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Amazon To Make Movies for Theater and Prime Video

Having shaken up the TV world recently with a pair of Golden Globe awards and a baker's dozen of TV-show pilots, Amazon is now getting into the movie business — promising about 12 titles per year. Production on the first films starts later this year, the company said in a release today (Jan. 19). Making feature films isn't unheard-of for an online network: Netflix, for example, is now creating a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But Amazon is unique in planning to release its movies the old fashioned way — in movie theaters.

Amazon isn't snubbing online distribution, though. In its release today, Amazon Studios said that it will bring its movies online to Amazon Prime within four to eight weeks. That's a lot faster, Amazon said, than the 39-52 weeks it cited as the typical delay between a theatrical and on-demand premier for movies today. 

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That quick turnaround makes sense for a few reasons. First, Amazon can't appear to snub subscribers who are spending $99 per year on its Amazon Prime subscription service — which includes access to Amazon Originals, as its homegrown shows are called. Also, not all movies get picked up by cinemas; and there's no guaranty Amazon's will. Going "straight to video" might not look as bad for a film that was destined to hit the download queue in as little as four weeks, anyway.

Amazon hasn't said when in 2015 that movie production will begin. Given the vagueness, it's possible shooting won't start till late in the year, meaning we can expect the first movies to premier in 2016. As for the style of films, Amazon provided only a platitude that many studios would aspire to, saying in its press release, "Amazon Original Movies will focus on unique stories, voices, and characters from top and up-and-coming creators." 

Amazon didn't say who those creators will be, but it did name the head of the venture: Ted Hope, who co-founded and ran production company Good Machine. Hope's venture produced some hit indie films including Edward Burns's 1995 debut flick The Brothers McMullen. Other big titles from Good Machine include American Splendor (about comic writer Harvey Pekar), Eat Drink Man Woman and — ironically — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Given Hope's background and the quirky style of Amazon's TV shows, it seems a long shot that Michael Bay will have anything in the first crop of films. 

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Sean Captain is a technology and science writer, editor and photographer.