AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
WINTER 2019 TCA PRESS TOUR
Amazon Prime Video – Executive Session
Jennifer Salke – Head of Amazon Studios
Albert Cheng – Co-Head of Television, Amazon Studios
Vernon Sanders – Co-Head of Television, Amazon Studios
The Langham Hotel
February 13, 2019
© 2019 Amazon Prime Video. All rights reserved.
All TCA Press Tour transcripts are prepared immediately following press conferences. They are provided for your convenience and are not intended as a substitute at press conferences. Due to the speed with which these transcripts are prepared, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
TAMMY GOLIHEW: Hi everyone! Hi. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Tammy Golihew and I’m Head of Amazon Studios Television Publicity. I’d like to thank all the TCA members and our invited guests for being here today. We know we’re the last day, last session, and it was raining this morning. So, we appreciate you coming out. So, we have a really wonderful day for you. We’d love to start with a sizzle and after that, the Head of Amazon Studios, Jennifer Salke, will be right out. Thanks.
JENNIFER SALKE: Hi, everyone! Good morning! We are excited to get together today. I know Tammy just said it’s your — I can’t believe it’s your last day. You guys have been here a long time. So, thanks for being here and hanging in. It’s been a really busy year, as you know, at Amazon Studios. We have a lot of great momentum as we head into 2019 and beyond. We have some exciting panels to present to you today, plus a conversation with some visionary voices — Reed Morano, Jill Soloway, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mindy Kaling. We’ll be kicking it off with a brief interview with them, followed by opening up questions to the room. In the last year, we’ve worked really hard to further establish Amazon as the best home for talent. We have consistently stated that we are taking a curated approach to our roster and slate and will be focused on supporting visionary creators, who can appreciate our experienced and personable culture and the great variety of opportunities that only a company like Amazon can provide. First, it’s all about the content. Top-notch creative minds delivering the most compelling programming to our customers across the globe. We can deliver that content in a variety of ways at Amazon, including our unique ability to support theatrically-released movies, an exciting direct-to-service movie program, compelling drama and comedies series, riveting documentaries, global alternative and reality series all combine to serve as a beacon to the creative community. Creating a home for talent is all about artists and supporting their visions. That’s always at the center of our values. We’re proud to have partnered with more recent deals like Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society, Reed Morano, Cheo Coker, Bryan Cogman, Eric Olsen, Isa Dick Hackett, Larysa Kondracki and Barry Jenkins, PASTEL Pictures. And we welcome them to our growing slate of collaborators. Now, we have a few exciting announcements to share this morning. Hot off the press, we’re picking up Season Three of our global hit, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” from our partners at Paramount Television. Season Two is looking incredibly strong, and we saw no reason not to give it an early pickup, as we know how much our global Prime customers are loving the show. We also are announcing a season order on “The Power.” “The Power” is a ground-breaking show coming to us from our UK team and Jane Featherstone’s Sister Pictures and the talented Naomi Alderman. When we read the script, based off the best-selling book — also written by Naomi — we couldn’t put it down, and we knew we had to have it for our global customers. It’s also my pleasure to say that just of yesterday, Reed Morano’s come aboard to direct and collaborate on this series with this incredible team. You’ll see her a little bit later. After signing and exclusive deal with Reed in television, we became aware of what a fan she was of the property for a long time and had been talking about it up and down the halls. And so, it was a match made in heaven when that project landed at Amazon. We love this brilliant powerhouse team and know it can be a hugely addictive show for the global audience. Last TCAs, we announced the Russo Brothers’ global show, and I’m excited to tell you guys a little bit more about it today. Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg from “Midnight Radio” have come aboard as writers and executive producers alongside the Russo Brothers on this ground-breaking, action-packed, character-driven spy series. The epic franchise will begin with an international tent pole series, followed by multiple connected local language series. And we’re announcing today that the first two will be produced out of India and Italy. To top this all off, the Russo Brothers will direct the first episode and multiple episodes of the show. Stay tuned for more exciting casting announcements on that in the near future. On that note, our international products are such an important part of our business, and we continue to expand every day. As of this morning, we’re thrilled to announce that we have greenlit over 20 new series for Amazon Prime, coming from UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, India, Japan, Mexico, and will continue the international expansion. So, stay tuned for an ongoing cadence of news moving forward on this. Now, I know many of you are curious about our progress on “Lord of the Rings.” We’re pleased to say that JD Payne and Patrick McKay and their team are making great progress in developing this amazing property. We don’t really have an update today, but to say that we’ve established the social handles for the show and there will be more news coming shortly. As an aside — and a personal aside — I recommend you all visit the Morgan Library in New York and see the limited exhibition on display that’s been curated by the Tolkien Estate and Oxford University. We were there last week, and I mean we were “Lord of the Rings” fans before, but, now, after visiting and getting even more insight into this incredible creative mind, we’re even more obsessed. In the last year, Amazon has also become a major contender in the awards space. We’re proud of our wonderful “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which won eight Emmy awards in 2018, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Amy made history — Emmy history, with wins for both Comedy Writing and Directing. The show has earned three Golden Globes, five Critics’ Choice, three SAG Awards, and a Peabody and other awards, as well. After sitting in the writer’s room last week and hearing the next season pitch, I feel more than confident that the love affair with the show will only continue. We’re proud to have extended our exclusive deal with Amy and Dan for years to come and look forward to collaborating with them even more. We have promising shows in development and are excited to share more with you this summer. On one little casting update, I know there’s been a lot of chatter around this, but we can officially confirm Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, and Jerrika Hinton will be leading our star-studded cast in Jordan Peele’s, “The Hunt.” I wanted to take a moment also to highlight a few other things this afternoon. Amazon is committed to supporting stories that appeal to a global audience. It’s critical that those stories reflect the world around us and not just our own backyard. I’m proud that Amazon is committed to the ReFrame and Four Percent pledges. We’ve also partnered and co-sponsored with WME and “The Hollywood Reporter” for the Young Executive Fellowship Program which will serve as a pipeline to build diverse executive talent across our industry. Latasha Gillespie’s joined my executive team and will help drive us being very active and intentional in amplifying underrepresented voices, both in front of and behind the camera. We look forward to the day when it no longer needs to be a callout but just a reality in the entertainment space. And that day can’t come soon enough. But, now, without further delay, I’d like to bring out my Co-heads of Television, Vernon Sanders, and Albert Cheng. Coming. Thank you.
QUESTION: All right. Straight down in the front. I have two questions about two of your upcoming series, so I’ll get them both out at once. With “Lord of the Rings,” there was some I guess either/or whether or not Peter Jackson was gonna have any involvement. Have you reached out to him to give it any continuity with the movies? And then, with “A League of Their Own,” we’ve heard this is a brand-new telling of it, but will it feature the characters from the movie like Jimmy Dugan, Dottie, and Kit?
JENNIFER SALKE: I’ll take the first part. We don’t have any news on Peter Jackson. There hasn’t been any negativity around it. We just don’t have any news on that yet and what his involvement may be in the show.
ALBERT CHENG: But he is aware of what’s happening.
QUESTION: And “League of Their Own?”
ALBERT CHENG: Do you want to talk to that?
VERNON SANDERS: Sure. On “League of Their Own,” that’s a pilot we’re in discussions about and we’re very excited about. What I would say is there will be a group of new characters, but there will be some nods to the original series that I think fans will appreciate.
QUESTION: On your right, in the front. Hi.
VERNON SANDERS: Hi.
QUESTION: I’m sure you’re expecting the question, but with Warner or Disney, all these other streaming coming up in a few months, is there a reason why you’re doing more and more co-production overseas and talking about shows that would be based in Germany, Mexico, different countries like that? Because you know that those streamers won’t be available around the world yet?
