Friday, 28 October 2011

Is Amazon Studios for Me? – The Screenwriter’s View

Amazon have partnered with Warner Brothers to find screenwriting talent via a platform for screenwriters known as Amazon Studios. Monthly prize money amounting to a few million dollars per year is awarded to quality screenplays and other film-associated creations. Entry is free and fellow screenwriters and film makers can provide feedback or help strengthen screenplays via collaborative writing. But Amazon’s Development Agreement has caused some controversy.

What is Amazon Studios?

Amazon Studios is an opportunity for screenwriters to get out there and be discovered, reviewed and possibly win some cash in the process. For those who are unsure of what Amazon Studios is, it is really a platform for writers, film makers and actors to make their work visible. Scripts, test movies (inexpensive full-length movies) and dialogue tracks (an audio recording of actors reading the dialogue part of a script) can be uploaded onto this site, and members, whether they are writers, film directors, actors or movie fans can rate or contribute towards someone’s work. Monthly prize money is awarded to the most rated creations, which may pique the interest of Warner Bros, one of Hollywood’s biggest film producers. This article explores the viewpoint of the screenwriter in the process.

Uploading a Screenplay onto Amazon Studios

When you create an account, you will be asked to provide some information about yourself, and then invited to upload your screenplay. You can then select whether you will invite other writers to contribute to your screenplay (if, for example, you feel it needs work) or not. The options ‘open’ ‘with permission’ or ‘closed’ speaks for itself. If your screenplay wins any of the competitions on the site, the prize money is apportioned to each contributor (if any) of your work including yourself.

Amazon Studios Development Agreement in a Nutshell

But the screenwriter must understand Amazon’s development agreement before uploading any screenplays onto this platform. To put it bluntly, as soon as you upload your screenplay onto Amazon Studios’ website, you are powerless to sell it elsewhere for 18 months. This situation in screenwriting context is known as an ‘option.’ At the end of this term (if Amazon has done nothing with the screenplay), Amazon Studios may decide to pay you $10,000 to extend this option by a further 18 months if they wish.

During this term, Amazon Studios will have exclusive rights to buy your screenplay for a fixed sum of $200,000 and make a movie from it. If, however, Amazon still has done nothing with the screenplay by the 18 month period, they lose exclusive rights and you are free to shop elsewhere. But in theory, Amazon could continue to extend this option.

Amazon states that 18 months is necessary for reviews to build up, have test movies made and see if the screenplay works commercially. The first thirty pages of each screenplay are guaranteed to be read by someone who has the powers to make the decision to buy the script and have that movie made.

If the film script is purchased from you by Amazon Studios, as described above, and the film makes 60 million dollars on initial release in the US box office, you will earn a bonus of $400,000.

Screenwriting Contest Money

It must be made clear that any prize money the screenwriter may have won on Amazon Studios’ monthly competitions is unconnected to the purchase or bonus money Amazon may pay the scriptwriter if the movie is made; collaborators are excluded from this money. However, there is plenty of opportunity for collaborators to earn competition cash from rewriting or improving someone else’s screenplay if the screenwriter grants permission.

Is Amazon Studios a Good Thing?

As can be seen, there are advantages and disadvantages to uploading your screenplay to Amazon Studios. Your script is made visible on a platform for other writers and film makers to see where otherwise the script could be languishing in a bottom drawer. Careful consideration however needs to be given over the Development Agreement before uploading. The option to purchase (or not) the screenplay could tie the screenwriter’s hands for years, where another film production company might be willing to purchase your script for a higher price, and if your screenplay does do well on Amazon Studios, the chances are, it may have done well elsewhere and yielded a better deal for the writer.

Articles on my Screenwriting site

How to write a screenplay synopsis
Guide to editing a screenplay
Why I uploaded my screenplay onto Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios website
Best words for your screenplay