According to Variety.com, Academy Award-winning producer/writer/director Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight“) and his PASTEL production banner have landeda first-look television deal at Amazon.
Jenkins is planning to direct the entire limited series “Underground Railroad” at Amazon, based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning novel from 2016. Under the deal, Jenkins will exclusively develop television series for Amazon Studios.
“Barry is clearly a master of groundbreaking, authentically emotional storytelling and we are so proud to have him share that gift with us,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios. “We are incredibly fortunate to have also secured his directorial vision for the entire limited series The Underground Railroad.”
“We at PASTEL are excited to continue our Amazon relationship begun on ‘Underground Railroad’ and look forward to growing that partnership on projects near and beyond,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins’ feature film debut, “Medicine for Melancholy,” was lauded as one of the best films of 2009 by The New York Times. He recently debuted his latest film, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” based on James Baldwin’s novel and starring Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry, at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. The U.S. release in theaters is scheduled for November 30 of this year.
Former NBC executive Vernon Sanders has joined Amazon Studios as co-head of television, according to Variety.com. He will oversee creative and production units for Amazon Prime Video.
Sanders will head the TV division with Albert Cheng, who was hired during a reorganization of Amazon’s entertainment division under new top executive Jennifer Salke in April. Cheng also serves as Amazon Studios COO. “I’m thrilled to announce Vernon Sanders’ appointment to Co-Head of Television for Amazon Studios,” said Salke. “Vernon’s undeniable expertise in nurturing talent and creative material will be a huge asset to our studio. Having worked side-by-side with him for seven years at NBC Entertainment, I can speak first-hand to his talents as a leader and creative force. I know Vernon and Albert Cheng will be a formidable team as we continue to build Amazon Studios.”
At NBC Sanders held posts as executive vice president of current programming and executive vice president of comedy. He also has experience in drama-series development, having been senior VP of drama at the network and sister studio Universal Television. “I am tremendously excited to be joining Jennifer Salke, Albert Cheng and the forward-thinking team at Amazon Studios as they build an incredible destination for high-quality, compelling content,” Sanders said. “My time as a producer has reaffirmed my passion for working closely with creators to champion shows which delight and surprise our audiences. I’m grateful to my family at NBCU for their support as I jump into this new challenge.”
Among the series Sanders worked on while at NBC are “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Friday Night Lights,” “This is Us,” “The Blacklist,” “The Good Place,” and the revival of “Will and Grace.”
by Nellie Andreeva (with Mike Fleming) via deadline.com
A century and a half after slavery was abolished in the U.S., the wounds left by one of the darkest periods in American history are far from healed, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding the recent announcement of HBO’s upcoming drama series Confederate, from Game Of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, which explores an alternate timeline of seceded southern states where slavery is legal and has evolved into a modern institution.
Another alternate history drama series, which has been in the works at Amazon for over a year, also paints a reality where southern states have left the Union but takes a very different approach. Titled Black America, the drama hails from top feature producer Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like A Man) and Peabody-Award winning The Boondocks creator and Black Jesus co-creator Aaron McGruder.
It envisions an alternate history where newly freed African Americans have secured the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama post-Reconstruction as reparations for slavery, and with that land, the freedom to shape their own destiny. The sovereign nation they formed, New Colonia, has had a tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship with its looming “Big Neighbor,” both ally and foe, the United States.
The past 150 years have been witness to military incursions, assassinations, regime change, coups, etc. Today, after two decades of peace with the U.S. and unprecedented growth, an ascendant New Colonia joins the ranks of major industrialized nations on the world stage as America slides into rapid decline. Inexorably tied together, the fate of two nations, indivisible, hangs in the balance.
The Packer/McGruder project was announced back in early February, but at the time, it was untitled, and the producers would not divulge any details about the storyline beyond it revolving around an alternate universe in the vein of Amazon’s flagship The Man in the High Castle. It was HBO’s announcement of Confederate this month that prompted the Black America team to reveal the project’s premise.
“It felt this was the appropriate time to make sure that audiences and the creative community knew that there was a project that preexisted and we are pretty far down the road with it,” Packer told Deadline. Black America, which Packer said is in “very, very active development” with McGruder “off and writing,” originated at Amazon Studios. The service’s head of content Roy Price called Packer more than a year ago while the producer was on the set of his latest box office hit, Girls Trip.
Price soon reached out to McGruder with whom Packer had briefly worked in the past on Think Like A Man and had been looking to team up again. “Being a fan of Aaron, I thought he definitely had the right tone, the right voice, the right wit to handle a project like this,” Packer said. “Aaron and I sat together and talked about what a huge opportunity and responsibility it would be to do this project and do it right.” As for the tone of the hourlong series, it’s “a drama, but it wouldn’t be Aaron McGruder without traces of his trademark sardonic wit,” Packer said.
