Monday, April 9, 2012

The Auditorz of the Amazon weigh in on Amazon Studios' changes

Several times last year, I tackled the subject of Amazon Studios, a new venture that sold itself as being a gateway for aspiring writers to break into Hollywood.  For a more in-depth recap of what Amazon Studios announced itself to be, and my reaction to the same, go here.  Long story short, it smelled hinky to me.  It reeked of scam and I felt that their terms were going to end up taking advantage of a lot of desperate aspiring writers.

Another blog called The Auditorz of the Amazon took it as a calling to dissect every facet of the contest.  They not only took a look at the rules, they theorized what Amazon's motives where, uncovered what appeared to be suspicious and unethical game play on the part of entrants, and audited all of the finalist scripts each month.  The long and the short of it was: the quality of submissions was pretty poor, and the quantity of submissions was rapidly dropping.  It was fairly fascinating stuff, and I admired their dedication. 

The Auditorz abruptly went underground last summer, and in an interesting twist, it seemed to kill all conversation about Amazon Studios.  Without their arch foe keeping conversation about the contest alive, AS just plain fell off the map.  Even the winning scripts were announced without much fanfare. 

Last week, Amazon Studios announced some major changes to its program.  And I found myself wishing that the Auditorz were still around to do one of their incisive posts on what these changes mean.  I lamented that there was no way to see their reaction to this drastic shift in direction

Guess what?  The Auditorz contacted me this weekend - and provided me with a guest post that covered precisely that.  What follows is their submission, unaltered, and may not necessarily reflect my own opinions:

Well, after much conjecture and four months of waiting, Amazon Studios relaunched Thursday with absolutely no press, or fanfare.  There's no more "All your base belong to us" rules, or million dollar prize, but what there is instead is an ACTUAL opportunity for screenwriters.  Are there any "catches"?  Yes, nothing in life is free.   But at least this time around the rules are actually very favorable to the writers and not a repeat of the extremely unfavorable rules from the original contest.

What's gone:

Test movies.*
Screenplay contests*
Million Dollar Prize

User generated test movies are (thankfully) for the most part gone.  Previously users had to guess the projects A.S. was interested in, or simply try to make their own project and HOPED Amazon liked it.  There are rumors that A.S. is going to fund -some- test films later but those details are still rumors at this point.

The monthly contests AND the million dollar prize are both gone, baby, gone.   This is great because it shifts Amazon from contest based crazy-town to an actual studio development environment.

Screenplay contests are now "Opportunities" and are much more focused this year.

What's new:

Screenplay "Opportunities"
Trailer Contests
PRIVATE submissions
45 day option
$10,000 cash money option up front (18 months)
$33,000 rewrite opportunities

The screenplay opportunities come in two flavors: Assignments and Original Ideas.  If you want to submit your original screenplay idea you can submit it either OPEN, or PRIVATE.  If you submit it open, you really don't gain much and stand to lose a lot.  Open means that any boob (like me) can come along and review your script and run it into the ground and give you "bad press."  However, reviews (supposedly) will NOT affect the internal Amazon Studios rating of your script.

And yes, someone could come along and steal your title/idea/story if it's out in the open, most of the open submissions for the A.S. development process are already looking identical to last years.  Here's a winner that was just submitted an hour ago.  It's called "MILIFARY,"  Another recent upload is "Spidletop" which has the author flipping the bird as the cover page.

Yes, in fairness, there are a lot of crazies out there, and all Amazon Studios (open) submission system has done is brought that to light. But from what I've been told, EVERY script gets read. Even stuff like "Defib: A Christmas Tale" A story about A prototype defibrillator that uses her warped programming to keep a struggling military academy open and off the radar of the man she fled. Yes, the story is about a sentient Defib machine.

There also isn't much of an audience for screenplays, or much of a community left on Amazon Studios, and to be honest, there really doesn't need to be with the new rules.

