Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reader question - Amazon Studios

Clint asks:

What is your take on the Amazon Studio project?

This is pretty much old news by this point, as seemingly every other blogger has had a chance to tackle this question. However, I recognize that some readers might not have seen those other bloggers or were just curious about my take on it.

And my take is: Skeptical. And suspicious. John August had a blog last week that nailed the factor that on its own would be a deal-breaker for me. Amazon's announcement said:

Amazon Studios invites filmmakers and screenwriters from all over the world to submit full-length movies and scripts, which will then get feedback from Amazon readers, who will be free to rewrite and amend. Based on reaction (“rate and review”) to stories, scripts and rough “test” films, a panel of judges will award monthly prizes.

And John asked this very, very significant question:

Do you really want random people rewriting your script?

Seriously, is anyone so desperate to "make it" as a writer that they'd bend over and take this affront? We're not talking about users giving the writer feedback which they are free to use or ignore as they see fit; we're talking about someone going in there and changing your words without consulting you.

Honestly, it would be like Project Wilson Phillips, but with a script that the original writer presumably put a lot of time and care into. Think about your most precious spec script. Think of the hours they spent laboring over every decision...

Now picture some jackass who reads it and decides that what this heartfelt tale of romance needs is more gore. Or a graphic anal sex scene. Or hell, what if the couple met at a neo-Nazi rally instead of a Starbucks? I'm sure that within a week, there'll be at least one script where the dialogue consists entirely of "Baba Booey!"

Do you really want your script treated with all the respect of the Wikipedia entry on "Joey Buttafuoco?"

Crowd-sourcing for creative ideas is an intensely dumb thing to initiate and it's even more useless to participate in. I've read scripts by the sorts of aspirings likely to participate in this. They suck. They have no original ideas, their dialogue is often hackneyed and atrocious and their plots make no sense.

I'm not attacking all aspirings, mind you. I'm just assuming that the better ones will have enough common sense to stay away from this.

I don't want to parse the legalese too much because I am not a lawyer. But it does give me pause to hand over a free option to a project for 18 months., and that can be pushed to a full three years for a mere $10,000. But look at how they word that:

Amazon Studios gets... with respect to your work:

•The exclusive right to buy it (and its associated rights) during the 18 month term of the option, for $200,000 plus other possible bonuses. We can extend this option another 18 months by paying you $10,000.

If you read that too fast, it looks like they're saying the option is $200,000. I'd like to think that wording isn't deliberately designed to confuse, but it does make one wonder.

If that's not enough of a deal breaker, their FAQ has another detail that might make some writers think twice:

So for 18 months after you create a project at Amazon Studios, you cannot display, sell or license your script or test movie elsewhere, or withdraw it for any reason. However, when the option term ends, if we haven't exercised our option and purchased your work, you will get back non-exclusive rights to your original material.

I also find this question and answer notable:

If I direct a winning test movie, and Amazon Studios makes a full budget theatrical film based on that project, do I get to direct that full-budget theatrical film?

Not necessarily. We hope to hire talent from Amazon Studios for any professional movies we make when we can but we want to be upfront that we can't guarantee this. Our priority will be to release the biggest and best movies possible with the cast and crew that promise the most commercial success.

So don't think this is the solution to all your Hollywood hopes and dreams.

And if that's not enough for you, check out Craig Mazan's take on the whole situation here.

Thanks for the question. Everyone else, feel free to keep 'em coming!


  1. Think twice? I barely thought once...gracias, pero no gracias amigo.

    There are short-cuts, but that takes guile and balls and perseverance. Not clicking away your work on the hopes that some corporation will drive the road for you...

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  4. well...perseverance isn't a short-cut...but continuing to think up schemes takes it

  5. Amazon Studios themselves can also edit and revise your script. I'm unsure if they edit/revise your script and end up using it if you get the full amount, or 50%.

    There's also the general rules section that most have ignored.

    Any user can outright STEAL whole scenes, characters, and dialogues from other scripts WITHOUT giving ANY credit to the original author.

    So, this is pretty much an "Anything goes" contest with the worst scripts ending up in the winners circle.

    Other problems:

    Anyone can vote/"review" your script at any time without even having read it.

    There doesn't seem to be any safeguards in place to stop rampant cheating/gaming of the rating system.

    I don't understand the motivation behind this contest. It was created either by a person who has never worked a day in his/her life, or by an evil madman.

    What Amazon has created is a creative BLACK HOLE. Anyone who submits their material to the contest is pretty much trapped forever in development hell incarnate.

  6. It seems like the distinguished Senator from... uh... somewhere... raises an interesting question:

    "Amazon Studios: Evil or Stupid."

    These terms are so insane that the only explanation is that if they're not evil, they're REALLY fucking stupid. And if they're not stupid, they're REALLY fucking evil.

    Credit where credit is due... I stole that whole bit from The Daily Show (Debate starts midway through this clip.)

  7. Really stupid. Evil is sneakier than that.


    I knew a fella who liked to fancy himself a bad boy. He'd post on his FB and tell everyone he couldn't help being "evil". He'd go for all the black clothes and dark images and whatnot...

    I ruined his life when I said "Hey poser...evil doesn't advertise." To prove my point I took $20 from his wallet and never told him about that or the time I tagged his sister...

    In my defense...he was a prick who sold drugs...and his sister ended up secretly dating me for a couple of weeks (I was nice to her..ish) before she got bored and found herself a typical abusive jerk...

  8. I just found a perfect example of the type of scripts that are going to be buried in the bog that's the Amazon Studios.

    Found on the Amazon Studios forum.

    "I have problem in converting or saving my text in rft formate because it has a picture and and in mixed Hindi and English languages. I sent it for publishing company as PDF formate and it turned out OKay. Also how can I reduce my 186 pages text into 160 pages. If you have any help please e-mail me at"

    Maybe Amazon studios is a good thing after all?

    "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." lol.

  9. Absolutely. Thanks to Amazon Studios, this writer will be able to resolve the only issue that has kept him from launching a screenwriting career thus far: lack of access to "industry pros."

    For those of you thinking that the forum posting quoted above by the Senator HAS to be a joke, you wouldn't be so quick to make that leap after doing my job for a month.

  10. Sounds like the place will turn into a much bigger cesspool than even Trigger street.

  11. The central question to consider is, would you throw your girlfriend into the midst of a horde of zombies in hopes she'll emerge with a makeover?