Amazon Studios: The New Way to Break Into The Industry?

Amazon Studios

Amazon Studios

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.”

Poster for the opus, Desperate Measures

Submitting Work to Amazon Studios Could Be...

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).

Poster for the transgendered opus, The Messenger

Don't Shoot Me...

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.

Warner Brothers Logo

The House Harry Potter Rebuilt...

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!

See the fine print for yourself

The best list of available resources for screenwriters and filmmakers can be found on the right side of this page.

Looking for inspiration for a fun, four quadrant high concept idea?  Look no further, dear sir/madam.

To submit questions to be answered on the blog, email me at michael@scriptawish.com. I make it my mission to help aspiring writers, so feel free to email me for advice as well.

27 thoughts on “Amazon Studios: The New Way to Break Into The Industry?

  1. Frances Grimble

    The “time stamp” offer is ridiculous. In case anyone did not know, you can get a legal “time stamp” by the simple procedure of registering your script with the US Copyright Office. Registration is granted from the date the CO receives it, not months later when they finally get around to issuing you a certificate. Mind, I think posting the script online, even if you register it first, is like walking down the street in a bad neighborhood with $100 bills hanging out of your back pocket.

  2. Laurie

    My sentiments exactly. Having knowledge of Amazon’s breakthrough author deal on Createspace, when I first heard of this I too was excited. My 2nd click on the site was the FAQ which is when I could not believe what I was reading. And well, you’ve summed up everything thereafter.

    I feel badly for the writers (and there are a lot) that have submitted without looking at the fine print, but really let that be a lesson to you all, it’s great that technology is giving us so many avenues, but not so great when some are more like dark alleys — Always read the fine print!

    I hope Amazon changes these nasty points, they really are decent otherwise – surely they’re aware of the backlash going around ’cause there’s a lot of it…

  3. Catt Coleslaw

    Memo to JAVIER CASTILLO:
    SOME readers will read a script until they get to the first typo; then they’ll throw it in the trash.
    If it’s your script, my guess is they won’t get to the end of the first sentence–unless you get yourself a proofreader.
    You want to make your script easy to read, so don’t make it difficult by doing what you did in your comment: leaving out most of the punctuation, eschewing lower case, misspelling words. (The first ‘ADVISE’ should be ‘advice;’ it’s ‘recommendation,’ ‘a’ [not ‘AN’], ‘writer’).

  4. Sandra Branum

    Thank you for breaking this Amazon “godsend” apart and exposing it for what it is. One of the things I noticed was that you did not mention the fact that if a writer has a script he/she feels is good enough — invest the money and send it to you! Also, Atlanta has contests and Tyler Perry’s Studio; so keep writing and networking. The bottom line — if you want it bad enough; don’t give up!

  5. Charles Jones

    I think you should go a whole column reminder readers about Zoetrope. In brief, http://www.zoetrope.com is a site provided by Francis Ford Coppolla (of “The Godfather”) for writers and other creative types. They have their own screenwriting competition, but I think the main benefit is the writers forums. I have found the disucussions to be invaluable, and they include writers of various experience levels. Zoetrope (apart from the competition) is not meant to give you a break, but neither does it try to essential steal your work (as, ahem, some of us might think about Amazon). Zoetrope provides a great opportunity for a community of writers to learn, and also to exchange scripts for mutual critiques. And on Zoetrope, there is a “delete” button.

  6. JAVIER CASTILLO

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR ADVISE REGARDING AMAZON
    I WAS ABOUT TO MAKE A BIG MISTAKE SENDING MY FIRST SCRIPT TO AMAZON

    PLS ADVISE WHAT IS YOUR RECOMENDATION FOR AN SCRIPT WRITTER LIKE ME
    WHO HAS A FINAL SCRIPT READY FOR SALE ??

  7. Helyn

    Wow, thanks for doing all that legwork, Michael. I only took a cursory glance at their Option Agreement and Development Agreement and was quite leery, but still had some lingering thoughts about it. Your thorough detective work is MOST appreciated!

  8. Pamela Curry

    Doing “time” as an English major I had some choices, the ying and the yang of learning from two opposite opinions was what brought the most balance. Those opinions would be from a Jesuit Priest and an ex-nun
    intellectual, critical analysis.

    Respectfully, you’re a good writer, but critically there isn’t enough
    balance in this article. You are right about one thing, people don’t read or understand the fine print, corporations count on this. They wear people down so they don’t have the time to do it.

    For those of us who also read lawsuits, the Hollywood Studio system
    even once connected, it isn’t a dream scenario.

    There are real roadblocks that are deliberately put in the way of individuals singled out for retaliation, and lastly- you’ve a dick?!!

    I believe if you have a high concept idea it’s best to develop
    multiple revenue streams outside of the mainstream film industry,
    at least for copyright purposes. That might be why the Whedon’s write comic books, other writers short stories or novels and others develop short series. unedited

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  11. Steven Kale

    Oh God, I feel sick to my stomach. Like a fool I quickly uploaded THREE of my screenplays on Amazon Studios without reading the fine print. I know, I know, I’m a flipping moron. It’s just that I haven’t had any luck with Inktip.com, scriptblaster, sending out queries (with The Hollywood Creative Directory) and entering contests. One of the scripts I submitted has been collecting dust since I completed film school in ’06, so I don’t really mind about that one. Another I wrote with a friend and although its a fun script, it’s not that great. But one in particular is a screenplay that I believe in and care about. I don’t wanna be tied down for 18 months or possibly have someone else rewrite the damned thing. Damnit, this sucks!!! Thanks for the heads-up, though. I’ll refer others to this article before they put their work up on Amazon Studios.

