Saturday, 5 November 2011

Why I Uploaded my Script onto Amazon Studios

There has been mixed reactions to Amazon Studios’ terms and conditions in their developmental agreement. Well, I have been doing a lot of cogitating and research before uploading my screenplays onto their site. Let’s look at the contentious issues that may deter other untested screenwriters from uploading their screenplays onto Amazon Studios and tackle them one by one.

1 Uploading onto Amazon Studios opens your screenplay up to getting messed up by other writers. (Other writer meaning those who have an Amazon Studios account like you, not Amazon Studios itself.) Well, the option ‘closed’ has been added to ‘with permission’ and ‘open’, meaning you keep total control over the drafts of your screenplay. Having no collaborators, means you keep all monies from prizes, option extensions or purchases for yourself and you retain complete control over your screenplay.

Of course, your screenplay will still be ‘messed with’ by other writers and/or producers within Amazon Studios if they decide to purchase the rights to your screenplay, but this applies to the film industry in general, not just Amazon Studios.

2 By uploading onto Amazon Studios opens your screenplay up to being ‘copied’ by another writer. One of the clauses in the developmental agreement prohibits you from taking a law suit against Amazon Studios if they work on another project that happens to have similar plotline or elements to your screenplay. Well, this could happen the moment any reader opens your screenplay. According to the Writers’ and Artist’s Yearbook, you cannot copyright an idea or a concept. Similarities and influences between movies can be seen throughout history. However, copying someone’s work verbatim is prohibited. The best thing to do is to register your work at the copyright office. The alternative is to allow your screenplay to languish in the drawer to collect dust. No risk of someone copying your idea then, is there?

3 If your screenplay is good enough, you will find representation and/or a better deal elsewhere without a need to upload onto Amazon Studios. Well, in my experience, few literary/film agents will even look at an unknown/untested writer. I have spent months writing letters/emails, printing and sending scripts to the largest agents in the UK and few will even respond. Recently, I sent ten polite query letters after a hiatus of giving up and had one response. They are either ‘too busy’, have ‘full books’ or have simply ‘lost your correspondence’. The waiting is the most difficult part. Some agents prohibit you from approaching another agent whilst they consider your work and yet expect you to wait months for a response. You’d have to live to a hundred to approach all agents and wait for their responses one after the other.

From my research, it seems working within the industry and being ‘in the know’ really does increase your chances of getting your screenplay read. The quality of the screenplay has little bearing within this point. The screenplay I had touted had received excellent feedback from BBCWritersroom having gone very far up their feedback system and was almost been taken on by PFD a few years back. Despite this, my efforts have given me nothing to show for. You could have a fantastic screenplay, yet will likely remain unread unless you have some connection within the industry or have the time, funding and resources to attend workshops/events/meet people in the business that likely take place miles from where you live. Not easy if you have a full-time job, family commitments, and if like me, you live in some backwater. Screenwriting talent and the power to get your script read, from my experience, are two very separate things.

4 You can’t sell your script elsewhere for 18 months once you upload due to the option agreement. Well, see point 3 above on this. From my experience, it is hard to even get a screenplay read by a producer/agent if you are an unknown. But on Amazon Studios, at least others can read it and give reviews; the first 30 pages of your screenplay are guaranteed to be read by someone who makes the decisions on whether to purchase. You are also automatically entered into monthly competitions on Amazon Studios which could win you thousands of dollars. Think of the time, expense and effort to enter just one screenwriting competition? I have checked them out, and each competition is on average $50 each to enter. Having your screenplay up on Amazon Studios enables you to sit back, relax and see what happens for free. And whilst waiting, why not use the time to do what writers really want to do: write?

I must add the point here that Amazon Studios allow you to enter screenwriting competitions so long as the rights to the screenplay are not sold away. You must read through the rules, as some screenplay competitions prohibit screenplays that have been (a) optioned elsewhere or (b) entered into other competitions. By uploading your screenplay onto Amazon Studios, you are automatically optioning your screenplay for 18 months and entering into their monthly competitions.

5 Amazon Studios has the right to extend the option period for a further 18 months in exchange for payment of $10,000 and there is nothing you can do about it. What if another producer was gagging to produce your screenplay for more? See point 3 above. The chance of anther producer wanting to buy your screenplay if you are an unknown is tiny. Look at it this way, you could upload your screenplay, forget it, and possibly get $10,000 payment for little effort in 18 months’ time, whereas otherwise, your screenplay could be sitting in the attic collecting dust or waiting to be read by a disinterested agent (again, see point 3). And surely, if Amazon Studios decide to purchase the option extension, that has to be a good sign. If Amazon Studios do not extend this option, you are free to tout your screenplay elsewhere. In some cases, Amazon will even release you from the option agreement early if you ask them to (so long as they have no plans to do anything with it.)

6 Amazon Studios has the right to sign on your behalf any documents you have not signed and returned within 5 days as a right of attorney. You will only be expected to sign documents outlined in their developmental agreement on their website which refers to documents like the option agreement or the purchase contract of your screenplay. Read carefully. If you don’t like anything within the developmental agreement, do not upload your screenplay.

7 Amazon Studios pay you a flat fee if they decide to purchase your screenplay. That’s all. Yes, you will be paid a flat fee of $200,000 purchase price for you screenplay. And you could get an additional $400,000 bonus if the film makes $60 million profit in the US box office. Oh, and you may possibly have received option fees and contest prize money as well. You could earn more if your screenplay has spinoffs or episodes. You could become more attractive to the screenwriting market if you write more screenplays, and other film producers/agents could be vying to buy your next screenplay.

If you have written a novel from the screenplay, think of the sales this could generate for your novel? The rights to your novel are still yours (if you are self-published as I am). In total, you could end up with at least half or a million dollars for uploading your screenplay. Rather unlikely otherwise.

8 Amazon Studios retains the right to produce my screenplay forever, even once the option period has expired. Well, they still have to pay you $200,000 to buy your screenplay to do so (plus you could get more if the film does well – see point 7 above). And that’s a good thing for your purse-strings, isn’t it?

Screenwriters who have broken into the industry may not see the benefits of Amazon Studios, and understandably so if they have found someone open-minded enough to read their screenplay in the first place. But from this lofty position, it is easy to attack Amazon Studios. From my experience, there really is a huge brick wall to getting your screenplay read…by anyone. And getting on really does depend upon where you live, who you know and the resources at your disposal. Talent comes into it very little, it seems.

Read article is Amazon Studios for Me?

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