The new deals come under the company’s Amazon Video Direct program, which offered a no-haggle offer to filmmakers whose movies were officially screened at Sundance: a cash bonus of up to $100,000 for two-year SVOD rights plus streaming royalties.
The company paid $425,000 total in bonuses for the 12 features from Sundance acquired through the AVD program. The films include “Manifesto,” starring Cate Blanchett (pictured above), in which she inhabits 13 different characters; China-set absurdist comedy “Free and Easy”; Indian sweatshop documentary “Machines”; and writer-director Kristen Tan’s “Pop Aye” dramedy set in Thailand. The movies will be available on Amazon Prime Video later this year.
Amazon is so pleased with the results of the Film Festival Stars program from Sundance that it’s now extending similar offers to this year’s SXSW, Tribeca Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.
“We saw an opportunity where we could put together a package for films that aren’t targeted by studios, for filmmakers who want to self-distribute,” said Eric Orme, head of Amazon Video Direct.
The Film Festival Stars deals from Sundance are in addition to the films Amazon Studios acquired in Park City this year, led by romantic comedy “The Big Sick” for about $12 million — one of the biggest deals in the fest’s history. The studios group also bought prison drama “Crown Heights”; family dramedy “Landline”; ISIS documentary “City of Ghosts”; and Grateful Dead docu “Long Strange Trip.” In 2016, its standout pickup was “Manchester by the Sea,” for which Casey Affleck won the Oscar for best lead actor.
AVD’s Film Festival Stars is “very complementary with Amazon Studios,” said Orme. “It was pretty easy to look at what we were doing on the studio side and develop a program that would be more scalable than going after one film at a time.”
The other Sundance titles coming to Amazon under Film Festival Stars are: “500 Years,” “Family Life,” “Axolotl Overkill,” “Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!,” “Plastic China,” “The Good Postman,” “World Without End” and “I Dream in Another Language.”
The upfront cash bonus is intended to help the filmmakers and producers market their movies, including via theatrical releases. “We want to take part in the success of their marketing,” Orme said.
The Festival Film Stars program also offers participating content owners 30 cents per hour viewed in the U.S. and 12 cents per hour non-U.S. — double the regular royalty rate for content made available through Amazon Video Direct.
The dozen Sundance films will hit Amazon Prime Video no later than Sept. 1; Amazon has a 12-month exclusive SVOD window and another 12 months nonexclusively on the titles. The FFS program doesn’t include any restrictions on other distribution windows including transactional VOD, so the films can be distributed services like iTunes.
Of the 12 Sundance films that opted-in to the Film Festival Stars program, 10 came from distributors (Amazon worked directly with the producers of “500 Years” and “Family Life”). Six are from FilmRise, which had acquired distribution rights to “Manifesto,” “Free and Easy,” “Axolotl Overkill,” “Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!,” “Good Postman” and “I Dream in Another Language.”
“The AVD Film Festival Stars program adds more firepower as it provides an enhanced royalty rate as well as an upfront cash bonus,” said Danny Fisher, CEO of FilmRise. Amazon Prime’s members, he added, “are a highly engaged audience that is eager to see premium festival films.”
Note that Amazon — while it offers Prime Video in 200 countries — does not have worldwide rights for all the titles. “Manifesto,” for example, will be available on Amazon’s streaming platform only in the U.S. and Canada, as the Match Factory bought international rights.
Next on the Amazon Video Direct wish-list are films screening at the 2017 SXSW, which runs March 10-19 in Austin. AVD will offer films premiering at SXSW the distribution deal through April 30, 2017. It’s asking for two-year SVOD rights, and will require films to be released on Prime Video by Feb. 28, 2018.
The Film Festival Star’s SXSW cash-bonus structure is: $100,000 for Narrative Feature Competition; $75,000 for Documentary Feature Competition; $25,000 for Documentary Spotlight, Narrative Spotlight, Midnighters, SXGlobal, and Visions. The films are also eligible for the same per-hour royalty rates as the Sundance films acquired through AVD.
Orme acknowledged that the Film Festival Stars program’s take-it-or-leave-it offer won’t appeal to everyone. But the goal, he said, is “to remove the barriers that take time to get distribution – this is a pretty transparent package we’ve put together.”
Correction: Amazon originally said it paid $400,000 in upfront bonuses for the Sundance films acquired under Amazon Video Direct’s Film Festival Stars program. According to the company, it is in fact paying $425,000 for the group of 12 films.