Under new management after the scandal-tainted departure of film and television leader Roy Price, Amazon Studios is now run by ex-NBC executive Jennifer Salke, who has wasted no time overhauling Amazon’s television content. She is now addressing the direction of the movie side. After pushing out Jason Ropell, whose duties have been jointly shared by production head Ted Hope and Matt Newman, head of strategic initiatives and international distribution, Salke is adding a new co-head of movies, promoting Julie Rapaport from within.
Three-year-Amazon veteran Rapaport will lead a new division focused on films appealing to wider audiences as she works alongside fellow Co-Heads Ted Hope and Matt Newman, with all three reporting to Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios.
Arthouse veteran Hope (“American Splendor,” “In the Bedroom”), who had been running the overall movies division with Newman in the interim, will continue to oversee the prestige titles from emerging filmmakers and established auteurs. Rapaport’s division will focus on developing larger-budget films.
“I want to stress that across series and movies, all divisions, hold quality first and foremost as their bar,” Salke said in a statement. “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.”
Clearly, Rapaport is moving from a role working for Hope to working with Hope, who has no illusions of possessing mainstream taste. “Having worked with Julie for many years,” Hope said in his own statement, “I know she is a superstar. I am very happy and am confident she will shine in her new role. Our carefully curated slate of auteur-driven projects is something that has always made each day a joy and truly exciting, our teams and I are thrilled to bring them to the big screen.”
Indie veteran and distribution and marketing president Bob Berney remains in place, along with Amazon’s theatrical model, which should be a lure for filmmakers as Amazon competes with free-spending streaming site Netflix. It’s still unclear how close Salke plans to hew to the current theatrical strategy, which until recently embraced high-end titles likely to build audience via enhanced awards attention.
Unfortunately, while Sundance pickup “Manchester By the Sea” was an Oscar-winning success, chasing such auteurs as a post-“Boyhood” Richard Linklater (“Last Flag Flying”) and post-“Carol” Todd Haynes (“Wonderstruck”) yielded coveted film festival slots but did not play well for critics or audiences.
Amazon’s fall slate has met mixed reactions at film festivals, from true father-son story “Beautiful Boy,” which boasts likely acting contender Chalamet, to Oscar-perennial Mike Leigh’s period battle epic “Peterloo,” which was turned down by Cannes and New York but played Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Mainstream family drama “Life Itself,” from “This Is Us” series creator Dan Fogelman (starring Antonio Banderas, Oscar Isaac, Samuel L. Jackson, Olivia Cooke, and Olivia Wilde), was postponed from a berth at Sundance to Toronto, where it was a mainstream fish out of water. It might have scored more box office in the summer, away from hyper-critical Oscar-season appraisals. It opened poorly.
Still to come: Venice contender Luca Guadagnino’s gory remake of “Suspiria” (starring Dakota Johnson) should be a commercial play. And Amazon’s ace in the hole is “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to “Ida,” which won Best Director at Cannes and is Poland’s Oscar submission — Joanna Kulig is a long shot for Best Actress and if all goes well, the December 21 release could score in other categories.
As Amazon continues to find its identity, Salke could still bring in a new movie boss to rewire the content. One thing about film companies: development and production can take a long time, and throwing management into upheaval can slow down the production pipeline. Rapaport’s new projects include screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s “Lucy and Desi,” about TV’s pioneering comedienne Lucille Ball, and “Union,” scripted by Robert Schenkkan, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt attached to produce, about the head of the post-Civil War infantry tasked with fighting the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
As senior manager of development, production and acquisitions, Rapaport has been a pivotal member of the Movies team at Amazon Studios, co-managing the team under Hope. A graduate of the Weinstein Co. production and development team, she was responsible at Amazon for overseeing Plan B’s festival title “Beautiful Boy,” starring Chalamet and Steve Carell, as well as two box-office disappointments, Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying” and Mike White’s “Brad’s Status.”
“Every filmmaker and film lover starts as a filmgoer, and Amazon Studios lives in that rich history,” Rappaport said. “My passion is to tell stories and make films that enchant, engage and entertain audiences, and I love doing that here at Amazon. We have amazing projects in the pipeline with even more yet to come.”