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How Amazon Studios is Trying to Get Free Options to Privately Submitted Screenplays

Many aspiring screenwriters want Amazon Studios to be the key to being discovered — a company with billions of dollars and an open door policy that wants to find content in new ways to make movies. Much has been written here and elsewhere about why the initial version of Amazon Studios was not a good deal for emerging screenwriters and independent filmmakers. So it was welcome news when Amazon Studios revised its terms, shortened its free option window to 45 days on public submissions, agreed to pay $10,000 for options beyond the 45 days for up to 18 months, agreed to get back to writers about their submissions within 45 days, and created private submissions for writers that did not want to share their screenplays with the community or provide Amazon Studios with a free 45-day option. Under these revised rules, however, screenwriter Chip Street has found a major catch.

Here’s what Chip had to say in Part 1 of his two-part blog post when Amazon Studios offered to put his privately submitted screenplay Faeries on its ‘Consider’ list:

Out of all the screenplays submitted, precious few make it to the consider list. To make it happen, all we need to do is click a button, and make our script a public submission – starting that 45 day option clock ticking.

Now, we could choose to make the script public and displayed on the consider list, and set the collaboration feature to ‘closed’. So nobody can write new version for Amazon to own rights to. But remember, the ‘closed’ setting only applies to written versions. Filmmakers COULD still make video content based on our script. And Amazon would own the rights to those videos. FOREVER. And they can distribute those videos as they please – on YouTube, or on their subscription based VOD platform, and collect ad revenue from associated ad content. Forever. For free. Did we say free? Free. Did we say forever? Forever.


What this amounts to is that while they didn’t want to pay for an 18 month option, they did want us to give them a free option for 45 days. And all that that implies. Exactly what we were trying to avoid by going with a private submission in the first place.

After Chip’s initial blog post, Amazon Studios emailed him an FAQ to clarify its position on how making the ‘Consider’ list impacts the option status of his screenplay. Yet, this FAQ seemed to do anything but clarify matters for Chip:

This is the one that really kills me:

Q: If my privately uploaded project is added to the Consider List, will that automatically make it public?
A: No. That’s up to you.

Yet in the original congratulations email I got from Amazon Studios, in which they invited me to post my screenplay to their consider list, they said: “We encourage you to make your project public so that it can be featured on the Consider list…” — and making it “public” is exactly what we’re trying to avoid…

There are no buttons on my project page other than “make project public”. How would I have my project on the consider list WITHOUT making it public?

Chip’s two-part blog post on his initial reaction to Amazon Studios’ ‘Consider’ List offer and their FAQ follow-up are must-reads for screenwriters considering submissions to Amazon. From Chip’s experience, it still doesn’t seem like Amazon Studios has created a fair and equitable path for undiscovered writers to get their material read yet.

Have you submitted a screenplay to Amazon Studios? Have you received a similar offer to get on the ‘Consider’ List? Tell us about your experiences with the current model of Amazon Studios.

Links: Chip Street: Amazon Studios’ New (Old) Deal for Screenplay Options Part 1 and Part 2

[via John August]

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  • There is no way that this even close to a fair and equitable deal for the screenwriter. Amazon gets to keep the rights FOREVER? Why would anyone but a moron, e.g., someone who doesn’t value their own time/labor/effort very much, consider giving away such rights without a serious cash payment or back-end points?

    I pray to God that this is not the future of filmmaking.

    Get out there and make films and get your scripts to proper studios. When you give away your product this easily for this little money, ultimately, you are undercutting the whole system, and no one will value anything. This is also a reason why unions like the Writer’s Guild are necessary because corporations mostly don’t care about art and the creative process. They are only interested in getting as much as they can for as little as possible.

  • Typical, rights grab, for no money!
    This has been going on for years with stock photography, “contests” have always been a great way to screw ignorant photographers, usually amateurs out of their reproductions rights when they submit photos to “win” a prize.

  • Mark my words, Amazon Studios closes within 2-3 years. It’s just a lousy side project by a logistics company that should stick to selling consumer goods.

  • Thanks for sharing my story here… I keep hoping that I will learn I’m misunderstanding some aspect of the AS model but not so far.

    EXCLUSIVE UPDATE (until I post it at my blog anyway): Amazon followed up my second email inquiry with a more definitive response:

    From AS: “In response to your first question, “How would I have my project on the consider list WITHOUT making it public?” — The nature of the Consider List requires that all projects featured on list are public. There is currently no way to have your project on the Consider List while keeping it private.”

