Starring, Texas!

Becoming a filmmaker for Amazon isn't as easy as it first seems; read that fine print

Becoming a filmmaker for Amazon isn't as easy as it first seems; read that fine print wants to make movies. Maybe even your movie. The giant online retailer of everything from books to electronics to groceries has launched a filmmaking machine called Amazon Studios and they’re looking for the next blockbuster.

Could it come from Texas talent? There’s certainly plenty here.

Screenwriters and filmmakers worldwide can submit their work through Amazon Studios’ website and compete for a chance to “make money, get discovered and get their movie made.” A total of $2.7 million in awards will be divvied up over the first year.

There’s more.

Amazon Studios has a “first-look deal” with Warner Bros. Pictures, which will consider Amazon’s top award winners for major motion pictures. Should Warner Bros. pass on a project (maybe they’ve already got three rescued-Chilean-coal-miner films in development) all is not lost. Amazon is free to shop the project to other Hollywood studios.

Here’s where it gets interesting. 

Unlike other film and script competitions, Amazon Studios is using “crowd sourcing” to develop their projects. In fact, they define their company as a “crowd-sourced motion picture development service.”

A screenwriter myself, I know this is part of the process with all scripts that are bought or optioned (notes come from suits at every level, even the bottom) — but not in a public forum like Amazon’s.

If you’re a reader of comments posted on articles and blogs, then you know there are some real wackos out there. Some of them will be reviewing and commenting on the projects. Anyone who embarks on this adventure might need a thick skin.

That said, this is a fresh take on creating movies, using a collaborative, brainstorming, team approach — an exercise that could be a lot of fun and definitely a learning experience.

It’s also likely to get very popular, very fast. Only four days into the launch, there were 796 projects posted.

The script awards competition goes like this: First, a screenwriter submits a script. They may also pitch their idea in a short video to get people pumped about reviewing it. Then the rest of the world can download it, make comments and suggestions, or rewrite it entirely.

The original writer can take the suggestions, or not, and submit rewrites, or not. Amazon believes this unique process “gives artists and film fans around the world the chance to create and evaluate potential movies.”

Filmmakers, on the other hand, submit a full length “test movie” — a video that gets the story across and engages the audience. No matter how “primitive” the test movie is (it’s an appetizer after all, to whet the appetite of judges for the whole enchilada) Amazon still expects good actors, good sound and good music to help it sell.

Test movies, Amazon believes, will be a means to introduce the public to the earliest, formative stages of the movie development process. It’s intended to guide a film’s development with their feedback and assess its potential. There are five test movie samples provided to help filmmakers get started.

Winning scripts and films will be chosen based on commercial viability (will they set the box office on fire?). They will be judged by a panel of industry people, including Jack Epps Jr., producer of such films as Top Gun and Dick Tracy; Mark Gill, former head of Miramax; Mike Werb, screenwriter of The Mask and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; and Michael Taylor, producer of Bottle Rocket (shot in Texas and co-written by Houstonians Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson) and The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.

This explanation of Amazon Studios’ process is oversimplified, but after reading their 20-page Development Agreement (a binding contract)  and also the six-page Account Agreement (another binding contract) plus six pages of General Contest Rules and finally nine pages of Frequently Asked Questions hopefully you, dear reader, now know whether or not to proceed.

If this new style competition is your cup of tea, then grab one (or a stiff drink) and settle in for a few hours of serious reading. There are a whole lot of rules and legal stuff to consider before you get to be a movie mogul. 

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios is taking a new approach to movie making.
Bottle Rocket
The producer of Bottle Rocket is one of the judges.