In its young life, Amazon Studios has proven unafraid of splashy premieres for its theatrical and streaming titles.
They staged a fun run through the streets of Hollywood from the screening to the after party of the festival darling “Brittany Runs a Marathon.” They shut down Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and erected a world’s fair, complete with hot air balloons, for Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ “The Aeronauts.”
But in the time of coronavirus, with padlocked movie theaters and social distance orders in place, the company is weaponizing its promotional budgets to make a different kind of impression — supporting devastated local businesses and helping to feed school kids.
Within the past month, Amazon has staged two “at-home” movie premieres for tastemakers and press, providing dinner, concession snacks, some good wine and other creature comforts. Deliveries in over 10 markets across the country utilize product from local food and beverage shops, and the entire effort supports the production of over 14,000 school lunches to kids in a Los Angeles county school district.
On Friday, Prime Video lunched debut writer-director Tayarisha Poe’s “Selah and the Spades,” which stars Lovie Simone as a drug-dealing queen pin at an elite boarding school. Delivered to the likes of Gabrielle Union, Storm Reid and Eva Longoria was a bounty including chop salads, pasta and chicken dishes from LA haunt Jon & Vinny’s. The restaurant group also partners with a program called No Kid Hungry, which provided school lunches to students from the city of Pico Rivera, mass produced at a commercial kitchen in El Segundo thanks to Jon & Vinny’s partnership with Delta Airlines.
“It was really important for me to find work for the staff that wanted to continue in our organization,” Jon & Vinny’s co-owner Jon Shook told Variety. “We were lucky to connect with the Amazon team, who were looking to support small businesses and also move away from traditional movie premieres while still using those funds.”
Shook estimated that in the span of two days over mid-March, Jon & Vinny’s lost huge private and corporate catering gigs, from spreads at the canceled Coachella music festival to a shuttered launch event for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi. Not only has Shook been able to keep the majority of his catering staff on payroll, the No Kid Hungry program makes use of the eatery’s refrigerated trucks and vans sitting idle. His is one of over a dozen companies benefitting from the at-home premieres.
“The majority of our revenue comes from weddings and events, and this year was going to be one of our biggest seasons ever,” said Erica Freeman, co-owner of Los Angeles bakery Two Chicks in the Mix, whose red velvet brownies and sugar cookies were delivered as part of the “Selah” celebration.
Freeman said the Amazon opportunity give she and her partner Malaka Wilson-Greene some financial cloud cover while tastings are pushed down the calendar and nuptials rescheduled for a time when friends and family might gather together.
Other SoCal businesses to benefit included: Helen Johannesen’s Helen’s Wines; Heather Taylor Home, who provided linens and face masks made from repurposed linen scraps; Brit Roennigke’s Roen Candles; Jason Shah’s artisanal popcorn operation Uncle Pops; and organic hand sanitizer from Michael Carbaugh’s Sandoval for cleanup.
The streamer provided similar deliveries in early April surrounding their buzzy fishing village noir “Blow the Man Down,” providing lobster rolls from Annie Campbell Catering. Select markets getting the boost also include San Francisco’s Mister Jiu’s, Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch, Boston’s Mida, and Philadelphia’s Vetri.