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Why Woody Allen’s New Movie Went to Amazon

Why Woody Allen's New Movie Went to Amazon

The specialty distribution world is shifting. 

At Sundance, the media spotlight was on Amazon and Netflix, as established vets like Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight were forced to play a higher stakes game. That’s not something SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard care to do. They’ve watched many new players come and go over the years, overbidding to get into the game, and then folding when the chips run out. 

READ MORE: How Sony Pictures Classics Bought Four Films at Sundance

But this is different. Digital disrupters Amazon and Netflix aren’t going anywhere. And if they figure out after some experimentation that they need to change their approach, they will. They’re not competing on the same playing field as a studio specialty subsidiary focused on theatrical distribution.

Amazon is a gigantic online retailer that wants to lure potential customers, and can dip into its deep pockets to do so. Long-term Amazon vet and Amazon Studios founder Roy Price, son of old-school studio chief Frank Price, has brought in theatrical pros Ted Hope and Bob Berney to lure film talent, and they have, from Spike Lee ("Chi-Raq") and Whit Stillman ("Love and Friendship") to 80-year-old Woody Allen. In a major surprise, Amazon picked up his untitled new movie starring Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart. He was already on board via a TV series deal.

To steal Allen away from SPC, which had a long and productive relationship with the master auteur over eight films and 10 Oscar nominations and two wins, is unusual. How did it happen? According to sources, Amazon, which does not comment on such deals, made an offer, including some $5 million for P & A, valued at $20 million. That is far beyond what any self-respecting distributor would pay based on its value in conventional markets. SPC advanced $1 million for "Irrational Man," which grossed $4 million domestically vs. $20 million overseas. 

And this Amazon deal was not the result of any normal bidding war—they made a sky high offer to pull the movie away from Barker and Bernard. And succeeded. But this was an unusual situation, with a period film that cost over $30 million, double the usual Allen budget. SPC usually picks up Allen’s films after they are completed, and has a perfectly good working relationship with the filmmaker, as his sister and producer, Letty Aronson, confirms: 

"We have always been exceptionally pleased working with Michael Barker and Tom Bernard at SPC. Amazon made us an offer that we couldn’t refuse and we have a responsibility to our investors. Woody wishes that SPC could be the subdistributer for this film but apparently they would not. It’s their policy to not do that. We certainly look forward to working with them again in the future."

Sony wasn’t averse to releasing the movie, but couldn’t do the honors on North American rights because the studio is tied to output deals with Starz and Encore, plus home entertainment and VOD, among other things. According to Barker, back from Madrid (where he saw the new Pedro Almodovar movie, "Julieta," based on three Alice Munro stories—which could land a Cannes competition berth before it opens in December): “We are as close to Woody and his producers as we have ever been. And we look forward to working with them on the next one. As far as we’re concerned this doesn’t change anything in our relationship."

The key going forward, as was proved by Netflix losing its "Birth of a Nation" world rights bid at Sundance to Fox Searchlight, is the ability to deliver a theatrical success. Amazon is more friendly to theatrical releases than Netflix, which really isn’t in that business. But while Amazon usually gives a movie a month in theaters before making it available on their site (while Netflix met resistance from exhibitors on "Beasts of No Nation" and Weinstein’s "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" reboot because they insist on going day-and-date), the question is whether Amazon will keep violating the exhibitors’ preferred 90-day window convention, which makes booking the top-tier theaters where the most money can be made a challenge. Watch Amazon fall in line with official windows for "Manchester by the Sea" and Woody Allen in order to land the top screens. 

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Morgan Yam

I’ll bet he’s scotching the TV deal, which he seems to have regrets about making, and that was part of this agreement with Amazon.


If the film cost $30 million and they paid $15 million for it, no one will ever see a dime of profit. Even being generous, it will need to earn $90 million before it becomes profitable. Seems crazy to me.

Steven Kaye

He’s not scotching the TV deal. The two leads have just been cast and shooting is about to commence.


In other words, an inflated stock valuation (Amazon’s) based in large part on not collecting local sales taxes and a greatly inflated reputation (Allen’s) is the way to get a film financed these days. Great news for indies the world over!


Ted Hope to "lure film talent"? One would have supposed the money was doing that, despite the never-ending, 25-year old Ted Hope show, "It’s All About Me, Life and Times of the Filmmaker Who Doesn’t Actually Make Films".


Does anyone really care about this director anymore. His last films flopped and this one will be available on our TV’s and theatres(limited) at the same time. Allen has become a liability in many ways – not a guy to be celebtrated publicly anymore. Not even Emma Stone could save his last movie. Eisenberg is a douche and Keisten Stewart has no box office pull whatsoeger. Woody’s done – as it should be in my opinion.


Why are we even talking about this guy? YUK


WALT: Amazon paid $15M, in addition to committing $5M for P&A. The P&A commitment suggests there will be a theatrical release. $15M for the rights to the theatrical release of an independent film is a handsome sum, so I’m not sure why it would seem crazy, even if the budget of the film is admittedly high for an Allen film at $30M. I imagine international distribution is not part of the Amazon deal, so there’s clearly more avenues for the film to bring in revenue – Allen’s films may not bring in the kind of take they once did internationally, but they still perform overseas. Will the film turn a profit? Who knows – but it doesn’t seem "crazy" to me.


morgan… the amazon series is a go… he’s already cast miley cyrus, elaine may and himself and they just added two more actors. the series will shoot this year


Walt… remember there are two groups involved… one is the investors that paid for the film… the second are the companies that pay the investors for the rights to it per country. the 15 million is for US only. his worldwide numbers are really good and most of his films do well. blue jasmine for instance made 100 million worldwide only 33 here. Midnight in Paris 160 million worldwide but 50 here. VCB 100 million. Rome did 75. So his investors make money off of his movies. Sometimes they make a lot. or a little or lose a little. The US is a small part of it. This one was usually high so he went with the money. I would imagine it just has to gross 15-20 million here to be profitable for amazon (not his investors). Remember the money also pays for the streaming rights and I am assuming dvd, bluray etc… all that adds up beyond the theatrical gross. for Amazon it’s just 15 million investment. they will get most or all or profit back. even if they lose a little they make so much i don’t think they will care that much. it’s worth the risk. the better the film though the better it all will be. Woody’s investors now get half the investment back and the rest of the world will fill in the rest plus profit. They will get money from companies from 50 different countries to release this film… There’s a reason his films keep getting made with not extraordinary US numbers. SPC paid very little to release him films here so even if they did moderately well like magic in the moonlight and 10 million US gross… they got back so much more after that with ancillary markets. Of course it helps if the movie is great like the previous ones mentioned… and not the been there done that good like some of his others.


Amazon will probably give more traditional windows to higher profile films like Woody’s film and Manchester By the Sea compared to much smaller ones like Weiner Dog.

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