But the two big disadvantages to the OPEN/PUBLIC process is that A.S. can immediately make a test film of your script AND you also give them the COMIC BOOK RIGHTS for them to make a comic book.  Now I seriously doubt they'll make an ACTUAL comic book, but this provision/addendum was probably added simply so they could make "motion comics" and didn't want any rights loopholes, especially if they planned to drop $50,000+ on a motion comic.

Now I know what you're thinking, "Well, Amazon Studios did pretty good with that 'Nevsky Prospect" test movie, it looked really great!"   Well, they didn't do so good on the "Touching Blue" test movie.  It looked like "Dick Tracy and "Kim Possible" mixed together, and not in a good way. But really, unless you direct your own script with your own money, you're never going to see your own vision up there on the big, or small screen.

So that means that if anyone's interested in submitting they really should choose...

PRIVATE submissions:  Private submissions mean that nobody sees the project except Amazon.  So if you have a hot idea/script you obviously don't want it blurted out all over the internet, so this new way of submitting actually ENCOURAGES much BETTER writers to submit this time around.  Writers can submit their BEST material, instead of trunk scripts this time.

By submitting to Amazon Studios you grant them a 45 day review period.  If after the 45 day period they're not interested then you can simply remove your script.  NO rights are encumbered.  No hanging chads this time around.

IF they're interested then they can option your script for 18 months.  They will pay you $10,000 for the option which can be renewed twice (for a total of 36 months).  If they don't buy your script during the (36 month maximum length) option, the rights revert back to you.

Once under option the script goes into the "Development Slate" where Amazon Studios can rewrite the script, host rewrite contests, make comics/motion comics, trailers and test movies of the script.  Obviously, once the script hits the development slate it's open for the public to see as well, automatic inclusion in the rewrite contests, test movies, everything.

This is truly the only (possible) fly in the ointment.  A writer with a super hot idea/screenplay would probably do better shopping it around town first if they can.  Mainly because Amazon could option the script and then focus group it to death, greenlighting a movie well after the script's "sell by date."  Granted, this could happen with ANY studio, but at least if your script is super hot you might get a lot of money UP FRONT via a direct purchase, instead of just ten grand.

But if you're a writer living in West Union, West Virginia, Amazon is still a very good alternative.  Mostly all of the studios are like "F-U, don't send us your shitty screenplay, we'll pee on it and then send it back to you unopened."

If Amazon Studios purchases the script you get paid $200,000 with a $400,000 bonus if the film does over $60 million domestic box office.  The real kicker in this instance is that if you wrote a movie that somehow did $60 million domestic box office, a $400,000 bonus may seem like chump change, but the real payoff would be the amount of money you would get for your subsequent screenplay; obviously with a different "real" Hollywood studio.  I would image you would probably get a good rep and a manager as well.  Heck, you might even get an assignment or two from Warner Bros. which is Amazon Studios' producing partner.

Now here's something really good:

There is no scenario where someone can claim any of your rights money by revising your original script or movie via Amazon Studios.If someone creates a revised version of an original script, they may be eligible to receive a share of any contest winnings. But rights payments are not shared. If a theatrical movie is released from an original script on Amazon Studios, the creator of the original script or movie gets 100% of the rights payments. People who are revising scripts or making video content (like trailers) based on scripts are going for award money and are helping someone else get their movie made. But they are not sharing in the rights money. 

But I know what most of you WGA writers are saying to yourself, "Pffft!  I'm a luminary WGA writer and can't participate in such non-union baffoonery!!"

Well, now you can!


What is The People's Production Company? "The People's Production Company is the production arm of Amazon Studios. The People's Production Company is a signatory to the Writers Guild of America Minimum Basic Agreement, while the Amazon Studios site is not. So, if you are a WGA member, we encourage you to have your agent contact the People's Production Company directly in order to submit your original script or to apply for paid writing assignments." Also new is the $33,000 rewrite opportunities.

