July 12, 2014 2:43pm PT by Natalie Jarvey
Amazon Explores New Distribution Methods, Teases Third Pilot Slate
Amazon Studios is becoming more surefooted as it prepares to launch its third slate of pilots to viewers next month.
The production arm of the Seattle-based tech giant made its first appearance at the Television Critics Association summer tour, trotting out talent from all five of its series. During the three-hour presentation, details emerged about how the fledgling studio plans to compete in the increasingly competitive digital content game and just what Amazon has planned for its move into TV-quality programming.
Here's what The Hollywood Reporter learned during Amazon's three-hour presentation, which included a Q&A with Amazon Studios director Roy Price and panels for returning series Alpha House and new series Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, Bosch and The After.
Introducing Netflix-Style Binging
Amazon released its first two comedy series, Alpha House and Betas, on a weekly schedule but plans to experiment with new forms of distribution with its upcoming series. All 10 episodes of comedy Transparent will be released at once in September a la Netflix. Creator Jill Soloway says that was always the plan for the series, which stars Jeffrey Tambor as the patriarch of a dysfunctional L.A. family who reveals that he is transitioning to become a woman. "That certainly had a lot to do with the shape of the season," said Soloway of the comedy's rollout strategy. "I think of it like a five-hour movie more than 10 episodes."
The streamer will similarly play with distribution strategy for Chris Carter's science fiction thriller The After. He revealed during the panel that the series will be released in four two-hour installments when it premieres in early 2015. He noted that it was a better strategy for the show, the plot of which has been heavily guarded to avoid spoiling the mysterious phenomenon at the center of the story. "Amazon is going to show these an episode at a time," he said. "They're not going to put these out all at once, which I think is good for the show."
Budget Not an Issue
Several questions aimed at the panelists dealt with the topic of money and whether the actors had to sacrifice a big paycheck for these projects, but they assured the critics that was not the case. The cast of Transparent was emphatic that Amazon Studios "pays your network quote." Quipped Tambor: "I just bought a new car." At the end of the presentation, Price addressed those concerns further, noting that "quality is a priority" for the studio. He also stressed that pilots set in Paris will film in Paris and those set in New York will film in New York because it "influences the texture of the shows."
Ambitions Are Growing
Amazon ended its presentation by teasing its upcoming slate of pilots, which will be released for viewing in August. The new shows consist of three comedies, Red Oakes; The Cosmopolitans; and Really plus two dramas, Hand of God and Hysteria. This is the first time that Amazon has released two pilot slates in one year. If all five shows are picked up to series — a distinct possibility since Price noted that Amazon could pick up any number of shows "depending on how people respond" — it would double the studio's current lineup. "If people love a show, we're going to make the show," said Price. "We want to create shows that are special, memorable, ones that people will care about in five to 10 years."
Free Shipping Included
At the end of the day, the originals are all about driving new customers to Amazon Prime, the $99 annual subscription that offers access to the Prime Instant Video library and includes free shipping on Amazon purchases. When asked about whether the shows would leave the video service after they are released on DVD, head of comedy Joe Lewis joked: "These shows will be available in perpetuity forever on Amazon Prime. Great deals on shipping, by the way." It was one of several references to Amazon's e-commerce roots during the presentation, including shout-outs to Amazon devices, such as the Kindle and Fire TV. Execs even threw a few jabs at the company's foray into shipping via drones. Noted Price: "It's like we live in the future."