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April 22, 2013

Rate, Review, Share: Amazon Releases 14 Original Pilots Based on Aggregated Crowdsourced Responses

After launching in 2010, Amazon Studios has made its way to producing original content, albeit after a bit of trial and error. The 2012 changes, thousands of scripts, and your feedback have brought 14 of Amazon's pilot episodes from script to screen, including 8 comedies (1 of which was submitted via Amazon Studios). Now that these shows are available on Amazon Instant Video, viewers are once again being asked to share their input by rating and reviewing them; a strategy that Amazon has embraced since the beginning.

If you've never heard of Amazon Studios before, here's a brief rundown: it's a division of Amazon that develops shows and movies from online submissions that are reviewed and rated by readers. They aggregate these crowdsourced opinions and make choices on which submissions will be produced. There is a submission option that allows scripts to be modified by others or not (a change made to the original rules after some backlash from WGA writers). Amazon then has 45 days after the submission date to select the script. If it does, the writer receives $10,000, and if it's selected for distribution as a full-budget series, the creator gets $55,000 as well as other perks. Creators may also submit video content to be considered. Finally, once these scripts and/or videos are produced by Amazon Studios, they are available to view online on Amazon Instant Video. Check out this video to learn more:

8 comedies and 6 kids' shows make up the 14 pilots Amazon is considering producing for its original programming. Writers such as comedienne Kristen Schaal, former Daily Show head writer David Javerbaum, and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau were commissioned for pilots, and the folks from The Onion and 2 Big Bang Theory co-stars also dipped their pens in Amazon's original series ink. Check out this previous post for a more in-depth look at each show.

Now that the pilots are up and ready to view, Amazon wants you to give feedback. The homepage for Amazon's Pilot Season asks you to take a survey on your opinions regarding the show you viewed. There is also an option to write a customer review. Not only that, but they want to know what you think about their "test movies": For Sale By Superhero and Burma Rising (both are animatics). Here are the trailers for both of these movies:

According to Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios, all of the feedback they receive will be used to choose which pilots will be made into series and ordered. Price shed some light on their strategy in an interview with Co.Create. After describing feedback sessions where viewers will indicate whether or not they're enjoying the story at specific times during the story, Price was asked if feedback will inform him where he's going to "tighten things up in the story":

Definitely. It’s very helpful. I mean we can read it and do our own nudge but it’s very, very helpful and it’s what is distinctive about our process--to be able to have actual movie-goer feedback at the stage where you’re still in script. Usually, you’d be getting that feedback as you were standing in the lobby of the Mandarin theater at your test screening, having already invested $80 million. So I’m very happy to be getting that feedback now instead.

This open-sourced strategy has proven to get people involved. Viewers are able to make their voices heard and become a part of the process, rather than remaining solely bystanders. However, for the creators of these shows and movies, is this ideal? Will a show that has been written by a seasoned professional be at the mercy of its viewers -- not even in the honorable-death-at-the-box-office way, but in the change-stuff-about-your-project way? It's also completely possible that viewers won't want to participate (as some comments on Amazon have indicated).

Of course, there are always advantages and disadvantages to any strategy. For a viewer who wants to see more of what they like, maybe this is a great move on Amazon's part. For a writer who wants more creative freedom, maybe you're hoping that viewer suggestions don't drastically alter something you created.

Amazon isn't promising that viewer voting alone will make or break a show, but it will be "very influential." From what Price says, it seems like Amazon is simply looking for viewer interest information, not necessarily viewer creative opinion. It's almost like getting box office information before it ever goes to the box office, or getting instant Nielsen ratings. When asked what kind of feedback he's looking for, Price replied:

Are people interested in the concept? Are people interested in the character and in watching subsequent episodes? Does the pilot episode sustain interest? I think all of those expressions of interest and enthusiasm will be important in making the decision whether to send something through a longer order.

It remains to be seen how this strategy will affect the filmmaking community. Some will say (and have said) it is a great opportunity for filmmakers and screenwriters that haven't been able to get their work out there, and allows viewers to get more involved. Some will say (and have said) that the compensation isn't enough for what the writers and creators have submitted online to Amazon Studio, and that viewers shouldn't have such a large influence on their original work.

What do you think about Amazon Studios, its original programming, and its way of obtaining it? Is this a good opportunity for writers to get their projects out there? What do you make of Amazon's method of crowdsourcing opinions?

Links:

[via All Things D]

Your Comment

12 Comments

Fantastic post! I have been contemplating this topic a lot recently. As for compensation, people may balk at the dollar amounts stated in the article, but the numbers sound pretty good to me compared to what our indie auteurs have been making by ultimately submitting their work to YouTube and Vimeo! Especially if there is room for residuals or similar back-end compensation. This seems to me to be the only financially viable future for independents, barring some sort of Cinderella story like a major studio acquisition. Not only do indies need new distribution models in this era of 'democratization', but I think we could also benefit from new production models as well. Cheap cameras and cheap computers in and of themselves are not enough. Indies need to come together, pooling production and post-production talent into something akin to Roger Corman's old system - including the exploitation of both Kickstarter and the various new distribution avenues like Reelhouse.

