Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why the Zombies v. Gladiators announcement should make every writer wary of Amazon Studios

As I tweeted yesterday, Amazon Studios has announced that horror writer/director Clive Barker has signed on to rewrite and direct Zombies v. Gladiators.  A script that has been festering in what passes for "development" over there for quite some time.

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.

23 comments:

  1. But they get to be part of the movie business! That alone should suffice as a reward.

    Is there a font for sarcasm?

    ReplyDelete
  2. These are all valid issues. But you weaken it b quoting Dr. Nevsky, as the writer calls him/herself. He/she is an embittered former Amazon Studios script finalist who has been ranting up and down the Amazon Studio boards with all sorts of lunatic nonsense. Please take his/her "insights" with an iceberg-sized grain of salt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd certainly welcome any rebuttal to the points Nevsky makes, but I think a blanket "that guy's a lunatic" is a weak counter-argument unless you're willing to debate the arguments on their merits.

      Whatever "nonsense" he spews on the boards, his points here seem to hew close to the known facts and don't draw any unreasonable conclusions.

      Delete
  3. I hear you. You want to associate your blog with that level of credibility, go ahead. I'm just letting you know what your putting your brand out there to defend. Take a stroll through this thread for a taste: (http://studios.amazon.com/discussions/Tx3JWXOR4Z073SU?sort_by=newest_first).

    The posts where he/she went after someone on disability have been deleted, but the rest remains. Scott Mullen of Alligator in a Helicopter has been trying to talk some sanity into the thread, but it ain't working.

    Happy trails.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not defending him, nor am I attacking him. He expressed an opinion to me, one which happens to make a lot of sense.

      Quoting him here is not an endorsement of anything he might have said and done elsewhere. For that matter, I don't recognize Nevsky in that thread. The language and syntax of the most aggressive individual in that discussion doesn't seem to match the email I received.

      If Nevsky attempted to use my forum for a personal attack, I'd shut him down. But he didn't. He presented a reasonable, well-articulated case why Amazon Studios is suspect.

      Delete
  4. I respect your approach. I don't want to attack him either. I just would make sure you had all the facts, and I think Dr. Nevsky (aka R.P McMURPHY writer of The Nevsky Project) is a terribly unreliable witness.

    Scott is pretty easy to contact and he's doing well with Amazon. Through them Denise De Novi became attached to his project. Perhaps it would be worth reaching out to see if he'll give you a more balanced view. But don't put all your eggs in the Dr. Nevsky basket. A little research shows that the balance is perhaps lacking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For what it's worth, Dr. Nesky has confirmed to me that they are NOT the writer of THE NEVSKY PROJECT, though from what I've learned about that fiasco, it seems the writer has reasons to feel bitter.

      Delete
    2. What a coincidence, no? Such a unique name. And yet, with a very similar perspective. Small small world I guess.

      Anyway, I'll quit pushing on this string. But when I worked in dev at Paramount, and had a n00b writer with the kind of attitude from that thread, I would have cut them off pretty fast. Then I'm sure they would have wandered around the internets saying that I and Paramount were assholes. And they'd have reasons to feel bitter, because I would have been an asshole to get rid to that kind of writer. I'm willing to bet you've seen a bit of that too.

      When all is said and done however, I hope we get to hear from the original writers at some point. Might clear up what's really going on. That's what I'm waiting for. Cheers.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, I'd really like an on-the-record accounting of what actually happened with THE NEVSKY PROJECT because it seems to me that Amazon Studios has benefited from no journalists actively caring about it.

      Obviously there's plenty of documentation about the fact that the movie was made. along with the fact that the "test movie" disappeared from Amazon's own site and then was seemingly never heard from again... it's clear something went awry. They wouldn't scrap a whole test film without reason.

      That writer might have an axe to grind, but I'd love to find out exactly what went down with that deal.

