Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Talkback - Amazon Studios: are you more likely or less likely to join?

Yesterday's post on Amazon Studios has already become my all-time third most popular post, so clearly there's a lot of interest in the topic.  Most curious of all is that there are absolutely no comments on this post.  I get that there's a lot to digest there, so why not just start with this simple discussion point.

Do the changes in Amazon Studios make you:

1) make you more likely to submit a script?
2) make you less likely to sumbit a script?
3) have no impact on your prior opinion?

I'm going with #3.  Had these been the terms of the program when they first emerged, I might have believed that this was a great opportunity.  However, the initial conditions of the contest were so wrong-headed and betrayed such a naivete about the business, that I have no confidence in those running the program.  I don't think the people at the top understand or respect the creative process.  I think they displayed astounding arrogance, both in thinking their early policies were in any way appealing and later in taking so long to correct course long after the feedback was drastically negative.

The odds of any such program finding even one brilliant script are incredibly long.  If you don't believe me, ask Trigger Street, which has been taking open submissions for years.  The peer review process has yet to find a script that even made it into production, much less a success.  Furthermore, even if Amazon Studios managed to find a single, or even two solid, well-written, commercial projects, it wouldn't "revolutionize the industry" as so many of its Kool-Aid drinkers believe.

At best, Amazon Studios would become a second tier avenue for projects, a mini-independent shingle.  And frankly, I don't see them finding the material to make that viable, nor do I think their executives show signs of being anything other than dilettantes.

So that's why I'm going with #3.  I grant that the contest terms are no longer the abomination they once were, but I have no faith in those steering the boat and I have no interest in putting even some of my dead ideas into their hands.

If you want to submit your scripts, be my guest.  But don't delude yourself into thinking you're on the front lines of a film revolution.  Even if you're the next F. Scott Frazier (four specs sold in two years), there aren't nearly enough GOOD undiscovered writers out there to give Amazon Studios the foothold it needs to remake the industry.


  1. Can I throw in choice #4? In that I'm a bit more likely to look into rewrite opportunities as they show up but based on many of the things you say, which I agree with, I don't have any intention of actually submitting one of my own ideas.
    Although if adapting one of the crappier fairytales out there can be a chosen script then maybe I should see what I can come up with some rainy Sunday afternoon.

  2. I guess I'm slightly more likely to submit a script - but I'm far from decided that I'm going to...

  3. Unfortunately, bitter's conclusions are right on the money. I would also mention the astonishing crassness of the scripts that finally emerged as winners, from AMERICA'S BEN FRANKLIN on down. It was as if the 'zon decided, with cookie-cutter determination, to become the anti-Nicholl of the contest world, and then went about it by throwing darts at a wall of the most preposterous scripts they could find.

    On the other hand, thanks to the auditorz and activities within the 'zon Forums, the process has been well exposed. There's been a kind of lunkheaded peer review of the 'zon that simply doesn't go on with other contests, though many deserve it. I speak here not only of the hallowed Nicholl but rising venues like bluecat.

    A contest is a contest. You can chalk as much up to the side of the bed your reader woke up on, or what they had for breakfast, as the defects with your script. Just goes to show --

    There ain't no shortcut or easy way to Hollywood.

  4. Which aspects of the industry so desperately need a revolutionary overhaul and how would one successful AS project -- or two or twenty -- accomplish those ends?

  5. @Carmen -

    I think bitter's point was, given the zon's patent dilettantishness (amateurism might be a better word, except amateurs don't push around wheelbarrows full of cash) THERE AIN'T GOING TO BE ANY SUCCESSFUL AS PROJECTS. Sorry for shouting, but there it is.

    Those of us who have followed the 'zon since its inception would mostly agree -- vehemently.

    But you did phrase your question well: "Which aspects of the industry so desperately need a revolutionary overhaul...?"

    My own attempt at an answer would be centered more around the creative end of the equation, rather than packaging or sourcing, which is where the 'zon seems to be focussed.

    In any event, someone who has not written a small, adequate screenplay that could be filmed on a tight budget should not be trying to write tentpole movies. All the current H-Wood bigshots, from Spielberg on down, got their start with smaller movies -- some even with made-for-TV or direct-to-video fare. Remember DUEL, or that Peter Jackson zombie gorefest DEAD ALIVE, or MEMENTO?

    Yet half the material being churned up at the 'zon -- and the kind of material they reward (even VILLAIN, which I thought was fairly good given that it was written before DESPICABLE ME and that other good bad guy movie)-- is tentpole stuff.

    You have to walk before you run, much less before you fly, and at the 'zon, if you scan their project pages, you're treated to the spectacle of one unwieldy script after another jumping from the plane without a parachute -- and diving straight into the ground.

  6. I thought about submitting for roughly two seconds yesterday, then came to my senses.

    The words Amazon Studios are tainted with fail. I think it would hurt rather than help. Even winning would mean you're the best thing in a pile of crap, so it doesn't interest me.

  7. I think that sometimes companies with lots of money to spend on ventures that could a.) make them even more hip if they strike the right chord, and b.) yield business-related ROIs that go beyond an altruistic desire to give no-name writers a shot in a seemingly impenetrable industry, skip crucial research that might have prevented AS 1.0 from having such an abysmal launch. Part of that may come from arrogance, but I think it's mostly the fact that a lot of companies are out of touch. Ignoring the legal loopholes that obviously put any submitter at a supreme disadvantage (which could be attributed to legal counsel), I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt as assume they weren't trying to be malicious or insidious. I could just be naive.

    Anyway, the fact that they're willing to go about it another route is admirable. They could've let it fade away without any fanfare as it likely would have, but they do seem interested in creating a viable avenue and outlet for aspiring writers while still protecting their corporate interests.

    I guess I'm somewhere between #1 and #3. When AS first launched, without going into depth like The Auditorz, it just seemed way too fishy, so I didn't even consider it. Now, after The Auditorz new analysis, I could be persuaded.

    I guess the only question I have left is whether writers who participate in AS' program (old or new) will be treated differently by established studios, producers and writers in the industry.


  8. First off, thank you for your post yesterday, it was very informative regarding Amazon's new changes.

    I like that Amazon is willing to change, but I still wouldn't submit a spec script to them. I don't like the fact that my script would be out in the public in a "development slate."

    Regarding the Open Writing Assignments, I like the concept but I'm hesitant to submit because of certain things. First, both scripts are pretty bad. "I Think My Facebook Friend is Dead" is the far better one, but even then, you will earn your $33,000 working on that thing. But let's say you win the Assignment and do the rewrites, chances are your script will get rewritten and worked on again, yes? But by who, you? The original writing team? Amazon? You don't want your name attached to a flop, something that isn't yours. And like cn2007 said, I too wonder if writers who participate in this are looked at differently. I know Warner Bros. is attached, but still, from what I've seen in Amazon Studios' database the quality of writing ranges from mediocre to very, very poor. These red flags pop up in my head, and while $33,000 would be nice money to pick up right now, I have confidence in my writing and I wouldn't want to sacrifice my career for a short term goal.

  9. I appreciate all the research and information you've done here.

    I bit the bullet and submitted (before I read this post).

    I'll come back in 45 days and tell you how it went.