Amazon to produce original movies

Move over movie studios, Amazon plans to produce and distribute feature films

Move over, Hollywood movie studios.

Amazon.com is joining the fray with a hybrid approach to produce and distribute movies in a way that could challenge the film industry's long-standing business model.

The Seattle-based company said Monday that it plans to acquire and produce about a dozen "original, prestige" films a year -- about the same sized slate as some Hollywood studios. And just like its Hollywood brethren, Amazon plans to release movies in theaters first -- at least a month before making them available on Amazon's Prime Instant Video streaming service.

Movies will be offered online within two months after the movie theater premiere, Amazon said in a statement. Currently, it takes nine months to a year for a recent film release to wind up on a streaming service.

“We look forward to expanding our production efforts into feature films,” Roy Price, vice president of Amazon Studios, said. "Our goal is to create close to 12 movies a year with production starting later this year."

Amazon's effort could become a viable alternative to specialty studios, such as Focus Features or Fox Searchlight, that make a tidy profit out of finding and distributing independent films that increasingly have been cleaning up during awards season.

“Not only will we bring Prime Instant Video customers exciting, unique and exclusive films soon after a movie’s theatrical run, but we hope this program will also benefit filmmakers, who too often struggle to mount fresh and daring stories that deserve an audience,” Price said.

The major Hollywood studios, including Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, release their movies to the premium pay-TV channel HBO. However, two years ago Walt Disney Co. agreed to bypass its longtime premium pay-TV partner, Starz, and release its movies to Netflix beginning in 2016.

Amazon's strategy chases Netflix's move to also produce movies.

Netflix's first theatrical feature will be a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." That film, which is produced in conjunction with the Weinstein Co., is expected to become a summer release.

Netflix also signed an exclusive deal with Adam Sandler for his next four films.

The push from Netflix into the original movie world came after the streaming service found success with its original programming, such as "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black."

Netflix's method, though, will enlist a simultaneous release in theaters and on its site. Amazon's plan, while it also narrows the theater window, is more friendly to theater chains.

Amazon, which launched its original production business in 2010, said that Ted Hope will be in charge of developing films as head of production for the newly created Amazon Original Movies banner.

The announcement comes one week after Amazon made history as the first streaming service to win a Golden Globe for best television series. Amazon's "Transparent" won the statue for best original comedy.

“Audiences already recognize that Amazon has raised the bar with productions in the episodic realm, tackling bold material in unique ways and collaborating with top talent, both established and emerging," Hope said in the statement.

"To help carry the torch into the feature film world for such an innovative company is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility."

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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