I'm going to wrap this up as the winners of the first contest have been announced. I wasn't one of them which is unsurprising considering my lack of effort in the whole thing. I've now had a total of 5 downloads and there are 2 people following my project. While we're on stats, there are now 2,495 projects on the site. Make of that what you will.
I have no reviews and haven't reviewed any scripts myself. I went into this for purely experimental purposes so I'm not disappointed by my lack of progress, but I do have to ask myself one question - if by chance my script had been one of the winning scripts, would I now be singing the praises of Amazon Studios? I don't know, my integrity has yet to be tested to that level. I'd like to hope I'd remain pragmatic, but it's more likely I would be telling everyone how awesome I am.
Seeing the list of winners has softened my criticism somewhat. I had a quick look through and yes, some of them have been on there for some time and have had hundreds of downloads and reviews suggesting that to some extent it was a bit of a popularity contest. But there were also scripts in the final selection that weren't so popular on the site, and even some in the list of 30 runners up that had stats not dissimilar to mine. This at least suggests that all the scripts were indeed read by someone and that there was a degree of impartiality. Perhaps those winning scripts with multiple downloads and reviews were so popular because they were actually quite good?
There are no fully-produced films as yet so to some extent the future of the enterprise remains uncertain, but ignoring the issues over ownership it is clear that Amazon Studios does at least function as a scriptwriting competition. Not only that, it's a scriptwriting competition that's free and very easy to enter and one that can provide you with a lot of feedback if you're willing to get involved. Going back to that ownership issue, I wonder if it's actually akin to the age-old copyright myth - the idea that every writer thinks so highly of their work and their ideas that they think anyone who looks at the script will immediately rip them off (speaking of which, the writer of the awful script I read a few months ago was apparently incredibly paranoid about people stealing his ideas - thought that was worth mentioning!). The fact is, I'm not sure people entering their scripts into an Amazon Studios contest should really be worrying about what happens if that script gets made into a film (and I say that as a person who did enter).
There is this issue over anyone being able to rewrite a script which I still think is ridiculous. Interestingly, the pitfalls of this came out with one of the winning scripts. Prior to the contest winners being announced, another user did a rewrite on that script. All he did with that rewrite was correct the (allegedly) numerous spelling and grammar errors. So essentially you have someone who could conceivably be credited as co-writer when all they've done is proof-read it (that's actually happened to me a few times on no-budget projects in real life so at least it's accurate). Naturally this created some tensions on the message boards where it all started to get a bit nasty.
Despite all this I do believe Amazon Studios has the potential to work as a peer review site even if it's not enforced. People clearly are returning the favour when people read their scripts, which is good for humanity at least. But I don't know why you would use Amazon Studios for that. Trigger Street is still running and works much better, or certainly used to when I signed up originally. And if I'm honest the best way to do this is to find your own peer group. Using friends, or contacts on the internet or even just people you vaguely know who have an interest in films is preferable to strangers who have something to gain from reading your script but nothing to lose by giving it a half-hearted or deliberately negative review. As I've said before, I have a handful of people I send my scripts to and that works find for me (although recently I've cut back on that too - I'm starting to think too much feedback is overrated and occasionally a little bit destructive...but that's another post for another day).
The future of filmmaking and distribution is a little uncertain at the moment because the internet is changing everything (had to stop myself from saying 'ruining'), but I'm sure our kids will sort it out (I don't have any kids right now, but when I do they will sort it out, I promise, once they're done with global warming). I think there are interesting things happening right now. I think what Kevin Smith has done with Red State is a really great idea, I think Edward Burns releasing Nice Guy Johnny on iTunes is an interesting idea and I think services like Curzon on Demand are probably the future. All these things are part of the figuring out process the same as Amazon Studios, but I think those previous ideas are at least steps in the right direction; forward-thinking, active steps. Amazon Studios seems a bit passive to me. I don't doubt that it will act like a fully fledged film studio one day. But it's a film studio that's opened it's doors to the whole world and said, 'right, we don't know what we're doing or what's going to happen next, how about you all come in here and sort it out amongst yourselves'.
So in conclusion there is nothing malicious or sinister about Amazon Studios, but there's nothing particularly useful there either right now. It's a bit of a stab in the dark; a possible solution to the way the film industry is changing but set up with no understanding of how the film industry currently works. I don't think you have anything to lose by posting your script on there and you have a 1 in 2,495 chance of winning some money. But I think the people who established it want it to be something a bit bigger than a scriptwriting competition. I don't think it ever will be, but I'll certainly be interested to see if they can prove me wrong.
UPDATE - John August wrote a much more well researched blog on this today too here. He mentions that Amazon Studios have changed the rewrite policy, which I completely missed because I was frantically typing mine on my lunchbreak and didn't check the website properly. That's my excuse. Still, looks like we kind of agree in the the end.
On an unrelated note Brother Pete has started blogging again! Please check out his blog and follow it if you can - he's funnier than I am.