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November 17, 2010

Is Amazon Studios the Future of Film or is it a Bastardization of Crowdsourcing?

Amazon has launched Amazon Studios, a new online film studio with a crowdsourced development process. Amazon has $2.7 million committed to film projects through their first-look deal with Warner Bros.; they will be awarding $140k in prizes for submissions this December. However, rather than just running a standard contest, they have some very interesting ideas for how to "develop" these projects, and they're more than a bit controversial.

First, here's Amazon's pitch to filmmakers:

Whether you're a filmmaker, screenwriter or movie fan, Amazon Studios has a role for you:

  • Win money. Amazon Studios will award a total of $140,000 a month to the best movies and scripts and a total of $1.1 million to winners of Annual Awards. Visit our contest headquarters.
  • Make a movie. Your test movie can bring a great story one step closer to a theater. Start from scratch, or use pieces of other test movies. Learn more.
  • Write a script. Upload your original screenplay, or revise one already on the site. Your version could make a good story great. Learn more.
  • Leave feedback. Your review of a test movie or script can have an impact on how directors and writers develop their projects. Browse popular projects.

In their intro video, Amazon states that they're "introducing the test-screening process from the very beginning.” They're essentially taking all script submissions and making them public, allowing evaluations to come from anyone -- as well as revisions. So if you submit your script, anyone else can take your script and modify it to make it "better," adding themselves as a co-writer. Furthermore, anyone can make a "test movie," which is a full-length film done on a minimal budget to better give people an idea of what the finished film will be like -- think animatics, or ultra-low budget live action. These test movies can be filmed from someone else's script, or they can be from the director's own script. This certainly raises plenty of questions about intellectual property ownership, as submitters are making their ideas public (most contests, at least, rely on a much smaller circle of judges to evaluate screenplays). Amazon is basically taking the gamble that the wisdom of crowds, as detailed in James Surowiecki's book, ((Quick review of The Wisdom of Crowds: it's an important concept, but I didn't find it warranted a full-length book. You get the idea in the first few chapters.)) will somehow make better movies.

Here is the pertinent question. When a studio film does not turn out well, why do you think that is?

  1. A singularly bad vision was allowed to see the project all the way to the end
  2. After countless notes from executives, several writers and dozens of drafts later, the original concept was diluted

I'm of the opinion that reason #2 is more often the culprit: too many cooks in the kitchen. If you agree with this premise, then Amazon Studios is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Link: Amazon Studios
[via indieWIRE]

Amazon's full invitation:

Writers are invited to add scripts to Amazon Studios. Filmmakers are invited to add full-length test movies to Amazon Studios.Test movies may be made from your own original script or from any script submitted to Amazon Studios. Test movies must be full length (more than 70 minutes), but they don’t have to be “full budget.” While test movies must include imaginative stories with great acting and sound they don’t need to have theatrical-quality production value. Film fans can review Amazon Studios scripts and test movies, or even upload alternate, revised versions. Full-length test movies will introduce public test screenings to the earliest, formative stages of the movie development process; the Amazon Studios test movie process is intended to guide a film’s development and assess its potential. Amazon Studios has produced five test movie samples, in different styles and genres, which can be found on its Getting Started page.

It is the goal of Amazon Studios to produce new, full-budget theatrical films based on the best projects and it will give Warner Bros. Pictures first access to the projects Amazon Studios wishes to produce in cooperation with an outside studio. If a filmmaker or screenwriter creates a project with an original script and it is released by Amazon Studios as a theatrical feature film, the submitter will receive a rights payment of $200,000; if the movie makes over $60 million at the U.S. box office, the original filmmaker or screenwriter will receive a $400,000 bonus. If Warner Bros. Pictures is not inclined to develop a particular project, Amazon Studios can then produce the project in cooperation with another studio. Winning screenplays and full-length test movies will be selected on the basis of commercial viability, which will include consideration of premise, story, character, dialogue, emotion and other elements of great movies.

