An old ploy from a new trick

Amazon StudiosLast week a new film development process called Amazon Studios was announced, which Amazon is touting as the cool, modern way to make movies:

Movies have been developed pretty much the same way since talkies were considered cutting-edge. But here at Amazon Studios, we believe 21st-century technology creates opportunities to make and share movies and scripts more easily than ever. We invite you to:

  • Win money. Amazon Studios will award a combined $2.7 million in our first year’s worth of monthly and annual contests for the best scripts and movies. There is no charge to participate. Learn more.
  • Get noticed. Your work will be shared with a global community of filmmakers and fans, who can offer revisions and advice. Screenwriters can see their words come to life as full-length test movies made by directors vying for our $100,000 monthly awards.
  • Get your movie made. The goal of Amazon Studios is to work with Hollywood to turn the best projects into major feature films.

The first of many problems is that as soon as the writer enters the contest s/he has agreed to a contract, and as UK screenwriter Michelle Lipton points out the contract is less than exemplary.

Many established screenwriters have weighed in with their opinions on the contract. Most of them have been through the process of developing scripts for film and/or television and understand the pressures that can come upon a script from the likes of producers and directors even under the best of circumstances where there is a fair contract in effect.

Their opinions are well worth reading in regard to Amazon Studios:

Other articles on the web about this ‘deal’:

There are a number of issues about this matter that annoy me, but the first one is the attempt by Amazon Studios to state that what it is doing is hip and innovative.

Actually, no. Ripping off writers is the oldest ploy of movie studios. It’s damn depressing that over 100 years after the genesis of the industry the first thing that a new ‘studio’ is attempting to do is option the creative work of writers and guarantee them jack-all in return (sure, you might win a competition, but you’ve lost authorship of your work and there’s little guarantee of reward).

There’s a reason that most of the established screenwriters are urging caution about Amazon Studios.

The film industry is tough. There is no easy, fast-track way to become the King or Queen of the Screenwriters other than 1. writing a great deal 2. developing from feedback 3 submitting your work to contests, producers or agents 4. Writing, writing, writing.

“Anyone who says differently is selling something.” <– out of context quote from a screenwriter who got paid for his project.

Crowd-sourcing is an up-and-coming model for financing projects. I’ve helped fund a a short film this way. I think it’s got huge potential for the future.

Crowd-sourcing a script is a great way to end up with an unfilmable project.

How hard is it for movie studios to grasp that writers deserve to be paid for their time and creativity? Behind this seems to lurk a notion that screenwriting doesn’t require any training, expertise or effort. Otherwise, why give it a zero value?

Before anyone accuses screenwriters of money-grubbing, most of us work gratis all the time, and usually we don’t mind when the budgets are low and those involved are being treated fairly and with respect. Most of us want our work to be seen by an audience, and will work our asses off to achieve that goal if given the chance. Unfortunately, it’s that desire that is so often preyed upon by unscrupulous industry individuals or companies.

Under the terms that Amazon Studios is currently offering I wouldn’t touch the deal with all the pages of my unproduced scripts laid end-to-end (a couple of miles I reckon).

The only hope is that Amazon Studios will listen to the feedback and adjust their terms and conditions accordingly.

I wouldn’t bet on it, however. Especially when you note that one of the clauses of the contract expressly excludes it from being ‘subject to the jurisdiction of any collective bargaining organization’ – i.e. any writers’ guilds, you know, organisations that work to protect writers.