21 November, 2010

Amazon Studios - selling writers down the river?

I understand why the Amazon Studios contract might be tempting to professionals and pre-professionals, especially if we have a script that's been shopped around for a while without success and is just gathering dust in a drawer. But, in terms of writers' rights, they're taking the piss.

The more screenwriters who sign up to it, then the more Amazon Studios and other producers will think it's acceptable to take the piss.

One way to tell serious producers from time-wasting 'producers' is if they offer money to option your script or if they're happy to follow union-negotiated agreements. Rather than a fancy new way of doing things, Amazon Studios is just the old way of doing things in disguise. Don't be fooled because it's one of the biggest brands in the world and they dangle dollars in front of us.

The video pitch at Amazon Studios seems aimed at the outsider who is sick of being told they have to live in Hollywood or have an agent or have to use a particular email address to get ahead. At those who see the talentless thrive while the gatekeepers won't even open the gate to slam it in their face. They have a good story, dammit! One that will make a good movie. If only they could get their script read in the first place, they would have a chance.

And even if that script doesn't get chosen for production at Amazon Studios it could still win the writer a prize. They could even be paid for another 18 month option. It's a recession. Who would turn down free money?

I understand. It's being pro-active and positive about our careers but Amazon Studios are taking the piss. Writers in the past have fought hard and sacrificed for the rights we have now, we shouldn't discard them so easily.

Richard Stern says this on an Amazon Studios forum:

"Just playing devil's advocate here, but without the 18 month option, what happens to Amazon if your script gets read by 500 people on this site and optioned by a producer? They've basically funded a development board for other production companies, gratis. Or what happens if you're selected as a winner, but someone else swoops in and buys your screenplay before the award?

I suspect Amazon will have 3000 or so projects to review and judge at their own expense by the time January rolls around. All told, they'll probably have invested millions dollars in building this community and millions more in funding the prizes. How do they recoup the investment they're making in building up the commercial value of our scripts without the option?

Our scripts may be brilliant (I've been reading all day and been pleasantly surprised) but all of them have an actual cash value of $0 today (and please don't tell me you're sitting on the next Avatar, because if you had producers knocking down your door, you wouldn't be here). In fact, if you are making a living as a writer today, I'd say that this contest isn't for you. At their own expense, Amazon is offering to help undiscovered writers by exposing their work to a large audience and in return they want to share in the profit if your project has commercial merit. I'm not exactly sure why that's a "bad deal" for the undiscovered writer.

You know what is a bad deal, though? Screenwriting contests that take your money and six months later send you a rejection letter. You've spent $50 and had no real exposure and no networking - it's a complete waste. And even if you do win, now you have a certificate, a little money and some screenwriting software. So what? You know how many Nichols Fellowship quarter-finalists and finalist are still trying to breaking through? I've seen many of them on this very site. It's all such a scam and so demoralizing for many of the writers involved.

Honestly, if Amazon stole my screenplay, paid me next to nothing, made it into a huge movie and made a fortune - I'd be happy. Why? I'd write another script and likely sell in half the time for twice as much. These aren't lottery tickets. If only one of my scripts is going to be any good, then I've chosen the wrong profession.

My best advice is for everyone to embrace the community, work together and make the most of this wonderful opportunity. We're writers, we're sceptical - I get that. But when scepticism leads intelligent and talented people to talk themselves out of an opportunity to succeed, it's heartbreaking. I think that everyone should participate - even if that mean posting your second best script and keeping Avatar 2 stashed away for the time being. Rather than playing entertainment attorney, lets focus on collaborating, supporting and inspiring one another to help make this community everything it can be. If we do that, we all win!"

Richard makes some good points. I can live with some free option time, maybe, but 18 months is simply too long. And that's just one problem out of many in the contract.

Yes, we should have more than one script, more than one one-pager; the lottery ticket mentality is pretty prevalent. But what if that one script the writer has is actually really good? Uploading that screenplay and accepting the Amazon Studios contract would be a very bad idea indeed

'Collaborating, supporting and inspiring' is neat and been done by Trigger Street and Zoetrope for a few years now but, I'm pretty sure, they don't demand the rights to any uploaded work for ever.

The Amazon Studios business model needs writers but doesn't want to be fair to writers. That's a fact and of course some writers will be able to live with that - just on the off chance something will happen for them.

Can creative crowdsourcing work? Can Amazon Studios really be successful without being forced to change this contract? I don't know. I just know that they're seriously taking the piss.

Further reading:

Amazon Studios: The New Way to Break Into The Industry? by Michael Ferris, Script
An Open Letter to Amazon Studios by Hal Croasmun
On Being Professional by Piers Beckley
Amazon Studios by James Moran
Amazon's Bad Deal by Craig Mazin
On the Amazon Film Thing by John August
Amazon, Films, Foolishness and Optimism by Filmutopia
Amazon Studios by Scott Myers
Why Amazon Studios is a very bad idea for writers - Drew McWeeny
Red-Lining the Amazon Studios Agreement (Part 1) - Scott Logie

1 comment:

Daniel Martin Eckhart said...

Hey Robin - good posts! I've wrote one on Amazon Studios myself. Happy blogging to ya.