I did not intend to write a follow up to my earlier post now know as Negotiating the New Amazon, Part 1. But my 45 day option review period has come and gone and I thought my observations may be useful to others.
First, a basis from which to begin:
I have been aware of Amazon Studios from their beginnings but had not submitted a project until now. I submitted my action/comedy feature Test Drive as a private submission. This included a 45 day option period where Amazon Studios can review and evaluate the script. As a private submission, no one else has access to the script. The only public notice of my project is participation in what AS calls Premise Wars. This is a head-to-head battle where your logline is put up against another project’s logline and a winner is chosen by an Amazon Studios community member. My 45 days are up and I was informed Amazon Studios does not wish to purchase or extend their option on Test Drive.
If you have not, I urge you to read my first post this topic especially if you’re unfamiliar with the new workings of Amazon Studios. Negotiating The New Amazon, Part One
Here are some observations based on my experience briefly outlined above.
The usefulness and significance of Premise Wars is a hotly debated topic among AS members. Does a winning logline increase your chances of success in their evaluations? Amazon is not saying. In my case I won 22 and lost 9 Premise Wars battles. That is a 71% victory rate which is very high for any given project that I’ve observed on AS. Most projects, even on the Development Slate, hover around 30-50%, so Test Drive is way above average but was not chosen for Development. Clearly, Premise Wars is not the only factor under evaluation and nor should it be –if it is considered at all.
Some peculiar things surrounding Premise Wars occurred during my 45 day evaluation. There was a stretch of two weeks where my script seemed to not participate at all in Premise Wars. The counter stopped at 29 battles. I finished with 31 total battles so there were a couple added at the end but it seemed dead (or broken) for weeks. There were also a couple days were the Premise Wars counter (your win-loss record) was removed from my project page, not one seems to know why. AS has not communicated any reason.
THE OPTION PERIOD & DOWNLOADS
I love the 45 days. It seems a reasonable amount of time to evaluate a project and it doesn’t tie up your script in a free option very long. This and the ability to submit privately are the two biggest boosts to any screenwriter looking to submit.
Downloads is another topic of some debate in the AS community. It is a common (mis)conception that if you have more than one download on a private project that you’ve got a script they are serious about. Some people have apparently had zero downloads. Most have one. A few have two. This is only worth measuring in private submissions because anyone can download a public script. My script had two downloads, but again, was not selected to move upward. The only thing Amazon Studios is saying about this is that only AS has access to your script when submitted privately. Obviously, this gives little insight as to whether “two” is a magic number. By the way, it appears no one has had three downloads on a private script.
The writers receive a $10.000 payment from AS to extend the option on the script for 18 months. As of this writing there are 16 projects on the Development Slate. I’ve seen a couple go and a couple be added. Most, frankly, sound pretty good. Some seem pedestrian to me. There’s a good variety of genres represented, though others are conspicuously absent. Full disclosure: I have not read more than the first 20 pages of a couple scripts.
But how big can this list get? 16 seems pretty generous. In its current form and parameters I can’t imagine it growing past 20 titles. I foresee a future where writers will be competing for a spot among these 20 seats. Making the selection process (especially down the line) more and more difficult to crack. As Amazon Studios uses resources and money in working to develop a title, I imagine it becomes more difficult to cut loose a project with so many resources tied up in it. This is a situation to watch. If handled poorly, submissions from quality writers will quickly dry up.
The minor league of scripts in contention to be developed into films at Amazon Studios. It is my understanding that these scripts do not receive the $10,000 option extension payment that those on the Development side get. Further, I am not aware of any script having made the leap from Consider to Development. Please let me know if I am mistaken here. But if these two points are true, it makes me wonder about the usefulness of the Consider List.
I suspect its main purpose is to keep more writers involved with the site and generate some discussion and feedback for more projects beyond those on the Development Slate. And some writers may relish being included on such a list even though there is no financial reward and movement to Development is unlikely.
It is also worth noting that if you are selected for the Consider List your project becomes public. Presumably you can choose to reject inclusion on the Consider List, but you’d be also choosing to remove your project from AS entirely.
