Amazon's Sarah Hamilton on Wes Anderson, Barry Jenkins and Movies That Change the World
Sarah Hamilton is group creative director at Amazon Studios, responsible for leading creative teams on 360-degree marketing campaigns for Amazon Original Series such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Carnival Row, The Man in the High Castle, Hanna, The Underground Railroad and an exciting upcoming fantasy franchise.
Sarah studied drama at Vassar and was really hoping to be a Rockette. Instead, she settled on being employed. Over the course of her 20-plus year career, she's won the industry's top awards, plus Annie Leibovitz said her ideas were "viable" and Dave Letterman said she was "funny."
We spoke with Sarah for our Backstory series, where we chat with folks in the entertainment industry about their creative inspirations and more.
Sarah, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in a tiny antebellum town in Georgia, and I live in Los Angeles now with two kids, one dog and a million shoes.
Your first job in the industry.
I started as a PA at Cartoon Network, at its launch. There were only a handful of us—young troublemakers who had complete creative freedom, a wholly owned library of material, and the low expectations of everyone around us. All the ingredients for lightning in a bottle.
A breakthrough moment in your career.
Many years ago when I was at ABC, I shot a comedy spot to air in Monday Night Football, and for the pitch, I wrote a song with custom lyrics and sang it while dancing a cheerleading routine. In addition to learning that I clearly have no shame, it was pivotal because it proved to me that I could infuse all the things I love into work that's still commercially effective and strategic. That's how you start to develop a signature style. From the E! black-white and pop of color brand, to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's pink and frothy fun, to a tightly choreographed train sequence in a Carnival Row tease, to an unexpectedly female-forward Hanna Super Bowl spot—I try to incorporate my personal passions into each.
Three movies you couldn't do without, and why.
It's physically painful to have to choose, so I'm going to cheat:
● All things Wes Anderson—Rushmore/The Life Aquatic/Royal Tenenbaums/Moonrise Kingdom. I don't think I've ever done a mood board without at least one frame of his as inspiration. From palette, to texture, to composition, to lighting—he is a master of designing a shot.
● Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki. This movie is totally unique. I've watched it probably 25 times and each time I discover something new. Sen is such a resilient and empathetic heroine, and I love the idea that we should treasure unlikely places and things because spirits might exist there.
● Movie musicals! Sweeney Todd, Grease, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Funny Girl. I've loved Broadway since I was a toddler, so to me, the best movies are ones you can sing along to—especially with 15,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl.
● Honorable mention: Dirty Dancing. This movie shaped me, literally. It inspired me to be a dance instructor at a camp. Yes, I got in trouble for teaching second graders to dirty dance—but I had Baby's abs for a whole summer. I miss those abs.
Your favorite movie quote.
The Devil Wears Prada, from the incomparable Meryl:
Miranda: "You have no style or sense of fashion."
Andy: "Well I think that depends on..."
Miranda: "No, no—that wasn't a question."
Your favorite movie trailer or poster.
Because I will always be a writer first, one of my favorites is The Social Network. With Frank Ockenfels' photography and Neil Kellerhouse's design, this one was unforgettable.
A classic TV show and a recent TV show that you loved.
● Classic: Mad Men. The ad campaigns! Don's big ideas, Peggy's copy, and Betty's dresses. Dreamy.
● Current: Insecure. The authenticity of the friendships; the writing, music, and style. So good.
A recent project you're proud of.
Even though I can't show any marketing pieces yet, my team and I have been working on the campaign for The Underground Railroad, which is based on the novel by Pulitzer-winning author Colson Whitehead and directed by Barry Jenkins. I'm proud of Amazon Studios' partnerships with diverse content creators; it's a daunting but welcome challenge to create a campaign worthy of such an impactful series at this important time in our history.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
I really admire the campaign for The Boys Season 2, led by my friend and colleague Leigh Anne Gardner. She captured the show's irreverence and embraced its delightful offensiveness. It was bold and brave, like she is.
One thing about how entertainment marketing is evolving that you're excited about.
The most exciting thing in the evolution of marketing is that it's really beginning to speak to and represent all audiences, not just one or two. We have the great responsibility and privilege not just to reflect culture but to actively impact it and change it for the better.
What would you be doing if you weren't in entertainment marketing.
I would try to combine all the things I love: music, fashion, art, theater, dance, activism, and altruism. Which means I'd have to write and choreograph a Broadway musical about RBG and then give all the proceeds to charity. Nobody steal my idea!