When Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht left Sony Pictures Television in 2017 to steer Apple’s film and TV fortunes, few doubted they would give the tech giant’s upstart content company a beachhead on the small screen. During their 12 years at Sony, they hatched hits like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Rescue Me.
It was the film part of the equation that prompted questions about their qualifications. Even though they tapped Matt Dentler to run their film unit, Van Amburg and Erlicht were not nearly as prolific as their counterparts at Netflix, Disney+, Amazon or HBO Max. That fueled expectations they were biding time until they found the perfect seasoned movie executive to help put them on the map.
So, imagine everyone’s surprise when Apple became the first streamer to win the Best Picture Oscar in just its second year in the film business. The duo’s $25 million acquisition of CODA at Sundance bested a crop that included Netflix’s The Power of the Dog, which was considered an early shoo-in for Best Picture but ultimately only earned one Oscar for director Jane Campion. CODA’s victory at the Academy Awards—it took home three in all, including one for supporting actor Troy Kotsur—was icing on the cake for Van Amburg and Erlicht who watched Ted Lasso earn seven Emmys in September.
The duo will continue to follow a selective track, spending big when an opportunity like CODA presents itself. They made a massive investment in the WWII miniseries Masters of the Air, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and have deals with A24, Skydance and Imagine, among others. On the film side is Killers of the Flower Moon, the Martin Scorsese-directed drama that stars Leonardo DiCaprio, and Emancipation, the Antoine Fuqua thriller featuring Will Smith as a runaway slave whose experiences caused worldwide revulsion in 1860s America and solidified the cause of abolitionists. Though no premiere date has been set prognosticators were already positioning Smith to win back-to-back Oscars—that is, until he slapped Chris Rock on Oscar night. Controversy involving one of their A-list stars? Yep, Van Amburg and Erlicht are definitely in the big leagues now.
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