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Amazon Studios Head Talks ‘Fleabag,’ Pivot in Film Release Strategy

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Just days after Amazon Studios’ “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” earned the studio several top honors at the Emmys, studio head Jennifer Salke switched gears from television to film, outlining the streaming service’s movie strategy and defending the performance of Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night.”

Speaking at the Paley Center for Media, the Amazon Studios chief countered the media narrative that “Late Night” was a bust. The film, starring Kaling and Emma Thompson, brought in less than $16 million at the box office, but Salke told the audience Thursday night that it performed very well by Amazon’s standards.

“On the night ‘Late Night’ was released on Prime, Mindy Kaling called me and said, ‘Oh my God, I have more social action on this Prime launch than I did when the movie was launched,’ Salke said, noting that the film had a “very generous” marketing campaign.

Within two weeks of being on Prime, “Late Night” had been watched “by more people than any movie in the U.S.,” she said, though she did not articulate any viewership numbers.

The company doesn’t evaluate its movie performance based on theatrical tickets sold, Salke said. “We don’t pretend to think we would suddenly have 30 million people watching our movie in a theater, it’s just a portion of what our strategy is.”

Salke’s strategy is to release four to six prestige movies a year on the service, either by acquisition or produced in-house, that could be awards worthy. “Honey Boy” is one such example. It will be released theatrically, hopefully lauded with statuettes, and then released on Prime – a move designed to increase Prime subscriptions.

While she said the studio is not abandoning the theatrical model, it is pivoting to “stunt theatrical” or “event-izing” film releases and pushing movies straight to a Prime release, a strategy it will be employing with “Aeronauts.”

“We’re really pivoting to a goal of getting these movies to the global customers as quickly as possible,” she said.

On the TV front, Salke lauded “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, calling her “pretty special,” and holding out hope that the British writer, producer and actor will perhaps reconsider re-opening the closed-ended two-season series.

On Waller-Bridge’s future endeavors, now that she has inked an overall deal with Amazon Studios, Salke said that “I know that she’s a very prolific, very ambitious producer, so she’s not going to do a show for the sake of doing a show.”

Amazon Studios brought home 15 Emmys this season, clinching the No. 3 spot by wins, behind Netflix and HBO. “Fleabag” nabbed six, including best comedy series – besting HBO’s “Veep” – while “Maisel” brought home eight awards.

“Maisel” is “our most pirated show in Asia,” Salke said. Though she would not reveal viewer figures, she added that new series “Carnival Row,” “Good Omens” and “The Boys” have “overachieved” on the service by the studio’s standards.

“Everything we do is to enhance or drive Prime subscriptions,” Salke said.

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