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6,000 Scripts and 600 Test Movies Later, How's Amazon Studios Doing?

12.6.11 @ 1:51PM Tags : , , ,

A year ago I asked, “Is Amazon Studios the Future of Film or is it a Bastardization of Crowdsourcing?” If you haven’t heard of it, Amazon Studios is a kind-of-strange crowdsourced movie studio, wherein Amazon.com is asking not only for script submissions but also test movies (which most often take the form of animatics) as part of their ongoing contest. To me the whole enterprise is offputting, as I tend to like movies that are sui generis as opposed to movies that are voted into existence because of a popularity contest, but hey — the film business is in need of new ideas and no one else is doing it quite like this. So, what’s happened over the last year?


If there is one finding that seems to have emerged from Amazon’s year-long experiment, it is this: the crowd isn’t necessarily more creative than a traditional Hollywood studio. We’ll have to wait till the first production hits cinemas to be sure, but based on the synopses for prize-winning scripts displayed on the site, Amazon Studios looks like a textbook case of a phenomenon observed by the influential web 2.0 critic Jaron Lanier in his book You Are Not a Gadget. “There’s a rule of thumb,” he writes, “you can count on in each succeeding version of the web 2.0 movement: the more radical an online social experiment is claimed to be, the more conservative, nostalgic and familiar the result will be.”

This excerpt is from a longer piece at The Guardian; hit the link below for the full read.

Has anyone submitted or at least voted at Amazon Studios? Any thoughts? Also, if you’re interested in submitting, there is still $162,000 up for grabs this month.

Link: The Amazon movie revolution … one year on – The Guardian

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  • I’ve been looking at that for some time now – still cant wrap my head around it. One thing that stands out GLARINGLY is the disparity of prizes. A full movie script only gets awarded $20k while a test movie gets $100k. Problem is the test movies I’ve seen are absolutely TERRIBLE and by the creators own admissions, usually took them a week or a weekend to slap together with a $200 handy cam and imovie studio.

    Given a half decent script takes at least 3-6 months of pain and sweat to create – it really doesnt seem like a good deal for the writers and ultimately without the writers – their IS no Amazon studios.

  • RevBenjamin on 12.6.11 @ 5:23PM

    Have to agree with you Paul. Just doesn’t seem to be much of a bang for a buck. Ironically I too recently dipped back into Amazon Studios, and it still seems to be un-inspiring to say the least. And their pitch video is laughably bad. At least some people will get opportunity out of it, though.

  • Wow that was a year ago? I remember that post. Damn this year went by really fast (typical end of year comment).

  • Robert freeborn on 12.8.11 @ 3:16PM

    I submitted a script for one of their rewrite contests, but that was it. I refuse to submit one of my other scripts that I have worked so hard on because they just ask too much. Even if they do use your script you lose all your ability to market it to anyone else for two years! And, from what I understand, they have the option of renewing it. All this without the garentee of even an ‘options’ payment. For me, this is too much. Amazon Studio’s idea is interesting, but I feel they demand too much control. For my money I’d far rather stick to the traditional and proved route of screenplay contests.

    • Robert,

      Check out http://studios.amazon.com/help/keeping-it-legal

      After submission, the initial option is 18 months; Amazon pays nothing for the initial 18 months. You agree to this when you upload a script. Additionally, they can renew the option for $10,000 for an another 18 months. In other words, you are paid for the renewal. If the script is purchased for production, you’re paid $200,000 which isn’t that bad in comparison to a major studio purchase. Of course, for $200k I have a feeling they lock you out of the rewrite process, lock you out of sequels, and close the door on the thought of the author being the director; it’s probably a total buy-out.

      When your script is under option, yes you do not have the ability to market the script to anyone else. You’ve given Amazon the exclusive “option” to use the script. This is standard practice in the Hollywood studio system.

      What tips me as being a little fishy is how this contract can be binding without some initial monetary exchange. This is why you see some option contracts for $1, it’s just to validate a contract. Sadly, I don’t think anyone submitting to Amazon has a really savvy entertainment lawyer.

      I think the biggest strategy is to submit some b-level scripts to Amazon, hope they get tied up for that 36 months, make a few grand off the option and then shop them around to agents by saying it was optioned for three years by Amazon and they dragged their feet.

  • Karan Bhatia on 12.8.11 @ 4:00PM

    Whatever it may be, i heard it first here, so i just signed up on it, we must all be patient with crowdsourcing, it has the potential to defeat the corporate monster eating up this world

  • I submitted; then took them all back after I got an on set rewrite job for 1 week on an indie feature.
    Made some solid contacts with their production staff and just realized there’s not enough coin or pull
    with this whole Amazon deal. Plus…the whole route they go with deciding scripts is really worst than the reader system with studios; agencies, etc. It’s too much of a b.s. popularity contest, once you read some of the chosen scripts. Pretty bad stuff being chosen as winners. Prefer to do my won thing; make my own contacts, be responsible for my own success. There’s enough solid contests out there to get your work in front of the right eyes. Now…I like the access to storyboard artists, DPs and other production talent you can find there.

  • I thought I’d chime in here. I have to disagree with people who think this is a popularity contest. The test film that I’m making for Amazon Studios ( which they are financing) is based on a script that got very little love from the general public and didn’t win any of the big money contests.

    My experience in general with them has been very positive. It’s given me a chance to see what it’s like to work within the “studio system”. I can see how some people might think that it’s not a worthwhile situation. It’s putting yourself out there with no guarantee of a reward. But isn’t that the reality of what we do as filmmakers anyway? At the level we are at, there isn’t a promise of any kind of payday. The most we can hope for is a pat on the back and a “good job, buddy.” That’s kind of the point of it all. As indie filmmakers we make movies because we love making movies. If someone pays you for it, that’s great, but it shouldn’t be the driving force behind you making a film.

    I guess what I’m saying is that any opportunity to get some recognition and possibly some money isn’t a waste of time. Your script or your film is being seen by more people than it would have gathering dust in your desk drawer. Then again, my opinion may be just a little slanted given my situation. OK, I’m done rambling and I’m getting off my soap box.

  • Still a laughably bad operation. Not exploitative (like it used to be) necessarily, but peddling weird, false hopes; 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 standard, at the outset, then, it just doesn’t make sense as to what 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. (Not a single one of these scripts has a correctly written logline/synopsis!! ARGGHH!!)

    Thus, the “10k options” on their oxymoronic “development slate” (as there are only 27 on it, as of 2014) is small change to them. 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 it; I mean, this 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. 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”.