      Delete
  5. AS is using the title thought up by the original writers, everyone knows AS had full access to that script, and the concept will highly likely borrow heavily from the original concept. They even (presumably) optioned the script for a second 18-month period.

    When you put all that together, I doubt Amazon could get away with not paying the original writers/giving them at least a "story by" characters, unless this is explicitly stated in the TOS somewhere.

    This is not like "someone heard rumors of this idea around town, that sounds cool, let's make one like it". Even if that hypothetical person had read the script to the project that 'inspired' their desire to make a similar film, there's no real proof of that. As long as the scripts don't look alike too much, I don't think it's possible to sue on that account. But that's a completely different story from what's happening here. Hell, if you could make a case out of that, maybe Disney should try suing James Cameron for making Pocahontas with blue creatures with weird sex organs.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I wanted to post here as my comments on Twitter came across a little angrier than I intended. I was disappointing to read this article on a site that otherwise has proven to be interesting and even informative on occasion, but where Amazon is concerned it seems Bitter slips back into Auditors/NEEL mode and skews this into a negative event and warns writers to be wary of it.

    Why?

    A heavyweight writer (possibly director) comes in to take the helm, which might not be any guarantee of a film getting made, but it's a huge step forward. And if they do it right (ie, not a PG13) it could easily take the $60million needed to trigger the $400k bonus on top of the $200k the writers are owed if it gets made.

    When the article says, "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" this seems to hint at something underhand, or at least bad for the writers.

    The Amazon agreement is to pay $200,000 when principle photography commences on a movie set to be a paid-for release, ie, at theatres, home movies, MOD or TV (specifically not test movies, though). I don't see anything in the agreement that is relevant to the above comment.

    " 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." -- actually, under the new rules anything on the development slate is awarded $10,000, which others on the development slate have confirmed.

    " 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. " Now this is where the article starts to really disappoint. Sure, it MIGHT be a quote from someone else, (albeit written in very similar prose to Bitter and NEEL, Auditorz et al) but it's still part of the article and it is one of the principle things a reader will take from it. They HAVE been paid. The $10,000 for the option plus the $10,000 from the rewrite contest which they "shared" with Lauri. $20k might not be big money in Hollywood terms, but it's a nice down-payment on the big $200k.

    " 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." - apart from the $20k and the rights returned for their original work. And that if they have any sense they'll use this as a platform RIGHT NOW to go out and try their hand around town. Might get them some traction, might not. Having Clive Barker take over your project will certainly get a couple of doors open.

    The rest of the quotes are similar in incoherent assumptions (with no evidence, as is "NEEL"s standard operating practice re Amazon) but then Bitter goes on to say " 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" -- well, witness what happens all over Hollywood. Or witness the Amazon agreement that very clearly and IN PLAIN ENGLISH states that if a film is made (for paid release, etc) based on an original script uploaded to the site, the original writers receive $200k plus $400k if it takes more than $60million in domestic box office. The only thing in question would be the amount of credit they receive, which would be based on WGA arbitration if there's any disagreement. The only person not entitled to any further remuneration is Lauri, although if they keep her shaman as the instigator of the zombies she may get some writing credit. She has also stated a number of times they no longer have the silly "cure" for act 3, BTW.

    ReplyDelete
  7. cont... (sorry it's a little long)

    "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" seems to indicate agreement with the quoted comments.

    Finally, " 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." -- umm, so writers submit work to a company, and the company abides by the terms of the agreement and there is absolutely NOTHING to suggest they are going to rip off the writers in monetary terms, but that is somehow chilling?

    That's really what disappoints me here. Whether Bitter is or is not indeed Auditorz/NEEL or whatever other identity is "current", doesn't matter. The Bitter Scriptreader site is usually informative and a great many people agree. But this article is designed to deter writers from submitting to Amazon, and even where the "facts" here are correct they are presented in a way that is either dismissive or hints at dishonesty or at least taking advantage of writers. It's not an accurate representation of events and fills in unknowns with negative assumptions.

