AMC Networks Expands Streaming Video Management Duties

AMC Networks has expanded the roles and responsibilities of three executives as the company continues its reorientation around its targeted streaming services, which include more than 6 million subscribers across AMC+, Shudder, Acorn TV, Sundance Now and IFC Films Unlimited.

Courtney Thomasma, who has most recently been executive director of BBC America, is shifting to a new role as general manager of AMC+. She oversaw the network’s programming, including the Peabody-Award winning “Killing Eve,” starring Golden Globe Award winner Sandra Oh and Emmy Award winner Jodie Comer; “Doctor Who”; and natural history series “Seven Worlds,” “One Planet,” among others.

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Thomasma grew the network’s digital and social footprint and was also part of the leadership team responsible for launching micro-net “Wonderstruck,” a weekly 24-hour destination, as well as Wonderstruck.TV, a free digital companion site featuring short-form nature content. Thomasma, who has been with AMC Networks since 2013, reports to Miguel Penella, AMC Networks’ president of SVOD, and former CEO of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment.

Matt Graham, GM of Acorn TV since 2014, adds oversight responsibility for the Sundance Now streaming service as its GM. Graham now oversees all day-to-day operations and execution of both streaming services. He also continues to report to Penella.

Blake Callaway, who has been executive director of the IFC and SundanceTV television networks since 2011, adds oversight of BBC America as GM of all three networks, working closely with partner BBC Studios. In his new role, Callaway is charged with defining each brands’ direction, maintaining overall business performance, and identifying opportunities to support digital growth across the portfolio. He continues to report to Ed Carroll, chief operating officer of AMC Networks.

“Courtney, Matt and Blake are accomplished leaders who have all made meaningful contributions to the success of our company, particularly through their dynamic oversight of many of our most important brands and businesses,” Carroll said in a statement “We are pleased to recognize their contributions with these expanded roles, as we continue to reorient our company around our targeted streaming services and delivering our high-quality original content to viewers on an expanding array of platforms.”

 

Shudder’s ‘La Llorona’ to Get Digital Release from RLJE Films

RLJE Films has picked up select rights to La Llorona from Shudder, AMC Networks’ horror movie streaming service.

La Llorona, nominated for Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language, in the Golden Globe Awards and Guatemala’s official entry in the 2021 Oscars for Best International Feature Film, will be released through digital retailers on March 2.

The film blends together the terror of both myth and reality in a modern retelling of the legendary genocidal atrocities against the Mayan community in Guatemala. Following a premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival where the film won Best Film (Venice Days), La Llorona was screened at film festivals around the country, including TIFF, Sundance and BFI. The film has been hailed by critics as a true depiction of Latino culture.

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La Llorona is the third feature film from Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante (Tremors), who co-wrote the film with Lisandro Sánchez. The film stars María Mercedes Coroy (Ixcanul), Margarita Kenéfic (Aro Tolbukhin in the Mind of a Killer), Sabrina de la Hoz (Tremors), and Julio Diaz.

In La Llorona, the retired general Enrique finally faces trial for the genocidal massacre of thousands of Mayans decades ago. As a horde of angry protestors threatens to invade their opulent home, the women of the house — his wife, conflicted daughter, and precocious granddaughter — weigh their responsibility to shield the erratic, senile Enrique against the devastating truths behind being publicly revealed and the increasing sense that a wrathful supernatural force is targeting them for his crimes. Meanwhile, much of the family’s domestic staff flees, leaving only loyal housekeeper Valeriana until a mysterious young indigenous maid arrives.

The Cleansing Hour

DVD REVIEW:

RLJ/Shudder;
Horror;
$27.97 DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, Emma Holzer, Joanna David.

Old-school horror gets a social media update in director Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour, an effectively disturbing film about exorcisms in the age of the Internet.

The story centers on a pair of friends named Max (Ryan Guzman) and Drew (Kyle Gallner) who live-stream a series in which actual exorcisms are supposedly performed. Max serves in the role as the priest and basks in the fame of it (even touting his personal Twitter handle on air instead of the show’s), while Drew handles the behind-the-scenes duties and logistical tasks such as sending out cheap merchandise to the show’s unsuspecting fans.