Black America creates the kind of utopia that has been on the minds of generations of black Americans for whom the series may have a sense of wish-fulfillment. “It was something that was personally intriguing for me as a black American,” Packer said. “You would be hard pressed to find many black Americans who have not thought about the concept of reparation, what would happen if reparations were actually given. As a content creator, the fact that that is something that has been discussed thoroughly throughout various demographics of people in this country but yet never been explored to my knowledge in any real way in long-form content, I thought it was a tremendous opportunity to delve into the story, to do it right.” Continue reading ““Straight Outta Compton” Executive Producer Will Packer and “Boondocks” Creator Aaron McGruder Reveal Alt-History Drama “Black America” in the Works at Amazon”→
“Moonlight” director and Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins will write and direct a one-hour drama series about the Underground Railroad currently in development at Amazon. The series will be based on Colson Whitehead’s best-selling book, “The Underground Railroad.”
“Going back to ‘The Intuitionist,’ Colson’s writing has always defied convention, and ‘The Underground Railroad’ is no different,” Jenkins said. “It’s a groundbreaking work that pays respect to our nation’s history while using the form to explore it in a thoughtful and original way. Preserving the sweep and grandeur of a story like this requires bold, innovative thinking and in Amazon we’ve found a partner whose reverence for storytelling and freeness of form is wholly in line with our vision.”
Published by Doubleday, “The Underground Railroad” has sold over 825,000 copies in the United States across all formats. An Oprah’s Book Club 2016 selection, New York Times bestseller, and the winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, the book chronicles young Cora’s journey as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. After escaping her Georgia plantation for the rumored Underground Railroad, Cora discovers no mere metaphor, but an actual railroad full of engineers and conductors, and a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.
This will be Johnson’s first attempt at directing a TV series in its entirety. He recently directed an episode of the upcoming Netflix adaptation of the film “Dear White People,” and previously directed one episode of the PBS series “Futurestates.” Jenkins’ Pastel Productions will executive produce along with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment. Pitt and Plan B also produced “Moonlight.”
According to Variety.com, Chris Rock has signed with Netflix for two new stand-up comedy specials. The two-special-deal is reported to be worth $40 million. Amazon, Hulu and HBO — where Rock has a long history, starting with his late-night series “The Chris Rock Show” — were also bidding for the specials.
The Netflix specials mark Rock’s return to stand-up after an eight-year hiatus – his last being 2008’s “Kill the Messenger,” which aired on HBO. Most recently, the comedian hosted the Oscars in January of this year.
“Chris Rock is a beloved actor and director, and his remarkable stand-up makes him comic royalty. There is no one like him, and Netflix offers the global platform and creative freedom that will serve as a perfect home for someone with his incredible talent,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer.
Rock commented, “I’m very excited to be working with Ted and Lisa and all the good people at Netflix. I can’t wait to get back on stage.”
Aside from the 2016 Oscars, Rock recently had a guest-starring role on Fox’s “Empire”, and directed HBO’s comedy special “Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo.” Some of this Emmy and Grammy winner’s most notable credits include “The Chris Rock Show,” his scripted sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” which he created and narrated, “Saturday Night Live” from 1989 to 1993. On the film side, he starred in “CB4”, “Grown Ups,” Top Five,”, “I Think I Love My Wife,” “Down To Earth” and the “Madagascar” franchise.
An Amazon engineer hailing from Detroit has a novel idea for that city’s unused school buses: turn them into mobile tech labs.
Thomas Phillips presented his idea at last month’s Hack the Central District Cultural Innovation Conference (Hack the CD) in Seattle, according to The Detroit Metro Times. The Aspire Tech Bus would be a school bus modified into a mobile tech lab. In this lab, students will work on coding projects as an actual software development team.
The planned curriculum includes two 16-week courses, in total. The mobile lab students will receive a Raspberry Pi computer. By the end of the program, they will have a portfolio of coding projects to present to potential employers.
“I envision this project as a ‘high-tech, voc-tech,’” he says, as giving students high-tech skills before college will better position them for success. “Some of them will choose to pursue their education further at the college/ university level, others will venture into the entrepreneurial sector. Both of these have far reaching implications that reverberate across the world,” said Phillips at the event.
Phillips’s project has already attracted attention, and he will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign for more support. “I want to drive around to different locations in the city and teach web development or other advanced STEM programming concepts to kids in Detroit,” he said in an interview. His goal is to eventually roll out his program to other underserved communities and school districts.
One Brooklyn eight-grade student has turned her hobby into an early profession, granting her the title of published author. 13-year-old Angela Content says reading is one of her favorite activities — so much so that she decided to write her own stories that have now turned into two self-published books.
Angela’s mother, Marie Content, told CBS New York that she had no idea her daughter was serious about becoming an author until she approached her one day and was surprised to hear the news.
“At first she said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to write a book. I’m writing my own book,’ I said, ‘OK.’ She said, ‘I’m going to publish it.’ I said, ‘OK,’” Marie Content told CBS.
“And then finally one day she said: ‘Mommy, my book is going to publish. I already transmitted everything — it’s going to take 24 hours, they’re going to review it. I said, ‘OK,’” Marie Content said. “And then the next day, I heard it’s on Amazon. I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’”
Angela has written two books: one is a sci-fi fantasy titled “Awake and Alive,” and the other is a romance novel titled “Shattered.” Each book reportedly took her three month to write, with her latest novel reaching just over 200 pages. She also writes the stories by hand — and explains that doing so helps create a constant flow of creativity.