    Writers and commentators are of course free to have an opinion on Amazon, on whether they would be happy with this deal, but when writers read articles like this they cannot come away with an informed opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I wanted to post here as my comments on Twitter came across a little angrier than I intended. I was disappointing to read this article on a site that otherwise has proven to be interesting and even informative on occasion, but where Amazon is concerned it seems Bitter slips back into Auditors/NEEL mode and skews this into a negative event and warns writers to be wary of it.

    Why?

    A heavyweight writer (possibly director) comes in to take the helm, which might not be any guarantee of a film getting made, but it's a huge step forward. And if they do it right (ie, not a PG13) it could easily take the $60million needed to trigger the $400k bonus on top of the $200k the writers are owed if it gets made.

    When the article says, "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" this seems to hint at something underhand, or at least bad for the writers.

    The Amazon agreement is to pay $200,000 when principle photography commences on a movie set to be a paid-for release, ie, at theatres, home movies, MOD or TV (specifically not test movies, though). I don't see anything in the agreement that is relevant to the above comment.

    " 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." -- actually, under the new rules anything on the development slate is awarded $10,000, which others on the development slate have confirmed.

    " 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. " Now this is where the article starts to really disappoint. Sure, it MIGHT be a quote from someone else, (albeit written in very similar prose to Bitter and NEEL, Auditorz et al) but it's still part of the article and it is one of the principle things a reader will take from it. They HAVE been paid. The $10,000 for the option plus the $10,000 from the rewrite contest which they "shared" with Lauri. $20k might not be big money in Hollywood terms, but it's a nice down-payment on the big $200k.

    " 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." - apart from the $20k and the rights returned for their original work. And that if they have any sense they'll use this as a platform RIGHT NOW to go out and try their hand around town. Might get them some traction, might not. Having Clive Barker take over your project will certainly get a couple of doors open.

    The rest of the quotes are similar in incoherent assumptions (with no evidence, as is "NEEL"s standard operating practice re Amazon) but then Bitter goes on to say " 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" -- well, witness what happens all over Hollywood. Or witness the Amazon agreement that very clearly and IN PLAIN ENGLISH states that if a film is made (for paid release, etc) based on an original script uploaded to the site, the original writers receive $200k plus $400k if it takes more than $60million in domestic box office. The only thing in question would be the amount of credit they receive, which would be based on WGA arbitration if there's any disagreement. The only person not entitled to any further remuneration is Lauri, although if they keep her shaman as the instigator of the zombies she may get some writing credit. She has also stated a number of times they no longer have the silly "cure" for act 3, BTW.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree that the original writers (Michael and Gregg, not me) should have been credited in the AS press release and in subsequent news stories.

    For the record, my version didn't involve "arrows dipped in human tears." It did involve salt -- a cure for zombie-ism long associated with the zombie tradition. However, I removed this element in subsequent drafts.

    And Dr. Nevsky sounds an awful lot like Auditorz to me...

    ReplyDelete
  10. As someone who might remotely consider entering the contest -- though, once burned twice shy -- I think it's important for the issues raised by "Dr. Nevsky" to be discussed. It's not unreasonable AT ALL to inquire whether the originators of the Z v. G project have or will receive any compensation, and to point out why the project being taken away from them and dribbled down the court for a likely foul shot by their own opponents is not a feather in their cap, for any potential Hollywood resume.

    Nonetheless, were I Bitter, I would check whatever primary documents I could get my hands on, vis a vis any claims made by "Dr. Nevsky." Norgard, Lindsay, and the other names the originator of the Nevsky project may go by, was a huge loose cannon on the storm-tossed decks of the 'zon forums. Compared to him, the auditorz offered brilliantly objective critique of the 'zon and the people in it. That's my take on it anyway.

