Jason Ropell is stepping down as the head of Amazon Studios’ film division, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.
Ted Hope and Matt Newman will serve as interim co-heads, reporting to Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke.
Ropell, who had been with Amazon for more than six years, had been overseeing production, distribution and marketing for all of Amazon’s original and acquired films as vp worldwide motion pictures. He is expected to serve as a consultant to the company while the transition takes place.
The move comes as Jennifer Salke — who was named head of Amazon Studios this year, succeeding Roy Price, who was forced out late last year amid sexual harassment allegations — puts her stamp on the executive team. As part of a strategic shift in the company’s direction, Amazon is now looking for bigger, more commercial fare when it comes to both its film and TV lineup.
In a recent interview with THR, Salke said that she envisioned both partnering with studios while also continuing to purse art house fare if it promised to connect with audiences emotionally. Speaking of Amazon’s film lineup, she said, “Just like all our businesses evolve, we’ll be looking for a balance of ways to fill the movie slate, which will be originals, acquisitions, direct-to-platform, theatrical release and partnerships. I’ve already had meetings at Sony, Paramount and Legendary. We’ve been talking to everybody about how we can best serve our customers by trying some partnerships on films.”
Hope has been serving as Amazon’s head of motion picture development, production and acqusitions, while Newman is head of international distribution and strategic initiatives.
During Ropell’s tenure, Amazon — which, unlike streaming rival Netflix, distributes films theatrically — launched its first theatrical, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, in 2015, co-distributing it with Roadside Attractions. The melancholy drama Manchester by the Sea, which it co-distributed with Roadside in 2016, became its biggest awards success and also collected $80 million worldwide; the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, earning Casey Affleck a best lead actor Oscar and Kenneth Lonergan a best original screenplay Oscar. Amazon also picked up a best foreign-language film Oscar for Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, which it co-distributed with the Cohen Media Group.
During the past awards season, Amazon saw Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick, which it distributed with Lionsgate, gross $56 million worldwide and result in an original screenplay Oscar nom for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.
More recently, Amazon began distributing movies itself, without utilizing a partner, but its latest films have had minimal impact at the box office. Released in December, Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel collected $1.4 million domestically while grossing $15.4 million worldwide. Lynne Ramsay’s critically applauded drama You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix, grossed just $2.5 million domestically. And Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, also starring Phoenix, has collected $381,522 in its first two weeks of domestic release, and so far has grossed less than $1 million worldwide.
The news of the Ropell’s exit comes just before the new awards season gets underway. Earlier Tuesday, the Toronto International Film Festival announced it will screen the world premieres of both Amazon’s Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet and directed by Felix von Groeiningen, and Dan Fogelman’s Life Itself, starring Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde. Salke has said those two films are “movies that are emotionally connective, they invite a lot of people in, and I think they will be movies that have a bit of a wider audience than maybe some of the movies of the past. But Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick, these are all movies were incredibly proud of. It’s about a balance.”
Screen Daily first reported the news of Ropell’s exit.