In the 2011 Annual Awards, Amazon Studios will award $100,000 to the best script and $1 million to the best movie submitted by December 31, 2011. To be eligible for the first monthly awards, test movies and scripts must be uploaded by January 31, 2011. Winners for the first monthly awards will be announced near the end of February 2011—$100,000 for the best full-length test movie and $20,000 each for the two best scripts. The rights payments associated with releasing a full-budget commercial film (the $200,000 referred to above) are separate from and come on top of any money awarded to top submissions through the monthly and annual Amazon Studios Awards.

Your Comment

23 Comments

It will certainly be an interesting evolution. Somehow these virtual strategies seem to constantly come up short.

November 17, 2010

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At first glance this seemed like a really cool idea. But I see that the moment you submit a script or "test movie", you are signing away all the rights to your idea, for the incredibly unlikely chance that your idea will be picked up or win one of the prizes.

"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." (Amazon also has the right to extend this period another 18-months by paying the creator $10,000)

The idea behind this whole thing is a paradox. They say that they envision a new way in which films can be produced, a way that maximizes creativity through this kind of open platform, a great opportunity for the little guy, an alternative to the way things are done in Hollywood. Yet their main partner in this venture is Warner Bros. In the end, whoever ends up winning will be left in the dust while Amazon and Warner Bros. reap the profits.

November 17, 2010

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David

I think that everyone should go on Amazon Studios and "improve" all the submitted scripts. Why, with just a minor contribution, you can take co-writer credit, and the original author will have no say in the matter. Also, it would be great to see many of the scripts produced as Xtranormal movies. Just imagine the action and emotional range that you can portray. (I'll remove my tongue from my cheek now.)

November 18, 2010

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This is bound to become messy - are all drafts considered to have been included in an end-version? And what constitutes a re-write fit for co-author credit? Spellcheck? A line of dialogue? A thorough rewrite of the plot? Whoever thinks that adding a few touches or ideas turns a mediocre script into a great script hasn´t done much developing.

Sounds great if you have stuff lying around you´re not going to do anything with, anyway... otherwise, who would bother? I´d hate to be the guy having to read through it all, trying to find the gem. But the concept is interesting, especially for afficienados with no professional network. Some genius probably is hiding in an attic somewhere, and scripts do get turned down for other reasons than it not being a great story...

November 18, 2010

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VH

Woah, this is kind of bannanas.

First, the feature length "test movies?" Getting a bunch of people together to record 90 minutes worth of dialogue and take their pictures doing things is a pretty good amount of work. Probably even more if you do an animatic.

The kicker is I'm not sure it's worth the work considering anything you post can be claimed by someone else. Or in generally, one could shoot all the interesting stills they want, then have those assets be spun off into someone else's project with a whole different script.

I'm not sure there are a lot of people willing out there to create all those assets that would be available to anyone.

Case in point: I just shot a sci-fi short that I'll likely be doing VFX work on for long time. Probably a year or so, lol. I could spend five days shooting enough pictures to flesh out the feature script, combined with stills I can pull from the production, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sign the rights to the ideas behind the stills away for others to do mashups with.

Really hard to wrap my head around this.

November 18, 2010

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Oakhurst

I guess I'm just running throught the scenarios of turning a low budget feature script into a very cheap animatic and the economy of scale just doesn't seem to be there.

You shoot live action stills you're still going to need actors, locations, props, a vague sense of the costumes, etc.

Let's say you even do a lego animatic and make sets in your basement. Or go get some GI joes. Voices? They're still looking for "professional acting and sound." OK, so then you shoot your 90 minutes of stills and then what—pay some voice over people to read through your whole script?

I'm really trying to find the heart of what's really cool about this project. I want to think there is something neat they're offering here. Anyway you slice it, a feature length animatic is not an inconsiquential amount off work—AND then on top of it, anyone else can come along and slice it up.

Hell, I might even be able to deal with the former. Say, f*ck it, I can risk those hours. The latter however, dag' yo. Can't figure out how to make that equation a winner.