    Now that’s pretty much what I figured, but their communications have been awkward and off-point … still, with this answer they’ve confirmed that at the very least other AS members can create video assets based on a project on the “Consider List” and AS will retain all rights to those assets.

    Ever the optimist, I’ll focus on the word “currently” in their answer, and hope that perhaps, one day, Amazon Studios will offer to highlight scripts they’ve given a “consider” on their Consider List without retaining any rights to them.

    Till then, no Consider List for me, thanks anyway.

  • Hi Chip ..if this gets to you good luck with what you are trying to achieve and as line producer with one Academy Award winning doco under my belt I have now turned to writing and completing all those projects that have been bouncing around my head for years…being of a certain age has given me this time.

    Please keep me in the loop.

    Peter

  • Chip,
    Thanks for exposing Amazon’s “great offer” (“Hurry, buy now, and we’ll throw in a pair of Ginsu knives while we take control of your intellectual ideas and property”), and then the follow-up. Isn’t it frustrating?!!! I had my suspicions about them all along. I only hope that word gets out to the masses. All the best… -W

  • Message FROM, a potential scenario-candidate at AMAZON.STUDIOS.Com
    I allredy subscribe to their subsidiary ABOUT.COM subject, Ancient History Matters.

    Hi FOLKS,
    Not that it matters, but
    “MY Project is now alive at Amazone Studios ” in the next 30 Days I should get word from review or approval
    I live in Holland, where historical traditions seem to be thrashed easily
    My Film Scenario is about the ( First-)Dutch Sea-War dd 1655-1666
    King Charles-2 was also King of the American( not yet US but Union-)Colonies
    He was deposed and bannished in 1649 and recalled in 1660 to England.

    On his way back from Germany, he passed Holland and the City of Delft where
    he stayed a forthnight and there met his nephew ( and eventual-)successor)
    Prince William-3 and had to audience, about 50 ambassador’s coaches waving him out

    Alas King Charles was about to get Holland for no particular provoked reason.
    he started by buying cannons at the Delft-East indian company arsenal
    and capturing New Amsterdam in 1664, starting the second`Dutch`Sea War !

    Much has been written about the Dutsch fraction that would gladly be
    part of the British Union in 1650 offering Cromwell overlordship over Holland
    proposed by the Dutch embassador in London ( Cavalry-Lieutenant Buatt )
    but the sitting government didn´t want to be put on a pension-scheme

    Prince William-3 since his Birth in 1650 was destined to become the next king
    of the British-Union all along, but Chancellour Johan DeWitt refused to let him go
    After much ordeals by King of France Louis the 14-th and foreign occupation in 1672

    Prince William-3 at age 39, by now an experienced Army-general
    staged an invasion in England and persued the fleeing british army in ireland
    it was named the `Glorious-Revolution`of 1689 and a coronation followed.
    But Holland was again not included into the British/ Union, because,

    During his life as a Child-of-the-State( as a realm-protected-charge.)
    he suffered humiliations and doubts about his intellectual capabilities
    so he gladly breathed the cosmopolitan air at Bleheimpalace London
    and rather left his home country Holland in the lurch politically and economically.

    False tradition tells that the King died when he fell off his horse in 1702
    but in reallity he got pneumonia by draft/air currents, when falling asleep inbetween
    two open windows at Blenheim Palace .

    One may wonder what the culturally totally insignificant City of Delft
    has got to to with the above historical events. Well by accident
    King William/-3 placed a Marriage commemory Plates order at the
    Delft earthware factory and thereby ` invented ` the Delft- Blue Pottery Brand.
    So the sleepy City of Delft Holland made unwittingly propoaganda for the British-Union !

    throw in the fact that Holland´s (second-) best master-Painter VERMEER of Delft
    refused to become the new british court-painter(in 1660.)(replaced by Vandike.)
    and some political intrigue as a Nostradamus duplicate Charles-3 and William-4
    and any filmmaker could re-enact the 16th Cen.Dutch/English situation in modern rtimes !

    I offered a script Synopsis to differend Movie-Companies such as Discovery Channel
    Disney-Channel( on account of the movie `National Treasure´with Nicolas Cage.) and
    allmost ofcourse to BBC-History-TV-Channel but they all rteferred to their Litt.Agents,
    with the condition that the Submitted Script would be type faced, in( ugly-) FONT Courrier
    With such barriers and red/tape on the way I wonder how much potentially good scripts
    will have found their way to the many illegable would/be authors wastepaperbasketts !