    On another front entirely, as if bad karma could take on a face in the news all its own, (according to the 'zon forums):Clive Barker is BEING SUED by his former boyfriend, for allegedly giving him AIDS, then kicking him out on the street. Barker being the well-known British author contracted to come up with a finish draft of Z v. G.

    Just saying. I'm sure no 7 degrees of connection join this unhappy event with the 'zon contest in any one-world continuum we know of....

    ReplyDelete
  11. So I asked the Amazon Studios blog about how much the writers got paid, and basically it was confirmed that they received $10,000 for development slate consideration. So basically, they bought the pitch for 10k.

    http://hollywonk.com/post/24469057123/clive-barker-zvg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. VERY useful. And here's where my understanding of their old, original submission rules and the combination of the new rules and status as WGA signatory leaves me at a complete loss as to what this means for them eventually getting screen credit. If AS throws out everything but the title and does a page one rewrite it might, MIGHT, be all those guys see. We're in uncharted AS territory.

      Delete
  12. I don't understand what is seemingly non-factual about Bitter/Dr. Nevsky's blog post according to Antony. It has been confirmed by Amazon that the writers (just got) paid a $10,000 option in mid April when the project was added to the development slate, even though the project was in development almost a year previously, and other writer won money and got paid through the rewrite contest while they got nothing.

    An option is an option. It is not a purchase.

    Clive Barker has probably been paid a king's ransom to rewrite Zombies Vs. Gladiators, and Bitter's point is that even if the project implodes, several other writers have already been paid to rewrite the project, with Clive Barker probably making at least two to three times the $200,000 "selling rate" paid to (original) writers once production begins.

    Why has nobody asked why the original writers were not asked to rewrite their own script according to what Amazon wanted? Doesn't seem they were even given a chance.

    Why did Amazon erase the original writers off of their own project? Is this the fate of future projects submitted through the Amazon system? Is everyone destined to get a "story by" credit and $200,000, while their original script is rewritten by a pro?

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm glad to see there's at least one person who didn't find my points to be unclear. Thank you, that's more or less my thesis.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Writer of "Children of Others" Barrington Smith Seetachitt posted this on her blog:

    "I thought for a change of pace I'd tell you about something cool I've gotten to see because of my current writing gig. Every two to three weeks, my producer and I try to meet in person for notes."

    Alright, so at least a producer is meeting with her on a regular basis. This may not hold true for all of the projects.

    Also, she elaborated a little on how she was compensated in another blog post:

    http://barrington99.blogspot.com/2012/05/month-or-two-ago-i-think-i-mentioned.html

    "How this applies to me is, that after my script, Children of Others, won one of the monthly best script awards in 2011, it was chosen for Amazon's Development Slate and a producer was attached. (They called and asked me first, if I would be open to that. I said yes.) They renewed the option, and graciously offered to give me a shot at rewriting the script. This, under their old boilerplate agreement, is something I think they could have had me do on spec--but at the first meeting they offered some money for the rewrite, making this my first paid screenwriting gig ever.

    Awesome.

    And pretty intimidating."

    It is nice that Amazon Studios at least offered her something for her performing a rewrite as they didn't have to really do anything at all, not even renew the option early.

    However, with the ZvG writers why have they been forgotten and erased from the project for all intents and purposes? Have they even been compensated aside from the $10,000 option?

    I guess what I'm getting at is that it is great that Barrington is getting the royal treatment, but it is at least interesting that the creators of Amazon's Prime project, "Zombies vs. Gladiators" have been virtually pushed aside and forgotten. This may not be the case at all, but at least it appears on some of the projects on the development slate the writers are possibly given the opportunity to rewrite their own screenplays before the big guns step in.

    ReplyDelete
  15. A few days late to the party. This is the alert the WGA sent out. If you're a member you're protected even if you submitted to AS and not PPC. If you aren't a WGA member then it's not their problem.

    http://www.wgaw.org/uploadedfiles/writers_resources/agent_alert51712.pdf

    ReplyDelete