Our special corner of the internets has been abuzz about the recent announcement by Amazon.com to open their own movie “Studio” – inviting filmmakers and screenwriters of all sizes, shapes, and locales to submit their work for the "Chance Of A Lifetime."
The marketing is pretty great, and while it’s exponentially more life changing news than Apple’s announcement about the Beatles, will it actually be a legitimate avenue for aspiring writers and directors to get their foot in the door?
After wading through the fine print, the short answer is: depends on how desperate you are.
First, let’s go over what Amazon Studios actually is. According to Amazon it’s about you being able to Win Money, Get Noticed, and Get Your Movie Made. Just imagine Triggerstreet.com on several cans of FourLoko.
It’s for anyone who has a script or movie, and it’s free to enter too. Sounds amazing, right?
Now, if you know anything about me or if you’ve read any of my own website’s blog, you’ll know that - a.) I’m all about helping aspiring writers get their foot in the door, and b.) I’ve written articles on all the different ways that are available to you. I’m going to add Amazon Studios to that list, but I’m not ranking it very high. And here’s why:
Once you get past the marketing, you find out that anything you submit to the site can be read by anyone else with an internet connection, and then REVISED WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT. They can make a new mutant offspring of your once adorable baby, which means your material will now have other names attached to it. The game gets even more fun if THAT new version gets revised by someone else…and on and on.
IF, by chance, one of your script’s offspring actually ends up winning the monthly or annual prize, you have to split the money however Amazon.com sees fit. I know, I know – it sounds like one of those good problems, right? Well…
As we all know, the real money in writing is in the rights and distribution. The more control you can have over that, the better – and with Amazon Studios ANYTHING YOU SUBMIT WILL BE UNDER AMAZON’S CONTROL FOR 18 MONTHS. Any material that is uploaded to the site cannot be sold, licensed or displayed anywhere else. So if someone happens to read your script and wants to option it or buy it, they can’t. Not for at least 18 months, and possibly longer.
Oh, and there is no “delete my stuff” option, either. Once it's up there, it's up there. Warts and all. No take backs, Will Hunting.
So basically, if you have any inkling that sometime in the next 18 months, someone is going to read your script, recognize your genius, and try and set it up at a studio – you’re SOL.
If you have one of those amazing high concept movie ideas that come around once in a lifetime, and you put it up on the site, and someone else reads it and steals it, you’re also kind of SOL.
On the “stealing” front, Amazon says that as a security precaution, all you have to do if you see someone who has blatantly copied your work, just click the “Report This” button and they will look into it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hinge the safety of a script I worked on for months to a cute little button and the will of a website.
The other protection they talk about is that submitting it to the site provides a “time stamp” that you will be able to use to prove a script was yours. The only time either of those two will actually protect you is when a.) someone who steals your work is stupid enough to post it back on the Amazon site, or b.) in a court of law (and by the time things get to court you’re already SOL).
It’s not looking very promising so far, is it? Well, I promise this isn’t all just sturm und drang. At the very least, this Amazon Studios thing is nowhere near as bad as James Frey’s Fiction Factory, so take comfort in that. Maybe best of all, it’s not the Marvel Writing Program which, besides the arcane contract bindings, isn’t even for aspiring writers like you but for those already with agents and managers and a script sale or two.
Okay, so let’s talk about the good stuff.
What happens if you actually win a month or the annual prize? Cash Money, yo! 20K for a monthly win, and 100K if your script wins best of the year. They give prizes every month, and your script can be eligible for multiple months if Amazon deems enough has been changed about it. To top it off, even if the best script of the month is junk (and the FAQ section would have you think that this first installment won’t have many submissions – so you have a better chance of winning!) you’ll get your bling on. Not too shabby there, Amazon marketing people.