JENNIFER SALKE: Well, I think we’re aware that we’re obviously in a race for talent globally. But part of the original strategy coming in for me was to sort of get our hands around a global community, so that we could diversify the storytelling. And so, it’s really been a natural progression over months and months and months. Probably eight months of pulling in an executive who reports to me, who’s directly in charge of international content, and none of that is sort of borne out of a fear of the competition, but more about where we know our customers are and how we want to reach them in a way that feels global versus narrow and specific.
QUESTION: Will you try — I heard that Netflix is trying to do that, to lock in creative people, talents from overseas for five, seven years to make sure they’re not gonna sign deals with the competition. Are you gonna try as well to get some of the big directors from different foreign countries to sign with Amazon?
JENNIFER SALKE: Yes. I’ve been traveling a lot, and I’m gonna continue to do that. But it’s really an extension of our message here which is this curated approach to talent. So, it’s not about going out and signing as many people as possible. It’s about finding organic connections between us and artists and then building relationships. And, hopefully, those relationships become ongoing and successful.
QUESTION: Down here, on your right. “Mrs. Maisel” doesn’t suffer from lack of press or lack of awards. How does that translate in your service in terms of viewership? Do you see a bump? If it wins at the Emmys, does it drive more traffic to that show?
JENNIFER SALKE: We’ve actually been so happy that we’ve seen that. So, you know, to have that show get the attention for the quality of the storytelling and the addictive, you know, kind of nature of it and how it’s kind of breaking through culturally has only led to outperforming expectations across the service.
ALBERT CHENG: Yeah. “Maisel” is one of those shows where we wish all of our shows are like that, which it drives an audience and wins awards. So, we’re very pleased with it. And it’s one of those shows that has an interesting trajectory which is that it continues to build audience over time, and it’s just one of those — it just keeps building steam — and the awards certainly help. At the core of it, it’s been really great for our customers. So, we’re pleased with the audience.
QUESTION: Over here, to your left. Or to your right. Sorry. Can you talk about the new season of “Homecoming” and who might be replacing in a way the star power of Julia Roberts?
VERNON SANDERS: We’re having some really interesting conversations with the producers, and we don’t have anything to announce today. But what we can say is we’ve heard the creative for Season Two, and there are compelling parts and really propulsive, addictive storytelling. So, we can’t wait to bring it to you. We hope to have news on that sooner rather than later.
JENNIFER SALKE: There’s an opportunity for a star role in it, and there’s a list that’s being discussed right now with producers about how to go after that, you know, what the strategy is moving forward on that. But as Vernon said, the creative is fantastic and the rest of the cast is, you know, is there as well, so it’s exciting.
QUESTION: And is Julia Roberts still producing? Is she still involved in that way?
VERNON SANDERS: She is, yes.
JENNIFER SALKE: Yeah.
VERNON SANDERS: Yeah, she is.
JENNIFER SALKE: And Julia was always only intended to be in the first season. It was designed, and written, and conceived that way, so I don’t — that all pre-dated me, so I don’t know what the messaging was around that, but it’s not like Julia is stepping down. Julia is just continuing in the role — in the capacity that she had planned to from the beginning.
QUESTION: In the middle. Hi.
VERNON SANDERS: Hi.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the question about “Maisel.” Awards are great, and there certainly has been a lot written about the show, but not all of it has been positive. and there’s certainly been a lot of criticism, especially this past season. So, how much does that factor into the storytelling going forward, and do you talk to Amy about that?
JENNIFER SALKE: What criticism are you — what are you referring to?
QUESTION: There’s been problems with anti-Semitism claims, there’s problems with anachronisms –-
JENNIFER SALKE: Okay.
JENNIFER SALKE: I didn’t know if you were talking about some other creative criticism of it. No, the — you know, I think –- and Amy feels, and Dan feel very strongly about this –- this show is a love letter to the Jewish community. And they grew up — she grew up in that community, and she feels, you know, very affectionate toward that community. So, I don’t — we’re not worried about that, because we just don’t accept that the show is — the spirit of it, that it’s offensive in any way. But, you know, she’s aware of that and certainly they’re thoughtful about that moving forward.
