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Amazon is adding its own TV shows and films to an ever-growing array of products. Surprisingly, studios are keen, says Will Dean
At this point, original television series are probably the only thing left for Amazon to sell. It now flogs everything from gluten-free pasta to its own range of batteries. So the news that the company is rumoured to be reviving the battered corpse of ABC's Pan Am from television's canal of the damned isn't that surprising.
Pan Am, a show axed after 14 episodes, is produced by Sony Pictures, which is keen to keep the 1960s airline series – which has attracted a decent international audience – alive. According to Deadline Hollywood, Sony has been in talks with Amazon to broadcast/stream Pan Am in the US (and thus allow continued international sales).
Whether Jeff Bezos's company does buy Pan Am is almost a moot point when it comes to the company's expansion into original content, though. It's already happening. Just as the advance of the Kindle has allowed unpublished authors to make names for themselves – such as the 1.5-million-selling Amanda Hocking – the company is hoping to tap into unknown television-/film-makers with Amazon Studios, the corporation's attempt to "democratise" the film-making process and put itself – as it has with publishing – in a position where it controls some means of production (and without any annoying obstacles such as agents and production companies, too).
"We aim to discover voices that might not otherwise be heard," says Roy Price, the studio's boss. These voices are able to submit scripts and short trailers/pilot videos to Amazon (either publicly on the studio's site or privately to development staff). Amazon then has an option to develop the scripts (for a $10,000 payment) and, if feedback from testing on the Amazon Studios site goes well, your series/film could go into production and be distributed to cinemas by Amazon's partner Warner Bros – all without hiring an agent or spending months trying to get it to the right studio suit.
If your script gets made into a film, then Amazon will pay you $200,000. If it makes $60m – i.e. what Avengers Assemble made last weekend – you get a bonus of $400,000.
The studio, which launched in 2010, has 13 films – including promising-sounding titles such as I Think My Facebook Friend Is Dead and Zombies vs Gladiators – on its development slate. Unfortunately only William Goldman's famous Hollywood maxim – "nobody knows anything" – can give us an indication of their future success. More likely to make it out of developmental hell are submitted comedies and kids' shows (presumably the programme types that sell most easily on the site). On 2 May, the company announced that it was expanding its operations in those two genres – hoping to option one new show every month.
An indicator of how well an Amazon-funded sitcom might work comes with the new series of an established comedy name – Arrested Development. In AD's case, though, it's US film-hire site Netflix that's investing in original content – with 10 new episodes of the comedy being made at the moment. It's also producing its own original shows, including a David Fincher adaptation of House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Lilyhammer, about a criminal who moves to Norway.
In a further skewing of television tradition, the company's chief, Ted Sarandos, announced plans to release the new Arrested Development episodes in one go, so fans can gorge on them, box-set-style.
While a box office dominated by Amazon-funded auteurs is a distant possibility, the move for production companies such as Sony to bypass the traditional television networks and go straight to the distributor could well be around the corner. It will depend on the success of moves such as Netflix's (with a show that struggled to retain an audience on Fox). Whether that's a good thing or not may depend on your view of Amazon's increasing global domination.
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