The GREAT thing about these new opportunities is that you don't have to rewrite the whole script, trying to guess and figure out what Amazon was looking for and hoping you were right.  This was another BIG problem with the rewrite contests during the first year.  Nobody knew what Amazon wanted, not even Amazon!  People did page one rewrites on one project only for Amazon to choose a punch up.  Another project the inverse happened.
Now you submit a proposal first and then if you're selected you get $10,000 up front and $23,000 on delivery.  In this economy I'm certain will see a lot of WGA writers writing "below their weight" to get what they think is going to be an easy $33,000 dollars.  This is actually fine by me as I love competition and real competition only makes things better.

As for the two rewrite opportunities up for grabs, I'd say "I think my Facebook Friend is Dead" is the more viable of the two projects up for grabs.  The million dollar winner from last year, "12 Princesses," is completely devoid of a story.  Good musical numbers, no story.  So it's really a page one rewrite.  So if you've got a good kids story you can shoehorn into "12 Princesses" then go right ahead.  If not, go for "Facebook Friend is Dead."

Another plus is that if you somehow get shared credit, or even sole credit (with a page one rewrite), then you can get a $100,000 bonus, or $200,000 bonus respectively. Keep in mind Amazon Studios is the sole decider of who gets credit, and I can only assume that this "bonus" will be more readily applied to WGA writers who sneak in through the PPC backdoor, seeing that (I assume) A.S. would have to adhere to the WGA rules.

* Subject to the terms of the writing services agreement, Amazon Studios intends to pay those writer(s) or team(s) as follows:

* USD $10,000 upon commencement of a rewrite, and an additional USD $23,000 when we accept the fully completed draft screenplay from that writer or team. The writer or writing team will have ten weeks to complete the draft screenplay from the date of commencement.

* If we commence principal photography on a full-length motion picture based on the screenplay for commercial theatrical distribution (which, for clarity, does not include test screenings to test audience response), and if, upon final determination of writing credits, the writer or team receives screenplay credit, the writer or team will receive a one-time bonus in the amount described below. If the writer or team receives shared screenplay credit, the one-time bonus will be USD $100,000. If the writer or team receives sole screenplay credit, the one-time bonus will be USD $200,000.

*If you're WGA and have some questions about how things would work through the Amazon PPC, ask your union rep and/or agent.

* Remember, regardless of what Amazon Studios pays the rewriter(s), the original author still gets FULL payment of $200,000. As an example, lets say that I rewrite "Facebook Friend" and Amazon loves it, and puts it into production AND pays me a $200,000 because my page one rewrite was so awesome. The original author still gets their full $200,000 as well. HOWEVER, I as the rewriter, would not get any further bonuses like the performance bonus of $400,000. BUT, once again, if my name is on a $60,000,000 domestic-grossing film as a writer, I'm going to be compensated by getting better offers on my future scripts.

Lastly, it appears that Amazon is shifting towards trailers to present ideas for projects instead of making whole test movies.  This is a more novel approach as the general public really doesn't have time to sit through an hour and a half long precursor to a movie.  A trailer could easily be used to gauge the public's interest in a project before large sums of money are dedicated to even test film production.

Overall, I was Amazon Studios biggest fan and biggest detractor last year.  My blustery hoopla on my old "Auditorz of the Amazon" site, the only site on the net that covered the contest from day one, had a lot of biting satire and humor, but also a lot of never-ending suggestions to make the contest and Amazon Studios better.  In the end, Amazon Studios did listen to myself, as well as the people that contributed to the "Auditorz" site, even following most of the suggestions to the tee, so I'm happy about that; we did make a difference in the end. 

This paradigm shift in Amazon Studios really does finally open some doors for the struggling writer (and director).  If you previously wrote off Amazon Studios, I can't stress enough that things have changed for the better.  Whereas A.S. 1.0 felt more like an episode of "Survivor," there is actual opportunity in Amazon Studios 2.0. And from what I hear, Amazon Studios is looking to get into "television" later on this year, which is also yet another opportunity.


  1. Thanks for researching all of this!

    I took a chance and submitted my script.

  2. You can read my interview with the head of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, about the recent changes here:

    For many of you, Amazon may now be a viable, and even attractive, option for your original screenplay.

  3. Does anything change for scriptwriters outside the US?