QUESTION: In light of the Woody Allen lawsuit that was put before the federal court last week, do you feel that the cancellation of that contract could have been handled differently, and how so?
JENNIFER SALKE: I really can’t comment on anything about that. It pre-dated me and it’s, you know, now that it’s in litigation, I can’t make any comments on it at all.
QUESTION: Will we see “A Rainy Day in New York?”
JENNIFER SALKE: I can’t make any comments on it.
QUESTION: Right here in the center. “Romanoffs,” second season, any talk?
JENNIFER SALKE: We’ve talked, you know. That also was designed to be a one-season show. So, you know, Matt, we have a great relationship with Matt. We’re talking about that idea and other ideas that could come out of original –- new, original ideas.
QUESTION: On your left. A timetable for “Lord of the Rings?”
VERNON SANDERS: Wouldn’t you like to know?
ALBERT CHENG: Yeah.
VERNON SANDERS: (Laughs.)
ALBERT CHENG: We’d all like to know that.
ALBERT CHENG: We’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Since 2017, Amazon’s been stepping up in the area of live streaming of sports events, particularly Premier League soccer. Do you plan more expansion in that area? And then I have a follow-up.
ALBERT CHENG: Right now, I think with sports, for us as a company, we’re obviously in it and we’re experimenting. I think the most important thing that we’re trying to do is understand how our customers are responding to it. So as to what we’re gonna do going forward, you know, that’s still to be determined, but I think what we’ve seen so far has been good responses from our customers and what they’ve liked about –- especially Thursday Night Football and other things that we’ve started with sports. But, for the most part, we have — we’re taking a toe — we’re dipping our toe in the water at this point.
QUESTION: How do things stand with Netflix? Are there potential areas of collaboration? Do you feel you’re losing or gaining ground on the competition to acquire programming?
JENNIFER SALKE: Yeah, go ahead.
VERNON SANDERS: Yeah, we really — we’re so focused on what we’re doing with talent. I think by being focused on trying to be the best home for talent and creating great content for our customers, the — sort of focusing on what everyone else is doing is sort of not a priority for us. So, we really don’t spend a lot of time focusing on how we’re competing. Rather, we spend time focusing on how we can make our products better and make the experience for our customers and our talent relationships better.
JENNIFER SALKE: And there’s room, I mean, for everyone in the ecosystem. We’ll see when there’s more and more and more, you know, competition, as that’s gonna inevitably increase. But right now it’s, you know, there’s a lot of incredible talent that’s signing on to work with Netflix, and likewise Amazon. So, I feel like we just focus on the task at hand in our sort of curated approach.
QUESTION: On the right. Is there an ETA on the new season of “The Expanse?”
VERNON SANDERS: We are hopeful. We’re working towards having that new season before the end of the year. I’m proud to say that the show has come back strong, and we can’t wait for the fans of that show to see what their love has helped us build. So, we’ll have a specific date in the future, but we’re aiming before 2019, for that show to come out before 2019 is over.
QUESTION: What about the future of “Patriot?” Will there be a third season?
ALBERT CHENG: We haven’t made a decision on Season 3. I hope you like the show. It’s a personal favorite of mine. And one of the things that we have — we just have to see where the audience is, but we haven’t made a decision on Season 3 yet. So write, if you wanna, you know, just write more about “Patriot.” That’d be awesome.
QUESTION: At the back, on your left. Are you doing or interested in doing any non-English language scripted programming?
JENNIFER SALKE: Yes, we absolutely are, and there was a — there’s a release going out this morning on those 20 shows, many of which are non-English-speaking shows, the majority of them. We mentioned “The Power” this morning out of the UK, but we’re looking to make the same kind of noise and package big shows outside of the English-speaking territories, as well. So, yes, big –- definitely.
VERNON SANDERS: And quite frankly, that’s already been happening –-
ALBERT CHENG: Yeah.
