EXCLUSIVE: In what will come as a relief to sellers arriving here at Sundance, Amazon Studios’ Worldwide Film Head Jason Ropell is debunking a Reuters report this morning that inferred the company is essentially bailing on the indie film space. Such a development would seem bizarre, considering that in the last couple years, Amazon Studios has acquired Manchester By The Sea and The Big Sick, the two biggest successes the company has enjoyed.
Said Ropell, who is en route to Sundance, for the purpose of watching and possibly buying films here: “We are not abandoning the indie space, we are increasing the potential size of the audience for our films; that in some cases involves higher budgets, but in others not. It’s about the potential for the film not the cost. Our roots are in independent/prestige film and we intend to continue in that space using it as a springboard to expansion and scale.”
The message to other buyers: continue to fear the beard.
Seriously, it would be silly to expect a company with the deep pockets of Amazon to not grow in ambition. But its team, consisting of Ropell, Ted Hope, Scott Foundas, Julie Rapaport, Bob Berney, all come from indie origins. While its sister TV company is making big bets with The Lord of the Rings and other precedent setting pricey series, I expect Amazon Studios to continue its pursuit of the next Manchester By The Sea and The Big Sick. It preempted the Sundance crowd and may have found the next one with Life Itself, the Dan Fogelman-directed generational ensemble drama that stars Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and others. FilmNation and Endeavor Content sold U.S. rights to the film by the This Is Us series creator to Amazon for $10 million in late December, a big deal for Ropell. There have been rumors of names like Stacey Snider possibly coming in, and that would make a dramatic overhaul toward big budget far understandable. But they seem content to raise the bar incrementally, which is not much of a story, or a surprise.