THE PRIME PURGE: HOW AMAZON PRIME IS CUTTING LIFELINES TO INDIE FILMMAKERS

 

 

Recently, genre fans flocked to Amazon Prime once word spread that festival darling (and my favorite film of 2018) ONE CUT OF THE DEAD was available for Prime streaming. It was joyous news that everyone would get to bask in the joy that the film is. That is, until it was made abundantly clear that the film was pirated and bootlegged onto the site by less-than-reputable characters, news that came via its overseas distributor, Third Window Films, on Twitter. One clear sign that the film’s arrival on Amazon Prime wasn’t on the level were the horribly offensive subtitles tacked on to the feature. To Amazon’s credit, they were swift, and removed the film immediately, but not before potential harmful ramifications could befall the film’s distribution in the United States.

 

Once it was clear that some films on the streaming platform may not be there legally, some folks began to watch content on the platform with trepidation. Between the murky audio and picture of some films, the disappearing acts of some rare deep-cut titles like FRIGHT NIGHT PART II and FADE TO BLACK — films plagued with tangled with messy rights issues, it became apparent that the requirements to upload certain films to the platform didn’t pass the sniff test.

 

In an attempt to curb the plague of piracy, Amazon began removing content but instead of using surgical precision to weed out the offending and unscrupulous content, they took a nuke it from orbit approach and began cutting content wholesale, content by indie filmmakers who use streaming platforms like Amazon to show their product off to the world, without them even getting the courtesy of being told their films were being removed.

 

Some of the filmmakers affected were indie maverick J.R Bookwalter, who had this to say:

 

“I wasn’t notified in any way, shape, or form… saw one or two other folks talking about it on Twitter last night, then checked my own Amazon Prime Direct account and discovered they had disabled seven titles in total:

BAD MOVIE POLICE CASE #1: GALAXY OF THE DINOSAURS, 

BAD MOVIE POLICE CASE #3: HUMANOIDS FROM ATLANTIS, 

BASIC HOW-TO HALLOWEEN MAKEUPS,

THE BRASS RING,

POISON SWEETHEARTS,

THE SANDMAN,

SHOCK CINEMA VOL. 2

The only common thread between these titles is that they were enabled for Prime as well as Rent/Buy, but then so are many of my other movies that have yet to be yanked… OZONE, POLYMORPH, SKINNED ALIVE, KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE, to name a few. (THE DEAD NEXT DOOR and ROBOT NINJA are not affected yet, however they are not enabled for Prime streaming, only rent/buy.)”

This is the exact “publishing error” message that Bookwalter received on each removed title:

 

Availability Issue: We are unable to offer this title on Prime Video because we found that the following title contains content that doesn’t meet our customer content quality expectations. As a result, all offers (Included with Prime, Buy, and Rent) have been removed from sale, and we will not be accepting this title for re-submission. This will not impact any royalties accrued through the date it was removed and will follow standard payment timelines.

 

“I don’t really buy the “content quality” excuse,” said Bookwalter. “Sure, HUMANOIDS FROM ATLANTIS is a terrible movie, and it looks/sounds bad because it’s from the original S-VHS edit master (it can’t be remastered because the original camera tapes were used to shoot part of OZONE! LOL), but then so is BAD MOVIE POLICE CASE #2: CHICKBOXER, which is still active. And one of the titles, POISON SWEETHEARTS, was shot and edited in HD less than a decade ago, so it looks better than most of the others that were pulled.

I have an email out to their support team, but judging from past experience and others who have already received a reply, I’m not hopeful they will reverse this decision. They’ve been quite clear in responses that there is no way to appeal the decision, so it appears they’re just looking to clean house wholesale. Seems rather random at the moment, but I suspect this is just the opening salvo… the same strategy happened with Netflix years ago, they used the indies to launch their streaming service, then cut us off at the knees as soon as they landed Hollywood content as part of a deal with Starz. And look where they are now.”

 

 

Additionally, Matt Storc had this to say:

“I heard about the whole purge through social media when I woke up today. Several of my friends has their films taken down. I went to check on my film, Take Back the Knife, and saw that it had been taken down today. No email, no notification, no nothing. I had to go to the landing page to see it had been taken down. When I went to my dashboard and hovered over the red exclamation point over my film’s title. I saw the “content quality” thing everyone has been posting about.”

 

Finally, indie filmmaker Henrique Couto detailed how his work got the short shrift from Amazon Prime:

“For the last two years, Amazon Video Direct (now Prime Video Direct) has been hassling independents about content. I had multiple times to appeal decisions such as rejecting films for “nudity and sexual content” when said films contained NO NUDITY at all. Those policies, of course, don’t apply to them hosting a film like IRREVERSIBLE or anything else with studio backing.

Now while it has been frustrating, by being polite and talking it out I’ve always been able to navigate my films back to the service.

Last night many of my films, including two that had JUST PASSED A NEW REVIEW BY THEM were taken down, but this time they were taken down with no option to attempt to republish or appeal. I was also never informed about them being taken down, Prime Video Direct never informs you when your films are down, they are just down until you notice it.

I contacted Amazon’s customer service, and this is the cold response I got:

 

“We are always listening to customer feedback and iterating on their behalf.