VERNON SANDERS: — with “Breathe” in India, and there’s a number of those. And as Jen mentioned earlier today, the Russo Brothers series that we’re talking about, those international –- those shows that are produced in India and Italy will be a local language. So, it’s a big part of what we’re doing.
JENNIFER SALKE: So those shows, just to clarify, will be under the umbrella of the Russos and the creative team, but they will have their own local team of creators who are writing and executing those shows so that they are –-
JENNIFER SALKE: Somebody fell down back there.
ALBERT CHENG: (Laughs.)
JENNIFER SALKE: That they are, you know, that they are organic and appealing to the local market there, but they will inform and be part of the greater global show, that is an English-speaking global spy series. We just think that, you know, soon there’s a world where these hit shows can come from anywhere, so they can break through creatively. They could come from a number of places, including countries where, you know, English is not the language.
ALBERT CHENG: I mean, we definitely look at our entire service. We’re global. We’re a global network, and we’re going to be making shows for all of our customers, all around the world, and that includes both English and non-English. So, you’ll see the way we do our programming strategy that it’s really internationally approached, and we approach it from an international perspective.
QUESTION: Hi. Over here on your left. Are there any updates about “The Wheel of Time?” And since they have a production date, do you anticipate it premiering before “Lord of the Rings?”
VERNON SANDERS: Again, that’s a premiere date question, which I’m not gonna fall for. But we are building an incredible team on “Wheel of Time,” and again, if you sort of go back to the thing we’ve been saying and focus on making the creative best, we don’t have a specific timeframe for that series. But we’re excited about the team coming forward on that show and we’ll have more to share with you shortly.
QUESTION: Jennifer, here in the center. Your theatrical side has been a very big respecter of windows, but Netflix is shaking everything up with “Roma” foregoing theatrical release, etc., etc., etc. Do you foresee following a similar model like that for some of your theatrical releases? Not docs, I’m talking like full feature-length films where, you know, you skip theatrical or maybe you do a small qualifying theatrical and then put it right on the service. Is there talk about doing stuff like that?
JENNIFER SALKE: Yeah, this isn’t really the movie press forum, but I’ll give you just a little bit. The direct-to-service strategy for movies is happening. You could see we made a deal with Jason Blum. We’re releasing eight movies, direct-to-service. Nicole Kidman’s going to produce some movies for — there’s a lot, there’s going to be a cadence of movies that are going to be direct-to-service movies. Then there’s the theatrical-release movies. You just saw that we bought, you know, several movies in Sundance. And those movies have some flexibility within the deal-making that allows us to be able to have the best strategy to gotta those to our customers. So, if we feel like it’s warranted to have a theatrical release that’s a full theatrical release, we’ll do that. If it exists somewhere in between — we have the ability through our own distribution to be able to, you know, adjust those anywhere in between. So, I’m not going to say you wouldn’t see a model with a short window. You very well could. Then you’ll also see full theatrical and a bunch of things in between.
QUESTION: For any of you guys who want to answer, over here to the right. Hey, how you doing?
JENNIFER SALKE: Hi.
QUESTION: Can you guys talk about — you give your creators a lot of freedom, but do you sometimes give notes on things, maybe that might be sexually demeaning to women or things like that? I was thinking of “The Boys” which I really liked except for one part of it and so I was just curious.
JENNIFER SALKE: It’s a very hard thing to walk and we try to be very thoughtful about all of that. We don’t — you know, we have a collaborative relationship with our creators. That being said, as these things come up, we really make the best effort possible — and we’ve put systems in place to be able to have really thoughtful conversations around things like that. At the same time, you kind of walk this line of not wanting to sanitize things. So, it’s a really — it’s a very case by case situation. And often what you see — most of the time when you see something that feels like that, there’s been a lot of thought that’s been put into it.
VERNON SANDERS: Right. And I would just add in terms of “The Boys” we also, it’s a situation where we have to be respectful to the source material. And we’re having a panel later today so this may come up there, but you can bet that we spent a great deal of time of trying to find the right balance and make sure that what’s in the show feels like it has a real purpose even when it’s uncomfortable.
