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,1 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?
- A singularly bad vision was allowed to see the project all the way to the end
- 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.
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.
- 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. [↩]