Earlier this week, Amazon announced the formation of Amazon Studios.
Whenever new money comes into the film industry, it’s cause for some celebration. The purse strings loosen a little, and more people find work. Since you can’t shoot movies without scripts, screenwriters are among the first to benefit.
Over the years, money has poured in from venture capital firms, foreign investment funds and entrepreneurs from other industries. 1 Amazon has a lot of money. It’s understandable why they might want to get involved with creation rather than just the distribution of entertainment.
Steve Jobs got involved with a little company called Pixar, and that’s worked out pretty well.
If Amazon Studios were a simple finance and production outfit like Relativity or Morgan Creek, there would be nothing more to say. But Amazon Studios has an unusual strategy:
Amazon Studios invites filmmakers and screenwriters from all over the world to submit full-length movies and scripts, which will then get feedback from Amazon readers, who will be free to rewrite and amend. Based on reaction (“rate and review”) to stories, scripts and rough “test” films, a panel of judges will award monthly prizes.
Several readers have written to ask my take on all this. I won’t conjecture about anything beyond what’s on the press release and website, but I’m left with some pretty big questions. I have a hunch other screen-bloggers will be tackling some of the glaring ones, like copyright, authorship and the 18-month free option.
So I’ll just ask one:
Do you really want random people rewriting your script?
To me, this feels like the biggest psychological misstep of the venture. Sure, most aspiring screenwriters yearn for access to the film industry and the chance to get their movies made. That’s why they enter screenwriting competitions, including things like Project Greenlight, which feels like its closest kin.
But here’s the thing: each of these writers wanted to get his movie made. I’ve never met a single screenwriter who hoped anonymous strangers would revise him.
From the FAQ:
Can I make it so that no one else can revise my original work?
No. But if someone makes changes that are bad, their version is not likely to get a lot of attention. And if someone comes along and makes your work better, you’re more likely to win a prize and get your project made. Sometimes other people can bring a different viewpoint or a different set of skills that take the story in a new direction or add new elements that make it even more compelling.
“Look, I know your script was about a blind cheerleader in Harlem. But ramsey22’s revision making the cheerleader an elephant is so much funnier. And blueGoblin has a good point: a safari park is a better setting for a story about elephants.”
In software development, the open source movement has succeeded in bringing teams of strangers together. But writing code is a lot different than writing a screenplay. A bad line of code is obvious; it doesn’t do what it needs to do. A bad line of dialogue is a judgement call. A thumbs-up, thumbs-down voting system isn’t likely to fix this.
Hollywood already has a bad track record of messing up projects by bringing in too many writers — and that’s when they’re paying people who have already written and produced movies. The idea that an undiscovered screenwriter in Wichita will rewrite someone else’s screenplay on his own time seems far-fetched, and to me smacks of spec labor.
I’m pro new ideas. I think you can make interesting, artistically worthwhile projects through crowdsourcing, such as YouTube’s Life in a Day. I love sites that leverage group energy, like Wikipedia and Kickstarter. I had fun with the trailer competition for The Nines.
But I don’t see Amazon’s model working, for the reasons above and many others. My readership is pretty much the exact target audience for their venture, so I’m curious to hear your opinions.
- My first reader gig was with a production company bankrolled by Little Caesar’s Pizza money. ↩