Amazon and Netflix Focus on Film May Jumpstart Indie Cinema

Now that Amazon and Netflix have made such a powerful impact on television, the two companies are turning their sights to motion pictures. The result could jumpstart a faltering independent film sector, say the experts. Both companies have made tremendous inroads into TV in a short period of time: Amazon has won multiple Golden Globes and Emmy Awards for “Transparent,” and Netflix earned 34 nominations at the 2015 Emmy Awards for shows including “House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

According to Wired, online video advertising company Alphonso predicts that Netflix is “on track to become the number-one broadcaster in the U.S. in 2016.”

Both Netflix and Amazon have turned their attention to making feature films. In January 2015, Amazon announced a new division to produce and acquire about 12 movies a year, each of which would get a theatrical release and, four to eight weeks later, would stream on Amazon Prime, a much shorter window than the more typical 39 to 52 weeks from theatrical release to subscription video services.

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Amazon followed up that announcement with two important hires: indie producer Ted Hope (“American Splendor,” “The Brothers McMullen”), to head up the division, and, later, indie veteran Bob Berney to lead theatrical distribution and marketing.

Amazon’s first film is Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” which Hope says “may be [Lee’s] greatest — and definitely his boldest — yet.” Other notable filmmakers who have reportedly signed up to produce films are Jim Jarmusch and Terry Gilliam. Amazon also won a bidding war for the Kevin Spacey drama “Elvis & Nixon.”

Netflix acquired “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba, for a reported $12 million, but its plan to release the movie simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming service caused U.S. movie chains to threaten a boycott. (Wired notes that UK cinema chain Curzon, a pioneer of the “day and date” model, now simultaneously releases films in theaters and on its digital home-cinema service.) Netflix also produced a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

“Whatever Amazon chooses to do will be educational, because they have so much data,” says Indiewire editor Dana Harris. “Film theaters are going to have a problem, because they’re not the only game in town.”