Amazon-studiosThis story got swallowed up by all of the recent NAB coverage, but I think it's very important. Much has been said here about Amazon Studios, but it quickly became clear that it was not designed to help independent filmmakers, especially those without any ties to the industry. By industry standards, the terms that Amazon Studios were giving to writers was almost laughable. For 18 months Amazon had a free option on your script. No protection at all. All of the other positives of the initiative go out the window when you lose your script for that long without any option to do anything else with it. But Amazon has changed their mind and has decided to give some fair terms to those who submit scripts.

at Filmmaker Magazine had previously given a good summary of why Amazon Studios didn't make any sense for independent filmmakers. Now he's gone back and revisited the situation. The Bitter Script Reader gives a good rundown of what's different about the new Amazon Studios. Here's a little bit from their blog post:

What's gone:
Test movies
Screenplay contests
Million Dollar Prize

What's new:
Screenplay "Opportunities"
Trailer Contests
PRIVATE submissions
45 day option
$10,000 cash money option up front (18 months)
$33,000 rewrite opportunities

Anne Thompson over at IndieWire also had a chance to look at the new Amazon terms, and it's clear they are going to be much more like a real studio and less like an online contest. Here's a quote from her post:

For one thing, readers told them that folks who submit screenplays online want to get immediate feedback--they don't want to wait as long as 18 months. So now they will get it within 45 days. Either a script gets optioned or rights revert to the writer.

I'd say that's good news. To have to wait that long for feedback from a company worth billions seemed a little ridiculous. Now you'll get (almost) immediate feedback on your script and you'll know very soon whether they are going to option it or you'll get all of your rights back. That seems like a much more sensible way to operate a business.

Here is the full list of changes courtesy of Indiwire:

Original scripts:

  • As before, writers can submit a script for review publicly on Amazon Studios, but now they also have the option to submit privately to the Amazon Studios team.
  • Following a 45-day option and evaluation period either:
  1. Amazon Studios will add the project to their Development Slate by purchasing the script or paying $10,000 to extend the option
  2. The writer gets back their rights to sell the script.  The writer can also choose at this time to remove the project from the site or leave it on the site to receive feedback from the creative community.

Open Writing and Directing Assignments

  • Amazon Studios will regularly offer open writing assignments for projects on the Development Slate. Currently paid writing opportunities are available for 12 Princesses and I Think My Facebook Friend is Dead.
  • Starting today, test movies will be funded by Amazon Studios.  Amazon Studios will occasionally offer paid directing opportunities for projects on the Development Slate.

WGA Agreement

  • People’s Production Company, an Amazon Studios production company, is now a signatory to the Writers Guild of America Minimum Basic Agreement.

One of the biggest positive is outlined here by The Bitter Script Reader:

There is no scenario where someone can claim any of your rights money by revising your original script or movie via Amazon Studios. If someone creates a revised version of an original script, they may be eligible to receive a share of any contest winnings. But rights payments are not shared. If a theatrical movie is released from an original script on Amazon Studios, the creator of the original script or movie gets 100% of the rights payments. People who are revising scripts or making video content (like trailers) based on scripts are going for award money and are helping someone else get their movie made. But they are not sharing in the rights money.

That's really the way it should be. If you create something, you should retain the complete rights of the script, and also be the only one to receive payments. The others who help refine and shape the script are only able to receive award money from Amazon, but will not be receiving any rights payments. It's still not a perfect system yet, but it's certainly much better than it was when it was first announced almost two years ago. It doesn't take advantage of amateur writers as it once did. I think it's a positive sign that they are serious about the business, and it still gives independent writers without any connections a fast-track to getting a script made into a feature film.

Link: Amazon Studios

[via Filmmaker Magazine & Indiewire & The Bitter Script Reader]