So what happens if a studio ends up wanting to buy your script? Why, you get 200Gs – and hopefully you don't have to split it with anyone (see: unauthorized revisions). But wait, let’s take a second look at that $200,000. It will actually come from Amazon.com buying the rights from you in order to sell it to the studio. Essentially, that means they’re going to then turn around and sell your script to the studio for whatever amount of money that is and pocket it (likely more than $200,000) and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
In effect, if your script was good enough that a studio would buy it, and you hadn’t submitted your script to Amazon, you probably would have made more money on the sale, you would have full rights to your material, AND no one else would have the ability to put their name on it. Oh shoot – I said I was going to talk about good stuff in this section, didn’t I? Sorry. Let’s get back on the love train:
First, I can’t dismiss that if all that prize money and all those good things DO happen for you, they probably wouldn’t have happened without Amazon. Frankly, if you have no other connections to anyone who works in Hollywood (even interns and assistants can start your career), and if you don’t want to spend money to enter the more prestigious script contests, and if you don’t want to submit your script to Disney Fellowship or Sundance Institute, and if you don’t want to get help from businesses that try and connect good scripts to producers and agents, and if you don’t want to spend the time researching how to write a great query or logline, or if you don’t want to take the time to email industry people who are open to unsolicited submissions, and if you don’t have the ability to move to LA for a couple months and make your own connections, then yes, you absolutely need Amazon Studios to make your dreams come true. In that scenario, Amazon Studios is a god send. Manna from heaven.
Another good thing about the Amazon Studios endeavor is that they are cool with you entering your script into contests during the 18 months it’s up on their site. That’s pretty nice, right? Especially because if you win one or more contests, it makes it easier for Amazon to turn around and sell your script to the studio. Sadly, if your script was good enough to win one of the more prestigious contests, you might not have needed Amazon in the first place.
In addition, Amazon has worked out a first look deal with one of the top dogs in studio land, Warner Brothers. Having worked for production companies with first look deals, and those without, I can tell you it can make a difference. Sometimes. Err... it really depends on the strength of the material and the packaging and the... oh never mind.
Now, Amazon won’t help you actively look for representation (unlike the Disney Fellowship and Sundance Institute), but in their FAQ they make it sound like the agents will naturally come a callin’ - so don’t worry about it, dude.
What’s funny is that I’m really not a cynical or negative guy. While I am a no BS guy, I try to always be very positive. It's just that I've gone from being excited about this great new idea when I first heard about it, to feeling quite disillusioned after spending all day yesterday poring over the contest’s fine print. You actually won’t find a bigger fan of Amazon.com and all the innovations it’s brought to the internet – so maybe that’s why I was disappointed to see them completely miss the point of who we are as screenwriters and what we do.
We don’t look at unwanted collaboration and go “Hey, that’s awesome – yeah, change my protagonist, alter the theme of my movie, and add some unnecessary explosions. I absolutely love it, yes. Thank you sir, may I have another?” It's not how we work, and it's certainly not how we look at things after spending months with our characters and plotting the predicaments they find themselves in.
Amazon touts this whole “revisions” thing as a type of love nest/commune of artist’s collaboration, when in reality we screenwriters view it as a pack of dirty kindergartners sticking their grubby little ravenous fingers into the beautiful pie we just baked.
And while the prize money is good, and the connections at Warner Brothers are sound, how much is that really worth to your dream of breaking into Hollywood? How low is your confidence that This Might Be Your Only Shot? Because if you think this is your best and only shot, then ABSOLUTELY GO FOR IT. This contest was made for you, and I can’t wait to read your name in lights. Truly.
But if you have a feeling that there are other avenues yet to be explored, or you have connections, or know how to get some, buy some, or use someone else’s, then I would hold off for now.
The real downside to this is that, as we all know, scripts will get revised. They will always get better and better – and Amazon won’t ever let you take anything down that’s been posted on their site. So if someone from the industry were to find your script on there, you better be damn sure it’s looking as sleek and handsome as can be. The last thing you want is for someone who can actually hook you up start to read what you’ve posted, and think you can’t write because they looked at the first draft you posted rather than that sick 3rd draft that reads like the wind.
At the end of the day, this contest is about you giving up your exclusive rights to develop your own material for 18 months or more – and if your ideas are good, very likely losing control of your own material once it reaches the meat market. If you’re willing to chance that for prize money and a first look deal with WB, go for it. I just want to make sure that everyone goes in with their eyes fully open to what they are getting themselves into.
No matter what you decide, I want you to succeed.
Good luck and Happy Writing!
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