November 18, 2010

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Oakhurst

Personally I think this entire enterprise is a terrible idea. I wanted to be a bit more even-handed in the post, but honesty, if you can't tell from reading 100 pages if the movie is going to be any good and you need a feature-length animatic to judge the film's merits, then you shouldn't be in the business of judging movies. Amazon Studios seems to be taking everything bad from the studio world and magnifying it, to me.

November 18, 2010

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

At first glance I thought to myself, "Huh, this looks like something I should consider entering." Then I did a little digging and read the fine print.

This is a f*cking joke! So Amazon is leading us to believe that since it's hard for new voices (film makers/writers) to break in, that this is the next creative way to get a Hollywood movie deal. HA! As others have mentioned, they own/option your project for 3 years. At the end of the first 18 months, they have the right to option your work for an additional 18 months for $10,000, regardless if you refuse the money. Read this straight from their fine print:

---Is there a way for me to prevent an extension of the initial option on my original script or test movie?

No. If you created a project with an original script or test movie, you not only granted Amazon Studios the exclusive option to your script or movie for 18 months, but also the right to extend that option another 18 months by paying you $10,000. You cannot decline this extension, even by refusing payment.---

Not only do they own your project, there is no guarantee that you'll get to direct it, or have any creative participation of any kind. So basically, this doesn't get us 'The Film Maker' anything except the chance to help Amazon create a feature film that they will distribute theatrically with Warner Bros. and then turn around and distribute the DVDs through their own company; most likely with and early exclusive before you can buy it at Wall Mart, which they'll most like do just to piss off Wall Mart and other like stores because they own something that they couldn't come up with--your movie idea.

And then what? What if your movie is made? Oh yeah, the movie that 49 other writers can and most likely will contribute to is now their movie too. For your efforts you get $200k (or 1/50 with the 49 other writers) oh and get this, IF your movie makes $60mil in the box office (which will go Amazon and Warner Bros), you get a bonus of $400k (once again, 1/50 with the other writers).

I'm not trying to come off hostel toward either Amazon or Warner Bros. But Hollywood is full of sharks and shady deals. It is wise for all of us as film makers to protect ourselves as best as we can. And in my opinion this is not the way to break in.

Koo, I think you shouldn't have posted this with what you called an 'even hand' and exposed a little more of the fine print on this project. In my opinion, this is not a way to break in at all.
-Ry

November 18, 2010

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Ry

I must say I so agree with everything that you stated. Film Makers there's a good reason why Amazon is looking toward independent film makers. The reason is independent film makers has proven to turn low budget features into million dollar pay out and much more.

At this time they need us more than we need them and we must "NECR" give up your "MASTER" just like in the music industry. Hip GHop artist started selling 100,000 units out the trunk of their cars and now major record company start seeking away to cash in until a slected few realized that they have the control and the golden egg which are their "Masters"

Film makers your rights is your "Master" NEVR I repeat NEVER give that up and continue to stick with your concept because as one gentlemen mentioned earlier why do major motion pictures fail often ..It was created and produced in hollywood where for some reason these studios are perceived as "Mesiah" of great movies..well this has been proven tiome and time again so "UNTRUE" because too many opinonated non creative wannabee's putthere worthless opinion in that melting pot of "FAILURE"

Period point blank make your own movies and sell them through the many channels that's available and keep in mind making even a $100,000 from a picture that you created doesn't mean you're starving because you're not making Millions like some big budget films..actually we can make a decent living keeping it independent.

