1. Amazon Studios ventured into original programming
last year with two series, Betas and Alpha
House, and you’ve announced 10 more pilots.
How does your development process work?
We have sort of a hybrid process. We do development
in the traditional way—meaning we interact
with writers, producers, agents, managers and so on.
But also, anyone who wants to can upload a pilot
script to our website, and we will read those as well.
We’ve launched 24 pilots and two of those came
from the website, which is about eight percent. So
we’re happy that we have that source as well.
2. How do you decide which projects to move from
pitch to pilot?
We look at a couple of things. One is the kind of
shows our Amazon customers are responding to; we
develop projects with that in mind. Some of them
already come in script form, some we develop from
scratch. Then, using our audience as the guide, we
develop pilot scripts and produce pilots. We put the
pilots up on Amazon.com, and on Lovefilm in the
UK, so they have a public, international launch.
We take into account the feedback of our audience,
and pick some shows [to go on Amazon Prime].
Traditional networks do research and have input
from focus groups, so in a way our method is similar.
It just takes place in public and our feedback is
somewhat larger scale, but the goal is the same.
3. Netflix has made all episodes of their original
series available on the same day. How does your
distribution model differ from that?
That’s an interesting issue. There’s a period of time
when the studio is getting episodes from the producers—
let’s say that’s nine weeks. The question
is what should you do during that time? You can
release the episodes one by one like regular TV, or
you can withhold the episodes so no one can watch
them until they view every single episode. There’s
also a middle route: once you have three or four
episodes you release those, then wait until you
have a few more and release those as quickly as you
can. That’s what we did last season. We thought we
might as well get the show out to customers—the
sooner the better. I think that worked pretty well,
but we’re not religious about it. We might try other
ways. We could launch with one, or three, or five,
or all of them—but there is no scenario in which
we would have all 10 episodes ready to go and eke
them out once a week. That’s not how it works.
4. What’s the attraction of Amazon shows to the
creative community and directors in particular?
We don’t have a huge bureaucracy, and I think
people appreciate being able to go make the show
they want. I think that’s probably what the directors
would cite as being part of the appeal. We have a
smaller staff, so we don’t have a lot of time for instruction.
It’s best for people to show up knowing
what they want to do and having a vision for a great
show. We’re kind of matchmaking between talented
people and an audience that really wants to see
what they’re doing. Our job is more putting them
together rather than telling somebody how to make
a TV show.
5. What about the budget and shooting schedule?
Is that similar to more traditionally produced
I think what people find is that the budgets are good
and the schedules are permissive. We’re a little more
flexible on schedules in terms of when we need the
show. You want to shoot in March, or April? We
could probably work that out. It’s not that we have
a particular day that we absolutely have to have a
show. Our shooting schedule is definitely not faster;
you won’t have fewer days. I’m not saying we’re only
going to shoot two pages a day, but I think it would
be comparable to a premium cable show.
6. You seem to be working with established directors
as well as newcomers. Are any of your projects
Well, Michael Lehmann was in on the beginning of
Betas. Chris Carter directed his pilot for The After,
and Jill Soloway directed her recent pilot, Afternoon
Delight. We really are looking for a vision, so we probably do have more director-writer projects than a typical network.
For example, I would say that Lehmann on Betas and Paul
Weitz on Mozart in the Jungle have made tremendous contributions
to their shows. They may not have originated the show, but
they played a very significant role.
7. Do you see director-producers flourishing in this format?
I think people appreciate a cinematic feel, a distinctive look, and
texture for a particular show. It’s partly about the characters, partly
about the script, but it’s also about the direction—bringing it to life
and making it a show. With these cinematic serials, if you have a
director who’s also a producer and remains involved with the show
after the pilot in a significant way, then that is especially helpful in
this context. You really are trying to put something together that has
a unique feeling and keeps its tone from week to week.
8. Is there an afterlife or a secondary market for the Amazon
programming beyond what you do with it?
I hope so—that’s our intent. Obviously, we want first run, that’s why
we’re doing this. We want the shows to help make Amazon Prime
special, but after a period of time, we want the shows to be broadly
known and we’d love to have the economics work well and defray
the investment in the show. So if there are second-run U.S. opportunities,
we’ll definitely be pursuing those, as well as foreign and, of
course, DVD and electronic sell-through.
9. Do you see what Amazon and other Internet companies are
doing in creating original digital programming as complementary
or competitive with traditional television?
There’s a lot of TV out there and we’re just one provider of original
content. I don’t see it as something that is particularly competitive
or disconcerting for traditional networks. This isn’t 1967 when there
are two shows on TV at the same time and viewers either watch my
show or they watch your show. In this contemporary world, the dynamics
are not the same. I think people can actually watch both
shows and in a lot of cases, they will. So making the pie bigger.
10. Where do you see this whole arena of original Internet
I think it’s really liberating; there aren’t a lot of rules in this environment.
There’s really only one rule: create programming that customers
love and respond to. That opens up all kinds of opportunities
in terms of format, and tone, and what shows should be about.
To some extent that has been going on for a little while, but it has
sharpened now in an on-demand environment. There’s a call for
worlds that are distinctive, specific, and compelling. There is a
somewhat different dynamic and I’m sure it will bring some really
new and interesting things to television and the entertainment
world. I just don’t know yet exactly what they will be. I think this is
just the beginning—it’s going to be a very interesting ride that is just