    Considering that most Movie-scenarios are develloped by impulse and not by design
    If Nat.Geo.Soc can make totally unintresting Nature movies ABOUT river-estuary SUNSETTS
    a ( DUTCH heritage ) historical movie should not be considered a financial disaster

    Dutch Filmmakers wo allready did 4 VERMEER Movies in Delft , inbetween 1989-2003
    Strangely were NOT Intressted, overlooking the tourist revenues that this would generate!
    So in these cultural ignoble circumstances, as a ´ Persona -non -Grata ´in Greater-Holland,
    My only ´ getting my historical-movie-Project-in sideways ´ is to turn to AMAZON.Com submittance facilities !
    and so choose for the lesser of two Evils± about, Mnts of ignorance, or public rehabilitation !

    At present the meeting place of the Mightiest King of the 16-th Cent. British-Union King Charles
    and a Dutch sissy ´Sprite ´in line of succession took place in what is now the country´s Army-Museum
    Actally this Arsenal is a wax-Models-museum of famous dutch military man and regiments
    Any Film-Movie Company could make a 16-th Cent.Costumated Movie almost free of Prop/chage !
    The Sceney, Dutch courtyards from 1650, costumes etc are still original but guess what =
    In Medio-2013 the City will foreclose the Army Museum for lack of visitors
    My guess is that any US Movie Comp. can get at this Army-Collection-wardrobe cheap !
    It is for the taking, but as whistleblower I got the customary treatment, ´ Who do you think you are =´

    I´ld like to end with a phrase from the ( Original- )Movie. Never Ending Story,°
    pronounced by Noah Hattaway, as Atreyu, the Child, now a Warrier,
    ´But, If you don´t WANT me here, I am equally happy to go back hunting the Purple Buffaloo´

    Sincerely,
    Prof. MUSTER,
    ( amateur-historian-/ Egyptologist.) from, Amsterdam/ Holland
    Emailto, muster@orange.nl Tel. 00-31-015-2131062 dd 12 Dec 2012.

    If this gets to any Big Studio/Moviemaker
    he is free to comment. it is getting late !

    • Hi Prof. Muster,
      When you write a screenplay, producers are looking for two things from you.
      1) A properly formatted script (yes, in that ugly Courier font).
      2) A great story (with great characters and lots of conflict and drama).

      Why is the formatting SO important? It shows you understand the process and care enough to get your work produced. ALWAYS use a script program like Final Draft or Celtx. Also, a properly formatted script means that one page will equate to one minute of screenplay – a producer can then immediately tell how long your film will be.

      Even if yours is a historical piece, you still need to choose the right character archetypes for your story. For example, from whose point of view is your story? Who is your hero? What are their wants and needs? How do they change across the arc of their journey?

      I can recommend ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler – it will help you tremendously.

      Also, I appreciate that English is not your first language, so if you’re writing your screenplay in English, it would be worth hiring a screen doctor to review your script prior to submission.

      I hope that helps.

      I love historical films like the one you have proposed. I sincerely look forward to seeing it on the big screen someday soon. I’m sure others will too, so please take some time to understand and follow the rules (ugly fonts and all!) otherwise it will never happen.

      All the best,

      Ian

  • Thank you for posting this on Amazon Studios. I am a professional writer and I must start with the environment for posting a public script is horrible. If you want someone to criticize your work and try to steal it then DO NOT post it on AS publicly. AS is full of amateur people who claim to be writers but in reality they are not. Very few credentials and the test movies are quite bad. I have only seen 1 or 2 test movies that looked good but beware.

    No one who wants to write decent scripts and get good feedback should submit their work publicly. I recommend getting an agent if you are trying to sell a screenplay. Get an agent and try to sell it to other film studios.

    AS is not for me. I don’t know how others feel about it. But my experience was nasty!

  • I understand the concern people have but I also think it’s easy to say what’s unfair and doing yourself a disservice if you assume that you can get a “legitimate” studio to read your work. For people who’ve tried for years with little success who feel thwarted at every turn by how often serious consideration of your work can come down to connections rather than an agent/studio happily taking a look at a nobody’s screenplay…

    … submitting to AS, where they don’t need an agent or to know someone in the industry or have prior credits in the industry or to live where they can bump into the right person to get their script into the right hands, can be a great alternative to what they see as the possibility of never having their work considered by anyone ever.

    To someone who’s never had more than a grain of rice in their lives, a sack of rice is pretty promising. It’s only those who’ve been privileged enough to eat well who’d turn that sack away for a meal they “deserve”. If anyone is that concerned, I’d say to do what many literary writers do. Submit work that you’d like to see considered, but that isn’t your “baby” project you think the world owes you the moon for having slaved over.

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