During a quality assurance review, we found that your titles contain content that do not meet our customer content quality expectations. This means a regular multi-factor review of the content we make available as Included with Prime, and this may mean removal of content which does not meet that bar from time to time.

As a result, all offers for your titles that have been removed will not be made available as “Included with Prime” or to Buy/Rent on Amazon.

Thanks for using Prime Video Direct.”

 

It makes it pretty clear they don’t want indies. They took down goofy comedies, horror movies, light-hearted films, and movies that have an extremely high-tech specs behind them. There’s no rhyme or reason, and they haven’t replied to me yet about what they mean by any of the politicking jargon they said.”

Mr. Couto’s titles affected by this Amazon Prime Purge were MARTY JENKINS AND THE VAMPIRE BITCHES, DEPRESSION: THE MOVIE, MAKING OUT, A RAUNCHY CHRISTMAS STORY, and BEACH BABE BINGO.

Since Amazon is not being forthright with these filmmakers on why their content is being cut from the site, multiple thoughts could be put forth on why. Is it that they don’t want content that they deem “low-rent,” or low-budget, especially given Prime’s ever-increasing popularity and awards-season prominence? Is it that these films don’t have verifiable sources to deem their legality on the platform itself? Is it worse that Amazon doesn’t have anyone to work with filmmakers when putting their content on or removing their content from the sites, or have someone sussing our rights? To that end, what are Amazon’s metrics on removing certain titles, but not others? Is there a budgetary threshold? Is there a ratings threshold? A numbers-viewed threshold? Hopefully, something will shake loose soon either way (steaming services notoriously decline to share their viewing data, only recently has Netflix started doing this). These filmmakers rely on streaming sites to both sell their films and get interest in their other works, so for a major platform to cut them off at the neck without a single word is damning in this day and age. Amazon owes them answers, and they owe their subscribers the same.

 

 

 

This article will be updated with further information. Thank you to Matt Storc, J.R Bookwalter, and Henrique Couto for their input.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update:

 

Filmmaker Richard Waters reached out via email and told us how the purge is a pain point for him:

“ I am an indie filmmaker from Ireland who had a making-of doc called Horses for Moths: The Making of Sodium Party removed. There’s no nudity or violence, and technically it was sound (I should know, I cut and finished the damn thing and have worked in TV for the last six years).

As sad as it is, this title never particularly performed (which always stung), but right now, I am terrified the biggest title I have, my new horror vilm, IN A STRANGER’S HOUSE, will meet a similar fate. It is performing well and getting review engagement, but without any idea of how Amazon are judging what to leave and what to pull, I worry I will wake up in the morning and it will be gone, with no way to appeal. The film was a passion project made after years of frustration trying to secure funding and had been doing well enough that I was able to gear up to do another film because of it, but those plans were based on the future income from it, and now, well… I don’t know… This could be crippling.”

 

 

 

Update II:

 

Filmmaker Eric Stanze (DEADWOOD PARK, IN MEMORY OF) spoke with Daily Grindhouse:

 

“We had a documentary (WELCOME TO EIDOLON CROSSING: The Making Of DEADWOOD PARK) pulled off Amazon Prime. No nudity, gore, violence, so that seems to not be a factor. Waiting to see what happens next. We just submitted our new film, IN MEMORY OF to Prime three days ago, still has not gone up, but dashboard says it is still “publishing.” Overall, it is a dick move on Amazon’s part, given the fact that Amazon PR has pushed the fact that the site promotes small business, not just the mega-corporations.  I know the major studios have been vicious toward indie films when it comes to theatrical. So one wonders if Hollywood has influenced Amazon to take this path.”

 

 

 

 

Update III:

 

Filmmaker J. Horton told Daily Grindhouse: 

 

“I had two movies removed (MONSTERS IN THE WOODS and RISING UNDEAD). One was admittedly low quality. The other distributed prior to Amazon by a regular distributor… [it] passed quality control and was doing good sales.”

 

 

 

Filmmaker William Hopkins poses this theory: 

 

“They’ve always had a preference for dealing with middlemen: distributors, aggregators, wholesalers, etc. I know this from my experience trying to get them to carry the DVD of my film. They refused to buy from me and instead referred me to one of their “preferred vendors.” (Who turned out to be a crook, but that’s another story.)
Originally Amazon opened up their Video Direct platform to everyone because they wanted to have quick access to a lot of content they wouldn’t have to pay high licensing fees for (and content that for the most part wasn’t available on Netflix.) Now that they’ve reached their goals for Prime memberships, and they’re having success with their own high-budget, high-quality productions, they may not want to be bothered dealing with individual filmmakers anymore. Also, maybe they don’t want so much cheap indie stuff competing with Amazon Studios productions on their own platform.
For some of the filmmakers who’ve had their films pulled down, it might be possible to get back on Amazon by going through companies like Filmhub. I’ve had a fairly good experience with them.”

 

 

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is a Dallas-based writer of both films and of Internet goings-on. He's also in a movie on Netflix, but won't tell you the title, for fear of transmitting a RINGU-type curse into your home. He can be found on Twitter as @madmanmarz81.
Nathan Smith

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