Of course all Development Slate projects are public, but since AS has paid these writers to extend their option it really is AS’s prerogative to make it public.
If your project is not selected for the Development Slate, you won’t get any kind of feedback or coverage from Amazon. This doesn’t necessarily mean coverage was not performed on your script, just that you don’t get to see it. I am not sure about the Consider List. Although I don’t see any notes posted for the new additions, it seem logical that AS would provide some notes for developing these scripts further at least to the screenwriter.
Public scripts are eligible for community feedback and reviews. See below for more on that.
AMAZON STUDIOS COMMUNITY
Here is where Amazon Studios needs to invest some work. There’s a discussion board called The Commissary. But it is a single thread—no categories of topics—and it is nearly impossible to find. I found it by accident through Google. I have since learned there is a tiny word link to it on the bottom right of your Home Page but it is clearly being underplayed.
Other activates you can involve yourself in include reviewing public scripts posted by others. There are many reviews out there but my impression is that most people are not reviewing. In its new form AS makes it easy to post a script privately and forget about it until your 45 days are up.
However, if you’ve got a freshly pressed first draft or an old trunk script you’d like to get some community feedback on, this is a good place to look for reviews. You can post a public project and ask for others to review it, usually by trading reviews. Of course the difficult to navigate and underused discussion board makes this tricky. There needs to be a holistic approach to member involvement possibly tied to peer reviews.
Other script sites have rules where you must first review another’s script before receiving a review on yours. Something like that may work. But one must also consider the value of a peer review. Most people can’t/don’t/won’t write anything near a decent script. Most people have no idea what they are talking about when discussion their toothbrush let alone a subject as complex as screenwriting. It may be to my detriment but I am generally not interested in receiving reviews of my work from strangers in a public forum.
There’s also virtually no communication from Amazon Studios. Nothing to offer insight into what they are doing, planning or looking for. Their blog roll is uninspiring and rarely has anything interesting.
Their Facebook page, too, reads like a junior high-schooler’s pop culture quiz. ‘What’s your favorite movie robot?’ ‘What movie are you seeing this weekend?’ There’s no value to an experienced screenwriter here.
Amazon Studios is not doing much to foster the feeling that you are part of an artistic community. It’s more like a cold virtual storefront we loiter in waiting to hear if we’ve been invited into the club’s private room.
There are more opportunities for artistic types rolling out of Amazon Studios. There are pitches, competitions and submissions for film trailers, script rewrites, TV specs and promotional/production artwork. These pay real money. Thumbs up, here.
FUTURE OF AMAZON STUDIOS
Given the overhaul of their submission and evaluation methods announced in April 2012, I have a reasonable impression that Amazon Studios has taken a genuine interest in generating better material and making it fairer to creatives (especially writers) in the process.
I believe they are serious about making movies. I think it is likely that they will find, develop and sell a script to a major studio (see their first-look deal with WB) in the next 18 months. That does not necessary mean the studio will “make” the film of course. I also think it is likely they will purchase material for their own distribution. Could be a feature, but I can more easily see a series or two being developed and produced through AS for distribution though their online Amazon Prime video service or other assets they may acquire.
I think they have a good idea of what they are doing. They seem to be making some good decisions. My concerns surround keeping themselves relevant. A development slate of 15-20 scripts only keeps that many people actively involved. Even considering the other opportunities mentioned, there is a relatively low active-participation rate. They need to better engage the average user.
There’s a lot to like about the improved Amazon Studios. The access they are giving to aspiring screenwriters and others is unprecedented. It presents some great opportunities. Of course they are also running a business. If they want to increase the quality of the product they generate and attract the most talented people to participate, they need to balance the business concerns with the creative, human element.
The build-it-and-they-will-come approach has sustained them thus far but I think they’ll need to engage users better in the near future to stay relevant.
I am very interested in the the experience and reactions of others who have experience with Amazon Studios. Let me know what you think.
- Amazon Studios Unveils Movie Development Slate, And New Rules For Scripts (deadline.com)
- Negotiating the New Amazon (markvioli.wordpress.com)