If you're looking to sell-out..sell-out for a much better offer than this one that Amazon is presenting with a partial smoke screen. Keep in mind this isn't the first approach to lure talented people such as us and it will not be the last time but ask yourself this before the next scam is presented because trust me it's already in the works as a rebuttle to this "Devils Advocate" approach..why bother to put any time and very little thought into presenting such a "in my opinion" a disrespectful "His-Opportunity"

The Cover up is Amazon and when you open the book to read it ..Warner Brothers is the big bad wolf you parents warned you about and I'm warning you as a reminder of that...."JUST SAY NO"

November 18, 2010

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heh heh

Ya know there is a lot of truth what you guys saying here. Big business remain big business and will not gonna share anything but the crumbs. This whole idea is crazy, but on the other hand so was amazon.com in the begining by selling books. Geeee, books?
See where all this at now, a real department store. Who knows, maybe with some tweeks this whole idea of making a flick is not all that bad.

Am sure there will be a lot of fights as who did what and who stole from whom as this thing 'develops' into a product. Well, if I had a few millions to spare I think I may propose something like they just did. It's all about the market. Hey, people want crap and pay for it, give it to them. If ya want to make art, then do it and drive your 15year old car for another 15 years :)
At least you made art and didn't cave in to the masses.... with bad taste.

November 18, 2010

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Koo, I think your assessment is dead on. And putting aside the fact that the math Amazon is proposing isn't in the favor of the property creator, the question you posed in your initial review is key. Great films come lots of effort supporting a singular vision, not lots of individuals vying for a popularity contest.

November 18, 2010

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Everything about this idea is wrong. Does Amazon now want to be the Clear Channel of independent filmmaking? Lets do the opposite. The DSLR of today is the equivalent of the electric guitar of the 60's. Lets take over this bogus "independent" film scene and make some beautiful, satisfying, meaningful films. Screw Amazon!

November 18, 2010

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"hmm, perhaps I might go through any and every script I can find on there and spend 5 minutes adding my unwarranted opinions and unjustified 'corrections' to each authors thought out concept. It doesn't matter if I fully understand what the original author was trying to say, because I am pretty sure I can say it better. Do I know anything about the topic the creator is trying to shed light on or the psychology of the characters he has created... no, but that doesn't matter - I am now a co-author. If your project earns money, you gotta split it with me.

Maybe I will make a sweet rendition of your script with my cell phone. Don't worry it will only take about 45 minutes, and most of that will just be the upload time.

Actually on second thought, while I like the general idea of your story, I think I am just going to rewrite this whole thing in my own words. Then submit it as my own creation. Don't get me wrong, I wont be copying it verbatim... Heck, it might just be a co-inky dink that our stories are so similar. But I obviously wrote first..."

I wonder how many troglodytes will be trolling the scripts to do just those things... This whole Amazon Studios thing just sounds like one more way for as many people as possible to steal money from more writers....

November 18, 2010

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O'Ryan

Agreed. Furthermore, I just don't see why anyone with real talent would spend time combing through other people's FEATURE-LENGTH scripts and then adding their own revisions. It would take a lot of unpaid labor just to read and sift through scripts -- why do that if you have ideas of your own? And the 18-month exclusive option -- unpaid -- is a travesty.

November 18, 2010

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Don't forget you don't only have to sift through the original scripts but all of the user submitted iterations of each one. Amazon's claim in the FAQs that bad additions will be voted out by the community is total hogwash. I for one, after taking the time to read one bad iteration, will not sit to read another only slightly modified iteration just to make sure it's not actually bad.

hmm... perhaps we should all band together to collaboratively write a story on AS about a poor screenplay writer who gets screwed by a big company and ruins his story by letting random people edit and rewrite it. I say we play by amazons game and all just write one or two lines each, making it up as we go.

November 19, 2010

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O'Ryan

The copyright implications are too horrendous to contemplate. All writers should safeguard the value of their assets and steer clear of this nonsense.

November 19, 2010

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tonyk

This is a horrible idea! But then maybe the problem here is that 99% of us (or maybe even 100%) commenting are filmmakers and as such, our opinions are all those of, well- Filmmakers!

Was Amazon launched to make books more accessible to librarians? Was the Canon T2i designed for pro photographers? Is American Idol a serious attempt to find the best singer in America? Hell no! And I suspect that this idea of Amazon's is not aimed at filmmakers. At least not the kind who come to Koos website on a regular basis and make the effort to comment.