April 22, 2013

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A Paul Thomas Anderson work would have never made it under such a "democratized" model built upon the masses' input and tastes. They should just cut to the chase and introduce the model where after each episode they poll the masses about what they want to happen in the next episode and then they do that.

April 22, 2013

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Pianohero

I don't think their methodology is nearly as restrictive as people are making it out to be. The bottom line is the bottom line; Amazon is putting up the money to finance the development of work that they have already internally determined to have merit, they simply want to shape the material to fit a reasonably broad appeal. Cuz you know... they're a business and stuff. They are interested in providing content and we are fortunate enough that they are willing to take a chance on unproven talent - within reason. If they don't make back their investment because no one is particularly interested in "our works", then they go bankrupt and we, in turn, are forced back into the YouTube abyss, racking up hundreds of thousands of hits and zero compensation. Obviously, maintaining creative control and artistic integrity are important, but for every Paul Thomas Anderson actually worthy of such there are hundreds of dilettantes who think they are but really aren't. Incidentally, The Master was rumored to have a $35 million budget and made $16.5 million at the box office. He coulda' used some committee creativity on that one...

April 23, 2013

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Here's a thorough review of all eight adult pilots:

http://amazonauditor.blogspot.com/2013/04/amazon-studios-has-had-interes...

April 22, 2013

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Tomazon

Worst idea ever! Creativity through committee, like that ever worked. Amazon's found an new way to steal and dilute ideas and create the generic through mass opinion. Im curious what writer would invite the opinions of others. Strength of conviction and all that?

April 22, 2013

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Oh, I dunno... any writer who's ever sold a script in Hollywood? Be serious: those of us who would be pitching the execs at Amazon (or Netflix, or Sony Pictures, or Universal, or...) would have very little leverage in our favor to begin with. If we did, they'd be beating a path to OUR doors.

April 23, 2013

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Think you misunderstood what I meant. This is giving your script to the masses and hoping someone more connected doesn't steal your idea.

April 23, 2013

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you're wasting your time. someone more connected is already doing it without even knowing about your version.
writers who act like they have the greatest script ever crack me up. they never do. never. and whatever experiences gave you the idea, someone else had them too, particularly in the US.
if you're starting out, show that you have ideas. many many ideas. people get hired because of the thinking process, not because they are the miracle font of great scripts.

April 23, 2013

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marklondon

Nobody said anything about having the greatest script ever. This is an industry with so few good ideas they have to continually rehash movies or plagiarise others work. Volcano gets rushed through production when they found out about Dantes Peak. Ants when they heard about Bugs Life, it goes on and on. Did they need to remake Spider-Man so soon after the Toby McGuire versions? No. I'm not a writer. My point was why would a writer post their script in public? If it ends up working then great but I think on the writing side people want less input not more.

April 23, 2013

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Even if it is good business (which I never argued against), it is no longer art. Art isn't about agreeing with the common denominator, it's about the artist stating his own idea, and developing a target demographic. A compromise would be for Amazon to divide its base by IQ, and have a separate department geared at creating content for people of IQ 125 and up, while letting everyone else make and enjoy "choose your adventure" common denominator product.

April 23, 2013

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Pianohero

I know what you mean, but I think you're romanticising just a bit. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort no matter who you are. You will be diluting your artistic vision throughout the creative process, as actors, DP's, editors and, yes, financiers all have input. That's just the way it works.

And while I realize your tongue is firmly in cheek with the IQ comment, a) they couldn't realistically afford that model and b) I think your observation is unfairly elitist. I appreciate a smartly done movie just like you, but the main reason people don't go to see "art" films isn't because of stupidity - it's because art films tend to be pretentious and BORING. :-) Subsequently, art films don't sell well and studios don't typically invest much money in their development - especially not where unproven talent is concerned. The previous example of PTA's "The Master" is a case in point; he had to secure private financing in order to get it made and he's a proven filmmaker!

So again, Amazon is providing a phenomenal opportunity for unproven filmmakers with compelling projects to get a foot in the door while making a pretty good initial profit and earning notoriety that can be parlayed into more meaningful stuff later. Win-win.

April 24, 2013

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If it is assumed that popular interests in a statistical way can homogenize some thing, then a film that is made because of many votes is reducing the pleasure of surprise and discovery. Consider this: the magician cannot perform magic if the critique of the performance outweighs the desire to believe in the trick.

IMHO, Amazon Studios is better suited to have proposals from films to be categorized into (A) budget, (B) style, and (C) season (of competition and release). The latter is of the most interest. A "seasonal" consideration for a film suggests that some sorts of films may happen in different periods of competition, random and somewhat unpredictable. This may even provide a desire to withhold entry, to gamble essentially. Just a thought...

April 30, 2013

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Tony Kieme