Movies spark all kinds of magic. For Julie Rapaport, head of Amazon Movies, the collaborative magic that goes on behind the scenes is reminiscent of days spent at the camp her family runs in her hometown in Maine.
“I’m a camp counselor at heart,” said Rapaport, who taught waterskiing for multiple summers. “And sometimes being on a set feels a little bit like movie camp, which is one of the special pieces of making movies.”
Reporting to Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, Rapaport took the solo reins of the film division this March after her former co-head, Matt Newman, transitioned to a new role creating content for the company’s global sports group. Top of mind for her these days is breaking through in a crowded marketplace of consumers with increasingly shorter attention spans.
“I think that bar to create distinct content is going to continue to be higher,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s a real opportunity to make things that will grab that attention and spark that conversation, and that do feel special enough to have that ripple effect that creates the urgency to watch.”
For Rapaport, the solution is balancing niche films that bubble up among select audiences and a hefty serving of more general-interest fare that can grab headlines come awards season. Amazon Prime Video was the first streaming platform to take home Oscar statuettes back in 2017, two for Manchester By the Sea and one for foreign-language film The Salesman. Sound of Metal won for best sound and best film editing last year.
“We always look at our slate holistically because we want to make sure that we’re making movies that can serve all our customers,” Rapaport said. “Of course, awards content is part of that, and so is championing new and diverse filmmakers and bringing in new audiences. It’s OK if not everyone loves something, but if we know there’s a certain audience that’s going to love something that’s what drives us to get excited about it.”
As a new mom, the swath of stories that excite Rapaport these days is expanding. “I had a baby during the pandemic and having her has inspired me in a new way,” she said. “I’ve always loved storytelling but I didn’t know being a mom would affect the type of stories that touch me in a whole new way.”
Among those she’s currently jazzed about is director Carey Williams’ comedic thriller Emergency. It’s based on his 2018 short that was the opening-night film at the Sundance Film Festival this year and received accolades there (including an award for screenwriter K.D. Davila) and at South by Southwest. The film — which follows three college students, all men of color, who must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unexpected situation — opened in theaters May 20 before its May 27 Prime Video debut.
“It’s a special movie that could create that cultural conversation but is also really funny and has something to say,” she said. Also upcoming are the Harry Styles starrer My Policeman and Catherine, Called Birdy with Lena Dunham.
Finding the Right Mix
Rapaport also balances the scales when it comes to producing films or acquiring finished titles on the market.
“We look at projects at all stages, and it really is about the timing of the project and when it might make sense for us or not,” she said. “We might hear a pitch, we might read a script, we might see footage, we might see the finished film. I sometimes say, 99% of the films we acquire we actually passed on at an earlier stage because it didn’t make sense for what our needs were at the moment.
“Our goal is to be able to not rely on the market, but of course we’re always going to be opportunistic because there are always going to be things available on the acquisition side as well.”
As Amazon’s international markets expand, so too does Rapaport’s palette.
“For my team the focus is, how are we making things that have a real potential to break out in the U.S., and then we can partner with our different teams in local languages to look at, is this a story line that works?” she said. “And how can we be collaborative in delivering that great content internationally.” ▪️
Cathy Applefeld Olson is a seasoned entertainment, media and culture journalist, and producer of video content and events. Through her continuing coverage in publications including Forbes, Billboard, XLive, Cynopsis, Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News, Cathy reports on evolving industry trends and personalities in business, branding, talent and technology. A passionate believer in the power of culture influencers to elevate well-being, Cathy recently launched the Forbes column Hollywood & Mind, which features interviews with entertainers, sports figures, executives and others who are boosting the conversation around mental health. She also works with music and wellness community Myndstream, for which she writes the monthly State of Mynd blog.
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