Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke Talks ‘Lord of the Rings,’ Sexual Harassment
At NBC Entertainment, Salke was known for bringing in hits like This is Us and the Chicago series. She previously helped shape hits Glee (Fox) and Modern Family (ABC).
In a series of interviews published by media outlets this week, Salke laid out her goals for Amazon Studios—from the broad (a more inclusive, diverse environment) to the specific (when the studio hopes to release the highly-anticipated Lord of the Rings series). Here are five major takeaways from her media blitz.
1. Shaping Amazon Studios’ culture
While Salke told The Hollywood Reporter that the environment within Amazon Studios was already changing by the time she arrived, she noted what she brings to the table when it comes to shaping the culture.
“Having somebody like me, who celebrates women and diversity, come in is a huge first step,” Salke said. “The fact that I’m also an accessible and transparent leader spoke volumes in the first days of being here. I had two or three weeks of executives and people across the company on my sofa, many of them women, talking about their experiences and how they were feeling and wanting to be someone who could listen and be an advocate for them.”
2. What she sees as her mandates
According to THR, Salke’s main goals are to create a collaborative workplace, churn out some hit shows, and become the “very best” place for talent.
“I’m a killer, and I’m ambitious, and I’m going to compete,” she told the New York Times.
3. The race for talent
Speaking of talent, with competitor Netflix snapping up high-profile creators like Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, and the former President Barack Obama, Salke acknowledges that there is intense competition for Hollywood’s best. However, she told THR that she believes there are plenty of talented folks looking for a home.
“A few months in, I’m not going to be publicly poaching,” Salke told the New York Times. But I’m going to be out there like I was with Jordan [Peele], proactively approaching people who are available or coming available.”
In addition to Get Out director Peele, who signed a deal with Amazon Studios last week to give it first right of refusal for any television show ideas, Salke mentioned talking with Law & Order creator Dick Wolfe. In terms of directors, Oscar-winning Moonlight director Barry Jenkins has also agreed to direct a mini-series at Amazon Studios. Meanwhile, Call Me by Your Name‘s Luca Guadagnino already has a project with the studio, as does This is Us’ Fogelman.
4. What’s in the pipeline for television — including Lord of the Rings?
Yes, the much-talked about Lord of the Rings deal has gone through, and the hope is that it’ll be on the air in 2021.
“We have an estate that’s very active,” Salke told THR. “I’ve spent three hours with Simon Tolkien. There’s a lot of moving parts with it. We’ll have some game plan to move forward with very soon.”
In addition to Lord of the Rings, other series are in the works. Jenkins will direct a mini-series based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad. Amazon Studios is also creating a series Modern Love with filmmaker John Carney, based on the New York Times relationship column. And it is moving ahead with The Expanse after the channel Syfy cancelled it.
Then of course there are returning shows including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which won a Golden Globe, The Man in the High Castle, and continuing with Transparent after its star, Jeffrey Tambor, was accused of sexual harassment on the set.
5. What about film?
Amazon Studios has released indie darlings like Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick, and according to Deadline, Amazon Studios wants to produce between 10 and 19 films annually. Some of that will be theatrical release, while other originals will go straight to online.
“I think it’s going to be a combination [of homegrown films and acquisitions,]” Salke told Deadline. “We’ve already met with multiple big studios on acquisitions and partnerships with them, in addition to overall deals that are going to be announced that encompass a film component. If Universal didn’t have a deal for Jordan Peele’s movies, that would be one. Creators, writers, directors, you’ll hear about some of those deals coming up shortly, for originals, and some that will go straight to platform.”
Amazon Studios films include Beautiful Boy produced by Plan-B, an English-language remake of Suspiria directed by Guadagnino, and a film written by Fogelman called Life Itself.