The show is actually a hoax using actors and special effects, but it still has managed to attract a small audience of loyal followers.

However, Max and Drew’s plans go awry when actual supernatural forces intervene. Drew’s girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) is forced to step in at the last minute to play the possessed victim when the intended performer doesn’t show up. Then an actual demon possesses her and turns the show into a personal hell for Max and Drew, forcing long-buried secrets to emerge while the morbidly fascinated online audience continues to grow.

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The film uses a mix of mostly practical effects and a bit of CGI to craft some truly creepy scares and chilling death scenes, particularly when the demon immolates one of the crew members by turning his flame tattoos into actual fire.

While the film bears the look and feel of a typical exorcism movie, it offers enough interesting character work and some nice plot twists to keep it from seeming too derivative.

The film is a longer version of a story LeVeck first explored in a 2016 short film of the same name, which runs 18 minutes and is included on the DVD.

Also included is a two-and-a-half minute “On the Set” montage of footage of scenes behind filmed with no context or narration.

The film also comes with a commentary track from LeVeck and his wife Natalie, who is also one of the film’s producers, as they discuss his love of the genre and other tidbits about making the film on an indie budget. Interestingly, at one point they tease an extra of time-lapse footage of Angelis being put into demon makeup, but such a video doesn’t appear to have made its way to the DVD.

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Shudder’s ‘The Cleansing Hour’ Due on DVD and Digital Jan. 19

RLJE Films, a business unit of AMC Networks, has picked up select rights to the movie The Cleansing Hour from Shudder, AMC Networks’ streaming service for horror content. It will be released Jan. 19, 2021, on DVD, VOD and for digital sellthrough.

The film stars Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner and Alix Angelis in the story of a popular webcast that streams live exorcisms watched by millions across the globe. In reality, the exorcisms are just elaborately staged hoaxes performed by paid actors. But the podcasters’ fortunes take a turn when one of the actors becomes possessed by an actual demon and takes the crew hostage. In front of a rapidly growing audience, the demon subjects the crew to a series of violent challenges, threatening to expose the dark secrets they’ve been hiding from each other unless they come clean and reveal they’re impostors before the show is over.

DVD extras include a commentary with director Damien LeVeck, the featurette “On the Set of The Cleansing Hour,” and The Cleansing Hour short film.

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Horror Title ‘The Beach House’ Bows on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 15

The horror film The Beach House will come out on VOD, digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 15 from AMC’s RLJE Films and Shudder.

The directorial feature debut of Jeffrey A. Brown, who also wrote the screenplay, the film stars Liana Liberato (“Light as a Feather”), Noah Le Gros (A Score to Settle), Maryann Nagel and Jake Weber (Dawn of the Dead, “13 Reasons Why”).

In the film, hoping to reignite their relationship, college students Emily (Liberato) and Randall (Le Gros) arrive at their weekend getaway only to discover a peculiar older couple already staying there. They all agree to share the home but, after an indulgent night of partying, they’re awoken to a living nightmare of apocalyptic proportions. A mysterious airborne microbe has infected the water and it’s making its way to the house.

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AMC Networks Expects Upwards of 5.5 Million SVOD Subs by Year’s End

AMC Networks Nov. 2 said it expects 5 million to 5.5 million paid subscribers by the end of 2020 for its portfolio of streaming services, which include AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, UMC and IFC Films Unlimited. Shudder, which features horror/thriller based content, just topped one million subs. The company also expanded distribution of AMC+ with launches on Amazon Prime and Apple TV platforms.

“AMC Networks is fast becoming the global leader in SVOD services for targeted audiences,” CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement.

Indeed, since acquiring Acorn TV and UMC as part of its $65 million acquisition of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment in 2018, AMC has sought to market SVOD services focusing on specific niches of entertainment. Acorn targets fans of British-themed TV shows; UMC offers movies and series for African Americans, while IFC and Sundance target independent films and series.

