Amazon's Jennifer Salke, Jason Blum on Wooing Talent Differently Than Netflix

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Fast Company
From left: Jason Blum, Jennifer Salke and Fast Company senior writer Nicole LaPorte

The heads of Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Productions spoke during a Tuesday panel about "blurring the lines" between film and TV and how they court content creators.

Though the trajectories of their careers have been entirely different, friends and fellow entertainment execs Jason Blum and Jennifer Salke have finally found themselves in similar positions. Blum, the founder of Blumhouse Productions, and Salke, the new head of Amazon Studios, are both enjoying the freedom of "blurring the lines" of television and film in their respective roles.

"The future of television and movies is blurrier and blurrier and blurrier," Blum said during a Fast Company Innovation Festival panel on Tuesday at New York's 92Y. "Most of the time, we hear a filmmaker come in to tell a story and our first thought is, 'Should this be TV or should this be a movie?'"

Added Salke, a longtime television and first-time film exec: "Our talent is saying, 'Should this be a movie? Should this be six episodes? Should this be a special event for two hours?' There's fluidity in the delivery system which I love. So I do think the lines are blurred. The language is all about stories and, what is the form that those stories should take to be told in the best interest of those stories and that vision?"

Since she was named Amazon Studios' leader in February, Salke has signed talent including Jordan Peele and Nicole Kidman, both of whom inked first-look deals with the studio, and Blake Lively and Gillian Flynn. Though she has attracted a handful of A-listers, Salke said that unlike Netflix's mega-dollar deals with Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy and the Obamas — part of the streaming giant's whopping $13 billion budget — money isn't the main attraction for stars to work with Amazon.

"We are not in the 'more is more' business. We're more interested in curating and building a home for talent. We're helping them build their businesses and we are creative partners as well as strategic partners," said Salke, who previously held positions at NBCUniversal and 20th Century Fox. "Not in an annoying way, but a way that supports their vision. I don't want to speak about other places, but we're creating something that stands apart. We offer this human experience to talent where we can roll up our sleeves and amplify something we all love and believe in."

Blum echoed Salke's remarks, saying that "it's not just about the money" when establishing relationships with talent. "We're in this business not just to tell the stories, but have the stories be seen and talked about. Some of them are bad and some of them are good. But you want them all to have a chance," he said, adding that Blumhouse Productions — responsible for film and TV hits such as 2017's Oscar-winning Get Out and HBO's critically acclaimed miniseries Sharp Objects — is "totally different than Netflix."

Blum, who only makes movies with budgets of no more than $5 million, elaborated: "Artists are not typically motivated by money, first of all, but second of all, if you believe what you're doing is going to go commercial, you're 100 times better off with us than you are with Netflix."

Blum, who was recently named The Hollywood Reporter's Producer of the Year, then brought up Halloween — his record-breaking reboot of the horror classic, starring Jamie Lee Curtis (reprising her role as Laurie Strode) and directed by David Gordon Green — as an example.

"[Curtis and Green] are going to do a million times better with us than if we had done a buyout on Halloween with [Netflix]," said Blum. "If you want to play it safe or if you're doing something that's a little bit less commercial, then it's better to get paid upfront. We work with Netflix, too, and have gotten paid upfront on things we've done, but it really depends on what you're doing and what kind of audience you think your project is going to reach."

With Amazon, Salke believes that her film and TV projects have a better chance to "break out globally," as opposed to being at a network where success is traditionally determined by ratings. "When the knock came on the door to turn my attention to Amazon, it was exciting to me because those barriers at a network were gone," she said. "The odds didn't feel as stacked against us to really break through with great content. It feels awesome because it's not as restricting."

Now, Salke is hoping Amazon Studios' content is able to benefit from the commerce company's built-in merchandising opportunities. "I love to spend time putting my arms around the greater company. We took the Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn project, the next iteration of a fashion competition show that is in development and holds great promise for how it can co-exist in the merchandising area," she said of the ex-Project Runway hosts. "Blake Lively also wants to do a scripted show with a component that ties in merchandising."

Added Salke: "There's a spirit of collaboration that's starting to find its way through the company, and I'm really excited for great things to come out of it."