There are a number of things with this release that concern me. I and a few other screenwriters have noted that Amazon Studios' press release does not ONCE mention the writers who originated the project Gregg Ostrin & Michael Weiss. (Their names are equally absent in stories running in each of the four major industry trade sites. So much for "reporting.") In fact, I can't find any sort of press release from Amazon Studios that announces they've actually purchased the script from the writers!
I read this script for work in late 2010 (and it was NOT suitable for consideration at the company where I read at the time.) The AS page for the script shows that it was uploaded to the site in December of that year. This means that the script is outside the 18-month "free option" period. However, the old rules did allow Amazon to renew that option at the price or $10,000 and retain the script for another 18-months. I'm going to assume that's what happened here.
The script never won the monthly or yearly contest, so under Amazon's rules, they didn't have to pay out the $200,000 figure they named as the purchase price for the screenplay.
I reiterate, these are the facts, and they are not in dispute.
A reader calling himself "Dr. Nevsky" has kept a close watch on the contest and sent me a helpful email that, if nothing else, should provoke some thoughts.
The two original authors submitted the ZvG script out to all of the studios in 2009, as at least one of them is repped. All the studios passed. They entered it into the Amazon Studios contest where it never won any prize. Then, all of a sudden Amazon announces that they want the unwashed masses to take a crack at a rewrite of the script and they announced that the script was in development at Comic Con last year.
Amazon gave vague ideas of what they wanted, and several writers did a full, page one rewrite, which was needed, and Amazon ignored those rewrites and awareded the prize to the writer Lauri who's ZvG revision involved curing the zombies of their, umm, being dead, with arrows dipped in human tears, or some shit like that.
It was said that Amazon themselves tried to make a test movie but were having problems with the third act (there wasn't a third act, it sucked.) So apparently Amazon realized that the ZvG project wasn't working in any of its iterations and obviously they decided they liked the ZvG CONCEPT, but not the original script, or any of the rewrites.
But here's the shitty thing. Lauri got paid at least $10,000 for her rewrite. Clive Barker is probably going to get at least $500,000, if not a million for rewriting ZvG. But the original authors have gotten ZERO DOLLARS.
So, in the end, if Amazon somehow decides that Clive Barker sucks and they abandon the ZvG project, everyone would have gotten paid EXCEPT the original writers.
It has been said that the original authors should be happy as they're now going to "get meetings with studios" because their script sucked so much that the thirty odd people who entered the rewrite contest, and even the winning entry couldn't fix the script, and then Clive Barker had to be brought in to rewrite the entire thing.
Sounds like a great promotion tool for the authors and Amazon. "My script sucked so much that every Hollywood studio passed on it, but then Amazon liked it and hired Clive Barker to rewrite it totally!"
One could argue that Amazon is simply trying something different and thoroughly testing out an idea before they go forward and spend the big bucks on production. But once again it is also strange that Amazon has hired Oscar-level producers to produce a script that Amazon doesn't even own, but only have an option.
Sure, lower level productions do this sort of juggle all of the time, but it's usually with a producer optioning a script while they try to go and find money for the movie. But Amazon HAS the money, they just dont want to spend it on the writer. One has to ask if the scripts they currently have "in development" are so worthy of development, then why doesn't Amazon just simply buy the damn things from the writers and then say "C-ya," especially if it's obvious that pro writers are going to be brought in to rewrite the script?
I also have to wonder what would happen if the produced Zombies v. Gladiators ends up bearing no resemblance to the submitted script beyond the title. Obviously there's a paper trail a mile long showing that Amazon Studios had access to the original material. But if nothing of that remains, would the mere inspiration of a broad concept be enough to allow the original writers to sue, should Amazon Studios decide to produce their own version without cooperation?
And what does that mean if someone appropriates the basic idea of another failed Amazon screenplay? It's not like you can copyright an idea, just the particular expression of that idea.
I'm not a lawyer. I can't answer that for sure, but it does give me pause. If Disney hears that Dreamworks is making a movie about an asteroid heading to Earth and they decide to make their own asteroid movie, could Dreamworks sue Disney?
This is the kind of thing that gives me pause about Amazon Studios. I can't find anything to contradict the underlying facts that Dr. Nevsky lays out, and many of the conclusions he draws don't seem that unreasonable to me.
True, the absence of a purchase announcement isn't necessarily proof that Ostrin & Weiss haven't been paid, but I'd think Amazon would have made an announcement. If nothing else, it would give them a reason to keep their name in the news. They don't have to cut the writers a check until December 2012 - which gives Amazon six months to see if they can get this thing off the ground with Clive Barker. And if they don't, that $5,000 each will have to satisfy the two writers.
But let's not forget that the terms of the Amazon Contest make this 100% legal. As much as this behavior might disgust you or I, this is Amazon Studios working the way it was designed to work.
Allow THAT to send a cold chill up your spine.