BREAKING: Jason Ropell has stepped down from the leadership of Amazon Studios, where he has been vice president WW head of motion pictures for three of the six years he has spent there. The exit is amicable, and Ropell took the action basically after Amazon chief Jennifer Salke told him that she wanted to take the movie division in a different direction, one with bigger budgets and commercial risks. That seems to presage a move away from the tastemaker fare that has distinguished Amazon since it got into the movie business, first as a financier/producer, and now as the distributor of films it makes and acquires at festivals.
Sources said that Ropell stepped down because he could see the changes in store. He is staying on for the near future as a consultant as the division is reconstituted. For now, Ted Hope will be in charge along with Matt Newman, a five year vet and head of international distribution and strategic initiatives who has been more involved in film the past couple of years.
Salke has been swinging for the fences in television, with big bets like The Lord of The Rings, Jack Ryan and a first look deal with Jordan Peele. It stands to reason she will want to go ratchet up the big swings in the feature film realm, something that seemed inevitable at a colossus company like Amazon, where investment funds aren’t a problem. Amazon and Netflix at one point were cleaning out the inventory of film festivals, but both have favored script stage buys and film packages.
Their models are different, as Netflix makes pics for its streaming service and Amazon follows the tradition revenue waterfall that starts with the theatrical release, and reserves the SVOD window for its Amazon Prime service, which comes along with free shipping from the sister company retailer. But while Amazon and Netflix are often lumped together because of their tech origins, the scale of pictures has also been different. Netflix has been spending big on event fare like the Will Smith-starrer Bright, while Amazon has remained in the prestige space. Expect that to change, and the scale of Amazon productions to escalate.
Ropell took the reins from Roy Price, who backed pricey prestige pic from the likes of Woody Allen, before he was forced to stepped down after inappropriate behavior. Ropell was a steadying influence. Amazon Studios movie successes have been taste makers including The Big Sick and Manchester By The Sea and a fall slate including Toronto Fest gala opener Beautiful Boy, Suspiria and Life Itelf, latter of which also premieres at Toronto. Those are strong prestige titles, but probably won’t make Disney execs lose sleep. Ropell scored a big coup acquiring Life Itself late last year. That film, a generational drama written/directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, was expected to be the big deal of last January’s Sundance Film Festival, but Ropell got in there first and the film didn’t play Sundance, but rather was saved for a Toronto premiere and release in awards season.
Salke will go out and get a big studio chief, and already the speculation will be focused on Stacey Snider, who has run big studios, supervised event films and large scale slates, and who seems like she won’t have a place when Disney acquires Fox. She would be a natural to run a company like this, and has been rumored for numerous posts for streaming services entering the content creation space.
The obvious question is what will happen to his team which includes distribution and marketing head Bob Berney, strong creative execs in Scott Foundas and Julie Rapaport and Hope, the latter an indie stalwart who once partnered with James Schamus and David Linde. For now, these execs stay in place.
Berney has made his mark in tastemaker fare, but he has also ridden in commercial winner like Drive, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Passion of the Christ, Monster and Soul Surfer.