Why Amazon Studios Is Bad For Wannabe Screenwriters

Entering the production side of the movie industry, Amazon launched Amazon Studios, which offers writers and filmmakers a potential way to break into the industry by offering up their work to Amazon for exclusive, 18-month contracts. Once the work is the property of Amazon, it competes in contracts, is subject to rewriting and can potentially turn into a real movie one day.

A piece by Drew on HitFix cautions writers to avoid submitting to the program, arguing that it victimizes frustrated creative types by dangling a potential easy path to success while locking their work down.

Drew writes:

Line after line of the legalese on these pages just confounds me. “You agree to be automatically entered into any future contests for which your work is eligible. The specific contest rules for future contests will be posted on this page when they are announced.” And considering one of the rules of this contest grants Amazon Studios a free 18-month option on your work the moment you upload it, the idea that they can enter you in a contest later and tell you the rules after they do so seems positively batty.

The “development agreement” is a contract you’re signing, not an entry form for a contest, and in it, you grant them a free option on your work for a year and a half, and if they do end up producing your work, there’s a set fee. Period. That’s all it is. A set rate. The same no matter what the project is, and no matter what happens with it. That is, simply put, immoral.

Even given the potential pitfalls, it seems to me that submitting a script to Amazon Studios is better than letting it sit on your hard drive forever. This is coming from a guy who has two screenplays collecting digital dust. What do you think?

The Morning Read: Why Amazon Studios is a Very Bad Idea for Writers [HitFix via MovieCityNews]

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  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    As bad as all that, they still won’t touch Springtime for Hitler ;3

  2. ianmac47 says:

    The creative industries depend on exploiting new talent; the key is for a potential payoff eventually. As long as there is that promise of success, many people will be willing to sacrifice for the mere opportunity.

    • qwickone says:

      Agreed. You have to decide what’s more important being famous/getting your work out there, or making the most bucks. A lot of people would never have the chance of being discovered without a program like this, but they have to agree to be pretty much completely screwed out of most benefits.

      • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

        “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”
        ~Cyril Connolly

        Writing for one’s self AND the public…that’s the trick.

      • Geekybiker says:

        And you could be sacrificing your one hit wonder that might make you set for life for a skimpy set fee.

    • Megalomania says:

      I think that this is somewhat missing the point. This is for people who have been unable to find anyone interested in their work, and if successful they get paid by becoming prominent so that their future work might be taken more seriously. Monetarily, it’s a bad deal, but if you get noticed and can do well on your next script without them you can make your money that way

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    No. Artists should not be victimized like that. Get a good contract lawyer.

    • DanRydell says:

      Seems like you’re putting the cart before the horse there. What do they need a contract lawyer for if no one else is offering them a contract for their work? A lawyer wouldn’t help them with Amazon, because Amazon isn’t going to amend their contract on a case by case basis.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Then get a good publicist : – )

      • jackofnight says:

        They probably could use one to determine if there is a good deal here of if they will not amend the contract might be best to look elsewhere. Just because they will give you something does not mean that it is a worth while deal.

        For example James Frey’s company.

  4. LadyTL says:

    I can see where it would be better than trying to pitch to the major studios but there is way too much potential for exploitation in how they have things set up.

  5. MonkeyMonk says:

    Sounds like sour grapes to me. McWeeny already leveraged his position at Ain’t it Cool into screenwriting “career” years ago so why would he want the extra competition? This sounds like a better deal than most novice screenwriters get now — which is nada.

    If someone’s script does happen to get made then they should be able to use that to get an agent, pick up rewriting gigs, etc. Seems like a small price to pay for getting your foot in the door.

  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    There are other ways, but they don’t have nearly as much exposure as this does. Local film festivals often have competition for screenplays. DC Shorts has a screenplay competition along with its film festival. The prize is $1,000 with the promise of another $1,000 if you actually make the film.

  7. AI says:

    This is the world of the internet. If a filmmaker doesn’t like Amazon’s offer, they can make the film themselves and put it on Youtube etc.

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

      You hit the nail on the head: the world is quickly going all-digital, and that spells big trouble for the big producers and big opportunity for the little guys with original ideas (and the drive to market them).

  8. Mecharine says:

    Cut out the middle man and just take your script to SyFy. They love fan fiction.

    • DeepHurting says:

      I’m waiting to hear back from them on my submission: MegaOctoPirhanna vs. RoboLaserApe: The Recombination
      (trademark DeepHurting Productions)

  9. tungstencoil says:

    That depends:

    If you have what you believe are a lot of good ideas, submit it: if it gets produced, you get your name tossed out there. If it does well, that could be your “in”. Potential losses are the cost/risk.

    If you are supremely dedicated to making your success happen, spend hours each week networking, writing, submitting, etc: don’t. You probably don’t need them to prop you up if you’re doing this *and* you’re good.

    If you believe your script is amazing but your honest self-assessment is that you don’t have a bunch in you: don’t. You’re a one-hit wonder.