  12. charly

    This Amazon thing is for teenagers. I know Hollywood runs on raw desperation, but I cant imagine anyone with any ability to move a script upward actually reading this Amazon.

    Use ur writers’ imagination and try to imagine someone doing that. Maybe hiring the least popular in the office to read them, but that is just to punish the person.

    This whole thing is stupid beyond measure, or just a lark.

  13. charly

    Another strategy is to put on Amazon as many scripts as you can muster, and only those that u abandoned, but which have the needed 80 pages. Then, say u put up 30 scripts and increase the chance to win something. That is with the thought that there are not that many people WILLING TO WORK AT AMAZON READING SCRIPTS (a crap job in itself) who also can spot a really good script. If the readers are broke English majors, they could go for anything, especially if it is more like a novel they were taught in college.

  14. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris Post author

    Thank you so much for all of your comments, it means a lot and you guys have great insight. I was thinking about adding one last part to the article, and when Doug made his comment I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

    Doug, I think your question is valid and your scenario would be one of those great examples of a “What the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose with THIS script”. One of the caveats to the article that I meant to write is if you have a script that’s not the World’s Most Amazing High Concept idea just collecting dust somewhere – and you believe in it – absolutely you should take a stab at Amazon’s contest. As one of your Dust Collectors, you have nothing to lose submitting that kind of script. BUT, and these two points are important:

    1. If it is even remotely high concept, and the idea is commercial and (to your knowledge) never been done before, I might shy away from submitting it – even if it is collecting dust.

    2. Even if it’s not high concept and you believe wholeheartedly in it – BUT IT’S NOT YOUR ABSOLUTE BEST WRITING – then do not submit it. Again, you don’t know who is lurking on the site, reading material. If it’s someone from the industry and you don’t put your absolute best foot forward, that *could* find a way to bite you in the butt later on down the road. Like Amazon says, there’s no “delete my stuff” button, so be sure that any script you choose to submit is in the most perfect shape it can be.

  15. Mark

    Great points in the article. I’m surprised Warner Bros didn’t bring up some of the points to Amazon that might rise the ire of screenwriters.

    18 month option is a little long, year would be a better starting point.

    First, how about a notes system for the writer? Let the writer revise, then vote on whether the changes make the script better.

  16. DOUG SHEAR

    Thanks for the amusing and factual dissection. Great job! But I wonder, if your script has been sitting around for the last 18 months gathering dust and marijauana crumbs – and you wholeheartedly believe in it – there’s not much to lose. Plus it might be fun just to be part of the experiment and see what happens. I’m just saying…

  17. Desiree

    Thanks Mike for wading through all the muck and mire; for crushing our rose-colored glasses. I got excited when I saw this opportunity, but I didn’t really want to put the high concept script I have out there to be stolen, or hacked to death like a bad horror movie. Hard work and perseverance, there is no substitute.

  18. Jon Eric Anderson

    I don’t mean to be a pain here, but while this is indeed a great article on Amazon’s well-intentioned efforts, perhaps somebody might want be able to tell me why the heck Amazon isn’t accepting submissions in .fdr format?

    Aaaaargh!!!!! 🙂

  19. The Rake

    Absolutely love this article. I appreciate the time you took to go through the fine print and break it down for the rest of us. I looked at it initially, and only briefly, but I too was stunned primarily by the notion that your work can be re-written. Who can’t wait to give up creative control? Yeah! Things in the public domain are sketchy for this reason. I, too, love Amazon, but this is a major wait and see. It will be interesting to see what comes of it for those that do participate.
    The Rake
    http://thefilmnest.com

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  21. Daniel P. CalvisiDanC-ActFourScreenplays

    Great article, Michael, and thanks for the fun links you have peppered throughout the post!

    Amazon Studios will be a grand experiment that may end up a dismal failure, but whatever happens it will be interesting to watch.

    It’s basically Triggerstreet.com with some serious money behind it and a much stronger mandate to make movies from the user’s content, right? And Triggerstreet was a more slick Zoetrope, and there’s tons of other creative community sites out there, so the idea is nothing new.

    As some friends have said, yes it’s scary to lock up a script for 18 months, so the best route is probably to submit a script that you love but is just gathering dust on your hard drive. In other words, don’t submit your current, high-priority, high-concept submission spec. If you’re a serious, good writer then you have a backlog of material that is high quality thus will outshine 99% of the other writers’ content on an amateur site like this.

    Others rewriting your work…I think the reason they’re doing this is to prove this whole “crowd-sourcing” theory which personally I think has no place in writing, but as for other creative mediums…I don’t know enough to say.

    Can anyone else point to a success story with crowdsourcing creative content? My take is that it has a place on a website but on national television or in a movie theater where you’re asking people to pay to view it? I doubt it.

    But we’ll see. Into the fray!

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