This is aimed at the masses. This is aimed at those who like watching movies and who because they filmed Uncle Bob doing his "turkey dance" at Thanksgiving using their iPhone that they can make a real movie. We need to be less self-absorbed here - we're a niche crowd, a minority, and Amazon is not aiming this at a minority. They are a multi-billion dollar corporation not Zacuto.

Its still a crap idea though...

November 19, 2010

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Neil

This idea is probably not going anywhere.

1) Professionals who are talented enough to be in business already surely don't need any favors from Amazon for anonymous critics/collaborators.

2) Any up and comers who are trying to break in are likely to have their good ideas that they have worked hard on diluted and/or stolen by strangers.

My feeling is that we choose to work with people because we know and trust them. This just seems messy and I doubt that there will be much good that comes out of it.

November 19, 2010

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Max

Another BIG PROBLEM @ Amazon Studios --> Their popularity ranking system is totally bogus. Anyone can learn how to game the system and create a top rated script. Scripts like Villain, Electric Sunset, Eyes of Darkness and Undesirables are perfect examples of poorly written screenplays that appear to have been gamed using the Amazon Studios ranking system. This is a poorly flawed system for representing the top ten scripts.

January 10, 2011

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Unhappy Amazon

Snakes on a plane was a good example of what a bunch of mediocre and cliche ideas can produce. Truth is, not everyone can tell a good story, on screen or off. I'm with Joshua on this, let the DSLR-crowd make some new and interesting content. If we leave it to the masses we'll end-up with a bunch of viral-youtube-type features that no one will actually pay to see. I can see it now...

Cute kids, funny dance routines, kittens, zombies, vampires, hot chicks, soldiers...and they're all trapped on a plane!

February 10, 2011

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Doubtful

i have much scripts but i dont know to get a producer

March 11, 2013

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hercule

Good article. I definitely appreciate this website. Thanks!

May 30, 2014

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2014, and still a laughably bad operation. Not exploitative (like it used to be) necessarily, but peddling weird, false hopes to writers; nonetheless, it's interesting (for the wrong reasons) to examine. So, right out of the gate:

Practically every single one of their movie scripts on the development slate is technically deficient to the point of being unreadable/unfilmable (fact).

Mind boggles. (No, seriously, you're telling me the 27 scripts they have are the BEST a company with the pocket-depth of Amazon could find/option; then they are incredibly inept in the screenwriting analysis department.) As the work (screenplays not TV) is all objectively garbage by any professional standards, at the outset, then, it just doesn't make sense as regards what they think they are doing, or why. My GUESS, then, is as they seem to me to be VERY specifically choosing scripts that can never be made ("ZvG", for example, does not even have a story - no kidding! Go and read it!) then they don't want to make them. (C’mon! Not a single one of these scripts has a correctly written logline/synopsis! ARGGHH!!)

Thus, the "10k options" (for 18 months) on their oxymoronic "development slate" (as there are only 27 on it, as of 2014) is small change to them, and the Warner Brothers thing is pretty much a dangling carrot as WB has so far picked up not one of their projects. Not a good record for a company the size of Amazon after 4 years if they really DID want to make movies. However, what they do get is the perception of allowing the public to "get involved" in the creative business of movie making, hence getting people to stick around/subscribe/buy stuff as part of the "Amazon community". And buying stuff/subscribing is their main business: don't be fooled into thinking it is original content. (Some of the episodic stuff looks okay, but you only have to watch "After" to see how wrong they can get that as well; I mean, this show is mesmerizingly bad - and the creator on this one was Chris Carter!).

So, Amazon, as your Amazon Studios “community” dwindles, and your vault of unreadable scripts groans under its own weight, love to hear your take on that. Oh, and while you're about it, get your creative consultants to read a bit more Aesop and Homer - hell, even Robert McKee, and they might trip over the definition of "story" at some point.

June 30, 2014

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R James