juliana Crain, a woman on the run and caught up in the resistance. Even Smith has elements of humanity, she noted.

Jason O’Mara is joining the cast for the third season as an Irishman in the neutral zone.

“He and his family have been persecuted by the Nazis,” O’Mara said. “Essentially he’s a good person, but we’re not sure whether to trust him or not.”

Hackett noted she spent years trying to get the “High Castle” project off the ground, until Amazon stepped in.

“It was impossible to get it sold on a network, I think because it’s very subversive,” she said, noting the show is also expensive to produce.

Though streaming viewers have been known to binge an entire season at once, “I also think people like to go through it at their own pace,” she said.

The streaming format allows for a less episodic feel, Percival noted.

“We don’t have to create false climaxes to bring you in and out of commercial breaks,” he said.

Producers have had to make a few plot adjustments because of the state of current affairs, Sewell noted. A plotline about a wall, for instance, had to be scrapped.

Amazon Studios has greenlit a fourth season of the series.

IHS Markit: Amazon and Netflix Ramp Up Global Production

Since rolling out worldwide in 2016, streaming-video giants Amazon and Netflix are building their presence in local country markets with a growing amount of original content, according to IHS Markit.

Netflix launched 1,257 hours of original first-run content in 2017, well ahead of Amazon Prime Video’s 285 hours, according to IHS Markit. Netflix has also dramatically increased that content outside the United States, with 402 hours launching last year.

International content accounted for 40% of Amazon’s total original first-run output last year, compared to 32% for Netflix, according to IHS.

“The availability of local content is primarily how both platforms adapt their services to various countries, along with local currency pricing, local-language websites, dubbing and subtitling,” according to an IHS release.

Netflix global original production has jumped from the first season of “Lilyhammer” in 2012 to 300 titles in 2017.

“Offering content that is locally made, but which plays worldwide, is just one of the methods Netflix, in particular, has revolutionized the TV programming business,” according to IHS.

Amazon has stepped up original production, but is well behind Netflix in overall volume, IHS noted. Amazon Prime Video also produced a single international title in 2012, renewing a cancelled BBC series, “Ripper Street,” and the company has gone on to launch 56 such original titles in 2017.

“Netflix and Amazon have cast a wide net, in terms of program genres, commissioning dramas and comedies, children’s live action and animation, documentaries and rights to theatrical movies,” said Tim Westcott, director of research and analysis, channels and programming, IHS Markit, in a statement. “Both companies have also dabbled in reality TV, and they are expected to move further into this area in the future.”

According to the Channels and Programming Intelligence Service from IHS Markit, at the end of last year, Netflix had 52.8 million online streaming video subscribers in the United States. Netflix international subscriptions outstripped those in the United States in 2017, with 57.8 million at the end of the year. Amazon Video subscribers in the United States reached 30.2 million in 2017. Amazon Video, having switched on globally later than Netflix, is well behind in terms of subscribers outside the United States, which totaled just under 15 million at the end of last year.

“In the linear TV era, channels produced programming primarily for domestic consumption, with international sales an often lucrative — but definitely secondary — revenue stream,” Westcott said in a statement. “The time-lag between U.S. and international release also encouraged piracy of hit shows, like HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones.’ Now, both Amazon and Netflix are originating programming in order to capture a global audience, releasing their originals on the same day and date in multiple territories. This also means that non-U.S. programming has the potential to find an audience in the world’s largest entertainment market — one where subtitled or dubbed programming has been almost unheard-of outside the art-house cinema circuit.”

Amazon Studios Shuffles Executives Under New Boss Jennifer Salke

New Amazon Studios CEO Jennifer Salke April 9 announced division management changes, including expanding COO Albert Cheng’s responsibilities to include co-head of television development.

Prior to Salke’s arrival from NBC Universal, Cheng had been interim boss of Amazon Studios following the departure of Roy Price after allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

“I’m delighted that an opportunity for Albert to be elevated within the Television Studios has been created,” Salke said in a statement. “His business acumen, collaborative nature and clear goals toward continued success make him an invaluable team player as we move forward.”

Cheng’s co-head reportedly will be named in the coming months.

Meanwhile, former Fox TV executive Sharon Tal Yguado was named head of drama after filling to oversee scripted TV programing after Price and Joe Lewis’ departures.

Marc Resteghini was named head of drama, with former department boss Nick Hall named head of alternative programing. Georgia Brown, director of original TV programing in Europe, was named head of U.K.-original scripted television – reporting to Brad Beale.

Heather Schuster and Melissa Wolfe remain in charge of unscripted and kids programing, respectively. Ryan Andolina and Gina Kwon remain jointly in charge of comedy.

Amazon Greenlights ‘Cortes’ Miniseries

Amazon Studios March 26 announced greenlighting a four-miniseries based on legendary conqueror Hernan Cortes, starring Javier Bardem and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television.

Cortes led a rebellious expedition to the heart of King Montezuma II’s Aztec empire, connecting two civilizations for the first time and changing the course of history.

“Cortes” is created and written by Academy Award-winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and based on the screenplay by Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday).

Emmy-winning Zaillian, Emmy-winning Darryl Frank and Emmy-nominated Justin Falvey (“The Americans”) are set to executive produce, along with Bardem.

“Cortes’ epic discoveries shaped the world as we know it today, and … we will bring Prime Video members on an exhilarating journey,” Sharon Yguado, head of scripted series at Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “There are few moments in history that shape an entire culture such as Cortes’ story, and this series will be one filled with drama and adventure.”