When it was announced in November, one of the bold new ideas of Amazon Studios was letting any user rewrite any screenplay in the competition. I thought that was an absolutely terrible plan.
As announced yesterday, the company seems to agree:
Also today, Amazon Studios launched a new feature that allows writers to control the level of collaboration on their original scripts. Writers, upon upload or thereafter, will be able to designate their projects as open (anyone can add a revised script to your project), closed (only you can add revised scripts to your project) or revisable by permission (only participants who obtain your permission can add a revised script to your project). This feature has been a top request of Amazon Studios participants.
How many writers do you think will actually choose “open?”
It’s hard to envision why any screenwriter would want to. It only makes sense if you believe that almost everyone is a better writer than you. In the Venn diagram of entrants, the overlap between “ridiculously low self-esteem” and “happy to share prize money” is probably small.
A contributing factor in the change: no one was actually bothering to rewrite other people’s scripts. In a few minutes of browsing, I could only find a handful of projects that had drafts by anyone other than the original writer.
Without the random-stranger-rewrites, Amazon Studios now resembles a more traditional screenwriting competition, albeit one in which the cost of entry is a lengthy and complex option agreement on the project.
The company announced its first two prizewinners, each receiving $20,000. I haven’t looked at either screenplay, but if any readers have, I’m curious to hear your opinions on their merits.
Screenwriting coach Linda Seger served as a judge. That seems right: she’s exactly the kind of “name” that means something to aspiring screenwriters, many of whom will have read her books or attended her workshops. But she doesn’t have a profile within the film industry itself; they didn’t pick her for her credits.
It wasn’t in any official announcement, but I can confirm Jack Epps, Jr. dropped out as a judge in November, citing philosophical concerns about the deal for writers. That leaves Mike Werb as the only named judge with produced Hollywood credits.
So this is a…success?
The studio announced they have 3,000 projects, but on the website today I saw 2,332 scripts. I asked my contacts at both the Austin Film Festival and Sundance Labs for comparisons. AFF received 4,400 scripts last year, and Sundance looks at 2,000-2,500 applications each year.
At least in terms of numbers, Amazon Studio is already in their ballpark after less than three full months.
Bottom line: I think getting rid of the crowdsourcing aspect of Amazon Studios is a step in the right direction, particularly in terms of acknowledging authorship. But most of the deal is still pretty terrible for writers. At the time of my original article, Craig Mazin was horrified by the financials, and as far I can tell, nothing has changed there.
Amazon has a ton of money, and a lot of experience with iteration. Maybe they’ll get this project to a worthwhile place. We won’t really know until they get a movie in production.