Bob Berney will leave Amazon Studios after four years as head of theatrical distribution and marketing. His last day is June 28. Sources confirm that the decision was Berney’s, and comes at the end of an employment contract.
Berney has a long track record as creative marketer with an eye for finding quirky films with the capacity to reach a broader audience. His successes cross all genres, ranging from “Memento” to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” to “Passion of the Christ.”
Much has changed at Amazon Studios since he joined in 2015, when Roy Price was in charge; a year later, Berney and Price appeared at CinemaCon in a full-fledged Caesar’s Palace presentation in which Berney told eager exhibitors: “All films we are acquiring are being released theatrically to play in your theaters.” Price added: “Customers want to see films in theaters, and filmmakers want their films in theaters. We are a filmmaker-driven studio. All our films will have traditional theatrical windows.”
That was in 2016, when Amazon worked with Roadside Attractions to release its Sundance acquisition “Manchester By the Sea”; it grossed $47.7 million and earned six Oscar nominations, with wins for star Casey Affleck and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan. The next year, Lionsgate handled another hit Amazon Sundance acquisition, “The Big Sick”; that made $42.87 million and screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon got an Oscar nomination.
Those highs haven’t been replicated. Amazon Studios launched its own distribution arm in December 2017 with Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel,” which grossed $1.4 million in its domestic release. The next year proved challenging: While the 2018 Polish film “Cold War” received three Oscar nominations, “Beautiful Boy” was locked out. It grossed $7.65 million, representing the year’s best theatrical performance for Amazon.
Amazon went into 2019 facing a market beset by shifting paradigms; specialty box-office hits, when they do happen, increasingly seem to be the domain of documentaries. At CinemaCon 2019, Amazon changed tactics: It screened the Mindy Kaling comedy “Late Night” for exhibitors, with Kaling and co-star Emma Thompson in tow, rather than offer a full presentation.
Now in release, that $13 million Sundance acquisition has made $10.64 million to date. It was one of three major 2019 Sundance buys by former NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who took over Amazon Studios in February 2018 after Price left the company in the face of a much-reported MeToo scandal. She also purchased “Brittany Runs a Marathon,“ for $14 million; that film, which won the Sundance Audience Award, will be released August 23.
Amazon’s third purchase, the $14 million Steven Soderbergh-produced “The Report,” will open in theaters September 27 — followed by a decidedly nontraditional Amazon Prime Video launch two weeks later on October 11. In the press release announcing plans for the film, Salke said: “‘The Report’ is an enthralling, investigative thriller featuring pitch perfect performances and brilliant storytelling from [director] Scott [Z. Burns] and the entire team. We are so proud to share this uniquely authentic and incredibly timely story about a true, American hero and his quest for truth and justice with our global Prime Video customers.”
For now, Berney’s team will report to Amazon co-head of movies Matt Newman.