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Woody Allen’s Amazon Deal Shows Willingness, But Change Creates Risk

Woody Allen Takes Risk With Amazon Deal

Woody Allen's Amazon Deal Shows Willingness,
Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

Did Woody Allen suffer an attack of angst? Or was he merely feeling it was time for a change?

With his 80th birthday approaching, Woody had been shooting movies (and raising financing) in just about every country in Europe from Italy to Spain, and was running out of propitious locations. So he made a big decision: By signing a deal with Amazon a couple of weeks ago, he was not only shifting platforms, but also casting his lot with a new player in the TV universe. The last time Woody was involved in TV was when he wrote incidental dialogue for Ed Sullivan.

I admire Woody for accommodating change. The media gurus keep reminding us that the ground is shifting beneath us, but I have lately been noticing several examples of resistance to that concept at different levels of the business.

I encountered a producer friend this week who applauded the denial of Oscar producing credit to Jonathan Sehring and John Sloss for their contribution to “Boyhood.” Sehring, the chief of IFC films, was responsible for distributing and, with Sloss, raising the funding for this extraordinary, 12-years-in-the-making film venture.

But according to mandates of the Producers’ Guild, credit should be accorded only if a producer helps develop a project, spends time supervising the set and performs other traditional duties — like a Hal Wallis in Old Hollywood (who often had final cut). The problem is, Old Hollywood is long gone, and as many as 10 or more alleged producers and executive producers are listed on most films. They’re people who contributed funding or represented one of the stars or wrote the script and agreed to take less money in return for a producing credit.

Innovators like Sehring and Sloss, whose film cost $4 million and has grossed almost $45 million, in my view deserve whatever credit they want for their effort, as do microbudget entrepreneurs like Jason Blum, who slams together slates of genre films and TV shows, deferring upfront fees in exchange for hefty profits — and who are never seen on a set.

Some talent agents, too, are slow to embrace change. I had lunch with a rep the other day who complained that the new bean counters at his agency had cut his expense account, lowered his bonus, and demanded he focus more on corporate clients than on talent. “I love talent,” he told me. “I don’t like corporate types.”

He, too, hadn’t noticed that shifting ground. His agency had received a capital infusion from a Wall Street player who had imposed new financial constraints. Hence the most important responsibility of my agent friend was now to hit his numbers, not to find gigs for his actors.

In Hollywood, as in any other sector of the business world, when the accepted ways of doing things are history, so are those who fail to make the necessary adjustments.

Problem is, once, a change is made, it tends to lead to further changes.

Woody, for instance, has never written for series television, and doesn’t even watch it. And with Amazon, he’ll find himself involved with a different sort of television.

Amazon landed a critical hit with “Transparent,” winner of two Golden Globe awards, but, like fellow newcomer Netflix, it has also encountered some bumps in the road. Woody does not want to become one of those bumps, but he admits he has no idea as yet what sort of show he wants to make. Last year, he tried to veer from his one-movie-a-year ritual by doing “Bullets Over Broadway.” A return to theater, where he had experienced successes like “Don’t Drink the Water” and “Play It Again, Sam,” he felt, would reflect he was ready to embrace change. It turned out to be an unhappy return to the past.

With Amazon, however, there is no past — and the future remains uncertain.