Monday, 22 November 2010

The Amazon Studios Experiment...

So I'm kind of enjoying this whole Amazon Studios debate that's sprung up over the last few days. It's nice to have something that the majority of screenwriters seem united on - it's rare for us to have a common enemy and especially one with such a public face. So for anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, Amazon Studios are essentially running a screenwriting competition - you upload a script and every month they pick the best one and it wins a prize and then they pick the overall best one at the end of the year, or something like that. Simple enough?

They're also a production company/film studio - they will not only 'award' you with the prize money, they will also make your film. This is a bit dubious but okay, we'll go along with it - a lot of production companies do seem to be sourcing projects through competitions these days.

The problems arise with their third role. They are also working as a development company. So you submit a script into their contest and they develop it until it's better and then make it into a film! Great, except they have employed the whole of the internet to do this for them. Anyone can read your script and leave feedback. Fine, Trigger Street did that and it kind of worked, although I never had time to read enough other peoples' scripts making it a bit redundant. The difference is anyone can also rewrite it. I could upload a script right now, tomorrow you could rewrite it, the day after that someone else could rewrite the whole thing again. Should that script get further into the process, the reward money and credit would get split between the three of us, along with anyone else who happened to rewrite it along the way.

Oh, and the other issue is that once you upload a script they automatically option it for free - they basically own it. So let's say I don't care about winning the prize money, I just want to get some independent feedback on my script. And say I get that feedback and rewrite the script to send elsewhere. Technically I wouldn't be able to, because it would still belong to Amazon Studios. There are no other screenwriting contests that claim the rights to your script from the moment you enter. Considering the odds of actually winning, it doesn't really seem worth the risk.

The implications of this have been discussed much more thoughtfully and from more informed points of view by
John August, David Lemon, Robin Kelly, Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton and James Moran among others.

I was going to add my thoughts on the bigger picture - how they're exploiting the fact that there are too many of us and we all think we're awesome, and how this is further proof that no one really knows how the internet is going to change films and filmmaking yet but they'll try all kinds of crazy ideas just in case. And I probably would've pondered over who actually has the time and inclination to rewrite a stranger's script with no guarantee they'll get anything from it. In the end I would probably come to the same conclusion as everyone else - that Amazon Studios is fine for beginners and enthusiastic amateurs, but anyone serious about screenwriting should steer clear.

Except most of that has already been said, and it's worse coming from me because I can't even really be bothered to study the website in detail and have based all my conclusions on what other people have been saying.

So I thought I'd try something different. I thought I'd give it a go.

This is going to involve a bit of time travel. I don't want to sacrifice any of my recent scripts (and I do see this as a sacrifice), and even some of the older ones use characters that I either want to hold onto or have used again in subsequent scripts (and yes, Amazon Studios will apparently own your characters too). So I've chosen a really old script, one I wrote when I was 18. It's a bit like going back in time to the moment where I was a beginner and could have benefited from something like this. Because that's the point really. I'm not doing this to make a success out of an old script, I genuinely want to find out whether it would be worthwhile for 18-year-old me to take part. Will 18-year-old me get some awesome feedback that will really help the script, or will it be the equivalent of those generally awful user reviews? I'm also genuinely interested to see if anyone will take the time to rewrite someone else's work.

I suspect this will come to nothing. I predict 18-year-old me will be disappointed. But that's okay - I've seen his future and things actually start to work out pretty well once he gives up on this particular script.

So I've signed up for an account, now I just need to find the actual script I want to upload. I'm sure it's on my hard drive somewhere...


Anonymous said...

I think I have a hard copy somewhere.
Ace idea.

Matt Nefarious said...

Ha ha, that certainly is a novel take on this issue. Nice one!