Film and TV

Amazon Deems Local Filmmaker's Bigfoot Horror Comedy Cherokee Creek Too Offensive to Sell

Amazon Deems Local Filmmaker's Bigfoot Horror Comedy Cherokee Creek Too Offensive to Sell
courtesy the movie
When filmmaker Todd Jenkins released his independent horror comedy film Cherokee Creek last summer about a group of horny bachelors whose party in the woods gets crashed by a furious Sasquatch, he released it on his terms.

He controlled the script, filming and editing process. He chose the premiere date and theaters to screen his movie to his growing legion of fans. He controlled just about every part of the filmmaking process except for the things he couldn't, like the weather, scheduling and finding enough people who were comfortable doing nude scenes.

"You've got to give this guy props," said actor and Jenkins' friend Billy Blair shortly before the film's official premiere in July at the Angelika Film Center. "Director, sound guy, color corrector, editor, he did it all."

Jenkins built a healthy following with Cherokee Creek thanks to a creative social media campaign using the dim-witted kidnapper characters from the film, a series of well-attended screenings and old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Of course, the work didn't stop once the film finished its theater rounds.

Jenkins hired the video-on-demand distribution company Distribber to help him sell his film on some of the industry's biggest platforms, like Vudu, Google Play, iTunes and Amazon, for a Christmas Day release. According to an email sent to Jenkins by a staff member from the Los Angeles distribution company on Dec. 3, they confirmed, "We are good to go with 12/25 on all platforms."

Pre-orders even started in mid-December except for Amazon, something Jenkins and Distribber say they didn't learn until the release day.

"I started getting calls from fans who wanted to see it on Amazon," Jenkins says. "It came out on iTunes without any problem, but around 12:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, I started getting messages that it wasn't on Amazon."

It took a few days to get an answer from Amazon through Jenkins' distributor. Jenkins says the distribution company told him that Amazon chose not to sell Cherokee Creek on its website because "they said the movie is offensive."

"It made no sense to us," Jenkins says. "They've carried every movie that's been in the past recently, which have just as much language, gore and sex scenes as our movie. I thought if we would have trouble with anyone, it would be Vudu, which is owned by Walmart."

Amazon is the top e-retailer in the world. The online store generated more than $178 billion in total sales in 2017, including $13.58 billion from sales of films, TV shows, music, books and other media through its website, mobile app and Amazon Kindle devices, according to the consumer data company Statista.

Jenkins says he was upset. Not being able to sell his movie on the world's biggest online retailer gave him some serious reasons for concern about his film's sales.

"It almost feels like they're picking on us because we're an independent film," Jenkins says. "I've been trying to get answers since Dec. 25, and we're losing sales. We've got pissed-off fans who wanted the movie, and now they're starting to pirate the movie."

"For independent filmmakers like Todd, it's rather significant because they distribute genre content almost exclusively," says Michael Sorenson, Distribber's senior director of business affairs. "Companies are going to find more of a challenge with a platform like Amazon versus a smaller distribution company. Companies handling that kind of content are not going to have the same issues as the Amazon platform simply because their content does not contain the same extreme material."

Sorenson says the retailers Distribber works with have 30 contractual days to review any material they wish to distribute, but Amazon's review process is different from ones used by iTunes and Vudu because of its massive, global reach. The process also isn't evenly applied to all films that cross through Amazon's review department. 

click to enlarge Actor, writer and director Todd Jenkins sets up a scene in a wooded area of Melissa with actress Nellie Sciutto for his film Cherokee Creek that premiered last summer at the Angelika Film Center. - SUZANNE E. WILLIAMS/COURTESY TODD JENKINS
Actor, writer and director Todd Jenkins sets up a scene in a wooded area of Melissa with actress Nellie Sciutto for his film Cherokee Creek that premiered last summer at the Angelika Film Center.
Suzanne E. Williams/courtesy Todd Jenkins
"Amazon is a very big company even outside of their VOD platform, so oftentimes it takes their standards and practices time to catch up with the whole rigamarole of getting from point A to point B," Sorenson says. "Where the filmmakers of Cherokee Creek have some areas to complain, not all of these regulations are being applied evenly, because there are going to be films on services from larger distribution interests."

Many independent films like Jenkins' film have been cut down under the same ax of Amazon's definition of "extreme content" in movies, Sorenson says.

"This is more the expression of a greater concern that Amazon as a video-on-demand platform is expressing as they continue their global rollout," he says. "Right now as you're probably somewhat aware from the chat in the trades, VOD is now very competitive, and they are with the exception of Hulu expanding their footprint to global territories, many of which aren't English-speaking and require some sort of classification prior to films being listed for sale."

Jenkins and Distribber are engaged in an appeals process to get Amazon to reconsider its ruling from its standards and practices department that flagged the film sometime in December. Sorenson says it usually takes 30 to 60 days to get an answer. Meanwhile, Jenkins says he's also working to get his film on the streaming horror movie channel Shudder and the pay-cable channel Showtime.

"The good news is they [Distribber] are doing everything in their power to make it up to us," Jenkins says.

Jenkins says he hasn't received any word directly from Amazon but the specific reasons why they chose not to sell his film except through Distribber. Amazon also did not return requests to be interviewed for this story.

"Why are they picking on us?" Jenkins says. "What did we do to [make them] think our movie was so offensive, but they still carry all these other movies that are way more offensive? It's very confusing to us. We never anticipated Amazon being a problem ever because everyone said that Amazon is the easiest platform to get your movie on."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.