Amazon and Netflix acquire films at Sundance
James R | On 20, Jan 2016
The 2016 Sundance Film Festival may not start until 21st January, but streaming services are starting the party early, with both Amazon and Netflix acquiring films for distribution.
Netflix snapped up the worldwide streaming rights to Tallulah, starring Elliot Page. The comedy-drama follows a young drifter who takes a baby from a negligent mother, with Allison Janney starring as a woman who thinks she’s the baby’s grandmother.
The film is written and directed by Sian Heder, who has previously worked on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. With her first short film, Mother, picking up prizes at Cannes, Seattle and Florida festivals, Tallulah is one of the buzzed-about titles for this year’s Sundance, which, combined with her connection to Netflix, makes this a smart deal for the VOD giant.
The film is backed by Route One Entertainment, Maiden Voyages Pictures and Ocean Blue Entertainment, with Russell Levine, Heather Rae, Chris Columbus and Todd Traina credited as producers. The cast includes John Benjamin Hickey, Zachary Quinto, Uzo Aduba and Tammy Blanchard.
“Sian Heder is an exciting new voice in cinema and I am so proud to see her work continue from writing on the groundbreaking ‘Orange is the New Black’ to writing and directing this heartfelt crowd-pleasing film ‘Tallulah,'” Levine, CEO of Route One Entertainment told Variety. “Audiences worldwide are now going to be able to see Sian’s amazing growth as an artist through the support of Netflix.”
Netflix has also snagged the worldwide SVOD rights to The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd. The film follows a Ben (Rudd), who decides to become a carer for muscular dystrophy patient Trevor (Craig Roberts) to earn money following a tragedy. Together, they go on a road trip, becoming friends with Dot, played by Selena Gomez, along the way.
The Hollywood Reporter pegs the deal at almost $7 million, noting that the film may be the only title at this year’s festival featuring an A-lister. Theatrical rights are also still available.
Amazon has been equally active ahead of the festival proper, making its first Sundance purchase in the form of Complete Unknown, starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon (pictured above). The romantic drama, which follows a couple whose relationship is turned upside down when a former flame of the man reappears, is the latest project from Joshua Marston, who has enjoyed acclaim multiple times at Berlin International Film Festival in recent years.
Amazon’s deal has bagged the full US rights, reports THR, with plans to team up with a theatrical distributor to give the film a cinema release, before fast-tracking it to Amazon Prime Video.
The agreements note a major step forward for both streaming companies, which have previously struggled to sign up any titles. Netflix offered $5 million for last year’s Sundance opener, The Bronze, while Amazon bid “mid-seven figures” for Brooklyn. Neither were successful.
The acquisitions follow the launch of each VOD company’s film production arm, with Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq becoming Amazon’s first original feature last year. Netflix, meanwhile, has enjoyed another two nominations for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year, and has also premiered its first scripted features – Beasts of No Nation and Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6.
Both sites have equally star-studded names on their sides, from Brad Pitt’s War Machine on Netflix’s slate and Terry Gilliam joining Amazon’s, along with the recent acquisition of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, starring Adam Driver.
More importantly, though, the companies have also begun to negotiate the minefield of theatrical distribution – something that they were previously unable to offer in any convincing manner to producers at festivals. Amazon is teaming up with small distributors to release its films in cinemas, while Netflix’s deals tellingly do not include theatrical rights – giving indie films the chance to find a wide audience online with Netflix’s 75 million global members, but not give up the opportunity of a big-screen release.
The festival starts tomorrow and runs until the end of the month.