After 'Amy', Chorus Grows for Hot Music Documentaries

Janis Joplin and Oasis

Musical biopics about everyone from Oasis to Janis Joplin are in the pipe, helped by demand from streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon.

Asif Kapadia’s Amy has undoubtedly been one of the most talked-about documentaries of the year, hauling in more than $25 million globally following its midnight bow at Cannes and sending late singer Amy Winehouse back onto the music charts.

But its arrival has come at what could be seen as the zenith for music documentaries, possibly propelled by success stories such as Oscar winner Searching for Sugar Man. Indeed, Amy is one of two in the final six features up for this year’s main IDA award, along with Liz Garbus’ Netflix hit What Happened, Miss Simone?

And at AFM this year, Kapadia has another music doc, about Britpop icons Oasis (this time, he’s a producer alongside Amy collaborator James Gay-Rees, with Mat Whitecross directing).

Elsewhere in the market, there’s the Janis Joplin doc Janis: Little Girl Blue, directed by Amy Berg for Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions; it already has been snapped up for the U.S. by FilmRise from sales agent (and Jigsaw partner) Content Media. “We’ve sold it significantly, everywhere around the world,” says Content film division president Jamie Carmichael, who adds that it was the success of The Doors doc When You’re Strange in 2009 that showed him what music docs could achieve, especially when there’s an air of mystery surrounding the subject.

“When you have a built-in audience of superfans who are really interested, and then the rest of us who also are initially interested, and then we’re revealing things that people didn’t know before, it’s fantastic and draws everyone in,” he said.

Carmichael noted that the entry of Netflix and Amazon into the doc market has given people far easier access. “If you’d had this conversation five years ago, where would you see them? You'd catch them as they went by, if you were lucky."

U.K. startup Catalyst Global Media looks likely to soon enter the music film arena in a big way, having signed a deal with Warner Music in August to develop a slate of features — both biopics and docs — based on its huge roster of artists, which includes the likes of Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald.

Co-founder and CEO Charlotte Walls — who says Amy arrived at the perfect time, when it was “still a deep tragedy” and from a master theatrical director in Kapadia — suggests that the new Oasis doc could well be used as way to help the band, rumored to be reforming, to finally crack the American market.

“I think there’s definitely more of a plan afoot with Oasis, probably more than there was with Amy,” she said. “How far will they go, that’s going to be the interesting question. It certainly presents a unique challenge that [the Gallagher brothers] are alive and 
in action, versus dealing with an estate and a story with a very finite end."