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SVOD helped AMC’s “international and other” business segment increase third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) revenue 9% to $199 million, from $182.5 million in the previous-year period. Operating income increased $23 million to $11.2 million, from a loss of $11.5 million last year. Adjusted operating income increased $14 million to $28 million, from $13.5 million.

Overall, AMC saw total Q3 revenue decrease 9%, or $65 million, to $654 million compared with the previous-year period. The decline reflected a decrease of 17.3% at “national networks” operating segment, offset by the previously mentioned “international and other” revenue gain. Operating income topped $139 million, a decrease of 17.2%, or $29 million, versus the prior-year period. The decrease reflected a decrease of 28.8% at “national networks” and an increase of $23 million in operating income at “international and other.”

National networks includes AMC, WE tv, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV; and AMC Studios, the company’s production business.

On Oct. 21, AMC announced the final results of the tender “Dutch Auction” offer and repurchased approximately 10.8 million shares of common stock for $251 million.

 

AMC Networks Shudder Horror Streaming Service Tops 1 Million Subscribers

Shudder, AMC Networks’ subscription streaming video service for horror, thriller and supernatural content, has topped 1 million subscribers since launching in North America in 2016. Together with Acorn TV, which surpassed 1 million subs last September, Sundance Now and Urban Movie Channel (UMC), AMC Networks’ SVOD services are expected to reach between 3.5 million to 4 million subscribers by the end of the year.

Shudder saw a surge in usage and new memberships last September  with the debut of original series “Creepshow” and continued throughout 2020 with its second original series, “Cursed Films,” featuring original films such as The Room, Z, The Beach House and Host, among others.

“Our focus on quality programming, innovative content and finding the best up-and-coming creators has enabled ‘Shudder’ to break out in the crowded world of subscription services,” Miguel Penella, president of AMC Networks SVOD, said in a statement.

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According to Rotten Tomatoes, three of the top four horror films released in 2020 are Shudder films, including the No. 1 movie of the year, the Zoom-based quarantine horror film Host, which was written and shot in just 12 weeks during quarantine.

“Creepshow” broke all of the streamer’s viewership records when it debuted in 2019, and finished as the top-reviewed new horror series across all networks and streamers that year. The series is currently in production on season 2. Meanwhile, Shudder’s hosted movie show, “The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs,” continues to be a social media phenomenon, with new episodes typically trending No. 1 on Twitter on the night they debut, according to Shudder.

In August, the platform debuted in Australia and New Zealand, further expanding its international reach that includes the U.S., Canada, Germany, the U.K. and Ireland. In the U.S., Shudder has recently launched on Roku Channels, Charter/Spectrum, Dish and Sling TV. Shudder is also available through its own apps on Web, mobile, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Xbox, as well as through Apple TV Channels in the U.S. and Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., Canada and U.K.

‘The Pale Door’ Opening on Disc Oct. 6

The horror-Western The Pale Door will come out Oct. 6 on Blu-ray and DVD from AMC Networks’ RLJE Films and Shudder, AMC’s online service for horror, thriller and supernatural tales.

Directed by Aaron B. Koontz (Scare Package) who also co-wrote the script with Cameron Burns (Camera Obscura) and Keith Lansdale (“Creepshow”), The Pale Door stars Devin Druid (“13 Reasons Why”), Zachary Knighton (“Happy Endings”), Noah Segan (Knives Out), Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad), Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills), Bill Sage (We Are What We Are), Melora Walters (“PEN15”, Magnolia) and Natasha Bassett (Hail, Caesar!).

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In The Pale Door, the Dalton gang find shelter in a seemingly uninhabited ghost town after a train robbery goes south. Seeking help for their wounded leader, they are surprised to stumble upon a welcoming brothel in the town’s square. But the beautiful women who greet them are actually a coven of witches with very sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws — and the battle between good and evil is just beginning.

