'Amazon Empire' Director James Jacoby on Bezos, Amazon, and Space


On this episode of ZUCKER, host Andrew Zucker is joined by filmmaker James Jacoby, a producer for FRONTLINE. Jacoby discusses his latest film, ‘Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos’ and the reporting process. Zucker asks about Bezos’s space ambitions, Amazon’s beginnings, and how Amazon hopes to grow in the future.

On what Bezos learned at D.E. Shaw: D.E. Shaw is a wildly successful hedge fund in New York. It was started by a computer scientist named David Shaw. And basically Shaw was one of the first computational hedge fund traders using algorithms and data in order to make trading decisions and very different from how Wall Street had been doing things in the past. And basically what Bezos learned was, one, how to think about the world in very quant-like terms and opportunities just with sheer numbers. But basically the big deal there was that David Shaw asked Bezos to look into what was becoming the World Wide Web at that point and e-commerce opportunities that didn’t exist yet.

On Amazon’s name: Relentless was one of the names he first thought of for the new company that he was starting up in the mid-90s when he moved to Seattle. He decided relentless wasn't a great name for a number of reasons. One thing is it connotes something I don't think he wanted to necessarily connote at the time. Also it starts with an ‘R,’ and in those days it was much better if you had an internet startup to start with an ‘A.’ So he started thinking of names that started with an ‘A,’ the first letter of the alphabet obviously. And Amazon — kind of this mighty river — came to mind as this idea that this is the place where he wants all goods on the internet and commerce on the internet to flow through his site, Amazon.

On how he structured the film given Amazon’s major story: That’s sort of the question that kept me up for the past eleven months was how in the world do I tackle this thing. Amazon, as you mentioned, is just in everything. It’s in e-commerce, it’s in cloud computing, it’s in AI, it’s in entertainment, so the way that I kind of figured out just the way to structure it is just simple — basically try to go with chronology as best as possible and try to kind of focus in on Bezos in the beginning and founding of this thing and a lot of those decisions and consequences of those decisions along the way. And that I think works for the most part, but it’s a huge amount of ground to cover. And it’s one of the things I’m proud about the film is that we really fit a lot of it in.