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Music Documentary Market Booms: 'It's a Land Grab Right Now'

Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Billboard

Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish attend Billboard Women In Music 2019, presented by YouTube Music, on Dec. 12, 2019 in Los Angeles.

Boom times are here when it comes to music docs.

On the heels of Apple TV+ ponying up a whopping $26 million for a film about singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and Amazon paying $25 million for a Peter Berg-directed Rihanna doc, dealmakers say the space will only get hotter.

In fact, sources say Peter Jackson's Let It Be Beatles doc, now making the rounds, is sparking a frenzy, with buyers predicting the price tag will eclipse the R.J. Cutler-helmed Eilish movie ($1 million more than originally reported).

"Everybody is talking to Jackson right now, and it ain't going to be cheap," says one buyer, who expects a deal to close early in the new year.

Just three years ago, Amazon paid $6 million for a Grateful Dead project, unheard of at the time but a sign of increased appetite in the space driven by streamers. For the Eilish film — said to have been negotiated by Submarine's Josh Braun and Lighthouse's Aleen Keshishian — Hulu and HBO Max were the most aggressive suitors besides Apple. (Ironically, Keshishian's brother, Alek Keshishian, directed the definitive pop star doc of the early 1990s, Madonna: Truth or Dare.)

Taylor Swift's Reputation Tour doc drew big numbers for Netflix, for years the dominant streamer in the subgenre, and it has her next film already in its stable. Sources say Miss Americana, which has its world premiere at Sundance in January, didn't fetch an astronomical figure like Eilish's because it was part of a two-film deal inked well before the current mania.

Ditto for Warner Bros.' August buy of Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars (for $5 million, says a source), which was modest but still a head-scratching move for a studio focused on big-budget tentpoles; the film made $3.6 million worldwide. But parent WarnerMedia wanted to stack the deck for HBO Max to compete with streamers already making inroads with music docs.

Fronting a music doc for a global platform reaps additional benefits. Just as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman boosted Queen and Elton John's catalogs, docs are driving more downloads and sales. Travis Scott's sales exploded after his Look Mom I Can Fly doc launched on Netflix in August.

"It's a land grab right now," says a dealmaker. "Every producer is trying to figure out what artist is next for a doc that will spark an eight-figure sale."

This story originally appeared in THR.com.


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