    • tungstencoil says:

      I’d like to add:

      I was in a modestly-successful band in the late 90s/early 00s. I mean we toured, were on a minor label (briefly), sold discs, what not. Nothing to write home about, but I can’t *tell* you how many discussions we had with people at just about every level of fame, and it was almost unanimous: get your s**t out there.

      If you believe you got the goods and the drive, getting exposure is your #1 (and #2…) concern. Given that the Amazon deal is not optioning future works (at least, I don’t think so) don’t worry about it. Given that they’re not fronting costs to you (like a label does), don’t worry about it.

      It’s really easy to look back at real or imagined cases of folks signing a crappy deal on something that goes on to make zillions of dollars. The best you can hope for is that exposure leads to future deals. If you don’t have exposure, the *best* product in the world won’t do crap for you. That’s why your personal drive has a lot to do with it. If you believe you can market it endlessly and that someone, somewhere will latch on, go the legit route. If you are honest enough with yourself to say that you don’t, this doesn’t sound that awful.

  10. Tongsy says:

    I wonder if they will accept my script for Lethal Weapon 5.

  11. bravohotel01 says:

    Fail.

    If you have a screenplay and want to make it happen, you have to shop it, not agree to be an Amazon ho.

    • James Anderson says:

      Is being an Amazon ho that much different than the regular way a screenwriter plugs his work? It’s probably LESS demeaning, not having to go to pitch a script in person.

  12. Me - now with more humidity says:

    To all of you saying, “just shop it yourself.” No reputable studio or producer will take any submission unless it comes through a literary agent ( WGA-signatory for the majors), packaging agent or lawyer.Too many legal pitfalls if they look at just anything. And options aren’t generally contractually enforceable unless money changes hands — even as little as a dollar. )FYI, I’m a screenwriter with produced credits.)

  13. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    This past August I attended a writers conference so I could pitch 6 different complete scripts to film agents and producers. I invested quite a bit of time and money on that little venture. Imagine my surprise when, during a group pitch session, the producer confessed, “I know they tell you we’re looking for new material…but we’re not really looking.” When asked why he came to Portland he said, “Quality of life, man. It’s beautiful up here!”

    So I burned a vacation day and spent more money than I care to mention…so these assholes from LA could come to Portland for a vacation. Nice.

    This is why I started my own entertainment company — by doing so I increase the probability of my work being produced by 1,000%.

    • thewriteguy says:

      This. Pretty much all of the screenwriters conferences and competitions (including film festivals) are for-profit ventures. Everyone needs to remember that. They’re all only interested in taking your submission fee money. Whatever exposure you happen to get from someone actually in the industry who can make things happen is a long shot at best. Most legit (and actively working) movie/TV studio execs, producers, and credited screenwriters prefer not to attend/take part in these things.

      Frankly, this Amazon deal seems no different — except it’s free to submit. But the odds of somebody important actually taking these submissions seriously enough to have an actual movie made… that remains to be seen, but I have doubts.

  14. kobresia says:

    The question seems to boil down to:

    “Do you use Amazon to float your idea, but you might not get much of anything even if it’s a huge hit, or don’t use Amazon and accept that your idea will probably never see the light of day & you’ll remain undiscovered?”

    I’m going to say the former is probably the best for lazy people. Amazon Studios sounds like it’s basically just a low-budget agent for unproven talent.

    If someone is dedicated and just plain talented enough, and his/her work is vetted and shopped-around by a real talent agent who believes it is viable, that’s a situation where the author could probably get his/her full due. Good luck with that, though.

    Otherwise, toss it on Amazon and hope for the best-case scenario, which is that your essentially free sample will be a stepping-stone to bigger and better things.

  15. quail says:

    It’s not the best of situations but it’s got to be better than the contract from that guy who wrote A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, James Frey. Did you hear that he’s looking for a ghost writer(s) and the contract he’s offering is tantamount to slavery for the life of whatever you write.

  16. ShinGetterPoPo says:

    I figure if you can’t get it produced from a professional studio at first, take it to a college student.
    Give them the script with the knowledge (and paperwork stating) that the script is still yours in all forms. They make a little movie out of it to get a grade, hopefully a good one, and you get a script produced that you now have a test film made for.

  17. James Anderson says:

    I uploaded a script there on February 4th. The following day, I was going over the rules for another screenplay competition, and started wondering if I’d made a mistake. My screenplay, technically, is not eligible for the AAA screenwriting competition because Amazon Studios now has the option on it. It may not be eligible for any of the pretigious competitions. I’ll have to go over the rules again to see.

    But…I’m not a professional screenwriter. I have zero connections in Hollywood., so I don’t have a lot of options. This is a rotten deal for professional screenwriters–you’d have to be crazy to sign up for this. But for the undiscovered amateur? The price of the entry fee is right. (Free)

    I’d have to say is a mixed blessing. Think long and hard before you upload!

  18. James Anderson says:

    Just another note: things would be a lot more fair if they didn’t seize the option on your work until you received money by winning the competition.