AMC Networks Eyes Growth in ‘Targeted’ SVOD Services

AMC Networks’ majority acquisition of RLJ Entertainment continues to pay dividends as the media company expands its subscription streaming video-on-demand profile in an over-the-top ecosystem.

While the media company didn’t disclose new subscriber data, CEO Josh Sapan said SVOD  and ad-supported VOD distribution continued to drive AMC’s second-quarter (ended June 30) “International and Other” business objectives.

“We have made particular progress during this COVID-19 period with strong growth across our targeted SVOD services — Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC — as consumers increasingly subscribe to both our targeted offerings in addition to general entertainment SVOD services,” Sapan said in a statement.

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During the quarter, AMC launched new SVOD bundles AMC+ and WE tv+. The company acquired exclusive streaming rights to “Mad Men.” The company furthered its AVOD strategy with launches on ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV and Dish Networks’ Sling Free services.

Second-quarter revenue primarily reflected an increase at AMC Networks SVOD business, more than offset by a decrease at Levity Entertainment and, to a lesser extent, a decrease at the company’s international programming networks.

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Citing ongoing fiscal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, AMC reported a $112 million operating loss at the “International and Other” segment. The increased loss was primarily related to $130 million in impairment charges due to the pandemic. Segment revenue for the quarter decreased 10.3% to $161 million.

Guatemala’s Jayro Bustamante Says Making Political Horror Mash-Up ‘La Llorona’ Was ‘Strategic’

Hailed by Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) as one of 20 directors who will shape the cinema to come, Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante continues his stellar career trajectory with La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), the third installment of a trilogy that kicked off with his 2015 Berlinale Silver Bear winner, Ixcanul (Volcano).

Winner of Best Film at the 2019 Venice Film Festival sidebar, Venice Days, La Llorona turns on the household of a retired general accused of spearheading the genocide of Mayan peasants decades ago, a clear reference to a similar case in Guatemala. As his wife, daughter and granddaughter take refuge with him, the house is besieged by protesters and his spooked domestic staff flees, with the exception of his devoted housekeeper. The arrival of a mysterious indigenous woman, who has answered the call for hired help, further spikes the atmosphere of dread.

La Llorona is Bustamante’s first foray into the horror genre. “Our decision to explore this genre was not so much artistic, as strategic,” said Bustamante who notes that Guatemalans are still in denial of the massacre of Mayan peasants during the government’s counterinsurgency operations in the early 1980s.

“A study revealed that Guatemalans consumed mostly horror and superhero movies, so we saw the genre as a way to bring the realities of our dark past to them,” he said. Bustamante drew on such references as Dracula, and the psychological suspense of Robert Eggers’ The Witch as well as Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. “I wanted the mythical figure of La Llorona to be elegant, like Dracula,” he said.

He reimagined the Latin American fable of a grieving mother seeking revenge for the death of her children to symbolize the victims of the genocide.

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“My three films represent what Guatemalans consider the three biggest insults,” said Bustamante who sees Ixcanul, which centers on a Mayan teen trying to own her sexuality and her pregnancy, embody the biggest insult you can hurl at a Guatemalan: “Indio!” Calling a Guatemalan “Indio,” despite the country’s overwhelming indigenous population, is considered a massive insult. “It just shows how we discriminate against ourselves, how low our self-esteem is,” he mused.

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His second film, Temblores (Tremors) epitomizes the slur ‘Hueco,’ which is a local derogatory term for gay. Temblores delves into the homophobia prevalent in conservative Guatemalan society as a well-to-do family seeks conversion therapy for its gay patriarch.

La Llorona embodies the third insult, “Communist,” which is a carryover of the 1950s sentiment against communism, which later devolved into accusing those advocating for human rights and for reducing Guatemala’s vast wealth gap as communists, said Bustamante.

All three films touch on social inequality, racism and the lack of opportunity in Guatemala.

La Llorona stars María Mercedes Coroy, Margarita Kénefic, Sabrina de la Hoz and Julio Díaz.

The film will be available Aug. 6 on Shudder in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.