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”).

 

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.

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.

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, Netflix Moving in Opposite Directions on Original Content

Amazon Prime Video and Netflix may be ensnarled in a content spending arms race, but Amazon (which is spending $6 billion on content in 2018) is taking a different approach than the SVOD pioneer (and chief rival) when it comes to greenlighting original programming.

While Netflix will spend upwards of $8 billion on original content this year – with an emphasis on diversity as well as pushing the envelope creatively – Amazon Studios is taking a more measured route, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.

Amazon Studios in April quietly ended the practice of soliciting scripts and concept submissions from the public – an innovative strategy it pioneered in 2010 offering up to $2.7 million to filmmakers and screenwriters (without industry representation) whose material was approved for pilot consideration.

The studio – under new boss Jennifer Salke – is reportedly eyeing content for the young adult genre, in addition to programming with mainstream global appeal, such as “The Grand Tour,” the 2016 reboot of the BBC’s “Top Gear” reality motor car series featuring the original cast.

It greenlighted “Utopia,” a series from Gone Girl novelist/screenwriter Gillian Flynn about a group of young social media-savvy adults being chased by a “deep-state” organization.

“We are huge fans of Gillian’s electrifying work,” Nick Hall, head of alternative series for Amazon Studios, said in a statement earlier this year. “She crafts stories that hold her audience in a constant state of suspense and subverts the expectations behind her characters. She will deliver Prime Video members a series they won’t forget, and ‘Utopia’s’ relevance is sure to connect with viewers around the globe.”

Amazon also inked rights to a new series based on the Lord of the Rings from “This is Us” director Dan Fogelman. It also has a first-look deal with Kenneth Lonergan, director of Amazon’s Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea.

“[We want] big shows that can make the biggest difference around the world,” Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos told Variety.

Indeed, Amazon opted not to greenlight three pilots approved by Prime members, in addition to canceling “One Mississippi” (after two seasons), “I Love Dick” (after one season), and “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” (after one season).

“Going forward we expect fewer new series from Amazon, with more resources deployed towards proven projects and larger scale productions,” Pachter wrote in a July 2 note.

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 Names NBC Entertainment Boss Jennifer Salke to Head Studio Operations

Amazon has appointed Jennifer Salke president of Amazon Studios, replacing Roy Price, who resigned last year following sexual harassment allegations.

Salke, who headed NBC Universal since 2011, was responsible for development of current programming, casting, and diversity programming initiatives at NBC, in addition to Universal Television operations, which included parallel divisions of development, programming and casting.

Last month, she added oversight of business affairs and production for scripted programming to her purview.

Salke’s resume includes helping launch “This Is Us,” which earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Drama Series – the first broadcast show to earn a nom in that category since 2011.

She has also been instrumental behind Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” franchise as well as dramas, “Shades of Blue” and “The Blacklist.”

Calling her departure from NBC “bittersweet,” Salke said she looked forward to being on the front lines of an “innovative business” going forward.

“I am both honored and emboldened by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary business,” Salke said in a statement.