This year, Amazon has made a bold entrance into the Oscar scene thanks to Manchester By The Sea, a Best Picture contender it has distributed domestically. Manchester originally premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and at the 2017 edition of that event, Amazon is once again courting independent filmmakers. It has offered $100,000 and an increased royalty rate to narrative filmmakers who choose to upload their movies to the less-than-a-year-old Amazon Video Direct service.
The offer also extends to documentarians and world filmmakers, though the payouts — $75,000 and $25,000, respectively — are lower. Any creator who takes this deal and uploads his or her Sundance film to Amazon Video Direct will earn 30 cents for each hour of watch time that film generates; that rate is double the 15-cent hourly royalty paid to other Direct uploaders. In return, participating filmmakers must make their work available on Amazon for two years, with at least a year of exclusivity.
Amazon paid $10 million last year for the distribution rights to Manchester By The Sea, so its five-to-six-figure offers aren’t exactly going to pick up any Oscar contenders. Instead, Amazon is hoping to use its Sundance pitch to build a wide library of quality films. “We recognized that the majority of films screened at major film festivals don’t secure full service distribution deals and Amazon Video believes these high-quality films deserve an opportunity to be made available to a large audience,”Amazon Video Direct exec Eric Orme told Deadline, which first reported the Sundance offer. “The Sundance Film Festival provides an excellent opportunity to reach filmmakers who are interested in the self-publishing route to getting their films in front of a large and engaged audience – millions of Amazon Prime members.”
Amazon’s strategy mirrors the one used by Vimeo, which previously went to the Toronto International Film Festival to make financial offers to aspiring filmmakers. Vimeo has not entered the awards season race, but it has cultivated a strong relationship with its stable of indie filmmakers, and it has in turn used those relationships as a bargaining chip in other deals. Amazon could be looking to strengthen its own indie cred, while also giving its Prime subscribers plenty of new material to check out.