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Behind Amazon’s Mini Musicals with Billie Eilish, HER, Kid Cudi




Even though some music fans may be exhausted from the direct performance livestreams after 16 months, no one at Amazon is going to bite the hook to hit the format – they’ve used it before and they just might end up using it again. . But for this Amazon Prime Day, at least, there was a clear mandate to take a different take on the all-star musical special that generally portends and promotes the company’s big sale event of the year. Their Prime Day special for 2021 brings together three of contemporary music’s most charismatic stars – HER, Kid Cudi and Billie Eilish – for what amounts to sumptuous mini-musicals.

The three specials in one special, all approximately 25 minutes each, begin airing today. They represent an unprecedented level of cooperation and synergy between Amazon Prime, Amazon Music and the division that produces original cinematic content, Amazon Studios.

If there was a fourth division called Amazon Travel, maybe that would be a part of that as well, given the unusual sets in all three of these films, all of which offer a ‘get me away from it all’ sense of escape. Only one takes place in a place viewers could actually visit: Eilish’s is set in Paris (although it was filmed on the Universal backlot). The other two take place in getaways accessible only by Hollywood magic: HER’s takes place in a former mecca of black culture in Los Angles, the Dunbar and Cudi’s hotel involves a trip to the moon.

The productions may seem lavish, but almost everything about them, beyond the initial discussions, took place over a period of roughly eight weeks leading up to the first week of June.

“The intensity of the work over the last couple of months has certainly been pretty significant – certainly production, filming over a few weeks, then post-production to edit and assemble the final piece,” Ryan said. Redington, vice president of music industry for Amazon Music. “Before that, there were a lot of conversations with, obviously, the artist management teams, the record companies and the artists themselves just around the creative ideas. And so there were legwork to be done before the real work hit the market. “

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HER in the Amazon Prine Day show
Lacey Terrell / Amazon Studios

I think they were ready to go. You know, sometimes the things that happen quickly, when you have artists in such high demand, are the best things. They have a window, they like the idea, they like the idea that it is in front of the paywall. They are delighted to have the creative freedom to execute something. And in the case of Billie directing, was Elena the only one who directed her play? It’s just an opportunity, and these things can come together in the lives of these busy artists who are so in demand, it’s almost like condensed time is an asset to that I think. It’s just my theory, but I think it can make things a little easier to just be like: here’s the commitment; we are inside and outside. And I think everyone felt really supported and confident that we would meet all the deadlines. It’s a very organized team across different parts of the organization. There is no shortage of support on this one to make it happen.

Jennifer Salke, director of Amazon Studios, doesn’t think at all of the process that almost all of the work on these films went through in April and May for a June premiere.

“You know, sometimes the things that come together quickly, when you have artists in such demand, are the best things,” says Salke. “They have a window, they like the idea, and they like the idea that it is in front of the paywall.” (Viewing for the next 60 days is open to anyone, Prime subscriber or not.) “They’re thrilled to have the creative freedom to perform something, especially in the case of co-directing Billie. When these things can come together in the lives of these busy artists who are so in demand, it’s almost like condensed time is a boon for that, I think. It’s just my theory, but I think it can make things a little easier to just be like: here’s the commitment; we are inside and outside. And I think everyone felt really supported and confident that we would meet all the deadlines. It’s a very organized team across different parts of the organization. There is no shortage of support on this one to make it happen.

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Kid cudi
Lacey Terrell / Amazon Studios

“If we told you that we finished filming on June 1 …”, explains Alaina Bartels, head of talent synergy and special projects for Amazon Studios. She lets the disbelief implied in that statement fade away. “It’s been a pretty crazy roller coaster ride. This idea was born, I mean, eight or nine weeks ago, and we really started running, and then we filmed in three weeks. “

Leaders all reiterate that artists took the lead on basic concepts, deciding what particular world-building niche they wanted to do. “Whether it’s Billie, HER or Cudi, we’ve really taken their lead,” says Salke.

When it came time to shoot, says Bartels (who works under Salke and ran the project), “HER, we shot on location at a few very historic bars in LA that really represent what it would be like to have the Dunbar Hotel still existed today. Cudi, we shot XR stages in Burbank. From a technical standpoint, this had the longest lead-in, as we create thousands of super high definition worlds in space that were then projected. It was really fun showing Cudi, because they were like, “This is what it’s going to look like when you get in the rocket. What do you think of the rocket? What colors do you want people to see you when you go into space? And I think everyone who’s a fan of Cudi, having seen him do different volumes of ‘Man on the Moon’, seeing him now in space is really amazing. And Billie, for Paris, we had an amazing set designer who really transformed the backdrop of Universal Studios into what this amazing world is.

Amazon Studios collaborated with Fremantle as producers on all three episodes, with Wolf & Rothstein also producing the HER and Cudi segments, and Mad Solar as an additional production partner on Cudi’s.

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Billie Eilish on Amazon Prime Day
Interscope / Amazon Studios

Collaborating within Amazon’s labyrinthine workings was as difficult as connecting with outside partners.

“It was pretty much a first in the sense that I think it was really the first time that Prime Video, Music and Amazon Studios had all worked together from the start on vision and creation,” said Salke. “And having the whole company work with artists to amplify these pieces that they’ve put together and that are so personal to all of them was what was different about that.… We are committed to aligning the different parts of our organization that are creative, which revolve around storytelling. Whether it’s IMDB TV or Amazon Music or Twitch or Books, we aim to work together collaboratively. And after entering a company that was very siled in its organizational structure, I think we have made great strides in aligning the creative vision in different parts of the business. I think you’ll see a lot more, even in terms of collaborations with fashion and other parts of the organization. “

Redington points out how different this concept is from the previous two Amazon Prime Day musical extravagances.

“For us, 2018 was the first time we really started having Prime Day related events. We had Ariana Grande headlining an event in 2018, and we were very pleased with it and had great customer feedback. In 2019, we really took it up a notch: we had Becky G, SZA and Dua Lipa, then Taylor Swift headlining. It was more of a concert-based livestream that was very successful and continued to receive excellent customer reviews. And in 2020, obviously, it was COVID, so we took a break to do anything on the entertainment side. And we spent some time thinking about something that could really cut and differentiate – and given where we are in the world and the unknowns several months ago still on how this was going to shake, we moved to love. , what if we could create an immersive experience, with truly creative artists?

Partly translated: If it seemed like live audiences might not be a thing in mid-June yet, what kind of musical experience wouldn’t seem to be missing an ingredient without one? Not that there were any regrets about planning to do something more conceptual that would leave the screaming devotees out of the picture. Redington doesn’t want to speculate that they might try to overtake him next year or just go back to performance-based form. “I don’t want to predict the future. I will say that we are happy with the outcome of this, and I suspect the fans and our customers will be too, so I can see this as something we could repeat in the future. But I hesitate to say it with certainty.

It is not the content that will necessarily live on forever. In 60 days, all three films will go from being free and accessible to anyone with web access to having no room at all. For now anyway, it’s so open-ended that Salke has to correct herself when she uses the word ‘customers’, since no one needs to buy anything or even sign up for anything. whether to see it. The head of Amazon Studios emphasizes “the inclusive nature of content and the way we reach customers in that way – or not even” customers. “With public. “Of course, if you happen to buy something while the end credits roll, that will have been a hell of a knockout.

Video content is currently available on Amazon-owned Twitch and IMDB, as well as the main site. The audio content was also released as three separate playlists.

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