ALBERT CHENG: Just I want to add one more thing, too. One of the things that we pay a lot of attention at Amazon Studios is that we have those conversations within our company and talk about these things, to make sure that there’s all the representation that we need to have in that conversation. So, as a part of that process, you know, we want to make sure it’s thoughtful, but in addition to make sure that the voices that need to be heard are heard in that conversation.
QUESTION: Right in front of that one. Obviously with “The Power” and “Lord of the Rings” and some of these things, still adapting stuff is a big part of your strategy. Obviously, you have some originals still, but you know even going back to like “Bosch” that’s an adaptation that’s run for quite a while, how important is finding originals to you when you are a company that was sort of built off the back of a bookstore? You know, like how important is it to find originals versus just like well we have access to every book ever, you know?
JENNIFER SALKE: It’s a really balanced slate. I mean I think we love IP. We think, you know, we have some great IP that was already deals made that we’ve had that have been in development that we’re very excited about in the genre of sci-fi space. But we also have, you know, big original like global ideas like the Russo thing is not — Russo Brothers show is not based on anything but their own original idea. So, it’s really about a balance and we wouldn’t just pursue a remake of an IP for the sake of doing it. There needs to be some real creative vision behind it that excites us and a team that can execute. So, we like the strategy, but it’s part of a greater picture.
QUESTION: Hi folks, to your left over here. I know Jill is going to be here later in the day, but obviously there’s still a lot of question about the “Transparent” movie and what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to roll out.
JENNIFER SALKE: It’s going to look so good.
QUESTION: So there have been drips and drabs of sort of information coming out, but can you sort of clarify the decision to go with the movie to wrap things up? Is this truly the end of the story and how the character Maura is addressed? And, you know, some of the things that maybe we don’t know yet about “Transparent” the movie?
JENNIFER SALKE: I think she can talk more about it and you’re going to have an opportunity to talk to her. But I think you know for us, we would never have wanted to take a special, incredible show like that and just end it, unceremoniously. So, it was Jill’s idea to do a musical movie. And so, we signed off on that idea trusting her that she would come up with something incredible, which she did. And we, all three, sat in the front row of a run-through, a musical run-through of this movie where I was just — we were crying, people were — it is really special. So, I think it’s going to be an incredible — and not just special because it’s creatively so wonderfully done and such an incredible team executing it — it also like it brings the whole thing full circle at the end. I don’t want to give away much about it, but it does everything that you would want it to do or at least that we wanted —
QUESTION: I’m sorry, Jen. Are you going to do anything unique in terms of rolling it out, maybe even give it a theatrical run?
JENNIFER SALKE: We’re talking about all kinds of things. Believe me, I’ll just joke around. I asked her to come do a musical, do some kind of performance for you today and she’s like, “It’s a little early, we’re not coming out yet.” So, I think you can looking forward to us giving you like a look into that. And yes, there’ll be a lot of creative thinking about how to get the message out about event-izing that ending because it deserves to have a lot of eyeballs on it and it’s really, truly special.
TAMMY GOLIHEW: Hi guys, last question.
QUESTION: Over here on the left. On the heels of this new overall deal with the Palladinos, are there discussions or hopes to bring over the “Gilmore Girls” revival for another installment?
VERNON SANDERS: I don’t think that’s happened.
JENNIFER SALKE: I love the “Gilmore Girls”.
VERNON SANDERS: Yeah. And, you know, we are talking to Amy and Dan about a lot of things. I have to admit that hasn’t come up. But you know I do think it speaks to our overall philosophy when it comes to talent, which is we think it benefits us when we have talent that’s creatively happy and have opportunities to do many things. And so, we’re obviously proud of that association. And if that show were to continue and it isn’t for us, you know, we would obviously be happy to see that happen.
JENNIFER SALKE: Is that it?
ALBERT CHENG: Okay.
JENNIFER SALKE: Okay.
ALBERT CHENG: All right.
JENNIFER SALKE: Thank you, everyone.
ALBERT CHENG: Thank you.