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For more than a year it’s been rumored that Apple would be joining streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon in the content-creation and film-acquisition games.
The tech company has recently gotten one step closer, acquiring its first two festival films out of Tribeca in April. The first, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story, a doc about Sean “Diddy” Combs, will serve as the company’s first documentary to also play in theaters, opening in Los Angeles and New York on June 23 before becoming available on Apple Music on June 25.
“Things that might have scared off other distributors, they were all in,” says producer Heather Parry, president of production, film & television at Live Nation Productions. “They set no boundaries with us, and understood that Puff is that overachiever that doesn’t take no for an answer. So when he said he wanted to air the trailer on the NBA Finals, they were like ‘OK’ and that’s exactly what happened.”
The documentary, Live Nation Productions’ second project, follows Combs as he puts together the Bad Boy 20th anniversary concert while also tracing the hip-hop company’s journey via interviews with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Faith Evans, Mase and Jay-Z.
The connections between Apple Music and Combs’ documentary run deep: Jimmy Iovine appears in the documentary, and has a long working relationship with Combs (they’re also neighbors). Larry Jackson, Apple Music’s head of original content, who sources say took the lead on both acquisitions, also knows Combs, and had previously worked with Clive Davis, the subject of their other acquisition, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives.
“We had talked to a couple people and there were several offers,” says Parry. “All of them brought something to the table, but what Apple was going to do — and Puff being friends with them — it was just the right fit.”
There also were several other bidders for The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but Apple’s global reach in the music world helped it to gain the upper hand.
“When you look at creating sexy, cool, leading-edge marketing campaigns, whether it’s for a piece of hardware or otherwise, they have a pretty great track record,” says Stuart Ford, founder and CEO of IM Global, which fully financed and sold the Clive Davis doc. “It’ll be interesting for us all on an industry-wide level to see what kind of Apple DNA they bring to the marketing of the film.”
The two film docs, with their music focus, are a smart first step for Apple as it dips its toes into film distribution. Sales agents expect Apple to continue to increase its presence at film markets, and likely expand beyond music-related docs in the near future, especially with the new leadership in place. The hiring of two long-time Sony Pictures Television executives, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, to oversee all aspects of video programming, signals that the company is ready to take that next step into original content. What’s been holding them back, according to some insiders, is the lack of a team that’s well-versed in film development and acquisition — someone that comes from inside Hollywood.
“The biggest challenge in the business right now is people saying, ‘Oh, they have deep pockets’ and everyone runs to them,” says one film insider. “But they need the team in place that can navigate the film business and create a strong marketing campaign for release.”
“Obviously, they are nowhere near as embedded in the film-distribution universe as the likes of Amazon or Netflix — or Hulu, for that matter — but we actually feel that for this particular film they are the best possible alternative,” adds Ford. “The fact that they don’t have as many movies draws a lot more attention to our film, and allows Apple to spend a lot more time and energy on the marketing of the movie. And also their reach to our core audience, which is music fans worldwide, is unparalleled, and is more extensive and more scientific than any of those other platforms could hope to offer for a film like this one.”
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